If nothing else comes from the release of Garrison Starr's new album, at least she got a free T-shirt out of the deal.
In several pictures inside the CD booklet of Airstreams & Satellites, Starr is modeling a worn-out Jack Daniels shirt. (It makes sense since she and Gentleman Jack both got their start in Tennessee.)
"Everybody was so crazy about those pictures, and then there came a point where everybody was a little nervous about it," she says. "Like, 'Oh gosh, can we even use these photos? Will we get sued by Jack Daniels? Do we need to ask permission?'"
Quite the opposite. Starr says the liquor company was flattered enough to send her a new T-shirt. She says she's keeping her fingers crossed for a bottle of whiskey, too. Besides, what good is a rock star without a liquor bottle nearby?
OK, OK. So she's not a rock star yet. But her edgy, honest lyrics and addictive melodies have certainly earned her some famous admirers.
For example, Terri Clark says, "Garrison makes great records ... sonically, song-wise, and vocally, it's what I love to listen to. She has a very stylistic voice that reflects a sweetness and vulnerability, yet has a tough edge that makes you believe what she is singing. Her writing ability is undeniable, and she writes with a heart and soul that belies her years. She is a true talent."
It could be argued that Starr truly arrived when she subbed for an injured Mary Chapin Carpenter on a songwriters' tour assembled by Emmylou Harris in late 2002. For three nights in a row, she had to follow Harris, Bruce Cockburn and Patty Griffin with one of her own songs.
"I was so nervous, and I really think I was in shock about it until I got on stage," she remembers. "It occurred to me when I was sitting in the chair on stage while Emmylou was singing. I was like, 'What have I done? What is fixin' to happen here?' I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me! What the hell songs am I going to play, you know? Like 'Yankee Doodle went to town?' I was just like, 'I can't handle having to follow these guys every night.'"
However, she soldiered on, and managed to charm the audience with her rambling stories and incisive songs. Like Griffin in particular, Starr can get her point across in just a few powerful words. It's a skill that the Memphis, Tenn., native has developed since graduating from high school in 1993, then enrolling in Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., and then booking a perpetual string of club dates throughout the South. Airstreams & Satellites is her third album, and it happens to be released on her third label as well. Yet, she does not seem distracted by her turbulent career path, instead focusing on what happens on stage.
"I realize that performing is really a chance to share with the audience," she says. "It's not about you getting up there and putting on this kick-ass show every night. I mean, it is to the extent that you try to be as honest and as open as you can with people every night. But it's not about being perfect because that's really not what people are looking for. People are there to hear what you have to say because they connect with you on some level, and they are hungry to share that with you."
She continues, "That's what it's like when I go see shows. I'm just so anxious to hear what the artist has to say because I just want to connect." Though she confesses she's not much of a country music enthusiast, she does cite Clark, Deana Carter and Vince Gill as some of her favorites.
And like most musicians, Starr has logged her time on the crappy club circuit. In the earliest days, she played drums in a band with her pal Neilson Hubbard. "Neilson used to drag us to the worst places," she says with a laugh. "Dude, we were in college and Neilson would just take any gig that would pop up. It was just like, 'OK, we'll pay you a dollar and you get free chicken wings,' and we would drive like wherever."
Since then, she built a loyal audience in the South and has since toured with Carpenter and Steve Earle. She's currently living in Los Angeles, but she's about to hit the road on a radio tour for three weeks. Beyond that, she's angling for an opening slot on a major tour, but she's reluctant to jinx it.
Starr has already met some of the most famous singer-songwriters around, and has come to appreciate their humanity, despite the staggering talent they often possess.
"The whole idea that the rock star is sort of a god, that's a misconception," she says. "I mean, I've done that, and I do that still with artists that are at a different level than I am. I think, 'Oh my gosh, they're on this different plane and they're indestructible and they are unfazed and they're sort of godlike.' But that's, I think, what some of the people do to live in their own fantasy, you know?
She continues, "It's a way to escape to sort of a fantasy world. It's a way to get away. In a way it's a good thing, but in another way, it is a misconception because that person leaves the stage and goes and takes a crap and eats McDonalds, or goes to Swingers and has a burger, or just goes home and goes to bed, or goes and gets drunk and passes out and wakes up with a hangover, just like everybody else."