Lori McKenna’s New Album Is a ‘Freeing’ Experience for the Hit Songwriter
Lori McKenna is one of Nashville's top songwriters, being responsible for hits for country music's biggest acts: Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Sara Evans and dozens more. This past January, McKenna released her sixth album of original tunes, titled 'Lorraine.' During the creation of her new collection of tunes, McKenna experienced many ups and downs in the music business, but kept her heart in the right place while writing songs that meant something.
Taste of Country caught up with the singer-songwriter to discuss the music on 'Lorraine' and some of the highlights in her ongoing career as a sought after tunesmith in Music City.
Compare 'Lorraine' to the previous five albums that you've released along the way. In what ways have you grown?
I’d have to look, but I think since I started putting out records in ’98, this is probably the longest period of time between records for me. The last record I had, ‘Unglamorous,’ came out in 2007, so it’s been a bit of a long time. I had the biggest changes, really, just across the board, during that time. I was going from a major label back to independent records, and I don’t have a manager right now … I sort of changed everything I was operating as far as the business side of the business, which isn’t my favorite part [laughs]! I’m not really business orientated; I’m just a songwriter. I just want to write songs every day. Marketing and business thinking is just foreign to me. I’m not good at it.
So for me to not have a manager, at first, it seemed like it was a bad idea to make this album, and it ended up being one of the best things that I did. I’m the person who has to make the decisions, but I’m also the person who needs to make the things happen that I want to happen, and the things that don’t happen, I can figure out. It’s really simplified the way everything else works for me. It’s been a really freeing experience. This record, more than anything, was creatively the most emotional group of songs that I could put together. There wasn’t really anybody else to back me up. It was just me and the songs. It’s kind of good when there’s not a lot of people involved in that process sometimes.
The title, we understand, is kind of special … it was your birth name, right?
Yeah, I was never called Lorraine, but my real name is Lorraine. I was named after my mom, who’s name was Lorraine. She passed away when I was little. There’s a song on there called ‘Lorraine,’ and that was sort of the anchor for the rest of the songs. They all had to somehow tie into that song. That song came early on, and then it was pretty clear that we were going to make something that we were proud of and that would tie into that one song.
How long did you spend compiling songs for this record?
The record took us about eight months to make. I usually go down to Nashville about once a month. We started in January of last year, and we really didn’t finish it until August or September. We did a couple of days at the studio at a time. As far as writing the songs, some of them were ready when we started recording, then the rest were written as we went along, which is a pretty cool way to do it. On my other records, we would go in with about 20 songs and pick which ones tracked the best or whatever. So this is kind of an easy way to do it.
How long have you been writing songs?
I’ve been writing songs since I was around 13, and I’ve been writing professionally since I was about 27.
What is your favorite part about writing songs?
It’s funny … I always say that songwriting is just about the only thing I can do 10 hours a day, and at the end of the day, still be super excited about it. It’s just one of those things I think I would do no matter what. I always wrote songs, and it’s just become a huge part of who I am. My favorite part is probably looking at the song after it’s done and try to figure out what just happened ! Sometimes you start in one place and end up somewhere totally different. Songs can surprise you and sneak up on you. Sometimes you write something, and then months later you’re like, "That’s what I was talking about … OK! I wasn’t really sure where that came from!" [laughs].
You’ve had cuts by all these big-name artists. Who is your dream cut?
Geez … that’s a good question! I never thought about that, really. It’s kind of a lot of people, you know what I mean? I’ve been really lucky, and every song I’ve had cut, I’ve been really happy with. I’ve just been in awe of the artist that has cut the song. I think for me, dream-wise, because you know it’s never going to happen, but wouldn’t it be amazing to have a cut by Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty? [laughs]. I don’t think they ever cover songs, and if they did, it sure as hell wouldn’t be mine !
Watch Lori McKenna Perform 'Bible Song' Live