Stephanie Quayle knows that results come from hard work, and in 2019, she performed at the Grand Ole Opry in honor of Dolly Parton, accepted a lunch invitation from Reba McEntire, and sang alongside Lukas Nelson, Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt at one of Willie’s concerts. Of course, Quayle will be on the road again in 2020, performing music from her new EP, If I Was a Cowboy.
A Montana native, Quayle has been playing shows since she was a teenager, when she spent a year of high school in Switzerland and happened to hear about a local band needing a lead singer. After pursuing her dream of being an entertainer in California, she had the epiphany to move to Nashville, where she discovered the power of songwriting.
“I love to make people laugh,” she says. “And I think I take my work very seriously. I don’t take myself very seriously.”
One of CMT’s Next Women of Country, Quayle dropped by CMT in December to make the season bright — and to share her brand new video, “Whatcha Drinkin ‘Bout.”
CMT: Did you like starring as the bartender in the video for “Whatcha Drinkin ‘Bout?”
SQ: I mean, here’s the thing. In real life, when I was carrying drinks, I didn’t have that job very long. I remember the day when I got fired because I was carrying red wine and I tripped. And that red wine went on a white shirt and those were the ends of my carrying cocktail days.
But bartending is therapy, right? The bartenders get the inside scoops. I loved playing that. It’s really fun. And then trying to get the cowboy’s attention, obviously being the end game.
Even if you have to lay your head on the bar.
Even if you have to whip your hair! We probably have hours of bloopers from that part of it, because my husband David [who plays the cowboy in the video] is very good at being serious and he just was stone cold. It wasn’t like he was acting, he was really ignoring me!
When you were writing the song with these guys and that term, “Whatcha drinkin ‘bout?” comes up, do your eyes light up and you think, “That’s what we want!”?
Yes! Thousand percent that’s what happened. It was my first time writing with Joey Ebach and Ryland Fisher. I brought a six pack of Montucky beer, which is beer from Montana, and a bottle of whiskey and I figured worst-case scenario, we’ll have a great time. One of them had that in their phone when they were going through song titles. A lot of writes will start out that way, where you’re just shooting around different ideas. And man, when they said that, I was like, “Oh, that’s brilliant!”
I’m very self-critical of my own songwriting, so I don’t usually know, like, “OK, is this great or not?” I mean, I just don’t know. Then we went into the studio and it came alive in ways I never saw coming. We got to watch that song happen on the road and people asked, “Oh, when’s that song coming out? When’s that video coming out?” So now to see it making its way up the charts and being on CMT, it’s really cool.
I bet that is a fun live song, where people click with it right away.
Yeah. I think that’s what I love about our genre is you can have those super deep songs and you can also have fun ear candy. I love both, and as an entertainer, I want my audience to never get bored and to have all the emotions that are happening.
At what point did songwriting become interesting to you?
I don’t think I recognized its power until I came to Nashville and saw a songwriter round for the first time. You could hear a pin drop and there was just one voice and a guitar or piano, and you’re like, “Wait a second…”
You take all the bells and whistles and light and smoke and speakers and you take it all down to that rawness. That’s when I realized the power of a song. That really cranked my chain. I don’t know if that’s a phrase, but I just used it!
I remember the first time I played the Bluebird as a songwriter — and no one’s allowed to talk when you’re playing, which is also terrifying. You can’t hide behind anything. You’re fully exposed and there’s something so extraordinary about that.
You’ve been in Nashville for eight years now, but can we retrace your steps before that? You have some interesting experiences before you got here.
Yeah, I had quite an adventure before. I went to full-time music in 2010, but in 2009 I had the opportunity to be on stage with Maria Shriver at a women’s conference. There were thousands of people there. You’ve got people like Oprah and these names you’ve grown up revering. I had the opportunity to really share the impact of music on my own life and how I feel that it impacts others and my purpose. I’ve known that this will be my life since I was 16. I didn’t know how. Then all these little steps get you closer to your “how.”
And so in 2010 I was working full-time for someone else. I had that moment, like if I don’t do this now, if I don’t go full-time for myself and self-invest as an artist and as a songwriter and entertainer, then I’ll never really know what could have been. It was this wild situation because I got invited to perform on a boat and that was my way to exit.
That was the start of making my living from performing live shows. It was such an interesting thing because I really didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I just knew that I was going to jump and grow my wings. Then over the course of the next year and a half, I was making my way and making my living and figuring it out. Then I got this feeling in my gut in October 2011 and it was like, “Go to Nashville now.” That little voice was like, “Right now, go!” It took me about a month to get myself organized and made my way.
Where were you living at the time?
I was living everywhere. I was a professional gypsy. I had some stuff still in California, some stuff in Montana with my family there. I was just on the road, so I went wherever I needed to go. And then when I first got here, it was just songwriter rounds, where it became intoxicating.
A lot of times, people think that all the artists write their own music. There are a lot of artists that don’t, so that was really interesting. It was like, “Man, OK, how do we do it all?”
I was wondering, when did that work ethic began for you?
Teeny tiny. Yeah, man. Farm life! I think work ethic is not something you’re born with. It’s something you’re taught. I think there’s something really beautiful when you get to earn it. You respect the process so much more when it’s not handed to you.
Do you always want things to happen a little faster? Of course. But I feel like timing is really purposeful and timing happens on purpose. It happens when it’s supposed to. So I’m really grateful that all this is happening now when I have my brain together.
What was it about the farm that instigated that motivation for you?
Probably the incentive program. You do your chores, you get to ride your horse. I don’t know if that’s appropriate, but it’s the truth. I equated it with any time I could get on the back of my horse to freedom or go fishing in our creek or go run these gorgeous hills where the grass looks like waves.
I had a magical, wide open childhood where I had so much freedom. I couldn’t imagine letting a kid run amok like I did. It’s crazy when I think about that freedom. I was so drawn to that, I would do anything. I mean, you need me up at 5? I’ll be up at 4.
As we’re approaching 2020, what are you looking forward to the most?
I’m looking forward to it all. The live show is such my everything. To know that it’s working, to be able to make it work on even a greater scale and impact more lives in a positive way, that’s my everything. And what more cool things can we do to rock people’s lives in an awesome way?
When you think about it, for people to take their time to buy a ticket, to get a babysitter, to put that much effort in, how can I not show up with everything I have? We’re in the entertainment business. I’m there to entertain, so I can’t wait to just do that a million fold.