Tenille Arts is dead set on becoming the big sister to a new generation of country music fans. Taking our call from her home in Nashville, the singer-songwriter warmly professes from the off, the importance she sees in offering guidance to those growing up in a world of social media, with an ever-growing expectation of how they should lead their lives. “I am talking to my younger self, but I'm also talking to anybody that's growing up right now. It’s learning your high school boyfriend isn’t everything - you're going to move on, and great things are going to happen. I think they have to hear that advice from somebody other than their parents.”
The 26-year-old rising star has come a long way herself since first arriving in Nashville aged 15, learning the ropes in the ten-year-town where she saw all her dreams could come true. With the release of her smash hit single ‘Somebody Like That’, it’s all starting to become a reality– a top 20 charting-single, a member of the CMT Next Women of Country Class of 2021 and an ACM nomination for New Female Artist of the Year, all arriving in quick succession. While Arts is encouraged by these increasing accolades, her desire to reach out to others is undoubtedly the driving force behind her music, and also the reason why it’s speaking to her audience today.
When choosing her five selections for Cuts The Deepest, it’s obvious that Arts’ passion in reaching out to others stems from the music that spoke to her personally as she grew up. From Fearless-era Taylor to classic Shania, Arts' choices clearly embody the songwriter she has become today,
I talk a lot about ‘Cowboy Take Me Away’, but I think ‘Wide Open Spaces’ was one of the first songs that I really, really connected to. I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Saskatchewan, Canada and it was ‘Wide Open Spaces’ that spoke to me, because I definitely had room to run. It was different for me, in the sense that all I wanted was to be in the city, to be in Nashville, so it was like two worlds colliding. I also think The Chicks' songwriting is just absolutely beautiful. It’s certainly from the 90s, but it’s timeless.
I mean, there's so many songs of theirs; ‘Top of The World’ is another one that I think is just so interesting when you really dive into it. It's a really heavy song, but I think good on them for talking about those things back then. It’s what I’m striving to do now with my project, I want to talk about the things that maybe aren't on everybody's album right now; I am all about pushing that stuff. You see it a lot in pop music, where people are extremely vulnerable and actually really talking about the tough stuff. I think that's missing from country music and, even if it's not a song that necessarily goes to radio, it's important to have those songs on your project. We have to be vulnerable with people because if we're not vulnerable in country music, listeners are gonna go find it somewhere else - it's important to bring that into country.
Take Lindsay Ell, she's a great example of someone putting real life experiences into her songs and not being afraid to do it. I think it takes everybody a certain amount of time to get to that point in their life where they feel comfortable sharing. I think, as a young person, some people don’t think their problems are important enough. That's just not the case; you just could be insecure, and that's a big problem that you have to face. It's opening up a lot though, and I think the more artists speak out, the more it gives other people permission to do it as well. I think there's going to be a lot of songs over the next couple of years that touch on really important things.
I am a huge fan of Graceland by Paul Simon. It's kind of a weird story as to how I got introduced to it. My parents were always listening to a lot of different music - my mom and I really love the pop and country stuff, but my dad loved The Beatles and different stuff like that. For whatever reason, for as long as I can remember, my dad has put on Graceland while we're putting up our Christmas tree, every single year. So, it's become this holiday tradition for me to listen to that album, it just makes me feel at home. Now, as my siblings and I are older, we get a little tipsy, put it on and try to sing it. It’s got those crazy background parts and it's all in different languages, but we just have a blast singing along to it. Anytime I'm missing home, I just put on that record and it makes me feel comforted.
This song in particular stands out to me because, when I was singing it in my backyard as a seven or eight-year-old girl, my neighbour heard me singing over the fence. They came over and said to my mom “I heard Tenille singing; I think she's got a really great voice, you might want to pursue that”. My mom asked me if I wanted to go to voice lessons, I jumped at the chance and that started it all for me. So that’s my throwback.
I think country music, as a whole, is very much in a cycle. This is the sort of song that I would love to hear in country music again, and I think we are seeing now the 90s women-sound coming back. Having grown up listening to that, we all love it, but now 15 and 16-year-olds think it's the coolest thing in the world too. Even 90s fashion is coming back, it's so interesting to look on Tik Tok and see all these girls are dressing the way that my mom did in the 90s. I think there's going to be a lot of great music coming out over the next decade, so to be a part of that is awesome. It’s just so much fun - just making fun of women and how ridiculous we are sometimes. We just want to let our hair down, go out and have a good time.
There's two things for me with this song. I’m obviously striving to share advice with younger people, and I know Taylor wrote this song when she was 15, but it’s reflective in that she’s sharing her story with other people in hopes that they’ll not make the same mistakes. I think that song meant a lot to me as a 15-year-old. But it was also the song that actually brought me to Nashville for the first time. I was putting up YouTube covers, and I did a cover of ‘Fifteen’. I literally got a call from a manager in Nashville, I don't know how they got my house phone number, but they called our landline. They said, “we're a huge fan of her voice, we want her to come to Nashville and start writing”. My dream was to get to Nashville, so it just all came together - my first trip there was because of that cover and that song.
I'm a completely different person than who I was at 15. I don't regret any of the steps I’ve taken or the things that I've done, because I think that in coming to Nashville at such an early age, you learn that parts of the industry aren’t good. There are people out there that can take advantage of you, and I think I went through those experiences at such a young age that, when I did move at 21, I knew what to avoid and what to take advantage of. So, it was great to go through those things at such a young age. I've lived in Nashville for almost six years now, but I've been coming for 10. They call it a ten-year-town, and I think I’ve built up the drive and ambition to be here full time and to really make things happen.
I think the industry is changing for the better. I think people are looking at some of the mistakes that they've made before and are trying to make things right. As a whole, the industry is very different now because of social media - people can blow up or be a completely independent artist. You don’t even have to sign with a major, you know, you can literally have your own career. That honestly makes the competition 10 times harder for anybody coming up in music right now. While you still definitely need a team and a label, you can still get your music out there and present yourself as an artist in ways that they couldn’t 20 years ago, so that's exciting and challenging.
So, this last one is my story in a song, I feel like it was written about my life. In the house that I grew up in, our handprints are in the cement out front, I learnt to play guitar in the back bedroom and my favourite dog is in our yard, just under the oak tree. That’s all in the song, it's literally like it was written for me. So that's something that I absolutely strive to do as a songwriter; write those songs that people listen to and think “I feel like she got in my head and wrote this about my life”.
When I moved away, I knew I wasn’t going to see my family for extended periods of time. This last year, I saw my family once, and that's insane to me. Going back home is such a special thing for me, because when I moved to Nashville, I felt I needed to work hard every single day; I needed to make this time away from my family and the time that I'm going to lose with them worth it. I think that's been one of my biggest motivations. The first few years were really hard, but now that some of that hard work is paying off, I'm seeing it for real. I got to bring my entire family to Nashville, and they got to see me play on the Grand Ole Opry, that was one of those moments where I felt this was worth it. I get to celebrate these things with them. I don't think we appreciate something when we have it all the time. So, when it's taken away from you and you get it back, you never want to take advantage of it again. I think that's a great thing to learn, and I'm glad that's a positive that's come out of this. It's like one massive life lesson.
Tenille Arts' latest album, Love, Heartbreak, & Everything In Between, is out now via 19th & Grand Records. Watch the video for 'Somebody Like That' below.