Four-time Grammy winner and Nashville Songwriters' Hall of Fame inductee Rosanne Cash plays with John Leventhal at the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. The Journal interviewed her by phone from Nashville about her newest album She Remembers Everything and her relationship with writing.
North Coast Journal: What was going on in your career when you made She Remembers Everything and why did you choose the collaborators you used?
Rosanne Cash: Many were people I've known a long time. Sam Phillips and I have known each other for about 30 years. John Leventhal is my husband and he's my musical partner. As far as Elvis [Costello] and Kris [Kristofferson], I've known Kris since I was a teenager and Elvis for 25 years. As far as what was going on, I had made three records in a row that were themed records, The River and the Thread, The List and Black Cadillac, and people were like, "You need to make another themed record, they are successful," and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I needed so badly to get back to my next 10 songs as a personal songwriter. These are all personal songs. At this point in my life I felt like I have a lot to say, I have less time to say it. I think these songs have a distinctly feminine perspective and some of them are kind of gothic. Gothically feminine (laughs) and you know they're all from experience.
NCJ: You said these were personal songs. What were you thinking and feeling when you wrote the title song "She Remembers Everything?"
RC: I was feeling a lot of rage, to tell you the truth. This was prior to the #MeToo movement but it was prescient in some way. I was thinking about trauma and how we spend our lives trying to accommodate trauma or get away from it, deny it. And who we were before the trauma happened. Like what direction would our lives have taken? I was thinking about myself but really about women. And that's how the first line came to me: "Who knows who she used to be before it all went dark?" And the rest of it, it doesn't have a linear narrative but it's about urgency and disturbance and trying to burst out of yourself. And hiding and where you can get comfort. That's what the lyrics are about. And I asked Sam Phillips if she would write the music. And I felt she wrote the perfect melody for it because it has the same kind of urgency as the lyrics.
NCJ: You have written before that when you write songs, you tend to write the lyrics first. Was that true here?
RC: It's mostly true. I often write songs with someone else writing the music. When I do write the music a lot of times it starts with a melody in my head and it goes from there.
NCJ: You wrote a piece for The New York Times more than a decade ago about recovering from brain surgery and grief from loss of loved ones, in which you mentioned your songwriting engine getting turned back on after a long period. Is this a common theme in your life?
RC: You know I think that one thing I was trying to get at in that piece is that pain can target your life and you can lose your feeling for art and love and music and everything. It is a horrible filter to see the world through.
But sometimes, for very good reasons, the engine gets turned off. Sometimes after having a baby I wouldn't write for a year or two. And rightly so. The baby takes all of your creative energy and the baby deserves that. And the first time I thought, "Oh my god I'll never write again!" And the next time I thought, "Oh, this is a cycle, it comes back around."
And then there have been other times when there has been physical pain and things like that. And then there are worse reasons, like when I get too busy (laughs). It's very hard for me to write on the road. I don't do it that much.
NCJ: Have you been to Humboldt County before, and what can your fans here expect from the show?
RC: I think I have been to the county but I don't believe I have ever played Eureka, unless I am forgetting something from 35 years ago.
This is a duo, me and John Leventhal — he is my partner and also he produced and co-wrote five tracks on the album. It's an intimate show, has a lot of energy, a lot of fun. We're going to be doing new songs, as well as going back into my catalog. It's very musical. John is a tremendous musician. He really carries it. He sounds like a band.
I can't wait to see it. Eureka has always seemed kind of exotic.