If you’re not familiar with the artist Erin Enderlin it’s highly unlikely that you’ve not heard songs penned by her. Household names Alan Jackson, Reba Mc Entire, Randy Travis, Lee Ann Womack Terri Clark and Luke Bryan have all recorded songs written by her. Having said that, her capacity to create classics from real life stories for others should not overshadow her own distinguished recorded back catalogue. If you doubt my word, get yourself a copy of her wonderful 2017 album Whiskeytown Crier. With an extremely heavy workload she took the time out to fill us in on a whirlwind career that continues to blow like a hurricane!
I get the impression of an artist immensely passionate about your art with music running through your veins from a very young age. Give us an insight of when these seeds were sown and at what age you decided that music was your life’s calling?
I’m not exactly sure why I was so drawn to Country Music at such a very young age, but I know by Grandparents H.D. And Wanda Clinton had a lot to do with it. My grandmother and I watched a lot of TNN - The Nashville Network - Back then which had shows like the Ralph Emery’s Nashville Now and the Opry, which I adored. My grandpa was in charge of the record collection, and it one of my favourite things to go through records with him and pick one out to play. Music like the Statler Brother, Waylon & Willie, Conway Twitty, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. I honestly can’t remember a time before Country Music in my life. It wasn’t really a conscience decision as much as a lifelong love.
Was your initial passion for creating the words and stories or did the melodies arrive first?
I suppose initially it was lyrical because I was very good at playing musical instruments, thankfully I practiced a lot!
And the stories. From an inventive imagination or from people watching and eavesdropping?
Oh, they are from both. I suppose that’s the joke about being family or friends of a songwriter? No life story is safe from being turned into a song. Ha-ha
Which gives the greatest buzz, creating the story or putting music to it?
I think it’s both. Those magical moments when everything comes together just right and you know you have a special song.
You attended college at Middle State Tennessee. What did you study there and did the college’s proximity to Nashville have a certain appeal for a budding artist?
I studied the Recording Industry, Entrepreneurship, and Mass Communications. I 100% chose to go to MTSU because it was close to Nashville!! The program is great and I’m grateful to have gone there, but I had been itching to get to Nashville for a long time and that provided me with the opportunity.
Did the relocation aid your creativity?
For sure. I draw so much from being surround by other creative folks and Nashville has that in Spades. I got to see so many amazing writers, artists, and players perform and was constantly inspired and challenged.
Having your song Monday Morning Church recorded by Alan Jackson at an early age is the stuff of film scripts! Tell me how that developed?
It sure is! And not only Alan but on top of that Patty Loveless singing harmony!! I co-wrote the song with Brent Baxter when I was back in Arkansas over Christmas break one year. I started playing it out around Nashville and got really great response. I played it at an event where A&R executive Reese Faw was talking and she liked it and took it to her boss publisher Jeff Carlton. He liked the song too and paid for me to record it in the studio. Ultimately, he played for Alan’s producer Keith Stegall and the rest is history.
You subsequently signed an artist development deal with RCA Records. What did that entail?
Well I was given a budget to go in and record some of my songs with Jim “Moose” Brown and Frank Rogers. It was a great experience and I learned a ton. It didn’t end up being the right fit, but in a lot of ways it helped prepare me for where I am now.
You’ve since had songs recorded by Randy Travis, Terri Clark, Luke Bryan amongst others, and my personal favourite, Last Call - co-written with Shane Mc Nally - recorded by Lee Ann Womack. With a pedigree as impressive as this, is it more difficult to establish yourself as a performer also?
You know, I suppose it’s easy to try to put people in boxes and maybe I’ve had that happen a little - but overall, I think it is really helpful. I think people get a taste of who I am as an artist through other songs I’ve written and I’ve met so many amazing people through those songs that have helped me with my artist career as well.
The lack of opportunities for female artists in the country genre to get exposure on Country Music Radio is infuriating to us, so I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for the artist. There appears to be an acceptance and support of females as writers, yet less so as performers?
You know my hero Reba says you’ll never lose if you try to outwork other folks. That’s what I try to focus on. What can I be doing to move forward? I also try to be conscience of supporting other artists and writers that I love that happen to be women. There are so many incredible women out there right now writing and performing Kayla Ray, Ashley McBryde, Tara Thompson, Kimberly Kelly, Brandy Clark, Carly Pearce, Elise Davis, Alex Kline, and Emily Shackleton just to name a few.
I get the impression of Erin Enderlin as a very structured individual in career terms and prepared to endlessly graft across various industry aspects, whether it be writing, performing, publishing and, I believe, a tour guide at Country Music Hall Of Fame. How essential is this to you to have a number of balls in the air at any given time?
I don’t know if I should, but I’ve always been the kinda person that likes to bite off just a little more than I can chew. I love being challenged and learning different aspects of the music business. I was a tour guide at the Hall of Fame and also a Hostess at the Opry. Both were great experiences. I like being connected to the rich history of Country Music and I think it has helped me stay connected with why I fell in love with it.
Getting back to your writing. How do you compare co-writing with self writes and which comes easier to you?
I haven’t been able to devote a lot of time to solo writes in the last few years, but it’s something I want to take more time for. I’ve written a couple things by myself recently that I’m really happy with. I love the freedom to take the story exactly where you want it. On the other hand, I also love co-writing. It can bring a different perspective and energy to a song.
Is your strength in having to write to deadlines or do you need to wait for the moments of inspiration?
I think it’s a combination. You have to practice your craft to be prepared for the inspiration.
And in the song writing process, is writing specifically for yourself to record, an altogether different experience?
No because I basically just try to write the best song in the room on any given day, I don’t start thinking about who should sing it until it’s done. But if I know it’s a song I really wanna sing myself I might tweak it some to fit exactly what I as an artist want to say.
You’re on record expressing sincerely how you find the writing process therapeutic in dealing with anxiety. It’s an area that more and more artists are making reference to in more recent times. With the current means of communication between youngsters and teens reduced to tweets, often in abbreviated text, do you consider that more emphasis should be placed on the written word for students from a young age?
I think the written word is a great outlet for people, especially kids. When I volunteered at the Hall of Fame, I participated in a program they have to write with school kids. Some pretty powerful stuff came out of that.
Apart from your impeccable CV as a songwriter, you can also boasts having Chris Stapleton as a housemate back some years back. His unexpected yet thoroughly deserved breakthrough in recent years must be hugely encouraging for all artists not abiding by the Nashville Music Row rulebook?
Yes!! Chris and his wife Morgane are two of the most talented and wonderful people I’ve met. They have a very large cheering section in Nashville.
I hope you made a pact back in the day to include each other as a support act when either of you hit the big time!
Ha! No but I’d love to play with Chris again someday. He’s awesome.
He guested on your excellent 2017 album Whiskeytown Crier?
He did! I was lucky to have so many amazing singers and musicians on that project. Chris sings on two songs Caroline and His Memory Walks On Water.
It’s a wonderfully constructed album, with a collection of birds’ eye observations of a typical small town and the day to day occurrences. Is the concept based on real life or imaginary experience?
The concept actually came about after we recorded the songs. Jim “Moose” Brown and Jamey Johnson produced the album. Jamey got this idea listening to the songs about what if it was like a musical newspaper of this small dysfunctional town and Moose brought it to life beautifully.
It’s in the main through female eyes and not unlike albums that have hit the big time for writers such as Miranda Lambert, Brandi Clark and Kacey Musgrave in recent years. The main disparity being that the writing and lyrics are harder hitting and less sugar coated! Were you tempted to take the ‘safe option’ and be less direct, to attract the more commercial and conservative end of the industry market?
No, you know I was really influenced by a lot of the gritty, real-life stories in Country Music and it’s just something I seem to gravitate towards. I think sometimes I don’t even realize it. I’m at a point where I want to make music I’m absolutely passionate about, regardless of where I think it fits in. And who knows maybe that kinda stuff will come back around.
There’s so much to like on the album, Caroline, Baby Sister and Till It’s Gone are particular favourites. Coldest In Town, your duet with Randy Houster is also wonderful. It recalls a similarly delivered duet Once A Week Cheaters, by Kayla Ray and Colton Hawkins, on her Yesterday & Me album. I believe you had a hand in introducing that song to her?
Thank you so much! Yes, I love Kayla she’s truly a legend in the making in my opinion. A friend of mine had given me some old Keith Whitley demos and I had to share them with Kayla. That was one of the songs in that collection.
The emergence of the Americana genre seems to be drawing in more country artists/music in recent years, more often than not artists that are being bypassed by the pop/mainstream material impersonating country music. The fear is that genuine country music like your own, may fall between the cracks. Any thoughts?
Well I think there’s room for all kinds of music in Country, but personally I’m really drawn to the more “traditional” stuff for lack of a better word. I cannot get enough fiddle and steel and songs about drinking and cheating and dying. I think there’s a lot of other folks that love that kinda music. I’m trying to do my part to carry that tradition forward and I know there are other artists out there doing it too. I think as long as there are folks willing to work to preserve and carry forward those influences we will be in good hands, and I think they’re out there.
You’re due to head off shortly on tour with Jamey Johnson, which no doubt will be fabulous exposure for you. Can we expect to see you visiting Europe in 2019?
Yes! I am so excited to be out playing with Jamey. I have so much respect for what he does and it’s the kinda music I just love. I can’t commit for sure yet, but in the words of my magic 8 ball, “chances are good” that you’ll see me in Europe this year!
Interview by Declan Culliton