Scotty McCreery

First Published October 2020

SEASONS CHANGE, CLASS REMAINS

When it comes to ways to burst onto the music scene and introduce yourself to a global audience, there aren’t many better ways to do that than by winning a show like American Idol. That’s exactly what SCOTTY McCREERY found out back in 2011 when he was the last man standing on the tenth series of the show. Since then, the North Carolinian has established himself as one of the greatest country voices of the modern age, and that’s something that can be stated without any exaggeration, and probably with pretty much unanimous consent. 


It’s not just the power and the beauty of Scotty’s voice on a song by song basis that proves this, either. All four of his albums to date – Clear As Day in 2011, Christmas With Scotty McCreery a year later, followed by See You Tonight in 2013, and most recently, 2018’s Seasons Change – back it up, and all four have debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart. That most recent collection, Seasons Change, contains what is easily one of my favourite songs of the last couple of decades in the shape of Five More Minutes, which made history for Scotty when it topped the Billboard chart in 2018, making him the only country artist in Country Aircheck/Mediabase history to achieve that feat without the backing of a record label. 


Scotty has just released a brand new single, and as with everything the man has put out there over the course of his career, YOU TIME is class. And as well as the song itself being brilliant, the even better news for his fans all over the world, including those here in Ireland, is that You Time is also taken from Scotty’s forthcoming new album. And lord knows that after the 2020 we’ve all been experiencing, the news that there’s a new long-player from Scotty somewhere in the not too distant future is the tonic we all need. I had the very real pleasure of spending a little time in Scotty’s company recently, and we started our chat with You Time. The lead-off single from any collection is always important, of course, so I asked Scotty why that honour went to You Time this time? 


“Well thank you for the kind words on the song. Ya know, it’s just a song I fell in love with the minute we wrote it. And we wrote it, I guess, early last year, early 2019. We were super busy on the road touring, and my wife is a paediatric nurse here at a hospital in North Carolina, and she was busy at work, so we weren’t getting a lot of time to spend together. That’s where the song kind of came from. And just listening back to it, it just felt very me, very us as a relationship. And it felt like a good representation of the new album. And for that new album, we’re working away at it. We’ve got a lot of it finished, but we still have a little ways to go. I wrote half the songs, and half of them will be outside cuts. Hopefully the middle of next year, it will be ready to go.”

Staying on the subject of albums, Scotty’s latest is Seasons Change, a #1 in its own right and continuing a remarkable run for him, as all of his albums have hit that top spot. Seasons Change also contains three #1 singles for Scotty; with In Between, Five More Minutes, and This Is It all featuring. I loved his choice of the song Seasons Change as the album’s title-track, though, because I thought that really hinted at the fact that when the album came out back in 2018, Scotty was in a place in his life where acceptance, expectation, and his love for what he does were all in close to perfect balance. Would that be a good read on how things were at that time? 


“Yeah. When we wrote that song, ya know, it was coming out of a pretty rough year for me professionally, which affected things personally. 2016 was a strange, tough year for me. But all of a sudden in 2017 we kind of pulled ourselves up by the boot-straps and got going again. And really the momentum, and just the feeling of everything started feeling good again. So that’s where that song came from. We took that energy and ran with it on that album, and a lot of the songs were written after we got ourselves goin’ again. But yeah, ya know, I feel like sometimes when life throws things at you, you can either sit there and mope and be sad, or you can pick yourself up and say, ‘Well alright, let’s get goin’ again.’ So that’s what we tried to do.” 

One of those #1 singles from Seasons Change, the glorious Five More Minutes, won Scotty an N.S.A.I. (Nashville Songwriters Association International) Award for ‘One of The Top Ten Songs I Wish I’d Written.’ That’s definitely one of the best-named awards I’ve ever heard of! But far more importantly, the song that won it – Five More Minutes – is definitely a song I wish I had written, too. I asked Scotty if he would mind taking us back in time and behind the scenes to the moments when that song was first coming to life…


“Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate you sayin’ that. Again, Nashville, ya know, I love that town for the songs that get written there. So to get that kind of award was very cool. But yeah, when we wrote ‘Five More Minutes’, I was in Nashville with a guy who has produced my last couple of albums and has been a mentor to me over the years, Frank Rogers. And another one of my favourite songwriters in town, Monty Criswell. I had just lost my grandaddy Bill about two weeks prior to that, and this was one of the first songs that I’d written since then. I just showed up to the write that day and started talking about grandaddy to Frank and Monty, just the type of guy he was, and if I had just a little more time with him how I’d love to play another round of golf with him, that kind of thing. I think it was Frank that said, ‘It’s just like you wanted five more minutes with the guy.’ I said, that’s exactly right, and that’s the song we’re gonna write today.” 

Would Scotty find that, as a songwriter, he’s someone who tends to put a lot of his own personal life experiences into the songs he writes? 


“Yeah, ya know, I think for me, that’s kinda something that I enjoy. I enjoy writing about my life, and expressing myself and what I’m going through, through music. Some songwriters can pull things out of thin air, and imagine something, and come up with an incredible song. But for me, I struggle with that. So I’m much more of a  – if I live it, if I love it – that’s kind of what I write about.” 

Scotty had mentioned that 2016 had been a strange year for him personally, and it’s fair to say that 2020 comes into that same category for pretty much all of us. One thing Scotty will definitely remember from this year is the remarkably serendipitous turn of events that saw him as the last artist to play the Ryman Auditorium before operations were temporarily suspended there, AND become the first artist to welcome a ‘live’ audience back to the famous old venue as well. The world, in so many ways, literally changed in the time between those two performances. Did it feel that way for Scotty when he finally got back on stage? 


“Yeah, that was a night I won’t forget. Ya know, for me, any time you get to play the Ryman – the Mother Church of country music – is a special night. You can just feel the history the moment you walk in there. I got to play it in March to a sold-out crowd, there was an interview there, people were standing, it was an amazing night. And it was the first night that I saw people, like, starting to elbow-bump instead of shaking hands! And I was like, oh…this is kinda gettin’ weird! [laughs]. Then all of a sudden, the next day was shut-downs and everything, that was strange. But getting to go back and welcome a ‘live’ audience to such an historic venue, it was amazing too. It was different! It was a sold-out crowd again, but it was a much smaller crowd, everybody was wearing masks, you couldn’t see them singing or smiling. But just to have humans in there with us, and to play ‘live’ music again, to feel the beat of the drums and the energy of the guitar, that was just a moment I won’t forget after taking off for so long.” 

Does Scotty have any idea when he’ll get to be back on stage in front of an audience again? 


“There are still some shows on the books for me this fall and this winter, if they happen. I’d probably be surprised at this point. I’m not too sure. I think for a normal, ya know, thousands of people kinda show, that’s a ways away. But there’s options for a drive-in shop or something that we can work with.” 

Back in 2011, Scotty won the A.C.M. (Academy of Country Music) New Artist of the Year Award. And just the day before I spoke with him, I’d had the pleasure of talking to Tenille Townes, this year’s recipient of that same honour. If Scotty could sit his 2020 self down with his 2011 self – or indeed, with Tenille, for that matter – what words of wisdom would he pass on for surviving life in the music business, having come through everything he has and made it back to the very top again over the last few years? 


“I love Tenille, first off. She’s an amazing artist, and very deserving of that. For me, if I could go back and talk to myself, I think I would just say enjoy the moment. Enjoy the time you have on stage, and writing songs, and making albums and stuff. I think I was maybe just a little caught up in making sure that everything was so perfect…I wanted my show on stage to be perfect, my album, every little thing, instead of kind of just sitting back and letting things happen, and enjoying the moments. It’s a special time. Starting out as a new artist, and everything is so new, just sit back, smile, enjoy it. And kinda be a sponge around all the veterans that you’re around too, because they’ve been doing it for so long.”

Scotty lost a very dear friend – Yamir – in a tragic accident a few weeks before we spoke. He paid an emotional tribute to him by performing a beautiful rendition of Vince Gill’s timeless classic, Go Rest High On That Mountain, on his Instagram. After offering my sympathy and condolences, I asked Scotty if he’d like to share anything about the kind of person Yamir was, and also, on songs like Go Rest High On That Mountain, are there favourite country songs like that one that Scotty would turn to in times of pain or sorrow, ones that always bring him some sense of comfort to hear or to play? 


“Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think that’s the power of music, it’s tremendous. It can make you stand up and bounce around and dance, and smile and be happy, but it can also bring you to your knees. So ‘Go Rest High…’ is one of those songs. There’s a bunch of ’em. ‘Movin’ On’ by Rascal Flatts, too. Music is something I always turn to. Yamir, he was one of those guys, his smile was contagious, everybody loved him. He had a rough upbringing too, so he could have gone either way, with how it was a struggle for him growing up. But he ended up just being the best, salt of the earth kinda guy. I learned a lot just being around Yamir, so it was ough to see somebody get taken away so young, and senselessly. He was a great guy, tough to see that happen.” 

Staying with songs and songwriting, while I know that You Time and a lot of the next album was written in pre-Covid times, I wondered if Scotty had been doing much writing since this all started? Has Covid had any knock-on effect on his songwriting? 


“Yeah, for sure. Like I said, we’re still working on this album, we’ve got some of it finished but we still have a ways to go with some of it as well, so we’re still writing songs and finding songs to finish out the album. I’m not sure it will be such an obvious effect of like talking about wearing masks and quarantining and stuff [laughs], but more the not taking for granted the days we have on earth, living life to the fullest, and the appreciation for life, I think, will definitely show up on this album. That’s kind of what I’ve taken out of all this time at home, really looking back and remembering how things were. I think once we get back to normal, I won’t take for granted the days on the road where I’m kinda like, ‘Aw man, I’m bored today’, or ‘I wish I could go home.’ No, I’ll be enjoying the moment. That will definitely show up.”

Scotty is a big, big golf fan, and he and some of his friends enjoyed some success out on the course back in June, something which he shared with his followers on Instagram. How good did that feel, I wondered, the chance to get back out and enjoy some golf with his friends after not being able to for a while? 


“[Laughs] It felt great! It’s luckily one of those things you can do outdoors. And for me, I socially distance very well in golf, because I’m always hitting my ball in the woods anyway! [laughs]. So that’s a pretty easy thing to do [laughs]. But yeah, we had fun, and I’m hoping to play some golf in Ireland, that’s always been a bucket-list thing for me!”

Earlier in the week we spoke, Scotty had what he called his Elvis Presley Tuesday. And sadly, just the day before we spoke, the great songwriter Mac Davis, who wrote In The Ghetto for Elvis, passed away, adding to some of the other great writers and artists like John Prine and Joe Diffie who have taken their leave of us this year. I asked Scotty who were the songwriters and artists who have been most central to shaping his love of country music, and inspiring him as a writer and performer himself? 


“My goodness, there’s a lot of them to pull from. And yeah, it’s been a tough year losing artists and songwriters. It’s been a tough year all around. I grew up listening to more of the classic stuff, guys like Randy Travis, Ronnie Milsap. And Elvis was obviously a huge influence on my life. I dressed up like him for Halloween, and sang all his songs in school! He was obviously a big guy for me. Songwriting wise, I mean, I’m writing with a bunch of the folks that I love. Brad Paisley is a guy that I grew up listening to. Allen Shamblin, there’s a guy who wrote a lot for Randy Travis, and who I’ve had the chance to write with. Every time I get the chance to write with him, it’s a really cool experience. Luckily, there’s still a lot of those kinds of guys who are still around that I can sit down and write with. But unfortunately we’ve lost a few of them this year too, and that’s sad to see.” 

When Scotty gets to meet someone like Brad Paisley, and to sit down and write with him, because he would have been someone Scotty looked up to, how long does the weirdness – for want of a better word! – last before he gets over the fact that he is actually in a room writing with Brad Paisley? 


“It took a while, for sure [laughs], just because I’m such a fan. And I still am a fan. He took me out on my first tour in 2012, and we got to go January through December playin’ shows with him, and gettin’ to meet his family, and meet his road-family. He’s always just been super cool to me. But, I mean that is a thing when you get to meet your heroes, and it’s pretty obvious, I think, for them to see that I’m a fan cos’ my jaw is on the floor [laughs]. Luckily, I really haven’t met any of my heroes and after that been like, man, I wish I didn’t meet him. Everybody’s been so kind and so cool.” 

Like almost everybody who planned on hitting the road in any direction or for any length of time this year, Scotty has had to reschedule a lot of tour dates. But, God willing, we’ll be seeing him on this side of the world in 2021. But his shows in Dublin and Belfast next May will, somewhat astonishingly, be his very first in Ireland! So as we ended our chat, I asked Scotty why he’d been keeping us waiting so long?! 


“[Laughs] Aaaw man…if it was up to me, I’d have been there every year for the last ten! [laughs]. Ireland is a place I’ve wanted to go for so long. You know, we didn’t even get overseas to play any shows until last year, I don’t know what that was, whether it was logistics or whatever. But it wasn’t for the lack of wanting to go! The McCreerys, my side of the family, is from over there, I think, Northern Ireland. So we’re excited to go. I’ve never had Guinness! I’ve been holding off, I want to have my first Guinness in Ireland! And hopefully get to play a little golf too, and get to meet and talk with a lot of amazing folk. I can’t wait!”

~ YOU TIME, the brand new single from SCOTTY McCREERY, is out now and available on all platforms. Scotty plays The Academy in Dublin on May 9th 2021, and The Limelight in Belfast (which is sold-out) on May 11th. 

ENDS

Grainne Gallanagh

First Published August 2018

FROM BUNCRANA TO BANGKOK

In the fabulous surroundings of the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin last Thursday evening, Donegal’s Grainne Gallanagh was crowned the new Miss Universe Ireland, by her predecessor Cailín Toibín. Twenty-four year old Grainne, a nurse who’s based in London, will now go forward to represent Ireland at the final of the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 17th. 


I had the pleasure of catching up with Grainne for a little bit of a chat in the days just after she received her crown and sash. And before we even spoke, I got a measure of just how sound Grainne is. We were originally scheduled to chat on Saturday evening, but the day passed without anything happening. Now that can often happen from time to time when you’re hoping to speak with someone who’s in demand, and as of last Thursday evening, Grainne is VERY much in demand. So you take it in your stride and just see what happens. On Sunday morning, however, I woke up to a text from Grainne, sent at 1.50am the previous night (so right at the end of a very long few days), offering her apologies for not being in touch, explaining that the day had just been hectic (as you’d expect), and offering to chat instead on Sunday at whatever time suited me. Now keep in mind that this Sunday just gone was pretty likely to be one of Grainne’s last days to herself, of any kind, for about the next year! 


But there she was, thinking about others. I guess that comes with being a nurse. But like I said, sound. With beauty, brains, a huge heart, and a sun-bright soul – and this top-level sense of soundness – put your money on this young lady to do us proud when December comes, folks. 


I began our chat by asking Grainne how she was feeling, just a few days after being presented with the crown and sash of her new role? Had she begun to get a sense yet of how much her life was going to change for the next year or so?


“Do ya know what? I’m absolutely still on a high! I don’t think it’s even sunk in yet at all, to be honest with you. I’m so, so happy that my face is sore because I can’t stop smiling! [laughs]. I just got home here today from Dublin, to my hometown in Buncrana in Donegal, and when I got out of the car all my cousins, and my aunties, and my friends, and all were all down to surprise me. And everyone’s so happy, so it’s lovely.”

What went through her mind at the moment her name was announced? 


“We were just standing there holding hands, me and Aoife [Rutledge] the first runner-up, and I was just praying please, please let it be me! [laughs]. But then I just couldn’t believe it [when she was announced as the winner], and I think I just stood there thinking, did I hear that wrong? I stood there for about ten seconds with my hands on my face. I don’t even know what I was thinking, it was just a blur. But it was so exciting, and everybody was screaming, but I was crying. It was so, so nice, such a lovely feeling.”

This year’s Miss Universe pageant will be held in Bangkok in December, where Grainne has actually been before on her travels. But what’s in store for her between now and then as the new Miss Universe Ireland? 


“Well I’ve met up with Brittany [Mason], the director of Miss Universe Ireland, and we briefly went through things like what do I want from Miss Universe Ireland. And there’s gonna be an awful lot of photo-shoots, modelling, travelling. But obviously I don’t want to give up my job as a nurse, because that’s who I am. It’s part of me. And I just don’t feel that if I was to give up nursing that it would be being true to myself. So I’m going to continue that. And because it’s a flexible job, I’ll be able to do less hours and focus on Miss Universe Ireland as well, and keep both of them as a priority. But I’m definitely going to work so hard for Thailand, I can’t wait. Like, I’m so, so, so excited! [laughs]”

Grainne works as a nurse in London, so how will she balance and integrate those responsibilities and duties with her new role? 


“Well I didn’t expect to win, so I didn’t have any kind of a set plan for what I was going to do when I won, ya know. I just didn’t expect this. So I think now I’m just going to have to go day-by-day, and prioritize what I’m going to do. I can do agency work as a nurse, so I can book my shifts when I’m available and that way I’m not letting anybody down if I can’t go to work. And if an opportunity with Miss Universe Ireland comes up, I’ll be aware that I’ve got that and so I won’t be able to work this week, or whatever. I don’t want to be letting anybody down by not showing up to work, as such. So it’s good that it’s so flexible. If it was any other job, it might not be. So I feel like I’ll be o.k. in that sense.” 

Grainne has already stated that she wants to use her time as Miss Universe Ireland as a platform to promote and raise awareness and education for female health. Aside from the obvious reasons, I asked Grainne why this is something so close to her heart…


“I suppose with me being a nurse and being a woman, it’s very noticeable in the country, in Ireland, that women’s health issues do take a back seat. Obviously with the recent scandal around the smear-testing, being one example. It always seems to be that women’s health is never on the forefront, there’s always some publicity around it where something’s gone wrong, or the way it took so long for the Repeal the 8th amendment to finally happen, ya know. I just feel that in this country there could be more done to highlight the problems in women’s health. And obviously then with me being a nurse, and being a woman, all of these factors are the reasons that I chose that platform. I really do feel that it’s one that’s needed. There’s so many women in Ireland that need encouragement and support in that sense. And with me being a professional, I feel that I know what I’m talking about. I’m not just saying things off a whim, or while uneducated in those areas. So there was loads of reasons, but I’m definitely glad I chose that platform, and hopefully now I’ll be able to do more charity work around it now that I’ve got this title.”  

From working as a nurse in England, has Grainne noticed differences in standards towards women’s health care between the two countries? 


That’s a good question. I suppose there is a bit of a difference. I suppose in Ireland, it [women’s health] does take more of a back seat. Whereas in England, it is a bit more to the forefront. It’s just that you’ll notice kind of little things that are different in your day-to-day job. We’re not very bad, obviously. Women’s health is very important in this country, but I just feel it could use a little bit more encouragement with everything.”

As we mentioned earlier, Grainne has already been to Bangkok before, and indeed, has done a fair bit of travelling – spending time in Boston, San Francisco, and Spain – and with plenty more air-miles sure to be clocked up during the year ahead. But she’ll have to be careful not to have a repeat of what happened to her last Christmas! We’ll let Grainne explain…


“[Laughs] Is this the passport situation? [laughs]. I was going home for Christmas, and I was so excited about getting home to see my family. I was packing all my things, and packing all my presents, and didn’t realise that I didn’t have my passport! And I also didn’t have any photo i.d. at the time, because my purse had actually been stolen a few months before. So I got to the airport, realised I had no passport, it was Christmas time, so there wasn’t any other available flights to get home. So I started to panic, and I started to cry, and I was ringing my family saying I wasn’t going to get home, and that this was the most awful thing in the world! [laughs]. But then one of the girls that was working at the airport took pity on me and she checked my bag on herself, and took me up to the flight herself, and made sure I got on o.k. and everything. So it was great in the end. She was really, really nice.” 

The Miss Universe Ireland pageant 2018 wasn’t Grainne’s first venture into contests of this kind. She was actually crowned Miss Donegal in 2016, and was also the first runner-up in Miss Earth Northern Ireland in 2017. So I wondered when did Grainne first think about taking part in competitions like these?


“Yeah, my very first one was when I was Miss Donegal for Miss Ireland World in 2016, and I just entered that last minute. It was something that I’d always been interested in. Everybody told me it would be great for me to do that, so I just kind of thought well, why don’t I just go for it? And actually, Miss Universe Ireland was the first contest that I ever entered, but it didn’t actually end up happening that year. So Miss Universe Ireland was always my first dream, and my biggest dream. But before Brittany Mason took it over it was quite disordered, and disorganised. So it didn’t end up happening that year and that was when I decided to enter for Miss Ireland World instead, as Miss Donegal. It was a great platform, it was brilliant, but it just wasn’t to be the year for me. And again, Miss Earth, when I entered that, I think it finished the way it did for a reason, and that was because this one this year is the one I was supposed to get, ya know.”

For people who won’t know much about her yet, how would Grainne describe herself? 


“How would I describe myself? I kind of like everything! [laughs]. I like all different types of music. If you were on my phone you’d be thinkin’ what is this girl into?! Because I have everything from rap, to country, to pop, to Irish folk music! With t.v., I don’t get to watch much, because I’m quite busy. But if I’m free I like to sit in and watch some Netflix. And I love to run as well, and to swim in the sea when I can. Those are some of the things I like to do. As for my personality, well I’d like to think I’m quite bubbly, I’m definitely hard-working, I’m ambitious, I’m determined. And I feel like those are all good traits for me to have for being Miss Universe Ireland, and going on to compete in Miss Universe. And I suppose I’m quite talkative, too [laughs].” 

If, through being Miss Universe Ireland, Grainne could have the chance to meet anyone in the world, who would she want that to be, and why?


“Who would it be, and why? Hmmm. I don’t know actually. Oh my God, there’s so many people. I’ll have to think longer about that one! I don’t know. I’ll come back to you on that one [laughs].” 

As we came to the end of our chat on what I imagine will be Grainne’s last free Sunday for quite a while, I asked her if she had any kind of personal motto or mantra that she did her best to live by? 


“I do. What I live my life by is this: Anything worth having doesn’t come easy. And I’ve said that since I was very young. I just feel that if you work hard for something, that it’s always going to be worth it in the end. Because anything that you’ve worked hard for, is going to be something that you’ve really wanted. So it’s going to be something that you’ll look back on and be proud that you achieved. That’s definitely my motto, and it’s definitely something that I’ve stood by.”

Not only will Grainne stand out when it comes to beauty, brains, charm, and style in Bangkok next December, I don’t think there’ll be a sounder contestant there either. Maybe Buncrana should set aside December 18th for one hell of a party.

ENDS

Tenille Townes

First Published October 2020

THE SACRED, THE SPIRITUAL, AND LEMONADE

Singer/songwriter TENILLE TOWNES is 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. Somebody’s Daughter and Jersey On The Wall – both of which have topped the charts in her native Canada, and also claimed the prestigious Single of the Year prize at the C.C.M.A. (Canadian Country Music Association) Awards, in 2019 and 2020 respectively – are perfect examples of this. 


In the last few weeks alone, Tenille was honoured with the accolade of New Female Artist of the Year at the A.C.M. (American 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 had further reason to smile in what has been a trying year for everyone in the music business, as she was 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. Awards. That’s a heck of a few weeks! 


And yet, 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. Which takes us right back to our opening lines today. As well as being an extraordinary artist – part of which, no doubt, involves being an absolute pro – Tenille is an extraordinary person, well aware that she has fans all over the world now, and ready to acknowledge them. For a little context there, let me just share with you the fact that it’s not unusual for some artists, a lot closer to home too, to refuse interview requests after their first couple of singles gain them some attention, because of their “busy schedules.” 


Having already been a fan of Tenille’s for some time, the opportunity to finally spend some time in her company was a real pleasure. In fact, I joked with Tenille that I should perhaps be addressing her as Miss Female Vocalist of the Year, given the events of the few days before we spoke when that was one of the awards she took home from this year’s CCMA Awards. I asked Tenille if she could describe what it felt like to be the person at the centre of nights as magical as the ones she had recently experienced? 


“[Laughs] Thank you for the congrats! I mean, it truly is just like…it feels very surreal, like a movie or something! It’s just so wonderful to have the community of Canadian country music believing in this music, and wrapping their arms around it. I grew up watching and learning from that industry, so to have really have them believing in this right now, and just knowing that that song – ‘Jersey On The Wall’ – really made its way to people, really means so much to me. I’m just really grateful to wake up every day and get to do the thing I love most to do.” 

I asked Tenille if she ever goes into nights like the A.C.M. or the C.C.M.A. Awards with any sense of expectation as to what might lie ahead? How does Tenille prepare for nights like those? 


“That’s a great question! I don’t really know how you’d prepare, I just was excited to be there! To get to play the show this year was very different in the sense of not being all together as a community. Usually with the Songwriter of the Year and the Video of the Year it’s like we’re all at a big gala event the night before the televised show, and they give some of the awards out early. So you’re just kind of sitting at your table with your team, and just going, ‘Oh my goodness, are they gonna call my name?!’ And it’s so exciting [laughs]. And you get to have some dinner [laughs], and just be together with your people. So I really missed that this year. But I’m so glad that the C.C.M.A.’s still found a way to really push through and make it happen, and still bring everybody together. And yeah, the award for Female Artist of the Year was entirely a surprise. We were getting ready to tape the performance and they were like, ‘Annnnnnd we have some news for you…!’ [laughs]. I just was like, oh my goodness! So very cool! [laughs].” 

Did that throw Tenille off a little bit or anything, finding that out at such short notice, literally just before she taped her performance? Or did it end all the more to the excitement of things? 


“I think it’s a little bit of everything! Definitely extra adrenaline [laughs]. Oh my goodness, I mean, how do you emotionally respond to that? It’s something to be so excited about, and thankful for. You want to say all the right things, and really, more than anything, just soak in the moment. It’s a lot like a dream. And it’s a crazy reminder to be like, ‘THIS is real life’, and I don’t want to miss any part of what this feels like.” 

At this year’s A.C.M. Awards, Tenille had the most unique of moments, performing her song Somebody’s Daughter – which won the C.C.M.A,’s Single of the Year award last year – on an empty stage at the famous Ryman Auditorium, because it is, after all, the year we’ll never forget! And it was the same night Tenille followed in the footsteps of artists like Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, and Kelsea Ballerini by being named as New Female Artist of the Year. It must have been the most emotional of moments for her…


“It was, absolutely. I mean, it’s so surreal to have been a part of that show at all. And finding out about that award, I found out through a Zoom call when Keith Urban showed up on the screen. I was just like, ‘What is happening?! This is crazy!’ [laughs]. I was so emotional and so thankful. And the day that it was announced Ashley McBryde called me, and Lauren Alaina called me, just this little community of people who were all like, ‘We’re just glad you’re in this spot.’ It meant the world. So stepping into that performance, I was really imagining that embrace of the community that’s pulling up a new chair to their table! That, just in itself, was emotional to me. And then getting to play was so fun. And, very strange in an empty venue! It really is missing the most beautiful and the most important part, which is the community of people who come to shows for that shared experience of live music. It was very, sort of quiet and weird. I sometimes experience this during soundchecks, where you know, you step out into an empty venue and there is a sort of sacred, spiritual part of that because you can imagine the people who are going to fill those seats. And to me, especially in the Ryman, it’s picturing my great-grandmother in there. And all the angels that are really kind of filling the space. Even though it was empty and missing people, there’s a lot about that experience that really didn’t feel empty at all.

Tenille has described her debut album, The Lemonade Stand, in the most beautiful of ways, calling it, “a gathering place, where people can come and be filled up.” What I love about that, is that she clearly doesn’t see her album as being simply all about her, but rather about what she – and her music – can give and can do for other people. Firstly, I asked Tenille if she considered that to be a fair observation, and secondly, I wondered which albums by other artists give her that feeling of being somewhere she can go to fill up when she needs to? 


“Thanks! That’s an excellent question, so cool. To me, that’s really what music is, a place where we can realise we’re not alone in something, and be comforted and lifted up. And it is about where communities can meet up, it’s always going to be that anchor. I’m so glad that this album is kind of an introduction to what I hope is a lot more of that feeling. And I mean, I feel that from so many different records, especially having been on the road this last little while – well, it’s been a while now [laughs] – but the most recent tour with Miranda Lambert, listening to her music makes me feel like, you know because she ‘s talking about things that are real and are true, so her art is a place where I can find pieces of myself. I feel that when I listen to Shania, that’s what I grew up listening to, or to ‘Joshua Tree’ by U2. I would listen to that with my dad and it kind of felt like a piece of my soul, like I could just come and be there. And I think that about Dolly Parton when I hear ‘Coat of Many Colours.’ I imagine listening to that in a motor-home driving around with my grand-parents. I think music is just like a big invitation. It’s opening a door to a space that you can just walk into and not be alone in.” 

Even though I’d only been talking to Tenille for a few minutes at this stage, it was already very clear to me that she’s a very spiritual person. And another thing that I really love about Tenille is that all the while she’s been putting her heart into building up her career, she’s also been putting her heart into building better lives for others too, by way of her annual fundraiser, Big Hearts For Big Kids. I knew this was something that’s very important to Tenille, so I asked her to tell us about the Big Hearts For Big Kids project…


“Thank you for asking, I love getting to talk about this. Big Hearts For Big Kids was like a concert fundraiser that I started in my hometown after hearing about our youth shelter and the kids in our community who needed a safe place to turn to. Home wasn’t a safe place for them. It was just kind of alarming to think about kids my age in my own hometown that were struggling with that. I wanted to do something to help, and music is my outlet for that. It’s this thing that really does bring people together. We rented this hall and decorated it, invited people to come and bring some auction items, but the night of our first event the shelter had to close due to lack of funding. It was like, wow, we’re really supposed to do this today. It was amazing, that night people showed up and we raised like thirty-thousand-dollars. I was just blown away. Every year we’ve continued that event and helped to keep the shelter on their feet and those doors open to youth who continue to come and find the guidance and love that they need to keep going. It’s been just remarkable watching that. It makes me so excited about where Big Hearts For Big Kids can go next. This year we weren’t able to go back to my hometown and travel, and do the event in our traditional way, so we did one here in Nashville, a live-stream where anybody from anywhere in the world could tune in and watch! And it was really special, both to benefit the shelter in my hometown, and for planting a seed for something here in Nashville with Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, Troop 6000, which helps young girls without permanent housing here in Nashville. So that was just a really fun event. We had performances by Luke Combs, and Dierks Bentley, Brandi Carisle, and Lori McKenna, so many of my friends and heroes. It was a really wonderful evening and one of the highlights of this year for me, for sure.” 

Right now Tenille is part of something called the American Currents; State of the Music exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. I wondered if she could tell us what anyone who is lucky enough to get along there will see of the girl from Grand Prairie, Alberta? 


“I believe there is the outfit that I wore for my Grand Ole Opry debut, and some hand-written lyrics from ‘Somebody’s Daughter.’ I just can’t even believe that that’s real! I’ve visited the Hall of Fame so many times, and I feel inspired every time I go in there and I find little pieces of history. It just always kinds of…I don’t know…it just fills my soul up. So to be in there is insane, that does not seem like real-life! [laughs].” 

Tenille is an award-winning songwriter, who has #1s to her name, and who has everyone from iHeart Country, to Bobby Bones, to C.M.T backing her as country music’s next ‘big thing.’ But everything I’ve just mentioned starts with a song. So what I wanted to know was when Tenille is at that stage, is there a certain way that songs tend to come together for her? 


“I think, for me, it’s really just kind of about listening to whatever I’m supposed to write that day. It’s very much like being a vessel. You’re just catching what’s coming through. But I love to write from the observer perspective, I love to tell stories and kind of process how I feel about the world. I’m doing a lot of writing in this time, at home right now, writing over Zoom with all my friends. I’m really grateful to be able to be creative in this time. I’m just kind of digging into my own emotions, and thoughts, and loneliness, ya know, or celebrations in this season. I’m just really trying to have music be my safe place to communicate that. Ideas really come from anywhere and everywhere. Conservations with friends, or a movie I’m watching, or a book I’m reading. Just kind of whatever is pulling at my heart!” 

Has Tenille’s songwriting spark stayed with her throughout everything that’s been happening this year? 


“I think it was very difficult, especially in the beginning of the shutdown. It was a strange time to feel inspired and creative. To me, writing songs and tapping into that creative space is a lot like a practise. Even if I’m writing songs that are just exercising that muscle and helping me just, you know, feel good in the day [laughs], to me it’s been like a piece of my sanity and a bit of a lifeline. I’ve really kind of continued that practise through this whole time and I’ve written a ton of songs this year. And it’s really brought me a lot of peace in a very heavy-hearted time.” 

Would Tenille be an everyday writer? 


“I think in seasons for me. It’s hard for me to step into that space when I’m on the road, or when I’m focusing on Big Kids With Big Hearts or some kind of project, I like to really jump in with both feet. So this past season of putting out the record, but really kind of just being home, has been an opportunity to jump into writing with both feet. So it has been every day for the last while, for sure.” 

Tenille had mentioned her Zoom call with Keith Urban earlier in our chat, when she thought she was going to be doing an interview, but instead, he appeared on her screen with the news that she had won the A.C.M. New Female Artist of the Year Award. During that chat of theirs, Keith asked Tenille who her first call would be to after they finished talking and she replied that it would be to her parents. I wondered if that had happened, and how did they respond to her good news? 


“Oh it was, and they were just so excited! They were in the car driving, and I wanted to make sure that both my mom and dad were there. And they were like, ‘Yeah, we’re here, what’s goin’ on?’ So I was like, well, Keith Urban just called…and they were like, ‘Ummm….what?!’ [laughs]. They were so excited, there was lots of cheering, and lots of emotion. It was wonderful to share that moment with them, even across the distance.” 

Tenille was meant to be over here in Ireland back in March for C2C, which unfortunately didn’t happen this year. But hopefully next year it will be back, and hopefully Tenille will be back, too. When the world settles back down again is more international touring something Tenille would like to see on her schedule? 


“Oh my goodness, I will be on the first plane that I possibly can to come and see you guys! [laughs]. I was so looking forward to seeing Ireland on this past trip, I have not been before. It’s one of those bucket-list places in my heart to travel to in the world. I was just devastated that we couldn’t get there in March. But I promise that we’ll be back as soon as we possibly can.” 


THE LEMONADE STAND, the debut album from TENILLE TOWNES, is out now. 
ENDS 

Jo Petit

First Published October 2020

ADDICTED TO THE MUSIC

If you haven’t been feeling at least a little bit stressed out from time to time this year, then I applaud you. And I also need to meet you so that you can let me in on your secret, because if you’ve been livin’ stress-free in 2020, you’re among a very small number, that’s for sure. Most of us, and I include myself in this grand and somewhat sweeping statement, have been stressed out to some extent most of the time. And it’s hardly a remarkably candid confession or revelation to say that it’s not a cool feeling. However, if you’re someone like singer/songwriter JO PETIT, part of what you do is find ways to make life cool. Even in 2020 and with all of its seemingly unending stress! 


In fact, not only did Jo turn the stress he was feeling earlier this year into something cool, he turned it into a song! And there was only ever going to be one name for it…you got it…STRESSED OUT. Born in Mauritius, but now living in Dublin, Jo has a wealth of talent and experience to pour into the creative side of his life. From supporting pop giants such as Westlife, Boyzone, and JLS, performing at venues such as the O2, the RDS, and even Trafalgar Square, and rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in pop and rock history at times, Jo has learned to take almost everything in his stride. But this year has been different…


I had the pleasure of catching up with Jo last week, and I began our chat by putting it to Jo that his new single has pretty much perfectly summed up how everybody has been feeling these past few months, to which he replies with a good-natured laugh, “That’s what it’s all about!” But, he’s done so in a very cool, chilled out, and fun kinda way. I asked Jo to tell me how he came to write Stressed Out


“Basically, what happened is I had a beat, because I do production as well, and I knew that was cool. That was August, I think, last year. But I’d put it aside for a while. Then the lockdown came, and it was really, really stressing. Because all of our bookings and everything were going [Jo also fronts one of the country’s most in-demand weddingand corporate event outfits, The Dream Band], everything was being cancelled. So then I started to feel really stressed out, ya know what I mean. Obviously I wasn’t working, so I was like, you know what, I’ll do a bit of production, that will take my mind off things. Then just before opening up, one of the last sessions I did was that song, I was just singing, [sings] ‘I’m so stressed out…’, you know [laughs]. It took a few little changes to get it right, but yeah, that’s how it came about.”

Stressed Out was produced by Billy Farrell, a man whose name is well-known on the Irish music scene. So how did Jo and Billy cross paths, and what made Jo think Billy was the man for this particular project? 


“Well, I had the beat, you know, and I had put it aside. But then I started writing, and it started with one song, then two songs, and before I knew it, I had about ten songs written. And I actually didn’t know Billy Farrell at the time. I’d always comment on his posts and say something. I knew he was a producer, yes, but I didn’t know to what level, to what extent. I messaged him and said I had a couple of songs, and would he mind having a listen and telling me what he thought about them. I used to write for a company in the UK, co-writing, you know. They put the ideas out there, and then I can pitch something from there. But this was my first time writing from scratch. So I was thinking they were probably all rubbish [laughs]. But all I wanted was an insight of what he thought. So Billy said, yeah, send them over. Between that time of sending it over and hearing back from him, I checked out more of his work, and I was like…Oh…My…God! This guy is just gonna trash me! [laughs]. He’s gonna chew me up and spit me out, that’s what I thought, because I didn’t know who he was [laughs]. I started to feel a bit like I probably should have just shut my mouth! [laughs]”

Billy, by the way – just to offer some context as to why Jo was thinking that maybe he should have kept his mouth shut – has worked with artists like Bonnie Tyler, Brian Kennedy, The Corrs, and Westlife. 

Jo went on with his story…“But then he came back to me and he was like, ‘Jo, those songs are great.’ And I was like, whaaaaat?! He said yeah, really good. I asked him what did he think of the lyrics, because I’d never written a song from scratch on my own, and he said yeah, they were really well put together, well constructed. I had 80% of the production done already. So as the song is now, that’s the way I originally produced it, we just changed a few sounds, like the drums, made it more modern, changed the rhythm a bit to give it that more tropical vibe [laughs], that feel-good vibe! So we started from there.”

While Jo may well have been impressed with Billy’s bio, there’s a few big names that stand out in his own one as well. Try Lenny Kravitz, Whitney Houston, Chris De Burgh, and Paris Hilton for size! 


“I was born in, and grew up in Mauritius, where they’re are loads of high-profile, big-name hotels. And I used to sing in different ones. And I love what I do, so I would work seven days a week! Even if I had three days off! I’d call somebody up and ask if I could come in too, that’s the way I was, I wanted to learn. I would have been seventeen or eighteen at the time. So over time, I was getting better, and obviously getting involved with bigger bands. I’m a quite powerful soul singer, so I was going with these bands to do massive shows, funk and soul, and I loved it! At that time I was doing acoustic trios and part-time with bands too. There was a hotel called the San Geran, which was a massive hotel, and this is where all the celebrities would be going to. One time we were gigging there, and I noticed a familiar face! [laughs]. And I was like, I know them from somewhere. And I was asking the musicians and they said, oh, he’s here every year, and I thought then well that’s why he looks familiar. I probably saw him last year or something. But it was Chris De Burgh! [laughs]. We ended up exchanging a few words, and I met Rosanna Davison at the time, she was young herself too. The whole family. We started chatting, and it became a kind of every night thing, going in and saying hello. But back then I didn’t know he was from Ireland. And I met Whitney Houston out there as well, at the same hotel. Then, I was performing at the launch of the Hilton Hotel in Mauritius, and the Hilton family was there, including Paris. And Lenny Kravitz was performing on that night as well. I’ve also performed for the Prince of Dubai, too.” 

I suggest that Jo is obviously not a man who gets nervous in front of a famous face? 


“Well, it helps when you don’t know them at the time! [laughs]. I’ve been very lucky with those types of things. Once, I was just doing my thing, and this guy comes up to me and he says, ‘Hey man, you have a really good voice.’ And he looked like a rocker guy, you know. Then somebody said to me, ‘Do you know who that is? That’s Lenny Kravitz!’ That blew my mind! I actually felt nervous after that [laughs]. I went to say goodbye to him later, to say it was nice to meet you, you know, and I was literally so shaky! [laughs].” 

As well as being a solo artist with his original work like Stressed Out, Jo is also a part of The Dream Band, as previously mentioned. But before The Dream Band…came the boyband! Once upon a time Jo was a member of the Irish boyband The Boulevard, supporting the likes of Boyzone, Westlife, and JLS. I wondered how Jo looks back on those times and experiences now, and how much did he enjoy them at the time? 


“I absolutely enjoyed them, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was difficult at the time, because it’s not a nine-to-five job, it’s a twenty-four hour job, seven days a week, flat-out. Between rehearsing, keeping fit in the gym, all of that. It took literally every minute of my life. That’s the part that I probably would have changed if I could have [laughs]. But I really wouldn’t change a thing, because I learned so much from it. I’m somebody who’s very observant. If there’s a situation I’m in, I’m gonna learn from it. So that time taught me a lot of things. Observing the managers, the way they work. It wasn’t only the music for me, and the fans and the screaming girls, it was observation. How do they work? What are they doing? Why are they doing that? That taught me a lot for my career up to now. Now I’m able to manage certain situations better. And if I hadn’t done that, I probably wouldn’t have been able to approach certain people. After that time, I went to Scotland and worked with some extremely good songwriters and producers, through my experience in The Boulevard.” 

What was the most important thing Jo learned from back then, from observing everybody and what they were doing? 


“Professionalism. Professionalism. There’s nothing else I can think of that was that important. It might have been that people would manage a certain situation in such a professional way, that I would have thought, oh my God, this is something I need to remember. And even now, The Dream Band, which I founded, I founded based on those experiences of that time. So I know how to manage my own business on a much more professional level than if I never had the experience of being in The Boulevard and doing everything I did in that time.” 

This has been a crazy year for everyone, and it’s still really crazy for most people in the music business because any kind of normal – nevermind the normal we knew – still seems so far away. As an artist, and a creative person, and also just on a purely human level too, how has Jo been dealing with the strangeness of 2020? 


“Well…2020 is definitely a year I’m pretty sure everybody will remember! [laughs]. Especially artists. Because everything – all the bookings we had, everything that was set in stone – just literally…I mean, you would think that the entertainment industry is one that cannot break. Because as long as there’s music, we’ll be working. And then reality kicks in and says look, everybody else is now back working, and we’re not?! We’re not untouchable. There’s lessons to learn there. And it would be better for Stressed Out if there was gigs and I could perform it ‘live.’ That would have been great. Because with The Dream Band, we do a lot of weddings and corporate, and we travel all over Europe performing. You could put the song in your set to let people know it’s out. But there’s absolutely nothing. It’s a stand-still. The song is out…but now what? [laughs]. So yeah, it’s had a major impact on that side of things. Musicians are addicted to what we do. And not having that is hard. Not even talking about just paid gigs. Like sometimes, you’ll just do a gig for fun. And not even having that hit…that’s why so many musicians I’ve been talking to are stressed out. Actually, I was talking to one who said he was out of his mind, and I said yeah…that’s a good line for Stressed Out [laughs]. If you think about it, this industry is so big. There’s the musicians, but then the P.A. Hire, rehearsal rooms, dancers, singers…it goes on and on. That impact is just so huge. But at the same time, I don’t think the people who make the legislation have thought about it that way. They’re like, ok, no musicians are working. But what about the rest? What about event-planners? Venues? Everybody else is this huge industry that’s now just at a stand-still.” 

Well one thing that Jo has been able to do, thankfully, is put together a video for Stressed Out that’s every bit as cool as the song itself. And indeed, at the time of our chat, views of the video on YouTube had already gone well past the 100,000 mark. Jo told me all about putting that side of things together…


“We were obviously planning that in advance, but then the government said we were going to shut down for a month or two, and then everything was going to go back to normal. So we were planning to have a bunch of people at the beach and have a real tropical vibe with it. So myself and the director, we had designed a full set and started getting people involved, we needed about fifty people there for the end, all clapping and dancing and singing the song. And we were going to do a bit in a venue as well, on stage, you know. There was a whole plan going ahead. But then, about ten days before we were due to shoot the video, they announced that the lockdown was not going away, nowhere was opening, no weddings happening, no groups of people meeting, and all of this! [laughs]. So we had to literally strip everything then to the bare minimum. But it was very enjoyable. We were like, ok, cool, let’s make it like a kind of scenario where you wake up and the minute I leave the apartment that we hired, from that time until going to the beach, it’s just me trying to get away from all the craziness! It still works! There’s just a lot less people involved. Because we couldn’t have done it the way we planned it, and then have everybody see that we’d done it at a time when people were not meant to be together that much. This is why we ended up really stripping it back, and having less people in isolated places.” 

To bring our chat to an end, I asked Jo what’s next on his schedule for 2020, in as much as it’s even possible to plan anything right now…


“I’m just hoping that we will see more consideration given to the events industry. Up to now, there’s been no thought or emphasis on it. I think they just need to consider the thousands and tens of thousands of people who are out of work right now in this industry. Music, at the end of the day, and entertainment, it’s something that people look forward to. If there’s a show, people plan weeks in advance. Even musicians as well, knowing that something is coming back, that would lift our spirits. We were meant to have a gig this week, but then they were saying that Cork might be locked down, and that’s where our gig was. We’re literally working on a day-to-day basis not knowing what’s happening. For 2021, I just hope that everything goes back to some kind of normal [laughs]. So that we can go out gigging and promoting. Because what I’ve found out is that it’s so hard to promote anything if you’re not able to go out and show it to people. Ok, I can do so much on video, so much on Facebook, but then…there’s nothing else I can do. And then it’s destructive for the art itself. Because you start questioning yourself, am I doing the right thing? Because it still costs money to do a song.”One thing is for sure, though, and that is that no matter what happens, Jo will remain addicted to the music.

STRESSED OUT, the brand new single from JO PETIT is out now, available on all platforms and to request from radio

ENDS

Sunny Sweeney

First Published November 2014

A SUNNY DELIGHT

As hard as it is to believe it now, there actually was a time in Ireland when Garth Brooks was unknown. Same story with Brad Paisley. And same again with Carrie Underwood.  And even – going back to a Garth connection again – Trisha Yearwood. But if you think about it, every famous and well-known name in country music, or any other genre, was at one time or another, an unknown. So some of you folk reading today’s column may never have heard the name Sunny Sweeney before. But maybe a few of you will have. What’s for certain, however, is that over the next few years, you will ALL be hearing plenty about this astonishingly talented Texan singer/songwriter.

I first came across Sunny’s music a few years back when I was passing the time of day in one of the most enjoyable ways known to any music fan; just thumbing through shelf after shelf of albums in my then local music store, Heartbeat City. It was the title of Sunny’s album that first caught my attention, Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame. It could hardly have been more country sounding! And when I checked out the songwriter credits inside and saw two from the pen of the renowned Jim Lauderdale  – Refresh My Memory and Please Be San Antone, plus he dueted on another track, Lavender Blue – and one from the inimitable Iris Dement, not to mention three of Sunny’s own compositions, I was won over in a matter of heartbeats!

That 2006 album remains to this day one of my all-time favourite country albums. So when I learned earlier this year that a brand new album from Sunny was on the way, my excitement was difficult to contain! But getting the news that an interview with Sunny had been given the ‘green light’, well, there was definitely no containing that! There was some shouting out loud done on my part, I can tell you.

Provoked lands every punch it aims and sees Sunny living up to the standards she set herself with Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame. Just a few weeks back she became the first female artist to top the Texan country music charts in 11 years with Bad Girl Phase, the brilliant lead-off single from Provoked. And at the moment, she’s on tour with none other than Miranda Lambert, winner of 4 major CMA (Country Music Association) Awards for 2014; Album of the Year for Platinum, Single of the Year for Automatic, Female Vocalist of the Year, and Musical Event of the Year for We Were Us with Keith Urban.

The fact that Sunny is keeping this kind of company right now is no coincidence, folks. It’s years of working hard and tons of talent getting the recognition it deserves. Here’s how our chat turned out when we crossed paths a little while back.

Sunny, the first thing that caught my eye, and kind of surprised me about your new album, Provoked, was that you said in another interview I read somewhere that Used Cars was the first time you’d ever written a love song?! Is that really true?   

“Well, I have written a couple before, but none that have ever been recorded for the world to hear! This was just an idea I had that I thought was kind of strange, but thought it would make a cool “love song”… I asked multiple people to write it with me.  Everyone I mentioned it to didn’t seem interested.  I asked Natalie Hemby what she thought, and she said, ‘Please don’t write this with anyone else.’ So, a month or so later, me and Natalie were writing in the back of the bus at a gig and put it all down.”

If it’s not too personal a question – but I think it’s one other writers in particular would love to hear your answer to – what was so different in the emotion of love that inspired this song, in comparison to the kind of love you’ve experienced before?

“Well, I think as we mature, we realize that love’ is much more than just one thing.  When I met my current husband, I just ‘knew’ he was different.  I loved him almost immediately.”

Does it ever feel a little bit scary, or make you nervous, to put so much of yourself into your songs and out into the world?

“Oh yes, but I always say, someone’s gotta do it!’ Actually, I am a music fan first and foremost.  It’s what has always made my world go round.  I always related, even as young child, to the real stories that happened in country music.  That type of music has been the center of my universe since I was a child, so when I started making my own music or singing other peoples’ songs or whatever, I always leaned towards the truthful ones… or ones that COULD be truthful… I just love stories that say something.”

When you’re actually in the process of writing a song, Sunny, is it difficult to ‘go back’ to a very emotional time in order to ‘get-the-song’, so to speak?

“No, I always keep those events in my arsenal, and quite honestly, I am a very emotional person anyway, so reliving things and trying to figure out what could have gone differently is something that, just by nature, I do.”

Do you relive those old feelings in real-time or have you found a way to go back, but at the same time, keep your distance from the actual hurt or pain of the original moment?

“No, the feelings always come back too, but that’s part of the process, and I‘ve had fans tell me that this song or that song has helped them through a similar situation. Quite frankly, if a song touches one person or helps one person, I feel like I’ve done my job. It’s why I don’t mind putting some personal stuff in there.”

To change tack just for a moment, I read somewhere once that you used to have three dogs. Are they all still with you? If so, what are their names and do you still paint their nails and brush their teeth?  

“Yes, I still have two of my dogs.  Unfortunately, I lost one in the divorce. Her name is Merle.  I still have Nash and Dolly who are both fourteen.  They both walk a mile every day and although Dolly is blind, they really get along well. They are quite spoiled and each have their own beds and get covered up at night.  Nash even has her own buzz fan! Needless to say I am a huge dog person!”

I also saw somewhere once that you have a slight fondness for pigs! Where in your life did that obsession begin, and why?

“My grandmother, Dotty, collected pigs, and she actually started my collection when I was young.  She died when I was twelve, and I then inherited all of hers, too.  I have a LOT of pigs…on the verge or annoying to my husband, I’m sure.”

Another obsession of yours, but one you’ve called a “healthy obsession” , and I’d have to agree with you on that, is with ‘the Hag’ himself, Merle Haggard! You’ve had the chance to play with Merle a few times in your career, so do you think country music, as a genre, is unique in how often and easily it seems to allow younger and up-and-coming artists to mix with and learn from their heroes?

“No, I think all genres do that.  I mean, I hope that people think I’m original, but would love it if they could hear the influences of the music I adore.”

You’ve admitted to being a bit of a procrastinator in life, so I was wondering if that applies or stretches to your writing too? How disciplined are you in your writing? Would you have a set time for it every day or does ‘inspiration’ have to come to you?

“I’m one of those that likes structure.  I always save ideas or lines for a song and write them down. But I would prefer to book time with a co-writer to write and then USE  those ideas there. I’m not one of those ‘it may come to me at 7am’ types. If it comes to me at 7am, I’ll write it down and then go back to sleep. I’m only half kidding!  But I am way more productive in late mornings or early afternoons. If it starts getting to like four or five, I’m ready for a cocktail!”

From both Heartbreaker’s Hall Of Fame and Provoked, it always feels to me that the songs you sing, whether your own or covers, are very much an actual part of you as a person, Sunny. They’re never just something that you happen to do as part of your job. Fair observation?

“Thank you soooo much! That is the best complement you could have given me.  My music is so much a part of me that I would panic if suddenly I was not allowed to express myself through it.”

You were nominated for Best New Female Vocalist at the 2013 Academy of Country Music Awards. How big a moment in your career was that, and how did it feel the moment that you first heard the news? But also, Sunny, given that Heartbreaker’s Hall Of Fame was released in 2006, did it perhaps feel a bit strange to be in the ‘New’ category?

“Yes, it may have seemed a bit odd to be called a newcomer. However, I was so honoured to have my efforts validated enough to be nominated that I did not care WHAT they called me!”

How do you personally measure how your career is progressing? Is it through what your reviews are like, how singles chart, the impact albums make, crowd reaction at gigs? What are the signs that reassure you things are going to plan?

“I pay my bills doing the one thing I love.  I still cannot believe I GET to do this for a job.  It’s sometimes just surreal to me.  I definitely love my fans, and my shows, and recording, so as long as I get to continue doing that, I’ll be just fine with my progress.”

To go back to songwriting for a moment, when you’re working on a song, Sunny, and I’m thinking lyrics here mainly, do you pretty much accept the song as it first comes to you or are you the kind of writer who needs to edit and re-write, and who worries over even a small word here or there?

“I hardly ever write by myself, as I have grown very fond of co-writing.  Some of the writers I have been blessed to write with – the Warren Brothers, Natalie Hemby, Monty Holmes, Lance Miller, Buddy Owens – they really understand crazy ideas. So, like, the Warrens and Lance together no doubt, if I have an idea, the two brothers always start just playing licks on the guitar and some cool melody happens and then we just start from there. Every write is always different.  That’s the beauty.  You never know what is going to happen when you go to work that day. I have definitely gone back and listened to a work-tape and wanted to change something, as I’m sure everyone does. Again, that’s the beauty of creating. You can do whatever you want!”

Back to Provoked. Garth Brooks always says that there’s one song on each of his albums that defines that album for him. And in a way, defines him at that particular time.  Which song on Provoked does that for you?

“Provoked is simply stated, ‘Just a story I’ve been living and have been needing to tell.’  It wouldn’t have been the same story with twelve songs.  It wouldn’t have been the same story with fourteen songs. It’s needed these thirteen songs to say what I was wanting to say.”

So with Provoked now out in the world and finding its wings and flyin’ its own course, what are your plans for the next couple of years? Do you think we’ll have a chance to see you over here in Europe?

“I would LOVE NOTHING MORE! I have been to Europe quite a few times, and would love to come back!  I am in the process of renewing my passport as we speak, so hopefully sooner rather than later. “

Last question for you, Sunny! You’ve been through some tough times in your life and  career, but you’re still swingin’ and singin’, and doin’ it all from the heart! For others in the same business, either singers or songwriters, what’s the best piece of hard-earned advice that has served you well that you’d like to pass on?

“I know this may sound trite, but the best advice is, ‘Don’t give up’. Seriously. If you believe in yourself and have a LOT of faith, and just keep going, no matter what the critics say, it will work out. Keep your eye on the prize, not on the work.  My real theory is to surround yourself with people that believe in you as much as you believe in you. It’s hard to find those people initially, but when you do, it seems that things always fall in to place.”

ENDS