Many were introduced to Courtney Patton's easily identifiable and easily embraced voice from her first album Triggering A Flood. Her eagerly awaited follow-up, So This Is Life, is due to be released on June 9th. The record is comprised of twelve original story songs that under the production of Drew Kennedy, are beautiful and simple, scaled back and gracious. In advance of the album release, Courtney kindly took the time to talk in depth and detail about the album, the stories behind the songs and more.
Congratulations on your win a few weeks back at Golf & Guitars. You played for Meals on Wheels of Erath County and your team won the entire event!
Isn’t that awesome?! Meals on Wheels is something near and dear to my heart. I used to be on the board of directors, so I know about funding cuts and just how hard it is to get grants. I don’t live in that town anymore but my kids go to school there. I played for them and thought if by chance I win anything that would be great, but we had the best team and we won the whole thing! I’m not by any means a golf pro; I’m decent at it and enjoy it.
That is indeed awesome. So onto the new record. Congratulations! So This Is Life is such a lovely album. You funded the project via Kickstarter, which you did with the previous record.
I did. Being independent, I don’t even have a booking agent; I do everything on my own, so this is really the only way I can make a record without having to go to a bank and take out a loan or find a private investor. I’m just not quite there yet you know, so I did it and had a great response. I asked for more than I did last time and I received more than I asked for, so it was really great.
When a record gets successfully funded, and surpasses its goal, that really speaks to the power of a fan base.
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. The last two years have been really, really good. I traveled across the states and even did a little tour in Europe and Canada with my husband, which we have never done before. We have a pretty solid duo-acoustic show where we sing on each other’s tracks and some we’ve written together. It’s really good because he’s been doing it a little bit longer than I have so the people that know me already know him. Getting out, leaving your comfort zone and playing in different areas, it works. It really does touch people and grows [a fan base] one at a time. In fact, I recently mailed the very last reward packages and I had a couple being sent to Japan, Canada and Switzerland.
Being that both albums were Kickstarter funded, what, if anything, did you do differently for this record than the last?
I went into this one feeling like I knew better the direction I was going. Last time when I made the record I was working a day job and wasn’t able to be as big a part of it as I wanted to be. It was my first full length record and I didn’t understand the process. This time I worked with my friend Drew Kennedy, who produced it. I love his record and that mellow sound he gets. I like how he makes songs sound so big with very little production. So I went to him and said "I want what you do but it’s got to be country," so we went into the studio with that in mind. He picked great players that were very good at being subtle. The album breathes a lot; there’s a lot of space, and there’s not so many instruments going at one time. I really wanted it to feel like when Willie Nelson was doing his own songwriting and had these concept records that were so beautifully arranged. I reference Merle Haggard’s Serving 190 Proof record a lot--it’s what I was going for with this one, to have the drum be the groove behind the slow songs, to make them not feel as slow as they really are (laughing). I wanted to do something that was reminiscent of the old Merle and Willie that I grew up listening to.
I think you succeeded and captured that mellow sound really well. When you listen to the record, it’s your voice that the listener hears as the main instrument while the others hang back, yet still provide atmosphere to the songs.
Thank you so much, that was exactly what we were going for. That’s what Drew said, he doesn’t ever like to have an instrument ever be louder than the lead and he saw my voice as the lead instrument on every song. So that’s really cool that you heard that too because that’s where he was going when we were putting things together. He wanted my voice to stand out above everything.
It absolutely does.
Are the songs all new, some you had in your pocket or a bit of both?
I had two of them in the pocket that didn’t make the last record, “Little Black Dress” and “Sure Am Glad.” They were trying to not put so many waltzes on my last record and Drew said, “What?! We love waltzes!”So we put them on this one. The waltz is my favorite signature to write in. I love the feel of a waltz; they fit my mood, my personality and the way I write.
All the other songs are new and there’s one cover song written by my husband, “Where I’ve Been.” He wrote it from a female perspective and as soon as I heard it I thought it was a beautiful song and I stole it! With this record, I really tried to put songs together that told a different story. It’s not a concept album, but the whole record is like every single story fits somebody else’s life, if that makes sense.
It absolutely does, each story definitely feels like a scene from a life.
There are a lot of waltzes on the record, but they’re not all sad. There are quite a few very happy songs.
I have my first love song, which is amazing! (laughing) It took me fifteen years to write a love song, but I finally got one! I wrote “Twelve Days” which is about being married to a musician. We don’t always get to be together and sometimes we go weeks without seeing each other. I wrote the song when Jason was on the road touring the mountain states. I knew what he was doing, so it’s me telling him all of the things I was doing while he was away. It is two weeks in the life of musicians who are apart.
It’s a lovely and detailed song, for example you mention spinning Little Green Apples and pouring some wine.
“Little Green Apples” is our wedding song. Drew sang it at our wedding and it was our first dance. If you notice, it’s the only line Jason sings on the whole record (laughing), which we did on purpose. It’s such a great song that just captures life. I tried to do that in the same way with “Twelve Days.”
It’s indeed a very personal song then. It seems like there are quite a few personal songs on the record, including “Maybe It’s You.”
Yeah, that one is. Jason and Jamie [Lin Wilson], Drew, Owen [Temple} and I formed a songwriting group where we challenged each other to write a brand new song a week and turn it in by Friday at 5pm. We challenged ourselves to write songs we normally wouldn’t write and that we probably would never put on a record, just to keep creative juices flowing. This is one of those songs that came out of that writing group. I was driving to a show in Austin and pulled over near a field and wrote that song. It’s about all of the things I learned through being unhappy that helped me find happiness and get to where I am.
“War of Art” is also about finding happiness.
That one is for my children. I’m not with their father anymore, he didn’t ever really understand the music or support it. He didn’t keep me from playing it, but he just didn’t like it so it was a big source of, not discord, but something we didn’t share, and that was really, really hard for me. I actually quit playing for two years to work on my marriage and be the wife I felt like I needed to be and the mom I thought he wanted me to be. I just realized in those two years that I was sacrificing everything that made up who I was. It wasn’t about going to concerts or playing shows, I didn’t even pick up my guitar at all. I wrote the song when I realized I did everything I could to try to make things right, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice what makes up who I am. I really believe I’m a better mother now that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s a song to my children trying to explain to them why a mother would quit her job to do something as unpredictable as playing music because it’s a lot of hard work and it takes me away from them. I try really hard to schedule my shows on the weekends I don’t have them and on Thursdays because they’re with their father. There’s a lot of juggling that I have to do to feel like I’m a good mom and not abandoning them to chase after my dream, but it’s admitting I know that sometimes I’m not there when I should be because I’m doing this and calling it my job.
It’s a difficult balance, being a wife, mother and having a career, a passion.
Sure. We’ve gotten pretty good at it and to an extent they like it. They like my friends and the experience of getting to see new places that my works takes me to. I try to take them as much as I can as long as they want to go.
Personally, you seem to be in a happy place, so where do you draw from for the songs of heartbreak and sorrow? Past experience, friends, observations?
A bit of both. A lot from past experiences. My parents separated and got divorced after 34 years of marriage--that’s where the title track come from. It’s not about blaming either one of them, it’s just about “hey this is life.” There were things stacked against them and in the end both remarried and are happy. Nobody wants it [divorce], nobody likes it and it hurts, but you grow from it and that’s life. It’s not the ideal situation, but it happens to families all across the world every single day.
There’s a song on here called “Need For Wanting” that I wrote that when I was driving home. I passed a bar down the road and saw a girl playing hard to get with a guy at the end of the night. He wanted her to get in the truck and she was pulling away, he’d pull her arm back and she finally got in. I laughed and thought how many times does that scene play out in bars? The girls blame the guy for being the bad guy and coming on strong, but really the girl is playing hard to get knowing they’re going to end up going home with a guy. I just try to look for things to tell a story. It’s not something I’ve never been really, really good at-I normally write straight from the heart and a lot of these songs are-but I pull from stories that I see or things that other people have gone through when I write.
The songs are very identifiable as is the album’s cover. It is very peaceful, and seems to capture the overall feel of the album incredibly well.
I took the cover photo of Triggering A Flood with my iPhone. The day and moment I took that picture was the moment I knew my life was about to change. We were in Arizona and I was about to get a divorce. I was going for a jog in the desert and it was about to rain and I thought that this was probably going to be the last time all four of us were together like this. I just knew it, I just had this feeling. It started raining and I started crying, so I took a picture to remember it and I put that on my cover. Triggering A Flood was about that- everything in my life turning upside down. Well this time, Jason and I went to Europe and our host took us to this little town called Zug and there is a beautiful lake there called Lake Zug. We spent the whole day walking around and we found ourselves at the lake in the afternoon. The sky was so blue, the grass was so green and the water was so pretty. We saw this old couple sitting on that bench with the two trees that were perfectly symmetrical and it was those trees, those two people sitting on that bench that I thought was so neat, so I took a picture. I liked the fact it was a couple together, but they weren’t sitting close together, they were just there, which I thought was kind of symbolic. I loved the picture and when I went to pick the album cover I thought that it couldn’t be more perfect. So in keeping with tradition, I put an iPhone picture as the cover of my record.
Finally, you close the record with the song “But I Did,” which has you singing in the final line, which was to me is a very real and relatable sentiment, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Oh, thank you. I played it for my mom and she said "That’s beautiful, but it’s so sad." I don’t know, isn’t the whole point in life that we’re just trying to be better every day. It’s like, I pretend to know what I’m doing, but I really don’t, but I hope one day I’ll get there. I think part of being creative is that you have to learn to get better at writing, singing or guitar playing. With being a parent or with anything we do in life I think the whole goal is to continue to be better because the idea of just sitting there being the same person every day of my life is just so incredibly boring! (laughing)
There’s a funny story about that song too. One day I was just skimming through twitter and I saw William Clark Green respond to someone. I don’t know who it was or what it was about, but he said those words “I didn’t really know what I was doing but I did it.” And I thought, man that’s a great song! So I texted him and I was like “Hey do you care if I take that line” and he said “Of course not, text me when you’re done.” So I sent it to him and offered to give him co-writing credits and he said of course not, he was just responding to someone and wasn’t trying to be clever or artsy, but I made it into an autobiographical song about myself.
I think people can take it how they want to take it but for me, it’s about me: here are the things I got from my parents and this is what I have that’s just all mine. Then at the end, that line…..I’m faking it til I make it I guess. We’re all just trying to figure it out.
For more information and to purchase So This Is Life visit her official website
Follow her on Twitter
Find her on Facebook