Tenille Townes: Canada’s Reigning Country Queen

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TenilleTownesA born storyteller, Canadian country queen Tenille Townes continues to inspire fans on both sides of the border and beyond.

Known for her genuine nature and honest lyricism, the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter has not only built a career on the relatable and real, but on the belief we’re never alone, as long as we have music to bring us together.

At the end of June, Tenille released her latest track “Girl Who Didn’t Care”  — a call to action for those who have never stopped dreaming, no matter the odds.

The song marks a new chapter in the artist’s musical journey, dropping one year after her debut album “The Lemonade Stand” hit the airwaves — to thunderous applause.

The past couple years have been a whirlwind for the Alberta native, who has not only been honoured by the CCMAs, JUNOs and ACMs, but has also been hailed as the first female in Mediabase Canada history to achieve two No. 1 singles with tracks “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking)” and “Somebody’s Daughter”.

And let’s not forget to add raising $2 million for charity through her annual Big Hearts For Big Kids fundraiser, for good measure.

We recently sat down with Tenille (via Zoom, of course) to chat about the new single, her return to the stage, and where she continues to find inspiration, even in the most trying times.

Hello Tenille! We’re so happy to finally get a chance to chat with you. Why don’t we just start off, obviously, talking about the new single “Girl Who Didn’t Care”. Where did it come from? What is it about?
Thanks for asking about the song! I’m so excited to be introducing this new chapter of music with this track. I’ve been walking a lot this year, around my neighborhood, and there’s something therapeutic about just putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ve noticed lots of different sidewalk chalk art, and I hear a lot of neighbour kids laughing in their backyards. Something about that just made me feel nostalgic about, the seven or eight-year-old dreamer that I used to be. I feel like I owe so much gratitude to the courage of that little dreamer, and I realized I used to image getting to do the thing I’m doing now and I’m in awe. I think about that kind of courage — that fearless spirit — and that’s something that is so important for all of us to be able to hold onto, in some capacity.

I feel really inspired by all the little dreamers that I’ve gotten to meet along the way on the road and see out there singing along. I remember what that felt like, and it’s important to remember that. So, I wanted more of that courage in my life right now, and I think in my process of looking for that it was really fun to be able to write “Girl Who Didn’t Care”.

I wrote the song with two friends of mine that I had not met in person. We wrote the song on Zoom, and I learned how to record some vocals in my little music room this year and sent them to David Pramick, who produced the song and he put the whole song together from a very faraway place. He was actually out in Hawaii making this song, so it’s kind of made me feel like the track will always find a way to prevail, and I’m grateful for that.

We noticed a couple weeks ago you posted a little video of yourself as a little girl telling us all how you’ll be a famous musician one day. Is that archive where some of this inspiration came from?
Oh, my goodness yes, that is the fearlessness. It was the spirit that I used to have. It was without a doubt or a question I was going to grow up to be a singer, I was just going to be it. And I think that’s something special because at some point, that kind of relentless belief just starts to slip and fade as we grow up, so it was really fun to go back through some childhood memories and actually see a visual of what that little dreamer looked like. For me, it was strange and emotional. I’m glad there are some funny little gems out there to pull out and post.

How important is it for you to share those little snippets of your life with your fans?
It’s so important to me because I feel so grateful that we get to all be on this ride together. And to me, the ultimate goal of music — and the most beautiful part about it — is the way it makes us feel like we’re not alone in something. I love getting to share those parts of my stories and the things that I’m working through on my own path.

Music is my place to go and find understanding and a sense of belonging and it’s my greatest hope this music could feel like an invitation for people to be able to process that in their own hearts too. I hope that it makes people smile out there thinking about the dreamers they used to be too. It makes me excited to think about people remembering that.

What do you think little Tenille would say if she knew about everything you’ve done over the past three years?
I think she’d be like, oh my gosh, that’s so cool! She’d be freaking out. I really do think she would be.

Well, I should hope so! You’re not only our reigning CCMA Award Female Artist of the Year, but also the reigning songwriter two years in a row, as well reigning video two years in a row — not to mention that ACM Award. Now, you’re a JUNO Award winner for Country Album of the Year as well for “The Lemonade Stand”. After so much success south of the border, how cool is it to be shown so much love here in Canada?
It’s an incredible honor. I mean, even just hearing you say those things out loud feels really surreal, and I think what means the most to me is being recognized in those ways and to be a part of the community of country music that has inspired me, and also to feel that people have made the songs a part of their lives. They’ve heard the music and they’ve been lifted up by it. That’s an incredible feeling.

It must be really nice to not only have a close Canadian country music family, but a close American country music family as well.

Yes, it’s very surreal. It’s wild and wonderful to just feel like the communities on both sides have invited me to pull up a chair at the table. It’s people that I’ve just grown up looking up to and people who are my heroes and peers that are just making music that inspires me, and it’s really wonderful to be working on this path alongside them and to feel welcomed from everybody back at home in such a loving way. It really means a lot to me.

TT- Girl Who Didn't Care album coverGrowing up in Alberta, who were those inspirations? Who were those stars you looked up to?
Well, I was a very big fan of Shania Twain. I definitely knew all the lyrics and I loved those records. I’ve listened to them driving around in the backseat as a kid and obsessed over her. I actually got to go to one of her concerts when I was nine years old, and I made a sign that said, ‘Can I please sing with you?’ and I had my mom glue gun me this little costume to look like her outfit from her Miami concert DVD that I’d obsessed over.

I was singing along at the concert at the top of my lungs and she came around and reached out her hand and pulled me up on stage. That was a moment that lit a fire in me. It was like, OK, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I know that moment played a big part in encouraging that dreamer that I used to be. I really hope to get to pay that feeling forward someday to some kid either at a sold-out arena show down the road. I mean, I was such a huge fan of hers.

I also grew up really, really influenced by Carolyn Dawn Johnson, and I used to follow along to the whole “Room With a View” record. I loved that she was also a fellow Albertan, and it was really inspiring to listen to her music and think about her path to Nashville, as well.

Speaking of being on stage, you guys in the U.S. are in a way different place than we are right now in Canada. As of this interview, we haven’t gotten shows back quite yet. But have you gotten a chance to get back on stage this year?
I have! I feel so strange saying that because things are so very different back at home, but we have started things back up. We’ve played a handful of shows at this point, which have been such an emotional return to live music. It’s like my whole spirit and soul has missed it so much, and I’m really grateful to feel it coming back here and honoured to get to be a part of the Brothers Osborne tour this summer and fall. I look up to their music so much, and who they are as human beings.

I’m just really excited to get to be a part of that tour and I promise as soon as we get the green light for being able to come back across the border in an easy way, we will absolutely be there playing shows. I can’t wait to come home. I’ve been, you know Face Timing with my family and keeping in touch through this crazy time, and we’re all so excited for things to be lifted up there. I really can’t wait to get on the road and see everyone at home. So, I’m sending so much love until then. This has really been such a hard time.

After all of that time off we’ve all experienced, did you ever look back on any good tour stories you can maybe share with us?
Oh, my goodness! I definitely spent so much time reminiscing and missing those days so much. I have had the most incredible opportunities to open up for so many of my heroes and have had the time in my life getting to learn from them and watch them as entertainers on and off the stage.

Being out on Miranda Lambert’s Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars was such a dream. It was so fun to be out there with all those incredible female voices and we got to sing Fooled Around and Fell in Love every night at the end of the show. Those were such special moments to me.

Getting to open for Dierks Bentley on his Burning Man tour was such a blast. He really took the best care of us, and I got to sing Different for Girls with him up on stage at all the shows and it was just so fun. I got the chance to tour and play in the UK a little bit, and I played one of my first headlining shows in London. That night is one that I definitely hold very, very close to my heart. It was a surreal evening of hearing a small room full of people, you know, singing along to all the second verses of songs.

In addition, Rock the Park in London, Ontario, was really a blast too. I had such a good time. After getting to touch down in Canada, we learned about the CCMA Award nominations that day just before the show, and I really just enjoyed my time up there at home.

Are there any particular songs you notice people sing back to you more than any other?
I think I see a lot of people singing “Somebody’s Daughter” back, which really means a lot. That was sort of the first introduction off of “The Lemonade Stand”. The one I think catches me off guard would-be “Jersey on the Wall”, and hearing people sing along to that one and come up to me after the show and telling me stories about loved ones in their life that they’ve lost. That’s such a courageous thing to do and it really blows me away.

You can tell by the way they’re looking at the floor, like they’re stringing words together to tell me about something that’s so hard. It’s such a vulnerable thing to do and I’m amazed at the way the music just pushes down those walls for us and that makes those conversations feel a little easier. That is always such an honour, to get to hear about those people and get to hear their names what jersey number they were, what part of their story was and how much they’re missed. That really means the world to me just to see people singing along to that song.

TenilleTownes- black outfitProbably the No. 1 thing people say when you bring up the name Tenille Townes, is how you can relate to your music. I was watching your intro to the Grand Ole Opry in September, and the host said, ‘She makes us realize that we’re not alone in our feelings, and we can all relate to what she’s saying. Her music really brings us all together.’ Is that the hope?
Thank you for saying that! It’s really surreal to hear that because what matters the most to me is that the people can feel a sense of comfort in the songs, and encouragement. And just knowing that people can kind of insert their own stories into the songs is truly the greatest gift to me.

You’re very active in songwriting, and it’s obviously very important to you. Has there ever been a song you’ve released that maybe hasn’t been a single, but you think more people should check out and you have a deep connection to?
Well, I’ve been writing a lot of songs this past year that I can’t wait to start sharing them. There’s a few that haven’t been released yet that come to mind, but I would say the one that’s very close to my heart is a song called “When I Meet My Maker” that was inspired by my great grandmother.

I had just recently moved to Nashville and was writing a bunch of songs here and I found myself at this little rental apartment I was staying at. I just  sat down at the coffee table one day and picked up the guitar, and it felt like a very spiritual experience. I was missing her —  she was like the glue to our family. She would come to everybody’s events and she’d be dancing  all night and cooking everybody breakfast the next morning. She was such a tough cookie, and  she’d come to so many of my shows and sit in the front row drinking her lucky beer. I still miss her so much.

So, I was thinking about her and about the process of what it’s like to kind of say goodbye to somebody here on Earth. The day we recorded the song in the studio, I wore her earrings, and we were in this big church that had been turned into a studio. The day we did her song we moved our little setup to the edge of the altar. We’re running the song, to see what might happen — just to rehearse it. That run through is top to bottom the tape you’ll hear on the record. In that moment I felt really close to her.

That one’s got a lot of personal special meaning to me.

You say “Girl Who Didn’t Care” is kind of like an intro to what’s next for you. Can you describe to fans, what you have coming up?
I think I’ve written over 150 songs on Zoom this past year and writing music has absolutely been my way of being able to stay sane in this time at home. I’m really grateful to have music to turn to in that way. My favourite place to write from is the storyteller perspective — the observer — but I think this past year has really challenged me and has given me the space and capacity to sort of reflect on some more things that are happening inside. I think these songs are coming out a little bit more personal. So, I think that’s a big part of this new chapter of music.

And as difficult and interesting as 2020 and 2021 have been, do you have any highlights that have happened in the last year and a half? Looking on the positive side of life…
It feels so strange to celebrate positive things in a time when so many people in the world are hurting and going through isolation, and health problems around the world. But I’m so grateful for the moments of joy. I feel like this year has definitely taught me it’s so important to keep holding on to all of the moments that we’re given. I have an even greater sense of gratitude towards the highs and the lows of it and to have been able to release “The Lemonade Stand”, the record, during the middle of the pandemic will always be a part of that time of history to me.

It’ll make me smile, thinking about the fact that music came out during that time and it was definitely a huge highlight. We got to do a Big Hearts for Big Kids event, virtually, which was really cool — from the Ryman Auditorium.

And there is a fundraiser I’ve been doing for the past 10 years in my hometown for our local youth shelter where we partnered raising money for the Sunrise House back in Alberta, as well as raising funds for the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee Troop 6000, which helps young girls without permanent housing.

So, kind of combining those forces and planting the seed was a big highlight for me. Then, getting to play the ACMs was something I would say was a really big shining moment. Getting a Zoom call from Keith Urban telling me that I had won the ACM for New Female Artist of the Year and that I was going to get to play the show was a pretty crazy part of last year for me as well.

While it does feel weird to celebrate these things, at the same time it’s so important we champion even the smallest moment. And I know one of the biggest things for everyone during this is that you artists all keep making music, and that helps lift us all, because music is so important.
Thank you for saying that. That’s so kind, and I think you’re right, even the smallest things that make a person smile are a big deal. I’m really grateful you said that. I know I’ve turned to music a lot more this past year in listening to people’s records and just walking around my neighbourhood, and that’s been such a comfort to me.

So, I’m grateful this has been something that can still connect us all in such an isolating time.

Check out Tenilletownes.com for more music and upcoming tour dates.

 

Photo: JohnShearer
Photo: JohnShearer
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