“Live in THIS moment.”
That’s what my fortune cookie said as I finished my takeout dinner in a hotel near downtown Nashville.
“Ok, cookie,” I said out loud to myself as I laid it on the desk next to my planner and pages of typed up lyrics scribbled with notes. These songs I’ve been writing and re-writing for the past eight years were all just stacked up there waiting for the next morning to go into the studio and come to life in the hands of some of the best players in the neighborhood.
If you would have asked the sixteen-year-old version of me what most intimidated me as a young woman pursuing some sort of music career, I would have told you it was this. This exact situation. Bringing songs I wrote on the floor of my bedroom in the middle of nowhere to sit before musicians who are truly professional and have seen it all. Surly my songs about the hard clay of home and hard people who live there wouldn’t resonate. Surly they would laugh me right on back to where I came from.
I faced my fear of Nashville with my last original album in 2015. I was a grown woman by then and had done plenty of things that scared me, so I hopped a plane, figuring all I had to lose was the money. And though I had no real idea of what to expect, I was greeted by an experience in the studio that was so open and encouraging that it successfully rearranged my view of what it can mean to make music.
I’m sure you wont be surprised to hear it’s about the people. And in this business there is plenty of competitive drive and ambition that can make things ugly, but I had long stripped away any ideas of fame and fortune by the time I stepped into a Nashville studio for the first time. I just wanted to make the best songs I could possibly make and so did every person in that room with me. And that’s it. That’s all it’s about.
This time I flew into Nasvhille on the tail end of a storm that was lighting and thunder and rain and the migration of Taylor Swift fans to music city for her concerts. As the rain and the superstar and the fans left music city, I made my way to a studio on music row and stood under the same roof she once had, and so did Janis Ian and Alison Krauss and Faith Hill and Miranda Lambert and on and on and on the famous names lined the walls and it wasn’t fancy but it was friendly and for the record I’m the only one name-dropping here
And in came the bass player and his big upright and the drummer who sits perfect in the pockets of songs and the sweetest guitar player and a woman named Wanda who can play every stringed instrument you can name and so began our day together, working through the notes of the twelve songs I brought from North Dakota prairie.
If you’re curious about the process, in short I hire a producer, who rents out a studio and hires session players. That producer charts the arrangements for the songs and gathers us all up for a day (or more) of laying the groundwork for each track. In both my experiences, we tracked the entire album, twelve songs in one ten-hour day. That means these musicians often only heard the rough-cut demo of each song once, which is typically five minutes before recording, and then they get to work. My role is to listen, sing my parts and make sure it all goes in the direction I had in my head. But every time, it goes above and beyond. The next day all those musicians were likely scheduled to work on entirely separate projects in different studios with different producers across town and I’ll stay for the rest of the week to work on tracking vocals.
And that’s the just the beginning. Over the course of the year I’ll schedule release dates and concerts and find my favorites and your favorites and make videos and tell stories like I always do, and see where it all goes. But for now as I write this, sipping coffee from a paper hotel cup, I’m just here facing those teenage fears and living in THIS moment.