Interview: Sarah Potenza

“It sounds so cliché, but I’ve always loved music.  When I was a little kid, I heard Joe Cocker sing, and I remember really liking the sound of his voice.  It made me want to sing.  I’ve always identified myself as a singer; there were always other girls who were prettier than me, or smarter than me, or more capable at lots of other things, but I always felt like singing is what made me me,” recalls soul powerhouse Sarah Potenza. “My childhood best friend was a beautiful girl who came from a really wealthy family, but I was never jealous of her, even though I was this dorky, chubby, Italian girl who dressed like Blossom and wore braces.  I could sing my ass off, and I would never trade that for anything.”

“Like everyone else in Nashville, I was not born there, I’m from Rhode Island,” she says with a laugh. “In my early 20s, I moved to Chicago; I had a friends there who said I could sleep on her couch. I thought I could wait tables in blues clubs and be like Bonnie Raitt and sneak on stage, sing some songs, and then be famous. In reality, I was serving people onion rings at open mic nights.”  After forming a band and playing blues and country covers for five years, Potenza and her husband, Ian, were faced with a decision to make. “We lived in a part of town called Humboldt Park, and it was rampant with gang activity—I mean shit got real in Humboldt Park, it was crazy. My husband and I decided not to deal with that anymore, move to Nashville and do our own thing.  We didn’t really know what that was at the time.  I knew I didn’t want to tell other people’s stories, I wanted to tell my own.”

Potenza tells that story with her larger-than-life voice; a powerful mixture of bluesy soul and gutsy roots, the songstress admits harnessing its wild potential was a process. “It took a while for me to figure out how to use my voice to tell my story; when I first started out, I was imitating Janis Joplin,” she says. In fact, the tone of Potenza’s voice is the result of a nodule in her throat, which contributes to its unique, crackly, gruff quality. “Most people with a voice like mine have damaged vocal chords; using it as a strength and not a weakness has taken time,” she explains.  “With this record, for the first time, I feel like I’ve made art and not an imitation.”

Her newest record, Monster, is set for release on August 19th. Potenza says she made the record last October; it’s been hard to wait patiently and surrender to the release process.“I used to make records—I would just make them, order CDs, open the box, and be like ‘Ok! My record’s out!’  When I moved to Nashville, I got schooled on how stuff works. I no longer just open a box,” she says with a laugh.

“I want to inspire people to take pain and turn it into something cool,” she says of Monster. “Having money, buying a house, all that shit, none of it matters. That stuff goes away. Deep down inside, everyone is an artist in some way.  I want to inspire others to use their passion to create something to share with the world. It’s so fulfilling.”

Potenza is on tour now, and you can see her throw down for the home town at Music City Roots presents “Divas of Roots Music” this Wednesday, June 8th.

Purchase tickets to Music City Roots:

Listen to her latest single, “The Mountain”, here.


6/18- Rhode Island Pride Festival- Providence, RI

6/24- Poor David’s Pub- Dallas, TX (w/ Hannah Kirby)

7/24- Eddie’s Attic- Decatur, GA (w/ Meghan Linsey)

7/27- The Pour House Music Hall- Raleigh, NC

7/30-  Spring Lake Community House Theater- Spring Lake, N

8/2- Chirp Concert Happenings,Ballard Park- Ridgefield, CT

8/5- The Assembly Theater- Harrisville, RI

8/6- Falcon Ridge Folk Festival- Hillsdale, NY

8/7- Falcon Ridge Folk Festival- Hillsdale, NY

8/8- Catskills Distillery- Bethel, NY

8/10- Club Cafe- Pittsburgh, PA

8/11- The Listening Room- Port Clint, OH

8/18- Myrna Loy Center- Helena, MT

8/26- The Family Wash- Nashville, TN (Record release show)

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