Songwriter Lindsey Lee Talks Big Break With Steven Tyler’s ‘Love Is Your Name’
You might not have heard of Lindsey Lee yet, but that's all about to change.
The 25-year-old songwriter certainly hasn't had a boring life. She was plucked from relative obscurity to be a backing singer for Miley Cyrus after putting videos of herself singing on YouTube, and she scored the break of a lifetime when Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler recently released one of her songs, "Love Is Your Name," as his first-ever country single. Lee co-wrote the song with Eric Paslay.
Taste of Country caught up with Lee to discuss the life-changing cut, why she shuns the spotlight and whether Steven Tyler really belongs in country music in the following exclusive interview.
Tell us about your background in music and how you ended up in Nashville.
I'm from Mississippi originally. I moved to Nashville in 2010 to be a songwriter. My dad is a minister of music, so I grew up singing in church, and my mom is a vocal and piano teacher, so I grew up with her students in and out of the house, singing and playing piano. I did some talent shows, and I took piano lessons from age five to 18, so music was always a part of my life.
I moved to Nashville in 2010 to be a nanny and do songwriting on the side, and I put up some YouTube videos, and from YouTube I got asked to be a backing singer for Miley Cyrus. So I went on tour with Miley in June 2011, and then, after that, that's when I really started pursuing songwriting.
How did a YouTube video get you a gig with Miley Cyrus?
A manager of this girl band called Everlife contacted me on Facebook because she had seen my YouTube videos, and she wanted me to work with Everlife. Well, the lead singer of Everlife was a backup singer for Miley, and when I went to go work with them, she heard me sing, and we didn't even end up writing a song or anything, because she was like, "Oh my goodness, Miley is looking for a backup singer, we're leaving in a month." So we sent videos of us singing to Miley's manager and her mom, and I was in L.A. the next week, singing for them. I got the gig, and I was on the road in a month.
That's a huge lifestyle adjustment.
Oh yeah, it was crazy just going from making YouTube videos in my bedroom, to singing in front of 60,000 people. We went all over South America and Australia — pretty much every country in South America, and it was arenas of 60,000 or 70,000 people. I had never done anything like that before, and it was the craziest experience. But I'm so grateful for it. It taught me so much. That really changed me as a person in the industry, and as a person in general, really.
It's just the craziest, most surreal thing of my life. It sounds like a movie.
How did you break into songwriting after having gotten into the business on the performing side?
I had a manager, because I had wanted to do the artist route earlier. I'm 25 years old, so when I was like 18, 19 I was trying to do the artist thing, and I had a manager. And after that Miley tour, I kinda realized that being an entertainer was not the life for me. I loved being a backup singer, because that's a totally different thing — you're not in the spotlight, and you don't have the pressure. But you have to make a lot of sacrifices to be an artist, and so I kinda backed away from being an artist, because I just realized it wasn't for me. I'm not much of a performer. I like to be behind the scenes.
So when I quit the Miley tour, I was like, "I've written all these songs to try to be an artist, but I want to write for other people." So my manager hooked me up with some writing sessions, and he hooked me up with this guy named Marti Frederiksen, who's worked with Aerosmith for years, and he wrote "Jaded" with Steven Tyler and tons of other Aerosmith songs, and is really good friends with Steven. My manager hooked me up with Marti to write, and Marti ended up signing me to a publishing deal. He was starting an independent company, and I was the first writer that he signed. That was at the end of 2012, so I've been writing with him for years, and then he did a joint venture with me with this bigger publishing company called Round Hill Music, and that's really when my songwriting career started to take off.
How did that lead to the Steven Tyler cut?
In 2013, Steven came to the Bluebird Cafe one night when I was playing a songwriters round with Marti. He was just there because Marti wanted him to come up and play a couple of songs, because Steven had never played anything like that. He had never played a small club like that, and Marti just kinda wanted him to get a feel of Nashville and the Bluebird. So Steven came, and that's the night that I played "Love Is Your Name." I played it in my set.
So the idea for him to do a country project goes back quite a while?
Oh yeah, even back then. So I played "Love Is Your Name" that night, and Steven came up to me, and he was crying, and he said, "Lindsey, you will never know how much your music touched me." He told me how much he loved "Love Is Your Name" and that he wanted to record it. This was back in September 2013. At the time he didn't have the record deal yet with Big Machine. He was just in the very beginning stages of thinking he wanted to do a solo record, and I guess the beginning stages of thinking he wanted to do country.
He's told me that this song was kind of his inspiration for where he wanted to go with his country project, so he's loved this song for almost two years now, and back then when he told me that he wanted to record it, I just didn't believe it, because you just don't believe anything that you hear in this town until you're either holding it in your hand, or you see it on iTunes. So I just kinda put it in my mind for the last couple of years, and then a couple of months ago I heard that he actually recorded it, and that he was gonna be releasing it as his first single from his first country album and performing it on American Idol. It's just the craziest, most surreal thing of my life. It sounds like a movie.
Some people have suggested that he's an interloper in country music. Since you've worked directly with him, is he sincere in his appreciation for the genre?
Oh, completely. He'll tell you himself that he is a country boy at heart. I see that it's genuine. He's doing what he loves, he's following his heart, and to me, he's doing a solo record, he's departing from Aerosmith and he's not gonna go do a pop album. That's not his style. And he wants to depart from Aerosmith, so he's not gonna just go do something that sounds exactly like Aerosmith and do a rock album. I think country is where he lands naturally, because really, country is kind of just a stripped down version of rock. That's his roots. He grew up listening to Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash — he grew up on that rootsy, folky country music, and to me that's where he naturally lands as a solo artist. I can't imagine it being anything else.
I want to write songs for the rest of my life.
Obviously this is a game-changing cut for you. How does this change your career trajectory?
Oh, it's changed my life. The day the song was released, Steven called me and said, "Thank you, Lindsey, for this song." And I said, "Are you kidding me? Thank you for changing my life." That's what he did when he recorded this song. I've had a few cuts here and there before this, but this is my first big cut, being cut by a huge artist, and so I feel like it opens doors for me to write with other writers and other artists, because they say, "Oh, that's the girl who wrote 'Love Is Your Name' by Steven Tyler," and they want to write something similar, or they just like my style of writing. It just puts my name out there, and opens door for me to write with people who might not have heard of me otherwise. It gives me credibility.
What are your future plans?
I want to write songs for the rest of my life. [Laughs]. I have a publishing deal with Round Hill Music, and I plan to stay there as long as they'll have me, and just keep writing songs. I'm married, and I have a 5-month-old baby, and I want to have more kids, and live the quiet songwriter life behind the scenes. I may make an album one day as an artist, but I'll never tour, and I'll never do the whole crazy artist lifestyle. My main plan is just to continue to write songs and just have my music touch people, and spread all over the world. That's what my dream has always been, so it's cool that it's actually starting to happen.
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