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TC in Conversation with Tenille Townes

In June 2018, I was in Nashville for the first time and one of my friends who lives in town drove us over to The Grand Ole Opry so I could see the place everyone talked about and because Ashley McBryde was playing on a stage outside. Before Ashley’s set I discovered Tenille Townes for the very first time as she was also playing on that stage and straight away I was hooked by her voice and how she had such a beautiful craft with the stories in her songs. We saw her again that week during the festival and I just knew this was someone that would be absolutely perfect to play in the UK as fans over here would genuinely adore her. A few months later I got to speak to her in London for the first time when she made that trip across the pond as she joined Kassi Ashton, Ashley Campbell and Chris DeStefano for the CMA Songwriters series but since then, there has been a lot of anticipation for her return as the crowds heard exactly what I heard in Nashville a few months prior.

Move on to now, she has returned to Europe for a number of dates with Striking Matches and as part of Country Music Week was also headlining her own show at Colours in Hoxton Square. This show was a big deal for her because it was her first ever headline show! That is a Canadian, who now lives and works in the United States having their first EVER headline show on another continent where they had only ever previously played shows in a round on her last trip. If that wasn’t enough this maiden headline show in London was SOLD OUT!

It’s overwhelming, it’s the most incredible feeling and music to me is like home feeling wherever you go. Being here, this was so special, I was hearing people sing along but just the fact they bought tickets to come and they stood there then I got to meet a bunch of them afterwards. I was blown away, it’s such a special room and they really caught me off guard. I cried myself to sleep last night, it was so special. It’s crazy, the fact that they knew the songs and they knew SECOND VERSE lyrics which is the part that gets me and it’s incredible. I just even really have words for it!

There is something truly unique about watching and listening to Tenille on stage. There is this fact that UK audiences will listen to people and pay attention to songs that they have never heard before and at the same time once people are invested they give so much back and will sing along to every word of every song but she really has a way of captivating the attention of everyone in a room. This is even more powerful considering at present she has only released one acoustic EP and a small number of singles available plus has only ever previously been to the UK once before. What it does show is what I now personally believe is the best summary of the British audience. It was something that Matthew Ramsey from Old Dominion said to me and I think is the message that we really want to convey to artists in Nashville and we should be really proud of because in the UK the biggest thing is “They will give you a shot!”

I think that’s it right there, Wow! They’re just like encouraging and it’s such a cool environment to get to share the heart of the song too and to really strip in back to that. I appreciate how much people really love music here.

In regard to new music and her debut album, she assured me that it is coming and she is really excited to get it out into the world. Having been working with Jay Joyce as producer, she says it is ready and is now at the stage of setting it up right. She shared that there were a number of people she has worked with on the record from Luke Laird and Barry Dean who she co-wrote her beautiful debut single ‘Somebody’s Daughter’ with, to the likes of Josh Kear, Gordie Sampson, Tina Parol and Daniel Tashian all of whom she described as “Such a collection of writers that I consider heroes to me!” We talked at length about how they went about finding the right songs to fit for the project and how they looked to bring it all together by just believing in the songs and the stories behind them.

Some of these songs come from my early times moving to Nashville and a lot of them come from that season when I was writing like crazy with anyone and everyone, so it was really fun to watch which songs really stuck out to me then which ones fit in the theme of what this record is and what it says. It sorta started from a list of maybe twenty or so, well when I really sat down it was like these are the ones I wanna pick from then from there I got to work with Jay. We started with ones we knew were going to be there, then thought sonically let’s explore what these might feel like then see what we feel like we need so we just kinda kept picking from there. After this going OK we’ve got this ground covered, what about something that would be more in this vein? Then it was like great, this one’s on the list so let’s use this one. Everything was pretty much decided, I spent 7 or 8 weeks in the studio with Jay and all of it came from that season. It came down to what songs are speaking to us and not really thinking about much else except what they said and how they fit together which is such a cohesive thing on this project. He is such an explorer and like a mad scientist in the most remarkable way. He trusts the music and let’s the song speak then take us to where we need it to go. You hear it coming through the headphones and it’s like this feels right or sometimes it just means you’ve just gotta wrestle with it and take a moment to let it breathe which I had the space and time to do with Jay which I’m really thankful for.

There is a lot that you get from her that emphasises why she is such a special talent in every respect. Her voice is very distinct and it is absolutely mesmerising the places that she you can take you with it, she has so much depth in the stories behind her songs in how they are so specific to her but that makes them more real and relatable to everyone else then she is very captivating to watch on stage in the way that she plays guitar and how she gets so into it in a manner very reminiscent of the girl she is currently on tour with: Sarah Zimmermann of Striking Matches. She talked about how much she has enjoyed hanging out on the road with Sarah and Justin on this trip and I shared how the previous night I had done what people are now referring to as a “Keith Urban” in being at 2 shows in London on the same night as I started at The Garage in Highbury for the Striking Matches show then jumped on the tube to Hoxton so I could see her set too which she was really happy that I could do that and of Keith himself she said “That’s amazing, I heard the story of him hopping around all over and thought that was so cool!”

The one thing that I am really fascinated by about Tenille as an artist is how naturally and free she tells these stories. When artists set up a song on stage and give the background to it particularly one that has been performed for a long time, there are instances where it may come across as almost repeated and not no much rehearsed but thought about more in advance. Tenille has a way of telling these personal stories just from a point of raw emotion and a more natural way of introducing songs I have ever seen that you feel she is telling that story for the first time. I mentioned she has some powerful songs with a real life event behind them like her debut single ‘Somebody’s Daughter’ which has the underlying message of how everyone has a story and as an idea is something I really like and we don’t often think about enough in life but really should do so much more when we think about how people come to be under a set of circumstances. The song comes from when she was furniture shopping with her mum one day and they saw a young girl on the side of the road holding a cardboard sign then considering who or what this girl could be.

Her most recent single is again inspired by something that she encountered and also brings to light the ultimate question of why does our maker allow things to happen? “Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Asking)” comes from when she was touring schools across Canada to play her music. She visited a school in Grand Manan, New Brunswick which is a small island off the coast near the US border with Maine where there had been a car accident and a girl at the school due to graduate had lost her life so Tenille had unknowingly before visiting being brought there as part of the grieving process for the students and their families. She returned to the school for the graduation the following Spring and the basketball jersey of the girl who had been taken in the accident (as she had been the school’s star player) was hung on the wall which combined with a friend of hers losing her brother a short time after the trip, it gave her some questions for God. We talked about what it means to put a song like this out there and how people have responded to the meaningful story behind them that some people will relate to and have their own stories behind:

That’s probably one of my very favourite parts about doing this whole thing is hearing from people and what these songs mean to them especially a song like Jersey where music is a funny thing, it’s like it gives us the comfort and the permission to walk into the things that are harder to talk about. Then you hear the song and suddenly it’s right there, it’s out in the open and it hurts but also feels so comforting to know you’re not the only one that feels that way. When people come up to me after a show or send in a message on Instagram or something to talk about someone they’ve loved and lost or talk about their jersey number was or the questions they have for God. That’s the greatest gift for me because that courage, it takes a lot of courage to talk about it and as a writer and as a creator that really is the ultimate gift.

The last 12 months since her visit to the UK have been really big for the 25 year old from Grande Prairie, Alberta. She was a big time winner at this year’s Canadian Country Music Association Awards taking home 4 awards, was nominated for a CMT award, has been part of the current class of the CMT Next Women of Country and been named in Bobby Bones’s class of ’19 so there are plenty of people that are really excited about her as an artist and one person in particular who has been a really big supporter is Dierks Bentley who amongst other things brought her out on stage at the Nissan Stadium during CMA Fest in Nashville back in June.

It was mind-blowing! It was one of those things where, I feel like so many experiences this year I got to do for the first time with Dierks and he is remarkable! He is just such a kind human and he went the extra mile for me. I mean I had a couple of songs out, I had one single and the EP then he invited me to come and be a part of his whole tour from January to September which is crazy and it meant so much that he really believed in the music that much and gave me that chance. I played the Bridgestone for the first time with him which is a night I’ll never forget and I had so many moments on the road that was like Wow! He is just incredible and then the stadium happened, I mean that was the first time I’ve ever played a stadium and I got to stand next to Dierks Bentley and I’ll never forget it for as long as I live.

This was definitely one of my highlights of this years festival firstly because I wasn’t expecting it. Ashley McBryde coming on stage with Brooks & Dunn was incredible and another beautiful moment back in June but was something I had heard whispers about in the wind so it didn’t take me by surprise so much as seeing Tenille walking on stage with Dierks. Then the second she starting singing Trisha Yearwood’s 90’s country classic “She’s in Love with the Boy” it was like ‘Girl, you belong on that stage!’ Having someone support an emerging artist early in their career must be such a huge boost and not just by taking her out on the road and having someone to learn from but also in this case being one of the most high profile male artists to voice their concerns about how female artists deserve the opportunity and recognition that many male artists receive.

It’s vocal but I mean he walks the walk! He’s convicted and he takes action. He said every single night when he brought me out on stage how he loved hearing women in the nineties on the radio so much and how he was excited to get back to that place and he made a point to lift that up every night, just by having me out was lifting that up so much. It means a lot to have someone you look up to and someone who has really paved their own path believe in the beginning of mine. It was really cool to get to talk to him about what it was like on his tours as an opening act, remembering his days with like Kenny Chesney just learning from him in that way, just getting to be a sponge!

The ‘Burning Man Tour’ also featured Jon Pardi which the idea of a supportive environment where she was able to absorb a lot from being out with these guys was something she really wanted to get across how important that was. Also we talked about it being a very fun tour to be involved in with what she referred to saying “There’s a lot of bits!” and Dierks reiterating his love for 90’s country with his band and their ‘Hot Country Knights’ alter-ego’s. Then if that wasn’t enough, before the tour even began was the most hilarious tour promo video that sums up the personality of these guys in the most fitting way. As she beautifully put it “Literally a great way to break the ice!” as they paid homage to Will Ferrell and his ice skating comedy classic ‘Blades of Glory’ to promote the “Burning Man Tour On Ice” which you can see below and Tenille was keen to point out that being from Canada does not automatically mean you are born with skates on. The way she talked of the whole tour experience was really telling to hear how important a tour environment is and how much you can pick up as an opening act.

It’s like on and off the stage, it’s watching the show every night and picking up on things that happen every show and being like Oh that’s so fascinating how this song is such a great setup in the set or the way he interacts with someone in the crowd and you watch and go, OK that’s powerful but then also offstage it’s the way he treats people. He had this way of being everybody’s friend and his whole crew is an extension of that like they have so much respect and they have a lot of fun out there but they’ll also take care of you and I think that comes straight from Dierks and the way that he takes care of people.

This brings us almost up to date with her since her last visit as we know the album is on it’s way and she has finished her dates on the long extensive tour with Dierks but before coming back to the UK on this trip there was the sort of thing that as an artist, I imagine involved very little thought whatsoever as to whether to say yes to or not! Tenille along with Maren Morris, Caylee Hammack, Elle King and Ashley McBryde would all be playing select dates with Miranda Lambert and the Pistol Annies on her ‘Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars Tour’ for some ultimate nights of girl power!

Yeah! It’s like is this real life? Is this really an invitation from Miranda Lambert? I mean I look up to her so much, she is so authentic and her art is an extension of who she is and she’s one of the legends! You hear her talk about Merle Haggard or the artists that paved the path for her, well she’s done that for me and she’s one of the greats. It’s a really special thing to have a front row seat to watch and learn from her. I got to go out on the road with her last Summer, she’s the first person who took me out and to get the invite for this tour. I think this is such an interesting time in history and I think this tour is such an interesting thing and I know I’m gonna look back on this tour and be like Wow! I can’t believe I got to be a part of that!

The special thing about this group of women or “cast of characters” is the variety of unique and powerful voices that are all so distinct when you hear them but also they are all incredible and fascinating people with different stories. Tenille has played dates joining Miranda and the Annies along with both Elle King and Maren Morris already, then on return from Europe will play further dates in Charlottesville, Columbia and Orlando along with Maren who is also joining those dates too before Tenille jumps with her onto her ‘Girl: The World Tour’ for shows in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. (More details on these dates along with any ticket information HERE) From spending time with these girls she did tell me she had been learning “All the good, bad habits!” along with just getting to hang out then get a front row seat every night.

We talked about how I first discovered Elle King who I have been a fan of since I saw her supporting Train back in 2012 then during that trip I met her in a bar in London which Tenille & I agreed that if you are gonna hang out with Elle for the first time it should have to happen in a bar. Then Tenille offered: “She’s amazing! Holy Smokes, What a voice! She’s so kind and her whole band were great to us!” We also talked about things that hopes to do in London if not on this trip but on a future visit with Abbey Road being the top of that bucket list and Maren’s top recommendation for her in a trip to the Harry Potter Studios in Watford. On her next trip she is hoping for a few days at the start or end of the trip to enjoy some more M&S houmous and some Mars Bars whilst being able to explore a bit more. However on this trip she did get to see first hand the joys of us locals trying to deal with the Great British weather as I navigated a near monsoon and wasn’t quite as dry as I would have like to have been walking into an interview.

I will always keep coming back here. There’s just something different about the way you guys listen to music and the way you show up. It’s beautiful and also I love the adventure of being in a new part of the world and getting to see such a rich history. Everyone has been so kind and welcoming, I already can’t wait to come back!

That next trip is already in the diary and it is in March 2020 where she will be in Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Dublin and Glasgow for next years C2C festival as part of a stellar lineup that also includes Luke Combs, Darius Rucker, Eric Church, Tanya Tucker, Old Dominion, Abby Anderson and many more with tickets due to go on sale Friday November 1st.

I have heard so much about C2C, I feel like the buzz of that festival is something I’ve been hearing about for several years now and was like some day that will be so cool to come and play that festival. I’ve heard about how much they love country music here then seen it first hand last year and this year so can’t wait to see what this festival is like in person.

This was an absolute pleasure to hang out with Tenille for a second time, she really is one of the sweetest people you will ever come across and if nothing else she categorically gives the best hugs in Country Music! Her voice is so enticing and her craft as a songwriter along with the way that she tells stories, rivals people that have been successful in Nashville for a long time so we cannot wait for her to be back in March!

In the meantime she has a few more dates left in the UK on this run: Liverpool on Sunday 27th October and Glasgow on Monday 28th October with Striking Matches (ticket links available HERE) but also you can catch her again in London if you are around this afternoon (Saturday October 26th) at the Country Hits Radio Hub as part of Country Music Week taking place at Bush Hall as a daytime show with doors at 12:00 where you will also be able to see Willie Jones, Temecula Road & Tebey too (more information HERE)

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Jamie Gardam
Without trying to write something that belongs in a Tinder profile, I’m Jamie: sometimes seen as a bit of a rogue potentially even notorious but all in all I am just an Essex boy that loves iced latte’s and colourful hair accessories with a tendency to continually cause disappointment to my mother and a worry to my therapist as I drink too much! It took me far too long to visit and fall in love with the world’s ultimate pub crawl that is Nashville, TN but prior to my next visit I make the most of the sights and sounds of London’s emerging country music scene.
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