Growing up in a musically gifted family, Sara Jean Kelley has embraced storytelling and the thrill of creating something out of nothing.
Kelley’s mother is bluegrass songwriter, Irene Kelley, and her sister, Justyna Kelley, is also a Nashville performer and songwriter. Having these familial bonds and influences in her life, it only made sense that she set out to forge her own path in the industry.
With an EP that dropped last year, Black Snake, Kelley has come back strong with her latest single, a cover of The Cranberries hit, “Dreams.” A long time favorite band and influence of hers, Kelley stepped up to the challenge and delivered on making this song her own.
Regarding her previous EP, Black Snake, Americana Highways stated, “Ms. Kelley has a flirtatious vocal that has precision & grace. Songs are carefully captured, well-crafted & superb.” It is evident that her vocals and delivery continued to improve into 2022, and although a cover, Kelley’s version of “Dreams” shows off the control she has over her angelic voice, as well as her exemplary range.
We had the opportunity to talk to Kelley to learn more about her upbringing, the single, and more.
So how has 2022 treated you so far?
2022 has treated me quite well actually! Save for getting kicked out of my Nashville home and almost being homeless (the real estate in this town is brutal). I’ve been traveling a lot, writing, and making and releasing music.
I see that you went to college to study Evolutionary Biology. How did you make that transition from aspiring for a career in Biology to a career in the music industry?
It wasn’t really a transition from as it was a transition back to. I went to Nashville School of the Arts in high school with a concentration on voice where I sang in the blues band. Throughout high school I sang and wrote songs, hung out with rock n roll bands, went to shows at seedy venues, performed at house parties and was basically a weird little art kid.
Upon graduating high school, I was determined to see what else was out there and if there was something else that lit my fire, so to speak. I’ve loved all things wild since I was a kid– running through the woods, building forts, catching wildlife and the like– so environmental biology seemed like the natural move. It wasn’t until after a couple years in Colorado did I realize that, though I do love all those other things, music is my true passion. So I came back.
You recently dropped a cover of The Cranberries’ classic song, “Dreams.” What was the process of deciding to release this particular cover?
I had been throwing around the idea of releasing a cover for some time, but couldn’t figure out which song to do. I’ve had a couple different songs in my repertoire over the years, but nothing that felt quite right to put the time and money into going into the studio for. I was driving down the interstate one day listening to JackFM of all things, and this song came on the radio.
I had forgotten about it, but more importantly I had forgotten how much I LOVE it. I got so animated singing along to it in the car, that I decided to add it to my set list for Musicians Corner Music Series that I was playing later that week. I got off stage and immediately knew I should record it. The joy and romance and nostalgia of it all over-took me, and I re-fell in love.
Do you remember the first time you listened to “Dreams” or perhaps The Cranberries period? How much of an inspirational impact have they had on you?
I don’t remember the first time I heard it, but I remember that my sister and I would put The Cranberries cassette tape on repeat in our Aerostar van to and from school every single day. I’m sure there were times when my parents wished they were def as we terribly screeched along to every high part and yodel.
How did you make this cover your own? Is there anything that fans of this song should expect to hear differently with your version?
We stripped it down and slowed it down. I wanted to keep the integrity of the song; the overall structure. I think there’s nothing more annoying than covering an iconic song and not staying true to the parts people love the most. In this case, it’s the vocal vamp at the end. I love to sing it and I love to listen to it.
Who helped you produce this song and give it new life?
Kyle Dreaden is the producer. He also produced my last EP, Black Snake, that came out at the end of 2021, as well as The Wild, which came out October 2019.
If you could go on tour with anyone who would it be and why? How about a dream collaboration?
I’ll go on tour with anyone right now. I’ve really loved being out on the road the last couple months.
Dream collaboration: either Eminem or Lil Wayne. I grew up listening to hip hop and RnB, so that genre is embedded in my soul. Ever since I heard Dido sing on an Eminem song, I thought ‘hey, I could do that!’
I see you are also an avid plant lover. Can you give us a rundown of some of your favorite plants?
I love any plant that smells good and tastes good! My absolute top would probably be Holy Basil, though. I planted her in my garden one year and she kept volunteering herself all over my yard, so we fell in love. Goldenrod is another favorite: often misunderstood, but beautiful, tasty and excellent for allergies.
What else might fans expect from Sara Jean Kelley in the latter half of the year?
I have another song coming out later this year that is a collaboration with a dear friend of mine, so that is something to look forward to. I’ll also be traveling more and more. I have a handful of tours lined up and am eager to add more as the year progresses!