"I didn’t write those songs. Those weren't my personal experiences. Every single song on this album is" In conversation with Lauren Alaina
For a former American Idol contestant five years is a huge gap between your debut album and its follow up. Still Lauren Alaina hasn’t been resting during that time, she’s had a challenging time in her personal life but it’s led her to place that’s hugely rich from a career perspective. Her second album, Road Less Traveled, is personal and brilliant. We caught up with Ms Alaina recently to talk about how her tough few years have led to grow up quickly.
Hi Lauren, where are you at the moment? At home or out on the road?
For the first time in a month I'm at my house.
Is it good to be home?
It's nice to be home, for sure. I mean I love to travel, but I got to sleep in my bed last night, that was good.
So, you’ve been gone a while, I guess what people want to know is what have you been up to for the last five years?
Oh my Lord. How much time do you have? I'm just kidding. Basically, I went out on the "American Idol" tour, we put the record out right after that. And then worked a couple of those songs from that album and then everything about my life changed.
I had an eating disorder really bad, so I had to get some help for that. I overcame that, and my parents went through a divorce. My dad's an alcoholic. And my mom asked him for a divorce. And thank goodness, he checked himself into rehab and that was his breaking point, everybody has to get to that point. And then both of them remarried other people.
And I had vocal cord surgery. You name it, it happened. But I felt like I lived a country song. I lived one country song after the next for the last four years. But it gave me the album of my dreams. If dad hadn't been an alcoholic and I hadn't gone through something like that I wouldn't have 'Same Day Different Bottle'. If my mom hadn't asked him for a divorce I wouldn't have 'Doing Fine'. If I'd never had an eating disorder, I wouldn't have 'Road Less Traveled', the song. I wouldn’t have 'Pretty'. I wouldn’t have all of these songs. Because those stories made this album happen and this album was so therapeutic for me to get through all of those things.
OK, wow. Is it important then for you to have delivered the album as you have, and talked about and written about those things? Has that been an important part of this process for you?
The most important thing for me, for this album, was for me to tell the truth and re-introduce myself; tell everybody where I've been. I love that you asked me so, where have I been? Because that's exactly what I want to answer with this music. And I want people to get to know me. The first album, I'm so proud of it and as wonderful as that process was, I didn’t write those songs. Those weren't my personal experiences. And every single song on this album is.
And I'm just excited to kind of re-introduce myself, and to really share who I really am. I think it's so important. Some of my favourite artists are the most real, pure artists you can find. And I have had a lot that's happened to me and I feel like other people have gone through similar things, and I wanted to be able to share my experiences. And relate on a totally new level with those people.
I don't want to talk too much about American Idol, but do you think the first album is one of the downsides to doing that kind of show, in that it is all kind of written for you and you're given something that you have to record?
Absolutely. You know, someone said this to me recently, that that first album was my "American Idol" album, and this album is my Lauren Alaina album. And I think it's so true because that show is such a huge blessing. I have so many fans who have been so dedicated to me for the last five years. Most fans wouldn't hang on for five years waiting for new music, and they did! Because they're just dedicated and loyal fans. So I'm so thankful I did the show and it changed my life forever. But I definitely think that this is my... this is my start again. I get to start over and really tell my stories this time.
I'm assuming that you wouldn't have chosen to take five years out to record a second album, but as awful as some of the things that have happened to you have been, it's given you kind of that more personal take on stuff that you might not have had if you'd just knocked out an album in two years.
Here's the thing. I didn’t even plan to write those songs for the album. I wrote them for me because I was just really losing it. [laughs] I was just having a really hard time with all of those things. And I think when my dad went to rehab, that postponed everything. Because I went home to help take care of him. And then after that, when my parents started to get remarried and other things happened and I was in shock and that postponed things a little bit.
And a year after my dad went to rehab... he went to rehab in September, October. October 6th, to be exact. And then the following August, I had to have vocal cord surgery. So it was pretty much a solid year and a half of speed bumps slowing me down. But I'm thankful for those things because it pushed me to write this album. Otherwise, I would have just written another feel-good album about things that I thought needed to be heard on the radio and I didn’t write songs thinking about that, I wrote songs that I needed to hear to help me process what I was going through. And it just so happens that they're being played on the radio! [laughs] So that's not too bad.
And so the whole songwriting process, it was quite cathartic for you? It helped you, it wasn’t a difficult thing to do?
It was definitely difficult, because most of the songs on the album I wrote with at least one other person, if not two. And it's scary, I was new to town pretty much. A lot of these people that I'd written songs with had been in Nashville for years. And they know exactly what to say and what to do. And I was going through so much at the time that had so much to write about, but I was nervous to share those things with people. A great example of that is 'Same Day Different Bottle'. It's a song about my dad's alcoholism.
I was a nervous wreck to write that song. We never talked about my dad's alcoholism, it was a big secret, just not something we discussed. I didn't write the song until after my dad went into rehab. He went to rehab and I pretty much wrote it the next day. I was with two people I'd never really written with, and I cried my eyes out the whole time, but sometimes you just have to do that. That was a good lesson for me; to learn that it's okay to be vulnerable because all of us have got stuff going on. None of us are perfect. Music is about telling the truth and everybody kind of being fine with that in their own way.
You get much better songs when you write through honesty and also through personal experience because otherwise you're making stuff up and you're trying to be a bit too clever in what you're writing about when you're not coming at it from your own point of view.
Yes. I spent too long trying to write hits, and not writing them. When I quit trying to write hits, I wrote one. [laughs]
Did you choose people to write with because you knew their stuff, or were you put together in a room because somebody else knew them?
A little mixture of both. Some people I was a big fan of, and other people... I had a publishing deal with Warner Chappell so it's basically their job to set me up with songwriters that they think I would write well with. There's so much that goes into whether you vibe with someone in a writing session. So it's kind of like dating, you find the people you like and you work with them a lot. So I'm thankful, I got five years to find the people I write well with. It'll be so interesting to see what the next album, how much easier it's going to be, or not. Because I felt like I I had enough time to write three records, not just one.
I read somewhere that you've got a load of other songs that you haven't necessarily done anything with. Is that what happens, some of the stuff that you've already written you might revisit at some point?
Yeah! There are definitely songs that I've written that I haven't put on here that I may put on future albums, that I'm really pumped about. Just sitting... you can only put so many songs on. So we shall see. There are definitely three or four that I'm definitely looking at to put on the next album. When we're getting ready for the next album, I'll go through my catalogue and I'll listen to them and see if there's anything that stands out that deserves a home on the album. And we pitch the other songs to other artists. So there may be other artists that swill sing these songs so they're not just sitting around doing nothing.
Do you think that would be a weird thing for you, if somebody picked up one of your songs, recorded it and started singing the things you'd written?
It's a big goal of mine actually, to make that happen. You know, I've been writing songs since I was nine so I just feel like someone else singing one, that would be really cool. Really... just another notch on... I write songs and I relate to them because they're my songs and my stories, but it would be so cool to see someone else take their own spin on that and to make it something.
Is that kind of thing more prevalent or more obvious for you now because you're in Nashville? Because that's very much a songwriter's town, right? There are songwriters everywhere.
I never even thought about other people cutting my songs before I moved to Nashville. Like, I just wrote songs for me before I moved here. But it's probably the kind of goal of mine in the last two or three years. Nashville's my favourite city in the whole wide world. I'll never leave here. I love it so much.
You mentioned earlier 'Pretty' and the title track. They're about body image issues and that kind of stuff. Was it important for you to write and record those, and again tell the world that some of the issues that you've experienced?
Oh, I would say that has been my biggest issue, by far, personally overcoming my insecurities. And just being confident and comfortable in my own skin. Not letting other people affect me. I used to read comments online and they would make me cry and cry and cry. And because I was insecure I gave those people the power to affect me, and I don't do that anymore because I'm in a much better place. And I just think that there are so many girls and guys and men and women who have insecurities who feel like they're not good enough.
That's false. Because we're all good enough and we're all unique and beautiful in our own way. But I feel like that's what I want to say as an artist overall. I kind of feel like it's an underlying theme will all of them. 'My Kind Of People' has that, 'Doing Fine' has it... all of the songs really go back to that "you're good enough" theme. And that's what I really want my message to be as an artist. So it was important for me, yes definitely, to write those songs. And those are the two more personal songs. 'Road Less Traveled' and 'Pretty' are about my personal journey, you know.
The world's a difficult place sometimes when you've got all these avenues for people to say really horrible things without any sort of comeback or having to worry about it. Do you think by releasing those songs, that will have an impact on other people who are being abused online, who are reading things they don't like?
I really hope so, because I just wanted those people to know that they're not alone, and I know how that feels. It's horrible. But those people only have that power if you give it to them. And I just want to say that as loud as I can at the top of my lungs at every show every single night. People only have control over you if you give it to them. And our flaws make us beautiful in our own way. Everyone's different. We have flaws, we have beautiful things about us, and we should celebrate all those things because they make up who we are.
You mention singing live. Do you find it more difficult to sing more personal songs in front of an audience?
You know, 'Three' is really hard for me to perform live because it makes me cry. Almost every time I perform it. It's just such a personal song about the sacrifices that I've made for this career and the people I miss back home, my family and friends who have made sacrifices for me. And the fans who have made it worth it for me, my dreams are coming true and I would do it over a million times.
But the hook of that song is about missing home for six years, three minutes on the radio. And I've tried so long to get my songs on the radio. And I've had six singles. The first five did decent, they didn't do what you would hope for a song to do. My highest charting song before 'Road Less Travelled' was in the top thirty. Number thirty-five or something. And now, it's sitting right at four or five in the charts right now. [Ed - the song actually got to number one on the Country Airplay chart after we spoke to Lauren, the first female artist to do so for almost a year!] And it makes me emotional because of the journey I've been gotten to, and now I actually do have three minutes on the radio. And it just makes me so emotional. It's such a hard song to sing anyway because it's just so rangy and such a big song, that crying through it is very difficult. [laughs]
Obviously, a lot's happened to you over the last few years. What's the biggest difference between you today and what you were like when you finished American Idol?
Oh my gosh. I'm happy. [laughs] I'm happy, and I'm in a really good place. And it's not that I was unhappy then. I was just confused and I was a scared sixteen year old girl. And now, I'm a driven twenty-two year old woman. And I think that I'm in a much better mental place. All the things with my family have kind of worked themselves out. Things with myself have worked themselves out. And I just think that I'm in a really good place now. I'm excited for the future. I'm excited for the future instead of being scared of the future.
You can listen to Lauren's second album Road Less Traveled on all good streaming services as well as buy it anywhere you might buy music.