When songwriters go to work on Nashville’s Music Row, sometimes they’re paired with complete strangers to create music for the day. They start out by baring their souls in an exchange of ideas before settling on one to set to music.
This creative process was like therapy for Lauren Alaina. Life handed her some major changes within a two-year period while writing for her sophomore album Road Less Traveled, which comes out Friday (Jan. 27).
Her parents divorced. Her dad had entered rehab for alcoholism. And she was struggling with an eating disorder. She also underwent vocal cord surgery that took her pipes to Ariana Grande and Jessie J registers. Alaina’s top goal post-op was to sing “Bang Bang,” a cover she can sing now with ease.
Most of the drama Alaina was handed is addressed within the first minute of the 11-song collection, which kicks off with the uplifting “Doin’ Fine.” In the first verse, she gets candid about her dad getting sober, her mom moving on with his best friend and lying to people when they ask her how she’s been.
Then the chorus kicks in, and she sings, “I’m doin’ fine enough to know that everyone’s a little broken/Fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they’re wide open/I’ve still got fear inside of me/I’m not OK, but I’m going to be all right/For the first time in a long time I’m doin’ fine.”
In “Three,” she sings addresses the sacrifices artists make to get three minutes on the radio. “Queen of Hearts” is a shot of attitude about what it takes to win in the game of love. Then she goes pure pop in “Crashin’ the Boys Club,” which is about girls taking cues from guys’ laidback hangs.
Road Less Traveled is also the inspiration behind a new romance film starring Alaina. She plays the lead role of “Charlotte,” a bride-to-be who struggles trying to find a balance between her upcoming wedding with her songwriting career in Los Angeles. She hopes to do more acting even if it means working 15 hour days on set.
During our CMT.com interview, she revealed “Holding the Other” is a beautiful tribute to her boyfriend, Alex Hopkins. He was there for her through it all the change and still is.
“He was my constant,” she said. They’ve been dating for more than three years.
“I’m dying,” she kidded. “I’m obsessed with her. I get to ask her questions, learn from her and grow. And she’s such a nice person, too. So I’m excited to be able to just watch her and take it all in.”
CMT.com: Do you have any tour must-haves for this particular run?
Alaina: I don’t have those superstitious ticks that people have to have something for the road. I like to have good food on the bus, my own pillow and onesies. Onesies are a must. I own 16. I live in them. I literally sleep in them almost every night.
You have 16 onesies?
The Little Mermaid one. Nope! The goat one is my favorite right now.
I know fans are super pumped about the new album coming out. What was the hardest song to write for this collection?
Probably “Same Day, Different Bottle” because I never talked about my dad’s alcoholism before he went to rehab. I literally took him to rehab, and maybe the day after that I wrote this song about his alcoholism. So, it was pretty difficult because people didn’t know my dad had a drinking problem.
I went into the writing session with Dan Couch and Caitlyn Smith. I knew them both at the time but not enough to have a nervous breakdown — and that’s exactly what happened. But it ended up getting us that song. We had this huge bonding experience, and I really needed that. It was a really hard week for me.
I took the song back to my dad while he was in rehab and he listened to it the whole time he was there and played it for the other people in treatment. So that was definitely the hardest one because it was one of the first ones where I was really honest about my personal life and went in detail with the other writers about what was going on.
That’s a groundbreaking moment. That blows my mind because that kind thing happens every day on Music Row where you are paired with complete strangers, but you have to share your feelings right there on the spot.
It doesn’t always happen that way, but there are moments where there’s nothing you can do. I went into it crying, and I couldn’t get it together. But I didn’t want to cancel it. They’re like, “Well, what do you want to write about?” And I was like, “Oh, well … my dad,” and I just started crying and we wrote the song. It’s such an important song for my family. My dad listened to it a lot while he was recovering. So, I’m glad I wrote it, but it was definitely the hardest to write.
Road Less Traveled touches on other emotional subjects, too. How important was it for you to do that? And how did you muster up the self-confidence to do that?
Self-confidence is something I’ve always lacked in. But finally, at some point, I just decided to be honest. I’ve had a lot of things go on in the last few years that were pretty life-changing. I just wanted to write about them. We all have our things that we go through, and I wanted to be an artist that people could listen to and feel like they’re not alone. I want to be empowering.
I want to make people feel good about who they are regardless of who they are or where they come from or the color of their skin or what their family acts like or what they look like. I am all about acceptance of others and of yourself.