“My motto is, ‘Don’t settle,’” Gwen Sebastian declares. “Don’t give in. If you’re not liking what you’re doing in your life, you’re not going to be the person you want to be.”
That’s the guiding principle that led Sebastian to leave her tiny rural hometown to go for broke in the topsy-turvy Nashville music world. It’s what led her to spend the last several years paying her dues entertaining crowds all over the country, earning one fan at a time the old-fashioned way. And it’s what shaped the full, rich musical personality evident to all that hear her music.
It’s a lesson she learned as a kid, growing up on a farm about 15 miles down a dirt road in the southwestern North Dakota town of Hebron (population 900, but growing!). Her house was filled with music - her father played guitar and fiddle, her mother played bass, and both were singers; her younger brother played drums. She took piano lessons as a child, and by 11 replaced her cousin as the organist at her little country church. The impulse toward entertaining came early and easily. “Ever since I was little I put on shows in the living room and tried to perform,” recalls Sebastian, whose early favorites were harmony-centric acts like the Everly Brothers, Alabama and the Eagles.
She dreamed of making music her life, but wasn’t sure how to make that happen. “I always wanted to do something like this,” she says. “When you’re a kid you think it’s definitely going to happen, but when you get into high school you think, ‘Maybe I should go to college.’ I’m a planner. I always have to have a backup plan.” She went to college, then lasted a semester at a nursing school in Bismarck, N.D., before the lure of her musical dream became simply too strong to resist.
Once she made the move to Nashville, Sebastian found work as a property manager (“helping people get their toilets fixed and collecting rent,” she says). She began learning her way around the business, writing with some of country music’s greatest tunesmiths and earning her stripes on the stage. Rather than play local showcases and writers’ nights like most aspiring artists in Music City, Sebastian took to the road. She played her own shows, as well as opening for acts like Taylor Swift, Sugarland and Luke Bryan. “That’s something that not a lot of artists get to do,” she says. “I was able to actually make a career out of that. I didn’t have to have a day job, and I could be a songwriter on the side. I was lucky that way.” But make no mistake about it, Gwen Sebastian made her own luck. “There’s a lot of talented people out there, but you’ve gotta work too,” she notes. “Sometimes you don’t realize that until you get into it.”
Sebastian has worked hard in pursuit of her dreams, and now that they’re in sight she has no intention of stopping. She hopes to one day earn the level of respect afforded her heroes, artists like Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow. “So far, it’s pretty darn cool what’s happened in my life,” she says. “But I definitely have some big goals.” She won’t settle for less.