One of the sweetest musical success stories out of the greater Boston area has got to be that of Lori McKenna. As she says below, she’s just a “housewife” — a housewife who has an impeccable way with music and lyrics. She’s a woman whose songs speak to the hearts of people from all over. Just ask Faith Hill, Keith Urban, Alison Krauss, and any other number of country stars who have covered her songs. Her music is emotive; her words wrap themselves around melodies that are impossible to forget.
Here’s a perfect example of a song that captures a heartfelt message – a mother’s sincere reflection about her son’s transition into adulthood – “Grown Up Now.”
Much is said about you and your growing family. I’m wondering about your original family and what kind of exposure to music you had as you were growing up. All Music Guide alludes that your brothers provided you with choice recordings. True?
True – I was hugely influenced by my older brothers (I have 4) and sisters (1) musical choices. Especially my brother Richie who was the only other guitar player in the family. Everyone else played piano.
The fact that you are a mom to several children, you’ve gotten pegged as a soccer mom who plays music. Do your kids actually play soccer? ;-) Are any of them musically inclined?
I think people just like the term “soccer mom” — honestly one of my kids played ONE game of soccer and then they quit (in his defense he was only five and it was pouring out). All our kids played town sports over the years. Our youngest two are still involved in lacrosse and softball and football. I’m more of a “football mom” but I prefer the word “housewife.” HA. Our kids are all pretty musical. Two of our three oldest have hopes to chase music professionally.
Do you recall the first time you sang in public? Were you a frequent open mic participant?
I wouldn’t have a career if open-mics didn’t exist. I never would have left my house musically if not for those Tuesday nights. My first open mics were in Easton at the Blackthorne Tavern. It’s gone now but those of us who started there still miss it.
No – I never imagined it – my wildest dreams didn’t reach this far. I’ve been very lucky. And I don’t take a minute of it for granted. So I just keep trying to write songs that people just like me can identify with.
Do you recall when you first heard from folks in Nashville? While you’re a Massachusetts native, your sound is very much country and your geographic origins must take people by surprise a lot. When you first started writing your own songs, did you think of them as country tunes?
My first call from Nashville came from Mary Gauthier who is a dear friend and has moved there. She set me up with a publisher. My songs have always been very domestic and pretty simple. When you start writing songs – they tell you to write what you know – and so I did. I think commercially my music is more country than rock or pop because of its lyrical content. You can spin a song in a million different directions with some good production. There’s not too much difference between folk music and country music. We are all singing about the same emotions.
Time and time again, reviewers and fans say your songs are “comfortable.” You write about everyday events, typical people who could be your next door neighbors, and all the undercurrent is the raw emotion that weaves in and out of each song. Are you inspired by things you read, see in the media, hear on the street, all of the above? What’s the most unusual person / event / whatever that inspired you to write a song?
Songs start from all different directions – sometimes it’s just a title or a feeling you think someone is having or a feeling you’re having. But writing a song is like chasing a wounded bird down a road. It never goes in the direction you expect it to – it controls you more than you think — but if it works – suddenly it takes off. That being said – I’ve killed a lot of birds. But sometimes the song becomes bigger than you expect it to and it rewards you with its strength. This all makes me sound crazy — but it’s the fairest analogy I can come up with.
Recently I wrote a song called “Numbered Doors” that basically haunted me for days before I wrote it down. I almost didn’t want to write the thing and it just wouldn’t leave my head. In the end it’s a pretty sad story and I have no idea where it came from. I was kidding my husband telling him some spirit needed it to be written and I must have been the songwriter it landed on.
Is there another profession that you’d be interested in pursuing? Any wild dreams you’d like to pursue?
My goal is always the same – to just keep going and to keep improving. One of the blessings that come from a creative job is that there’s always room for growth. You can never truly master the craft so there’s always that spirit to feed it and chase it.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring songwriters?
I believe that songwriting is a giving craft. I never expected anything from it except a way to express myself and pass time singing to my kids – and it has rewarded me in ways that I never could have expected. The only way to get better is to keep going – and going – and going – and going. Listen to your heroes and figure out why they are your heroes. Write what you know (just like they say). And don’t over edit. If you don’t like the song – put it down and start a different song. They don’t run out. I promise – they don’t run out.
Learn more about Lori at her website.