A run of bad luck that included a breakup got Sarah Burton thinking about leaving her native Canada. The next big sign was, well, an actual sign with information that made the singer-guitarist realize she could afford to go someplace else in a joint effort to reset her life and continue her music career.
However, Burton’s journey from Toronto to her home in West Texas was not a direct 1,900-mile path, nor did it happen in a short period of time.
Burton’s relocation plans began to unfold around 2015. When trying to recover during the winter from a back injury proved to be difficult, she felt the universe was telling her it was time to attempt something new elsewhere.
That same year, Burton upped her U.S. touring and simultaneously began what she calls a “heat-seeking mission” while also “looking for somewhere to plant roots.”
“I had gone down the West Coast — all through California, Arizona and New Mexico, sort of hoping I’d find something near Los Angeles,” she explains.
During her travels, Burton spent a little time in Terlingua, Texas (population: 58, per the 2010 U.S. census).
“I got out of the car, and I said to myself, ‘I’m finally hot enough,’ ” she recalls with a laugh.
On her way out of town, Burton spotted a sign advertising land for sale “at a price that was within reach for me.” Eventually, she purchased a small parcel of land in Terlingua, “but I didn’t think I was going to move there,” she adds. Burton still intended to live in the Los Angeles area in order to further her career, and whenever she needed to get away, she’d go to her place in Terlingua and “find solace in the desert.”
In fall 2016, she began a tour that would lead her to Terlingua, where she planned to spend a month writing songs before heading to Los Angeles. But in Detroit at the tour’s first show, bad luck struck again: Burton’s van was broken into (not the first time that happened to her).
“I lost everything … it was a big setback,” she says.
When she finally got to Terlingua, Burton remembers “everyone was really friendly, and I was comfortable. I needed to make money, so I ended up staying there. I realized I didn’t need to live in a big city.”
Terlingua has turned out to be beneficial to her music career on multiple fronts.
“There’s quite a bit of tourism, so when I’m home, I can play two or three times a week,” Burton says. “And maybe it’s because there’s less noise, fewer people and few distractions, but the words and music kind of pour out of me [when I’m there]. If I take any time to sit down and write, it comes very easily.”
Burton’s latest album is Give Me What I Want, and about half of its songs were written while she was in Texas. Specifically, she says “Ride Til Dawn” and the title track “come from living in a small town in the South.”
Released in March, Give Me What I Want was recorded during 2017 and 2018 in Austin, Texas, at Spoon drummer Jim Eno’s Public Hi-Fi facility with producer-guitarist Elijah Ford, son of former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford.
“We’d didn’t overkill anything; we didn’t overthink anything,” Burton says. “This is my most organic project. It’s the only one I’ve [recorded] live off the floor. And with this one, I just know myself more — and I understand how things work sonically and technically more than I used to.”
Burton also knows she looks the part of a Lone Star State resident, and she feels like one, too.
“I’ve been wearing cowboy boots for about 15 years, so now I feel legitimate wearing them,” she says with a laugh. “The most Texas thing about me is this Texas pride that I’ve developed. It’s just funny, being an outsider and being Canadian, to fall in love with this state and be like, ‘Don’t mess with Texas.’ ”
— By Chris M. Junior
Sarah Burton concert schedule (subject to change):
May 3: The Thirsty Goat — Lajitas, Texas
May 4: The Goat Pens at Cigar Springs Ranch — Terlingua, Texas
May 8: The Thirsty Goat — Lajitas, Texas
May 11: The Thirsty Goat — Lajitas, Texas
May 17: Starlight Theatre — Terlingua, Texas
May 18: The Thirsty Goat — Lajitas, Texas
May 20: Starlight Theatre — Terlingua, Texas
Photo by Jen Squires