Trying to define what flavor of music a country artist actually sings these days is harder than ever. It’s pretty easy after hearing just a couple bars, though, of a Wade Sapp song, which as is likely to include pedal steel, fiddle and background harmonies as it is some rock ‘n’ roll guitar. But while one might think that his influences would include George Jones or Bob Wills or Clint Black after hearing him, Sapp said he got his start after he witnessed the power of music at a stage show featuring a band pretty far removed from Nashville’s country sounds.
On his newly-released debut album Radio Check, Sapp brings the more traditional country artists to mind, but with a fresh energy borne of both the holy and perhaps the unholy. “I guess just seeing somebody up on stage as a kid is what inspired me,” the native Floridian said. “The first concert I went to, it was Kiss, I was 16 years old, and it really changed my life. It was like, Wow, you can do that, it’s achievable.”
“I guess it was also church growing up too,” he said. “I went to a small Southern Baptist church with the fire and brimstone style of preaching, an upright piano that was out of tune and a song leader that would shout the lines before the line came, very animated. That was the first rock star I ever saw, and he was a big influence.”
Sapp wrote most of his new album himself, including the single “The Boys We Were,” which features the baritone of Canadian country star Colter Wall. “Colter was still living in East Nashville when we met,” Sapp said. “Colter’s a guy who’s got a similar outlook on country music as me, I just really like his songs. I got to open some shows for him, and that [guest appearance on Radio Check] happened just because he’s got such a Tom Waits kind of voice, just kinda baritone and growly, kinda dark and gothic at times. He was the perfect person for that song, he really knocked it out of the park.”
“As far as the songwriting influence part of it,” Sapp said, “when I first found out the little names next to the songs were the people who wrote them, that kind of got under my skin a bit, I felt like I’d been lied to my entire life. I had just started playing my first shows in 2010, and I got bored pretty quickly just doing covers. I decided if I was gonna do this, I’m writing my own songs.”
In addition to playing dates around the country with country singer/Circle TV host Elizabeth Cook, and appearing at places like Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge in Madison, Sapp will be taking traditional country to the west coast when he gets on stage at Outlaw Country West in Los Angeles in November. While millions of artists and songwriters are trying to make their names in a digital world where the playing field has become pretty flat, Sapp seems confident that his talent, combined with hard work and a good attitude, will help him eventually land at the top.
“The way I’m working at it, as far as I can see, is to always play the long game,” he said. “Take care of people and they’ll take care of you. Just be courteous and nice and be a loveable pest. It’s all about consistency, really, and I’ve got some irons I’m warming up in new fires, looking at all kinds of ways to approach the entertainment industry.”