Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Interview Flashback - Talking Real Life with Tammy Cochran

I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did close to a 100 interviews with different artists- and since both of those great sites have come down, I will reprint some of those interviews here to give them a home in perpetuity. This interview feature was originally published in November 2009 on The 9513.

After having the song “Angels In Waiting” land a top ten Billboard Hot Country spot back in 2001, Tammy Cochran could easily be included as one of the many in Nashville who have used tragedy and heartbreak as the motivation for a hit song.  Describing her experience watching her two older brothers, Shawn and Alan, live and eventually pass on from the disease Cystic Fibrosis, the track was a personal and strangely inspirational snapshot of Cochran’s life.  It would be one of six hits that Cochran would have on the charts between 2000 and 2002.  

Fast forward seven years and with a brand new album called 30 Something And Single, she has again used a difficult story in her life- albeit this one with a happier ending- as inspiration in her songwriting.  Several of the years between her hit singles and this new album were spent in a tumultuous and grueling adoption process that eventually ended up with the arrest and conviction of a Florida-based adoption facilitator who was assigned to handle Tammy’s case. 

“I was just one of several victims of this facilitator. Unknown to me, she used an attorney that was banned by the U.S. Embassy. I sent my money to who I thought was a lawyer. Instead, it ended up being the housekeeper of the lawyer.” In an effort to contain the situation, Tammy recalls, “Just weeks away from bringing Shawn home, I was threatened that my adoption would stop if I went public with my story.”

Cochran never gave up and after a second push for adoption, she brought home a healthy baby boy. What resulted is a tune called “Half The World Away (Shawn’s Song),” a story written during the time in which she wasn’t sure that her adoption would ever go through.  

She has written all but one of the songs on the new album and has included many additional stories drawn directly from her life. The one exception is her favorite classic, Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”  It takes her back to childhood when she and her brothers would sit around the record player listening to her parents play old country records. Now she plays the same music for her own son, named after those same brothers. It’s comforting to know that music remains the ties that bind for families like the Cochrans.    

KEN MORTON, JR.- Before we touch upon the new album, tell me all about your high school band TC Country. Was that “big time” back in the day?

TAMMY COCHRAN- (Laughter) Oh boy. That was a band that did bars, elks clubs, local fairs and stuff like that. It was a just your basic run-of-the-mill country band that would play anything that was on the charts at the time. It was fun, though!

KMJ- Let’s jump ahead to the brand new album. Congratulations on the new recording. How would you describe 30 Something and Single?

TC- I describe it as something that is who I am and shows all aspects of my personality. It has some serious songs and some songs that are funny and tongue in cheek- which I haven’t been able to do thus far in my career. I’m really excited about folks hearing this side of me- the side that can make light of situations and look at things more fun.

KMJ- Who or what were some of your influences on this album’s sound?

TC- Greg Cole produced the project for me and I’ve known Greg for years. He’s done a ton of great work. He’s worked on projects for Darryl Singletary and a bunch of different acts. I met Greg when I first came to town and he knew my style and how I wanted this album to sound. So we sat down and talked about it making an amazing album of songs that are totally me. I wanted songs that were a sound that would represent me, production that would represent me. I wanted bouncy fun songs and serious songs, all that are pretty country. There’s a couple songs that are more on the contemporary country side, but for the most part, they’re all on the other side. A song like “30 Something And Single” is a traditional country ballad.

KMJ- I thought it pretty defining for the record that it opened with the steel guitar on that opening track.

TC- Cool. That’s what I hoped would happen. We wanted to make it really country. I’ve been criticized in the past for being “too country.” You just can’t please everybody every time. So this time around, I just wanted to please myself. I love it. I hope listeners do too. 

KMJ- You wrote more of this album as well, didn’t you?

TC- Yes, everything on this album is something I wrote except for “Stand By Your Man.” Obviously. 

KMJ- You only wish you wrote that one, right?

TC- (Laughter) Oh heck yeah. That would have been cool. Although I would have been a mere child or perhaps just a twinkle in my parents eyes. 

KMJ- And a very rich woman today…

TC- Huge! That would have been beautiful. Every songwriter wishes they had a song like that one. 

KMJ- How did you go about choosing that song for the album?

TC- That is a song that I do a lot in my live performances. There are so many people that come up to me and say, “Man, I haven’t heard that song in years. What a wonderful old song.” I grew up singing that song in TC Country. I just thought that it’s sad that most radio doesn’t play those old songs. And we forget how beautiful they are because we just don’t hear them very often. I got so many compliments from the live shows and I love the song so much that I put it on there. It’s always been one of my favorites. 

KMJ- One of the songs details your feelings surrounding a tough and difficult time surrounding an adoption of a boy from Guatemala called “Half The World Away (Shawn’s Song). For those unaware of your trials, what happened?

TC- I started adopting a child back in 2005 and ran into some difficulties pretty quickly with that adoption. My facilitator got arrested for some illegal activities that she participated in. It kind of put all of our adoptions in jeopardy- with everyone that was working with her on adoptions at the time. It was a two-year process. It took two years. It was only supposed to take about nine months. It was huge emotional roller coaster. I was home here in Nashville. At that point, my adoption was completely in jeopardy. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to bring my son home. I was very upset, obviously. I wrote this song “Half The World Away.” It’s kind of a lullaby type of song pouring my heart out. I wanted to let this little boy know that I was going to wait for him as long as I had to wait for him. It just expressed what I was feeling at that time. And it honors the birth mom that had the courage to let her baby go. Whatever her reasons were, it honors her decision and thanks her for her decision. 

KMJ- It brings you full circle with your first big hit being about your brothers that passed away and this song being about your adopted son that carries their name. It makes two of your most important songs in your career two of your most personal songs, doesn’t it?

TC- Yes. Definitely. Of course I wasn’t thinking about that when I wrote the song. But I’ve always had my son’s name picked out and he’s named after my brothers. His name is Shawn Alan. It’s crazy how things come full circle sometimes. 

KMJ- On your website, I read a brief reference to some positives and negatives about being an indie artist. Give us some of the positives

TC- The positives are that you can truly be yourself. Corporate America is corporate America. Everyone loves it and to a certain extent, we need it. But as a creative person, it was hard for me to deal with a lot of the politics that went along with the big corporation. You’re in trouble if you’re not wearing the right clothes. They tell you how to dress, how to speak, and there are people that love that structure. And to an extent, I do to, but it just got to be overwhelming. Being indie is the freedom to be yourself. I can cut anything I want- even stuff like “Stand By Your Man.” It is something that a major label wouldn’t think highly of. 

KMJ- And the negatives?

TC- The challenges are financial. That’s the biggest negative. The bigger labels have hundreds of thousands of dollars to sink into an artist, pay for fancy music videos, fly them all over the world for radio promotional tours and stuff. They can do all the things to make an artist successful. As an indie artist, you have to weigh where your money is better spent. You have to pass on some good opportunities and things you wish you could do. Sometimes, it’s just not in your budget. I loved my time on Sony. I had great experiences and met people and made relationships that I wouldn’t trade for the world. But I don’t want to throw myself back into that major label mix and compete with 20-something aged girls that are singing about different things than I would sing about. This area is better for me personally and better suited for me musically. 

KMJ- What lies beyond this album release for you?

TC- Because we’re a little label, it takes us a little longer to do things. But they do get done. We have a staff of three instead of a staff of 103. We are going to release a single around the first of the year. We’re going to try to do some creative promotion around that. And I do several Cystic Fibrosis fundraisers every single year. I perform at the Alabama Theater three months every year. And then there’s festivals and fairs and stuff like that where we do live shows. I will busy working and hopefully being successful. 

KMJ- What will be that first single off of the album?

TC- I think we’ve decided on a song called “He Really Thinks He’s Got It.”

KMJ- Thank you so much for the time. I’ll leave you with one last question. What is country music to Tammy Cochran?

TC- Country music to me is real life. Just real life. That’s it. 

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