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Talking With Lauren Morrow About 'People Talk,' Before Finally Friday

As nearby as it is, Atlanta’s music scene hasn’t influenced Nashville’s as much as one might expect. One welcome exception emerged in the 2010s when a country rock band called The Whiskey Gentry started passing through town a good bit. With spicy twang, hip humor, and the thrilling voice of lead singer Lauren Morrow, they became part of Music City’s extended family. Then around 2017, Morrow and her guitar playing husband Jason made it official, moving to Nashville and shifting Lauren’s outlook to a solo career under her own name.

Morrow released a self-titled EP in 2018 and then hit the studio in late 2019 to make her full-length debut album. It got done, but she postponed its launch in the face of the 2020 pandemic. We talk below about finding her producer Parker Cason, son of Nashville studio icon Buzz Cason, about steering toward a new personal style, and about waiting until the time was right to release the dynamic and eclectic People Talk, which came out March 31. Holler magazine called it “a confident step away from her previous Americana sound.”

Morrow plays WMOT’s Finally Friday at noon on April 7, followed by 25-year-old Jake Ybarra, who’s dropping his debut LP this week, and new WMOT favorite Eddie 9V, who’s injecting new soul into old school rock and roll.

My conversation with Lauren has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What were your first strong impressions and memories upon getting settled in Nashville?

I think that probably my early memory is just feeling so welcomed into this community. Jason and I made it a point to go out to see a lot of shows - more than in Atlanta. It was just so fun meeting new people, and it just felt so new and exciting, but didn't feel intimidating. It felt like we kind of always had been here in a lot of ways. Within a few months, we were already like, okay, let's start looking for a house.

Had you personally at that point decided to switch to a solo Lauren Morrow identity as a singer, and to leave Whiskey Gentry behind?

More or less. It took a lot of convincing, because it was really kind of Jason's idea. I was pretty terrified of it, you know, because (of) spending so much time creating a brand and a band. Starting over in my early 30s felt kind of insane, but Jason really pushed me, you know? And finally, the decision was made that rather than try and create a new band with the two of us or do a duo thing, it would just be Lauren Morrow. And so it was in the spring of 2018, after we'd moved here in September 2017, that we decided to record an EP just under my name.

I’d like to think that got people even more focused on your voice specifically, more than they might with a full band. Do you feel like that happened?

Yeah, I do. I mean, Whiskey Gentry was so fun, and we had such a good time as a band, and did so many great things together. But it's hard to sing everything at 180 beats per minute, and I tend to be pretty wordy. So I do feel like it gave me some space to explore my voice. And then even more so with the new record and having Parker Cason, our producer, push me outside of my comfort zone. It started with that EP, but then he got more ballsy once we got to know each other better. He was like, I know you can sing more. Go for it. Which is hard when you've kind of only experienced your voice in a certain way.

I'm gonna ask about Parker in one second. But just as a quick way of learning your background, what were some of the key landmarks on your way to pursuing your career as a singer?

So the very first time that I sang in front of people, I actually won this contest in Atlanta from our major radio station there. And it was in front of 90,000 people at Music Midtown with Butch Walker’s band Marvelous 3. That was in 2000 or 2001, and I was 15 years old. And I was absolutely terrified. I was terrified to meet him because I was in love with him. But then also, there were so many people that I think I blacked out on stage (laughs). And then the first time that I ever played a solo show, I lived in Newcastle, England. And that was a big deal, because I was always so scared to perform in front of people. So when I moved over there for a year, it felt like I had this freedom of no one really knowing me.

You mentioned Parker Cason. Tell us about him. Meeting him sounds like it was a pivotal thing for you. 

Yeah, so when we moved here, Jason and I were friends with Rob Crowell, who is a very talented musician in town. And he said to us, ‘I’ve got the guy for you to record your EP. You need to go to Creative Workshop. You're gonna love that place and you're going to love Parker.’ And it was just such a sweet time for us all because Parker had just lost his mother. And he had also just had his first daughter. And we all became so close through all of that. And from an artistic standpoint, Parker and I are the same age, and we have a lot of similar influences. And it was nice to meet someone who could see me outside of the country and Americana genre and say wait, one of your favorite bands is Radiohead, or Jeff Buckley or U2, and how do we kind of incorporate those things that you love? And he was really able to help us draw that out. You know, forget what you've done before. Let's just create something that represents you now.

Excellent. Well, let's talk about the title track as an example of that, from the beats to the saxophone solo, which I love. For somebody of my generation “People Talk” feels like a throwback to my teens.  

I love the band New Order, and a lot of their songs kind of start with a beat. And I had this idea in my head for the chorus of “People Talk,” and I wanted it to be kind of dancey. So in the studio, Parker just started playing the drums on a machine pad, and then he just threw the riff down on a keyboard. It all kind of just spawned from that. We went to the studio and threw a bunch of ideas at the wall, and it all kind of came together. And then Rob Crowell is the one who did the saxophone solo, which I absolutely love too.

“Looking For Trouble” is such a great song that’s been with you for years. Is this the definitive version in your mind, and can you tell me about the life cycle of that song?

Yeah, I think so. When Jason and I created that song and put it on Dead Ringer, the last Whiskey Gentry record, it felt like it was the first moment of departure sonically, like where I wanted to head. And I just felt so strongly that I didn't want it to just go away. And Parker felt the same. When he first heard us play it, he said there's a lot of depth to that song that we can really play with. Even just the different ways he had me phrase things and kind of breathe some new life into a song that we just didn't want to be shelved. And there was a lot happening there towards the end. Carl Broemel from My Morning Jacket plays the baritone sax on it. There's all kinds of really fun ear candy. And it's become a super fun one to play live too, because we kind of just go all out.

You talk about in the bio about just how much truth and personal experience there is here, and I'd love to ask about “Hustle” as an example of that.

You know, Jason and I spent a few years before the pandemic doing a lot of four-hour Nashville Broadway gigs. And they were such a great learning experience. I truly don't think that I would have my tenacity as a performer right now had I not been through that experience. Because it takes a lot of nerve to stand in front of people who sometimes don’t give a crap about what you're doing and can be rude and drunk or whatever. And you just have to learn how to be strong. But then we also had so many different irons in different fires at the time to just to pay bills. Jason has a painting business that has kept this ship afloat, and we just kind of did anything that we could to make money. And I personally didn’t really know how to do that until we moved here, because I've always worked a nine to five job, and I always in the back of my brain thought that's what people had to do. And Jason's always been a hustler. And that's when the song kind of popped in my head, cuz he was like, you gotta hustle, baby. And we were driving to Atlanta, and it just came to me. And the part about Jay-Z is because Jason and I always talk about Rock-A-Fella records or Outkast, who we love from Atlanta, and how if people don't jump to put their stuff out, they're like, well, we'll do it ourselves. And then you just hustle it yourself. And that's kind of been our business plan.

You open and close this album with a tone of regret and wistfulness. What's going on there?

The first few lyrics of (opener) “I’m Sorry” came to me after Jason and I had gotten into an argument and I was sitting in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant. And you know when you say you're sorry to someone, you just want them just to be over it? And they just won't forgive you immediately? That just bothers me immensely. And I think that's relatable in a lot of marriages or any relationship. And then (closer) “Birthday” is a true story about when I broke up with Jason on his birthday, which was not my finest move, but I was only 22. And it really freaked me out, because I knew I really liked him so much. And I was like, this guy's going to destroy me. And we broke up, and then nine months later, we got back together, and that song just totally popped into my head - the way you hear it now. And I played it for Jason. And he was like, that's my favorite thing that you've ever written.

Well, it’s an excellent album, but it took a minute to get from your EP to this release here in the spring of 2023. Obviously, the pandemic played a role, but can you just kind of walk through the journey of the last several years? 

Yeah. So, you know, we put up the EP and 2018, we were lucky enough to do quite a bit of touring off of it, and then we went, you know, spent the majority of the early of 2019, kind of writing the record and went into (Sound Emporium) studio in November of 2019. And had this most magical experience. We were like, oh my gosh, 2020 is gonna be our year. And then we all know what happened. And it just never felt right. It never felt like it was going to get its day in the sun or something if we released a debut album for a solo artist in the aftermath of a pandemic. And it was really hard, you know? There wasn't much control that any of us had over what was happening in the world. And all we could do was just know that we had an album that we loved, and just kind of wait until it felt like we could get the team and everything together to put it out and give it its due.

Following Lauren’s Finally Friday show, she’ll play an in-store set at Grimey’s on Saturday at 5 pm. She’ll tour in Sweden, Norway and the UK for the latter half of April and spend June in the States touring with Joshua Hedley.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org