Emily Nenni by Alysse Gafkjen

Exclusive: Emily Nenni Discusses the Friends, the Dive and the City That Inspired Her New Album, ‘Drive & Cry’

May 2, 2024 3:04 pm GMT

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At one point early in her career, Emily Nenni was resolved to be a songwriter. She hadn't initially set her sights on the stage, but instead on pen to paper. That all changed, however, after the artist moved from her native California to Music City, USA.

"I was so inspired by the folks around me once I moved to Nashville," she explains, citing the house band at the iconic South Nashville haunt, Santa's Pub, as her push to explore the spotlight. "Santa's Ice Cold Pickers and the folks that fronted the band – Kristina Murray, Luke Bell, Pete Lindberg – watching them perform, having fun, exuding confidence, bringing people joy".

While it all appealed to Nenni, the shift to center stage wasn't immediate; rather, it happened more gradually, she says. "Once I learned that it's about joy and community, I eased into performance and started to look forward to every opportunity I got to play music with my friends".

Now, nearly a decade on, she's kept that spirit, donning stages both for the fun of it and for the bonds that are naturally forged when performing live. Today, that same spirit permeates through her latest release, Drive & Cry, an album in which she exudes a similar joy and confidence that first informed her direction onward.

Drive & Cry finds Nenni in her element, making music with her chosen family and securely held in the arms of the city that raised the performer she's become. As a result, the album sounds classic yet refreshing, thrumming with a neon buzz and a dive bar heartbeat that echoes the bright star’s Nashville start. It marks a distinct shift from her 2022 release On The Ranch – for her previous record, the artist uprooted herself to write and work on southern Colorado ranchland – and also signals some of her most intimate work.

"I didn't initially think setting made a huge difference in the music I wrote; it was more so about having a space to clear my head and get out of my normal routine," she shares of the experience of coming home to create Drive & Cry.

"Having written this record all by my lonesome, just me and my dog at home for a month while [my backing band] Teddy and the Rough Riders were on tour, made for a very personal record." Yet, when it came to recording the album, Nenni explains that it was the people she surrounded herself with— old and new friends like Steve Daly, Megan Coleman and Jo Schornikow—who helped bring the record to life.

"It may not sound like a Nashville record to some folks, but it's my Nashville that I've grown to know and love over the last ten years".

Emily Nenni's new album, Drive & Cry, is premiering exclusively today here at Holler, where you can listen below:

In addition to touching on the inspiration behind Drive & Cry, Emily Nenni offers a glimpse into the recording process, discusses the importance of making space for change, shares her vision for the journey ahead and more:

On the recording of Drive & Cry:

"We recorded this in Berry Hill, TN, at Creative Workshop, with everyone in the same room, working together. I brought in half the players and John James, who produced the record, brought in the other half. They all came together and it was incredible to watch them all collaborate. That many talented folks in one room who are there to have fun and make good music with good people is what it’s all about. I really think that’s what folks will hear.

I love and respect all of these players and they felt the same about each other. John James and Jake Davis (who engineered this record and On The Ranch, one of the best guys I know) really enjoyed working together too. Not to mention that it was mixed by the one and only Matt Ross-Spang in Memphis, Tennessee. John James and I each drove to Ross-Spang’s unreal studio, Southern Grooves, and it was so special to watch a genius like Matt work. He truly loves what he does”.

On making space for change and the songs that came with growth:

“I went through so much personal and professional change since recording On The Ranch. I got myself back into therapy which I’d been avoiding for a decade for some reason. For a few years I’ve been trying to process heavy subjects, learn how to set boundaries, how to communicate in different situations, and just generally better myself as a human being and a professional. It takes a lot of work, but it’s so worth it.

‘I Don’t Have To Like You’ is about setting a boundary with someone who may not like or respect it. A lot of the time it’s easier to allow someone to walk all over you and smile and nod, or apologize when you’re on the other side of it. That takes a toll on you, certainly had on me. For me to finally say out loud, “I don’t have to like this person (and they don’t have to like me), but I’ll smile and wave if we see each other in public,” was a big step for me.

‘Changes’ is, of course, about changes in my personal life, making mistakes, learning and growing. It’s a reminder to be kind and patient with yourself amidst all of it because that’s all hard enough”.

On the advice she'd give to someone seeking the stage:

“My advice for aspiring performers is to remember to have fun, that perfection is boring and to play with people who respect you and vice versa. Be patient with yourself because it’s a learning experience; you’ll just continue to grow, especially if you’re learning from and with your friends”.

On connecting with listeners on her upcoming tour:

“I’m most looking forward to watching folks two-stepping at shows and chatting with them afterward. I love getting to connect with listeners after our set to hear what songs hit them and why. Music is so universal, and to hear how someone received a song and connected with what I wrote about an experience or thought I had is so special. I also look forward to having fun all together.”

On the Drive & Cry track that sums up her journey ahead:

“I’d say ‘Rootin’ For You’ sums up the journey ahead. I want nothing but the best for my friends and the folks I get to meet on the road. If we can all support each other and cheer others on in all different walks of life, the world will be a much better place.”

Emily Nenni's 2024 album, Drive & Cry, is released May 3 via New West Records. It's premiering exclusively today at Holler, where you can listen above.

For more on Emily Nenni, see below:

Written by Alli Patton
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