You know that feeling you get when you drive by a lemonade stand, when you aren’t technically thirsty but you still know you should pull over and you’re always glad you did? That’s exactly how you’ll feel when you listen to Tenille Townes’ debut album The Lemonade Stand, due out Friday (June 26).
It’s the kind of refreshing country music you didn’t even know your life was thirsty for. (The name comes not from a song title but from a lyric within her debut single “Somebody’s Daughter.”)
Townes — who was born and raised in Alberta, Canada — listened to all kinds of music to prepare for this album. Because in her mind, it wasn’t a matter of if she’d move to Nashville but when. I asked Townes if there was some kind of pivotal moment in her life when she knew she had to make that bold, scary leap of faith, and she told me it was more like a gradual turn of events.
“For me, it was like an internal compass that was screaming so loudly at you to follow what you’re being called to,” Townes told me of her move to Nashville in 2013 at just 19 years old. “You can’t ignore it. So it wasn’t one moment, but more of an accumulation of a lot of little moments. I was playing in Canada, but I just felt like I had to take the next step.
“And Nashville was that for me.”
Townes and I went on to talk about the music scene in Nashville, the lack of touring right now, the songs she grew up on, and especially about the lyrics. Because she’s always said that she was that girl who would listen to music and read along with every lyric in the CD booklet.
CMT.com: Let’s talk about how you would read along with the lyrics. For me, it was a cassette’s J-card, but I can still relate. I’d read everything: the lyrics, the songwriter credits, the band members’ names. So when you were a girl, which songs/albums/lyrics were most memorable to you as you were reading along?
Townes: Shania Twain’s The Woman in Me and Come on Over are paper-thin lyric booklets by now. Also Carolyn Dawn Johnson’s Room with a View. I obsessed over that record. And while I obsessed over her lyrics, I also noticed on that album that she was a writer on every single one of her songs. I just thought that was so cool. I also had the early Keith Urban records, and all the Eric Church projects. But at the time, I was also listening to The Joshua Tree all the time with my dad because he’s a big U2 fan. Plus there was Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors. Just some of the ones that set the bar so high, and became the music that showed me pieces of myself.
Is that kind of what you tried to do with these 12 songs: be that artist for anyone like-minded enough to be obsessed with lyrics?
It’s always on my mind, but especially when I’m writing songs, the only thing on my mind is telling the story of that song. And then I think about that awareness and make sure it’s worthy of being turned up and has someone singing along in the back seat. It’s important to me to think about that. The voice that comes in at the end of “The Most Beautiful Things” is this little girl named Amelia, who is only 7 years old. And hearing that feels like such a special full-circle moment, and a reminder of all of those young girls turning up these songs like I used to when I would dream of making a record like this. Amelia is the daughter of our engineer, Jason Hall. I immediately started weeping just thinking about being able to close out the record with that.
But before you could write the last song on the record, you had to write the first. And that one has to start somewhere. So for you, do you start with the lyrics first? Or melody first?
It’s different with every song. But it usually always starts with a concept, like, “What do I want to write a song about today?” It might be a title or lyric lines or a melody that makes me feel a certain way. They all feed each other for me, so I have a hard time separating them in my head.
When you booked some of your first songwriting sessions, what was that like? You wrote with so many of the very best names on this album. Was that a little bit nerve-racking?
I truly was just so psyched. When I moved to Nashville, I would go wait in line for hours at the Bluebird Café to hear some of these songwriters play. And I felt so encouraged to hear their stories of what it was like when they first moved to Nashville. I’d think, “If they can do it, maybe I can do it too.” That admiration and respect for their path always makes you a little nervous to sit down with them when you look up them to so much. But creativity has such a way of knocking down the doors of the things that scare us and making everybody feel welcome. The writers here all have such a disarming presence that lets you know that you can just show up and say what you need to say.
Since this is your first major-label debut, how did the whole process differ from when you were making albums on your own?
There is such a different magnitude and gravity to it knowing that this music will have the opportunity for more people to hear it. And for me to get my toes wet and learn and feel like I was finding my voice in a different way. I could craft what I wanted to stand for. That felt like I was arriving at such a different place. I look back now at those independent albums and I smile at myself. I was so excited and so proud, and I know that that’s part of the beginning of the story. We’re all always looking back at ourselves and thinking, “Thank goodness I’m still growing.”
When “Somebody’s Daughter” was first released, it feels like door just started opening for you left and right. You toured with Miranda Lambert almost right away, right? What did you learn from her?
The culture of her whole road team was so welcoming. Everyone made us feel so included, and I’ll never forget that. I sure hope I can pay some of that forward someday. And I’d watch Miranda’s show every night on that tour, and I saw that all of the art she makes very much leads the charge.
And how about Dierks Bentley when you were out on the road with him?
The same as with Miranda. So welcoming. And just getting to stand in the front of the house and sing along to his songs every night. And to see how hard he works. He works all day and all night. I’ve seen him walking around backstage with some kind of peanut butter and jam sandwich, and that must be where he gets some kind of magic.
You must miss touring so much right now, even more so now that you have all this new music to share with country fans.
I do. I miss it so much and cannot wait to get back out there. I’m crossing fingers for some shows in the fall. This has all made me — even more so — insanely grateful for the gift of live music. It’s such a sacred thing.
The full track list from The Lemonade Stand:
1. “Holding Out For The One” (Tenille Townes, Marc Beeson, Daniel Tashian)
2. “Where You Are” (Townes, Tashian, Keelan Donovan)
3. “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking)” (Townes, Tina Parol, Gordie Sampson)
4. “Lighthouse” (Townes, Dan Agee)
5. “White Horse” (Townes, Tashian, Jeremy Spillman)
6. “I Kept The Roses” (Townes, Dustin Christensen, Chris Gelbuda)
7. “When I Meet My Maker” (Townes)
8. “Come As you Are” (Townes, Beeson, Tashian)
9. “The Way You Look Tonight” (Townes, Donovan, Tashian)
10. “Find You” (Townes, Tashian, Sacha Skarbek)
11. “Somebody’s Daughter” (Townes, Luke Laird, Barry Dean)
12. “The Most Beautiful Things” (Townes, Sampson, Josh Kear)