10 Questions with ... Rosanne Cash
December 9, 2013
1. What got you interested to do this latest album, The River And The Thread?
Arkansas State University wanted to purchase my dad's boyhood home in Dyess, AK to restore and eventually create a museum and music heritage site. They asked my family if we would like to be involved. I was very interested and began making trips down to Arkansas to meet with them. We put together a fundraising concert in August of 2010, in Jonesboro, AK. During that trip, Marshall Grant, the original bass player in Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, died. I was very close to him. His death, the trips down South, visiting my dad's boyhood home, and making old connections and new friends inspired us (John Leventhal and I) to write these songs. The first song we wrote was 'Etta's Tune' in honor of Marshall and Etta Grant.
2. In the course of writing the songs, it brought you back in touch with your childhood years in the South. Tell us about some of those memories.
I didn't have many childhood years in the South. I was born in Memphis and my family lived there until I was three years old, when we moved to Southern California. Then, I visited my dad every summer and other holidays in Tennessee after my parents divorced. I moved to Tennessee shortly after graduating from high school for a couple of years, but that was the extent of my childhood experience in the South. I have glorious memories of those summers on Old Hickory Lake with my dad, during my pre-teen and teen years. We water-skied, roller-skated, picked blackberries, made ice cream, set off fireworks and ate spectacular Southern cooking.
3. In your travels around the South for inspiration for the project, what changes have you observed from then until now?
The Internet has connected the entire world, so what used to be towns that were entirely defined by their own character have adopted some traits of the wider world, by virtue of exposure. Chain stores, malls and fast food are ubiquitous. Some towns have lost much of their character. But I find that most towns retain at least some of their individual character, quirkiness, traditions and feel -- and some feel completely intact, and as they were a hundred years ago or more. Oxford, MS, for instance, looks much the same as I imagine it did during the Civil War. (With the fantastic addition of one of the best bookstores in the world -- Square Books!)
4. What was the toughest part for you in making this record?
I would say keeping myself on the straight and narrow in writing my lyrics. This record isn't about me and my feelings, on the whole. It's about something much bigger, and I had to keep stretching my ideas, honing in on the characters, finding the right imagery and tone.
5. You and John Leventhal have worked a long time together writing and producing music. Can you even imagine doing it without his help and support?
I certainly couldn't imagine doing THIS record apart from him. This is a total collaboration.
6. Almost all the songs on The River And The Thread have a personal connection to you and your family. Which have the deepest meaning for you?
I haven't thought of almost all the songs as having a personal connection to my family (unless you mean me and John!) The only ones I'd say have a direct connection to my family are "The Sunken Lands," in which my grandmother Carrie Cash is the hero of the song, and "When The Master Calls The Roll," which is about two of my Civil War-era ancestors. Those two songs ARE important to me, of course. Both have deep personal resonance. I think about my grandmother Carrie, and how hard her life was as she raised seven children and picked cotton, and it moves me greatly. She never did 'sail away' as she did in the song; only in my imagination.
7. Tell us about some of the guest players and singers who were involved on the project.
Cory Chisel is a great young singer/songwriter, originally from Appleton, WI and now living in Nashville. He's a truly great artist.
Amy Helm is a friend, an amazing and lovely woman, and great singer. Her dad, Levon Helm, was also from Arkansas and I loved that connection between us -- both our dads being from Arkansas.
Kris Kristofferson is like my older brother. I've known him and loved him most of my life. He and John Prine and Rodney Crowell are three of the greatest living songwriters, in my mind.
Tony Joe White. One of the sexiest voices out in country-soul. We listened to "Polk Salad Annie" a dozen times while driving backroads in Mississippi. To write "When The Master Calls The Roll" with Rodney, then have him, Kris, Tony Joe, John Prine and Amy sing on it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I'll never forget it.
Derek Trucks put an incredible solo on "World of Strange Design" -- just WICKED.
John Paul White is a deep soul, a wonderful artist. I've been a fan of the Civil Wars since the first record. He was the perfect voice for 'Etta's Tune'.
Allison Moorer is one of the most underrated singers in the business. Just a fabulous woman.
The most special guest to me is my son, Jake Leventhal, a very musical 14-year-old who makes his recording debut singing background vocals on 'Modern Blue'.
8. Tell us about the event you did in September showcasing the new album during the Americana Conference.
The band and I played the new album in sequence, start to finish. It was thrilling and scary and so much fun. I've never performed an album in sequence live. And the crowd was so attentive, and acted like they knew the songs already. It was a great night.
9. What has been your biggest career highlight?
Whatever happens next.
10. You have already written four books; is another one simmering on the back burner?
Probably, but the steam hasn't risen from it yet, so I'm not sure when that will happen!
What are your favorite charitable or humanitarian causes?
Causes relating to children: Children, Inc, SOS Children's Villages, Center To Prevent Youth Violence and Donors Choose (which helps impoverished schools).