The first time I saw Sam Hatmaker was with the Song Suffragettes before COVID. Every songwriter who is part of the Song Suffragettes collective is amazing, but Hatmaker was unique and different. I knew even back then, I wanted to interview her.
It turns out that Hatmaker is from Knoxville, Tennessee. Her mom did theater and her dad was a performer too. It was natural for her to want to be on stage. When she was ten-years-old, she auditioned and was cast in a Christmas show at Dollywood. That ended up with her working at Dollywood for three years.
“[Dollywood] was where I found my love of music and learned what I wanted to do.”
That was also the time when she picked up a guitar. Many of the performers and crew were musicians and they helped her hone her craft. As a pre-teen, Hatmaker began writing songs backstage.
“That was when I found out how much I loved songwriting,” she recalls.
She continued, “My parents did not listen to country music at all. I was always around rock music, but I couldn’t see myself being in a band. I didn’t feel connected to [rock music].
Dollywood was Hatmaker’s first exposure to country music, specifically Dolly’s music. From there, she started listening to Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, and other classical country artists who influenced her songwriting.
When she was 13, she started making regular trips to Nashville.
“I knew I wanted to continue with music, and that just felt like the natural next step.”
She started writing all time then moved to Nashville five years ago when she was 16 and signed her first publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music.
“I am not even sure I would be here [in Nashville] writing country music if it weren’t for Dollywood,” she explains.
I wanted to know if she had met Tennessee’s best natural resource, Dolly Parton.
She states, “I met her once, during my last year of doing shows at Dollywood. I was in this summer show called Sha-Kon-O-Hey!. Dolly had written all the music for the show. The park was still closed. She was there rehearsing for the concert performance on the opening day. We got to sing background vocals for her performance. I got to meet her then and she was really, really sweet. This was the one time in my life I’ve ever gotten star-struck because it was Dolly Parton. I just blurted out, ‘You smell like baby powder.’ She did and I think it was from her wig. She laughed and thought it was funny. I’m glad she has such a good sense of humor.”
Although she is no longer with Warner Chappell publishing, she is with Warner on the label side as an independent artist.
“I am super grateful for my time with Warner Chappell Music because it taught me how to be a writer in Nashville, how to co-write, all of that.”
She still works with many of the same people but is with the company differently. Now they are focused on her as an artist.
Hatmaker has known Cris Lacy, Warner Music’s executive vice president of A&R, for over six years. Lacy took a chance on the young Hatmaker. They fund her to release artist’s projects as opposed to an actual radio push. The key focus is for listeners to get to know Hatmaker via a streaming platform.
Because Hatmaker doesn’t have the same pop-country vibe that many current artists have, her pure, indie country sound and repertoire were launched differently.
It works to her advantage that her music can fit in with the country and Americana genres as Knoxville, Tennessee is a hub for independent Americana artists. You can definitely hear that influence in her music.
“I wrote that song a couple of years ago and it always stuck with me. I knew I wanted to put that out. The hook of it is that boys either want the lion or the lamb. There are so many people in the world who will meet you but really have no idea who you really are. We are all so many complex things.” The song is about first impressions and how they are often wrong.
Another poignant song that Hatmaker penned/performed is the heartfelt “Poor.” With lyrics like, Bless the less fortunate, wherever they may be/Thank God for my ignorance, I didn’t realize it was me, she proves that she knows what she is about. Her voice is so untainted that a simple guitar accompaniment is all that is needed.
She admits, “This song was heavily inspired by Dolly Parton and my upbringing in East Tennessee. I wanted this song to be relatable to everyone who has ever been in that position.”
The reason why artists often choose the country genre to be part of is because of the storytelling. In full production, Hatmaker is as good as anyone out there. But in her stripped-down acoustic sessions, that is where she shines.
When Sam Hatmaker covers Dolly’s “My Mountains, My Home” with her guitar and her tranquil voice, she makes the song her own. But you know it’s the real thing because she was raised in the Appalachian Mountains, just like our beloved Dolly.
Hatmaker is writing every day and confirms that she has new songs that she is ready to release. (The streaming world prefers one song at a time.) She is very excited to share her new music with her fans and the world.
In the meantime, her Acoustic Sessions are not to be missed.