Lori McKenna was raised in a Boston family of six children. She met her husband Gene in third grade. They have five kids. And over the last three decades, as she became a wife and mother, she has also emerged as one of the most respected, prolific singer-songwriters in popular music. Her 2016 release The Bird and the Rifle netted three Grammy nominations, along with Americana Music Association nods––all firsts for McKenna as an artist. Then, she made history: In 2016, she became the first woman ever to win the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year two years in a row thanks to co-writing Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and penning Tim McGraw’s no. 1 “Humble and Kind” solo. Both songs also clinched back-to-back Grammy wins for Best Country Song. In 2017, she became the Academy of Country Music’s first female Songwriter of the Year. The list of stars who have recorded McKenna gems continues to grow: Reba, Alison Krauss, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, Hunter Hayes, and others. She is also the mastermind behind Janice at the Hotel Bar *cue tears*.
Listen to a playlist of songs she has written here.
What have you been up to during this time?
I’m a homebody anyway, and I live in the south of Boston and I fly to Nashville a few times a month to write and occasionally I’ll finish a song over zoom or FaceTime. It’s a little difficult to write that way and it’s been really busy. But I feel like a lucky one because I am used to working from home. My husband works for the gas company and he’s still going to work everyday.
You met your husband in 3rd grade?! Tell me about your family.
I did, and we knew each other but we started dating sophomore year of high school – he just couldn’t get rid of me. We’ll be married 31 years in November ! We had 3 boys by the time we ere 25- thought we were done and then 7 years later had a daughter and we could leave her alone, so we decided to have our youngest son. They are thick as thieves. My oldest is 30 and my youngest is 15. My daughter is a senior in high school and so she’s missing a lot but she’s handling it really well. 2 of our kids live in Nashville and then 3 of our kids live at home. Two of my kids are songwriters and they’re doing it. Going out and sticking their neck out. I am so proud of them.
Tell us a little bit of your story
So the cliff notes, I am the youngest of 6 kids and I grew up in a musical family. 2 of my brothers were song writers. I just always wrote songs since I was in middle school – it was my way of journaling, I just made up songs. We didn’t grow up listening to country music – we grew up listening to James Taylor. I always sort of leaned towards country music. I got married young and I stared doing open mics in Boston and more writing. My friend shared a record I had made in Nashville, where it ended up in Faith Hills hands, I got a publishing deal without ever being in Nashville. It’s just been one foot in front of the other, I always rewarded for taking chances and believing and trying. I’m not a singer singer but when you see someone like Faith Hill or Tim McGraw take your song – it’s just an amazing gift. I was just so lucky, it was like I won the lottery and I didn’t buy a ticket. It does take some luck but you have to follow the luck. I had never co0- written a song before I had a publishing deal, so I really found my community once I started writing.
Okay, so how did you find me? How did this happen?
It’s funny because now that I am a little more into instagram. I know I found you because of Nicolle Galyon, because she made one of your recipes and I really liked it – then she tagged you and I just started following you. Just a sheet pan dinner brought us together. But I am such a big fan of yours. I say several times a week “Well Living With Landyn said…” I will buy anything you tell me!
Where did Janice at the Hotel Bar come from?
So Hailey came up here to write with me, and she’s is just a wise soul that girl. The first time she came to write, she came up with the idea, Happy People which Little Big Town cut. She is just a special girl. So she came up to write and the thing about Janice is that she reminded me of my own grandmother. First of all the fact that you sat with her and talked to her – I thought that was amazing. I saw my grandmother in her right away, and I think that her list that you wrote down, there’s so much over lap in all of that. I love all the details that can make you understand the person. All those things she was saying tells you who she is. Hailey and I were talking about those kind of things and it reminded me of Janice and I had taken screen shots in my phone.
Whenever you Instagram blew up sending all their Janice’s – that was such a gift. The things I love about Janice, is that you gave it a name. That’s what you do everyday. I love that you share your life.
Where did Humble + Kind come from?
I literally wrote that song in my dining room, I usually write in my basement. I was sitting there and I don’t think I got out of my PJ’s that day. I was mentally making a list, that my husband and I want to make sure to tell our kids. It kinda came a little bit out of exhaustion and not being heard by my children. I literally didn’t move that day. My husband came home and I had it done. That song is very simple. I was gifted by the song writing gods that the chorus came out how I wanted it to. At that time my oldest was 25 and my youngest was 10. I sang it in my phone, then I emailed it to McGraw. When my husband came home, I sang it to my husband and he loved it. Eventually I saw Tim and he said he was going to cut it. When I first heard the song I balled like a baby. My kids all know its their song.
How long was it from start to finish from your dining room to the radio?
That one was kinda fast, the thing about songs is it can take a year. This one took about 1.5 years. I love Faith and Tim and they’re just like all of us, they love their kids more than anything in the world.
What else ya got cookin’?
I have a record coming out in July, The Balladeer, and it’s another new 10 songs that I recorded, with producer Dave Cobb. I got to record it in the same way I recorded my past 2 records. We’re working on shows and what that looks like, so we’re figuring that out. Other than that I am making home content to go with my songs and I’m just writing. I don’t typically like camera’s and I’m not the best with technology. I’m doing zoom happy hours with our friends when we can. Getting ready for Easter this Sunday, and my husband is a good cook. I’ve really been talking to my girlfriends a lot more and embrace that.
What’s your quarantine snack?
I made chocolate chip cookies the other day, I used to make them all the time when my kids were little. I am kinda a salty and sweet person. I try to not eat sugar, it’s a slippery slope. I am currently drinking my sugar everyday. A glass of red wine but I can go back and forth. Tonight we’ll have leftovers because I made American Chop Suey (elbow mac shells, ground beef and marinara sauce, craft single cheese 25 minutes until it’s ready) My favorite jar sauce is from a local restaurant.
some of my favorite quotes from the live
I love Nashville more than anything, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else
everyone that I’ve met in Nashville has just a great great heart
the love that you have for a person, that’s what’s going to stay with you
we have to be happy in the skin we’re in
complimenting another woman, you have no idea what that does for her
what you do is a bit of a master class in what to do as a woman today
Thank you so much for this interview! My daughter is an aspiring singer/songwriter here in Atlanta. Lori McKenna is so grounded and real. I enjoyed being able to share this with my kid.