Ahead of the July 24th release of her upcoming album, The Balladeer, Lori McKenna remotely joins host – and fellow musician – Chris Shiflett for the latest episode of his Walkin’ the Floor podcast. In a 45-minute Zoom session prefaced by Shiflett’s admission that he has “been obsessed with her music ever since [her 2016 LP] The Bird and the Rifle came out,” McKenna talks about her songwriting process, her reasons for staying in the same New England town where she was born, and how lacking a Southern accent was a disadvantage when she started recording. Here are three things we learned from Shiflett’s chat with the Grammy-winning songwriter.
She’s one of Nashville’s most celebrated songwriters, but McKenna’s home base is, and has always been, Massachusetts.
McKenna lives 20 miles south of Boston, in the town of Stoughton, which initially caused some confusion when she began recording. “I literally fake a Southern accent because when I started singing in a studio, people would be like, ‘Hey, do you know you don’t pronounce your r’s? What word is that that you’re trying to sing?” I had all these problems with it where I didn’t know that I had a speech problem until I started singing in the studio. This was way before Nashville.”
Until about 15 years ago, McKenna had never co-written a song.
Making frequent trips to Nashville — sometimes there and back home in a single day — is commonplace for her now, as is writing with her fellow songsmiths while they are visiting or performing near her Massachusetts home. Today, co-writing sessions are common, especially via Zoom. But her first co-writing experience didn’t even happen until McKenna was 36 years old. “I love it,” she says of that process. “To me, co-writing just opened, like, a thousand doors in my head.” Some of her first Nashville co-writers were veterans including Mark D. Sanders, Liz Rose and a young Brandy Clark.
She’s won CMAs and Grammys, but her family’s grasp of her stellar songwriting career has taken some work.
“They don’t take me seriously,” McKenna jokes of her husband and kids. When she mentioned to her husband something her business manager said about the company that handles her touring, he was incredulous. “He said, ‘You have a company?’ ‘Yes, I have a company!’ It’s this big joke. I always joke about ‘Humble and Kind,’ because I literally wrote it just for [my kids], and then it became this thing that we were so blessed with. But the first time they heard [Tim] McGraw sing it, I said, ‘Are you hearing the words now?’ Because I know they don’t listen to them when I… you can’t make your kids think you’re cool no matter what.”