I'm going to be honest and say I haven't always been a dedicated student of songwriting. I have been a fan. A fan of songs. More importantly, a fan of words. Of emotions. From the time I was little, I would hear songs and immediately pull out the jacket of the then-cassette, ultimately-CD, and look for the lyrics. If they hadn't been included, I would be instantly disappointed, and then listen over and over again to each track until I knew what the words were. First came feeling. Then came words and melodies. I never thought much about the structure- that (ignorantly?) seemed like the easiest part. I just wrote. And sang. Starting from when I learned to talk, I would sing stories, and ultimately, they found some form in songs when I was 10 years old and wrote my first official "song".
My journey in music took me to Nashville at age 20, after I graduated from Berklee College of Music. I never grew up on country music, and, honestly, wasn't sure what to do with myself in Nashville. But I knew it drew me to it, and so I went. And then....I quit. I could give you a million reasons why, but the natural love I had for music was sucked out of me when I realized music- like anything in which you want to make money- had a dark side. A sensible side. A side that insisted on uncomfortable, hard work, sacrifice, and rejection. I ran. I ran not because I didn't love music enough, but because I loved music TOO much. It had always been the place untouched in my life- where I could go to be myself and express my own, authentic feelings, without consequence or potential to be criticized. So I hid. I still wrote- maybe more than I ever had...but I stopped sharing my music.
The less I shared, the more I ached. Stories and feelings would pour out. Sometimes they were hideous messes of songs that should never be heard. Sometimes I thought they were better than anything on the radio. Almost always, they were written through prayers, or tear stained eyes, or overwhelming joy or sadness. I was in a long-term, serious relationship with my piano and myself.
One night in the summer of 2013, I sat at my piano and wrote 17 songs. In one night. From about 4:30 pm until 2:00 am. It was far and beyond a record, even being a fast and voracious writer. I posted on facebook that night about how deeply I loved songwriting.
And then a college friend of mine and an amazing bass player for Hunter Hayes- Matt Utterback- posted something cryptic on my post:
"You can live the life and live the dream. I know you can." and posted a link to a Lori McKenna video.
I knew Lori's name, but not her history. I was pretty perplexed by all of this. I was 28 years old, and living a life that didn't feel like mine. A nine to five in the financial industry. A young child (who absolutely ALWAYS felt like mine). A house that was too big that I couldn't afford. Almost no friends...no. Really. Almost NO friends. And journals upon journals of songs I sat with, by myself. That would never see the light of day, as I punched a clock at a job I didn't care about in an industry I didn't believe in. I let the comment go. _
But the next day, in my soul-sucker job, I googled. Lori McKenna. She was 28 years old before she even played a writers' round. Lived in Massachusetts. Had kids. Was married. Drove a minivan. Kept her life, and kept her dream.
I took out a notepad and started writing a note to Matt Utterback, through tears, knowing in that moment, my life was changed, and he hadn't meant for it to be. But it was. I wrote him a note that I maintain, even now, I will give to him when I get my first number one, or my first Grammy...or whenever the time feels right.
That's when Last Love Standing- my EP was born. I reached out to Matt and asked him for recommendations on who I could work with. Andy Sheridan with CharlieHorse Productions was his emphatic suggestion. And so it went.
Almost EXACTLY a year ago, I packed a bag, left my suburban home 20 minutes outside of Nashville and stayed at my parent's vacant house in Hillsboro Village, while spending every day for 5 days with musicians at the Sound Emporium recording studio. I was scared. Emotional. And the happiest I'd EVER been, with the exception of my son's birth and life. Literally. Gleeful.
You think, as you go through life, you're pretty happy. And I thought I was. I still do. But nothing compared to that joy. I had found my new life, and just had to figure out how the hell to keep it.
Three months after that, I quit my job, with lots of ideas for how I would "stay afloat" while I did music. So I tried really hard to stay afloat for months. And you know what? I DID stay afloat. But that's about it. No forward movement, really. Just doing "ok".
But then, I stopped focusing on what I had to do to be "ok" and started focusing on what I had to do to grasp and keep that glee I knew was possible.
And now...if I were to win hundreds of millions of dollars tomorrow, you know what I would do? I might buy some new fun toys. But I would DO all the same things I'm doing right now. Because, I stopped worrying about what I needed to survive, and, for more or less, I'm thriving. Writing everyday with my friends and some seriously talented writers and artists. Singing stories that mean something.
And tonight I sat, watching Lori McKenna at City Winery in Nashville. I wanted to find her and talk to her, but ran into too many of my cowriters and friends and didn't get to find her. But here's what I wanted to say:
Lori...and Matt. And everyone else who believed it was possible to have a life and do what you love...Thank you. You saved my life. I would have died with stories left trapped in notebooks on kitchen counters, unheard. And now, some may wither on the vine, but so many will be filled with life because of the conviction that it was and is possible to be who you and do what you most wish for, what you're best at.
Tonight, I watched as the successful stranger who inspired me a year and a half ago to find my voice, inspired me again to keep going. And tonight, Last Love Standing, my EP containing the deepest secrets and truths of my life before this life, was released on iTunes. Although I am in a very different place- musically, personally and professionally- now than I was a year ago when I had to run away to find myself, it is a chapter of my existence that means more to me than I can describe. I hope with my whole heart you love it. And, if you do, feel free to buy it, rate it and talk about it here.
Be a dreamer...and then hold onto your dreams and DO them with your whole heart....And in the words of Ms. McKenna so aptly summarizes:
"When you get where you're going, turn right back around, and help the next one in line. Always stay humble and kind."