Singer-songwriter Allison Moorer

Guest interviews are usually available online within 24 hours of broadcast.

Oscar-nominated country music singer-songwriter reflects on working in the family business and also performs a track from her new CD.

Alternative country singer-songwriter Allison Moorer rose to country charts prominence in '98, after her song from the film The Horse Whisperer, "A Soft Place to Fall," was nominated for an Oscar. Moorer, who is singer Shelby Lynne's younger sister, grew up in Alabama and earned a public relations degree before pursuing music. After moving to Nashville, she launched her career doing background vocals and was discovered at a tribute concert and quickly signed to a record deal. She's recorded eight solo albums, including her latest, "Crows."


Tavis: Allison Moorer is an Oscar and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter whose latest project is called “Crows.” In just a few minutes she’ll perform a song for us, but first here is some of the video for “The Broken Girl.”
[Music video clip]
Tavis: I love the song, but I’m really anxious to see you actually perform something here on the stage. So in a few minutes, once I shut up, (laughter) you’re going to perform a song called “Easy in the Summertime.”
Allison Moorer: Yeah.
Tavis: Which is a song about some wonderful memories you have shared with your sister growing up, and I was completely blown away when I discovered who your sister is. I don’t know how all these years I have missed this, but Shelby Lynne is your sister.
Moorer: Yes, she is.
Tavis: Gee whiz.
Moorer: Older.
Tavis: (Laughter) Older. Can I just tell you I have the biggest crush – I am in love with your sister.
Moorer: Well, she has a crush on you too.
Tavis: Oh, God, I love Shelby Lynne. I was saying to Chris earlier, our producer, what I love about her, aside from her great gift, obviously, is that she – you tell me, you know her better, obviously – but she seems so authentic. Pretty much what you see is what you get.
Moorer: Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter) So I was just – I don’t know how I – do most folk – it’s a dumb question. I was going to say, do most people know you guys are sisters?
Moorer: It’s sort of common knowledge. It’s rare that I come across someone who doesn’t know, so whenever I do –
Tavis: Yeah. So you’re calling me stupid?
Moorer: No.
Tavis: Okay.
Moorer: No. (Laughter) Just I’m surprised, because we’re always connected to each other. Whenever something’s written about one of us, it’s always sister of, which is interesting.
Tavis: I don’t know how I missed that.
Moorer: It’s all right. It’s okay.
Tavis: So your sister is Shelby Lynne, who I adore. Your husband has been a guest on this program, Steve Earle.
Moorer: It’s just a big pile of us. (Laughter)
Tavis: Now you have a baby. When’s the baby coming on the show?
Moorer: Whenever you want.
Tavis: When’s the baby –
Moorer: Yeah, as soon as he can talk, he’ll probably be here.
Tavis: The whole family ha been – and you and Steve perform a lot together.
Moorer: We do. We find that if we tour together we can stay married better than if we don’t, because we’ve both done the other thing and it’s a good way to stay close.
Tavis: What makes that work for the two of you, and I ask that because there are other people who need – every relationship is different; people need time together, need space apart. But being together that much, touring together, working together, is not a strategy that works for everybody. Why does it work for the two of you?
Moorer: We like each other, generally. (Laughter) We started out as friends, I think that helps; and we just know that we’ve got to make it work. That’s not to say we don’t need our space – we certainly do from time to time. But we just made a commitment and we make it work.
Tavis: This is a really cool project, Allison, because earlier this year you put out, of course, a full CD. What you have out now is an EP that has some acoustic versions of these songs. Why the decision to do the acoustic version?
Moorer: Well, this record came out in February and I was very pregnant then. That video there, I’m like (makes noise).
Tavis: Yeah. Is that the reason for the close-up? (Laughter) In TV we call that a close-up. Do not pan out; do not do a wide shot, stay in tight.
Moorer: I felt like a whale, and so in February – I was due in March so I was limited as far as what I could do. And I got sick and just all this stuff; I just couldn’t do much to promote the record.
So we wanted to do something to sort of re-launch the record, so we had these acoustic versions and we decided to do an EP. I think people like to hear how songs were born – I know I do – so that’s what this is about.
Tavis: I love – I’m glad that you said that people love to hear how songs are born. I never thought of it that way because I know a lot of songwriters, of course, to your point, write their songs on acoustic guitar before they add all the other stuff.
What is it about that that is so appealing to our ear? That acoustic, stripped-down sound just seems to work for a lot – I love it.
Moorer: Well, I think when you’re dealing with a singer-songwriter it gives you a view of – a little bit more honest view of who they are musically, maybe before all the stuff is put on as far as when you’re doing a full-blown production maybe the true essence of the song can get lost sometimes.
So I think people are interested in that, and also I think it maybe provides a truer sense of who that person really is, what they’re really – who they really are musically.
Tavis: This is a strange question to ask; let me ask anyway. Do you have a preference after hearing both versions? You’ve heard the version with all the bells and whistles on it you obviously have heard the acoustic version. To your ear, do you have a preference for your own sound?
Moorer: Well, I like the produced version because had I not wanted to do that production, I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. (Laughs)
Tavis: Fair enough
Moorer: That was my vision and I certainly prefer that. But I play solo a lot, so I like that too. It’s just I like it all.
Tavis: I would think – this is just to my ear as a listener – one of the things I love about the acoustic version, and your way of phrasing this was that it allows us to know more honestly, more authentically, who the person is. That was your assessment.
Mine is not quite as deep, but to your ear – when I hear an acoustic version, a stripped down version, I really get a chance to appreciate the singer’s voice more, assuming that they really have a voice. Because when you strip that thing down, if you really can’t hit it then it comes through loud and clear.
Moorer: That’s true. That’s true.
Tavis: But the voice really – you really have to rely on the voice more when you hear that –
Moorer: Well, I’ll tell you – one of the best things you can be right now in this music business that we’re operating in is somebody that can get up on a stage and play guitar and sing, or play piano and sing, without anybody else.
Tavis: Why’s that?
Moorer: Because the economics of the situation are not what they once were. It’s just a safety net to be able to do that because you can always go out and play. You don’t have to drag anybody with you; you don’t have to have a band. If you can get up in front of people and entertain that way, it’s a little bit of job insurance.
Tavis: When did you decide that you were definitely and really going to do this? I ask that because you went back and forth to Nashville a couple of times before you decided that I’m really going to give this all that I have, and now you look up years later, you’re Grammy-nominated, you’re Oscar-nominated. But there was a point in time when one reads your journey that you might not have really stuck with this.
Moorer: I’m a practical person. I’m a sensible woman. I knew that the music business was not fit for human beings. In the entertainment industry you’ve probably realized that it’s sometimes not the most savory environment.
So I went to college and I got a degree, and after all I – at the same time I started singing backup from my sister when I was 17, traveling on a bus and feeling that hum, and I had this pull. I didn’t really know. Music has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up in a musical family.
It was always a very natural thing for me to get up and sing in front of people. It wasn’t ever a big thing that I had to work up courage to do, it was very natural. So after college I really asked myself what is it that I wanted to do, and I thought, well, what I’m really good at is singing.
I could try to cultivate this and figure out how to do it, and one thing led to another. Things fell into place and I got really lucky and ended up getting a record deal when I was 24 years old, 25 years old, something like that, which is very young.
This was 1997, and the music business is a very different place now than it was then. An older person could actually get a record deal. Twenty-four is ancient now. But it just happened for me in a way that made it clear that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. It wasn’t ever – I was very lucky, I never had to really kill myself singing in clubs or do any of that stuff that you hear so much about. I just got lucky and got signed, got discovered, and I was just a lucky gal.
Tavis: Well, having a little talent helps with getting lucky.
Moorer: It does, yeah.
Tavis: I’ve discovered that over the years. (Laughter) Her name, of course, Allison Moorer. The new project is called “Crows.” I love this acoustic version of the songs, and Allison now is going to perform for us a song called “Easy in the Summertime.” We’ll dedicate this to her sister, Shelby Lynne. Hey, Shelby. (Laughter) Allison, good to have you on the program.

Moorer: Thank you.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm