That One Song: “Sweet Thing” by Mackenzie Roark

“Stop me if I’ve done this all before” may seem like an unlikely opening lyric for the debut single from a debut LP, but it certainly suits Mackenzie Roark.

While the powerhouse singer-songwriter already has an EP to her name, “Rollin’ High, Feelin’ Low,” out Oct. 18 on Richmond-based Vocal Rest Records, will double as a reintroduction. The full-length features more stylistic variety than her 2016 country EP, and her new album’s first single, “Sweet Thing,” offers a bright mix of folk and pop to complement its countrified foundation.

Raised in Chesterfield, Roark went to James Madison University before moving back to Richmond, embedding herself in the local scene and linking up with Vocal Rest, whose founder, Trey Burnart Hall, is serving as producer on “Rollin’ High, Feelin’ Low.” She’s actually part of multiple acts on the highly collaborative label, complementing her eponymous work with contributions to Devil’s Coattails and Brady Heck’s group — all of whom performed at the Vocal Rest Fest showcase at Gallery5 in August.

Big things are building for Roark, and “Sweet Thing” encapsulates the moves she’s making in three bittersweet minutes.

Style: How did you decide on “Sweet Thing” as the album’s first single?

Mackenzie Roark: We just got really excited about it when we recorded it… Trey, who is producing the album, was like, “This sounds like a single.” [I] wanted to do this one as the first single because I felt like it is kind of a breakout from my previous music that I’ve released… This one is a little more folk. I wouldn’t really even say it’s country. It’s kind of poppy in a way, and so I wanted to put out something that was just different… The next song we’re releasing is more of a traditional country banger, and the third single is more of a lyric-heavy kind of song. I wanted to have three very different vibes with the three singles we’re putting out.

What made recording the song so exciting?

It was fun getting other musicians’ input into what needed to be in the song… Trey played mandolin and he was very psyched on it, and we got this guy named Mike Ferry to come in and do fiddle, so it was just fun to experiment and play around and see what they came up with. I wrote the words, [and] I came up with the tune, but as far as interesting instrumental parts, that’s where my brain stops and I allow other people to come in and be like, “What do you think? What are you hearing?” Listening back and watching it take shape in the studio, it was exciting… That’s just a rare thing to write a song, record it, watch all the different layers accumulate and then it’s like “Wow, I actually feel proud of this.” It’s great.

The song itself builds, in terms of how the instruments come in.

Starting with just the drums, the drums and the acoustic guitar, and then slowly the banjo comes in, and then the mandolin and then the fiddle. I like a slow build, and I think this song, probably more so than any song on the album, has that slow build.

What mindset were you in when you wrote the lyrics?

I really wanted to write a song that captured the feeling [where] you’re on the tail end of a relationship but you’re not quite ready to let go. I’ve experienced that in my life a few times, and I have one friend in particular who was going through this specific thing, where they were trying to let go of a relationship, but it’s like, “Alright, we’re broken up, but also, do you want to just meet up, because I miss you and you’re familiar to me?” There’s that whole really hard dynamic… It’s something that I feel like most people can relate to.

How was your experience at the recent Vocal Rest Fest at Gallery5?

I played with three separate acts and then was also vending, so for me it was a very busy day. It was everything we could have asked for and more. It wasn’t like we packed out the house and a million people showed up, but the people that did show up seemed to really appreciate what we were doing, and really be there for the music, and really enjoy what we were doing. It was such a positive experience. For everyone at the label to be in the same room, more or less [and] all get to listen and support each other and encourage each other, it was so nice … I think we’re going to make it an annual thing, and maybe see if it can grow and change and transform and evolve into something bigger and better. But I think for a first-ever Vocal Rest Fest, it was a total success.

Mackenzie Roark’s full-length debut, “Rollin’ High, Feelin’ Low,” is out Oct. 18 on Vocal Rest Records. She’s scheduled to perform at the Hardywood Farmhouse Pumpkin Fest on Sept. 17. Music starts at noon and ends at 10 p.m. To view the full lineup, visit For information on Roark’s other upcoming performances, visit her Facebook page.


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