Tampa native, Colleen Orender started her singing career at just five years old performing in her grandfather’s country band. Teaming up with producer Michael Davey here in Nashville, her sound moved in a different direction that has drawn comparisons to Amy Winehouse, with a touch of James Bond. Colleen has been releasing singles, was featured on the Local Brew Live last year with her Christmas release, “Blame It on The Mistletoe” and she has just released a video for her new song, “Love Me Harder”.
AnaLee: I never would’ve guessed that you started out singing country music as your style takes me into a speakeasy, or maybe a James Bond film. I've had the good fortune of seeing you perform live and the last time was early this year at Rudy’s Jazz Room. I am really glad I was able to catch that show as that is the kind of setting I’d pictured seeing you in and it did not disappoint. Your band is fantastic and you delivered the songs to that room perfectly. Was the shift from country to a more blues/jazz vibe intentional or something you sort of fell into when you started working with Michael Davey in Nashville? Talk about discovering and developing your current sound.
Colleen: Thank you for the compliment I’m really proud of the players I get to work with, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the show, it was special to have you there.
I was a sponge when it came to singers when I was little. I would listen and watch Judy Garland and see the space she used in her mouth, and the energy in her body and that tone. I never took singing lessons; we all just sang. My Paw Paw definitely had a crooner voice. It was deep and rich and blue. Although country was his favorite and definitely what he wanted me to sing, he had great appreciation and skill for singing good music of all kinds. My Dad was a huge blues fan, and I was absorbing John Lee Hooker, Johnny Taylor, and BB King records in elementary school. I think the first song I ever remember the words to was “Statesboro Blues”. My Great Grandmother was a Big Band singer on my Mother’s side as well. I went through my Dad’s records all the time while he was at work, and when I heard Etta James or Nina Simone, or Sara Vaughn for the first time, I just knew that I could sing like that. I could feel it in my body when I sang like that. But it was no different from how I felt when I first listened to a Patsy Cline record. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Contralto too, but I could feel the way she made bright notes blue with the emotion in her voice. It was soulful and heartbreaking. So, I guess I’d have to say it’s the blue notes that made me want to sing jazz and blues. The way Sara Vaughn didn’t seem to need any effort or breath to slide the melody out like a trumpet or a trombone, that was something I wanted to do. It was something that needed to be perfected. I knew I had to sing for hours and hours a day to be good at it. Country taught my voice to be strong with emotion and tension, but I wanted to conquer the tone and the more complex melodies in jazz. I was singing blues already professionally, and while I was a musical theatre major in college, I really honed my taste for jazz. I was writing songs for a long time in different genres all my life, and I released different projects, but I knew I hadn’t really found the perfect feel yet, so I didn’t focus on writing for quite some time. I had been singing jazz and blues around Nashville and on the road for years. I was touring little towns anywhere I could and I kept writing song bits on cocktail napkins or whatever I could find. I called my best friend Nikki Williams and told her I was ready to start finishing these songs that were keeping me up at night, and she introduced me to Michael Davey to produce it. After the first session we had together it was obvious that we had something special, and Michael helped me merge all of the styles I wanted together. I wanted “The Company of Older Men” to sound like a soundtrack in a film and like one of those classic Etta records, and a gritty Denise La Salle record with a sort of cinematic pop feel. We haven’t released “Diamond Hill” yet, but you’ll hear a little bit of country Florida blues in that one too, when we get it out next summer. I wrote it about where I grew up.
AnaLee: “Love Me Harder” is your newest single and Americana Highways just premiered the video for it. Talk a little about the song and video.
Colleen: Love Me Harder was a fun song to write, and it’s really fun to sing. I’ve always been an observer of things, and I’m privy to late night conversations in clubs and hotel bars or wherever I am after shows. I wanted to write about those conversations. I wanted this song to be a light hearted female approach to the difference of libido in men and women as we age, and how we react to it. This video was shot all over Nashville, and in Waylon Jennings vintage limo, which was incredible. It’s extremely hard to crawl in and out of that car in heels I will say! I try to feature my female bandmates in all of my videos, but we let a couple of boys hang with us in this one, and I got to write the script at the top, and act a little bit which is one of my first loves. I hope everyone enjoys it.
AnaLee: Now for something entirely different, I really love your take on the classic Irish ballad, “Star of The County Down”. I didn’t know that song before hearing your version. Can you tell us what drew you to this song and why you wanted to record it?
Colleen: I have Irish on both sides of my family, but my Mother is very Irish, and I grew up listening to all of those jigs and reels, and what I call “pub songs” which is traditional Irish music. In fact, I got to meet my cousins in Ireland last year and see the family pub my family owned and operated by my Corcoran family where we all came from in Tuam, and that was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was the storybook place that I always dreamed of. “Star of the County Down”, was written in the 1800’s and was always one of my favorites mainly because when I was a kid it was special to me that it had my name in it. Some people don’t know Colleen means “girl” in Gaelic. Our first show to cancel because of the pandemic, was St. Paddy’s day at Rudy’s Jazz Room. I had the band learning that song, and once we realized we weren’t going back to work again for a while, I asked my players Christopher Collier and Lauren Saks if we could do remote recordings and videos for my YouTube channel to have something to work on. We decided to do that one first because we never got to play it live. I thought it turned out pretty good, and I sent it in to you, and you so graciously wanted to play it so I had it mastered, and I released it. I had no idea it would be one of my most streamed songs, and it actually was added to some stations in Ireland and a popular Apple Podcast called Irish and Celtic Music Podcast. So once again it comes back to your help Ana Lee, I’m so grateful for the support WMOT gives me and my music.
AnaLee: You’ve released a few singles over the past year, is this leading up to a full album or ep release?
Colleen: I’m still not finished with “The Company of Older Men” yet. It’s a body of work we are still creating, and we’ll finish songs and sit with them, sometimes for months, and write a new one and decide to release that one next. I kind of like this freedom to release singles like this because each one is its own story and its own thing, and we can go back to rough demos and say “ok, let’s revisit this one for the project, and this other one we’ll release as a single with a different feel.” That really gives me the freedom to release the music I want to create no matter what genre it fits in. We’ve had a single ready for two years called “Push Me Down” that I’m releasing as a single in January, but it’s not part of Older Men. I’m releasing my fun Halloween mixtape on the 23rd of October, and half of that has been done for three years, we just buckled down to finish the final track last week. And it’s an 80’s 90’s throwback. I would love to say we will be fully released by next summer, but we will just have to see what happens.
Colleen Orender, “Love Me Harder”
Colleen Orender, “Star of The County Down”
Ana Lee is on middays at WMOT, and is also the host of The Local Brew Hour, which airs Sundays at 7am and Mondays at 7pm on 89.5 WMOT and wmot.org.