Rosanne Cash Wants to Dismantle the Country Music Patriarchy

Four a long time after releasing her first document, Rosanne Cash nonetheless defies stereotypes. In a yr when many nation stars select to stay silent on points starting from the NRA to gender equality, the 63-year-old singer writes op-eds about stopping gun violence, leads advocacy and social-justice efforts (she helped promote the Music Modernization Act into legislation in September, and just lately obtained a Spirit of Americana Free Speech in Music Award), and performs live shows throughout the globe. Her 14th studio launch, She Remembers Everything, is a well timed addition to a profession studded with Grammy awards and a best-selling memoir.

The new album illuminates pivotal moments of ladies’s lives in ten songs set to atmospheric country-gothic textures that bridge genres and generations. The moody lead observe, “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For,” is a collaboration with T Bone Burnett and Lera Lynn for the HBO collection True Detective, and options vocals by Cash and the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy; Cash additionally co-wrote cuts together with her producer–multi-instrumentalist husband John Leventhal, plus Elvis Costello, Kris Kristofferson, and Sam Phillips.

You launched She Remembers Everything with a dwell music efficiency in addition to spoken-word appearances by Maria Popova, A.M. Homes, Staceyann Chin, and Jana Levi, who learn written works by Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, and Ursula Okay. Le Guin. That’s loads of girl energy.

Yes, it [was] girls studying each poetry and prose that hook up with the songs, and the phrases had been all by girls writers. I needed to put a stake within the sand. I can’t take it anymore.

When your music “Seven Year Ache” crossed over onto the Billboard Hot 100 in the summertime of 1981, I used to be 12 and heard it at a pool occasion. You had been the primary artist to make nation cool for my technology. Today, there's a form of sisterhood that connects you and Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams to youthful genre-busting songwriters like Brandi Carlile, Kacey Musgraves, and Taylor Swift. What prompted you to defend Swift’s current political “popping out second on Instagram?

I used to be thrilled she took the danger [to speak out in favor of Tennessee’s Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections] as a result of I get a lot blowback and I couldn’t even think about the blowback she’s gotten. She has loads of integrity, and she or he’s self-sufficient. I used to be ready for any individual together with her clout to say one thing. Even although it was a easy endorsement and it was largely about voting, it was massively necessary. Did you see what number of younger folks registered to vote after that? It was superb. I believed it was an act of nice social duty when she did it.

She Remembers Everything is just like your 1990 album, Interiors, in that it explores social points and the common themes of womanhood. You’re a mother of 5 who had small children again then, and also you grew to become a grandmother whereas ending your newest document. Are the 2 albums checkpoints or bookends?

That’s sensible! I actually don’t assume any of the lads [journalists] would have gotten that. Interiors was an inside document however I used to be lots youthful and I may solely go so deep. I hope [She Remembers Everything] will not be a bookend. I hope it’s the opening of a brand new door. My youngest child went off to varsity after I was making the document, so I don’t rise up at 6:30 a.m. to get him to highschool anymore or attempt to be right here when he will get house. I felt I may go a bit of additional into insanity after I didn’t have a toddler in the home to deal with. I may go right into a darkish place and keep there. I imply “My Least Favorite Life” is sort of a nightmare, and in some methods the music “She Remembers Everything” was a type of letting go of the construction I had created for my life.

“eight Gods of Harlem” references each the #MeToo motion and your stance on gun management within the line, “We pray to the god of gunfire and remorse” Is the music a rebuttal to politicians’ “ideas and prayers” rhetoric about weapons in America? 

I didn’t consider it as a rebuttal, however that may be a honest and correct [assumption]. I simply wished to set the scene and make it uncooked and truthful so that each one these kids who're killed by gun violence aren’t anonymous. Kris [Kristofferson] and Elvis [Costello] and I've been buddies for a lot of a long time, and I simply had this concept we may write a music collectively. We put a theatrical spin to it, the place I'm [the voice of the mother of the slain child], Kris is the daddy, and Elvis is the brother.

You’re a longtime New Yorker. Is it true you wrote “eight Gods” after you heard a lady mumble “ocho dioses” on the subway?

I used to be happening into the subway and she or he was arising. She was clearly heavy-hearted, her brow was creased, and she or he was speaking to herself. I may have sworn I heard her say “ocho dioses.” I don’t communicate Spanish, however then I used to be on the A practice to Harlem and couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. I’ve labored as an activist towards gun violence for a very long time, so someway I simply made the connection.

You wrote the songs on She Remembers Everything earlier than Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified at U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh’s affirmation listening to, however had been there prior #MeToo experiences or information tales which knowledgeable the album?

Besides “eight Gods”? No, I believe it’s extra a matter of patterns and the sentiments which have been impressed by every little thing within the headlines over the previous few years — and likewise rage and hope and occupied with my daughters, all my children actually, which is essentially the most painful half. One of my daughters referred to as me after the 2016 election and mentioned, “I really feel like I don’t matter.” I felt like I didn’t matter, like girls didn’t matter, and it’s gotten worse, not higher. It’s like you'll be able to’t be trusted with your personal reminiscence. You can’t be trusted with your personal physique. It’s devastating. I've a lot admiration for the ladies within the [#MeToo] motion who took the danger to talk out. I've my very own tales, you realize. I didn’t inform them publicly as a result of I don’t assume the specifics matter, however the story issues. We all carry these tales in our our bodies.

Have these tales influenced your involvement in a separate undertaking to convey a Norma Rae present to Broadway?

I used to be writing the lyrics for Norma Rae [the musical] earlier than [the focus on #MeToo] occurred. It’s been a four-to-five-year course of, which is now infused with a brand new type of vitality. The present is about in 1973, however there are particular scenes and moments the director modified [to have resonance in 2018]. All of the delicate males round me are getting a crash course in how they give thought to girls and the way girls ought to be handled, although these males are clearly not overtly sexist. I imply, even my very own husband [John Leventhal] mentioned, “I’m actually getting an schooling.” At the start of the #MeToo motion, he informed me, “I don’t assume I do know any males who would do this stuff.” I mentioned, “Yes, you do. You simply don’t know that you just don’t know.”

You’re very supportive of ladies, particularly fellow musicians. Yet, you’ve spent loads of time in your profession recording and performing with males — from Bruce Springsteen and your ex-husband Rodney Crowell to Jeff Bridges and Jeff Tweedy. Was that ever an intentional transfer in your half, so as to be considered as an equal?

I all the time had this sense that I used to be nearly as good because the boys. I by no means preferred the notion of “girls songwriters” and “girls musicians.” I simply felt that wasn’t honest. You shouldn’t make a subset for girls so as to decide them in another way. When I began out [in the 1970s] there was — and nonetheless are — way more males who're producers and lead guitar gamers and engineers than there have been girls. I didn’t spend loads of time occupied with my very own type of private feminist motion, I simply assumed I may do what males did. When my album The River & the Thread got here out [in 2014], I used to be a bit of embarrassed, as a result of although Allison Moorer and Catherine Russell sang on it, somebody mentioned, “Don’t you realize any girls musicians?” I went, “Oh shit!” And I began taking a look at it as a result of I’d by no means thought of [making music] as being like a Fortune 500 firm or U.S. Congress, the place it ought to be 50 p.c girls. It’s such as you simply work with the folks you're employed with. I don’t know, perhaps I’ve been mistaken about that each one alongside.

Or perhaps you’ve been proper since you’re not limiting your self? You co-wrote the title observe “She Remembers Everything” with revered singer and songwriter Sam Phillips. How did that come about?

We share a writer and he steered Sam and I write collectively. I really like her as a author. I used to be in L.A. on my own doing one thing, and I referred to as and requested her for a date. She goes, “Perfect. Sara Watkins is taking part in at Largo, let’s have dinner and go see Sara.” So we did and we talked and talked. Later, I wrote the lyrics to “She Remembers Everything” and despatched them to [Sam]. A couple of months later, she despatched them again [with the music] and I cherished it. When I took the music to Tucker [Martine, the song’s producer, whose credits include R.E.M. and My Morning Jacket] I didn’t fairly understand how we had been going to interpret it with the band, however we fleshed out an concept that was fairly near the association in his head. Of course, Sam needed to sing on it.

I can’t consider many different writers whose songs take a look at private relationships throughout a continuum of life the way in which that the uptempo “Not Many Miles to Go” does. You don’t write compartmentalized verses about hookups or breakups. The phrases on this music are about you and John [Leventhal] and the gloriously messy span of an extended, intimate partnership. Did you visualize this music as a timeline?

I couldn’t have written it when it was nonetheless all about lust and heartbreak and intercourse. John and I've been collectively 25 years, and it slowly begins to daybreak on you that considered one of you goes to depart earlier than the opposite. That is inevitable and it’s extremely unhappy. And so I began wanting round for the touchstones of our life — you realize, the issues that had repeating resonance for us and are constants, like his Telecaster [guitar] which is all the time there, his glass of bourbon on the finish of the day, how he complained for years about my sense of rhythm, like, “Honey, the tempo! Watch your time!” The music, “Crossing to Jerusalem,” can be about the identical subject material, but it surely’s extra in regards to the one factor you’ll take with you while you go away. The final verse is about seeing cities via tiny airplane home windows and the phases and lodge rooms we’ve wandered via collectively all over the world.

“Crossing to Jerusalem” additionally follows a historic line of songs with Jerusalem within the title — together with the English church hymn with lyrics borrowed from a William Blake poem and music by Hubert Parry which additionally grew to become an anthem for the ladies’s suffrage motion within the 1920s. Is there any explicit significance for you within the which means of Jerusalem?

I've music lyrics on my cellphone, and I stored pondering, What is that this music about? I simply preferred the way in which the phrase “Jerusalem” rolls off the tongue. Then I believed, Oh, Jerusalem is the opposite facet. Jerusalem is leaving the planet. I used to be doing an interview with a German author the opposite day and he had a very laborious time with that concept. I mentioned,”‘No, no, no. The music’s not about faith.” I don’t actually imagine in heaven or hell, however there is one other facet. Energy doesn’t die.

You survived mind surgical procedure a decade in the past and are interested by quantum physics. To me, the music “Particle and Wave” melds these experiences. What does the “rainbow of struggling”imply?

I don’t imagine we’re on the planet simply to expertise happiness. We all are inclined to push away from ache and struggling.  You know, it’s not snug, however ache is half of life. I imply, no person escapes that. I do know it sounds trite, however I wished to acknowledge that there might be magnificence in struggling.

In “The Undiscovered Country,” you sing about Shakespeare and your father “who kick mud up in my goals” after which observe it up a couple of strains later with the sentiment, “It’s my flip, I received’t look again.” The music alludes to the sacrifices girls make for one another and for future generations. Tell me in regards to the writing course of.

For months, I labored over the lyrics to “The Undiscovered Country.” I used to be decided I used to be going to put in writing the music myself as a result of I felt that the music is a form of mission assertion. The previous, the longer term, the lady who walks alongside the ocean is the savior we didn’t embrace — whoever she is, whether or not she’s Hillary [Clinton] or whether or not it’s us. I wrote 4 totally different melodies for it. All of them are nonetheless on my cellphone. I lastly thought, “John would know how one can write the music to this, he’ll discover it,” and he did in a short time. So I simply had to surrender no matter hubris or territoriality I've about songwriting and do what was greatest for the music. Ultimately, that’s what [a songwriter wants], proper?

I keep in mind first seeing Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash as visitor stars on the 1970s TV collection Little House on the Prairie slightly than as nation music legends on a stage. You’re pleased with your loved ones — your earlier three albums [2014’s Grammy-winning The River & the Thread, The List (2009), and Black Cadillac (2006)] honored your relationships together with your mother and father [including your mother, Vin Liberto Cash], as does your new ballad, “Everyone But Me.” Does it annoy you when music journalists focus extra in your heritage than your music? She Remembers Everything seems like the ultimate straw.

You’re completely proper. The album is so profoundly a feminine narrative and a lady’s lengthy story. If the takeaway from it's that I’m Johnny Cash’s daughter, I simply … I’m gonna snap. Because it’s so sexist to maintain defining girls by the lads they’re associated to, irrespective of how well-known these males are. Particularly since I’ve been doing this for 40 years. People should cease [writing about] who my mother and father are.

This interview has been edited and condensed.