But it wasn’t a predictable road to get to where I am today. I grew up in a super-small town where nobody really tried to “make it big.” It was a sweet, everyone-knows-everyone kind of place where most people had really normal dreams. I was just a shy kid who went through most of my life with almost no one knowing, including myself, that I could sing and write songs. I loved writing for years before I knew that I loved songwriting. There’s a freedom, for everyone but most of all for shy people, in expressing yourself through writing. You have the freedom to pause and fully collect your thoughts before you expose yourself. You even have the ability to go back and change what you wrote completely; to better express what you wanted to say. So I always, always loved to write.
But it wasn’t until I was a freshman in college that I found myself falling in love with writing music. I taught myself to play guitar on my dad’s old junky Sigma and sat in my room for hours at a time, looking through chord books and learning to play old classics. I wrote my first real song over a broken heart. I remember feeling so vulnerable and nervous, but I played that song for a friend in the dorms at UGA. It was her response that really caused me to stop and think about what music could be in my life. She told me that I should play my songs for people as much as I could because she thought people would need to hear what I had to say. She said that for her it was like I had written from a page in her journal. Suddenly I realized my songs could be something more than just a place where I pause time and process my own feelings--they could be something that I share and they could be a way of connecting with people.
Years later, I sometimes still struggle with that stage fright, and the fear of sharing what I have to say. But being a songwriter is both a terrifying and incredibly rewarding. I’ve had the honor of meeting and chatting with some truly amazing people as a result of sharing my songs, and I’ve gotten the opportunity to see the country in such a cool way. I was also lucky enough to work with the exquisite Bill Murray, who made a cameo in my first music video (which was a highlight moment of my life). I’ve even had the chance play shows with some of my musical heroes all over the country, where I’ve continued to meet amazing friends and fans. I love everything about music: from the accomplishment I feel when I am writing a song and I am finally able to express exactly what I want to say, to the way it feels to stand on a stage and perform my songs for crowds of people all over the United States. Every moment has been wildly entertaining, or something to learn from.
Last year I decided that I wanted to write and release a new album. The tricky part was finding time to work on the album in the midst of the busiest touring season of my life. Michael and I travelled all over the United States playing my songs, and with dozens of cities, friends’ floors, and hotel rooms as our backdrop, we wrote a brand new album. I wanted to tell you a little bit about the inspiration behind this new album, “Hourglass” out March 10, 2015.
I’ve always felt that it’s an odd thing to try and write yourself into a song. For years I tried to figure out the “correct” approach to songwriting. Being self-taught should allow for an “anything goes” mentality, but I guess I was never sure of what I wanted to say. Something changed as I was writing this album--I discovered something specific that needed to be said.
I’m pretty sure that everyone has, or will have, that moment in life. It’s the moment when we realize what it really looks like to grow up. We spend our childhood looking forward to birthdays, or waiting impatiently for the day when we can finally drive, vote, go off to college, drink alcohol, or get married. It seems that there are stages of waiting all through life that often distract from the slow, beautiful parts of growing up.
Until that moment.
It’s the moment when you look closely and see the deep-grooved smile lines on your mom’s face, or notice for the first time that your dad’s hair is mostly gray. It’s the moment after the first real fight that breaks your heart, the moment you realize that your whole life was spent chasing a job that, after all, isn’t as fulfilling as you thought it would be. It’s the moment when you attend that dear one’s funeral. The moment when it all sinks in -- this is what it looks like to grow up.
That moment happened for me in the winter of 2014. My husband Michael and I were in the middle of a big tour, staying at a friend’s cabin in Interlochen, Michigan. We were snowed in, it was breathtakingly gorgeous, yet somehow I felt sad. (There’s something about the winter that always reminds me of the heavy things in life.) We were supposed to be writing for a new album, and so far the writing process had been very unsuccessful -- song after song that I didn’t even want to finish.
One night in Interlochen I couldn’t fall asleep, so I just sat there listening to the squeaks of the snow outside as it melted and shifted. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, I started to cry. It began with slow tears and moved into the shaking kind of sob. Michael asked me what was wrong and the only thing I could express was how deeply sad it made me feel to think about my grandparents getting so much older. It was the strangest, most out-of-the-blue sadness I had ever felt. It was the fear of losing the people I have loved for my whole life. After years of wishing away my time, longing to be grown, it was the fear of what growing up would bring.
The next morning Michael and I sat down and I wrote “The Oak Tree,” which is the song that became the foundation for the whole album.
From that day on, the experience of writing Hourglass wasn’t always so heart-wrenching. There were so many moments of laughter, and moments where we tried to explain how it feels to be deeply, truly in love. There were moments spent encouraging people to celebrate themselves, and moments that walk through the process of starting over. There were seven entire months of trying to describe, in 12 different songs, the contrasting and colorful moments of growing up.
I’m more excited about Hourglass than I’ve ever been about one of my albums. For the first time I can present these songs to you proudly, confident that they are an accurate representation of how we feel in these crucial moments of growing up. I was so honored to partner with almost 600 fans (through Kickstarter.com) to fund the recording process, and to work with producer Chad Copelin (Christina Perri, Ben Rector, Green River Ordinance) in Oklahoma, along with so many other talented individuals who helped make Hourglass possible.
At the end of the day, I write and sing because I believe I’m standing before a group of people who feel the same way that I do and need to know that they are understood. So my greatest hope is that you could find pieces of your life in this album; that you would want to sing one of these songs at the top of your lungs, or dance to one on your wedding day, or that you would listen through and realize that you are not alone. I’m so looking forward to the moments when our paths will cross this year, and the times when a song that I wrote might be able to help you understand or enjoy your life a little bit more.