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Joy Lynn White

A Conversation with Joy Lynn White

Puremusic: [tape comes on with the conversation already in progress] ...because Joy is already starting to say stuff that I need on tape. What did you say--"because I went to the wrong town and stayed too long."

Joy Lynn White: Yeah, I went to Nashville.

PM: [laughs]

JLW: If I had it to do over again, I certainly wouldn't have stayed here. I mean, like this place, but--I got a house here. I like Nashville. But I mean, I wish years ago I would have gone like to New York and L.A., and lots of places and really lived there. And I think I would have been a lot more appreciated in those places.

So, you have your questions all lined up, or do you just do stuff off the top of your head, Frank? [laughs]

PM: I have some questions in case I don't know where I'm going or I get flustered or otherwise absent-minded. It's rare enough that I get to do this with my friends. But I don't normally do it live. Normally I'm on the phone.

JLW: It just so happens this day turned out to be that way. I said, "I can just come over here."

PM: Yeah. And you're sitting right where Al Anderson sat for an interview just a month or two ago. I liked your record from the first time I heard it when you sent me the advance copy. But today I felt like I heard it for the first time. I put on a set of fresh ears, and I listened. And today I really realized how very good it is.

JLW: Cool. Well, it had one too many songs on it, too, the one that you had. And when I took that off of it and then we busted our asses on that sequence, we finally got the right one. It was an extremely hard record to sequence.

PM: Why, do you think?

JLW: Maybe because the songs come from all over the place. You know what I mean? One song might have been written seven years ago, and one might have been written eight years ago, and one might have been written two years ago. And that's what they were. So it's not like I kind of sat there and wrote for the record. It was not like that at all. They're from all different years, some that I've written a long time ago and some of them were more recent.

PM: So what was the oldest song?

JLW: Have you got it where I can look at the titles?

PM: I've only go it handy in iTunes. I'll look it up while we're talking, because I want to talk about the individual songs.

JLW: I think probably one of the oldest songs on there is "Victim of Love," actually.

PM: And who is the co-writer?

JLW: Angelo.

PM: Angelo, wow. [A ubiquitous and yet underground character who's written and/or produced with a wide array of interesting acts from Kim Richey to the Kings of Leon.]

JLW: Yeah, because I can reference things by when my niece was killed. Because, really, after she was killed, I pretty much shut down everything when it came to the career, and now I'm back. I tried to come back earlier than this, but I went and did the play for a while, and other stuff.

PM: Right. So the big label debut was--

JLW: 1992.

PM: And then your niece died shortly after?

JLW: No, no. 1992, and then 1995 was another release on Columbia Records.

PM: What was the second one?

JLW:Wild Love, on Columbia. And shortly after that was out in '95, I think by '96, I was out of there--or '95. And then in '97 was The Lucky Few, that was produced by Pete Anderson out in L.A. That was on Little Dog. And that was a number one Americana record for two weeks, when Gavin had the Americana charts. And that came out in April of '97.

And in January of '98, my niece was killed. She was twelve years old. She was killed with her whole family in a flash flood. They were driving in a van, and they were trying to get out of it, and they drove the wrong way, and it just swept the van away and killed them all.

PM: Oh, my God.

JLW: So it was a huge tragedy.

And I was really disappointed in the record label and everyone that was working with me at the time, and did not want to do another record, anyway, for Little Dog. I was not going to. And when that happened, it was kind of the last straw, because mentally I really was not up to trying to stay out there with literally no help anyway.

PM: Right. Was the label just too undercapitalized to do what you needed them to do?

JLW: Completely undercapitalized and it wasn't even run like a real label. It was like--I mean, I don't care what you write about it, but he didn't know how to run a label at all, for anybody. So I mean, he had somebody like me who actually was doing things and had stuff going, and everybody that was involved dropped the ball, everyone, from management to booking to the label. So you can't win like that.

PM: Yeah.

JLW: So when you're in a situation like that, you just go, "You know what? I quit."

PM: Yeah.

JLW: You stop and you redo things because you're just digging a deeper hole for yourself.

PM: Although without defending them in any way, one certainly sees that the same or similar kind of better capitalized incompetence goes on at major labels.

JLW: That's the best word, "incompetence," that is.

PM: Yeah.

JLW: And I'm sure that from lots of angles, you could say that about Columbia. But the good thing I can say about them was that they did treat me well as a person. I was treated with a lot of respect over there. They did put a lot of money into me. They put four videos out on me. And they got my name out to the world. Without that, you really wouldn't know anything about me, because the Little Dog record deal would never have done that at all. [laughs]

PM: Right. Columbia did that.

JLW: Yes, that is who did that. What also helped was the fact that I was very different, too, when I came out. So I have nothing really bad to say about Columbia. I wish they would have stuck with me. But I don't want to be in the world of commercial country music anyway. I don't fit in that. I fit in the world of alt-country, where if I want to really do a stone country song, I can do it. I don't want to live or die by the charts.

PM: And country pop, and all that.

JLW: Right, and they're wanting the records to sound like they sound, and all that. I don't listen to that, and I don't--it's just not me.

PM: Well, the good news, though, is that after the major and the minor label experiences, and living through the time off, the tragedy and the rethinking of what you wanted to do, somehow you ended up with the right person here. [Producer Kyle Lehning, that is.]

JLW: Writing a lot of songs. That's what I did. I was beginning to do that before that happened. I was really starting to come into my own as a songwriter, although I will never feel that I'm quite up to par with people that you might say are my peers, because I just would never think that much about myself. It's just the way I am. I always strive to be better, all the time. So I don't compare myself with songwriting people like Lucinda Williams or Iris Dement or anything like that, but it sure is a huge compliment to me that those people like what I do.

PM: Yeah.

JLW: They like particular songs. And that really means a lot to me. That means more to me than having Grammy nominations and number ones--I mean, it would mean a lot to have the number one songs only because you're able to work and you're able to do shows like you want to. It entitles you to do that.

But to make me happy in my little world that I live in, no, I don't need all those kudos from a world out there that I think really doesn't know the difference between who's good and who isn't. [laughs]

PM: Right. How did you end with up with so right a guy to do this record? How did that whole thing happen?

JLW: It was a long time coming. I had met Kyle Lehning lots of different times through the twenty-three years I've lived in Nashville. And I have been writing for Welk Publishing here in Nashville. Bob Kirsch signed me about four years ago. He's always been a true believer in me. And he's good friends with Kyle Lehning. I had been given another record deal back on Sony from a showcase that I did about, what was it, 2001 or 2002? And Blake Chancey was going to sign me on that Lucky Dog label that was on Sony.

PM: From Little Dog to Lucky Dog.

JLW: Yeah, I know, isn't that funny?

PM: For a pet person like yourself, that's amusing.

JLW: They wanted me really bad. The Dixie Chicks had cut a lot of stuff off my first two Columbia records. And there were a lot of people out there that just happened to be at a place where a bunch of Sony people were, and they flipped out and wanted me on that label because it had the Robison brothers, and Billy Joe Shaver. It was their Texas singer songwriter-esque label--the Derailers were on there. Kyle Lehning had produced a record for the Derailers for Lucky Dog. And so I had a deal on that. And I was talking with a lot of different producers.  continue

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