For more than three years, Sara Burns successfully lived a double life.
By day, the 20-year-old Hilton Head Island native was an unassuming accounting major at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
By night, she was meeting with producers, and writing and recording the songs that would later appear on "Past Tense," the three-track EP Burns self-released released Tuesday on iTunes and Amazon.
A recent write-up about the album and her budding music career in the school's newspaper, The Daily Gamecock, outed her as being something other than a normal college student.
"They really had no idea," Burns said. "I had done some shows at Delaney's (Music Pub and Eatery) in the Five Points area in Columbia but only a few times. So I asked our teacher if it'd be OK if I made a brief announcement so I got in front of the class and said, 'Yes, I'm a singer/songwriter and I have this album coming out.' They were all pretty surprised."
While her musical life may have been a secret in Columbia, Burns is far from an unknown commodity in her hometown where she has been performing at island bars and restaurants since she was a student at Hilton Head Island High School. This summer, Burns will be performing six nights a week on the back deck at the Old Oyster Factory.
Burns said the EP is something of a departure for her musically, the songs packing much more of a contemporary country sound than the '90s alternative music that inspired her to teach herself to play guitar at age 12 and begin writing songs. She lists Canadian songstress Alanis Morisette among her idols but, after consulting with local producer Kevin Bruchert, decided to go in a different direction.
"The comparisons I was getting was to people like (Kimberly Perry) from The Band Perry because of the raspy, soulful quality that I have in my voice," Burns said. "I was never a huge fan of country music. I mean, I liked it but I didn't listen to a lot of it. I've been paying much closer attention to it now and really find myself liking it a lot more than I thought. At the end of the day, I'd rather be in Nashville than out in (Los Angeles)."
And she will be in Music City soon.
Burns said she plans to play a Nashville showcase later this month in the hopes of attracting attention from major record labels but is not necessarily banking on her music career to pay the bills.
Always the pragmatist, Burns said she will graduate from USC next year with a degree in accounting.
"Music and accounting seem like these two extremes, but I've always been a very practical person," she said. "I've known all along that I wanted to get a good education so I had something to fall back on, but I would love to make a living playing music."
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.
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