The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter explains what led to her exploration of a horrific childhood tragedy in her latest album, “Revelation Road.”
Singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne
Tavis: Always pleased to welcome Shelby Lynne back to this program. The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter is out with a very personal new project called “Revelation Road” and for those of you looking for some good holiday music, you can also pick up a copy of her holiday CD, “Merry Christmas.” Shelby, good to see you once again.
Shelby Lynne: Thank you.
Tavis: You doing all right?
Tavis: So Thanksgiving, I know where you were this year, just a few days ago.
Lynne: Yeah, I went to New York.
Tavis: Yeah. You know how I know? Because you were all over television [laugh].
Lynne: Yeah [laugh].
Tavis: Was that your first time playing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?
Tavis: Did you enjoy it?
Lynne: It was great. It’s such a tradition, you know.
Tavis: Yeah. What’s it like for an artist? I’ve done that like one time, but I wasn’t performing anything, obviously. Just there for the parade. But what’s it like when you’re performing and it’s like these are not the most desirable weather conditions? I mean, it wasn’t snowing this year, but it’s a little nippy out there.
Lynne: It was cold.
Tavis: Yeah, and you’re kind of singing and playing. How does that work?
Lynne: Well, as long as you keep your lips from bumping together too much, hopefully you can turn it into a lyric [laugh].
Tavis: You survived it okay, though?
Tavis: I’m gonna start with this one, the “Revelation Road” project. It’s really interesting. When this project came out or actually was on the way out and the publicity on this thing started to build, you know, I saw the title “Revelation Road” and I figured by the title that you must be, you know, revealing something on this journey, on this road, but I didn’t know exactly what.
The publicity team at the record label didn’t really lay out what was coming, so you have to like listen to this thing to like really figure out what you are revealing. There’s some stuff that I know about you because I’m a fan and you’ve been on the program many times before.
You don’t really talk about this stuff publicly, but you are talking about it lyrically for the first time. All that said, why now?
Lynne: You know, I don’t know why because I just don’t make plans when I’m making music. The content of the record just kind of let me know, you know. There’s some things on there that I went right back to Alabama in my childhood, being a little kid, driving in the car with momma and sissy singing three-part harmony, you know.
It just felt like time to let the peace inside of me write the songs. I feel like I’ve kind of gotten to a peaceful place in my heart.
Tavis: This is a very tricky conversation to have because I know that you don’t talk about what happened with your parents. You don’t talk about it, but you have chosen to sing about it. So I get the fact that, after all these years – I know the audience is going crazy right now. What is he talking about? Get the record.
I get the fact that, after all these years, you’ve come to some peace with this. You don’t have that kind of closure like buying a house or buying a car, but you come to peace with this. I get that part.
But how is it that you can’t talk about it or choose not to talk about it, but you can write about it, you can sing about it? What’s that mean?
Lynne: Well, you know, that’s the magic of music and of having the luxury of making it. I can find some way to make poetry out of my life’s experiences. You know, I feel like I could talk about anything with you.
I mean, my daddy had some demons and 25 years ago it’s been since mommy and daddy left this earth in kind of a tragic way, you know. It’s probably no secret now, but daddy – how do you say it?
I don’t think I’ve ever put it in words before. But daddy took a gun and ended his life and took momma’s with him. So it’s kind of like how do you brace yourself to tell an audience that, even if you’ve gotten to a point where you’re okay with it?
So it’s heavy. I never want anybody to feel heavy when they see me all the time. But music has a way of softening the edges a bit and, even if it’s a story that’s difficult to tell one on one, music kind of softens the blow.
Tavis: Have you had the occasion yet to perform any of this live?
Lynne: Oh, yeah, and I love it.
Tavis: Tell me more about that because I was gonna ask whether or not it would be difficult getting through the performance as opposed to doing it in a studio where you can – but you survived this already a few times.
Lynne: Yeah. I went out and did a five-week run all around the country, just me and guitar. The record, I kind of played everything on my own on the record, so it’s kind of hard to say, “Musicians, hold back and don’t play really well.” [Laugh]
Tavis: Yeah [laugh].
Lynne: So I decided I’d do it myself, and it’s great. It feels like a whole different one on one with a group of people who care enough to come out and hear me play and sing my stories.
Tavis: So on this project, you let your inner Prince come out. You decided to play all the instruments.
Lynne: Well, yeah, I guess you can say I’ve got a little space out in the desert where I like to record and do my thing. I’ve got certainly enough instruments and stuff I’ve collected over the years.
Tavis: So give me a sense of all the stuff you played. I could read the liner notes, of course, but tell me all the stuff you played on this project. You did everything. What’d you play? Guitar, of course, we know that.
Lynne: Guitar mainly and bass and drums and I put a little piano in there. I don’t play piano, but I got some sitting around. I can play a note or two on them, you know, like tasty nuggets. You know, nothing fancy. I’ve just figured I would not hurt myself and keep it simple and soulful and let the words do the work.
Tavis: So what did you think of the experience of playing so many instruments on one project?
Lynne: I love it. I mean, I couldn’t fire anybody [laugh].
Tavis: Hey, you’re not playing that right [laugh]!
Lynne: Well, I did a lot of that.
Tavis: To yourself, yeah, exactly. A lot of mirrors in the room, yeah?
Lynne: A lot of mirrors and lots of cap-wearing and disguises.
Tavis: What is the experience like when the audience hears you sing this stuff live? How’s the audience responding to this, on that five-week run? What’d they have to say about it?
Lynne: Well, they’re really sweet and just listen to me tell my stories. I try to tell them ahead of time. You know, well, I’m about to sing about scrambled egg sandwiches and Folger’s cans in the car and learning how to sing three-part harmony with momma and sissy, and try to set it up softly so I can have a little storyboard for them, you know. But they’re just so sweet to me.
Tavis: What’s the upside? That’s a strange way to phrase a question because I know this isn’t calculated, to your point. It comes out when it comes out and it took 25 years for this to come out, so I get that.
But what is the advantage, what’s the value, of being so open with your hardcore fans, of revealing so much of yourself to your family? What’s the value of that?
Lynne: Because I just get nothing but love. I mean, you can’t get enough of that.
Tavis: Your sister, what’s her response to the project?
Lynne: I don’t know. She’s been on the road for so long. I think they’ve been in Europe, so we haven’t had a chance to discuss.
Tavis: I would think that conversation is gonna come at some point. When you put a record out this personal, at some point you and your sister are going to have a conversation about the project.
Lynne: Well, you know, we have two separate lives and a lot of love and it’s hard to come together with everything. You know, I’m trying to sometimes sit down and write some stories about my childhood and maybe one when I’m an old lady put them out like a book.
You know, it’s so funny how, when you have a sibling and be in the exact same situation and the same moment in time, and see it so opposite. You know, I discovered as I’m getting older in life how you can have a memory and you start wondering, well, is that how I really remember it? How do I write that down in a poetic manner?
Tavis: Just a quick question since you raised this. At the moment of this tragedy, you were how old and your sister was how old? I hear your point about people being in the same moment.
I wrote a book a few years ago, a memoir about my own life, and my sister and I – I have nine brothers and sisters. One of my sisters and I went through a horrific incident together and folk who read the book know about it. But it’s the same thing. Our lives went in two different directions after this incident and Phyllis sees things one way and I see things another way.
I just talked to her the other day. After all these years, plus 25 or 30 years, she sees things one way, I see things one way. She remembers things one way, I remember things one way. So I know what it’s like to be in that moment. But I’m curious as to how old you were at the time and how old your sister was at the time.
Lynne: Well, I was 17.
Tavis: Yeah, and she was?
Tavis: Okay, so that may have something to do with it.
Lynne: Yeah. I think that, you know, personalities differ and, as close as we are as siblings, we are just like the sun and the moon. And life does take you in another travel. I mean, you go in different circles and you just go what your path is.
But I have said, especially in the last year in my soul-searching, not having any fear of talking about my life or my situations, I feel like that no matter what demons daddy had and whatever course he took, his path led me to this one. So I’m grateful.
Tavis: This is what makes country music so good, though [laugh]. I mean, I don’t think there is a medium that is more open, more accepting, more available to storytelling than country music.
Lynne: Don’t you love it?
Tavis: The stories are just amazing.
Lynne: Yeah. I mean, you got to dig in there and find them.
Tavis: It’s a great medium and the audience revels in that storytelling.
Lynne: Well, I think everybody loves a good story, you know. I do.
Tavis: Yeah, but not all music delivers a good story. You may get a good baseline, you may get a good dance move, but not every genre tells you a good story.
Lynne: Yeah, this ain’t much of a dance record [laugh].
Tavis: I walked into that one, chin up, booty out [laugh]. You’re right. It ain’t much of a dance record. This, on the other hand, is a little more jovial, you know. I love this. First off, I love the cover of this.
Lynne: Thank you.
Tavis: Jonathan, can you put that up? I love the cover of this. That’s a great cover.
Lynne: Oh, thanks.
Tavis: Of the CD. It’s that season again and Christmas music is everywhere. Are you a Christmas music fan?
Lynne: I love it. I mean, I put a couple of my own on here, but when I sit down and listen to my regular chestnuts around the time of year, I like to hear the standards.
Tavis: It’s always interesting to me when people put Christmas records out because there are so many standards and how you choose what to do.
Lynne: It’s hard. I could have done a 20-song record, you know.
Tavis: Well, you got some good ones on here, though.
Lynne: Yeah, I love it.
Tavis: Are you a fan of the Christmas season?
Lynne: You know, I always get torn because do I put up a tree? Do I not want to put it up? Because I immediately think, well, I got to take it down [laugh].
Tavis: I think everybody thinks that at some point [laugh]. My dilemma always is when to put it up and when to take it down.
Lynne: And I live out in the desert, so it’s pretty dry out there.
Tavis: Well, anyway, I am delighted as always to have you on this program.
Lynne: And thank you.
Tavis: No, it’s my pleasure, Shelby. I mean that. I know the courage that it takes, given what I know of your life story over our many conversations over the years. I know the courage it takes to actually put a record out like this, so I appreciate it and I know all your fans do as well.
Lynne: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Tavis: And happy holidays to you.
Lynne: You too.
Tavis: So Shelby has two projects out. One, of course, “Revelation Road.” If you’re a Shelby Lynne fan and don’t have this one, you will want to get it immediately for your collection. You will learn more about why you so admire and adore her when you hear this project.
It’s the holiday season, so why not? “Merry Christmas from Shelby Lynne” is the Christmas CD. Shelby, good to see you.
Lynne: You too.
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