After years of chasing down different versions of a malleable Music City dream, Meghan Linsey proves herself an indefinable artist, unwilling to fold, in her new single “If You Need Me Don’t”— premiering exclusively on American Songwriter.
With glimmering confidence, the realized track lands somewhere between an Americana-steeped singer-songwriter and full-bodied soul singer. Given Linsey’s industry background as one-half of the chart-topping duo Steel Magnolia, alongside Josh Jones, the title could translate into a cheeky country love-done-gone song. Instead, “If You Need Me Don’t” marks a milestone for an ever-evolving artist, connecting the dots of her musical lineage.
The Blues-driven sound behind the new single is reminiscent of the Crescent City sounds that shaped Linsey’s earliest sonic influences. In the 13 years between “Keep On Loving You” and “If You Need Me Don’t,” Linsey worked tirelessly to hone her musical craft while considering the defining elements of what she felt was authentic to her and her artistry.
Her new single is the result of this work. Raw, and refined, Linsey’s unabashed vocal strength radiates through a newfangled production palate. Brassy layers of jazz-rooted instrumentation present a clashing contrast to the whining pedal steel that often softened the edges of her thoughtfully constructed country sound. Despite the distance between New Orleans and Nashville, and their undoubted influence on each of these defining tracks, Linsey’s storytelling serves as a through-line of her artistry, more than a decade later.
“I definitely feel like I write like a songwriter from Nashville,” she says. “And I think that’s a good thing because I do feel the most growth from being in Nashville is my songwriting—the best songwriters in the world are here.”
Penned alongside her newly wedded husband and famed producer, Tyler Cain, and her best friend, Julie Moriva, Linsey describes the process as “pretty easy.”
“I kind of had the idea for a song with the title ‘If You Need Me Don’t’ — kind of sassy,” Linsey tells American Songwriter over the phone.
“We didn’t try to overthink it too hard. It was more getting into that vibe of throwback-New Orleans kind of feel. That’s where my head was that day as far as what I wanted to write. We got a groove on it; it’s soul music.”
This breadth of vocal expression conveys well in her live performance. But with Cain’s veteran production ear, and an ensemble of some of the most sought-after session musicians in the game, “If You Need Me Don’t” reflects the sheer strength of Linsey’s distinguished sound from the stage in the studio.
“I really wanted the best of the best on this record,” Linsey explains about the creation process. This time around, the sure-footed artist found strength in her hand-selected batch of superstars.
Linsey first connected with two-time Grammy Award-winning drummer, Daru Jones (Nas, Sturgill Simpson) over an Instagram DM in response to his Saturday Night Live performance with Jack White last year. “I liked the way his kit was set up, I loved the way he was playing—it was unique,” she explains. When it came time to record this project, she went back to their thread to ask if he would be willing, and Jones hit her right back.
Driving bass brought to you by Jay White, and lush organ from Ty Bailie (Katy Perry, Gladys Knight) lay a sumptuous soundscape to bolster Linsey’s brazen vocals. At the center of this track is a dynamic horn section, arranged and played entirely by saxophonist Jon Jackson (Macy Gray, Will Smith, The Dave Matthews Band).
Jackson, a fellow Louisianian, understood her sonic goals from the get-go. The two discovered they had actually crossed paths as children, and this fated reunion allowed the two Nashville transplants to infuse a bit of soul into their country-tinged town with a modern nod to their time-honored home state traditions.
“I grew up singing soul music and over the last few years have just really wanted to get back to that,” Linsey says. “I think there have always been elements of that and what I’ve done; I’ve always kind of sang soulfully. But I think it just feels like the right time to strip it back, get back to my roots, and do things I’m really comfortable doing. This is my wheelhouse; this is what I thrive in, and singing this kind of music just feels natural to me.”
Having been through what she describes as “the Nashville machine,” releasing country music fine-tuned for commercial country radio, Linsey feels this single is an arrival point in her journey of musical self-discovery.
“My goal for this project was to just get back to my roots and really put something out that sounds like where I come from, and who I am,” Linsey says. “And this feels like the most natural thing I’ve probably ever put out.”
In 2009, at age 23, Linsey inked her first record deal with Big Machine.
“Josh and I were doing an almost like indie rock kind of thing at the time, and we had all of these songs we had written that were more in that vein,” she explains. “Scott (Borchetta) was like ‘That’s not gonna work on Big Machine.’ But he did let us put a lot of those songs on the record.”
Borchetta discovered the pair while performing on a CMT show, Can You Duet. Leading up to that point, Linsey climbed through the rungs like every starry-eyed Music City transplant in a desperate search of their pivotal song. When her shining moment arrived, it came with conditions.
“I do feel like in being part of the country music world, and being played on country radio, it kind of stripped a bit of my grit and my voice,” Linsey says. “I remember on that first record, going in I still had a lot of that grittiness of my voice. They were like ‘You’ve got to sing that straighter’ or ‘Don’t put out so much vibrato in that.’ I remember stripping back a lot of who I was vocally, just because I was trying to make things that were more palatable, I guess, for country radio.”
Looking back at what she lost while trying to fit into the proverbial box jumpstarted the career and sonic trajectory that led her to this arrival point. In the years since Steel Magnolia, her search as a solo artist expanded past the pre-conceived country lines that had previously dictated her craft.
“Leaving started my process of unlearning, and also trying to figure out who I am; what is my identity now?’” she says. “Because before I was the girl from Steel Magnolia, but I know I’m a soul singer; I know that’s in there. I have this audience of people who know who I am in the country sphere. And then I’m also like trying to be true to who I am.”
The single, she suggests, is part of a greater collection of work she and Cain are piecing together in the wake of the pandemic backlog.
“I’m finally to the age, and I’ve been doing this for so long, that I just want to do what I want to do. And I want to feel really confident in what I’m putting out—things that make me happy as an artist and hopefully, bring joy to others. And I don’t want to overthink it or worry about it too much anymore.”
Gibson Guitars will be sponsoring Linsey’s single release event at their innovative new showroom in Nashville on Thursday, March 17, and will also be partnering with her to raise money for The Roots of Music non-profit organization in her hometown of New Orleans. A portion of the profits from her single will be donated to The Roots of Music, which helps underprivileged students have access to music education, academic support, and mentorship.
“It’s an amazing program,” she adds. “They do a lot for these kids: help them like learn instruments, they have an amazing like brass band second line, they provide transportation, food, and even help them with their academics. And it’s happening down in New Orleans. I think part of getting back in touch with the sound is also getting back in touch with the community and being able to give back.”
Listen exclusively to “If You Need Me Don’t” BELOW.