Talent. Webster's defines talent as the natural endowments of a person or as a special creative or artistic aptitude. When speaking of a singer, we tend to believe talent happens on the stage and in the studio in the delivery of a song. When speaking of a songwriter, we tend to view the song as a way of telling a story or making us feel something extraordinary.
To be blunt, this singer and songwriter is blessed with talent - Dawn Sears is talent defined. A vocal beauty and powerful clarity that sounds as good on the stage as it does in the studio. No mixing of the vocals or Protools required here. What you hear is exactly what you get . . . beautifully natural.
Dawn's songwriting comes from places in the heart and soul that only true talents arise from. From heartbreaking ballads to uplifting songs of love and faith, she has the genius of some of Nashville's most noteworthy writers.
The 2002 release of Dawn Sears signifies a talent that is comfortable in her own skin. It's pure country with truth, honesty and emotion pouring out of every note. Despite record deals in year's past . . . this is the album she has always wanted to make. No labels to say "it's too country," "this is the right song," or "no not that one." This album is strictly hers; and it is the best body of work to come out of Nashville, independent or label produced, in recent years. "I just go with my heart," Dawn noted. Her heart was raised on greats such as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzel, Connie Smith and Dolly Parton. Listening to her parents' collection of classic country music, Dawn formed her own ideals of what truly is country music.
By age 11 she got her first guitar. Deciding to try her luck in public, she sang "Satin Sheets" in a talent contest in Grand Forks, North Dakota VFW hall at age 14. It was the first time she ever stood before a microphone. "I stopped in the middle of the song," she recalls. "I couldn't figure out how my voice was getting so loud." She shook off her nerves, though, started singing again and won the contest. She never looked back . . . she was hooked.
Winning more contests she moved on to the local club scene in Minnesota, and when the time seemed right she made her move out on her own. "I left home fresh out of school and was lucky enough to get a band gig on the road," she says. "I wasn't quite 18 yet, so my mom and dad had to sign a little piece of paper saying I wasn't a runaway and I wasn't being held captive," she recalls with a laugh. "Looking back, now with a child of my own, I know that had to be one of the hardest things they ever did. But they were undoubtedly my biggest fans and they did everything they knew to do in order to help me achieve a dream I so desperately wanted. It proved to be a great education and experience." Those dreams led her to fronting her own band and touring the West and Midwest. Dreams again are what led her to Nashville in 1987. "It wasn't the music that brought me to Nashville . . . it was Kenny Sears.
Kenny and I met in Las Vegas in 1986. I was playing in the Sahara Lounge with my band and he was playing the showroom with Mel Tillis. I knew I had found my so-called 'knight in shining armor' from the first moment I saw him. I started visiting Kenny in Nashville and he'd put me back on the plane. I'd come to Nashville, he'd put me back on the plane. Finally, I quit leaving! We were married six months after we met and we're still together 15 years later!" Dawn's first major break was on TNN's Nashville Now. "Ralph (Emery) liked me enough to call me at work the next day and ask if I'd come and sing on his morning show," Dawn states. "I didn't even know he had a morning show because I didn't get up that early! But I did about three shows and he asked if I'd like to be a regular. I did! I'll always be grateful to Ralph and the show," she noted. The television exposure led to her first major recording contract. Dawn signed with Warner Brothers Records in 1991.
They released three well-received singles, most notably "Good Goodbye," but they weren't able to break her nationally. Dawn gave serious thought to leaving music behind to attend college and begin med-school (another interest of hers), after having had a first-hand look at the realities of a major deal. "Before I had the chance to enroll in school," she says, "Vince Gill called and asked if I wanted to sing backup for him on the road. He had sung background vocals on one of the songs I had recorded. He later called me to sing background vocals on the song "Say Hello" for his I Still Believe in You album." His call is something that causes her to shake her head. "I was just so shocked that he was interested, that he even remembered who I was," she recalls. "It started a two-week trial period, and if that's all it had turned out to be, it would've been enough for me.
But it turned into a long relationship that I'm very proud of." "I had never met anyone quite like Vince. He can sing absolutely anything and each performance is flawless. I'd been in awe of his talent, and a fan, long before we met. So the chance to work with someone of his caliber was, to me, the chance of a lifetime," Dawn says. "I really wanted to do well for him and I was so nervous the first couple of nights that I forgot the lyrics to my own single (which he let me do during the show), and to "Oklahoma Swing" where I was singing Reba's part. He must have sensed how nervous I was, because he let me stay, and before long I won the battle with my own nerves," she laughs. Having just arrived from the school of hard knocks with the major players, Dawn notes "Vince was really a gift from above. He played a big part in re-building my confidence level and re-enforcing something my parents instilled in me early on . . . be your own, unique self.
My time with Vince Gill was priceless and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world." That relationship has resulted in Vince singing background vocals on her 2002 release. And Dawn is a featured background vocalist on Vince's upcoming CD. By 1994, MCA was knocking on her door. Realizing her impeccable talent they signed her to their roster of artists. Looking forward to working with producer Tony Brown, Dawn was soon disappointed to find a shake-up at MCA in the works. They soon moved her over to DECCA to help launch the re-emergence of the legendary sister label to MCA. A need to change producers was also required by the label. And once again, the label couldn't break her nationally. After the release of three singles, Dawn said, "thanks, but no thanks," and walked away from her lifelong dream.
After having two major recording contracts Dawn felt that it had become quite clear that she was in some sort of cookie cutter syndrome. "They seem to have this untold recipe of what works and what sells. It's really not about the artist or the music . . . it's about what they believe sells records. I was being molded into something I wasn't and because music buyers are more savvy than the labels give them credit for, they didn't take the bait. I have no ill feelings about any of it. Sure, I was disappointed in a few key people and they know who they are." Dawn goes on to say, "I also knew the odds of actually realizing an album that truly reflected Dawn Sears were nil and none, and since I'm not at all good in the game of musical politics, I decided to wait for the day that I could make an album that I was really proud of.
All in all, I consider it a very valuable education, and believe me, I've taken some killer notes!" Since then, Dawn has continued playing the music she loves. Additionally she went after her second interest of medicine. She is now a licensed clinical aesthetician with her own clinical skin care practice in Nashville . . . Skinsation. "I still get to work with real people every day and my mission hasn't changed," she says. "I'm simply working day-to-day on a medical level rather than a musical level.
However, some of my patients remember me and I'll break out in song with their first request!" Dawn's life is full of love and life with her music, her second career, her husband Kenny and daughter Tess. And despite what many in the industry may say, Dawn's fairy tale is not about to end. It is just the beginning of making the music she loves . . . not the industry's idea of country music.
While this 2002 album release may not have a major label attached to it, there is nothing lacking for the listener. Quality production and engineering (no remixing or Protools required!), exceptional musicians and vocalists (Connie Smith sings a duet with Dawn; and Vince Gill sings background vocals), supreme examples of songwriting and a voice so eloquent that it speaks for itself. After hearing this exceptional release, it is a bit more clear why Dawn Sears couldn't conform to the standards of the major labels - her standards are higher.