2005 was a huge year for Massachutess-born Lori McKenna. The songwriter found herself with four cuts off Faith Hill’s double-platinum album Fireflies, including the title cut. Now, over a decade later, McKenna is one of the top writers in Nashville, having a hand in penning Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” as well as writing Tim McGraw’s recent chart-topper “Humble & Kind.”
On July 29, McKenna will release her new album, The Bird & The Rifle. She tells CMChat that this is the part of the album release process that gets her juices flowing.
“We recorded the record in January, and then you start doing the mixes, and then the artwork. It’s all happening, so it’s really starting to get exciting now. This is when the band rehearsals start, and all of the business stuff is to the side. Now, we just think about the music. So, this is really the fun part.”
McKenna says that this album marks somewhat of a first for her as a recording artist. Before, she would listen to the final result, and nitpick things a little. Now, she’s content to put the album out.
“I’m really good at that – now. I kept saying that this record was when I started to turn the corner. You know how they say that as women get older, they finally accept their bodies and they’re happy in that way. I think that also applies to my voice with me. I really found that with this record. We recorded it live, so there’s not much that you can go back on and change after someone presses record – rather than do another take. You can really beat yourself up going back like that. I don’t think I would enjoy the process if I was a perfectionist in that way. To me, it’s more about the emotion of the song, and how it feels. I know I’m never going to be perfect. I’m so proud of the record, and it was such a joy to make it with Dave and his band. The whole thing has been such a great experience.”
The “Dave” that she is referring to is red-hot producer Dave Cobb, known for his work with Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell. When asked what it is about Cobb’s style that makes him so special, McKenna says that you have to be there to understand it.
“I don’t know if I would have been able to answer that just listening to his work musically before. In working with him and being around him, what I’ve learned is the vibe with him. I would play the song for the band, and we would go in and someone would press record. Really, it’s all about the feeling to him. I think he works a lot on his instincts and how the song feels in the room at the time. We didn’t really overthink anything, and it was a great experience for me because after 10 to 12 hours in the studio, I can really get sick of myself. We would hang out and talk about music, and our families – then go do a couple of songs and then come back and have a glass of wine or a meal. I think his approach about the feeling really comes through in the production.”
McKenna got her musical start in the Boston Folk Music scene, which she says was invaluable to her.
“It was everything to me. I don’t think I would have left my house with music if not for the community of musicians that I started with. When I started doing open mics and meeting other songwriters around my area, they were nurturing to one another, and were so supportive to each other. That’s how Nashville is too. If I started somewhere that it didn’t feel that way, I probably would have just stayed home and wrote my songs, sang them to myself and my kids, and that would have been it. It really was everything to me. Thank God for open mics or I don’t know how I would have gotten started.”
The title track of the new disc owes its’ origins to one of television’s most popular shows in ABC’s Modern Family.
“It’s the funniest story. It’s basically the punch line of one of those side jokes from the show where Gloria puts the punch line out there in reference to the mom and the daughter and the things they can do together. They were talking about getting tattoos, and someone says ‘the moon and the stars,’ and Gloria says ‘the moon and the rifle.’ It really hit me over the head how beautiful those words sounded together, and how much they said to one another. It was almost like there was a million stories within those few words. The fact that it came from a joke was kind of funny.”
One of the more potent tracks on the album is the closing cut, “If Whiskey Were A Woman,” which is one of four cuts on the disc that McKenna enjoys the sole writers’ credit.
“That one came from trying to take on the character of someone who drinks a little too much, and she’s trying to help him. Then, she thinks ‘Well, what is he getting out of this that he’s not getting out of me?’ Why is he running to this and not me? Once I had that idea, it was just a matter of writing it all down in a list. She loves him so much that she would give him anything, but she knows that she can’t give him what he’s getting from this outside source. In ‘Girl Crush,’ the jealousy is from another woman. That’s one thing, but if you’re jealous over whiskey, then it’s a whole other ball game, isn’t it?”
You can now pre-order Lori McKenna’s The Bird & The Rifle on iTunes.
Check out the first track from The Bird & The Rifle “Wreck You.”