Tenille Townes Takes a Moment to Talk Songwriting, “Jersey on the Wall”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Tenille Townes has made the move from Grande Prairie, a small town in Alberta, Canada, to Nashville, Music City, USA and the transition has been a stellar one.

She had insisted that her parents sign her up for singing lessons at the age of five, and got her first guitar from her grandparents at fourteen. At 17, she was nominated for a Canadian Country Music Award for Female Artist of the Year. In 2018 her song “Somebody’s Daughter” pushed close to the Top 25 on the US Charts and now “Jersey on the Wall” is topping the Canadian Country charts.

We had a chance to sit with Townes and chat about her progression and that track.

Walk us through a typical day in the life of Tenille Townes? 

When I’m off the road at home in Nashville, I love to start the day with a Sam and Zoe’s Chai and then head to a friend’s studio or living room and write a song! I love to go for a walk or sit and read a book or catch up with friends for whatever might be left of the day! 

When and where did you guys write this song?

We wrote this song a couple years ago hanging at Gordie’s studio at Still Working Music.

What inspired the song Jersey on the Wall?

 I played for Grand Manan, New Brunswick and was blown away by the spirit of this small town and the way the kids were all looking out for one another. I learned after the show that there had been a car accident with five kids from the high school just a few months prior. One of which was the Valedictorian, star basketball player, and had just graduated with a full ride scholarship. Her name was Danielle and she was taken in the accident. I kept in touch with the school and Miss Ward and I worked it out where I got to fly back the following spring for the high school graduation as a surprise. I watched from the back of the gym with the whole town piled in the room, as Danielle’s parents got on stage and gave their daughter’s honorarium scholarship to Zoey, who was one of Danielle’s best friends a year younger. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room and I glanced over and saw her jersey hanging on the wall in memory and thought about the questions I have for God. I think it’s ok to have those. I think there is healing in the conversation itself. Shortly after that trip, one of my best friends from home lost her little brother and it put me in a place of asking more of those questions. I walked into the writing room with Gordie and Tina shortly after that.

How has your overall experience been collaborating with Gordie Sampson and Tina Parole? What’s the dynamic like?  

I think we all knew it was a special day sitting in the room, almost feeling like we were getting out of the way of this song coming together and taking us where it needed to go. It felt like an important wrestle and I’m so thankful they were both so willing to hear the stories and the questions that were weighing heavy on my heart about it. Both Gordie and Tina are brilliant creative spirits I’m thankful to know.

Step outside the song for a moment. How would you describe the song as a music fan?

I hope this song makes people feel less alone in the questions they may have. I think it’s very human to question our faith, and I think it’s a healthy thing to have an honest conversation with God about it, and feel like He sits next to us in the middle of our greatest pain. I hope this song gives people permission to go to that place.

Could you tell us some of the song’s backstory? How much or how little did you edit it, during or afterward? Were there any phrases or lyrics you can remember that were especially tough to make a final decision on?

I don’t think we edited anything after we left the room that day. I know we all felt the weight of the subject matter, and therefore felt responsible to carry it out in an honouring way. I think songwriting is a spiritual thing, a lot like being a vessel, and just listening as it comes through you, and I felt like we paid attention to just being the vessels of this song that day.

Did you guys demo it or simply worktape it? How did it wind up getting cut and becoming a single? 

We did a demo in the room the day that we wrote it and a lot of the elements of that demo carried into the studio cutting it. This song was very important to me from the very first day we wrote it, and I knew I wanted to record it. I was so excited to hear the whole team believe in it as a single too. 

Who was the biggest cheerleader of the song, besides the writers?

My manager, Crystal Dishmon has always believed in this song and carries the mission for it be heard in such an important way. I’m sure grateful for that. I’ve also felt like this song has been cheered for by people who have found healing in it. I hear stories after a show by the merch stand from people who say “hi”, or people who send in a message to me on instagram or through the road phone, telling me about someone they have loved and lost. That takes an incredible amount of courage and I always feel honoured to hear their stories. 

What do you enjoy most about writing songs in general?

It’s a fascinating process bringing something into the world creatively, that hasn’t existed before. I always find it healing and mysterious and it brings me a lot of joy to watch it come to life. I also love how songs are a platform to talk about something, or to process how I feel about a subject in a way that makes all of us feel a little less alone.

What are the challenges and hurdles – both the creative process and the business end?

Right now I feel like balancing time to be creative while being on the road is an interesting thing to figure out. Both are things I love so much, but use very different parts of my brain. I think it gets a little harder to take time to focus on ideas and listen to music or read things that inspire me, when the wheel of motion is moving faster and faster on the road. 

Is there a particular period or moment in your career when you were faced with adversity or doubt and had to dig deep to stay the course?

I think moving to Nashville was a scary period for me. Being 45 hours away from my hometown, and being new to a big city and a whole new world of people was hard, but also so very inspiring. There were a lot of moments wondering if I was really supposed to be here, but I think there are always encouraging signs when we look for them and I’m sure thankful for a lot of great people I crossed paths with who told me to keep going or who made me want to keep digging in and write a hundred more songs. Being surrounded by so many of my creative heroes in this city has truly made me hungry to continue to grow as a writer, even and especially on the hard days.

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