Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Art Of Storytelling In Faulkner County - An Exclusive Interview With Erin Enderlin

Known for a remarkable aptitude at crafting music with character-driven storylines, singer/songwriter Erin Enderlin will unveil her first new full-length album since 2017 with the release of Faulkner County this Friday, Nov. 1.  
Produced by Jim “Moose” Brown, Jamey Johnson and Alex Kline, Faulkner County will cement 2019 as a red-letter year for Enderlin.

The 14-track LP is a masterful ramble through lonely barroom corners and bedrooms, story after story delivered by Enderlin’s impeccable golden-era warble. A stellar supporting cast including Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Terri Clark, Cody Jinks, Dillon Carmichael and others poured harmonies and soul into the vivid collection, sounding like kindred spirits and close friends making music together for the sheer joy of it.

Enderlin’s fall has been defined by exciting career firsts and incredible momentum. After sold-out shows in her first-ever UK tour, she returned to Nashville to showcase at AMERICANAFEST. She’ll close out 2019 having played more than 100 shows. In June, she took home three trophies at the Arkansas Country Music Awards, including Female Vocalist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. All the while, Enderlin’s success as a songwriter persisted as musical heroes turned to her for songs. Reba McEntire, Terri Clark, Rodney Crowell, Rhonda Vincent and more all recorded Enderlin-penned gems in 2019.

Enderlin took a minute out of her busy travel schedule to talk with That Nashville Sound about the new project.

Ken Morton, Jr: So, project #3 for you. Give me a little background kind of on a starting place and kind of, you know, how you went around building the album this time around.

Erin Enderlin: You know, I think sometimes maybe it takes a little longer to get my head around something exactly how I wanna do it or maybe if I have the time to put in motion all the things that I want to do— And I just love all these stories and songs. And you know, I went back in with Moose and added some parts and saying everything. And I think it’s a really cool kind of evolution from Whiskeytown Crier. I do feel like there's a strong connection between the 2 albums.

KMJ: I know you are drawn to the story songs and, you know, the kind of plight of the individual in there. Is there some background to your upbringing or your personal likes that kind of have led you to down that path?

EE: You know, I think part of it was the music I grew up on. Have you heard the new Dolly Parton podcast yet?

KMJ: I have not, although I have it downloaded.

EE: The first one is sad-ass songs. And she is talking about her first 4 records and how she influenced by all those storytelling songs. She was like “Oh, I mean, that’s just, you know, what I grew up listening to.” And it kind of, you know, sunk in and start looking at those characters and maybe other sides, other characters that are in the songs, but maybe weren't the main characters in the songs and what their experience was.

KMJ: Do you find there in Nashville, you know, certainly that type of songwriting and those type of songs is swimming a little bit uphill against the stream? Do you find it easier because there's more space or harder because there's so little of that being put out now?

EE: I really feel fortunate to still be making music after being here for 19 years and maybe even more so than ever before, making music that I absolutely love. So, maybe I'm just a little bit too narcissistic to know that. You know? Like I’m happy for everybody to do whatever they wanna do. And this is what I wanna do. So, I think there’s space for everybody. And you know, honestly, I haven't really been in Nashville nearly as much the last couple years. I’ve been on the road so much. I just played my 100th show of the year this year and the crowd that I've been playing for just been all so awesome and receptive, but it seems like there's a real hunger for that sort of thing.

KMJ: Sure. And it seems like you have surrounded yourself with, you know, artists that recognize the specialness and the character storytelling too with— and maybe kind of some more mature artists that are cutting your stuff that, you know, grew up singing that type of music as well.

EE: For sure. And I think everything goes in cycles. And I feel like I'm tapped into something. Listening to that Dolly episode too, it’s like it’s a really old tradition I think. And obviously, I have my own thing that I do, but I think I’m kept into something that’s been around for a long time. So, I don’t think it’s going anywhere. You know, I’ve been so excited to see the Ken Burns special and see what that’s doing. You know, I’ve been talking to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and they’re just like “Man, ever since they started airing the Ken Burns, they’ve just—” You know, they have a pretty good traffic down there anyway, but it's just been multiplied.

KMJ: That’s fantastic.

EE: And I think it’s gonna bring a different set of eyes to it to a different set of country music fans. And I think I'm really excited about that because I think also guarantee you there's gonna be kids, you know, 13, 14, 15 really getting into their own of like finding their passion for music. They’re gonna watch that and they’re gonna fall in love with the Carter family, you know? They’re gonna fall in love with Johnny Cash. And they're gonna start putting their own spin on that type of music. So, I think we're gonna see that influence grow. And there’s a ton of artists that are coming out right now that have more of those  same influences too that are starting to have a little impact on folks listening.

KMJ: Yeah. There’s no doubt about that. I love some of the more classical, you know, neo traditional influences that are coming back into country radio a little bit. But I think they’re opening the door for artists like yourself to really bring back some of the more traditional themes of music as well.

EE: It’s been an exciting couple of years I think in country music. There's been so much. Just music that gets me excited, you know, like I love Randy Houser’s new record he put out this year.  

KMJ: Yup. I agree. Specific to your album, the way you went about releasing it was a little different this year with the multiple EPs. Can you maybe walk me through that a little bit and then maybe kind of what you learned through that process versus releasing it all collectively at once?

EE: I’m willing to try something a little different. You know, one thing as an artist, you put out an album and you work that album for a long time. And I thought it would be cool to kind of be able to take it a little bit differently because, you know, sometimes you put out an album and I feel like sometimes you lose some of the songs on that. They maybe get lost in the shuffle a little bit. And I felt like being able to put out a couple of songs at a time it gave me more of a chance to really, you know, be excited and give that little back to the song, their own spotlight. And also, going out to play shows and everything like that, it was fun to have new music constantly, to have something new to share with the crowd.

People are listening to music differently too. And I wanted to tap into that new genre. So, I’ve been really lucky that the label’s been really supportive of what I’m doing and they had suggested trying— you know, just mix it up. Trying some different things that you’re not necessarily boxed in to, okay, you have to release music just like this anymore. You know what I mean?

KMJ: Totally. Blake Shelton just said, you know, he’s not positive he’s going to release any more albums. Doing like you’ve done these 3- to 4-song releases will allow him to release them as frequently as he wants and really he's finding it kind of freeing a little bit.

EE: I think it's cool. It's an experimental time. And I think it's always interesting. There's definitely been some different parts of technology that have been challenging for musicians and artists the last couple of years because it’s all changing so fast and being able to acclimate to that, but I think it's also starting to open up a different kind of creativity and different ways to express yourself that I'm excited about. I'm excited about the thought that I could find a song that I just really, really love and I want to do it and I don't have to wait, you know, 2 years to be able to go in and record it and share it with my band.

KMJ: Whiskeytown Crier was such a cohesive collection of songs. Does the thought of doing it in piecemeal or doing it as you have done it little pieces at a time make it any more or less difficult, you know? Because I know how passionate you are about albums as they are. Does it make it that harder to do?

EE: I mean, it’s different. But I think it also maybe you get to experiment more. This is to say, you know, for my next album I can go in and cut 3 songs, really live in those songs, start playing them out, being out there and have that kind of— inspire more of the album.

So, maybe you kind of get to live in both worlds, have your cake and eat it too where you get to release songs more frequently in different ways.  But then also to create these arts, more of like complete cohesive piece that you put out.

KMJ: The more frequency of new music is exciting and I know for me these 3 songs at a time that you’ve been releasing have always left me wanting more and anticipating the next release of three more.

EE: Good.

KMJ: Specific to songs, is there any that have been early favorites of yours or ones that resonated more with you? I know they're all your babies, but any more that you feel that hold some iconic nature to you as you’re playing them out on the road?

EE: Yeah. You know, “Tonight I Don’t Give a Damn” has been really cool for several reasons. That song is up to 600,000 streams now on Spotify, which is cool because I’ll go out and play in a new market where I don’t know people and people I can hear them singing along with that song. And that's been really cool.

KMJ: Any other songs come to mind that you love?

EE: I’m really interested about “The Queen of Marina Del Rey.”  I feel like that is like a full length Hollywood movie. And so, there’s so much happening. So, I think it will be cool to see what happens with that one.

KMJ: Talk to me about your work with Alex Kline.

EE: Yes. So, Alex produced two of the tracks on the album, which was cool. And you know, we’re friends- but it’s fun to work together because we both know we're going for the same goal. You know, we’re like sisters almost because we can be very direct about like “This isn’t working like what do we do here?” And it’s just like we’re both aware of what’s happening in the moment. She’s so talented and I really think she’s starting to get her spot in the spotlight.

KMJ: I’m excited. We need more female voices at that level and I agree with you. She’s got it. She comes from a really unique space and how she approaches that and everything that she touches.

EE: Yeah. And she’s such a great musician too. It’s interesting because we come from different worlds in terms of our biggest influences and things. So, I think sometimes she challenges me in ways or have ideas about stuff that I definitely wouldn't have thought about, which is cool.

KMJ: I would guess from the outside looking in, you approach it from the standpoint of a lyricist and storytelling and Alex probably approaches it more from the music and melody side. Would that be accurate?

EE: Yeah. She’s very, very good at being able to plug in to an artist to kind of, you know, see how she can that what she does and amplify where the artist is at.

That’s, you know, something that I'm not always necessarily super great at and sometimes intimidating to me- especially going in to write with an artist. I tend to be more excited about an idea. I try to write the best song in the room, but I don't know that I’m necessarily as good about, you know, from the outside kind of getting that structure, having that idea of where it needs to go to sit with that particular artist if that makes sense.

But Alex can kind of like put her different artist hat on.

KMJ: I know you have a number of special guests that are certainly worth mentioning on this project as well.

EE: Well, you know, I guess it's funny. I grew up listening to country music, listening to it almost exclusively. And it felt like it was a family. It felt like, you know, a front porch.  There was this sense where everybody works with each other and there’s stuff like sharing, collaboration, and different styles coming together. And I really enjoy that. I really enjoy getting to work with different musicians, and singers, and artists. I love what they do too and kinda have that collaborative spirit. Whatever gets you through the night. I put on Dillon Carmichael and I think he is just one of the best new artists out there right now. I love what he’s doing.

KMJ: I wholeheartedly concur with you. That collaboration is awesome.

EE: And Melonie Cannon sing on a bunch of stuff and I love her. I call her a country music alien because I don't know how she does what she does with her harmony. It’s what she does and I love it, but it definitely can be from a different planet. It’s so great. And you know, having Alison Krauss and Vince Gill on a song was incredible. I got to go to the studio when Vince was singing and it was really cool to get to see that. And then of course, Terri Clark sings on one of the songs. I mean, I put it in the kind of thank you section to this record, but Terri has done a big part of me even putting out Whiskeytown Crier and then coming to this album. I think I was in an interesting place and really questioning kind of what I was doing, and if I was on the right track, and if there was a space for me in music around the time I started writing with Terri. We’re writing together, started doing demos of it and talking about putting it on a record. And it kind of gave me the confidence to be like “You know what? Yeah. Like somebody that I bought all their records growing up like we’re writing together and putting on a record like I wanna take another shot with this. I wanna try and figure out how to make this work and put it all together.” And that was really the impetus for me starting to try to figure out how to do a budget for Whiskeytown Crier, how to find a team to help me put that out and start touring more and figure out that whole thing, which obviously led to Faulkner County. So, it was really, really cool to have her come in and sing on one of the songs for this album too. I have 7 Terri Clark cuts now.

KMJ: That's amazing. As we're talking about influences, we’d be remiss in not talking about the influences that Jamey Johnson and Moose Brown have had as well.

EE: Jim is like probably the most talented person I’ve ever met in this role. He has so many facets to his talent from playing to writing to producing. And he really took so much care and so much time with these records to make sure they were right.

And Jamey, he is everything that I love about a country music artist. He wants to feel it. He wants the music to kick him in the chest and make him feel some pain. And at the end of the day, that’s what he cares about. So, I think it was really cool to have him in the studio also be a part of the process ‘cause I feel like he was always this barometer also of making sure that you stay at that home plate. You’re not thinking too much about the next steps- like what would be in the radio, what would make a good video, what would be good to play in shows or whatever. So, it’s just really focused on feeling something with every song.

KMJ: What is country music to Erin Enderlin?

EE: To me, I think, you know, country music is something that real people can plug into about real things going on in their life.  Whether it’s falling in love, or losing somebody you care about, or a drinking problem, or just needing to escape your job. They are real world things that make you feel something.

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