Tenille Arts was eight years old when she walked into the backyard of her Saskatchewan home, sauntered straight past her swing set and began strutting around and singing the attitude-heavy lyrics of Shania Twain’s 1999 hit “Man I Feel Like a Woman.” And in doing so, a star was born.
“Our neighbor overheard me singing and thought I was good,” gushes Arts during an interview with American Songwriter. “She asked my mom if I had ever taken voice lessons.”
She had not.
But the very next day, Arts auditioned for a local vocal coach, and the rest as they say is history. Granted, Arts had long adored the spotlight. At her first birthday, there is actual footage of her refusing to blow out the candles on her birthday cake just because she wasn’t done singing. But it wasn’t until she received a guitar as a gift on her 14th birthday that the songwriter in her was finally revealed.
“To me, the guitar opened up songwriting to me,” reflects Arts. “It really was the first time I could sit down and feel like I could compose something from start to finish, and then play it for someone.”
Yet, the teenage years also brought with it a time in Arts life when the once avid performer always looking for the spotlight seemed to retreat a bit into the shadows of the all too common angst of one’s teenage years.
“I got quiet,” Arts remembers. “I didn’t talk to people about my feelings. Songwriting was the way I took all of what I was holding in, get it out and put it into a song.”
It was also during those teenage years that Arts took her first trip to Nashville after being discovered by industry executive Hal Oven on YouTube.
“At the time, I just had been writing songs in my bedroom and never wrote with anyone else,” Arts explains. “But, here I was, writing with people, which was super foreign to me. Cowriting was so difficult for me at first. Opening up and having to say all these things out loud to someone in their rawest form. I mean, you don’t get to make the words sound pretty yet. To me, that was a big struggle. But once I got passed that and started feeling comfortable, I came to realize that I wasn’t just writing songs now…I was turning into a true songwriter.”
Eventually, Arts made Nashville her full-time home.
“I was driving into Nashville and Cam’s ‘Burning House’ was playing on the radio, and I remember thinking to myself how amazing it would be to hear myself on a Nashville radio station,” reflects Arts, who made waves in America when she made her first appearance on The Bachelor in January 2018 singing her original song “Moment of Weakness.” “I had no idea how it was going to happen, but that was the goal.”
Well, mission accomplished. But that just might be the beginning. Because at this moment, Tenille Arts just might be on the cusp of country music history. Her current and ultra-empowering single “Somebody Like That” was not only solely written by females (Arts, Alex Kline and Allison Veltz Cruz,) but it was also produced by a female (Kline) and of course sung by a female.
“The day we wrote ‘Somebody Like That’ was one of those days when I just didn’t want to write anything sad,” says Arts of the song written in 2019 and featured on her current album Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between. “We decided to write something hopeful, and something that looked forward rather than looking back. It is about always looking up to the great love around you. It is about realizing that love isn’t always like a Disney movie. It has its ups and down. This song gives a realistic vision of what love truly is.”
And it’s that feeling and these songs that Arts just might build a longstanding country music career on.
“There was a point when I stopped focusing so much on the structure of a song, and instead just focused on what was naturally coming out of me lyrically,” Arts explains. “When I was the most honest and writing exactly what I was feeling, that seemed to be the songs that people were latching onto. They didn’t necessarily care that one line was rhyming with another line. They were connecting to the emotional part of it, so I remained true to that. And I think that’s the kind of thing that is unique to my songwriting still.”
And if, just if, “Somebody Like That” makes it to number one?
“It will be one of those moments where everything will suddenly feel like it was worth it.”
Photos by Rachel Deeb