Raleigh native Tift Merritt has been releasing albums for a decade now. In that time her songs have caught the ear of fellow musicians like EmmyLou Harris who says Tift stands out 'like a diamond in a coal patch'. She's spent time in Paris and New York City, where she lives now, but enjoys returning to the Triangle --a place she still calls home. It was here where the U-N-C creative writing student got her start singing with John Howie, Jr. and the Two-Dollar Pistols in the late 90s. That led Tift to write her own songs, form a band called the Carbines and release her acclaimed debut "Bramble Rose". Tift's fifth album is called "Traveling Alone" and she joins me now in the studio.
Tift Merritt: Thank you very much for having me.
So I've heard that "Traveling Alone", the title of this album and the title song from the record, came from a time when you didn't have a manager and you didn't have a record company. Was that a scary place to be?
Tift Merritt: Yeah..it was. But that something that happens to artists all the time. I'm not whining. There are plenty of reasons that you find yourself alone..and I think part of it is that at a certain point you do realize that you're alone. There's a lot of hard truth in that and it's much better to I think stare that in the face than not..and all of a sudden you get comfortable with it and things get really simple.
Right. And then it's okay.
Tift Merritt: Yeah.
(excerpt from "Traveling Alone")
Tift, you decided to get Tucker Martine on board to produce and he's worked with The Decemberists and he's worked on "My Morning Jacket". What did he bring to it or what attracted you to him?
Tift Merritt: Well, he and I worked on my last record together so we already had a real friendship and he brings a really gentle spirit to record making. And he really does bring the best out of everyone and he has a really sensitive eye. I really like to work with people more than once. I like to work with people for as long as you can and as long as you're growing together. So I thought it was really, really important that he come with me on this..and I was so pleased that he did.
(excerpt from "Drifted Apart")
The first time I heard the song "Drifted Apart", I that that you and Andrew Byrd sounded eerily like EmmyLou Harris in that he sounds like Roy Orbison.
Tift Merritt: He does sound like Roy Orbison.
It was spooky.
Tift Merritt: His voice is really a beautiful instrument. We sang together one time kind of by accident and I thought, Oooh..his voice is so beautiful. I love singing with him. It was really a treat that he came in and he just killed that song. I don't think anyone had thought about Roy Orbison until he sang.
(excerpt from "Drifted Apart")
I've read that you were a creative writing student.
Tift Meritt: Yeah.
You can tell that you really do spend some time writing your lyrics. There are great lines in there.
Tift Merritt: I think that's where it all begins. I wouldn't get on stage if I didn't feel like I had something of substance to try to say. I love writing. When I get time off the road and I really am home for a month or two and I get to sit down at my desk and write for six or eight hours a day, I think..Wow. This is really who I am or where I belong and where I feel most alive and you can really get lost in your own inner world in this very endless way. I love that. If you write something plain and good and strong...that's a good day.