Pam Tillis is an artist who literally has country music running through her veins, her father being the legendary Mel Tillis. Growing up in Nashville, she was determined to find her own way in music and her career has included dabbling with many different genres including pop, jazz and rock (she has had her songs recorded by artists including Gloria Gaynor and Chaka Khan), living for a brief time in California before returning to Nashville to commit to country music in 1979. A performance at the Bluebird Cafe led to her getting signed to Warner in 1981, a record deal with Arista followed several years later with many of her albums being certified platinum and spawning multiple chart hits including of course “Maybe It Was Memphis” .
She has garnered many prestigious awards and nominations over the years, including winning CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1994, and was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2000. Pam has also acted in guest spots on television and stage, including appearing as herself in seven episodes of “Nashville”
Having launched her own record label “Stellar Cat” in 2007, she has since self-released several albums including her last album of original material, ” Rhinestoned” .
Back in February this year she announced the upcoming release of her eleventh studio album and first solo album of original material for thirteen years, ” Looking For Feeling” due on 24th April, the lead single and title track being available now.
Belles and Gals have been fortunate enough to have a sneak preview of the album, and Pam kindly agreed to answer our questions regarding the new music and her career in general…..I hope you enjoy the read!
1. LH Please can you describe where you are as you are answering these questions…..to help paint a picture, like any good country song should!
PT Right now I’m sitting in my dining room. I am at the dining table that I got when my mom passed and i suddenly remember I always set on the end and she would sit in the seat right next to me on the right.
Just as I’m starting this interview, a moment. I’m looking out the window and it’s a glorious Spring day.
2.LH Obviously when you set the release date of 24th April for your new album ” Looking For A Feeling” you had no idea of how different the world would be by then. But looking at the positives, most people will be happy to have new music to look forwards to, and also have more time to immerse themselves in it… do you agree? And did delaying the release cross your mind?
PT Yes, I thought there might be a better time! That being said, the wheel had already been set in motion so we will get the word out best we can. I think it will just extend the time that we talk about it as a “new” project. We’re just going go with the flow like everybody else.
3.LH Like your 2012 album “Rhinestoned” it’s coming out on your own record label. You must enjoy the total creative freedom that gives you? What other advantages/disadvantages does it offer?
PT I do very much enjoy the creative freedom. The most success I’ve had in life is when the powers that be just let me do my own thing so in a way not much has changed except my promotional budget is vastly
smaller! That and I have no one else to blame if I don’t like what’s happening with the marketing. Where’s my scapegoat when I need him?
4. LH Of the twelve tracks, you’ve co-written six, including the title track (and lead single). Can you tell me a bit more about the inspiration and writing process behind this thought provoking song please? I must say I particularly love the little vignettes it contains!
PT So this may sound funny but I always loved Lou Reed’s take a walkon the Wild Side……. the way it was structured, and I got intrigued with the idea of bringing that form into my world…..a song where you
minimally present these characters and let the listener read between the lines. Every one is either headed in a good direction of bad direction but nothing is static and life is going go where it’s gonna go.
The title came to me on the way to write for the first time with the immensely talented Waylon Payne. Those characters floated up from my subconscious sort of like when you used to play with those magic 8balls we played with as kids. Waylon laid down the groove and it was one of the easiest songs I’d written in a long while. The tricky part was really capturing the lanky feel and melodic nuances Waylon had brought to it.
5.LH One of your cowriters is your brother I notice… it seems to me that country music, more than any other type, sees siblings and families in general coming together to write and perform. Do you agree and if so why do you think that blood ties are particularly strong within the genre?
PT I don’t know if blood ties are any more valid per se but there is something to working with someone who has the same background that you do and so you don’t have to work to understand where the other one is coming from. It’s like that secret lanquage that twins seem to have sometimes… Now performing together can bring up some tricky stuff with family dynamics but that’s another topic .Mostly I love working with my siblings and we seem to get past most of our stuff with out to much fuss.
It’s true there’s a great tradition of families working together though in country and bluegrass. I think that came out of having to survive and eat like in the depression and in the Appalachians where opportunities were sketchy.
6. LH How did you go about picking the outside cuts (and the one cover) which appear on the album? What criteria did they have to fulfil apart from all being great songs?
PT I think that somehow there’s a loose theme and it happened organically and over time with this record. It’s about perspective, acceptance and self awareness expressed in a way that’s not super overt but it’s all there.
Since I don’t have to worry about what’s gonna make it up the top 40 chart anymore I just go with a gut feeling. It has to hit me emotionally.
7. LH One of the outside cuts I particularly love is Bob Regan’s “Dolly 1969”. How did you discover this song, and did you immediately know you wanted to record it at some point?
PT Dolly 1969… yes, So glad you love it. That song indulged me a bit of time travel and that’s the young me looking ahead, so ready to get on with life on the road and life as an artist….. I met Dolly as a little girl when Dad was a semi regular on the Porter Wagonner show and I always held her up as the epitome of gosh, so many things but she wrote her own songs and played guitar. She was glamourous and determined, the whole package…..
Speaking of Porter Wagoner he had many hits that were recitations and there’s a great tradition of that in country music, I love them, I put one on my Rhinestoned record to called Bettin Money on Love… Any way,
this song is great fun and I talk about wanting to bitch slap Jolene so I had to do it.
( LH This track is available to listen to now if you have Apple Music, by the way)
8. LH As well as the album’s obvious trad country sound, blues and jazz influences come through too on several tracks. Would you say that this album is the truest representation of you as a musician, and of the music that has shaped you over the years, than any other you have released?
PT Yes, I actually let the sum total of my influences have more free reign on this record than any I’ve ever done. I’ve talked about doing a much more soul flavored record and people that know I used to sing jazz have asked me for years to record a whole record of that but for now at least I got some of these things out of my head and onto a record.
There’s the Staples, Led Zeppelin, Joni, the Beatles, Willie Nelson, Todd Rundgren, Neil Young , a Wilco nod , like a said Loud Reed , The Allman Brothers, Kenny Rogers Mel Tillis, …….. there’s layers and layers of influences here…
9.LH Although it will sadly be a while until you are able to go back out on the road, which song from the new album are you most looking forwards to performing live and why?
PT Dolly is fun to do but I really love Burning Star….. the groove of it just makes me happy and the lyric was inspired somewhat by that t.v. show Ancient Aliens so there’s that.
10. LH Talking of performing, you are an Opry member and have stepped into that circle to perform on many an occasion. What makes doing so such an honour and is it still as special to you every time?
PT The Opry is a family, a tradition, and not everybody gets to say they are a part of it although many artist of all types are welcome there.
There’s just not place like it,. It’s and idea and a real place. I still get nervous when I play it because I think of all the people who have stood in that circle.
11. LH You have lived in Nashville for most of your life I understand, so you must have seen a lot of changes. In your opinion how do you think music city has changed for the better? And for the worse?
PT Well when my Dad got here it was a fairly small town, for a long time a medium size, a little big town so to speak and now it’s a little big for my taste alhough we have things like great shopping and restaurants here now.
I think the feeling of community as gotten a bit watered down as the business has gotten so huge, Every body used to know everybody. That’s impossible now. When I visit small towns now I often think, I could do
12. LH We love our country music here in the UK! Does that surprise you, and can we tempt you over here to play some shows at some point in the future?
PT No it doesnt surprise me and I would love to come back to the UK. Tillis is English and I felt a deep connection when I’ve been in the countryside there.
So yes, Let’s make it happen!
Thank you for listening to the new music and allowing me to tell you a little more about it.
LH Oh fantastic! Maybe your planned “Chicks With Hits” tour, alongside Terri Clark and Suzy Boggus will make its way over the pond sometime!
For more information about Pam check out pamtillis.com
Interview conducted by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)