I was born on November the 1st 1995 exactly one month before my due date. I tried to come in the world on a night synonymous with darkness; a masquerade celebration of being someone else. Nonetheless, medicine and my mother held me in until 6:03 PM on the following day, a Wednesday. All Saints Day – a day of light. Now, you are probably thinking that’s going a little far back, and it is. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell my entire life story. I only start there to create the dichotomy that has held true for all my 23-going-on-24 years… I am drawn to darkness, but born to the light.
I am writing this multi-part blog series in lieu of a short, strange bio flick. I am a writer. It’s gotta come out, I suppose. I’ve thought about this a lot over last two years, in which I have grown up substantially in tangible ways, including getting married. Recently, life has given me the gift of enough distance from the past to tell it. And… maybe that’s selfishly cathartic and nothing more. Maybe it will touch or inspire someone, or provide the tiniest, satisfying peak behind the curtain of the music industry. No matter the case, I don’t really care. It feels good to express and it always has. That’s what created this whole crazy story anyway, huh?
So I needed to start from the beginning on a few things, but I’ve tried to keep it simple. Here are a few rapid-fire facts to lay the groundwork for this series.
I was born to great parents and all four-plus grandparents living within 45 minutes or less of each other. We didn’t have a lot, but I felt pretty rich. I would consider myself “the good kind of spoiled” in that I got double and triple doses of discipline, but it was always counteracted by infinite doses of love. I couldn’t have a pony, but I could have a black lab named Hannah-Banana. I couldn’t have an in-ground pool, but I could have long days in a muddy lake. I couldn’t have everything I wanted, but I had everything I needed… and by Christmas, most things I really wanted. I was an only child until I was almost 9. I was born the the third grandchild on one side, and the first on the other. Looking back, I wanted for nothing and was completely engulfed in care and affection. I’d give all the riches in the world to be with my whole family, gone and still here, for just one day. My early years were about as good as they come.
I was surrounded by music, and noticeably musically talented from age 3 or 4. My mom was into Country (The Judds, The Carpenters, Suzy Boggus) and Contemporary Christian (Jennifer Knapp, Dove Awards Compilations, Susan Ashton). My Dad was (and is) a hardcore New Wave/ Alt Wave/ Indie fan (REM, Talking Heads, The Smiths, Squeeze… you know the stuff). Music played constantly. My parents worked opposite shifts, but I was never in daycare. I was always with one of them or a grandma. My earliest musical memories are Garth Brooks “Low Places”, Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies”, and Elvis Costello’s “Alison”, in no particular order.
Though, ironically, I never learned to play keyboard well, we had one in the house. It sat on the fireplace hearth and I would walk up and play the demonstration track, which I can still clearly hear in my head. The bug bit me. Daddy played, Grandad played, Mama sang a little. I was blooming in an analog world of cassette dreams, booster-seat sing-alongs, and wild only-child imagination. I remember my years from age 2 to 5 well enough to begin to articulate how integral they were in shaping my interests. Kids really are a product of what’s poured in, I think.
I was gifted, but I wasn’t usually a winner. I broke the seal of my first large-scale public performance by singing “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks at the Anderson, SC State Fair at age 4. By age 6, it was the National Anthem at one of the short-lived Greenville Growl’s hockey games at the Bi-Lo Center (now Bon Secours Arena). By age seven, I started the competing. I could sing, yodel, and dance around a little. People were mostly impressed, at least by small town Appalachia standards. I didn’t care that much if they were impressed. I cared if my front row section (Mama, Daddy, Mimi, Grandad, Nana, Mama E…) were proud. I got a couple of doses of tough love, but for the most part, they were indeed, so proud.
I was hooked. But, with rare exceptions, I never won anything. This local girl who went on to be a great young woman and a pageant queen beat me every time with Aretha Franklin’s “And I’m Telling You.” If it wasn’t her, it was my Palmetto Clogging instructor’s daughter clogging to Cotton Eyed Joe in first place. That chick also stole the older boy I was dancing with at a State Park Saturday Night Barn Dance. I still don’t like her, honestly, and I don’t even remember her name. (Insert imaginary laugh emoji, but my blood pressure did just rise a little.) Competitive much?
Anyway, I did eventually win a few things, like my school talent show in middle and high school, but that was 7 or so years down the road. You could say the competition crowd just didn’t always “get” me – a Faded Glory denim-clad, toe-headed baby belting out Trisha Yearwood that I was. But, I got me and my “people” got me. I cried a few times at the Westminster Apple Festival when I lost big, but for the most part, my drive to keep going was alive and well.
I didn’t want to do music for a living. I didn’t, and actually, I still don’t. I wanted to do it, but not necessarily for money… or much money. That bug bit a lot later, and only out of necessity, I think, once I was well in the game and trying to survive. One career I seriously kicked around was becoming a lawyer (particularly, I wanted to be a Naval JAG lawyer like Sarah MacKenzie from the show JAG). I wanted to be a college majorette at College of Charleston, transfer to The Naval Academy, let the Navy pay for law school, marry a military guy, live by the ocean, uphold the law and make babies. That’s not so much to ask, right?
I had the grades and the patriotism, at least at that point. I was involved in that dream so deeply that at age fourteen, I was singing and performing, taking pointe ballet, was the only girl in my Civil Air Patrol battalion, and twirling baton competitively. I just couldn’t narrow down what I was great at, not just good at. Soon enough, life narrowed it down for me, at least for a season. In so many ways, though, I still don’t have the answer. I am certainly not a lawyer, ballerina, majorette, or member of the military, so we know that much.
Four major events shaped my childhood.
One - The death of my Grandad, my best friend and the person who I wrote my first song for, when I was 10 years old. I had just talked to him on the phone after auditioning to play Fern in Charlotte’s Web at the Greenville Little Theatre. An hour later, my mom rocked me to sleep while I wept – he was gone from a massive heart attack. After that, I began to fear the loss of my loved ones immensely. My Mama E (paternal grandmother) and Dad both, not more than a year later, had a close call on the same day with heart-related issues. That’s a whole ‘nother story where they were in Greenville Hospital at the same time. Those two years made me highly precocious, though I didn’t figure that out until recent years. If my ride home from school was literally five minutes late, I would cry. And I was not little. I was a pubescent middle-schooler. I was terrified of losing my loved ones, and I am still a highly anxious person.
Two – I was homeschooled off an on. For the most part, I would say I attended Walhalla Middle and High School, but I also went to school briefly in Seneca, SC and was homeschooled in 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th. I tested out of school my junior year. The reasons for my scattered education centered, partly, around my mom’s disdain for some aspects of public education and guilt that she couldn’t spend time with me, or at least afford to keep me in a private Christian school. I would watch Lizzy McGuire and beg to be around kids and science fairs and dances and lockers. My parents eventually obliged me and I had a very normal middle school experience for 6th, 7th and half of 8th grade. I followed those classmates into one year of high school and was even invited to their prom. I wouldn’t say I fit in, but I still had a good time. Several boys and girls were ruthless to me, but that doesn’t make me unique. My health and my music career also played into my non-traditional education, but I will explain that all soon.
Three – I finally became a big sister when I was 8, going on 9. My brother was a surprise. My parents had basically given up on getting pregnant again after years of trying. I know I was a handful, anyway. Jed was like my baby, but he would have little to do with me because he only wanted my mom. Nonetheless, we had a special bond and we still do. We’ve never had a real fight.
I do think that he took some of the spotlight off me in a healthy way, though. I may not have liked it then, but his birth afforded me independence, in a way. My mom tended to her newborn and I finally went to school for fourth grade. I had a best friend and a “boyfriend” who lived down the street. It was a magical year that grew me, socially speaking. I delved into my own interests, my own music - my own friends. Additionally, I had my favorite K-5 teacher that year, Ms. A. I fell in love with writing. (As I side note, I have had several notably wonderful English teachers. Ms. A, Mrs. Ball, Ms. Higdon… if any of you are reading this, THANK YOU! And also, my grammar is better than this casual blog style I’m using, I promise!)
Anyway, my brother, I think, curbed the chances of my life becoming insular, awkward, and well stereotypically “homeschooled.” He also became one of the most important people in my life and still is. Love you, bud!
Four – I met a mentor. When I was eleven, my dad was playing bass for a local Christian musician - a talented guy. He knew a local studio and producer (one of very few options in my town, as you can imagine) and introduced me to my first mentor, who became “that” person for me that led to everything else. Much of that “everything else” was good, much of it was bad, and all of which was hard and rich with purpose. That pretty much leads us to the beginning of the real story. From this point forward, I will use fewer names directly, as I want to remain professional and grateful to my journey as I delve into the nitty-gritty of my story.
Look for Part One soon.
All the love,