Girl from Tennessee

I grew up in a valley in East Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains and fairly close to Dolly Parton's hometown. Despite having a childhood in Tennessee, I never listened to much country music or bluegrass, opting instead for "Annie," Barbra Streisand, and all things musical theatre. This love for musical theatre eventually led to New York City. 


 
Be a squeaky wheel!
— Renée Glicker, About Artists Agency, New York, NY
 

I got an agent within the first few months of my move to New York City, thanks to a very generous friend who recommended me. At our initial meeting, I marvelled at hundreds of headshots and résumés stacked in what seemed like random piles all over the tiny, cluttered midtown office. And the agent was just so...New York. I was intimidated beyond belief. The last thing she told me was, "Be a squeaky wheel!" I agreed, but I'm pretty sure I had to ask around to understand what she meant. Basically, she was going to forget about me unless I picked up the phone and bugged her. The thought that this was required of me turned my stomach. I got the courage up a few times to call, the check in, to update her on classes I was taking or some piece of semi-encouraging news. My hands would shake, I would sweat profusely, and stutter when I finally was able to speak with her. Something told me there and then that I was not going to go far in the musical theatre scene. Despite this painful realisation, I stuck it out for 6 years, barely auditioning, and protecting myself from any potential rejection.

Years later, I was living in London, waiting on my UK visa so that I could get on with working and starting a life here. I had a great deal of free time on my hands. My husband had composed instrumental pieces, but hadn't ever written for a singer. We thought we should give the whole songwriting team thing a go. I came up with an idea for a groove, and we started playing around with ideas. This is one of our early sessions (recorded on my phone) with a drummer friend. He's the one who keeps yelling, "sorry!"

Now that we had established this idea, the time had come to write lyrics. Having never written any, I laboured night and day over these. I had spent long enough in the world of musical theatre to know what it felt like to try to make the best of some pretty bad lyrics. I always cringe when lyrics feel shoehorned into a line, or when they break up a rhythm. My friend Steve helped me out with a couple of good lines during a co-writing session, and then I was off! Out came a song about a girl from Tennessee who just couldn't cut it in New York. That wasn't my initial idea, but the song went there almost on its own. Brutally. Honestly. Here's the final version from my EP:

There was a time when I thought this might be the only song I would ever write. Fortunately, that has not been the case. Better things to come...

Julie StirmanComment