The world doesn’t make believing in yourself easy—especially if you’re treading a path less traveled. No one knows that better than Sarah Potenza, the powerhouse vocalist and songwriter who went from being virtually unknown to wowing judges and becoming a semi-finalist on NBC’s The Voice in 2015. Her stint on the show helped jettison her talents out into the world, but now she’s forging ahead on her own terms—and exuding passion and tenacity in the process.
“Diamond,” the new single off her forthcoming full-length, Road to Rome, is a perfect example of the newfound sense of self she’s uncovered since The Voice. With Potenza’s triumphant lyrics, a soaring background choir, and diverting percussion breaks, “Diamond” is an anthem of self-acceptance and just the sort of song we all need when we’ve lost touch with our own shine.
Listen to “Diamond” and read the full interview with Potenza below.
AF: “Diamond” has such a powerful message. What inspired you to write this song?
SP: From my earliest crushes through my bachelorette years the pattern was always the same: the boys would laugh at all my jokes, be in awe of my talents, and then ask me if my quiet, more submissive girlfriend would go out with them. I spent a lot of time feeling ashamed of who I was. I tried so hard to crack the code, tried to be smaller in every way, but I just couldn’t squeeze myself into the glass slipper. Today I am grateful to have failed, because I wanted things that they could never give to me. “Diamond” is an open letter to a fourteen-year-old Sarah. I want to tell her not to cry over those boys. I want to reach all the little Sarahs out there and tell them, “Girl, just wait. Your turn is coming. You’re a diamond.”
AF: What was the biggest challenge in writing this song? The biggest successes in it?
SP: It was actually a blast to write—it was very freeing, and took lots off my chest. But, pound for pound it was just as heavy. Looking back, I wasn’t kind to myself, and I wasted a lot of time pursuing the attention of boys. My assessment of my own attractiveness was based on the following: Was I pretty? Was small enough? Was I submissive/passive enough? Nope. I was smart, funny, outspoken, a leader, talented and big in every way. I really had to pack a lot, you see? But for me, this kind of anger is healing and acting it out onstage about a hundred times a year really gets that shit out of your system so you can move on.
AF: What’s your writing process look like? Do you have a routine?
SP: It starts with a central concept. Then, I begin to play until I have some words to inform the music. For me, the words dictate everything. If I have to work with someone who doesn’t feel that way, the process can become difficult for me. Next, and still alone, I use my mind to dream of a melody for what little words I have. Then that melody finds its voice. I sing it out loud until it’s solidified, then I go to the piano, find what I am singing, and start to surround it with chords. This turns into a series of pivots and explorations and a lot of times I come back to the first thing I had in the end. But, I have to go searching.
AF: How do you know you’ve landed on something worthwhile? What are your next steps for polishing a song?
SP: Once I have something going that I feel has enough direction—or that I like what I have but feel stuck on—I will record it on a voice memo, send it to my friend Justin, and then he will send me back a garage band file with a more mocked up version of the music, and I track the vocals to that. Typically, that yields a nugget that my husband and guitar player, Ian Crossman, hears. He usually comes up with constructive criticism or a sound or musical idea that gives the whole thing a new perspective. That’s when it gets really fun.
AF: You’re such a confident performer and you wear the RADDEST onstage outfits! What do you do to prep yourself for performance? How do you cultivate confidence in yourself and your work?
SP: I work hard on that shit, then I try to make it look easy. In fact, tonight after we talk, I need to go do my cardio. This new album has been humbling to perform. Lots of fast paced lyrics, big notes and moving around onstage. The songs just call for that, so I gotta step it up. I also watch videos of myself and assess what could be better and what worked. For example, I noticed that the faster songs on this album look better without a mic stand. My lyrics are very playful, so you have to perform them with sass and swag. This is different then my last album, which could mostly be presented on an acoustic guitar while standing still. But, if all else fails, I like to look good. If you’re out there and you feel like a million, you’re gonna show it.
AF: Was there a moment in your life when you realized you’d been undervaluing yourself?
SP: It took me a long time to have that moment. After The Voice, I felt like I had totally lost touch with my inner compass. I was navigating lots of new things, and dealing with adrenal fatigue. Being on reality TV was as much of a confidence builder as it was a killer.
AF: How did you bounce back and find your “Diamond”-ness again?
SP: I was asked to be a part of a project called ‘Sixthman Sessions.’ It’s collaboration of writers assigned to co-write and record an entire album on a cruise ship in three days. I was terrified. I hated co-writing. But when I got going, it turned out I was great at co-writing and it was just what I needed. Because this was not a ‘Sarah Potenza’ album, I was free to fuck it up. And so, I stopped thinking and just chased the ideas, had fun, and stayed focused. With only three days to go, agonizing over every line or chord wasn’t an option. And, the songs were good—like really good. Like, the sound I had been looking for good. After that, I felt like I could hear myself again. And suddenly I felt 14 again, in a pair of my older brother’s Dr. Martins and my vintage army navy store jacket—I found my confidence.
AF: You definitely have your own authentic thing going on, but I’m wondering what influences helped get you here. Who are you listening to most right now?
SP: When I was writing this album I made a playlist for anyone who was working with me on it. A lot of times, I can’t find the words to describe the sound I want, but I can show them. So, I made this list that I would reference, and it directly influenced me. It’s called S&J—Where is the booty album influences. It was an inside joke about a disco song called “Where is the Booty.” Go ahead and look that song up—you’re welcome.
AF: When is your new album due out? Is there one theme that drives the new album?
SP: International Women’s Day (!!!!), March 8th. The theme of the album is shred your shame. Ditch it.
3/8 – Houston, TX @ Mcgonigel’s Mucky Duck
3/13 – SXSW, Austin, TX @ Midcoast Stage
3/15 – SXSW, Austin, TX @ Party in My Pants Showcase
3/15 – SXSW, Austin, TX @ Rebelle Road Presents
3/15 – SXSW, Austin, TX @ New Nashville Riverboat Road Show
3/16 – Dallas, TX @ Opening Bell
3/17 – Tulsa, OK @ The Stone Church
3/31-4/7 – The Melissa Etheridge Cruise