Already being hailed as a contender for “Americana Debut of the Year,” singer-songwriter Dori Freeman is preparing to release her self-titled, and self-penned, debut album on February 5th. Mining heartbreak, Freeman explores the push and pull of relationships via varied musical landscapes, all unified by her versatile, pristine vocals. Ahead of the album's highly anticipated release, Freeman graciously took the time to talk about her roots, the record and more.
Your voice is immaculate. How long have you been singing and when did you decide to pursue music?
First of all, thank you that’s really nice. I've been singing pretty much since I was a little kid. I didn’t do anything serious until elementary and middle school when I was in the choir. That became my main way of singing and performing until I was about nineteen or twenty when I started performing in front of people on my own. I always had the idea of singing in the back of mind, but I never knew if I would actually be able to do it. I sort of took the college route for little while, but eventually, I realized that music was what I really wanted to do.
There are many different musical styles represented on the album. Is that representation influenced by the way you grew up in Appalachia, what you listen to, or a combination?
Yeah, I think that’s largely in part to the way I grew up. I grew up in a small town in the mountains of Virginia, called Galax. The town and my family definitely had a huge impact on my style of singing and songwriting. My dad and granddad are both musicians and both were big influences on my love of music. Dad teaches traditional music for a living and plays the mandolin and fiddle [Freeman herself plays guitar]. He exposed me to many kinds of music at an early age by playing a variety of music on the record player: jazz and swing, old country, and bluegrass. My family also runs a frame shop where every Friday night there would be a traditional music show. I grew up surrounded by seeing people play bluegrass, old-time, traditional folk and mountain music. I’m very proud of where I’m from and I try to always have a touch of that in my music one way or another.
The album was funded via Kickstarter and will be distributed by Free Dirt Records. How did you connect with them?
The project, which was produced by Teddy Thompson, was Kickstarter funded, but we did not have anyone on board to put the record out when we made it. Once it was finished, we shopped it around and Free Dirt was very interested in working with me as I was with them.
You mentioned Teddy Thompson. There is a really incredible and inspiring story of how you came to work with him.
One day, sort of on a whim, I sent him a Facebook message through his fan page telling him what a big fan I was, along with a little video of me singing. I figured the worst that could happen was he wouldn't respond, but a couple of days later I got a reply. He seemed really interested and wanted to hear more, so I sent him some more music. We exchanged emails and talked on the phone few times, then he brought up the idea of producing a record for me.... which I couldn’t believe. We met in Nashville, did the Kickstarter and recorded the album over three days in New York City at The Magic Shop.
Was working with him a pretty collaborative process or did you put things in his hands?
Working with Teddy was wonderful. The first thing he asked me was if I had enough songs to make a record….and I did. We picked several and tested out different ones, letting him help me weed out the ones he thought would be good for the record and others that we’d maybe use for something else. He wanted to make sure everything was simple, and really centered around the songwriting and my voice.
Your voice is definitely the centerpiece of the record. It’s able to move between musical styles and convey so much, including heartbreak, which is represented quite a bit on the album. At twenty-four where do you draw from? Your own experiences, others, or something else?
I would say it’s 80-90% from experience. I was probably going through some tough stuff when I wrote most of these songs. They’re all about different time periods and things that happened in my life. And most of the time when I write, I tend to go to that heartbreak place - everybody’s been through that.
There is one track, “Song for Paul,” is there a story behind that one?
I’m trying to keep the Paul part a secret, but really there’s not even that much of a story behind that one. He was a musician I met and was sort of smitten over. I didn’t really know him that well and never saw him again after that, and that inspired that song.
The song that closes the record, “Still A Child” is melodically very pretty, but it lyrically sounds like a bit of a kiss-off to the guy you’ve been dealing with throughout the entire record, saying like, ‘I’ve tried and I’m finally done.’ Is that a correct assessment and if so, was it intentional to place that song last?
No, you read it right, that’s what it is. That’s actually a really good question you asked. We played around with track ordering quite a bit and that is what we wound up going with, but I hadn’t thought about actively putting it at the end because it was a send-off or a goodbye, but now that you mention it, it was probably some Freudian subconscious decision.
A little under a month away from it's release and already NPR, Bluegrass Situation, and Rolling Stone Country have had wonderfully positive things to say, one even calling the record the contender for Americana Debut of The Year. Is that exciting, do you feel pressure or maybe a mix of both?
That’s funny you ask that because I was just having this conversation with my mom. I wasn’t expecting to be on any of those lists; it’s like it came out of nowhere. I never thought the record would get this much attention so I’m over the moon, but I also feel really scared in a way; kind of overwhelmed because I want to do a good job performing these songs and deliver what people are excited about. It’s a little bit scary and overwhelming, but mostly I’m just incredibly excited and happy.
Are there any plans to tour supporting the record?
I’d really like to, but I don’t have anything clearly mapped out yet. I have a two and a half-year-old little girl, so I have to make sure she is taken care of or can come with me. But I really want to get out and perform these songs live, that is something I am really excited to do.
Being that 2016 is gearing up to be a big year, is there any goal you set or anything you would specifically like to accomplish?
You know I try not to do that because then I would obsess over reaching whatever that goal is. I’m just trying to go with the flow and be happy when things happen. I don’t have anything specific in mind.
I hear you and can understand the obsessing part.
Finally, I always like to know is there, is there one recent album that you cannot stop listening to?
That’s a good question. Let’s see, some stuff I really like...Josh Ritter and Father John Misty. I know as soon as I get off of the phone I’ll think of others, but those are the two big ones that come to mind.
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