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SXSW Band of the Day: Laura Cantrell

Peter Blackstock

Editor’s note: This article was originally published February 11, 2014

Artist: Laura Cantrell

From: New York, via Nashville

Online:Artist website

SXSW shows: TBA

About the artist

It’s early in 2014, but one of the best records to turn up in the first few weeks of the year is “No Way There From Here,” from sweet-voiced New York singer-songwriter Laura Cantrell. A native of Nashville, Cantrell recorded the album there with producer Mark Nevers (Lambchop, Charlie Louvin, Andrew Bird); it’s grounded in old-school country and folk, but the songwriting is fresh and immediate, with a personal touch that hits a new high point in this artist’s 14-year recording career.

360: You wrote or co-wrote every song but one on “No Way There From Here.” Was that something you set out to do from the start with this album – to present yourself as more songwriter than interpreter?

Laura Cantrell: I took a longer amount of time, so I ended up with more material, and that was one reality; I just had more of my own songs to choose from. But I also have always wanted to improve and keep developing skills as a writer, and I felt strongly about this material, that it was my personal best since I’d started making records. I still love finding good songs, but this time I kept the focus on my own writing.

Your life has been very much intertwined between the music communities of Nashville and New York. What do you get from each place, in terms of both art and business?

As a longtime student and fan of country music, I feel really blessed to have a long view of Nashville and the richness of its musical culture. That I grew up there and have a lot of family there is part of its importance to me. New York provided a place to put my own personal history in perspective, and as a major media center, I had other kinds of opportunities here like working on WFMU, which gave me a profile in the media in New York that was useful when I began a career as an artist.

In the song “Starry Skies,” there’s a lyric that goes, “I love a Texas sky, yes it’s so fine / Trucks coming up Highway 9, yes it’s so fine.” Was that inspired by a specific visit to Texas?

The song was partly inspired by a long layover at DFW where I had to take my daughter on the airtrain about 100 times and we just looked at that wide sky for hours on end. There is also a sneaky reference to Eliza Gilkyson’s “Highway 9” – I love that song. I’m not sure the road actually exists but I used Eliza’s “road” in a different context.

Could share a bill with: Laura Marling, Neko Case, Dawes, Patty Griffin