Every CMA Songwriters Series I've been to has been filled with tears and laughter and lots of it! The latest one was no different, whilst all four contributed to that range of emotion, Tenille Townes thought-provoking songs like Somebody's Daughter and Jersey on the Wall with their detailed storytelling lyrics could make the hardest of hearts break. The issues which she addresses in her songs are tough but she pulls them off so well and after she played Jersey on the Wall there wasn't a dry eye in the room, even Ashley Campbell who followed her in the round needed a minute before she could play her next song. This power she has will undoubtedly make her one of the best songwriters in Nashville over time and as an artist she has the voice and the platform to change the World for the better. When chatting to her it was clear that this empathy and kindness was not just a front for her songwriting but it was engrained deep within her personality which made this interview one of my favourites that I've ever done! Long before this interview took place, back in 2015 at Tin Pan South, Tenille and I were apparently at The Bluebird Cafe on the same night watching Lori McKenna and Liz Rose. With so much in common I was keen to get to know Tenille a little better!
First of all can you tell me how you first got into Country music and when you decided this is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
Thanks for asking, I have always grown up loving Country music, this is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do it’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. I used to follow along in the lyric booklet to all my favourite records in the back seat or listen to the radio with my family in the kitchen. Country music is definitely a big part of the identity of the people where I’m from in Northern Alberta and it talks about family and looking out for each other and lonesomeness and hope, all of these things, these stories and that’s the anchor for me, that’s what made me fall in love with it. My grandparents bought me my first guitar when I was 14 and I started writing songs and that’s when it really clicked for me, I could tell a story with a song and there was so much I wanted to say and that’s what I love about Country music, it’s so anchored in it’s storytelling.
What did your parents play to you growing up and what are you choosing to listen to now?
It always depended on who was driving, if mom was driving we were listening to Shania Twain and Martina and the Dixie Chicks all these female voices that I looked up to. With my Dad it was a little more U2, Fleetwood Mac and Rock and Roll and my Grandparents played Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Elvis and a lot of the classics so I definitely think I got a little bit of everything and then moving to Nashville discovering the singer songwriter element of music; I'm such a huge Lori McKenna fan, I obsess over her records and have stood in line to see her at the Bluebird. I love the way she plays on the perspective she comes from, I'm also a huge Patty Griffin fan, I love how vulnerable and raw her style is. I listen to a little bit of everything.
That's great! When it comes to your own songwriting where do you draw inspiration from lyrically, does it come from personal experience or do you draw from everywhere?
To me songwriting is capturing what you see and feel and hear around you. A lot of times for me it comes from an observatory perspective where I feel like it's all personal truth and emotion in the story but sometimes it’s telling the story of other people or how I see it. To me songwriting is a spiritual experience, it's very much like a vessel where you're just carrying whatever creativity is coming through you. It’s the wildest thing to me sitting and writing a song, you start with an idea or concept and suddenly you're just spinning words out, the music follows what the words of feeling and all of a sudden you've got this thing that is in the world that never was before and it blows me away every time, I love that part of it so much.
You talked a little about the writing process there but do you always start with a hook or an idea or is it different every time?
I think every song is different and it also depends on who I’m writing with coz their styles are different too. Sometimes when I write on my own, it definitely starts with a feeling first, the emotion and sometimes it’s a title or it’s a verse that carries me to the sentiment, and you’re like “oh this is what this songs about” it reveals itself as you go along. A lot of times when I’m writing with other people I come with things that I’ve been thinking or stewing on that feels authentic to the artistry that I want to represent so that I can collaborate with other people. But sometimes the song finds you out of nowhere, you’re sitting and having a conversation with your friend or co-writer and you start talking about something and you watch the light light up in someones eyes and you think oh there’s something we’re supposed to say about this today. You’ve got to chase that instinct, just really listen to the song you’re supposed to write that day.
Who are your favourite collaborators?
Nashville is such an incredible community of creative souls, people who love waking up everyday and writing songs. To me starting out early on in publishing deal I had the opportunity to write with so many heroes that I have obsessed over and watched in their rounds and studied their songs and made friends with such great people. Daniel Taschen is someone I’ve written a ton of songs with off this record that’s coming soon, my friend Keelan Donovan, Gordie Sampson - fellow Canadian who I love very much. But there’s always something to be pulled from the people I’m in the room with, you learn something from them every single time, there’s so many that I love. I can fan girl over a lot of people right now haha!
That’s great! Can you tell us about your latest single Somebody’s Daughter, you wrote that with Barry Dean and Luke Laird right? Can you tell us about the whole process of how that song came about?
Yes, thank you for asking. Barry and Luke are heroes of mine, I’ve gone to see Creative Nation rounds so many times and sat there completely in awe of the songs they write and what they bring to the Country music community from the ground up. So this was the first time I got to write with them and I was counting down the days for this write, I was so excited but actually a couple of weeks prior to this write I was in the car with my mom, we were going furniture shopping, she came to visit me from Canada and we took this exit off the Interstate and saw this girl standing holding on to a cardboard sign. She looked really young and worried and we were talking in the car about what her story might have been, wondering what happened to her and who she belonged to, thinking how everyones got a story, we’ve all got something we’re going through and her face really stuck with me that day and I worked on a couple of lines from that drive by experience and I brought it up the stairs into Luke’s studio and Luke and I were there first and we were catching up, getting to know each other, I had met him before but this was the first time we were getting together to write so we had such a good chat. He makes a great atmosphere to chill and hang out in and on his computer he’d been working on this loop that was in pretty much the same tempo and in the exact same key I’d been thinking for these two lines and I thought this is crazy. So then Barry comes up the stairs and he had this briefcase with him and he pulls out this folder of news paper articles and we’d just started telling him about this idea and concept and he pulls out this article that he had read about how in some towns street names correspond to the economic stature of that area so a fancy name for a street would be in a wealthy area and something like 17th or 18th street would be the opposite. It was crazy because one of the early lines had referenced 18th street and I thought this is blowing my mind, we are supposed to write this song today so we all kinda looked at each other and I’ll never forget that day sitting there writing that with them. We could just feel it and I’m grateful for that song.
I love the song it’s powerful! Now I usually ask a couple of silly questions so whats the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?
I got to think about that for a second! I’m not sure it’s that strange, but my little cousin is 8 years old and her name is Evie and she has bright red Carrot hair and the personality to match, she’s such a sweet kind soul and so feisty I love it! So her birthday was coming up so I decided I’m going to write Evie a song so I just wrote her this little jingle song and we went round the playground by my house and I did a little iPhone video for her so that was a fun, quirky thing to do. Oh and I’ve been on radio tour in the US for the last couple of months so a lot of that means sitting in a rental car with the radio rep from my label and there’s different radio reps in all these regions so I’m driving to all these cities I’ve never seen before and meeting all these people and I had a song idea called Rental Car Window that talked about radio tour and what the season feels like because I don’t want to forget this beginning part you know!
When you’re on stage do you let your mind wander or are you completely focused, we call it your mid-gig thoughts?
This is kinda ironic but for me being on stage is kinda like the quietest time in my mind it’s like amazing to just sing that song and imagine the people or experiences that inspired it and I think I’m thinking about the people listening in the sense that I want it to connect to the movie that’s going on in their head. Because everyone’s got something different that they’re thinking about in that moment and it’s an honour to be that vessel, the carrier of that as it’s happening and it’s a really peaceful feeling to just listen and play, I love it.
Great! Final question, what’s next for you?
Being here in fall has been a cool way to tail off the rest of this year, I have loved it here so much and I can’t wait to come back. But the rest of year is continuing the radio tour and a few different shows scattered, mostly radio shows and then getting ready next year to hit the road again and put out new music, I can’t wait!
We wish Tenille all the best and can't wait for the new music to come out! We will bring you all the latest news regarding that, in the meantime don't forget to check out her latest single Somebody's Daughter.