Emily Nenni Discusses Her Deeply Personal and Incredibly Danceable New Album ‘Drive & Cry’: Exclusive

Emily Nenni will release Drive & Cry this Friday (May 3). It will be her second full-length with New West Records and her third overall. Nenni put her songwriting talent on full display with this release. She penned 11 of the 12 songs on the album solo. As a result, it’s a deeply personal and autobiographical record. At the same time, many of the tracks are nearly universally relatable. In short, this may be her finest outing yet.

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Ahead of the release of Drive & Cry, Emily Nenni sat down with American Songwriter to talk about bringing the album to life, the need to write the album alone, some of her favorite tracks, and more.

[RELATED: Emily Nenni Introduces Her Next Album ‘Drive & Cry’ with Honky Tonkin’ Toe-Tapper “Get to Know Ya”]

Emily Nenni Needed to Write This Album

Nenni co-penned much of her previous work including the bulk of her sophomore album On the Ranch with Mike Eli. This time around, though, she felt the need to pen the songs solo.

“I had that songwriting partnership for six or seven years and when it came to this record, I had just experienced so many personal changes—hence the song ‘Changes.’ It just really felt like I had so much to say kind of on my own,” Nenni explained.  “It was definitely something that I needed to do for me. And I’m really glad I did it because it was kind of tough to reflect on things that had happened since recording On the Ranch. But I feel so much better after writing a whole record. It made me feel better about my abilities as a songwriter,” she added.

[RELATED: Emily Nenni Embraces Hard-Learned Lessons on New Track “Changes” from Her Upcoming Album ‘Drive & Cry’]

The Delicate Balance of Drive & Cry

The songs on Drive & Cry sees Nenni performing multiple musical tightrope walking acts. For one, these songs largely sound upbeat and danceable. However, the lyrics, especially on cuts like “I Don’t Need You” and “I Can’t Pretend It Didn’t Happen” are far from joyous. At the same time, these are deeply personal songs whose writing process was therapeutic for Nenni while also being widely relatable.

About the former, she said, “I’ve always been a huge fan of Motown and there’s a lot of that in Motown. Like, you’ll hear it in that song ‘The Happening’ by the Supremes. You’ll be like, ‘Wow! What an upbeat song!’ and it’s about somebody’s life falling apart.”

“I try to write for a live show and for people to dance to it,” she added.  “I need a two-stepping tempo.”

About the latter balance, Nenni said, “I feel like there are relationships in life that some of them aren’t forever. Relationships end whether it’s romantic or otherwise—professional or friendships. Not everything is meant to be forever. But, all of that is still really hard. At the other side of it, once you get to a better place, it is still a rewarding experience even though it’s hard. I think it is a universal experience.”

[RELATED: Exclusive Premiere: Emily Nenni’s Good-Time Honky Tonk Rendition of “Amarillo Highway”]

Then, she spoke about “I Don’t Need You” and “I Can’t Pretend It Never Happened” specifically. “I’m sure that person will hear those songs and think, ‘Oh. Okay. I know how she feels.’ But I also think there are going to be folks out there who are going to relate to them, even if they don’t know the very specific situation that I experienced,” Nenni said.

Emily Nenni on the Process Behind “Drive & Cry”

“We were about to head to my buddy’s house for demos and I wanted to do full-band demos and try to work out the songs. ‘Drive and Cry’ was the last day we were heading to Jake Davis’ house for demos. I kind of had the idea for it and I was sitting on the couch and we had an hour before we had to go and I had that ‘I’m overdue for a tire rotation and bloodshot eyes,’” she recalled.

“So, I just sat on the couch and the song just came out in ten minutes. That doesn’t always happen for me. But, I just wanted a fun, silly tune. It’s autobiographical of course. I love to drive and cry. I talk about crying a lot in my everyday life. I’ve heard from a lot of folks that it’s a very relatable song,” Nenni said of the real-life inspiration behind the song.

The Perfect Soundtrack for Driving and Crying

We had to know what Emily Nenni listens to when she gets in the car to have a good cry.

“Definitely Lucinda Williams. Her songs are just so honest and relatable. What she writes about is just, man we’ve all experienced it in one way or another,” she revealed. “One album I have driven and cried to many times is Willie Nelson’s Phases and Stages. Great, great record from start to finish. It’s got like ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ on that but then it’s got ‘It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way,’” she added. “The first time I heard that song, I was sitting in traffic and I was like 19 or 20 and I sat in traffic and sobbed. It was great.”

Emily Nenni’s Favorite Songs on Drive & Cry

Listeners will likely find it hard to choose a favorite on Drive & Cry. Nenni was able to narrow it down to two tracks.

“I think ‘I Don’t Need You’ is one of my favorites because it turned out exactly as I hoped it would. I was in the middle of writing it and I had the chorus written and it was going to be a slower number and had a different message to it. Then, I was sitting out back and I found out that Tina Turner had passed and I love Tina so much. I admire her. And I wanted to kind of like pay my respects,” she recalled.  “So, that song I’m really proud of and the three incredible women who came to sing on it—Maureen Murphy, Kyshona Armstrong, and Nickie Conley. That song is so much fun and Grace Bowers guests on guitars. It’s a girl power song which I love. That song did a lot for me, just as a person,” she added.

“Then, I think ‘I Can’t Pretend It Never Happened’ just turned out so beautifully. Billy Contreras’ string arrangement on that is just so unlike what I would have imagined for that recording and it’s so full of feeling. It’s just really beautiful,” she said.

What She Hopes Listeners Get From This Album

“This album is so truly me,” Nenni said. “Every album has been autobiographical and I wrote all those songs but this album was all my thoughts. It felt very much like a great representation of me because it was written in Nashville, recorded in Nashville and it’s got folks that I wanted on it. Just folks that I really love and respect worked on this record. I guess I just want people to really hear me and get a good understanding of who I am as a songwriter and musician. I hope they can relate, too.”

Drive & Cry Hits record store shelves and streaming platforms this Friday via New West Records

Featured Image by Alysse Gafkjen

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