There was an important trip I took where I went from Memphis down to Clarksdale, Mississippi, down to New Orleans. I think it’s important for every American to do it. And any fan of music has got to do it. You got to do your own thing down Highway 61. And once you see it, you just get it. And you come to treasure your own American heritage more than you would otherwise.
Do you think because of that trip these songs had no choice but to come out sounding like this?
These are the materials, yeah. There was something about getting behind the wheel, bringing a guitar and a notebook and a pen, that’s it. Just get back to the land in your own ways. This album is a pickup truck and a shovel in the back. It was get down to basic elements.
“Beehive” was produced by Rodney Crowell who also produced Chely Wright’s “Lifted Off The Ground” disc, so he’s on his way to becoming the lesbian country diva performer of choice. What was it like to work with Rodney?
There should be a statue of Rodney in Nashville. Or in Houston, if they knew. He’s so…I’m trying to find the words for him. He’s deeply kind and deeply cool at the same time. How anyone can manage that, I don’t know. But he does. He’s so smart and so tuned in. And all the guys would just play. They would go through the wall for him. If he asked you to do something you would do it. All the players just gave their best and then some. And stayed late, because they believed in the songs, which was really the big honor.
In the tradition of the Nashville songwriter, “Red Dress,” “Doctor Doctor” and “I Know What I Want” are all songs that any dude could sing. But it was great to hear those gender pronouns in tact, it gives it that queer edge.
Yeah, it gives it a queer edge, and it gives it a contemporary edge. There’s the fun. But no, women in the 1930s didn’t get to sing these songs.
There was Lucille Bogan and Alberta Hunter.
Yeah, there was a little bit of bending. But this was like we snapped the pixie sticks all the way over [laughs]. Right?
Do you foresee yourself spending more time in Nashville?
Yeah, Nashville is great. This is going to surprise some people who think that Nashville is a backwater. But Nashville has a couple things to offer any fan of music. Nashville honors a storyteller, let me say that. It honors the telling of story with music. It honors virtuosic talent, of certain kinds.
And, as back waters go, it’s a fairly sophisticated back water. You have the symphony, you’ve got restaurants, it’s a good quality of life in Nashville. It’s a big small town. I think Nashville is underrated. Especially when you encounter the pool of musical talent that’s there.
Add to the fact that there is a growing queer community in Nashville.
That’s where the fresh energy is now. When you think about Utah, Georgia, it’s these states. I always like playing blue towns in red states. Those are my favorite audiences. They’re the most intense audiences.
I love Fort Worth. I love Cow Town. Because it’s so conservative. But the liberals there are like “please, come and tell us we’re not crazy [laughs].” There’s the Bay Area and there’s Boston, those are both great markets for me, it’s wonderful, but you just feel like there’s almost nothing I could do that would just send a jolt down the center aisle.
You’re a breath of fresh air in these places. Maybe they’ll give you the key to the city in Nashville or Fort Worth.
And I’m happy to go there. Gives my work meaning.
Top photo: Out singer-songwriter Susan Werner heads south, taking on country music with her current album, ‘Kicking the Beehive.’ (Publicity photo)