Interview: Tenille Townes’ Debut Album, ‘The Lemonade Stand’, Is Full of Empathy, Faith
Kid Tenille couldn't have anticipated, however, that her adult self would be celebrating the big milestone during a global pandemic, and while people in the United States fight over wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, racial inequality and the removal of Confederate icons, and the upcoming presidential election. Perhaps, though, it's a perfect time for it.
Alberta, Canada native Townes possesses empathy in spades. You hear it in the 12 songs on The Lemonade Stand, and in conversation with the artist herself, who is thoughtful and insightful in ways well beyond her 26 years of life.
"I really feel like that's how I process how I feel about things, is to write a song about it, and specifically kind of from that observer perspective of going, 'Okay, imagine what that would feel like or what that would be,'" Townes tells The Boot in a phone conversation ahead of her album's Friday (June 26) release. "And to me, that's kind of like my way of talking about things that are hard, which I'm always up for getting to dive into in music.
"I think songs have a way of sort of pushing down the walls that we put up around things that are scary to us, and a song has a way of hopefully making us feel like we're not the only ones who feel that way."
"I think songs have a way of sort of pushing down the walls that we put up around things that are scary to us, and a song has a way of hopefully making us feel like we're not the only ones who feel that way," she continues. "And that experience is always in my desire behind creating a song. In some ways, it is intentional in some ways, and in some ways, it's just being a storyteller and just expressing how I feel about it, and then hopefully it translates to something bigger than that."
Having empathy -- meeting someone where they're at, examining their life experiences and understanding things from their perspective -- can be exhausting and hard. In some ways, it's why the global community is dealing with some of the issues it is right now. With a laugh, though, Townes says songwriting is exactly the opposite experience for her.
"It's the thing that, like, gives me energy and gives me life, actually," she admits. "I mean, definitely, some songs have more of a weight than others to them, and the importance of carrying that in an honorable way is always super important to me, to be making sure to focus on and pay attention to, but the experience of writing is very much a spiritual thing. And, for me, it very much makes me feel alive and full of energy."
That's not to say it's easy -- at least, not always. Townes points to "Jersey on the Wall (I'm Just Asking)" -- inspired by the true story of the death of a high school basketball player, Danielle from Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada -- as a song that took some, as she describes it, "internal wrestl[ing]."
"I definitely had to put that thought away to bring into the light with people that I love and trust," Townes explains. Co-writers Gordie Sampson and Tina Parol were the two songwriters she entrusted with helping her complete the job.
"This matters so much to me, and carrying this idea in a way that honors the people who inspired it," Townes says. "I was grateful to turn to them in that process."
Townes examines her faith throughout The Lemonade Stand, not only in "Jersey on the Wall" but in "When I Meet My Maker," which begins the second half of the record. Unlike the former track, the latter song came quickly and easily.
"I was at this little rental place [in Nashville] and sitting at this glass coffee table. I'd had a songwriting session that day and had just made some food and sat down and was thinking about home and my great-grandmother who had passed," Townes remembers. "I just miss her so much."
Townes describes her great-grandma as "glue" in her family -- that, and her great-granddaughter's ultimate fan. "She'd come to all these different concerts and sit in the front row in her lawn chair and drink her cheap Canadian beer," Townes shares. "She just was enchanting and the best teddy bear, taking care of everybody, and I miss her."
From there, the song fell out. "I just held the pen and listened," Townes says, "and it brought a lot of healing." When she recorded "When I Meet My Maker," Townes wore a pair of her great-grandmother's earrings in the studio.
"It very much does feel like, for me, the concept of faith and believing God is an everyday sort of conversation in my mind, and in my disbelief of how things work out and unfold."
Townes didn't grow up in one specific religion: "We didn't grow up really going to church, other than to weddings and funerals," she explains, though she'd occasionally go to Catholic services with her great-grandmother, and to a different church with her aunt. Still, she's always felt a higher power around her.
"I always had so many questions and was so curious about it, but I'm really thankful that my upbringing really kind of gave me the space to find my own sort of spiritual relationships ... that it was always like it's something that I got to build from the ground up with my own experiences," she reflects. It's natural to her -- beautiful and comforting, in fact, she says -- to ask those hard questions of God.
"It very much does feel like, for me, the concept of faith and believing God is an everyday sort of conversation in my mind, and in my disbelief of how things work out and unfold," Townes explains. "It's very much sort of in the fabric of the way that I kind of think about things. And It was really important to me, in the sequencing of this album, to let it sort of be that spiritual journey, of making sure that "Jersey on the Wall" came first to kind of know that you can have that wrestle and really just be honest with where you're at, whether it's angry or hurt or sad."
Unexpectedly off the road and at home in Nashville due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Townes says she's been reflecting quite a bit lately. It's strange for her to have so much downtime, and it's made her a little restless, but she's also found peace in it.
"I've just become so much more thankful for the road up to this point, and just excited about getting back out there," she shares. "Everything [to this point has] felt like the right time ... Even in this crazy time of the world right now, to be able to have the opportunity to put this music out and hopefully put a little bit of hope in people's tanks and in this season, it feels like the right time."
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