Family keeps hit songwriter Lori McKenna grounded, inspired

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Singer-songwriter Lori McKenna now has a Grammy trophy sitting on her piano at her home in Massachusetts, thanks to Little Big Town's hit song "Girl Crush," but her five kids still don't think that makes her cool.

"They are impossible to impress," the 47-year-old McKenna said during a recent interview in Nashville, Tennessee, with a laugh. "But thank God for them, because I would get too much into it and take myself too seriously. If someone wasn't asking me when dinner was, I think I would be in trouble."

Over her career, which spans back into the late '90s, she's written songs for Faith Hill, Alison Krauss, Reba, Keith Urban and Hunter Hayes in her basement just outside of Boston, between loads of laundry and cooking. But recently she's been on a successful streak, winning a Grammy this year for best country song for co-writing "Girl Crush" with Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey.

"When you get a Grammy, you're supposed to drink champagne out of it," McKenna said. "We were kidding at my house, like we should really eat mac n' cheese out of this."

On Friday, she will release her tenth album, "The Bird & the Rifle," which includes her version of "Humble & Kind," a No. 1 hit for country star Tim McGraw that has spawned a music video collaboration with Oprah Winfrey and even a book that was released this year.

"I just wrote it one day when the kids were at school, and I literally was thinking about, 'Have we told them everything we want to tell them?'" she said.

Her kids are really proud of that song because it's all about them, she said. And she manages to impart advice to her children, such as don't lie, don't cheat and don't steal, without sounding preachy.

"The Bird & the Rifle" was produced by Dave Cobb, who helped country singer Chris Stapleton and Americana artist Jason Isbell also pick up Grammys this year, and together they achieve a nostalgic collection of folk-country songs filled with vivid imagery and honest, authentic lyrics.

"You always feel like you've written a good song if it feels like an old song," McKenna said.

McKenna's skill as a songwriter is finding inspiration in the most mundane places, such as on the title track, "The Bird & the Rifle." She was folding laundry and listening to a rerun of the ABC sitcom "Modern Family" when one of the characters makes a joke about a mother and daughter getting matching tattoos of "a bird and a rifle."

The songwriter turned that punch line into an extended metaphor about the tortured relationship between a woman who wants to spread her wings and the man who wants to keep her close.

"I think it makes it cooler in a way that it comes from a joke 'cause it sounds really dark," McKenna said. "And maybe it is, but she does fly away."




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