Interview with singer Allison Moorer

On Allison Moorer’s album, “Mockingbird,” the alt country singer spotlights contributions that women have made to music. Although her seventh album consists mostly of songs written by others, the well-chosen material–including a song by her famous sister Shelby Lynne — comes across as a highly personal artistic statement. I interviewed Moorer just after that album came out. The following is from that interview.

GENE: On the record you cover the Johnny Cash song “Ring of Fire” because not many people know that it was written by June Carter Cash, and that ended up being a theme on “Mockingbird” — showing people what women have contributed to music. Would you expand on that a little?

ALLISON: I wanted to shed a little light on the feminine voice as opposed to the male voice, which we frankly get enough of.

GENE: Is there an aspect of “Ring of Fire” that people wouldn’t get from hearing a man do it?

ALLISON: Not necessarily, but I do think the versions that I’ve heard are great — and of course the Johnny Cash version is a classic — we all love his version. But I wanted to bring out the beauty of the song. I started listening to the melody and I thought it was real- ly beautiful. That is one of the rea- sons why I chose to slow it down a bit and bring out that aspect of the song, and also the lyrics. It’s so plain-spoken. It’s really economi- cal. It captures what it feels like when you are first falling in love.

GENE: How did you go about picking some of the other songs on the album?

ALLISON: When I first decided to do the album, I thought it would be easy. I thought I knew who my favorites were and I thought I knew who I wanted to include. At one point, I had a list of 45 artists that I thought were so important that there was no way that I could do the album without including a song from each of them. I tried to balance it by including some peo- ple that really knocked down doors for women in the music industry, like Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith, and then combine that with my personal influences like Jessi Colter and my sister, Shelby Lynne. Then I also added contemporary artists like Cat Pow- er and Gillian Welch. I wanted it to be really balanced.

GENE: You’ve also said that you wanted to do this record of covers because you wanted to become a better writer … Did you get that from doing it?

ALLISON: I haven’t been writing that much. One of the reasons I made this record was to take a break from that process. When the songs are ready to come, they’ll come.

GENE: Tell me a little about “She Knows Where She Goes,” which was written by your sister.

ALLISON: She wrote it for the “I Am Shelby Lynne” album and when I started thinking about this album, I wanted to include something from her because it would have been silly for me not to. She’s my big sister. She’s been very influential on me musically and otherwise. At the same time, I needed something that she hadn’t put out because — even though we are very different, we can sound very alike. If I put out something that she put out already, it would have been like, “What’s the point?”

GENE: Is it a coincidence that you both went the same way in your music careers?

ALLISON: No, we grew up where we grew up. Therefore, we talk like we talk and the art we make comes out with a Southern influence. So the most obvious fit for both of us in the beginning was Nashville. We are both country music fans. At the same time we both made the mistake of thinking that we could do our music the way that we wanted to do it and make it in Nashville. But that’s just not the way that the system is set up. It just didn’t have anything to do with singer-songwriters at the end of the day, and that’s what we both are. [Coughs.] Excuse me, I am just cleaning off my husband’s desk and dust just flew into my face!

GENE: Being married to another musician, how do both of you make time for songwriting and your careers?

ALLISON: We have to be selfish about it and make sure that we both get it. Everything has worked out pretty well so far. I have made two records since we’ve been married and he’s made one. When I was making “Getting Somewhere,” he wasn’t working on an album. He had just put out an album. When he was working on “Washington Square Serenade,” I was getting this record together. So it’s not like I had to write anything while he was in the studio. The next thing that he is going to do is a record of Townes Van Zandt songs. So, while he is working on that, I’ll start to write another record. Things have a way of working themselves out if you make an effort.

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About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
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