"It’s completely autobiographical. When I was reading my childhood journal years ago and kept seeing the question, “Will I ever be pretty?” it kind of stuck with me" We chat with Stephanie Lambring
There are so many albums released in these days of access anywhere, anytime, streaming that it becomes easy to gloss over so much of the music released. Not Stephanie Lambring's Autonomy though. It's a heart wrenching, beautifully written, and just plain wonderful ten songs. We spoke to Stephanie about the making of it, the honesty of it, and what sort of Christmas tree she's having.
Hey Stephanie, hope you’re very well.
Hi Max! You as well.
Thanks! So, set the scene, where are you right now? And what have you been up to today?
I am in my house in Nashville, TN. I watched a pre-recorded live performance I did on WSMV Channel 4 this morning and then had a FaceTime writing session with Ashley Ray and Caroline Spence. And then I walked my dog and cried listening to 'Maggie’s Song' from Chris Stapleton’s new record. It’ll get ya.
Introduce yourself to those who don’t know you.
I’m a singer/songwriter based in Nashville, and I write about heavy topics with sometimes uncomfortable honesty. The rest of the time I laugh a lot.
Tell us one thing about you we won’t find on your website bio or Wikipedia.
I was valedictorian of my high school class.
The “about” section of your website simply says “In the five years since she walked away from her publishing deal, singer-songwriter Stephanie Lambring has taken a step away from music—and returned to make an album on her own terms, titled Autonomy, out October 23rd.” - that’s very mysterious. What have you been up to?
I guess it is kind of mysterious, isn’t it? I’ve been waiting tables, traveling all over the country (and all over Iceland a couple of years ago), and recalibrating creatively.
Can you explain what a publishing deal is for those that might not know?
Sure! It’s when you get paid to write songs. You sign a contract with a company, and they own some percentage of the publishing on every song you write for the duration of the agreement. A standard Nashville publishing deal requires 12 “cuttable” (aka “good enough”) songs per year. If you write one “cuttable” song by yourself, it counts as one full song. If you write it with one other person, it counts as half. And so on...hashtag math. You get paid monthly like a salary, but it’s an advance. Before you see any money you’ve generated, your publishing company has to recoup all the money they’ve spent on you.
The perks of having a publishing deal are the connections your publisher has to get songs to artists, getting to meet so many fellow creatives in writing rooms, and the camaraderie of your publishing family. Oh and getting a little money thrown your way is nice, too.
What can you tell us about Autonomy in two sentences?
I wrote the kinds of songs I love to write and recorded them the way I wanted to record them. It’s been such a fulfilling process, and it’s a deep dive into the human experience.
What was the most interesting thing that happened during the recording of the album?
Probably when I accidentally backed into a Universal A&R exec’s car when I was leaving the studio one day. Whoops!
‘Pretty’... man, that’s a tough song. There are so many stand out lines like “I stuck fingers down my throat/To fit into my skinny coat” What can you tell me about the song?
It’s completely autobiographical. When I was reading my childhood journal years ago and kept seeing the question, “Will I ever be pretty?” it kind of stuck with me. And yeah, that particular line is intense. Thankfully, I wasn’t good at bulimia. I tried, but wasn’t successful.
The whole record sounds very personal, the opening track seems to set the tone. Can you tell me the background the ‘Daddy’s Disappointment’?
Sure. Growing up, I felt a lot of pressure from my parents to excel academically. I thrive in a school setting and I’m naturally an achiever type, so it suited me, for the most part. Then when I started playing music, the pressure found its way there. Many parents stress the importance of a “real job” and dismiss their child’s interest in a career in the arts. My parents were the opposite, which was good in many ways and complex in others. It almost felt like I had to do music. Add in five years in the Music Row publishing world and a tendency to people-please, and it was quite a web to untangle.
I knew I needed to take a break if I wanted to salvage my creativity, so I left my publishing deal and waited tables. After a year of not writing anything, I was challenged by Grammy-winning songwriter (and restaurant patron) Tom Douglas to write again. “Anyone can write a song in two weeks,” he said. So I went home and started on 'Daddy’s Disappointment'. That song set the tone for the level of honesty I wanted for my record.
Hailey Whitters said that ‘Joy Of Jesus’ “stopped me cold... As I listen to it this morning, it’s somehow hitting me even harder” how does it feel that your music has that kind of impact on people?
It’s really moving. And validating, especially after spending so much time with crippling doubt about my writing. When I hear feedback like that, it makes me feel like I am living out my purpose.
‘Old Folks Home’ is heartbreaking but also an accurate portrayal of it all. I don’t have a question really, I just wanted to say how much I like that song.
Oh, thank you! It’s definitely intense. It feels important to tell stories of those who are often overlooked.
How difficult is it to write songs this personal, and then sing them in a studio?
Writing them and then singing them in the studio actually feels quite natural to me. I love to dive deep and lean into uncomfortable places when I’m writing. As far as recording goes, if you have a producer you trust and gets you and loves your work, singing the songs is an amazing experience.
Is there a kind of cathartic nature to making music, or is that a myth?
I think it’s definitely cathartic! If I’m writing about something personal, I usually have done some healing before I try to write about it. And writing about it helps me process it further and acknowledge pain that still needs to be acknowledged.
On another note, I think I’m better at singing about my most vulnerable thoughts and fears than talking about them in real life. I tend to deflect with humor at times when I don’t feel like “going there” in conversation. I also will do anything to avoid conflict at all costs. That’s definitely an area where I desire growth.
Do you see releasing these songs brave, or is your role as an artist to talk about the tough things in life?
Both! I do feel a certain boldness releasing these songs. I also feel that my gift as an artist is to lean into difficult topics. That’s my wheelhouse.
What was the last song you wrote for the album? And how did it fit into the feel you were aiming for?
'Birdsong Hollow'. I’d had the concept for a year or so, but thought it would be on the next record. I didn’t think I could write it yet. But then it really seemed to fit with the rest of the songs, so I developed a sheer determination to make it happen. I actually finished 'Fine' while working on 'Birdsong ...'. It provided a balance to the heaviness of 'Birdsong ...'.
Who’s your most famous friend? And how did you meet?
Hmmm...I don’t know if I have a truly famous friend in my inner circle! I have several friends making huge splashes in the country and Americana world who are on their way to being famous, though! I’ve waited on Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Alison Krauss...does that count?
If you could recommend one song to hear this week, what would it be?
'Sunday Morning' by Tyson Motsenbocker.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
Real tree or artificial tree for Christmas? Real tree.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
French-pressed and strong with an absurd amount of cream.
To find out more about Stephanie visit her official website. You can also check out what she's up to on her socials: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. You can hear Stephanie's amazing album Autonomy on Tidal, Spotify and Apple Music.