wears the trousers magazine

best of 2009: a conversation with cortney tidwell
December 31, 2009, 2:08 pm
Filed under: feature, interrupting yr broadcast | Tags: , , ,

The image that graces the sleeve of Nashville-raised singer-songwriter Cortney Tidwell’s second album Boys – a pseudo X-ray of a young child’s head filled with a jumble of overlaid, faded photographs – has a ghostly, unsettling aura about it, and it’s a very similar sense of damaged nostalgia that carries on into the music, creating a fractured and disparate album full of secrets and personal turmoil. Not necessarily something you might imagine coming from the imagination of a happily married schoolteacher and mother of two, but then Cortney has never really fit into any neat preconceptions. Wears The Trousers caught up with Cortney over email a while ago to chat about the new album, about working with her husband, and how the children in her life inspire her music.

* * *

Getting to see you play live again was one of our highlights of 2009. Did you enjoy being back in the UK?

The UK tour was superb. I love touring with Andrew Bird. We’ve done some US shows together and he is so inspiring to be around. And then, of course, I got to do some shows with Gossip and finally meet Beth Ditto – great fun because we’re both Southern girls and we were able to go balls out on the Southern drawl stuff. She has transformed into this superstar yet still seems so grounded and down to earth.

You’ve thanked your fans for hanging with you “through the fog”, so there have clearly been some tough times too. What ups and downs have you experienced personally in the music industry?

I think the ups are obvious: being able to play music in a beautiful city – just to play is therapy for me. Music has given me the opportunity to see the world. I’ve been to some amazing places. Because both of the labels I’ve been signed to are German, I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin. I just feel very fortunate to have seen these beautiful European cities. To travel and play music is dreamy. I’m lucky. A record label is willing to put out my records. Enough said.

The negative is that you put yourself out there. I’m vulnerable, you know. You open yourself up to all this scrutiny and it can be tough sometimes. People want to label me but they can’t. I have no gimmick, I have no ‘look’. I’m just doing my thing, making my little songs. I had a rough time as a child, but I always had music. Music saved my life. It did.

How do you think your new album has evolved with your own life experiences?

This album in particular is about all the boys in my life. I’m outnumbered by all of them: my family, my bandmates etc. It was kind of driving me mad so I just said, ‘Screw it, I’ll write about it.’ I think it’s when I’m most creative, when I’m mad or sad.

What influence do children have on your music?

So much because I teach music at preschool and my approach to music has been very immature through the years. I’m very impatient and sadly never wanted to learn music theory or venture into the mathematics of music. I think for some people it comes naturally, the numbers and the notes. For me, it’s just playing by ear. I’m self-taught, except for piano which was forced upon me as a child and as a result I never wanted to play piano much. With my children, I just let them learn in their own way. Music comes naturally, or it doesn’t. I’m influenced because most of my songs are very simple, two- or three-chord songs.

Was there much difference between the making of Don’t Let Stars Keep Us Tangled Up and Boys?

I think so, yes. I have been playing with the boys in the band a little longer, and we tracked some songs live in the studio. ‘Solid State’ is one take – I’m very proud of that.

How do you find working with your husband?

Wonderful and tough. He knows me better than anyone. I’m a control freak when it comes to my music. I don’t like to be told what to do, or how and when to do something, which is why I havent worked with a producer. But Todd can give me negative feedback and I can’t fire him! No, he’s brilliant. We grew up together and we have the same vision ultimately.

What’s your favourite song on the new album?

‘Oh Suicide’. I recorded the vocal in the studio one night after a long day. I think it was about 3am and I cried the whole way through it.

You’ve worked with some amazingly talented people. Who would you love to collaborate with?

Emmylou Harris. She’s next. You out there Emmylou? I’m coming for you.

Not Björk then!

I think the latest references to Björk are getting to me. I’m Southern; I’m a Southern girl who fell in love with New Wave. I incorporate so many different styles of music but I think I need to get away from the comparisons, somehow, some way. I’m influenced by so many women. My favourite female artist is Joni Mitchell. I worship her.

Mario Onnis

Boys is out now on City Slang. Visit Cortney’s Myspace for more info.


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