Three years ago I had the pleasure of going to Nashville for the very first time to a songwriters festival called Tin Pan South. I saw some incredibly talented songwriters, 3 of which we went on to interview the year after - Barry Dean, Jessi Alexander and Brandy Clark. There was one writer in particular that blew me away and I have been dying to interview her ever since and that writer is Natalie Hemby! When I found out she was playing CMA Songwriters Series I was over the moon, I knew she was going to be the highlight of the night and sure enough the stand out performance came from Natalie when she sang Jealous a song which she'd written with, and was recorded by Labyrinth. We didn't have long with Natalie but it was still one of my favourite interviews I've ever done.
Can you summarise your journey to becoming a hit songwriter please?
Yes absolutely, you know I got my first publishing deal when I was 19. So I actually wanted to be an artist, so this was the 90s, so Alanis Morisette and Cheryl Crow were on the radio. I almost got a record deal for I don’t know how many years. I have a contract from columbia that’s this thick, I still have it and Jay Joyce was going to do my record he does a lot of the country records now in Nashville. Anyway one thing led to another and every door kept shutting on me. Then I get married and my husband’s a producer and we moved to LA for a short stint and we hated it so moved back home. I went and got a job at the cable company. Meanwhile my husband started producing this new girl called Miranda Lambert and he produced her first three records and during this time I’m still writing songs but I’d given up on being an artist because I was around 30 years old. I sang on the first two records, the backgrounds, Mike and I did - Mike is my husband, Mike Wrucke. Anyway by the third record, Revolution, Miranda who’s the same exact age as my sister, they’re born on the same day, she felt like my little sister, she’s always real sweet to me. She says “Hey I’d really like to write for this record” and I said well if you mean that, you just call me because I’m available! So I had White Liar ready to go, I had Only Prettier, Virginia Bluebell, she brought in Airstream Song. So we wrote 8 songs in 2 days, we would just write from morning until late at night so literally White Liar became our first number one together which for me was baffling because I thought Kerosene and Gun Powder and Lead should have been number ones but they weren’t so we got to share that together so that was really what catapulted my career so then one door opens, all of them start opening so then I get to write with Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town, it’s been an awesome wave to ride because I know it doesn’t last forever but I’m going to make it last as long as possible.
When I’ve seen you and Barry perform in the past at Tin Pan South in Nashville you’ve talked about the song Pontoon and there’s an interesting story behind that isn’t there, could you tell us that please?
I had written a song with Luke Laird called Fine Tune somebody thought we said Pontoon so I said oh my gosh wouldn’t it be hilarious if we actually wrote a song called Pontoon. I’m not kidding we called Barry Dean and it was the first song we wrote together Barry and I. Literally we wrote the song and was laughing about it because we thought it was funny and then it started getting pitched around and I think Dierks had it on hold and Kix Brooks had it on hold but Little Big Town took it and they made it a smash for us and it was just crazy to me and it was Barry’s first number one but it was so funny because literally you could write a song about your Grandma dying and the one that everyone loses their shit over is the song about a boat. I’ll take whatever I can get!
You’ve already talked about Miranda Lambert, Barry Dean and Luke Laird but who are some of your favourite artists and writers to work with?
These days I have a lot of favourites to work with Daniel Tashian is a dear friend of mine, I’ve known him over twenty years, he just produced Kacey Musgraves new record and he is a phenomenal songwriter and he’s creative and his family actually were folk singers and they used to open up for The Beatles. They were friends with Robert Plant so he was immersed in music too, he’s one of my favourites. Luke Dick is my all time favourite writer right now, he’s from Oklahoma, I call him the Beck of Country music, he’s quirky, he’s fresh, there’s a fun side to him. I wrote Pink Sunglasses with him, Highway Vagabonds. He wrote Eric Church’s Round Here Buzz, he’s had several cuts within the last year and we actually wrote a couple songs on Dierks Bentleys new record. So he’s one of my really close pals that if I have a sacred idea I’ll take it to him. I also love collaborating with… I mean Maren Morris is an amazing writer, so is Kacey, so are all the girls who are doing well.
How did your record Puxico come about?
I did a documentary about my grandparents hometown in South East Missouri called Puxico and it’s basically a love story to the town of Puxico but really to my grandfather. He’s still alive. I did a soundtrack to it. Karen actually was the one who said to me, can you send that soundtrack to me and she said you need to put this out, this is your record and I thought you know what, you’re right. So it wasn’t just a soundtrack, it was a soundtrack to my life. That is what inspired me to put it out to the World and I didn’t know what was going to happen with it, I had no expectations but I’m really Grateful that it was well received at least.
Obviously you’re a hit songwriter, it’s what you do every day, but do you ever run out of inspiration?
Oh yeah, these days I get a lot of inspiration from my co-writers. I feel like that’s what’s so important about co-writing, you can’t carry the load by yourself sometimes. You get stuck on an idea, you might not know what you want to write about but if you have a buddy you can trust, that can help you cultivate it and carve it out but to be a great writer you have to be alone sometimes as well, you have to lead and learn about things, people, stories and conversations. They randomly happen.
We really enjoyed chatting to Natalie and loved her performances at the CMA Songwriters Series where she seemed to play hit after hit! If you haven't already, go and get yourself a copy of Puxico, it's a fantastic record!