Aubrie Sellers knew. Long before she walked away from high-velocity deals with a major label and a massive management company, the inevitable permeated her writing. Like a slow-moving water stain on a basement wall, Far From Home is ultimately the product of doing the unthinkable.
“All the emotions coming up through all these situations created more of a depth,” Sellers says quietly one late night, calling from Texas. “Just listening … Far From Home is almost a spiritual that encompasses that entire time period, the feeling of experience and really learning how much music means to me. It’s all there.”
If Far From Home is more atmospheric in places, combustive in others than her critically acclaimed New City Blues, it is also an album where she drops the cynical tough girl exterior that made the taunting “Paper Doll,” the slithering “Liar Liar” and Madison Avenue-skewering “Magazines” so delicious for a more yearning type of contemplation. With – because Sellers is the woman behind “garage country” – four guitars!
Having generated great buzz, the lanky guitarist/vocalist watched her thrash/bluegrass-flecked debut spark a bidding war among major Nashville labels. A re-release was rushed out. She went back on the road, back into the studio, back on the road, back to writing. All the while, she was finding new depths musically.
What should’ve been a triumph turned into a David Bowie alien moment. Having literally grown up in the business, homeschooled as her mother Lee Ann Womack’s career exploded globally with “I Hope You Dance,” Sellers wasn’t naïve about the demands or the pace.
Wanting to avoid charges of nepotism, she drove her own suburban, pulling a trailer – and avoided all media that wanted to talk about her mom, father Jason Sellers or stepfather Frank Liddell, who produced her debut. She’d also purposefully avoided the mainstream, because she knew the compromises. She thought everyone else understood, too.
“I remember playing ‘You Haven’t Even Kissed Me Yet’ for someone at the label,” she recalls, “and they said, ‘You think it needs a bridge?’ They couldn’t feel or sense what was in there, the vulnerability, the tenderness, the fragility.
“If I’d done that, it could’ve been a Diane Warren song, which are awesome, but this was intended to be raw, maybe even a little scared. It was something I sat down and it poured out to me, an honest moment – not something created by a template.”
Quiet, even solitary, NPR saw her debut as “the work of an artist determined to construct a riveting identity for herself” and Entertainment Weekly lauded, “Sellers knows how to deliver a lyric in such a way that builds a whole universe.” The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Garden & Gun, Nylon, Stereo Gum and more concurred.
“You get to the place where you feel pinned against a wall, asking yourself, ‘Well, do you wanna be on a major record label? Do you want this thing that everybody’s chasing with all the power and resources it’s supposed to have? Or do you want to be honest? Instead of all that extra stuff …’” Sellers sighs.
Boarding another flight alone to another city, finishing a call to her then-manager as the flight attendant gave her the eye, she knew. “If I had to give up Red Light Management, Warner Brothers Records, I will … Those things aren’t as important as the music.”
Unsure of what to do next, she honored her commitments, started taking meetings and let the lawyers figure it out. She understood two things: she believed in her record and she had strong feelings about being an artist versus being a celebrity.
“You suddenly realize so clearly: they’re living on a different planet, and they see things so another way,” she reasons. “The idea you could just make another record? Just throw this one out, try something else. How much don’t you mean your music? If you can do that, what are your songs made of?”
Talk turns to fear of being judged, shut out, labeled as the bad child. Clearly Sellers wants to connect, loves the people who come up to her, saying they feel the same dissonance in the world – and they have nowhere to express their own frustrations. Somehow the conversation boomerangs to Taylor Swift.
“When I saw all those people saying that stuff, that ‘Didn’t she realize she was doing a business deal?’ Like she was selling shoes, or something. It’s her life … her creative realization of what happened to her. You can’t just machine it, send it down a conveyor belt; it’s a creative person’s child.”
The voice on the other side of the phone cracks. Clearly this is landing close to home. Written in the desert outside Marfa, Texas, and recorded at El Paso’s Sonic Ranch, Home’s more ethereal, more vibey. “I’d been listening to the Ventures, surf music, Tarantino soundtracks, things where the texture and the instruments evoked so much feeling … and it seeped into the writing and the sounds I wanted on the record.
“I don’t think the songs are finished until you record them.”
Mirroring her own sense of alienation, “Worried Mind,” “Run,” the title track and “Kissed Me Yet” all have their own subdued spacey undertones. “Ethan (Ballinger) has the Ventures, obscure music thing, and a degree in mandolin from Belmont. Adam (Wright) is the earthy, grounding bedrock, who has that warm Buddy Miller presence. Park (Chisolm) embodies the ambient, floating everything. And Chris (Coleman), who plays so many things, is the aggressive one, who attacks no matter what. He even brought a pedal steel, which he doesn’t play, but did here.”
Exulting in the musicians, Sellers clearly had a vision. Joking, “I’d been daydreaming what this would be from the back of vans for two years,” nothing in the creative process was taken lightly. “Every one of these players, every part was part of it. To leave any one of them out would be to leave a piece of me out, and those layers are who I am.”
Beyond the dreaminess, there is also the urgency. Channeling her frustration into songs like “Troublemaker,” “Drag You Down” and “One Town’s Trash,” she was able to punch holes in the gridlock and confusion. “Who can you talk to when your business people aren’t understanding? Your music.”
To that insurrective end, she enlisted notorious groundstander Steve Earle for her industrial punch take on the bluegrass “My Love Will Not Change.” It was a bucket list moment.
“There’s a darkness and raw edge to him,” she offers. “Since I was 4 (or) 5 years old, I’ve been drawn to that voice from ‘Copperhead Road.’ No idea what he was singing about, but what was in his voice? Like Jack White, Buddy or Julie Miller, darkness is there.”
A friend sent Earle the track. Sellers waited nervously. When his parts arrived, she was floored, “He only took a couple passes, but some of his choices really surprised me,” she says. “It took a couple listens to absorb, not what you expect, but it’s so straightforward. He comes right at you with this intensity: it’s this intense emotion, this passion, but he’s so matter of fact. To be that full-on and so connected at the same time?”
To balance opposing feelings, truths, sonics drew the girl who studied acting at the famed Strasburg Institute back to songs. It was never her intention to make music, even though she’s played Bonnaroo, recorded with Dr. Ralph Stanley, appeared on a Jack White single cover and shared tours with fellow untamed sirens Miranda Lambert, Tanya Tucker and Lillie Mae.
“I sat down after we were done with Audra Mae to listen to the album, and she said, ‘It’s really prophetic about the whole situation.’ She was looking at it two years after. I never really think in those terms, just go by gut.
“But the thing about gut – it knows what you don’t want to see. You know, the music business and these situations are very specific, but this stuff happens to everyone. Trying to do the right thing at work? A husband or girlfriend who are great, but they totally don’t get you? The only point for doing any of this is to connect to other people … and I think the people who need this are a lot like me, they really need it, because who are you gonna tell?”
Grab Far From Home or some other Aubrie Sellers merch from her website.