My name is Lori McKenna. I am releasing my 6th full-length studio record in April 2013. It is called MASSACHUSETTS. I’m a housewife and a townie. I am a songwriter – or song chaser depending on the day. A song can be a tricky thing – no matter how simple it is. And most songs have a tendency to haunt me. But I believe that blessings come in disguise and that demons do too. And that, if we work it out right, our demons can be our blessings.
The short version of the long story is that music has provided me with some of the most important and meaningful relationships in my life. I wanted to make a record with some of those people who have been part of my musical life since it’s very beginning. It was time to make a record in the community of musicians that gave me the opportunity to learn who I am as a songwriter.
Producer Mark Erelli weeded through about 70 songs before deciding on the 13 songs we tracked live in a barn in North Reading, Massachusetts – Chris Rival’s Middleville studio.
There is the darkness and there is the light: I am drawn to sad songs. I want to make you feel something. I don’t necessarily want you to see it coming. I’d like the feeling to surprise you. I think those moments make us feel alive. Make us feel human. Everybody has a sad song in their lives. We all have reasons to sit at kitchen tables under the buzz of that light above the sink. We all have a patch of floor for pacing. We all hold onto something we should let go. Everybody has a story and every story should have a song. We picked 13 songs that reflect the darkness and light of an average life.
Salt and Shake explore those darker sides. Salt was written around the title – some spur of the moment idea that I should write a song called “Salt” and then the hours and hours it took to actually pull it off. It’s more angry than sad and was only tracked because bass player Paul Kochanski campaigned for its survival. Right away it became one of my favorite tracks. Shake came one afternoon on my mini-piano – the one I can’t really play – the chorus seemed to write itself – so I left it the way it came out.
Susanna, written with Troy Verges at 9am over coffee during a stay at a winery in California last summer, is a prayer for a widower. Asking the long gone wife to help him through his afternoons now that she’s gone and begging “Susanna, what’s he gonna do without you?”
Sometimes the light is found in the in between spaces – In Susanna, it’s whispered to the sleeping widower. In Shouting (written with Barry Dean) it’s the reassurance “It ain’t that cold out – no baby it ain’t that dark”.
And other times the light shines a little brighter – as in Love Can Put It Back Together (written with Mike Viola) “You don’t have to feel this way – Love can make those feelings change”. It was written for our shared hometown of Stoughton, Massachusetts. Specifically for the aging and currently vacant Stoughton Theatre.
How Romantic Is That is years old – a flat out celebration of math-homework, minivans and high-school love that has aged itself into old love. We’ve played this song at every show I’ve done since it was written in 2007. It is the story of my life really. And when the hard times come and I’m not sure I can make the chorus sing true anymore – somehow – at least for now – it does – and that is remarkable to me. “You still want me, You still love me, You still lay there every night beside me, Every time you walk away from me – you come running back. How romantic is that?”
We decidedly kept the track list home spun. Which, I admit, isn’t hard to do even with 70 songs to pick from. Mark Erelli’s musical approach to recording Massachusetts was based around what best fit the lyrics. The core of each song was played live in the studio – anything that doesn’t sound perfect is because, well, music really isn’t ever completely perfect. To me and to Mark – the goal was emotion – not perfection.
If Massachusetts were a book and the songs were chapters, then together they would tell the story of a life. It’s not all my life. But some of it may be yours. Or someone you know. Or someone you bought coffee from, or sat next to on the bus one day.