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Sabrina Toole: Finding Success On Her Own Terms

 

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By Johnny Griffith

East Texas has a disproportionate amount of talented musicians you can find on any given weekend at venues all over the region. While places like Austin, Dallas, and Houston give you the chance to see national acts on a regular occasion, the talent you see in East Texas is overwhelmingly homegrown and consistently as good as anything you’ll see in any of the aforementioned destinations. Admittedly rock and country dominate the mainstream musical landscape in this part of the state, but more frequently you can find artists performing blues, R&B, and pop in the area. Sabrina Toole is one of the up and coming pop singer/songwriters native to East Texas who has taken a leap of faith and decided to make a career out of her talents.

Originally born in Dallas, Sabrina moved to Lufkin when she was six and now, after a brief detour to Nashville, lives in Tyler. Naturally gifted in music and athletics, Sabrina not only played basketball in school, she would sing the national anthem at home games.

A product of a musical family, she began embracing music at an early age and thanks to a great support system around her, has translated that talent into numerous accolades, awards, and her very first album released this past November. We recently caught up to Sabrina to find out more about her path to this point:

Johnny: So I’ve read somewhere that you got your start in music singing in church when you were very young. Do you remember anything about that first performance?

Sabrina: I don’t remember the first time I ever performed in front of an audience or what the song was, but I do remember my very first play I was in for a church event. I was a Raggedy Ann doll, and I had a vocal solo. I was probably around the age of nine.

Johnny: How influential was your family in the development of your talent?

Sabrina: My parents have been and are a huge influence. They are my number one support system. From going to all of my shows to paying for vocal lessons when I was starting out, they’ve always been there. The older I’ve gotten the more I realize how important family really is.

Johnny: Your bio says you began writing songs around the age of 13. What inspired those early songs?

Sabrina: I went to a church youth camp when I was in the eighth grade and the female pastor approached me one night and told me she felt that I would be a songwriter. At the time, I never thought about writing a song. I thought I wouldn’t be very good at it. After about a month from the night she told me I should write songs I decided to try it out, and I’ve been writing ever since.

Johnny: How would you describe your music now?

Sabrina: My music is primarily pop, but I definitely try to throw in some blues, rock, and soul vibes.

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Johnny: When did you first get the idea that this music thing could be more than just a hobby?

Sabrina: I first realized that I wanted to pursue music when I was a junior in high school. Before that, it never occurred to me that I could actually make a living off of music, but as I started growing up and talking with musicians, I realized that music is something I really wanted to do professionally.

Johnny: How tough was it to jump out and commit to trying to make a career out of music?

Sabrina: Pursuing music definitely has it’s trying times. They don’t call it “starving artist” for nothing. Even though there are times where I do feel it gets rough, it still all goes back to having such an incredible family to rely on and keep me sane.

Johnny: What have been some of the more memorable gigs you’ve done over your career so far?

Sabrina: Great question. It’s hard to only have one answer, but some gigs that come to mind are when I performed in South Dakota at a big event called Hills Alive. There were tons of people and the energy from the crowd was just insane. Another memorable moment I had was a fairly recent gig back in November at Lago Del Pino in Tyler where I hosted my album release party. All of my friends and family came out and it was a really amazing night.

Johnny: Do you have a band you perform with regularly or are you primarily solo?

Sabrina: I’m a solo artist. I was in a rock band a few years ago called Kindred, and after we parted ways I took on a solo career. I mostly play acoustic sets with my acoustic players, Joey Cefalu and Mariah Childress.

Johnny: What have some of the challenges been from that first gig as a singer/songwriter to the point last year when you released your own album?

Sabrina: One of the challenges for me was getting the confidence to let my own songs be heard. I used to be very self conscience of my lyrics and wonder if people would even connect with it or even like it for that matter. The more I’ve written, the more I’ve improved and gained more confidence to try new things and not be so intimidated by what people might think.

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Johnny: How has the reception been for the album so far?

Sabrina: People have been so positive with their feedback about the album. I’m so proud of my album, and I’m so thankful my fans are enjoying it!

Johnny: You moved to Nashville for a while writing this album. How different was that from what you were used to at the time, and did that contrast help in the writing process?

Sabrina: I moved to Nashville in 2015 and lived there for the whole year to focus on the album. My time in Nashville was incredible. I feel like the change helped my writing process and helped me grow not only as a musician but as a young adult trying to navigate through life. I had major writer’s block for about six months, but when I moved to Nashville to start writing for the album, the songs just came so easy for me. That may sound like the cheesiest thing ever, but it’s a true story!

Johnny: During that time, did you have any “fan girl” moments when you found yourself face to face with an artist or band you’ve been a fan of over the years?

Sabrina: I didn’t meet any big time musicians unfortunately, but my guitar player was at a coffee shop in Franklin, TN and met one of my favorite front woman vocalists, Hayley Williams of Paramore. I’m still so upset about it!

Johnny: What are your goals for 2017 and beyond?

Sabrina: I hope to go on a small tour in the near future and maybe even start working on a second album in a year or a year and a half.

For more info about Sabrina and upcoming projects and gigs go to:

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Bands

October 13th, Award-Winning Band MercyMe in Concert

October 13th, Award-Winning Band MercyMe in Concert

MercyMe will be in concert at The Oil Palace is October and is guaranteed to sell-out!

Since their debut in 2001, Grammy®-nominated, multiple American Music Award and Dove Award winners, MercyMe has sold more than 8.5 million units in CD, single and DVD sales, garnered 27 No. 1 multi-format Christian radio singles and four consecutive mainstream radio hits with ‘I Can Only Imagine,’ (No. 4 AC/Top 25 on Top 40/Hot AC), ‘Here With Me’ (No. 4 AC), ‘Homesick’ (Top 10 AC), and ‘So Long Self.’

Their radio success has continued with recent singles ‘Flawless’ (No. 1 for 15 weeks) and ‘Greater’ (No. 1 for 16 weeks)​, landing them the Top Christian Airplay Artist spot on Billboard’s 2015 Year End charts.

MercyMe made history in 2014 as ‘I Can Only Imagine’ surpassed 2 million digital downloads, making it the first song in Christian music to go platinum and double-platinum in the digital domain. In 2009, Billboard named MercyMe’s ‘Word Of God Speak’ the No. 1 Song of The Decade and the group the No. 1 Artist of the Decade in both the Christian Songs and Christian AC Songs categories, recognizing them as one of the industry’s most notable talents.

They have sold out venues throughout the US and Canada, including Radio City Music Hall, and have appeared on The Today Show, CBS This Morning, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Fox New Channel’s Fox & Friends, CNN, ABC News, and in the pages of Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, USA Today and more.

Their most recent project “MercyMe, It’s Christmas!” debuted atop the Billboard Top Holiday Albums chart and became an instant classic. Their eighth studio release, “Welcome To The New,” garnered Billboard Music Award nominations in all three Christian categories and two Grammy® nods; the album is available in stores now.

Tickets start at $19 and are available at oilpalace.com. The Oil Palace is located at 10408 State Highway 64 East, Tyler, (903)566-2122.

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Blacktop Mojo: Burning Up The Roads To Success

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By Johnny Griffith

About a year and a half ago I sat down to interview Blacktop Mojo, a Jacksonville based hard rock band riding a wave of momentum after several successful years together and an upcoming album release. The end of that interview finished with this:

“Blacktop Mojo can still be heard around East Texas on a regular basis, but I would definitely suggest checking out their website for more information and a sample of their music if you haven’t heard them. If it’s in your wheelhouse, get out and support a great local band that won’t be local for much longer at the rate their Mojo is working.”

As it turns out, I was a little more prescient that I anticipated as Blacktop Mojo’s stock has only risen in the ensuing months. With a successful album release, ever increasingly distant tour stops, and mounting accolades from industry critics and magazines, local BTM shows are becoming harder to come by.

In case you might not have heard of Blacktop Mojo, their sound can be described as “modern rock that got dragged through a puddle of southern rock and then dipped in a little bit of grunge”. The band was originally formed in 2012 and the current lineup includes Matt James on vocals, Nathan Gillis on drums, Chuck Wepfer on rhythm guitar, Ryan Keifer on lead guitar, and Matt Curtis on bass.  

With a huge sound and chest shaking vocals, Blacktop Mojo brings a high energy rock show that leaves fans wanting more everywhere they go. While in the midst of rehearsals last month for their most recent tour that kicked off in San Antonio on April 20th, we caught up with them to see what had been going on for the past year and a half and what was on the radar for the rest of the year.

Johnny: So it’s been about a year and a half since our last interview with you guys and the last time we talked there was an album in the works. When did “Burn The Ships” release and how was the process different from the first time around when you recorded “I am”?

BTM: “Burn The Ships” released in March of 2017. The biggest difference between this record and our first record, “I Am”, was the amount of time we took for pre-production. On “I Am”, we spent about two weeks getting ready and arranging the songs before we went in to record it, where on “Burn The Ships”, we spent about eight months demoing and playing around with different ideas.

Johnny: How has the reception been to the album so far and do you guys have your own personal favorite song from it?

BTM: The reception to the album has been incredible this far. We’ve had countless positive reviews and feedback from publications all over the world. Also, our first single off of the album entitled “Where The Wind Blows” reached number 27 on the Billboard Active Rock chart last summer.

Johnny: You guys got to open for Bon Jovi last year in a sold-out stadium. Tell us about that about how you guys got that honor and a little about the experience?

BTM: We actually won that honor in a contest the band was putting on. We submitted some of our original music and were picked by Live Nation and the band’s management to open up the show. The experience was beyond amazing and the crowd was very receptive to us. We cannot thank the Bon Jovi camp enough for the opportunity and for treating us so incredibly.

Johnny: Obviously that put you in front of a lot of potential new fans but what would you say the biggest takeaway from that event was?

BTM: Our biggest takeaway from that night was that whether you’re playing in front of 20 or 20,000 people, you should treat it the same way. Make everyone feel like you’re playing in a stadium even if it’s an empty room.

Johnny: Blacktop Mojo has been trending steadily upward the past couple of years with several accolades from industry publications, over 40 thousand likes on Facebook, a new album, and you guys seem to play everywhere and anywhere. What kind of effect has the increased exposure and success had on the daily routine and what kind of new challenges have came along?

BTM: Our daily routine hasn’t changed much when we’re home. We still write and rehearse on a regular basis and go about business as usual. The increased exposure has made touring opportunities more readily available for us and has increased the number of people we can reach with our music, which is super exciting for us.

Johnny: You have a pretty extensive tour coming up that you’ll already be on the road for when this goes to print. Is this the biggest tour BTM has embarked on and what goes into planning a 2-month long road trip that covers, as best I could count, 32 states, both sides of the country, Canada, and 43 shows?

BTM: This is our most extensive tour to date. A lot of planning, routing, and generally putting the puzzle pieces together has gone on over the past few months by us and our team to make this happen. We couldn’t be more excited to get back out on the road and see our friends across the country.

Johnny: I’d say it would be time for a break after that sort of trip, but you guys are right back at it, playing Rock Fest 2018 up in Wisconsin with some huge names, do you guys ever have to step back, take a breath, and say to yourself “this is our reality”?

BTM: We are very blessed to be able to wake up and do what we love every single day. They say “you never work a day in your life if you do what you love”, so I don’t think we’ve ever really thought about taking a break.

Johnny: Were you able to see yourself at this point back when you played your first show at the Neches Fall Festival or the first “official” show as BTM at the Shelton Gin back in 2012?

BTM: It would have been hard to imagine getting to do what we do now back then. We’ve always just been happy to be able to play music for people.

Johnny: With what’s on your plate for the first half of this year, I almost hate to ask, but what’s on the radar for the second half of 2018 that you can share with us?

BTM: We have plans to keep touring throughout the rest of the year and are currently writing music for our third record.

Johnny: What has been the best memory from the ride so far?

BTM: It’s hard to pick just one from all of it. One of my favorites so far was riding back into town off of our first tour last Summer/Fall. We’d been out on the road for over 60 days straight with 7 of us basically living out of our van. We were tired, beat up, and hungry, but everyone was smiling and joking with each other. It really felt like we had accomplished something.

For more information on Blacktop Mojo and when they’ll be back at a location near you, check them out on the web:

www.blacktopmojo.com 

www.facebook.com/BlacktopMojo.

 

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