Nashville songwriter Liz Rose, who helped Taylor Swift craft many of her early hits, and who co-wrote Little Big Town’s Grammy-winning and CMA 2015 Song and Single of the Year “Girl Crush,” will soon release her own stories for the world to hear.
Rose’s first solo album, Swimming Alone, is essentially her autobiography in song. The album, produced by Nashville luminary Mac McAnally, will release May 12 via Liz Rose Records.
“First I never thought I would do it,” Rose says. “All these ideas started coming to me and I think ‘Swimming Alone’ was the first title. I also had ‘Grocery Money’ and ‘Yellow Room.’ I thought, ‘These are such good titles, but they are really my story,’ and I just don’t think I could use those titles and write about anything but me.”
Each title is intriguing, a gateway into a vignette from Rose’s coming-of-age in small-town Texas, a patchwork of love, pain, devotion, and yes, some rebellion and regret.
Rose welcomed a who’s-who of her closest songwriting friends, including Lori McKenna, Stephony Smith, Caitlyn Smith, Natalie Hemby, Lisa Carver, and more, to help her bring her intimate stories into song.
“Sacred Ground,” which Rose co-wrote with her Love Junkies cohorts McKenna and Hillary Lindsey, recollects the yellow brick house where Rose grew up, with the backyard where her sister married.
Originally, the trio intended to pitch the song to other artists, but Rose fought to keep the song centered on her own childhood story.
Rose says, “Really, these songs are all so personal, so everyone was really patient with me, to be able to say, ‘I need to write this, but we are not going to pitch it, because if we try to make it pitchable, it won’t be my song anymore.’ Everyone was really amazing to hang in there and do that with me.”
Several tracks trace Rose’s childhood, from the dreamy, innocent “Five & Dime,” and the wistful “Woodstock,” to the coming-of-age track “Tulsa,” with its line about being a California dreamer in a hot Texas town.
“I was a wild kid,” Rose says. “I wanted to run away and be a hippie. I was 13 and I got a wild hair, got mad at my parents, got scared that my best friend was running away and I thought, ‘I have to go and take care of her.’ With Corey [Crowder] and Lisa [Carver], we drank wine and beer one night and they were like, ‘Tell that story of Tulsa.’ So I got some nerve up and told the story.”
“Letters From Prison” details a teenage relationship with an ex-boyfriend who ended up in prison. “I was 14 or 15 and we were going to run away and get married,” Rose recalls. “He was a sweet guy, but he ended up in prison. He would write letters and send them here to the office.”
“Ex-Husbands,” a light-hearted take on her own marriage history, is at once unflinchingly honest and hilarious, with the punch line: I don’t have ex-boyfriends, just ex-husbands to my name.
“That tends to be the song everybody gravitates toward,” says Rose. “My husband and I hang out with one of my ex-husbands and we are very close. My current husband and my ex-husband think it is hysterical.”
“Yellow Room” began as an ode to a simple room, and ended up a tribute to Rose’s late father.
Rose credits collaborators Stephony Smith and Lisa Carver with kickstarting the recording process. “They made me go into the studio and begin recording. Stephony was the first person to make me get in front of a mic. She said, ‘Just sing.’” BMI’s Jody Williams also encouraged Rose to be the one to sing the songs to life.
Those instructions were no easy thing to accomplish in Nashville, which Rose calls “a songwriter’s town, but it’s also a singer’s town, and I’m not a singer.”
Smith, who stopped by Rose’s office during MusicRow’s recent interview, countered the notion: “I thought that you kind of sold yourself short and you had a sweet, innocent sound that’s kind of heart wrenching.”
Today Rose says she is at peace with where her life’s path has taken her; though in her stunning album closer, “My Apology,” she apologizes to anyone she may have hurt along the way, including herself.
“You go through those years where you go, ‘Oh, I can’t believe I did that. What are people thinking of me?’ Now it’s like, ‘That’s how I got here. I haven’t killed anybody. I hope I haven’t hurt anybody. And I hope I’m a good person, and truly, it’s my truth.
“I’m not going to lie about it now. I have to laugh at myself, and if my kids aren’t mad at me, I’m ok. All my brothers and sisters and my mom are talking to me. All my exes that are living don’t despise me.”
As for the prospect of more solo albums, Rose says, “This may be it. I feel like I’ve told my story. After I wrote ‘My Apology,’ I never thought, ‘I wish I could write this other song and put it on there.’ I feel like it’s finished and it tells a story. I’m good with it for now.
“I’m not trying to get cuts, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m trying to get a record deal or be a touring artist. I just had to do this for me, and I’m lucky enough to have the best songwriters, producers, musicians and friends around me. I just want to get it out and see what happens. I want people to discover it.”
Rose will celebrate the album’s release with a party at Nashville venue The Country on May 17 at 6 p.m. She also has hopes to perform some one-woman shows to share her songs and stories.
Rose’s willingness and fearlessness to spontaneously try new ideas seems to encompass her approach to most things, be it writing songs, starting publishing company Liz Rose Music, or opening her clothing and accessories outpost Castilleja, in Nashville’s Edgehill area.
“Everything I do, it’s like, ‘Oh that sounds like a good idea, let’s figure out how we do that.’ Just the fact that [Swimming Alone is released on] Liz Rose Records…if I had a plan, I would have thought of cooler names.”
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