Chely Wright talks teaming up with Linda Perry

AE: Linda Perry is not necessarily known for working with country music singers. Was that something that you two discussed? Was it a concern or an interesting challenge?
We looked at it as an opportunity. It wasn’t a concern. It was the opposite. Music is the universal language. The first day that we wrote, we didn’t even write. We sat in the control room of the recording studio and we talked. I was so relieved that she wanted to do that.

CW: How do I explain co-writing? It can be the most awkward, horrific experience ever. One can leave the experience feeling like they need a shower. Or it can be like making your new best friend. It runs the gamut. That’s why I quit co-writing. I stopped co-writing back in late 2004, except for the co-writes that I did with people where that just cosmically happened. But I stopped because sometimes when you sit down, [the other writer] wants to write the song because they want a song on your record and they say, "That’s good? That’s good, right? OK, go cut that." But these records are going to stay around forever and it’s got to be right.

[Linda and I] talked about music and we talked about the shared wealth of the process and how we get there and our challenges because all of it plays into it. When you’re sitting down to write something, you reach behind you and you pull out a lot of tools. And every day of your life, you put something back there. You can’t really do the collaborative thing with somebody without a basic understanding of who they are.

We hit it off on that first day talking. We weren’t even sure we would do that second day of writing. It hinged upon whether we liked one another and we did. But Linda loves country and she’s even recorded [a couple of songs with Faith Hill]. I’m not certain for which album—

AE: I think she co-wrote a song for Cry.
She didn’t say, but she told me about the experience and who knows why those [other] songs never saw the light of day. I have a high suspicion that it had nothing to do with Faith or Linda.

Linda Perry is a formidable force. She is a woman. She is a gay woman. And she is apologetic about none of the above. I have a feeling the tracks were brilliant. Faith is an immense vocalist. You listen to early Faith records and you listen to her now. She’s grown. She’s always been good, but she’s really good now. She wanted to grow and expand and Nashville didn’t want to let her. I think she could have made a huge, huge record with Linda Perry. But there you go. I just don’t think the country music industry was all that comfortable with that particular collaboration.

Linda and I did talk about her love of country music, but I’m really not considered a commercial country artist, entirely. I’m a little bit folk, alternative now. But I guess I’m always going to be a country singer. I mean, you can’t get that out of my voice.

 Loretta Lynn and Chely Wright

AE: You were obviously in a very different place when you wrote the songs for your newly released album Lifted Off the Ground. Has your changed perspective affected the way that you write songs?
It has. On the last day that Linda and I wrote we had our best, perhaps most profound conversation and it was about this. When I wrote those songs [for Lifted Off the Ground] I didn’t know I was coming out and so I didn’t see freedom. I lived in a hole. I was in a spiritual, physical, emotional hole. Yet it was the most prolific time for me, as a writer having the luxury of a suspended intellect. You look at the great artists of any medium—poets and sculptors and painters—they’re all crazy. You do your best work when you’re compelled to cut your ear off. I had the benefit, dare I say, of being a little bit out of my mind when I wrote those songs.

Linda and I sat in the kitchen of her studio and she was sharing with me a new chapter in her writing. She’s incredibly health conscious. She does yoga. She’s very centered at this point in her life. We were having a dialogue about how to stay in that space without having to be miserable. I don’t want to go there again to get those songs. I can’t do it. I can’t survive that pilgrimage again.

The thing about Linda—I mean, there are so many things about Linda—but she just put her fist on her heart and said, "We’ve got to just stay in here." That may sound trite and it may sound like anyone can say that, but you have two songwriters who’ve really kind of been through it. Linda said, "You have to get this out of it"—and she pointed to her head—"And you’ve got to stay here"—and she pointed to her heart. It’s so easily said, but so terrible difficult to apply. There, in turn, we think we wrote two good songs.

AE: That was my next question: how many songs did you work on together?
The best thing we did was bonded and the by-product of that was two songs. At the end of the trip, she said, "Come back out and we’ll record these." So we’re actually going to record them. That does not always happen. We could have easily written songs and she could have said, "I enjoyed it and good luck to you."

AE: Any surprising moments about the collaboration?
It was cool because she grabbed a ukulele and was needling around on it and I grabbed a guitar and we were playing and I said, "I like the tone of that," and she hit a little note and I said, "That was so very Glen Campbell of you." She wasn’t really that familiar. I said, "Play that little rift under that, that’s cool, it’s like a signature line," and we ended up writing something that felt really folksy bluegrass. She was just beaming from ear to ear and she said, "I’ve never played anything like that. Nothing has ever come out of me like that."

That’s the best you can hope for when two writers sit down: that the essence of both writers is interwoven. And that’s what we’ve got.

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