Natalie Hemby is the rare musician who knows the highs and lows of trying to make it in Nashville as both songwriter and a recording artist. At first, she dedicated herself to each pursuit with a singular vision. But as a songwriter, she struck gold (and 5 #1 Billboard hits) with a wide range of artists including Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, and Toby Keith. Now she has tied the two strands together.
Her debut album, Puxico, was previewed by NPR before its release earlier this year and we couldn't be happier to see Hemby still going strong with her own showcase in AmericanaFest. Hemby stopped by Epiphone to pick up a new Masterbilt Century De Luxe Classic ("oh this is so cool--I can't wait") and talk about being a "new" Nashville artist who has called Music City home long before it became fashionable.
You grew up in Nashville. Did you always have your sights on getting into the music industry?
I was raised here. I'm a like a unicorn. One of the few! I grew up in the music industry. Both my parents are in the music business. My Dad, (guitarist/producer) Tom Hemby is amazing. He's played with all types of artists--Michael McDonald, country artists...
Did your parents ever try to warn you off getting into the business?
I think they didn't have a choice because I wanted go up there and do my own thing. They weren't smart enough to tell me not to go into it (laughs). It's way too late. Nashville was a great place to try because I was behind the scenes in the music business a lot so I saw a lot of artists and their lives and what they did for a living. I kind of got a glimpse of the good and the bad and the ugly.
You knew the old Nashville when it was very low key. One could work in the studio, master your record, or go do a clubdate without drawing attention to yourself if you didn't want to. Is it still that place?
I actually moved out to California to see if I wanted to live there for awhile. And I came high-talin' it back because I quickly found out how accessible--how easy it was to live here and also record here. We have great studios. There are a lot more people here, a lot more artists moving here. It usually goes in cycles between here, New York, and LA. I would say it's a little less accessible and a little more accessible in some ways. We have a lot more festivals. A lot more ways to get out there and play live music but there aren't as many studios as there used to be. It is very strange. On one hand, it's been amazing to have all these people here. On the other hand, I think you can get lost in the shuffle if you're a brand new artist here.
But I would say that for me the new Nashville has broadened my horizon. I've met some new people that I absolutely love creating music with and they've lived here for about 10 years. I like meeting new artists and different genres that have moved into the area. It used to be primarily country and Christian music. Johnny Cash used to goto my church. So I'm glad that it's accessible but I hope it doesn't too accessible. Nashville runs the risk of just a song mill, a song factory. Back in the day, people spent time on these things--a lot of time.
What's your routine to keep moving forward?
The only way you can bring ideas to write is if you spend time alone and the only way to spend time alone is to take time out of your schedule. And I haven't really done that until recently and it's really served me well. I get to cultivate an idea. That's why I love Lori McKenna. She lives in Boston and she spends a lot of time up there writing by herself. Then she comes here and she'll work and work and then go home. As a songwriter, I would like to approach things more that way. Just to take in life a little bit more and listen to new music. Amy Grant is someone I've known for years and she told me when I was 19: "One of the most important things you can do as an artist is to always listen and appreciate other people's music
." And that sounds like such a trivial thing but when you get sucked into the song mill of Nashville, it becomes a daunting task to spend time by yourself and just listen to other people's music and be influenced by other things and start stretching yourself--to go beyond your little box.
Your debut album Puxico (produced by husband Mike Wrucke) came out earlier this year and now you've got a showcase at AmericanaFest. Congrats! Have you played the festival before
This is my first time playing Americana Fest but a lot of the music that I listen to is from the genre. I don't even like to call it a genre but I own a lot of the records by people playing this week. I'm excited because it's my first record that I've put out. I had based it on a documentary that I made of my grandparents and their small hometown in Missouri. And I quickly figured out when I was doing the soundtrack to it that "this is my first record."
I'm excited to play this for this crowd.
For me, my story the long short of it: in my 20s, all I did was try to get a record deal. And then all my 30s all I did was write songs for other people. And literally when I turned 40, I'm putting out my own record. It's just so nice to sing your own music. But it's also scary. For artists, they are putting their soul on the line and you have to help ease them into that. I don't care who you are, if you are a musician or a songwriter, you want to be inspired. I feel like when you write honest songs, when you go into the studio, the musicians get that. If you're looking for the run of the mill hit, then they will probably play like that. You have to set the precedent of what type of music you want to put out. It could be like a hokey song that's hilarious. It will turn out cook in the studio because it came from an honest place.