An aspect of Nashville that’s become comparatively interesting to me over the years is that of the city’s relationship (or lack thereof) to Atlanta. Considering the lack of geographic distance between the two purported hotbeds of American (and global) entertainment would find some form of synchronicity between their respective entertainment specialties. You’d think Nashville would be of great utility to Atlanta’s booming film industry, and Atlanta would allow for some interesting crossover in the Nashville music community, but for whatever reason (realistically, state dispensed tax-breaks) the two cities could not be more divergent. I’m not saying it’s high time the two cities join hand in hand or anything like that - I’m just musing. But as someone who is tangentially associated with the Nashville side of this (lack of a) civic relationship, it can be difficult to understand the reason why the two cities refuse to collaborate. In scenarios such as that, it sometimes helps to garner the perspective from someone who has experienced both. Someone like Lauren Morrow. She spent a good portion of her life in Atlanta, taking great pride in coming from the other “Athens of the South.” But in her pursuit of music, she couldn’t quite find her footing within Atlanta’s music community. Meanwhile, things were picking up in Nashville (particularly on the East Side), but despite others’ urging, Morrow felt she didn’t need to move to Nashville, until a fateful night that saw her play a Jessi Zazu tribute at Mercy Lounge. Invigorated and inspired, Lauren and her husband Jason decided they’d move to Nashville. A year or so later, they’ve found the community they were missing in Atlanta and have Morrow’s latest self-titled EP to show for it. It might have taken a nudge here or there, but Morrow has found her place in Nashville.
Now/It’s met with Lauren Morrow at Pearl Diver off of Gallatin Ave. on Nashville’s East Side.
N/I - Now you’ve been here for roughly a year, correct?
Lauren - It was a year ago on September 11th that we moved here. So we knew within the first few months…. Really, the first few weeks, we knew we were going to stay. It was just a matter of - we’re both musicians - so getting our finances in order and everything was pretty important. Plus, we still had to sell our house in Georgia. We sold that in July.
N/I - Was that in Atlanta? Or the Greater Atlanta area?
Lauren - In Marietta. Basically where the Braves are playing now.
N/I - The new stadium is out there?
Lauren - Where are you from?
N/I - I’m from here.
Lauren - Nice!
N/I - I think so. It’s always nice to know a little background on the person interviewing you [laughs].
Lauren - [Laughs] That’s true. That’s awesome.
N/I - So how are things going otherwise, with your record coming out soon?
Lauren - It’s going well. There’s the release show at Basement East….
N/I - With Los Colognes?
Lauren - And they just added Great Peacock, too.
N/I - Do you know either of those two well?
Lauren - I know Los Colognes pretty well. We used to tour with them when we were The Whiskey Gentry. I’ve probably known them for seven years or so. Maybe even longer. The first time I came to Nashville was thirteen years ago, so it may be longer. Everything is going well. Actually, we’re painting my face on the side of the Basement East [laughs].
N/I - No way!
Lauren - [Laughing] It was totally [Lauren’s husband, Jason]’s idea. We joke that…. Have you seen Coal Miner’s Daughter?
N/I - Yes.
Lauren - [Jason is] like Doo and I’m Loratta. He’ll say “Lauren. I’m going to paint your face on the side of the Basement East.” and I’ll go “Really?” and he’ll say “Yep. I already talked to the designer, and we’ve planned it.”
N/I - So he’s not painting it himself?
Lauren - No. He can do construction. That’s what we did in Atlanta - flipping houses and all that. So he’s going with Francois - the artist - to paint over one of them. I guess whoever it is chose not to renew their spot on the wall.
N/I - Right. There’s the Charley Crockett one and The Mavericks had one for a while.
Lauren - Exactly. So that’s exciting. I’ll have my big ol’ mug on the side of Basement East [laughs]. It’s going to be pretty funny.
N/I - Pretty surreal.
Lauren - But outside of that, things are going really well. I feel like the whole point of the EP was to get out from underneath The Whiskey Gentry name. As soon as we get everything settled with this new house, we said that we’re going to spend October and the rest of the year getting songs together for a full length. We’ve been working with Parker Cason - we recorded at Creative Workshop - and his dad, Buzz Cason, started that place. Buzz is essentially passing it on to Parker. So Parker, Jason, and myself have become really close since we’ve started recording. He’s become one of our favorite people here. So we’re going to try and write together. It feels really comfortable.
N/I - How did you guys become connected with Parker?
Lauren - Our friend Robbie used to play keyboards for Deer Tick.
N/I - And didn’t he play on your record?
Lauren - He did. He is also very good friends with us - and we knew him prior to moving here. He was one of the people that was like “Why don’t you live here? Why don’t you live here?” and we were like “We don’t need to move.” So we asked him about studios that he would recommend, and he said “If you’re looking for a vibe-y studio, you should go to Creative Workshop. You’ll love Parker as a person.” And he was totally right. So we’ll probably record everything there for the full-length as well.
N/I - Nice. So you said the first time you came to Nashville was roughly thirteen years ago. Was that for a show? Just a visit?
Lauren - Not quite. I had studied abroad in England, and when I lived over there….. There was always country music in my household, growing up. With my grandparents, at least. But my mom and my dad…. My dad doesn’t really count. That’s not true - he does count, but he was more of a prog-rock guy. He loved The Moody Blues, and he loves music completely and utterly, but my mom is from Alabama, and she loved Lynyrd Skynyrd, Wet Willie, Allman Brothers, and a bunch of rock n roll - she thought she was going to marry Mick Jagger and all that. So when I moved to England…. When I started writing songs, I moved to England. I felt like I was noticing a lot of the things that I was writing - when I really came into my voice with songwriting - a lot of it was more of this Americana, except you didn’t call it Americana back then.
N/I - Sure. It would have been “alt-country” or something like that, until someone decided that was what Americana actually was.
Lauren - Exactly. I loved the Old 97s and Wilco and Ryan Adams, so I kind of moved backwards and looked back at what all their influences were, and then got back to old country like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and all those guys - and girls too…. Dolly and Loretta. Loretta was probably my first “Whoa! I love her so much.” So I decided that I had to go to Nashville. I had to go to the honky tonks, I had to check it out. So I came up here with two of my friends who I was in a band with at the time, and we came up and stayed at The Holiday Inn off of Broadway, and immediately went straight to the bars. But they weren’t how they are now.
N/I - Of course. I’m trying to think… 2005 Broadway wasn’t quite the shady spot that it once was. Not like Times Square in the 1970s level bad - strip clubs and ne'er do wells everywhere - but it was still rough. Like a little Las Vegas for everyone in the South. People coming from small towns in Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, and everyone was coming up to Nashville, which was the “big city” made for people to get their rocks off. And now it’s just intensified. So in 2005, it still would have been a little more rough around the edges.
Lauren - We loved it. The first bar we walked into was Robert’s.
N/I - Of course.
Lauren - And that is the only reason why I will still go down there. And I have a fucking blast every time I go down there. It’s the best. And then we went to Layla’s and Tootsies. Tootsies… It was fun at the time, because they were playing Garth Brooks. In the 90s, I loved country. When I was in middle school, it was Dixies Chicks and Shania Twain and so many women I remember. I feel like I learned how to sing by watching CMT and listening to them sing and trying to sing just like them. So Tootsies was fun to go to because they would still play Garth Brooks and stuff like that too. But now, you can’t go anywhere.
N/I - Well it’s a whole different beast, now. It’s just a money machine.
Lauren - It’s crazy.
N/I - Not to speak poorly of Broadway….
Lauren - But that’s just the truth.
N/I - That’s true. People go down there and they want to spend money, and the more money they spend, the better justification they have that they had a good time, whether or not they actually did in the moment. But that’s a whole different conversation for a whole different interview.
Lauren - It’ll be interesting to see how that changes. Stars will fade. Jason Aldean will likely not have a bar for forever.
N/I - Exactly. Again, not to single anyone out - but there are people who have namesake bars down there who you know when people look back at this era of change in Nashville twenty years from now that won’t even be mentioned.
Lauren - It’ll be like those strip clubs that used to be downtown. “Remember when Blake Shelton had Ole Red on Broadway?”
N/I - It’ll be known as the era of vanity projects that are profitable in the moment, but maybe not over time. That being said, I hope for their own financial sanity that it does work out, but still…. Let’s fast forward from those thirteen years ago and stop at about a year ago. You play the Oh Boy Records tribute to Jessi Zazu - did you have a friend who worked at Oh Boy and that’s how you got on that insane bill?
Lauren - So my friend, Eileen, I met her when I was around 17. She moved up here about seven or eight years ago, and she works for Oh Boy. She got the job there three years ago, I think. So we knew of each other in high school, but we weren’t necessarily friends with each other in high school. After high school, I worked at Media Play, and when people would come in, I would always look at what people were buying, and she would come in to buy Jeff Buckley’s Grace and all this other stuff I loved. So she and I became friends, and we’ve been best friends ever since, and she asked if we would come play this show.
N/I - And she knew about The Whiskey Gentry and everything for a while?
Lauren - Oh yeah. We’ve had The Whiskey Gentry for about ten years. I would call her and ask for advice, and she would give the best advice when she could.
N/I - Your music advice oracle?
Lauren - Right. And then I would call her just crying, [fake crying] “I just don’t understand.” and she’d say “Move to Nashville.” and I’d say “I don’t need to!” and she’d say “Yes you do. So much changes by just geographically being here.”
N/I - So was that something you were acting on principle - not moving to Nashville?
Lauren - I love being from Atlanta, and I love Atlanta. I’m very prideful of that. But at the same time, it took me that night of being here and being around other people in this music community to realize that I do need to be here. We [didn’t] have that [in Atlanta]. Some people may disagree. I really didn’t think that we did. At least not like it is here. I thought we were going to be the odd men out at that show, and everyone was going to be like “Oh, you guys don’t live here?” I think we were the only band that was not….
N/I - Based in Nashville?
Lauren - Yes. I feel like we met so many kind people who were like “Hey! You don’t live here? Why don’t you move here?” Just really, really cool people. It changed everything. We went to bed that night at Eileen’s house, and we were like “Should we move here?” We had just put out Dead Ringer, too, and it wasn’t doing really what we had hoped and envisioned. And we were starting to realize a couple of things. Our sound changed on the last record of The Whiskey Gentry. It became more apparent to Jason and I that we didn’t really want to play bluegrass type stuff anymore. We were moving in a different direction, and also, every time we charted on the AMA charts, we were on the charts with Whiskey Rebellion or Whiskey Shivers or Whiskey Myers. You don’t know the difference! And we were wondering how long we could sustain that, even if we did a rebrand. Even if just Jason and Lauren were The Whiskey Gentry, it still doesn’t get you away from the name. So Jason decided we’re not doing another band name, if we do it again, it was just going to be under [Lauren Morrow]. That was all his idea, the same as putting my face on the side of the Basement East. Meanwhile, I’m like “Please don’t!” It took a long time to accept that we were going to be “Lauren Morrow.” Like “What’s your band name?” and then “Well, it’s just my name.”
N/I - So you never considered that, at all?
Lauren - No. Never.
N/I - It was all Jason?
Lauren - That was Jason’s idea. And I remind him of that every time he pokes fun of me…. “Oh, going to another interview?” because we do a lot together, but I’ll go “This is your idea! You created this monster!” So going back to that show. That night, it was Jason Isbell, Cory Branan, Elizabeth Cook, Lilly Hiatt, and all these people I had always heard their names and watching the things that were happening up here. But then, after interacting with them, I felt - we both did - felt so welcome. I feel like sometimes, in Atlanta, you’re fighting for the little piece of the music industry that’s there.
N/I - There’s just so much going on there, and then relative to music, it’s a small component of a very large entertainment industry that’s otherwise devoted to film.
Lauren - It feels even harder now.
N/I - I would assume so.
Lauren - To get people to shows, and get people interested. I’m sure there are people in that community that would fight me on that, but I kinda feel like I was a naysayer about coming here, and thought that I didn’t need it. But now I know that I did and I do. Even Jason said, “You’re so much happier here. You met so many amazing people.” You’re truly walking your path when you come here, in meeting people in the community and wanting to go support live music and buy their albums and wear their t-shirts because you just enjoy them as humans and you believe in them. I would argue with anybody that that wasn't quite the case in Atlanta. Just having that support and that network of support and camaraderie and community. All those things.
N/I - So within the year that you’ve been here, have you started to see that in response to you? An expansion of that night that sort of triggered the move to Nashville?
Lauren - Well Jason I decided the next day that we were just going to do it. The thing about Jason is when he thinks he’s going to do something, he will do it. For the record, I had been saying before that I could live [in Nashville], and I could see myself in Nashville, but I never wanted to really admit it. I was rooted in Atlanta, and figured it was where I would stay. So we decided the next day that we were going to do it, and then moved within two months after that. We packed up everything and moved here. We just made ourselves - I want to feel - present in this community for no other thing than being out and supportive of people. It’s not for any personal gain, it just makes us happy. We are social people. We like to go out. We like to meet people, and become friends with people. I was telling my best friend when we moved up here, “I don’t know if we’ll make friends!” and she said “Okay. You and Jason will make friends very quickly.” It starts as a friendship, and then it’s like “Hey! What are you doing? We should write music!” or “Come to my show!” That’s just kind of what’s happened with us. We met people we like, and music is almost just an added bonus of “You’re cool and super talented too. We should hang out.”
N/I - It’s a fringe benefit of otherwise being social.
Lauren - So I do feel like that. Even with people who have been super supportive of us being here, like Jerry Pentecost. He’s been such a cheerleader for us. And Robbie, and Whit Wright, who plays pedal steel. He was our first good friend here, that when we first moved here, we played at Robert’s Western World for Jerry’s…..
N/I - Americanafest after-party?
Lauren - Yes. So we walked in, and we knew Whit from The Whiskey Gentry, which is also a plus that we had a touring band for so long. We met a lot of musicians, and met a lot of people. But we walked in and Whit was like “Hey guys! I heard you moved here! I just moved here!” He and his wife had just moved here together that May. So he introduced us to everybody that he knew. The same with Jerry. Everybody seems so eager to introduce you to anyone and everyone. You’ll meet your perfect guitar player, your perfect producer, your perfect whatever. It’s just so cool how everyone does that.
N/I - And it’s kind of funny that some of the first people to show you around town were a drummer and a pedal steel player, who are probably the two most difficult types of players to secure for any sort of musical project around town.
Lauren - And I just think the world of Jerry. And he knows it. And David Guy. We met them all at the [John] Prine thing. That night with Jerry, he has such a kind heart, I just liked him immediately. And he’s a fucking amazing drummer. And I play rhythm guitar, so it’s important for me to be able to attach to a drummer.
N/I - Zone in and stay in whatever pocket the drummer might be in.
Lauren - Definitely.
N/I - So with the record itself, you said you’ll put it out and then try to put together a full-length as well? What determined these four songs as the ones to include on the Lauren Morrow debut EP?
Lauren - I’m trying to think about when I wrote them. “Barbara Jean” and “I Don’t Think About You At All,” were two songs that I wrote before we even decided we were moving to Nashville. But I knew they felt different and special to me, and I didn’t want them to be The Whiskey Gentry songs. I was going to hold onto them because they were special. And then last December - we had gone out on the road with The Whiskey Gentry - and Jason was playing a guitar riff at soundcheck, and I was setting up merch when I went “What are you playing?” and he was like “I don’t know!” and I made him take out his voice recorder to get it right there [laughs]. So he called up the rest of the guys and they were messing around on it, and that wound up being the riff on “Viki Lynn.” [Jason] kept playing that riff for months and months, and we were going into the studio on March 27th, and I still hadn’t written lyrics. Sometimes I’ll feel pressured and don’t want to do it, but then I just sat down for an hour to see what happens. That’s how “Viki Lynn” wound up being made. “Mess Around,” Whit sent us a riff, and it was kind of the same thing - “Whoa! I love that.” - and sat with it for the next day, and just sort of came up with the structures, chords, and melody with Jason. So we decided those were going to be the ones. I have another song called “Alabama” that’s not on the EP, so we’re going to save that in the bank for the full-length. We play it out live, and I really love it. It’s a really special song to me too.
N/I - But it’s somehow different from the songs on the EP?
Lauren - It needs more attention than the amount of time we had. When we recorded the EP, we went in and tracked it live for two days. We did as little overdubbing as we could possibly do. So it did feel a little rushed. We decided to re-record it later rather than rush something into existence.
N/I - So being in Nashville, and Nashville being very different than Atlanta in terms of the communities of music and how they relate to the type of music you play - I don’t want to necessarily categorize it as “Americana” or “Country,” because sometimes that can be a disservice.
Lauren - Exactly. It’s so hard. And people will get upset if you use the wrong tag-word…. It’s hard to describe appropriately.
N/I - And a year from now, if you want to put out a disco record or something, people might not respond in the best manner, because of that previously ascribed genre vertical. Anyway, back to the original question - with there being a lot of people in town that play the same style of music you and Jason play, do you have to manage expectations with the new record? Or stifle expectations because you don’t know where your release will fall within this new community?
Lauren - Oh yeah. Let’s just say doing a rebrand in general is terrifying, and to have 9500 Facebook followers that are this fanbase that we’ve built over ten years of road dogging it and doing whatever we have to do, and to suddenly flip a switch and say “We’re not The Whiskey Gentry anymore, we’re Lauren Morrow!”....
N/I - And on top of all of that, it’s you. There’s no buffer of a stage name or band name.
Lauren - Or a buffer of six other people standing with you in the front. You’re just going “Hi! I’m by myself.” So that was scary, but honestly - I don’t want to jinx myself - it’s gone really smoothly and way better than I could have expected. And I think you’re right, my expectation has…. I’ve also played music for almost a decade, so I’ve learned to not get too excited. Every record that’s come out, I’m like “This is the one!” and then it never does bad, but you have to be reasonable and know that there’s a lot out there.
N/I - Within reason is good. But then you know if there are 9500 people who are fans in whatever capacity, it’s not like you’ll release an album and all 9500 people go “You know what, this sucks. We’re no longer fans.”
Lauren - And we played Bristol Rhythm & Roots this past weeked as Lauren Morrow of The Whiskey Gentry and we sold maybe 50 CDs of the EP. We’ve never sold 50 CDs of The Whiskey Gentry there. At the shows we’re honest with everyone about the fact that this is what needed to happen, and people will still hear The Whiskey Gentry songs, but we have a configuration with pedal steel and guitar, it’s not banjo and mandolin anymore. We’re just honest with people about it needing to happen, and it’s been great. I feel like I’ve had more response from people being like “Good for you.” instead of going “Well, it didn’t really pan out. I’m done.” I’m just switching gears and moving this other way. I think what I learned quickly in coming here was there is so much talent here, and there are so many talented people here and it is inspiring, but also terrifying on some level. I learned here that the more I compare myself to someone else’s looks or their journey or their success, the more miserable of a person I was going to be. I can’t think about it. I can’t think about what the future is. I have to think “What’s happening today that’s good?” and I have to do that, otherwise I will go nuts. I just have to be like “This is all great. It’s all working out, and everything is fine.” People may be like “Wow! Rose colored glasses,” but it works for me.
N/I - I think it’ll only serve as things continue on.
Lauren - It protects your heart and protects your head, and you just go “Hey, I’m great!” and it allows you to be genuinely happy for other people, too. To go “Yes! You are killing it! You are awesome!” That’s something I didn’t feel a whole lot of in Atlanta, because I felt - quite honestly - jealous. Jealous of what was happening with other people rather than being excited for them. And now I feel more excited for other people, and now I feel more excited for myself, because I feel like I’m a part of it. I feel like I’m a part of something here.