I’m a little late getting this interview with Sundance Head up, but for those who have not seen the quotes from last Thursday’s conference call with reporters…here they are.
I have to say Sundance didn’t seem at all disappointed that he won The Voice season 11, as runner-up Billy Gilman intimated he might be.
Although he praised 2nd runner-up Wé McDonald effusively and added he would have been fine if she had won, he seemed positively over the moon with how things turned out. I will say–Sundance was REAL chatty two days after is win…
Are there any songs in particular that you would have loved to cover during the show?
I wanted to cover Georgia on My Mind. I had been asking if I could do it for about 3 weeks leading up to the finale, I was never able to do it. It’s one of my favorite songs of all time.
What advice did Blake give you that you took to heart and will carry with you?
To believe in my own abilities and my own talent and trust what got me on to the show to begin with Also, take each song and try to connect with an audience and the lyric as much as possible.
You said in another interview that you were able to handle The Voice better than American Idol because you were more mature. Could you elaborate please?
First of all, I didn’t really have an identity as an artist even to myself. That was the first major problem. Secondly I didn’t realize how important it was to pick a genre of music or a style of music and try to target a fan base and continually target that fanbase on Idol. I was all over the place, and really none of it was any good . We could talk about that all night long! Maybe one of these days we can get into that. There’s just so many things I did wrong on that show. As a person–I wasn’t a very good person to begin with. I was selfish about a lot of things. I’ve said before, if I could meet myself again I’d probably punch myself in the mouth (laughs). I was not a very good dude. Thankfully I’ve had a reprisal and I get a second shot. Hopefully I can do things right this time.
Was there ever a week where you thought you might be going home?
I didn’t feel I had a very strong performance on “Blue Ain’t Your Color” to be honest with you. When I went out to perform that song, my guitar was out of key in the beginning, so I wasn’t sure what key I needed to start in. If you listen back to the actual performance, you can hear that something is wrong in the beginning. Luckily for me Paul the band leader bailed me out of there and gave me the right note on his piano when he wasn’t even supposed to be playing. This certainly was embarrassing for me and a moment I would never like to have to go through again. The most important part of that lesson for me was when a show has a guitar tech, and they bring you your guitar, and you’re going to go on stage, it’s in tune. You don’t have to check it to make sure it’s in tune. And that was my mistake. I wanted to make sure it was in tune so I tried to double check it and Jason Warrior was absolutely killing everybody out there on stage. My tuner wouldn’t pick up anything, and I already de-tuned. I was completely a mess. I thought that was it for me.
How did you feel when they told you you’d be singing with KISS? What was it like to actually take the stage with them.
When they told me, I was really blown away that they agreed to do it, and even the fact that I was going to have the opportunity really was amazing. My brother took me to see them a month before he died. I rode his shoulders for the whole concert. I’ve always had a really strong emotional bond with KISS, their music. I couldn’t believe it. And then when we ran through rehearsals I was messing everything up. I was dropping lyrics. And I know all their songs, and every lyric. I could be the lead singer if I had to (laughs). The rehearsal was one of the most intense things that ever happened to me. It was like the first time I had ever been alone with a girl in a bedroom as a teenager. I had no idea what to do. I was so overthrown with emotions. Such a wreck. Luckily Paul and Gene were such sweet guys, that they really talked to me and tried to calm me down and tell me ‘Hang in. It’s our honor to be up here with you. Just relax, take it easy.’ I was able to take their advice when the real performance went down. Still, I even got choked up a little bit, didn’t know If I was actually going to be able to sing. I was actually crying. I was standing underneath the drum riser when the intro started when they kicked into Detroit City, I felt the risers moving and the moment was so huge for me that for a second I thought ‘I can’t possibly go out there.’ But I…did it somehow. Besides marrying my wife and having 3 children, that’s probably 5th most important thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life. Even more important than winning The Voice, I think, was having the opportunity to play with KISS on stage, as ridiculous as that sounds. That’s how much it meant to me. That’s an experience that no matter what happens, if I go on to actually be famous, or I don’t do anything else for the rest of my life, that’s a moment in my life that I will never be able to have again. And I know that. It was such a thrill.
When you compare the success you found on American Idol vs The Voice, it sounds like you took the Voice more seriously. How would you compare your talent then and now? Do you believe your voice has truly gotten better, as well as your performance ability?
Everything about me is better. I think as an artist, as a singer, songwriter, performer, I’m probably 50% of what I can be. When I was on that show I was probably at 5%, maybe (laughs). Maybe not even that good. I don’t even know how I ended up on that show. I tried out just on a whim and really, I had no talent. I didn’t know any songs. I couldn’t really play guitar. I didn’t know myself as a human being, much less as an artist and I hadn’t discovered my vocal abilities–I really hadn’t learned how to sing the way I sing now up until about a year and a half, two years ago when I noticed that I could really soar on notes vocally and go into an operatic vibrato and sustain on notes during choruses. I had never noticed before. It just kind of happened. I’m not even sure how. Once I realised that, I started to write songs around the ability I had discovered and also use it in my daily operations making a living back in Texas playing music. I tried to make it better and better and better every opportunity that I had. I’m very excited about having that opportunity to grow as an artist and a vocalist with a label that presumably will be behind me, helping me discover even more talents that I don’t know about.
It’s not even really a comparison. The experiences were so much better. I was so much more prepared as a person. I knew exactly what I wanted to do going into this. I was going to try and cover as many female songs as I could [from females who] I thought were super wonderful singers with great songs. I tried to stick to that strategy as much as possible. It did pay off for me. I had no plan whatsoever going into American Idol at all. I also was very ill-prepared for the record deal that I received from Universal. The record label seemed to collapse right around that time–2010 whenever the internet was really taking off. They really only kept the artists that were selling a lot of records for them and everyone else got cut. I used to hold a lot of resentment about that whole deal towards Jolene and Universal but now I realize that probably most of the problem that was with that contract lie with me and my immaturity not only as a human being but as an artist. I’m thankful that I may have the opportunity soon to hug Jolene Cherry and personally thank her for the opportunity that she gave me and to let her know that I understand now that it was absolutely me that screwed that whole thing up and not them at all. Which is ironic.
On Sundance surprising his dad with a duet of his song with Blake Shelton.
I wanted to surprise him. He had caught wind of something because he was kind of poking around. He was asking Austin Allsup what’s going on…he knew something was up. They had pitched a couple of songs to me. I said ‘hey buddy what do you think about doing Treat Her Right my dad’s song on the show as a duet.’ Without fail, he emailed right back, ‘Let’s do it.’ I was so excited to have the opportunity to bring my dad’s joy on a national stage like that because he’s been doing music his whole life and that’s all he’s done is bring happiness to people and joy through music and I know for me personally he’s been such a wonderful father he’s given me so many talents and told me so many things. It’s like having a mentor every day that you can ask questions.
Was it gratifying to bring that song back to a huge audience, some of which may have never heard the song before they were introduced to it.
I was really gratified about that. I still think it’s one of the greatest songs ever. It’s got so much rock n roll in it, so much attitude the ‘hey heys’ in the chorus, the screaming he did in the song. To me it was one of the most iconic from the sixties. Of course, I have a biased opinion, obviously. I have him to thank for a lot of the talents that I have. He was much older than all the other parents whenever I was growing up and he had been through a lot more. He was always the cool dad. He would treat me and my friends with a lot of respect. Like we were just his buddies. He introduced us to a lot of music that we probably would have never even heard, was maybe outdated for our generation. Really we were fortunate to have him in our lives to spend [talking] about what he liked about certain artists and why he thought their music was popular. I certainly remember all those conversations and try to use them everyday when I have the opportunity.
What’s different about Blake’s coaching style that makes him so successful?
At some point he realized that I had a direction and a sound and an arrangement style. He allowed me to pursue it with Paul and the band. I think that’s when I really started to ascend on the show as far as the performances and the song choices and the song arrangements were concerned. I could tell that it was making an immediate difference. I really don’t know about the styles of the other coaches because I didn’t experience that. I really don’t know much about Adam’s coaching style. I do know that Alicia and Miley both were very engaged in rehearsals and also wardrobe. They were very very personable with the artists on their team and treated them with tons of respect. They really wanted to be involved in everyday operations with their team. That to me was outstanding, just from an outside view. Alicia Keys gave me a ton of confidence when she gave me the nod on her song No One. When she received my arrangement, it really made me feel wonderful, and a I really could tell that we connected during that short amount of time on that stage. I also feel the same thing happened between Miley and I when I covered her song [The Climb]. She really enjoyed hearing it a different way, and I know personally as a songwriter that’s it’s always flattering to hear somebody cover your music as long as they do it well. It was an extremely huge challenge for me and a thrill–something that I really looked forward and helped me to grow as an artist on the show.
Is there anything you can pinpoint about Blake’s style that makes him the winningest coach on The Voice?
Blake is just a bad ass. He’s very sweet, he’s a very genuine guy. He makes you feel really comfortable. I’m not sure how much he influenced me that I didn’t even realize, just because he’s so casual with his delivery and his suggestions. I think Blake’s really sneaky. He may make it look like I was out there doing all the heavy lifting but it was probably his idea all along. The only one who knows that is probably Blake Shelton.
Did song choice help you win The Voice.
I think I had a lot of momentum going into the last episode, especially the finale. I felt like everything was lining up the way that it should have been. It was the right time for me. I was being rewarded from the world. I really felt like my hard work was finally paying off. From playing my dad’s song, to being able to play with KISS, to singing At Last for my finale song, and able to sing my original song, Darling Don’t Go which I wrote by myself for the love of my life–It just felt like it was too perfect. I thought it had to be going in the right direction but you still have to tell yourself there’s a possibility that maybe you won’t win. I tried to keep it at an even keel and not really get too sure of anything. I certainly could feel an energy that I hadn’t felt before. I could tell that people around me were feeling that energy. The other contestants were making comments. People were predicting me to win all of a sudden. There’s was just a huge change in everything. I had told myself if there was anyway that I was going to come down to the wire on the show, I was going to do everything that I could [so] when I left the stage I did not have a single regret.
Did you have a gut feeling that you could win The Voice?
I did. It was actually the day of the results show when I thought I might win. I was completely unprepared for winning because I had thought Billy or Wé was going to win. On social media they had thousands and thousands more people following them and tagging them and liking their pages. Of course, I was completely wrong. I seem to be wrong about a lot of things (laughs). I really felt like if I couldn’t win after the performance I gave Monday, then I just can’t win period. Because I know there was nothing I could have done any better than what I did on Monday, ever. I felt real good about that and I prayed to the Lord and I just told him whatever path you lay for me is the path I’m going to take. I’m not even going to question it. If I win I win. If I don’t win, I don’t win. I will just continue to try and grow as an artist, a father and a husband and a human, and try to get better and have more positive things happen to me. I’ve also realized that if you have positive thoughts and you walk in a positive line of thought throughout your day a lot of positive things happen just from thinking that way. That’s one of the things that I realized over the summer that I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my life and try to apply every day.
Were most of the songs you sang your idea or were they song choices you were given? Were there any you were a little skeptical about?
Most of the time they were my ideas. Me and Jesus was Blake’s idea. He said ‘Sundance, I think right now is a good time for us to do a gospel. I think people want to hear one right now. There’s a lot going on in America. People are divided and they don’t even know why any more. I think we need to bring it back around and try to have a positive message about love and unity and faith.’ I immediately said ‘Well that’s a great idea.’ The original song we were going to do was a different song–Oh Happy Day. The song only had a verse and a chorus and it would repeat repeat repeat. I told Blake ‘I’m not sure that’s the right one.’ We ended up going with No One by Alicia Keys that week. That was the one I wanted to do. Blake wanted to do the gospel. That song really changed everything for me. Then the very next week we went in to revisit the gospel theme and we agreed to do Me and Jesus. I took it to my room, I immediately heard a bluegrass barn burner revival type arrangement on it. I recorded it, emailed it over to Blake and said ‘What do you think?’ He said ‘Man, I think it’s great.’ We got with the band. We went over it. They equally liked it. The rest is history. I told Blake from then on, ‘I know what we’re going to do man. Every song that we have from now on till the end of the show as long as I’m on it, we’re going to sing songs that have positive messages about unity, love, respect. Anything that has to do with really good vibes.’ I knew immediately what kind of ride we were going to take. It really changed everything for us. Blake immediately saw the demographic. Of course, middle America probably votes the most. East coast is busy and west coast is late. That’s a no brainer really. That’s just one of those things Blake knew. His intuitions were right and that’s one of the reasons why he’s the most winning coach on The Voice.
On singing Jesus and Me
I really felt the Holy Ghost on that song, man. I joke about that. I wanted a religious mosh pit, but I felt like I was fired up. I was really fired up. I was shaking a little bit. I really felt moved.
Did he write his original song Darling Don’t Go before he was on The Voice?
That song is on the record we just released earlier this summer before I went on the show titled ‘Soul Country’ which is going to be our breakout record to the Texas music scene. We were nominated for song of the year with Darlin Don’t Go and I got nominated for New Male Vocalist and New Entertainer of the Year. Of course, I couldn’t go to the music awards and I couldn’t really promote it because I was on the show. So I let things kind of slide by. I was thrilled that it was recognized by people back in Texas that I admired and was working so hard to get their attention.
About Sundance’s wife, Misty
There’s a couple of songs on that ‘Soul Country’ record that I wrote for Misty. One of them is a single that I have out now back in Texas called Thirteen Years which is about our wedding anniversary. She’s such an inspiration to me. I can’t say it enough. She really is everything to me. Any success that I have, people need to understand that I’m really probably not even part of it. Mostly because she believed in me that much that she pressed me and gave me the strength that it takes to go out and do it. I can tell you one thing, if Misty could sing, she would have already taken over the world I can promise you that. That’s the kind of ambition she has. Sometimes I wonder why she even married me to begin with (laughs).
What’s it been like to see the songs he’s covered on the show do well on the iTunes charts.
I just want the opportunity to have people hear me, create, do music, make art. I really pride myself on being able to take someone else’s song and make it my own. That’s something I’ve been doing now for a couple of years in our live shows. If you come and see my band live, usually I play mostly originals and 20% covers . A lot of times, people don’t even realize what’s going on. They don’t know the difference because it all sounds like Sundance Head. That’s really important to me. It’s something I believe distinguishes me from the other contestants. I know exactly what I want to sound like, what I’m good at, what makes me sound the best. It’s important for me to find out what those virtues are and exploit them on the stage whenever I have that opportunity. Everything is really coming together for me at the right time. It should. That’s the way things work out. I’ve tried to force everything. I demanded people listen to me. Once I let all of that go, and started to make music again for my own pure enjoyment and for my own soul–that’s when I began to notice everything was changing for me in a positive manner.
What was your favorite performance from a contestant on another team?
That’s easy. That has to be Wé in the finale when she did that Broadway tune. I saw her do that in rehearsal, Don’t Rain on My Parade, when I saw that in rehearsal–I gotta tell you, I ain’t never seen anything like that. She’s only 16 or 17 years old. I can tell you right now, I was completely blown away. She’s going to be famous. If there’s anything we’re getting from this interview today, please make sure that you guys remember what I tell you–that Wé McDonald is gonna be famous. And that’s the bottom line. Just to be able to remember those lyrics! It was like 3 or 4 pages of lyrics. There were 7 different tempo changes in that song. She delivered it like a master, like she’d been doing it for 20 or 30 years. It was effortless to her. You could see the love for music on her face. It’s like she’s a freaking seasoned pro. She’s a killer. That’s why I really thought she was going to beat me. I would have not felt sad one minute. She definitely deserves to be in the limelight. And she will be. No doubt about it.
If you had performed an Adam Levine song, what kind of song would you have done?
I don’t know. Adam’s songs are all very poppy. When I hear him sing–I don’t know if other people relate to this like I do–I really hear Michael Jackson. I’m not sure why, but I just do. His phrasing, his tone, his delivery. The way he can kick so much ass in that falsetto. I considered doing a couple of different songs, but I thought that was dangerous territory for me. His voice is so unique. I didn’t really want to take a chance to go in that direction.
How are you?
I’m doin’ great. I’m fixin to put my pants on and go meet with Universal Music Group for a meet and greet. I have to walk in New York down 6th Avenue at night while it’s snowing! I’m kind of nervous about that whole deal, but I did bring a pocket knife just in case.
What was your favorite moment with Blake Shelton?
I had many favorite moments with Blake. Most of them were off camera and probably the conversations were very candid. He’s a really sweet guy. He’s a very big time joker. He tells a lot of bad dirty jokes that really aren’t funny. His sense of humor is–a lot of times he says things just to make himself laugh, I think. I’m sure he could make himself laugh all day if he were alone by just speaking to himself in the mirror. That’s the kind of guy he is.
My absolute favorite moment is was at that press conference [after the finale] and he asked the record label to do what they could to make sure that they held up their end of the bargain. I thought that was very admirable. That’s something that he certainly didn’t need to do. It just reaffirmed everything that I had believed all along, which is ‘this guys a badass.’ He deserves to be people’s champion because he is the people’s champion. For me–nothing against the other coaches they’re all very nice but–I think Blake is pretty much the whole show. Everything hinges around him, and what a cool likeable guy he is. It’s very entertaining when he does these skits that make him not necessarily come off as the smartest guy all the time. Which he absolutely IS the smartest guy all the time. In fact it’s all of us that’s getting played, mostly (laughs). He’s just a great character and he knows that. He knows when to turn it on and when to turn it off. I’m really proud that I was able to build a relationship with Blake that I know we’re going to have throughout this whole thing and probably for the rest of my life. After I won, we had the press conference, I was whisked off with my family and Blake went his direction, and that could have been the end of everything. I may have never spoken to him again. But Blake texted me later that night and said ‘Hey Sundance, here’s my phone number. Make sure you call me if there’s anything that you ever need. That’s the kind of guy that Blake is everyday. And I’m sure that I’m not the only person that feels like he reached out both as a mentor and also as a friend.