A creative collaboration is a tricky thing. A talented pairing is a wonderful idea, but in practice it can be really difficult to get around the urge to be overly protective of one’s art. On her first solo album, LIONHEART, H.C. McEntire publicly explores her individual voice in a more substantial way than ever before. In the process of making LIONHEART, McEntire corresponded with the prolific Kathleen Hanna for inspiration and encouragement. Kathleen Hanna has worked in a number of genres and bands, namely Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and the Julie Ruin. After the two clicked at a Girls Rock North Carolina event, McEntire sent demos to Hanna, and Hanna directed her to the music she knew would be precisely what McEntire needed.
On the album, McEntire delves into a country sound that honors the sonic tradition, while adding a much-needed progressive viewpoint. This widening of perspective is demonstrated in the video for “Baby’s Got the Blues,” which we’re premiering today. The video is a string of shots of solo listeners singing along to the song, the range of people and perspectives threaded together by the music.
Prior to this album, McEntire made three albums with her band Mount Moriah, and has toured as a part of Angel Olsen’s band. McEntire and Hanna are both widely accomplished, yet even in solo projects, they understand the importance of other people’s perspectives. I hopped on the phone with Kathleen Hanna and H.C. McEntire to talk about the virtues of being an amateur and saying yes to experiments.
RACHEL DAVIES: Most of your earlier work that I’ve heard is more punk, but because you’re from North Carolina, I would assume you’d always been working in country music. I was wondering if you pulled away from country music, if you played in that style when you were younger?
H.C. MCENTIRE: I definitely grew up listening to it, it was kind of all that was around, and hymns in the church. For me, punk was like an escape. I was 18 and trying to figure out who I was, and punk music was this really beautiful vehicle for that. I don’t know if I self-consciously was bitter about country music–I definitely was with religion–and I kinda lumped them into the same category. It’s very loaded in the South, and those two get mixed together into a pretty hot cocktail. [Laughs] I really just focused on punk music, which felt really visceral and cathartic. I didn’t really think about playing country music or listening to it for a good decade. Then I was able to find a way to honor it, and I think that’s what LIONHEART has done for me personally. I can honor the music that I grew up on and the region I grew up in, but on my own terms.
When you were 18 and really into punk music, was that when you started playing?
H.C.: I actually started learning the guitar by covering punk songs. A lot of punk songs are power chords, and fairly easy to learn. I just taught myself how to play, I don’t know how to read music. I kind of came across this whole music thing by accident. I studied writing in school, and that still is a really big passion of mine. I just started putting melodies with some of the poems I was writing, and I realized it could be this new thing in my life, and that I could emote more dynamically by singing, and playing, and still write these narratives that were inspiring to me.
When you first went to college, did you see any relationship between creative writing and songwriting?
H.C.: I didn’t think about it whatsoever. I knew that I wanted to tell stories. Most of the things that I write are nonfiction, or autobiographical, or a mix of the two. Very little pure fiction. I didn’t ever think I would be playing music right now. I thought I would be a college professor, teaching back in my little town.
When did you realize that it would become this big?
H.C.: At the tail end of college, I was really involved in the radio station on campus, and it felt like a natural step to see what could happen if I put myself in a community where people really take music and art seriously. That wasn’t the case where I went to school in Wilmington–it was not a very nurturing creative environment. To truthfully answer your question, I don’t know what a career in music really looks like. I ask myself everyday, “What the hell am I really doing?” But I don’t know, one foot in front of the other.