My name is Lori McKenna. I am releasing my 6th full-length studio record in April 2013. It is called MASSACHUSETTS. I’m a housewife and a townie. I am a songwriter – or song chaser depending on the day. A song can be a tricky thing – no matter how simple it is. And most songs have a tendency to haunt me. But I believe that blessings come in disguise and that demons do too. And that, if we work it out right, our demons can be our blessings.
The long version of the short story is that I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid. I grew up in a loving and musical family. I got married when I was 19. We have a bunch of kids. When I was 27 someone talked me into playing at a local open mic. By then we had 3 of our 5 kids and those kids unknowingly gave me just enough confidence to try something so out of character. The problem was – Boston has a tremendously nurturing music scene, and I fell hard in love with it – and they let me in. So I put out some records. I played shows. Faith Hill and Tim McGraw championed my little songs and I made some more records. I was on Oprah with Faith. I played the Grand Ole Opry. I played stadiums and clubs and church basements. And along the way I had a number of people hold me up and help me out.
The short version of the long story is that music has provided me with some of the most important and meaningful relationships in my life. I wanted to make a record with some of those people who have been part of my musical life since it’s very beginning. It was time to make a record in the community of musicians that gave me the opportunity to learn who I am as a songwriter.
My last three recordings were made in Nashville, Tennessee. I love Nashville deeply and if Stoughton, Massachusetts wasn’t embedded in my soul – I would most certainly live there. But I can’t NOT be here – in my home state – I need to walk on cobblestone every now and then and sit in traffic and look up at the Prudential Building and think of my father working for Boston Edison for 42 years. I need to unfold a Boston Globe on Sunday morning and rejoice in the announcement of a snow day. I live on Dunkin Donuts coffee and Town Spa pizza. I speak the language. And most importantly I know that some of the best musicians in the world live here. And I have the privilege to play with them. I call my band – my beloved band – because they have stuck by me for years. They are great people and great players – they understand my songwriter heart and bring my songs to life the way my hands wish they could. It was time to make this record here with this band.
Producer Mark Erelli weeded through about 70 songs before deciding on the 13 songs we tracked live in a barn in North Reading, Massachusetts – Chris Rival’s Middleville studio.
There is the darkness and there is the light: I am drawn to sad songs. I want to make you feel something. I don’t necessarily want you to see it coming. I’d like the feeling to surprise you. I think those moments make us feel alive. Make us feel human. Everybody has a sad song in their lives. We all have reasons to sit at kitchen tables under the buzz of that light above the sink. We all have a patch of floor for pacing. We all hold onto something we should let go of. Everybody has a story and every story should have a song.
Salt and Shake explore those darker sides. Salt was written around the title – some spur of the moment idea that I should write a song called “Salt” and then the hours and hours it took to actually pull it off. It’s more angry than sad and was only tracked because bass player Paul Kochanski campaigned for its survival. Right away it became one of my favorite tracks. Shake came one afternoon on my mini-piano – the one I can’t really play – the chorus seemed to write itself – so I left it the way it came out.
“Time does not waste itself
A dream can not wake itself
The truth can not disgrace itself
An unwritten prayer can not save a lost soul
Arms can not embrace themselves
A heart can not break itself
And I can not shake myself from you”
Susanna, written with Troy Verges at 9am over coffee during a stay at a winery in California last summer, is a prayer for a widower. Asking the long gone wife to help him through his afternoons now that she’s gone and begging “Susanna, what’s he gonna do without you?”
Sometimes the light is found in the in between spaces – In Susanna, it’s whispered to the sleeping widower. In Shouting (written with Barry Dean) it’s the reassurance “It ain’t that cold out – no baby it ain’t that dark”.
And other times the light shines a little brighter – as in Love Can Put It Back Together (written with Mike Viola) “You don’t have to feel this way – Love can make those feelings change”. It was written for our shared hometown of Stoughton, Massachusetts. Specifically for the aging and currently vacant Stoughton Theatre.
How Romantic Is That is years old – a flat out celebration of math-homework, minivans and high-school love that has aged itself into old love. We’ve played this song at every show I’ve done since it was written in 2007. It is the story of my life really. And when the hard times come and I’m not sure I can make the chorus sing true anymore – somehow – at least for now – it does – and that is remarkable to me. “You still want me, You still love me, You still lay there every night beside me, Every time you walk away from me – you come running back. How romantic is that?”
We decidedly kept the track list home spun. Which, I admit, isn’t hard to do even with 70 songs to pick from. Mark Erelli’s musical approach to recording Massachusetts was based around what best fit the lyrics. The core of each song was played live in the studio – anything that doesn’t sound perfect is because, well, music really isn’t ever completely perfect. To me and to Mark – the goal was emotion – not perfection.
If Massachusetts were a book and the songs were chapters, then together they would tell the story of a life. It’s not all my life. But some of it may be yours. Or someone you know. Or someone you bought coffee from, or sat next to on the bus one day.
- Lori McKenna (February 2013)