Harlan Howard might have been the first to mutter the famous phrase that country music was, “Three Chords and the Truth,” but Courtney Patton has clearly made that her life mantra. Following her previous solo albums, Triggering a Flood (2013) and So This Is Life (2015), Patton has continued to draw on true life day-to-day autobiographical life experiences filled on her third album, What It’s Like To Fly Alone, to be released February 16, 2018.
Fresh off her second annual Hard Candy Christmas Tour with friends and fellow respected artists Sunny Sweeney, Jamie Lin Wilson and Brennen Leigh, Patton is quickly becoming a driving force within the Red Dirt and Texas music scenes and beyond. Patton married fellow musician Jason Eady in March of 2014 and together, they released the collaborative project, Something Together, in January of 2017.
Patton explains the genesis behind the project, “The album is titled after one of its songs, “What It’s Like to Fly Alone”. The title sounds melancholy, but the resolve isn’t. This record is full of songs about people who have had to “fly alone” in some way, whether through grief, loss, life choices, addiction or love. We have to work through our struggles, choose our own destiny, just like the characters in each song. We have to make ourselves happy. No one else can do that for us. I’ve been down in all of those ways, but I chose happiness. In the end, “flying alone” is soaring because you pick your path and you find your way.”
The album is phenomenal. In an era in which clichés and bravado is mistaken for bold noteworthiness, there’s something far more brave in peeling back highly personal and emotional open-book songs and delivering them with sensitivity and sentiment. Patton has done just that. She is the consummate storyteller on this project. Heartache isn’t just described, it’s tangibly felt.
Patton has called upon many of her musical friends to assist on the project. Chip Bricker, piano player with Gene Watson's highly acclaimed Farewell Party Band, is on keys. Austin City Limits Hall Of Fame member Lloyd Maines is on pedal steel. Heather Stalling (wife of Texas troubadour Max Stalling) is on fiddle, Jamie Lin Wilson (The Trishas), Dan Tyminski (Alison Krauss & Union Station) and husband Jason Eady are on background vocals. But after having fellow Texas troubadour Drew Kennedy produce her last album, Patton has taking the production reins this time around, further cementing this as her most personal work to date. She took a time to talk to That Nashville Sound about the new project...
Ken Morton, Jr.: Well, first of all, happy album release week. How exciting!
Courtney Patton: Thank you. It felt like a long time coming. I’m ready.
KMJ: It’s awesome. Talk to me first about some kind of general themes running through this record and maybe compare ‘em against your previous 2 LPs that you came out with.
CP: So, the title track kind of was the anchor for this and that’s "What It’s Like to Fly Alone." And on the onset, when you read that, it sounds like a very sad thing. But when you really dig into that song, it’s really about like self-exploration and trying to overcome things and knowing that you are the one person that has to make yourself happy at the end of the day, you know, and you’re the one that has to decide what that means. And I wrote it after a bad gig in Austin. And one of those that you get flustered by something that happens during the show that's beyond your control and has nothing to do with you, but then it causes you to forget lyrics. And ironically, I had a show like that 2 nights ago. Sound issues that popped the whole time I was playing and I started forgetting words to songs and then I just got so overcome, you know. And you just go “Man, I just can’t— I don’t know. Maybe I’m not cut out to do this.” And so, that whole drive home from Austin, I was just devastated and was thinking of ways to get out, you know. How can I salvage this? I’m gonna go back to college. I’m gonna get a bigger degree than what I have and I'm gonna teacher or I’m gonna do something, you know, in my public relations field or whatever. And by the time I got home, I realized that that was ridiculous and I had complete control over all the things in my life that bother me. One of the verses is about being a hypochondriac. You come out and say that, but just I worry that something’s gonna happen to me before I’m ready, but none of us can control that, you know. We just have to do the best we can to live every single day. So, that's kind of what that song is about. I didn't mean to write a record that fit into that them. But when I look back to the pile of songs that I had to go into this record, I realized that there was a resounding theme of figuring out how to do something on your own. And you know, I wrote a song about losing my sister and so that was learn how to grieve without her. One of them was about somebody who chooses drinking over a heartache. So, whether that's the right thing to do or not, that was one of the things and then one of them is about being on the road and being away from somebody you love and trying to get back home. So, that’s traveling this road by yourself and trying to get back. Song after song, I just realize that every one of them kind of fit in with that theme of just personal resolve and choosing happiness over heartbreak in whatever form that takes. And I think that's different than in the other ones. I don't know if there was much hope. In some of my other records, I think I was writing a little of a dark place or working through some things personally and maybe I didn't put as much joy or it's gonna be okay and I really did try to do that and it's hard.
KMJ: For me, I thought that So This is Life was kind of, you know, heartache and being broken little bit. And I thought this time around it felt like you’re healing and you're advancing emotionally a little bit.
CP: Yeah. And the biggest part about this record that most people don't know, I do write such personal songs normally and there are few of those on this record. But for the most part, I just try to be a songwriter this time. And I made up some stories. And I wrote stories from characters that I saw or fictional characters, but with very realistic stories. And it doesn't mean that some point in my life I didn't live some of those tales, but I didn’t write a complete autobiographical record, you know. I just took the theme of things that I've been through before and just try to force myself to write better because I am happy. I am a happy person now and I don't have sad things going on in my life constantly. And so, that's a struggle. When you’re a country songwriter, so how do you write songs that still will like evoke feeling, but aren’t cheesy, you know. I don’t wanna just write drinking songs or party songs. I just don't do that. So, that was a challenge for me this past couple years when I was writing to write a lot co-writes. You’ll notice there are more co-writes than anything I've ever had on any record. I think 7 of the 12 songs and 8 if count one of them, the cover, but 7 of them I co-write with friends of mine.
And so, that was a different thing for me that I've never done before and it helped me I think grow as a writer to learn to work with other people. And it pulled me out of my comfort zone and forced me to be more creative. So, that was fun too.
KMJ: I've made you laugh at this comment before, but you're such a funny contradiction there. There is no one I’ve ever seen perform who has more fun on stage than you do particularly when Jamie Lin (Wilson) is egging you on. But then you have this amazing collection of terribly sad songs. It's such a funny contradiction.
CP: (Laughter) I’d rather be that than the other way around. Like seriously, it’s so fun and you’re so depressing.
KMJ: It's a wonderful dynamic.
KMJ: This time, you produced the album yourself too.
CP: I did.
KMJ: What was your thought from taking the reins this time around?
CP: Really, the main reason, which is kind of embarrassing to admit, but financially I had more control financially doing it myself. You know, you pay a producer. And a lot of times when you work with your friends, it's not that much. They actually deserve a lot more than you're able to pay them. But this time, I chose to make a record in my hometown so I could be there to pick my kids up from school and really, really trying to be home for my kids more than I have been the last couple years touring. And in order to do that, I was able to find a studio at home with a couple of my friends with engineers and they got me a really, really great unbeatable day rate for the studio. And I was able to work on the hours that I wanted to. I was able to use our band. And then we tracked record in 2 days, which is pretty crazy. We just got through and knocked it out, which these guys have been playing these songs with me for over a year anyway just in my shows and stuff. So, we went in and tracked the record and then I was able to get the over dubs done on different times like Lloyd Maines he works from home. And so, I get everything to him and he has a timeline. So, I give him all that. He does all the parts and then sends them back to me and then I hired a piano guy in Dallas and he works from home as well. He has a home studio. So, it was just one of those things that was very easy for me to do it myself this time around. And it was a challenge too because I'm not maybe as good at delegating as I should be and I try to put a lot of pressure on myself in all parts of my life, you know.
And I’m lucky to have somebody like Lloyd who has no problem telling me his opinion on something whether I agree with him or not. He likes to guide me and I appreciate that. My buddies, you know, they’re so helpful in arrangements and things that maybe I didn't hear drums. And they'd say, “Why don’t you just let me try it and see if you like it?” And I ended up loving it. And so, on the phone, I wasn’t gonna have drums. We have drums. So, I really should say produced by all of us because all of us together, you know, kind of brainstorm, but it was fun. It was fun being in control of that and getting to put the instruments that I wanna do on things and having an idea on a piece of paper and making it come to an audible reality was pretty fun.
KMJ: So, you're saying that Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks comes by her strong opinions honestly, huh?
CP: Correct. I would say that as a positive statement and not a bad one. Yeah. Lloyd is such a great guy and I’m just so— I thank him profusely every time I talk to him and he's so hands that even after he was paid and done, for a few months he would message me. I'd wake up to an e-mail saying, “Hey, I'm just making sure you're still happy and you don't need anything. And I just want you to know how much I love your voice.” So, that’s pretty cool coming from him. I mean, he's worked with more people that I look up to and I can name. And if he's at the helm of all of that, that's pretty cool.
KMJ: The most powerful track to my ears was probably the most personal one. You mentioned it earlier with "Fourteen Years." I’d imagined that that came from a very therapeutic place as well, huh?
CP: True. So, I was playing a show at our hometown, which is about an hour away from where I live now. And she passed away on the road that I was playing the show on about 2 blocks down from where I was. And so, she was a manager. It's so weird how that one street had so much to do with her story. There’s a main street in our town and then there's a street that runs parallel called Santa Fe. She was manager of a subway on Santa Fe. She lived on Santa Fe. She was killed on Santa Fe. And she was 2 blocks from her apartment when she passed and I was 2 blocks from the other side of that when I was playing my show.
And I realized it was anniversary the last time that I saw her, which is a week before she died. And I've gone home for my mom's birthday and she got off work at subway and we all met at mom’s and ate Whataburger together. And then I followed her back to her apartment. And she wanted to show me and she was so proud. And she was so excited about it. And I went in her room and she had this candle that I'd given her. It was purple and it was like a luminary thing and it said sisters on it. And she had it right next to her bed. And I remember like being so proud of my little sister was like growing up. And I told her I was proud of her and I'm so excited. And we had plans to see each other. And I gave her a hug and I turned around and I opened her door and walked out. And for some reason, I turned around and went back and hugged her again. I don't know why. And so, I've always been grateful that I did that and sometimes I think these things happen and they're outside of our control. And you look back and go “Man, somebody was giving me a little nod, you know, and telling me not to forget to tell her that I loved her.”
KMJ: (sniff sniff) It’s gotten very dusty in my office here by the way.
CP: (voice breaks) Yeah. Me too. But we had just happened to drop by the place where her accident was. I just started crying. I cried all the way home. But by the time I got home, I had 8 or 9 voice memos of just lines that I was just singing to her. And by the time I got home, I had a whole song. So, it kind of wrote itself.
CP: And it took me— I mean, it was 14 years, you know, too me to write it. But I think I was finally at a place where I could look back and really just appreciate the time that I had with her, but also just longing of— you know, wondering what it would have been like to still have her around with my kids. Now, I'm crying, Ken. Way to go. (laughter)
KMJ: Oh, boy. Sorry about that one. That's my curse. I tend to have that effect on women. Okay, change of subject. There is one track on there that you didn't write. Talk me through that track and why you selected that one.
CP: So, Kelley Mickwee, formerly of the Trishas or maybe still the Trishas whenever they decide to play, and Owen Temple who I’ve been a fan of since I was in high school— I’d like to tell him that to remind him how old he is, but I’m kidding— but they wrote this song and I don't know where I heard it and she said something on the microphone, which when she played it and said— I think Jason and I were there. And she said, you know, it’s written for somebody, you know, kind of had Jason and Courtney in mind. And she may just played it for the audience. And it worked. And I said, “She wrote that song for us.” So, I texted her and said I want to hear it. And she said, “I knew you’d love this song. I want to send it to you ‘cause I think that’s what people do.” And I took that as her pitching it to me whether she meant it or not. And I saved it in my inbox for like 2 years. And then when it came time to put songs in this, I pulled it out and started playing it. It shows just kind of more of “Oh, I’m in her town tonight. I’m gonna play it.” Well, then the owner videoed it and sent tit to Kelley and then Kelley called me crying telling me how much she loved it and your voice sounds so good on it. And I thought “Well, I'm gonna try it.” So, I started playing it live in shows with the band, Jason and Kevin sing harmony. It was just so dynamic. It’s so powerful and it was just one of those that as a writer, you know, you don't want to have to put cover songs on your record, but it was too good not to put on the record. I couldn't not put it on there. I’m really glad I did. It’s such great song. It’s a love song and it just feels right. You know, it felt like the right thing to do.
KMJ: It seamlessly ties in perfectly.
CP: It did. Yeah. I thought so too.
KMJ: I know you're not supposed to ask what else is out there on a project that hasn't even come out yet, but what other musical initiatives out there do you see for yourself in the coming years? I'd love to hear.
CP: You know, it’s a really good question. I'd say I want to concentrate more on the family basis this year, which was, you know, taking more time off to be home so I don't miss basketball games and soccer games of my kids. So, I’m putting myself on a strict work every other weekend tour schedule.
KMJ: Good for you.
CP: Except in the case of festivals like this last one in Key West. So, I missed one of my weekends. But If something like this presents itself, of course, you know, I gotta do it, but it's been nice already. We've already had a slumber party at our house January and I’ve been to basketball games and albert Plays on Sundays and Patton plays on Saturdays soccer and Patton plays during the week. And now, he’s just started track. He’s in middle school now. So, there's a lot of after school activities. And it's just really, really great to be home for those and I can't imagine wanting to be anywhere else right now at this season of my life. They’re just growing so fast and I missed so much. And I know one day I’ll look back and be mad if I don't make more time to be there. So, honestly, that's kind of my goal, is to not work too much because I've worked a lot the last 2 years and for a good reason, you know, of trying to build a career.
But sometimes, you got to just pump the brakes a little bit and not miss so much and that’s where I’m at.
KMJ: I’m happy for you. Balance will serve you well on both side of that equation.
CP: We want to travel and one of the goals that Jason and I want to do is take a trip to Switzerland in the fall and bring some couples from the States with us and do kind of a traveling family show where we were in a tour bus and everybody rides together and we take a month going across different places. We kind of even joked yesterday about maybe going to the lake where I took the cover for So This is Life and like staged reenactment photos. That will be fun. Yeah. So, we’re just in the planning phases of getting that built for next fall. Gosh, I hope we get invited back to the Key West Music Festival. We’re getting to go Braun Brothers Reunion in the summer, which I can’t wait for. It’s one of my favorite things to be a part of and we’ve gotten to go once before and it was so much that I thought I hope I always get to go back. So, they asked this last year and we’d already accepted an offer. It kept us from doing it. And so, this year, we jumped as soon as they said, “Okay. Can you do it?” So, we’ll be going back to Challis, Idaho with the Braun boys this summer, which will be great.
And I just keep traveling and showing people the record, you know, and maybe trying to play with somewhat of a band more than I've ever done. Take a little trio with me where I can afford it and just make it more fun for me, you know. I don't know how long people want to sit much, I mean, stand with a guitar and sing, but I'm grateful they do.
KMJ: That’s awesome. That Switzerland trip sounds like a totally Johnny and June Carter thing for you guys to do.
CP: Oh, is that right? We think that will be fun.
KMJ: Well, I end with the same question every interview and I've asked you this before. I'm gonna do it again now, Courtney. What is country music to Courtney Patton?
Courtney: I think more than ever especially with the news of Daryle Singletary passing yesterday very unexpectedly. It’s staying true to what country music means to you. And for me, it's the same thing I said last time. It’s in sad songs, and real songs, and singing in a pure voice and just being as authentic as you can be without arm being campy or falling prey to the more modern sounds that some people define country music as today, which is not my style. I like feeling nostalgic. And even if I'm writing songs today, I want ‘em to feel like maybe they could have been written when I was growing up. So, that's what country music is to me. Authenticity.