Buffy Lawson moved to Nashville when she was around 20 years old, ready to make a splash in Music City. Now, just over two decades later, she’s putting out a satisfying new album, I’m Leaving You for Me.
“There is a certain age group, especially for females, that has been completely forgotten,” the Lexington, Ky., native contends with certainty (and a smile). “And the fact of the matter is there are a lot of 40-something year old women out there who might like to be spoken to directly from another woman that’s screwed things up several times herself.”
The project calls to mind country music from the 1990s, especially when you consider that her label Wrinkled Records was founded by songwriter Sandy Knox (who wrote hits for Reba McEntire) and that she’s being promoted by key executives from MCA Records in that era. She’s also become friends with countless people in the industry, thanks to her diligent work ethic and skill with demo sessions, recording new compositions for publishing companies to pitch.
As a singer in her own right, Lawson performed as one-half of the country duo Bomshel, toured with Lorrie Morgan’s band and recorded a duet with Neil Diamond. As a songwriter, her songs have been covered by Randy Travis, Willie Nelson, the Grascals and more. And as a Southern woman, she’s upbeat and open — and willing to admit she’s made some mistakes.
Lawson will perform two hometown shows this week in Lexington, Ky. During a visit to CMT, she chatted about her new music, her early years in Nashville and her musical heroes.
CMT: What was the atmosphere like in the studio when you were making this album?
Lawson: Perfect! Walt Aldridge produced the record, and he treated me with so much respect. We’ve all done this so many times, and for me, all I kept thinking was that none of this was supposed to happen. I was done with the music business. (laughs) I kept thinking as I was singing, “This is probably the last time that I’ll ever record an album.” So I ended up going to this amazing place that I had never experienced. And it wasn’t just that but I knew most of the musicians — and I’ve known them for many, many years. And they have all followed by career and rooted for me. So I felt like everybody sprinkled a little bit of magic on the project.
What was your frame of mind six months before that? It sounds like you were ready to throw in the towel.
I did. I went back to Lexington, Ky., three years ago. And that’s when I started getting a bunch of songs recorded, which was funny because I wasn’t trying at all! (laughs) I’m engaged to my high school sweetheart and we’re raising two little boys, so that’s where my head has been. And I work for a magazine, creating marketing campaigns for people, using a side of my brain that I didn’t even know I had. I’m also doing accounting and collections. So I’m sort of the singing salesgirl. Honestly, I truly was not expecting any of this. But that’s what made it special.
Do you feel a sense of experience and maturity shining through on these songs?
Yeah, you can tell I’ve crawled out of a few caves, I think. The record label gave me, and all of the other artists that they’ve signed, 100 percent free reign to say what we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. I’m a flawed woman at 42 years old, and I can actually admit that, instead of trying to hide behind something. We all are flawed. I just think at a certain age, you’re not afraid to say that. And I hope I’ve learned from the mistakes I’ve made, in a multitude of relationships. (laughs)
What do you remember about your first few weeks in Nashville when you moved here?
My aunt and uncle lived here. I remember the day I moved here, all by myself. I knew I was heading to New York, L.A. or Nashville, and I knew them, so Nashville made the most sense — and it was the closest to home. They took me in and showed me off to their friends: “This is my niece Buffy and she’s coming here to be a singer.” And at that time, I was so naïve that I truly thought I would be famous within a month. (laughs) I thought the trees were going to be swaying and the birds were going to be chirping. I truly felt like Nashville was going to be like, “Thank goodness she’s finally here! Music can actually move forward now.” It’s been a long, long month, I have to say! (laughs) I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and I really had no earthly idea, but I was fearless. I had very big aspirations. All I’ve ever wanted to do is music.
But I can tell you that over the years, I have worked so incredibly hard, and I did it the right way. I showed up every day for writing sessions. I knew that it was the music business. But you know, things happen in their own time.
What were some of the albums coming out of Nashville that really drew you to the city?
I can tell you that I was incredibly moved and touched by Trisha Yearwood and the album with “She’s in Love With the Boy.” I listened to that first album and thought, “What brilliant songs, what brilliant vocals, what real and honest music.” I was so impressed with her and Kathy Mattea, K.T. Oslin, Suzy Bogguss. … It has such a nice flavor to it. I like that real, gritty approach. I don’t like perfect things — even down to the men I have chosen. I have never tried to find that perfect pretty boy. I like flaws, I like texture. I like Tanya Tucker’s voice. It sounds to me like she’s crawled out of a couple of caves, like me. I believe those women and I need to believe you when you’re singing.
What do you hope people take away when they hear this record?
I hope people are pleasantly surprised by the fact that there was not one tiny moment of anything contrived. There was not one moment where we thought we needed to shorten songs for radio. There was not one moment we over-thought anything. And therefore the spirit of it is very, very honest. And I hope that it inspires people. And the biggest compliment I could get is for someone to say, “Man, that reminds me of myself.”