For someone who moved to Dallas a little under a year ago, Sarah Henry has dived right into the music scene with her record label, Palo Santo. Started last summer, she already has a couple of releases under the label's belt and has more on the schedule for 2016.
Prior to moving here, Henry's only real connection to the area was, other than a few relatives, prolific songwriter and producer Salim Nourallah. She had seen Nourallah open for Rhett Miller when she lived in Nashville and really took to his music and stayed in touch with him. After living in Nashville for four years and going through a divorce, Henry began exploring the possibility of moving somewhere new. "I was really struck by the quality of his songwriting," Henry says of Nourallah. "It was something about seeing him play that night that really said to me, 'Hey, Sarah! Your life doesn't have to suck forever! Make some changes for the better!'"
Henry had lived in Austin years ago and considered that town as well as San Antonio, but ultimately she decided on Dallas. "Of course it's taking a risk moving to somewhere that you haven't been familiar with for very long, but I went forward and I couldn't be happier about it," she says.
It was a simple action — donating money to Nourallah's PledgeMusic campaign for his latest solo album, Skeleton Closet — that inspired her to start a label with funds from her divorce settlement. She created Palo Santo last August, knowing full well the difficulties presented by today's music business climate. "My interest was more, 'How do I support an artist without just being the bank? What else can I do beyond just giving money to a crowdfunding campaign?'" she says.
Though she says some people think she's crazy for starting a label, Henry is dedicated to helping artists she believes in. And she knows a few things about how records are made in the studio and physically made on vinyl. "One of the big positives that came out of my marriage was my ex-husband and I are still on excellent terms," she says. "He's a lacquer-cutting engineer by trade and he's the only one I trust sending work to."
She has the time and drive to run the label herself, without even the help of part-time employees or interns. "It gives me somewhere else to direct my energy," she says. "Having spent the bulk of 2014 trying to keep a failing marriage from inevitably falling apart, that took a lot of energy. The following year, to start a new project that does genuinely make me happy, I'm thankful for it."
Deciding what to release and getting to know Dallas area musicians was easy for Henry. "The scene here doesn't seem huge or intimidating or difficult to navigate," she says. "Most people know everybody else, if not personally, at least by reputation."
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The first Palo Santo release was a digital single by singer/songwriter Brian Lambert called "The Ballad of Tony Romo." The tune, about the Cowboys quarterback always getting back up, was released just two days before he broke his collarbone and was out for most of the team's season. 1310AM The Ticket picked it up and played it on the air. (Lambert is working on a full-length record now, with Henry involved.)
Palo Santo's first vinyl release was a reissue of an older Nourallah album, Polaroid. More vinyl projects are in the works for this year and she hopes to work with Nourallah again on a Crosby, Stills and Nash-tinged side project and a collection of outtakes from his previous solo albums. She also hopes to help with the release of Vanessa Peters' next solo album.
She prefers to set up her relationships with artists so that the money goes directly to the musicians while also covering the cost of production. "It seems fairer for the artist to collect income from record sales more directly," she says. "And then whatever revenue stream they want to use to pay back expenses. Until I see a good reason to do things differently, I prefer to keep it that way. Every project and every artist is going to be a little different. I don't want to have a formula."
Henry is focused on 2016 and trying not to get ahead of herself. "Anything I've ever had a five-year plan for in my entire life has always failed," she says with a laugh. "So, another thing I'm determined to do with the label and how I'm running it is, if an opportunity comes up and it's a cool thing to be involved with, I'll probably just jump on it."