360°Sound spoke with up-and-coming country singer-songwriter Savanna Chestnut. The 25-year-old Kansas native released her second full-length album, Prairie Fire, in October of last year. Chestnut, who writes all of her own songs, was nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year at the Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards in 2017 and 2018. She began writing and playing music when she was 13 and has been performing ever since. “I try not to sound too much like anybody,” Chestnut said. “I try to bring a traditional sound back to the scene.”
360°: Please start by telling us about you and your music.
Chestnut: I’m from a really small town in Kansas called Americus. When I was 18, I moved to Nashville because that’s what everyone said you had to do if you wanted to be a country singer. There’s still that myth going on in the industry today that ‘if you’re gonna be anybody in the country scene, you have to be in Nashville.’ Of course, with the changes in the internet and all that stuff, it really isn’t that way anymore, you can do it from anywhere.
I was [in Nashville] for a few years. It helped me get a lot better and learn a lot about the business. I ended up getting a record deal with a small label in Kansas City, so I came back to Kansas. And then that record label crashed after like three months of me being there [laughs]. I did end up getting more and more gigs ironically. For people back home to take me more seriously, I had to go to Nashville first, so Nashville did have its benefits.
About a year and a half ago, I was able to go full-time with music. This is what I do for a living now, which is a dream come true. I’ve been inspired by the traditional country sounds that I grew up listening to. My mom really wouldn’t let us listen to a whole lot else [laughs]. Lee Ann Womack is super inspiring. Kacey Musgraves’ writing style is one of my very favorites.
What inspires your songwriting?
It’s kind of everything. I’ve never really felt young. I’ve always been very interested in music. I’ll come up with clever lines of my own, maybe not on Kacey Musgraves’ level, but I just kind of work good stories into my songs. My songs aren’t always about me. Sometimes they’re just cool ideas and stories I’ve come up with. Sometimes they are just me getting my feelings out there.
I definitely like to tell a story either way and keep the listener interested that way. I don’t think there’s anything that bothers me more than boring, generic lyrics in a song, even if the beat is good. Country music is one of the biggest offenders of that [laughs].
What are your goals as a country artist?
I think my next big goal is possibly getting on tour with a bigger band as their opening act. That would be really cool. That’d be a great next step for me. I also have been aiming to start pushing myself more into fairs and festivals and events rather than just bars. We were supposed to have a bunch of fairs all over the Midwest this summer, but COVID of course had other plans [laughs]. Hopefully, next summer we’ll start getting into that again.
And start getting some of my songs on the radio and get new listeners all over the country. [“Prairie Fire”] is right now #109 on the Texas regional radio charts. It seems like it keeps going up every week. That’s a specific crowd that’s a real loyal group of followers for country musicians. It’s definitely good to get to those listeners.
Do you think even with being from Kansas that your neotraditional music has connected with Texas country fans?
Oh definitely, and I listen to a lot of those artists. I’m pretty familiar with that scene. In the past decade or so I’ve definitely done a lot more listening to them than I have to the Nashville stuff because I just relate to it better. I enjoy the traditional sound more than the pop-influenced Nashville country. I think my sound definitely aligns more with the Texas sound, so that’s what I’m trying to break into now. Honestly, Kansas is a tricky spot, because Texans do love their fellow Texans. I was kind of worried they wouldn’t accept me because I’m not from Texas or Oklahoma. It’s actually working out fine so far.
Does it seem like there has been a slight resurgence of more traditional country artists on the national country scene in recent years?
It seems like it’s coming back around a little bit. For several years, it seems like there was absolutely no room on the radio for anything other than what everybody calls ‘bro-country.’ That party anthem, Friday night, cold beer in my hand, ya know? Just girls-and-trucks songs. It seems like it’s come back around a little bit.
You’ve got new artists like Midland and their whole brand is built around their retro sound. You’ve got Luke Combs and some of those other guys. I wouldn’t say they’re super old school but it’s definitely not that poppy, bro-country stuff. I think it’s a pendulum and the retro sound is coming back in style a little bit. I think it’s a perfect time for people like me to be really pushing our music.
I read in an interview from several years ago where you said “My Hands” was your favorite song to play. Is that still your favorite?
It’s still my favorite. “My Hands” is very personal. It’s about me. It’s probably the first song I ever wrote that I wasn’t trying to write something that sounded like everything else on the radio. When I first moved to Nashville, I thought you had to write songs that you could hear next to all the other songs that you were hearing on the radio every day. I started trying to do that. When you do things that way it always comes out forced and it doesn’t feel genuine. I gave that up and started writing more from the heart, and “My Hands” was one of the first songs that I came up with after that revelation. It’s simple, sweet, and personal, so I like to play it for people.