Singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne

Lynne discusses balancing her singing and songwriting with being a label chief and the experience of recording her latest project, the southern country gospel-influenced CD, “Thanks.”

In 2000, Shelby Lynne won the best new artist Grammy, even though she was a decade plus into her career. Country music fans have known her since the late 1980s. Raised in Alabama by musical parents who stressed the importance of standing apart from others, the outspoken artist was forced into independence at a young age because of family tragedy. She moved to Nashville, sang in local clubs and made demos. Lynne's albums received critical acclaim yet inconsistent radio play, but her Grammy changed that. She went on to launch her own label, Everso Records, on which she's released several CDs, including her latest project—the gospel-tinged "Thanks."

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Grammy winner, singer, songwriter Shelby Lynne, one of my favorite people, has never shied away from putting her most personal experiences into her music, and her new CD, titled simply “Thanks,” continues that trajectory.

Although the album is not a gospel album, the lyrics are filled with a spiritual vocabulary that speaks directly to faith, and she’s got some lyrics on here that I can’t wait to talk about.

She’s supported on the project by her friend, singer Maxine Waters. By the way, Maxine Waters is featured, you see her in this new documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” nominated for an Academy Award this year in the documentary category.

Tomorrow night on this program, the first of two nights featuring some of the women from that documentary, my favorite documentary of the year. Tomorrow night, two shows that you do not want to miss about what it means to be 20 feet from stardom. Maxine Waters is one of those persons.

But Shelby was encouraged by Ms. Waters to make this EP. Let’s take a look now at a clip from Shelby Lynne singing “Call Me Up,” from her new CD, “Thanks.”

[Clip]

Tavis: That looks like the most comfortable studio I’ve ever seen. It looks like your living room.

Shelby Lynne: It kind of is. I think I had – I got a new sofa, so I put the old one in there. (Laughter)

Tavis: It looks comfy. I would assume, after years of people going into recording studios to do stuff, I find more artists these days who are recording in their home studios and the like.

I would assume – you tell me if I’m wrong or right – that recording in an intimate surrounding, in your own personal space, may lend itself – you know what I’m trying to -

Lynne: Yes I do.

Tavis: What am I trying to say?

Lynne: Well, you’ve always wanted to sing in your living room.

Tavis: There you go.

Lynne: So you feel like let’s just move the equipment in here. That’s kind of what I’ve done a few times, Tavis. I’m guilty of doing that. Move the TV and move everything, we’ll make a record right here. It’s possible, it can be done. I’m guilty of it.

Tavis: What does being in your own space bring out of you in the recording that might not be brought out of you in some random, regular recording studio?

Lynne: I remember when I went to a studio when I was 18 years old. I walked into Nashville, a big studio, big microphone, and I had a bag of potato chips. I needed some grease on my throat.

I’m thinking, boy, this is polished around here. This is fancy. I might have to – so the singing part comes from in here, and it’s hard if it’s really air conditioned. Aretha won’t sing with the air conditioning on.

Tavis: I’ve been with her many times, and I’ve been burning like I was in Haiti.

Lynne: It’s uncomfortable, but really, rock and roll and soul music don’t really go with AC.

Tavis: Yeah, makes sense to me.

Lynne: So whatever that comes around to the living room, you get my -

Tavis: That sounds like a song lyric. (Laughter) Rock and roll and -

Lynne: – and soul music don’t go with AC.

Tavis: Don’t go with air – don’t go with AC. Write that down.

Lynne: Okay.

Tavis: That sounds like a lyric. (Laughter)

Lynne: I’ll just go and watch the show.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah, right? Yeah. Speaking of lyrics, can I just – your stuff is always lyrically powerful for me, and there’s so many great lines -

Lynne: Thank you.

Tavis: – in the lyrical content of this five-track EP. But I want to jump right to this song, “This Road I’m On.”

Lynne: Yeah.

Tavis: Lord Jesus. There’s a line in this song that says, “Faith keeps me busy trying to find it.”

Lynne: And why did I know, when I knew I was driving over here, I said, “He’s going to ask me about that line.”

Tavis: Say that again – “Faith keeps my busy trying to find it.”

Lynne: “Faith keeps me busy trying to find it.” Yeah.

Tavis: How did you write that?

Lynne: Because it’s the truth. Here I make a gospel record. So all of those swirling around emotions and that craziness and that thinking, you know what it comes down to is I’m grateful I’m able to sing for a living, because I ain’t worth a damn for anything else. (Laughter)

Tavis: See, now you’ve put another word out there that I wanted to go to, because this is what I hear when I hear this project. By the way, I love the title. Just “Thanks.” Just “Thanks.”

Just a one-word title, “Thanks,” but what I hear when I hear this is gratitude. I was just in a conversation with some people the other day at my house about the fact that what the world lacks these days is gratitude.

Lynne: That’s the truth.

Tavis: You don’t need somebody kissing your behind. You don’t need somebody playing up to you; you don’t need somebody bowing down to you. But it would be nice every now and then for the people around you, the people you come in contact with, people you do stuff for, just to express a little gratitude, and the world is lacking that.

Lynne: Yeah. Talking about the word “thanks,” the word came from just writing that song on there, “Thanks,” because in the last couple years I’ve done some soul-searching.

I quit drinking, I put the bottle down, and I figured that wasn’t for me. It just was getting not productive. If I could have continued to drink brown liquor and be productive, be different. (Laughter)

But it wasn’t happening. So that’s just one of the soul-searching things I went through, and I realized in the searching how lucky am I to be able to get up every morning in my froggy, croaky voice and say thanks for being able to sing for a living.

Because when I tour and I go out there and realize, when I see in my audience, no matter how big or small, that $35 was hard to come by, and I’m grateful that people spent it to come see me. It’s my job to make them feel good.

Tavis: I believe they will, and obviously you must believe they will or you wouldn’t have done it. How do you think this project is going to speak to, be received by, your core audience?

It’s a little bit of a departure from what you have done, so how do you think they’re going to receive it?

Lynne: Well, I have the sweetest, sweetest people that have followed me. I just got a letter, Tavis, you’ll appreciate this, from a 93-year-old woman’s grandson, I guess.

I had written her a letter early on in her career, and she had just recently passed, and I was thinking about Ms. Marie and how she, no matter what music I decided to do, I always got a little handwritten note from Ms. May.

“I love what you’re doing.” She was way just past 97 years old. So I’ve been lucky. My people that understand me, that spend that $12 or whatever – well actually, this one’s $7 because it’s only five songs.

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter) Really, really understand me, and for that I’m grateful too. Because I know I’m a little wild and crazy and get out there and I’m like, “Oh, okay, let’s do this,” and like, “Well, you just did this.” “Well, okay.” But they’re cool like that.

Tavis: Speaking of thanks and gratitude, I mentioned Maxine Waters a moment ago, and you, in your liner notes, are so grateful, appreciative, in your thanks to all these singers.

Lynne: Yeah.

Tavis: So many of them who are unheralded. But you give them their props in your liner notes.

Lynne: Yeah. Maxine and I have been friends, well, since I did my “Love, Shelby” record. We met and we’ve never parted, so it was just one of those connections.

So through our years of friendship and singing together and having faith together, it was kind of the core beginning of this record. Just fooling around out at my place. Maxine would come over and we’d just fool around and play.

It grew into this, and “Maxine, let’s do this. I can’t do it without you, and I need that left hand.”

Because people know it as Maxine the singer, but her left hand on the piano, okay.

Tavis: She’s got a good left hand, huh?

Lynne: Yeah. She’s going, “You’re crazy, I can’t play on your record.” I said, “You gotta put the left hand on the piano.”

Tavis: (Laughter) Put a little extra soul in it. Is this project – this is going to sound crazy – is this project just for you, or is this project for us?

Lynne: It’s for us.

Tavis: Yeah.

Lynne: I include myself in it, because my buddy, Ben Peeler, help me throw the fellas together for this, and he and I threw this thing together in a weekend and 115 degrees out in the desert there.

Everybody got together and we threw these things down. You know me, Tavis, I won’t let them do it more than two or three times.

Tavis: Yeah. That’s all you need. You don’t need but once or twice.

Lynne: So y’all grab on, we’re going to do this thing. So a couple days, we had this little thing. We can do it to death, we can practice it to death, we can make it perfect, but is it really perfect if you do all that?

Tavis: That reminds me of a line that – Miles Davis was famous, infamous for going after his band members in the hallway. If they were at a hotel and he would hear them rehearsing, he’d say, “Stop all that rehearsing, because if you play that tonight I’m kicking your behind.”

Lynne: I’m telling you.

Tavis: “When we get on stage tonight, I want you to surprise me.”

Lynne: That’s it. That’s it.

Tavis: “It ain’t got to be perfect. I want you to do your thing on stage tonight. Don’t play it like that.”

Lynne: That’s it, and I’ve told pickers through the years, I said, “I don’t expect you to play the record. I don’t expect you to play Dean Parks’ parts. But give me something that’s better. You got it in you.” So it happens.

Tavis: I love it. (Laughter) See why I love her? She can come here any time she wants, because she just -

Lynne: I love you too.

Tavis: I love you, and more. I always learn something from you and I’m always inspired by you, and of all the projects you’ve done – I’ve got them all – this one -

Lynne: Oh, you asked me about that line.

Tavis: Yeah.

Lynne: “Faith keeps me busy trying to find it.” Now the struggle I was talking about was, because it’s all in here, and I’m lucky I get to sing, and sometimes music brings up emotions and makes you shed and do things that you’re supposed to do naturally.

But holding on to your faith is like holding on to your heart, because for me, it’s all you got. At the end of the day, it’s all you got.

Tavis: One of my favorite Bible verses is that faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.

Lynne: Ooh.

Tavis: That’s what faith is – the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen. So a lot of great lyrics on this project. That’s just one that’s hit me so hard.

It’s an EP, it’s five tracks, you will love every one of the. It’s called simply “Thanks,” by my friend Shelby Lynne, who I’m always delighted to see.

Lynne: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: Congratulations.

Lynne: Thank you.

Tavis: Good to see you. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

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Last modified: February 6, 2014 at 2:49 pm