First Published March 2022
BRINGING HER TRUTH IN HER SONGS
Back in 2020 we had the pleasure of chatting to Canadian singer/songwriter TENILLE TOWNES for the first time. And at that time, we described Tenille as being, “an extraordinary artist. And she is such, because she’s also an extraordinary human being first and foremost. The same kind of empathy and awareness for the well-being of others that saw Tenille begin her Big Hearts For Big Kids project long before her name was ever seen in lights or known throughout the country music world, is found in her writing.”
In the few weeks preceding our chat, Tenille had won the New Female Artist of the Year award at the A.C.M. (Academy of Country Music) Awards, where she also joined country mega-star Miranda Lambert, together with Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, Caylee Hammack, and Elle King, in picking up the award for Musical Event of the Year for the song Fooled Around And Fell In Love. Not long after that, Tenille celebrated three more accolades, being named the winner in the Female Vocalist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, AND Music Video of the Year categories – with the last two both coming for Jersey On The Wall – at the C.C.M.A. (Canadian Country Music Association) Awards.
Back in 2020, we also pointed out how, despite being inundated with media requests from literally all across the United States, Canada, and beyond in the days following those successes, Tenille was more than happy to give some of her time to chatting with OTRT.
In the time since, Tenille – simply by continuing to be herself (which, by the way, is something that’s not always quite as easy as it sounds in any walk of life, let alone entertainment) – has continued to enhance her reputation as an extraordinary artist. And yes, part of that involves the requirement to be an absolute pro when it comes to everything she does. But the thing with Tenille is that she’s not just an extraordinary artist. She is – and has always been – an extraordinary human as well. Just because…that’s who she is. It’s impossible to talk to her and not feel that. It’s impossible to listen to her music and not feel that. Tenille brings her truth in her songs. And her most recent singles – current hit When’s It Gonna Happen, and Villian In Me before that – have proved all of this yet again.
Oh, and by the way, Tenille’s Big Hearts For Big Kids project that we mentioned in our opening paragraph? Well, just to remind you all that this is something Tenille began when she was just fifteen. And it’s raised over two-million dollars in funding for the Sunrise House youth shelter in her hometown of Grande Prairie, Alberta in the last decade.
Despite having the C2C tour to prepare for, and not to mention the little matter of being a red-carpet performer at the A.C.M Awards in Vegas on March 7th coming up as well, we had the pleasure of spending some time with Tenille again last week. And yet again, a pleasure is exactly what it was. All the more so because this time we were able to talk by Zoom!
Tenille is heading for this side of the world next weekend to play the C2C Country-to-Country Festival, where she’ll be hitting the stage in Dublin’s 3Arena on Friday night before making her way to London on Saturday, and onto Glasgow to wrap up a busy – and, we’re sure, pretty fun too – weekend in Glasgow on Sunday night. With the clock ticking down when we spoke, I began by asking Tenille how much she was looking forward to making her way over to us?
“Oh my goodness, I can’t even handle how excited I am! I’ve got my suitcase out, I’ve got everything getting ready, my heart is just so excited to come back and see you guys on your side of the world. I’m so thrilled, I can’t wait to get there!”
Tenille’s latest single – When’s It Gonna Happen – was released in January. A really beautiful and vulnerable song that’s also truly powerful and personal, for me the single demonstrates yet again Tenille’s strength as a songwriter, but also as a person. I asked her if she’d mind sharing a little of the song’s back-story…
“Thank you for asking. I wrote this song on Zoom actually, with my friends Steph Jones and Steven Wrabel. We’d never met in person before but we’d been writing a lot through the past couple years. We were just kind of catching up about what was goin’ on in everyone’s little world in this weird time of everyone being home. I was looking at this stack of wedding invitations that had come in the mail from a lot of my friends who have found their person. And I was kind of sitting there going, well what if we wrote a song about how it feels to be single sometimes? And sometimes that’s like the most empowered, ‘I love this part of my life’ kind of perspective, and sometimes it’s the other side of that emotion, in a more vulnerable place. As I was writing it, we were looking at each other and I was like, ‘This is scaring me how honest this feels’ [Laughs]. Also, the further we go through the song, I was like I can’t be the only one who feels this way. I just know that I’m not. So I wanted the music to be this uplifting, anthemic feeling that we could all come together and stand together in that emotion and sing it at the top of our lungs! It has made me so happy seeing people respond to the song and saying, ‘This is my anthem’, or ‘I feel the same way’, it’s the greatest joy for me to be able to say good, I’m glad that none of us are alone in this feeling [laughs].”
Speaking of Tenille as a songwriter – and, indeed, as a recording artist – I offered my congratulations on the recent news that her album, The Lemonade Stand, had been certified Gold (sales of at least 500k), with two singles from that collection – Come As You Are and White Horse also reaching that milestone, while two more, Somebody’s Daughter and Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking), both achieved Platinum status (sales of at least one million). Every song and any album, of course, once written and created have their own intrinsic worth, regardless of whatever happens next. But still…gold and platinum is always pretty cool!
“It was so overwhelming to look at that, I mean, it’s this huge plaque and I was holding it and like, ‘How is this real life?!’ It was so exciting to me, to get to celebrate the fact that so many people have wrapped their arms around these songs and listened to them over and over. That just…[sighs]…it means the world to me that the music has connected us. That, to me, is what that plaque represents. It’s just crazy. But it’s so cool to know that people are listening.”
When Tenille looks at that plaque now and thinks back to when her musical journey began, or even to when she began writing songs, what’s the overwhelming emotion that she feels?
“Ya know, songwriting is like such a spiritual process to me. It’s always my safe place to understand how I’m feeling about something, whether it’s a storytelling kind of perspective that I’m looking at and trying to find my sense of belonging to, or if it’s something personal that I find I’m struggling with or sitting with, music is always somewhere I can talk about anything. Especially with this new season of songs I’ve been working on, I think my heart was missing being on the road so much [that] it was really fun musically to be like, ok, what kind of music can we create that will be so much fun ‘live’, that we can all sing together? So that’s very much at the heart of the intention of these songs. And I would say that in this new chapter it’s very much a feeling of, ya know, what’s something that can make somebody feel less alone? Because to me, that’s something that music makes me feel. If I hear a song and I’m like, ‘Oh gosh, yeah, same!’, that to me is the most comforting feeling. That’s always pulling at my heart as we’re working on new songs. Those two things: How’s it gonna feel in a show, and how can we make people just really feel comforted, and lifted-up, and just seen and heard? I love the creative process so much. I love really just going where the music takes me, because as much as those intentions are true, there’s such a surrender, I think, when it comes to creating music. I really have to trust the arrow and the gravity that’s pulling at me. I have to be like, ok, yeah, I’ll follow the song, I feel this. I really enjoy that process a lot.”
As Tenille mentioned how songs would play ‘live’, she actually hit the road with her first headlining tour back in January, and picks up those dates again on March 26th. In between times, she’s been playing some shows with artists you may have heard about once or twice, only names like Reba, George Strait, and Brothers Osborne, with some Brooks & Dunn dates also in her diary. Before getting onto all of those guys, I asked Tenille to share the importance, the excitement, and also the challenges of putting her very first headlining tour together…
“It was so overwhelming, truly. The only headlining show before this tour that I had done was one show in London. And other than that, it’s been opening up for so many of my heroes and friends. So to get to go back to some of those cities and be able to show up and play some really cool small clubs and see everybody who’s coming out, who bought a ticket, and who knows the music, that’s the most incredible thing for me. The feeling in those rooms, it’s so hard to put it into words. The first night of our Canadian headlining tour in Ontario, I mean, I could see people through the curtain and I was like, oh my gosh…they came! [Laughs]. This is so crazy, they’re here [laughs]. And then from the very first song they were just screaming the words! It was remarkable. I had the best time on that tour, and we’ve had a lot of fun continuing a few of those shows this year, and I can’t wait to do more and keep going back to those places. The sense of community is so important to me, in being able to feel like we’re bringing people together and making friends, [people] standing next to each other and being,’Yes, I feel this song too!’ That sort of united feeling in a room is such a sacred thing to me. So it was just beautiful to see that play out for the first time on our own headlining tour.”
And that tour is named after Tenille’s song of the same title, Villian In Me, which was a single for her last November, and which has one of the best opening lines I’ve heard in a long time, in, “Pulls back the arrow…” Like her new single, When’s It Gonna Happen, Villian In Me is another very personal song. And again, it highlights her strength as both writer and human being. I asked Tenille to tell us a bit more about Villian In Me…
“Yeah, ‘Villian In Me’ came out of probably the darkest and loneliest time of isolation in the past couple of years. Having so much space and time to be by myself in my house with my most vulnerable thoughts. I think in the quiet is sometimes when we hear the villain in our head the loudest, ya know? And for me, that was very much ringing true in that season of working on myself and processing a lot of those things that I’d be hearing in my head. This song was really – and honestly – it felt very much like a journal entry of that, going yeah, this is very much how I’m feeling in this moment. I didn’t really think very much about the song, to be honest. I thought, well that was very therapeutic and I’m so grateful to have written that. But there was something about it that kind of kept pulling at me and it was so scary to post a video of that song. I was literally like, this IS inside of my head [laughs]. But I did, and it was just the most encouraging thing to hear people responding and saying, ‘I have the same villian in me.’ It was like wow, ya know. So ok, we can be braver, and stronger together in this now. And that really began the release of sharing more of these personal kinda songs. I think it will forever be terrifying to release something that feels personal! I don’t know if that will ever get any easier. But I was so blown away by the courage that people were showing in response to that song, in saying hey, I feel this too. It was really encouraging, and hopefully I’ll get to share more of those kinda songs very soon.”
Going back to Reba, George Strait, Brothers Osborne et al, I wondered about when Tenille is walking out in front of their fans. What’s her plan for turning as many of those folk into fans of her as well by the end of her set?
“We literally kinda huddle before we go out and play our show, and it’s like, let’s go make some friends! And even if it’s just one, ya know. It’s such an honour to get to meet somebody’s audience and to learn from what people are showing up to see when they’ve chosen to come to that show. It really is such a joy to get to just go out there and do our thing. A lot of those artists have such different musical styles, I’m not sure sometimes where we fit in that mix [laughs]. But all we really know how to do is to go out and do our thing, ya know. Here’s our truth, and our songs, and here’s what I stand for on stage. It’s been so exciting to meet A LOT of new friends on those tours. And at some of these new headlining dates we’ve been doing, it’s like, ‘Hey, we saw you open for Dierks Bentley’, or maybe Miranda Lambert, or, ‘We were just at the Brothers Osborne show [and saw you]’, and I’m like, wow! This is incredible. I’ll send a text [to that artist] saying thank you for letting us open for you, we just had some people come to our shows [laughs]. It’s so exciting. But yeah, I’ve had the best time getting to open up for some people on the road. And it’s a dream every time. It’s like going to school, you always learn something. Everybody’s got their unique style and way of entertaining people. And every time we get to open up for somebody, my whole band and I are always standing up front of house, watching the whole show and going ok, did you see how they did that? And this is interesting, we could incorporate something like this into what we’re doing. Just to get to watch and learn from so many of my heroes, it’s the dreamland, it’s so cool to me.”
Does Tenille tweak her set much depending on who she might be opening for?
“A little bit! For the most part we stay true to what we do. We’re like, ok, this is us! But we always try to maybe do a cover song, that one will change depending on who we’re opening for. When we were out with Brothers Osborne, it was like ok, we can get a little more rock ‘n’ roll, let’s do some Joan Jett or something [laughs]. For George Strait and Reba, it was like what song should we do for this audience to maybe make a few new friends? We’ll tweak it a little bit, but for the most part, we kinda just do our thing!”
Given the hugely impressive – and long – list of names that Tenille has already worked with on the road, is there anyone with whom she’d love to hit the blacktop if that chance happened to come along?
“Let’s see…ya know, I feel so grateful for all the people that we have had the absolute honour of opening up for, but I’m such a huge fan of Eric Church and the culture of his music. I think it would be such a dream to get to meet his audience and to get to watch his show. I got to open two shows for Keith Urban in Vegas, at his residency, which was just a dream. I loved that SO MUCH [laughs], I would love to do more of that! His show is one of my favourites. There’s so many people whose music I love and respect so much. I’m also a huge Chris Stapleton fan, that would be super-cool someday. Yeah, it’s fun to dream about that!”
If you, like me, happen to follow Tenille on Instagram, then you’ll also have noticed that she’s a pretty dab hand with a paintbrush, having done a fab makeover on a gorgeous bookshelf she has at home. And if, like me, you’re a sucker for books, then you probably zoomed in to see what Tenille was reading too! What you’d also have noticed, of course, are some of the brilliant awards and momentos Tenille has on display on those same shelves. And that got me to thinking…what on that bookshelf holds the most sentimental value for Tenille?
“Hmmm! Ya know, everything has a memory attached to it. I think photos probably are the most sentimental thing to me. And then I have this weird thing. I have a song called ‘I Kept The Roses’ because I actually do keep the roses [laughs], from different events. I have flowers from the very first arena tour we did with Dierks Bentley, and I kept the roses from the very first time I ever played the Grand Ol Opry, the ones that were in the dressing room. So I have different vases of those all around my house, these cool dried flowers, I love those.”
In another post on her Instagram recently, Tenille wrote how we are, “Creative human beings, created to create.” In terms of her creativity – and especially her songwriting – does she find that it becomes more of a struggle or that it flows even more freely when the world itself is in such a dark place, as it has been for the last couple of years, but even more so, of course, over the past few weeks?
“Hmm. Yeah. To me, I think the creative flow is very much something that weaves in and out. I don’t think there’s any kind of formula that can be drawn from it. I think, in some of our most darkest times, creativity is something to find hope inside of, it’s a safe place to process whatever our feelings are. And for me, I sometimes feel the most creative in the quietest and darkest places, and sometimes I feel just silent. It’s kind of like both of those things. I think it’s important to take the silence, as much as it’s heavy and hard to sometimes. I think just sitting in those quiet places makes room for the creative spirit to find us in some of the most dark times, absolutely. I do think that there’s a lot of beautiful art that comes from the moments where it’s really hard to be human sometimes. And I’m grateful we have art to turn to.”
Tenille has the most awesome relationship with her fans, and does some really cool things with and for them. For example, on her Canadian tour last year, she organised to send out loads of disposable cameras to fans so that they could record their experience of the shows from their points of view and then share those with Tenille. And more recently, Tenille even went to the trouble of sending some of her lucky fans personalised Valentine’s cards. I asked her to share why it’s so important to her to interact and connect with her fans the way she does, and also…where does she come up with all these cool ideas?
“Aaaah, well thank you! For me, it’s like there is no possible way I would be standing anywhere getting to share music if it weren’t for this community of people who are listening out there. There would be nothing without them. And it means everything to me that they are excited to be on this adventure together. And it very much is a ‘together’ thing to me. I’m so glad to get to see everybody on the road, some of the most special moments to me are hugging people after a show, or hearing their story of what a song makes them think of in their life, or reading a message from them on my socials. It gives me goosebumps to hear from anybody on any given day, I love it so much. The ideas? Ya know, I think of it like a bunch of friends, and what would we do? We’d send each other cards and get to know each other some more! [Laughs]. I love being able to have different fun moments together, and being on tour, being on the road, very much opens up a lot of cool doors for things to become memories, and that we can look back on and smile at someday. So I’m really enjoying getting to come up with more of those as we dream about continuing things on the road here.”