Tracy Lawrence had a bit of a challenge in putting together his new album, Made In America. He didn’t want it to sound exactly like his past records, or seem like he was cutting the same type of songs over and over, but he still wanted to remain true to his sound and make a traditional album that could stand on its own. He went looking for songs around town, but didn’t quite find what he was looking for. So he got busy writing.
“l’ve got relationships with some great publishing companies in town, and I went to a few places and asked for material, but it seemed like everything I was getting when I would ask for traditional country or honky tonk stuff seemed very, very dated, recalls Lawrence. “And I didn’t want to overlap things I had done in the past — I wanted this album to really be traditional, but I didn’t want people to listen to it and say well that sounded like ‘Sticks And Stones.’ or that reminded me of ‘Time Marches On.’ I didn’t want to make a record like that…I wanted to make something that really stood on its own, and I think we accomplished that. So being able to write to those holes of what I saw the album was missing helped. And I don’t know if people even listen to an album top to bottom anymore, but that’s still the approach that I use putting one together.”
He painstakingly assembled the collection over time in a very hands-on way, mining old catalog material and also working with longtime friend and producer Julian King, who had helped him craft career gems like “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” and “Paint Me A Birmingham.”
“I wrote toward this album, and it took about two years to put it together. I spent a lot of time working on it, thinking about the sequence, what the packaging was gonna look like, co-producing the album with Julian King. Julian was actually the second engineer on ‘Sticks And Stones’ all the way back in the beginning of my career, I worked through ‘Alibis’ with him – I’ve been working with him for a long time. He was the engineer and coproducer on ‘Find Out Who Your Friends Are,’ the engineer with James Stroud when we cut ‘Paint Me A Birmingham,’ so we go way, way back.”
The album’s title track, penned by Lawrence with Rick Huckaby and Paul Nelson, is a patriotic anthem that was inspired by nostalgia and a love for the things that make this country great.
“That was the very last song written for the record. I had this idea but I didn’t want it to be political, I wanted it to be very Americana ’cause I’ve never done anything like this before. I wanted it to reflect the way that I viewed America before, when there was pride in craftsmanship: when you bought something from the store, you expected it to last a long time, and it wasn’t a disposable thing. Just about pride in America, the pride in your town, in your local football team, and where you come from. I wanted it to reflect those kinds of things from America that I remember as a child. We literally wrote that song in about two hours, it came really fast. I think it’s real special and we’re actually opening up the show with it right now and by the second chorus people are singing the words so I think it’s impacting really well.”
On the opposite end of that spectrum is the cautionary tale of “When The Cowboy’s Gone,” a western-tinged tune with a bigger message about what happens and who will be there to save us when things become too far-gone in this fast-paced, changing world. “What I love so much about that song is the metaphor behind it, because the overall message about what this song says is about when our way of life and our culture changes when you get past the point of return, it’s never coming back. So I think the metaphor of this song is bigger than the actual song itself, if that makes sense. I really enjoy singing it, and I’ve actually got someone asking me to pitch it for a Western that’s coming out, so I think it’s going to find some places outside of the radio format to really reach people.”
Lawrence found much of the initial sparks of inspiration for this new album from an unlikely place, a friend on Broadway. He had been in a bit of a rut career-wise when his friend, Broadway actress/songwriter Katy Blake approached him about writing some songs for a new musical she was developing with fellow actor Peter Davenport. Lawrence and songwriter Flip Anderson went to work helping craft lyrics and additional music for Storming Heaven: The Musical, which was based on Denise Giardina‘s award-winning novel about the labor strife in the coalfields of southern West Virginia during 1920-21. The musical world-premiered in Morgantown earlier this summer.
“I met Katy thru an old friend Alex Torres, and she’s been working on Broadway for years. She and her co-writer Peter Davenport have both had very successful acting careers on Broadway. They met the writer of the book Storming Heaven that came out years ago and got her blessing, and wrote the play adaptation to the story. And we had tried to write some country songs together in the past, and she thought it would be a good collaboration to get together and write for this.
“The unique thing about writing for a play, and I did some theater in college, but writing for commercial music and for radio is a complete different thing than writing to a scene in a play. When you’re writing a commercial song you’re trying to paint the entire picture, trying to get as much imagery as you can with those words in three and a half minutes where that listener can close their eyes and go to that exact place you’re wanting them to go to. They still have the ability to see it through their own lens and through their own perspective. But when you’re writing for a play, you’re writing to a scene and you’re just a part of the overall message, and I thought that was very fascinating to be able to write from that perspective because I’ve never had the opportunity to do that before. And I really enjoyed the whole process of it all.”
For Lawrence, the project’s historical subject matter and totally different type of writing appealed to him and also fired up his creative cylinders again in a way he didn’t expect, inspiring a newfound love for writing and performing again.
“It really fired me up creatively working on that when I was working on this record. It gave me a lot of confidence. You know, we all go through slumps, and the last few years I’ve made a lot of changes, management changes and different things, and I’ve kind of been coming out of a creative slump. And I think all these little things I’ve gotten to dabble in have really put the fire back in me again. I’m enjoying being on the road again, I feel like I’m singing good again, I’m inspired by everything that’s going on around me, and I think it helps me enjoy my overall life and just the work that I do a lot better when I’m musically inspired.”
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