Who hasn’t stopped at some point to admire the petite and scrappy sparrows that hop around our lawns? Houston artist Katie Rushing has done just that and the little, common bird has inspired the title of her latest album Sparrow.
“Sparrows are not really the sexiest bird,” laughs Rushing. “There are a lot of them and they have interesting communal qualities.” The idea that sparrows coexist with humans even in the busiest of cities and can be so ordinary yet so admired sparked inspiration for Rushing.
The ability to slow down long enough to appreciate the world around you seems to be a facet of all of the songs on Sparrow, Rushing’s second solo album. In Sparrow, Rushing’s calming and enchanting voice draws listeners into each track with her sweet lyrics and storytelling. The entire album plays as naturally and smoothly as the bird it is named after.
“I will say this project and this musical contribution to me felt like the chicken or the egg. Was it the pandemic that allowed it to be so purely what I heard or was it also my confidence in just trusting what I was hearing and just going with it versus asking too many people what they thought?”
Rushing began the pandemic just like everyone else, canceling plans and gigs and finding herself home with her three children. Prior to the pandemic, Rushing, who is also an actor, was set to hit the stage at TUTS to play a part in their production of Pure Country, based on the 1992 film starring George Strait.
As she found herself with more and more time at home, she began exploring the accumulated voice memos in her phone only to discover that she had a great starting point for her album right in the palm of her hand.
“It was really great, it felt very natural and it just sort of flowed,” she says of working on Sparrow. For most of the recording and producing process with Paul Beebe at his Beebe Gun Studios, it was just the two of them fine tuning the songs.
“There weren't a lot of restrictions, there wasn't a deadline, it was a great experience. It was creatively very, very fulfilling to work on. I've learned throughout my lifetime of just creating stuff, there's a really different feeling between really wanting something to come together and pushing for that versus just allowing it to unfold.”
Beebe, who played all instruments on the album with the exception of acoustic guitar which Rushing played, turned out to be the ideal partner to have in the studio.
“Every time I’ve ever recorded it has been with a band and it was just a really different experience. I love Paul, we've been friends and played in a band together for years. He's just such a good person in general, the most genuine, down to earth, funny, good human and he's insanely talented.”
“They’re all kind of different,” says Rushing of the eight tracks on Sparrow. “There are three different vibes; there's some lighthearted fun just diddies, there's some deeper more vulnerable stuff for sure and then the stories. It's funny writing songs, it’s different every time and it's just a matter of being open to it and seeing what's there that day.”
Rushing is right about the “vibes” on Sparrow and much like her outlook in life, she found a perfect way to balance all of the tracks letting listeners go from a reflective touching story like “Promise Land” to the more upbeat “Let’s Go Out", ironically written at a time when no one could go out due to the pandemic.
“I feel like our worlds, sometimes we need to leave. We need to get away from what it is that is hindering us. I think as humans we all have those moments and sometimes what we don't have is someone saying it’s okay, you can leave and you can do your thing,” she says of the story behind "Promise Land" and the idea of finding balance in our lives.
When asked how her acting training and experiences feeds into her storytelling through songs, Rushing is clear that both mediums of expression are related but also distinct as a performer.
“They're definitely different in the sense that when you're on stage and you're acting, you really are not you. You are acting and it is your job to invite the audience into this story and for them to believe who you are and that's a really comfortable place for me,” says Rushing.
“When you're performing your own music, you want to connect with the audience as well but in a different way because it is you. There's always something more vulnerable to me about standing onstage and singing my music. Looking back, when I was younger I used to have so much fear around that and now that I'm older and have more experience, it's such a gift to be able to be in a room with people who are there to be entertained and have fun but also take that ride with you.”
“Really it is about connecting and being vulnerable but at the end of the day, it's not about me or you it's not about whoever is on stage because it's actually transformed into something that's entirely different. It’s an experience now, we are experiencing this and you get to take away from what you want. It’s like letting the bird leave the nest.”
Sparrow is available for streaming and pre-order for vinyl online. Katie Rushing will be performing at The Brooklyn Twang Festival, Saturday May 29 at The Continental Club, 700 Main. Doors open at 1 p.m. with music until 10 p.m. outdoor, seated and masked concert, $22
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE...
Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.