Motel Mirrors Reflect on Rockabilly and Classic Country

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Motel Mirrors’ self-titled EP backs buoyant rockabilly beats (“Meet Me on the Corner”) with strong songwriting chops (“That Makes Two of Us”). Bandleaders Amy LeVere and John Paul Keith spoke with CMT Edge about their debut collaboration.

“We specifically wanted to do an EP,” LaVere says. “You know, it’s a side project for both of us, and an EP suited the project as opposed to a full-length. It’s not meant to be something overly ambitious. It’s just capturing a brief moment.”

CMT Edge: Explain how the band came together.

LaVere: J.P. would borrow my drummer from time to time, and we’d met a few times, but the band just came together as something to do, really. We both travel a lot and then we come home, and neither of us has real jobs. To be honest, we needed some work, and we knew that we would collaborate well with a duet project. It came out to be such a nice fit that we decided to make a record together.

Keith: It was something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I’m a big fan of the old country duet records like Conway [Twitty] and Loretta [Lynn] and George [Jones] and Tammy [Wynette], and I’d never been able to get together with anybody that I felt was the right thing. I’d wanted to get together with Amy. I wanted to write for her or play guitar for her because I thought we were kindred spirits. It just kind of lined up.

Did you write the songs specifically for this project?

LaVere: J.P. wrote a handful, and there was one co-write that was an old song of mine that I brought to the table. He fixed it. That’s about as much co-writing as I’ve done in my whole life, really. I’ve never sat down and co-written a song.

Tell the story behind the song you co-wrote.

LaVere: That’s “That Makes Two of Us,” the last track on the record. It originally was a song of mine called “Rebound.” J.P. wrote the lovely chorus for it. It’s about two lonely people. She’s his rebound, and she knows it and she says, “If you’re alone with me, that makes two of us.” It’s a pretty sweet little song, but it’s about two people being co-dependent on each other to make up for what they don’t really have.

Keith: She had it entirely coming from a first-person perspective, and it occurred to me that you could make it a duet by including the viewpoint of the person she was singing to in her version. She was kind of stuck on it, and I put in that other perspective and added a chorus.

Does the record have a common lyrical theme?

LaVere: Cheating. (laughs)

Keith: (laughs) That’s not entirely true. No, that’s not true at all. “Suddenly You” is more of a love song, and “The Best Mistake I’d Ever Make Again” you can take as a cheating song, but it’s not necessarily. Some of the stuff we do live like “After the Fire Is Gone” by Conway and Loretta, yeah, those are definitely cheating songs, but on the EP there are only one or two.

How did “Meet Me on the Corner” take shape?

Keith: That’s kind of a classic thing. In my mind, I was thinking Dan Penn and “Dark End of the Street” and that kind of lyric, but musically looking for more of an Everly Brothers sound with the big, chugging guitars and two-part harmony. I wrote it neutral enough that you could split up each line male/female and make it an actual duet. That was a lot of fun.

Amy, describe J.P.’s greatest asset as a songwriter.

LaVere: Well, he’s always been a crafty songwriter and a classic songwriter. He’s not trying to be weird or reinvent the wheel. He’s really talented knowing what works structurally and how songs connect with people. He’s unashamed and unafraid to use the formula.

J.P., describe Amy’s.

Keith: She can think of things that other people can’t — a line or perspective that some other writer might not notice at all. She’s a lot of fun to work with, and that’s very important, too. She has a great sense of humor and is really a positive person. I like working with people like that.

Will you guys follow this up with another album?

LaVere: We enjoyed the process so much and we love playing together. It’s just a blast live. As long as it continues to be inspired, we’ll do it. We’re each working on our own things, but I’m sure when we have some down time next year, we’ll get back to playing some residency gigs around Memphis. If we come up with some new material that we feel is worth recording, I’m sure we’ll make another record. We really do enjoy it a lot. We miss it when we’re not doing this. I’m sure we’ll have one more in us.

How does living in Memphis shape you both as songwriters?

LaVere: For me, Memphis is a town not entirely dissimilar to New Orleans or Austin, a town that really supports and appreciates its characters. There’s nothing formulaic about Memphis that you have to adhere to. It really inspires and suits my personality well. It’s very freeing artistically. There’s not a specific scene or style that would shape you. In Memphis, it’s all over the place.

Keith: There are a lot of great songwriters in Memphis. What I like is that no one gives a damn whether something is commercial or trendy. That thought process doesn’t even enter their mind. It’s never a factor. It’s very different from Nashville in that way. Memphis is just very open-minded and creative and eccentric, so if you write something really off the wall, nobody says, “What are you doing? You’re crazy.” The criteria is only is it good or not.

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