While some songwriters make their heartbreak difficult or even downright painful to listen to, Allison Moorer has infused an individualized mix of confidence and hope into Down to Believing, her ninth release since her brilliant 1998 debut, Alabama Song.
As she tells CMT Edge, “I think that’s what the job of a songwriter is. It’s about holding up a mirror.”
That level of personal honesty doesn’t exactly come easy for Moorer, who went through a divorce last year, but she finds emotion more accessible through song.
“I tend to be a pretty private person,” she says. “So my songwriting is my chance to breathe out and connect and let everything out.”
Take a look at “Like It Used to Be,” then read a Q&A with Moorer below the player.
CMT Edge: The opening lyric to this album is “Change comes in like a rising tide” and the chorus of the same song says, “It ain’t ever going to be like it used to be.” Is change the overall theme to your new album?
Moorer: I would say it’s definitely one of them, for sure. More specifically, a theme would be the acceptance of change and how it’s really the only constant in life. If you can find a way to embrace that, it’ll make your life better.
What’s striking about Down to Believing is how you have crafted an emotional balance between heartbreak, strength, and honesty, yet there’s still hope woven in as well. Did you intentionally try to make sure that you included such a wide variety of emotional perspectives?
I think it’s just who I am. I’m constantly juggling and trying to keep everything going. If you’re not careful, you can become quite fragmented. I don’t particularly like it, but I am conscious of it and I try to be present in whatever I’m doing in each particular moment.
A song like “Mama Let the Wolf In” strikes such a strong emotional chord in the listener. Do you find it hard to be that vulnerable and confessional in your songwriting?
I find it hard not to be. With a song like “Mama Let the Wolf In,” I have called it my own personal “I hate autism” song. My son was diagnosed with autism about three years ago and “Mama Let the Wolf In” is about feeling powerless as a parent, feeling responsible somehow, and feeling anger and anguish about not being able to protect your child from something that is happening to them.
It is not an intellectual response. It’s a purely emotional one. It’s a mother’s exhale about those feelings. My hope is that someone will hear it and say, “Wow, I’m not the only one that feels this way.” It’s not just for me.
What inspired you to cover Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and what’s your connection to the song?
I’ve always loved Creedence and I love that melody. It’s kind of the perfect country rock-song. I thought it would fit in well with the rest of the record and I knew we would have a blast recording it. In fact, I think what you hear ended up only being the second take we did.
My favorite song off the new album is the ominous, blues-tinged “Thunderstorm/Hurricane.” Does this boozy, jazzy musicality feel like new sonic territory for you?
I feel like I may have mined that musical territory before because I’ve always had an attraction to that dark, heavy, emotional side of music.
There was actually something specific I was trying to do with that particular song. I try to pay attention to and participate in all kinds of art forms in whatever way I can. Whether it’s writing poetry or essays — I’m actually working on the second draft of a memoir of my childhood right now — or drawing or painting, I just like to pay attention to whatever artistic things I’m drawn to that are outside of the music world.
Recently I’ve become really interested in line drawings, which are done very minimally and are so well-executed that they only take five or six lines to create a representation that is unmistakable. I was thinking about how effective that simplicity could be whenever I was writing the lyrics to “Thunderstorm/Hurricane.” My goal was to present the image and the feeling in the least amount of words that I could. For me, it was an exercise in economy and directness.
To my ears, “Thunderstorm/Hurricane” has a really beautiful Tom Waits vibe to it. Does he influence your songwriting in any way?
Yes, I’ve been listening to Tom Waits for a very long time. I not only admire his songwriting but also the way that his records sound and are created. They are very interesting.
You know, there’s a little bit of Neil Young and Crazy Horse in “Thunderstorm/Hurricane,” too. I’ve always been very attracted to Neil’s way of making rock records. In fact, after hearing the playback on the day we recorded it, my producer Kenny Greenberg said, “Don’t we need a Neil Young Les Paul on this?” I was like, “Definitely!”
Speaking of Kenny Greenberg, how did working with him again impact the writing and recording process for you?
It was just the perfect time for us to collaborate again. I was at a point in my life where I really wanted someone that I trusted implicitly in there with me. I’ve known Kenny for so long and we have a way of communicating that’s very simple. Musically, I had this feeling that I just wanted to make a classic country rock record. I didn’t want to try to be overly artsy or try to go over anyone’s head. What you hear on the album is the sound of Kenny and I having fun.