Oklahoma Songwriter Kierston White Talks about the Music Business, Love Songs, and More
Oklahoma native Kierston White produced her first album “Don’t Write Love Songs” in 2014. The album received accolades for White’s punctuated, emotive vocals and thoughtful lyrics. Since 2014, White has toured across the country, including with fellow Oklahoman John Moreland, and continued her lead role in the song swap band Tequila Songbirds. White plans on releasing her second album next year. I recently sat down with Kierston at a coffee shop in Norman, Oklahoma.
How did Tequila Songbirds impact your early career?
I started Tequila Songbirds in the summer of 2014 when I was just starting to write my own songs. The band, which I named Tequila Songbirds since we played at a Mexican restaurant, was a song swap where local performers and some musicians on tour would stop by to play. I interviewed the performers between songs. From that experience, Elizabeth Forsythe, Camille Harp, Ali Harter and myself formed a band. I really started loving performing during this time and the band morphed into something beautiful. It helped people try new things. When I first met Elizabeth Forsythe, she told me she had been playing violin since she was five, but she didn’t know how to play with other people. (From the Tequila Songbirds Facebook page: “Musical sisters who gang up every now and again to share tunes with y’all and shoot the breeze.”)
How was it producing your first album?
I was getting a lot of pressure to make an album and I did not know how to get enough money to make an album. I did a Kickstarter campaign and earned about half of what I needed to produce the record. I planned on earning the other half myself. I like Kickstarter because it gives real music fans with money a chance to support bands.
Samantha Crain helped you produce your first album. How was it having a veteran singer help you with your first record?
Samantha Crain was the main producer and the album wouldn’t have come together without her. She had a vision for my songs after hearing me play with Tequila Songbirds and she helped me bring those songs to life. She also taught me that the order of songs on a record matters. The album sounds like a narrative, but at the time I didn’t realize that it was.
How did you learn to write thoughtful, dramatic lyrics?
I learned about juxtaposition from working with visual arts and from my brother. I would show my brother a lyric and he valued how I placed opposites next to each other. Visual arts are like that. (Kierston is a graphic designer in her spare time). Symmetry and asymmetry are really important in visual arts, like using light and dark to create contrast. You make the viewing eye go where you want it too
Which song means the most to you on your album?
Big Star. I like the fiddle on it (Forsythe). Every once and a while I will listen to parts of my album to remind myself where I am headed. Elizabeth’s fiddle makes a clear statement and the hurt, sincerity, and anger in my vocals reminds me that I love performing, even if I have to go a million different ways to make it happen.
I also like Ride On. That song was a dream, my only one the album. I can still see the house walking into it. It’s original title was “Creepy Dream Song” (she says laughing).
The title of your album “Don’t Write Love Songs” is a clever statement on the most common theme in music. What was your thinking with the title?
I had a shitty apartment by myself and nobody would come over.
I remember sitting in my writing space and thinking ‘if I could just think of something that wasn’t a damn love song, I would be happy.’ Love is the first thing that comes to mind, but I wanted to write on anything but that. I told myself, ‘Don’t do it, write something else!’
Kierston on writing lyrics when happy:
People often ask me how I can write if a boyfriend hasn’t broken up with me or if I am not in a tumultuous relationship. I tell them that you don’t have to be sad to write. There is plenty of sad shit out there if you really want something sad to write about. Sad songs are mainly on the surface, but you can dig a little deeper to write a good song. You also don’t have to get wasted and hurt people to write good songs, but some people tell me that they can’t write when they are happy.
Kierston on her next album:
I started making songs about characters and I now have enough songs for two albums, but I am going to just produce one. I have a couple of songs about a girl who makes bad decisions so she can generate material for songs, and I have another song about the music business. I take my time producing albums because I want the songs to be ‘ripe.’ Every lyric and harmony needs to be just where I want it.
Kierston on the music business:
I feel like I am in an Instagram war with the music industry. I was trying to book a tour recently and one manager told me that she couldn’t book me because I didn’t have enough Facebook likes; I just wanted to scream. I am thinking ‘you didn’t even listen to the album!’
I told a DJ who is a fan of mine that I was going to be in his area and asked if he wanted to do an interview. He said he would love too but that his radio station wouldn’t allow it. I obviously don’t get this business. If it starts to become an industry where only wealthy people can make songs, then the songs will suck.
Purchase Kierston’s Album, “Don’t Write Love Songs,” here
Like Kierston’s Facebook Page here
Like the Tequila Songbirds Facebook Page here
Interview by AltCountryandBeyond @altcbeyond and on Facebook