Joseph LeMay was living the typical singer-songwriter life in Nashville — working day jobs and pushing his music to the side — when he and his wife Molly decided it just wasn’t working. Instead, they moved into an abandoned mobile home on Molly’s family farm in West Tennessee where they could live rent free and LeMay could focus on his craft.
“Before we fixed it up, it was a disaster,” LeMay told CMT Edge. “Grass was growing in almost every room. There were more brown recluse spiders than I could count. There was a copperhead living in the closet. And the mice had stolen every bit of insulation from behind the walls and made a gigantic nest under the bathtub, which was pretty impressive really. But, when we were done with it, it was pretty damn nice — for a 40-year-old trailer.
“Winters were frigid. Springs were pretty wet until we finally found where the water was getting in. Summers were hot as hell. Fall was perfect, though.”
Gradually, LeMay found what he was looking for. His new album, Seventeen Acres, was mostly inspired by his time in the trailer.
“The isolation of the farm gave me the time and silence I needed to reset my perception and begin dealing with some fundamental issues of being human, personal demons and that sort of thing,” he said. “With so little human interaction and so few distractions to run to, when the work got hard, I could either go crazy, or I could work through it and maybe write a song about it. I did my fair share of going crazy, but I also wrote a lot of songs.”
With “Redwing,” LeMay finds a way to explain his feelings within a natural context. The careful, patiently swelling track was actually written before the move to the trailer, giving a clue as to the couple’s frame of mind leading up to their off-the-grid experiment.
“I wrote it when I was 19 while Molly was packing up to leave after a weekend visit,” he said. “I realized that how I felt about her leaving bore a lot of similarities to maybe a songbird you’d grown fond of leaving for the winter. That songbird scenario gave me a lot of visuals to work with — which is good for building a song around. So I took what I wanted to say to Molly and put it in terms that would make sense if you were singing to a bird. It’s a story about someone who can’t go and someone who can’t stay finding some compromise that works for both of them.”
Thankfully, LeMay and his wife saved up enough money to buy a modest house back in Nashville, but the trailer lives on as the artwork for Seventeen Acres and in his “Redwing” video.
“I’m still readjusting to the city and getting used to things like having a closet and a bathroom door,” LeMay admitted. “I’m sure we’ll spend many more nights in the trailer, though. Maybe we’ll make it an Airbnb thing.”
See Joseph LeMay’s “Redwing,” filmed in the 300 square-foot trailer that inspired his new project.