When I started preparing for my interview with Erin Enderlin, after hearing some of her music, my first thought was, “Boy, has this girl been through a lot of heartaches.” But, as it turns out, I was wrong.
Being raised in Conway Arkansas had a great influence on Erin’s songs and lyric writing. She explains, “There’s a lot of rich storytelling in the south. Hanging out with my grandma and her friends is where I started to love the stories.” Her first memories of listening to country music were watching TNN (The Nashville Network) with her grandma and listening to her grandpa’s record collection. As she got older she found out that Arkansas has this really rich singer/songwriter community. She played the songwriter nights in Arkansas as a teen. She would write a song and then go play it the same week.
Erin tells that her grandpa had a turkey farm and a cotton gin. “Just hearing these stories and being around that small-town life, you soak in a lot of that.” She states that her mother always loved music and had Erin taking piano lessons at age 5 so she was around it her whole life. When she graduated from high school, it was expected that she attend college. With her interest lying in country music, she obviously looked at schools in the Nashville area and she got a scholarship to MTSU where they had a Southern Common Market program which allowed her to attend at an in-state rate. (They have a Department of Recording Industry which was Erin’s chosen field.)
Although Erin often writes in first person and many of her songs are about heartbreak and sorrow, they are not autobiographical. She has always been enamored of singers who “take on a character and are not afraid to go there like Reba and “Fancy” or Kitty Wells. “There is a certain edge to a song when you sing it in first person,” she explains.
Erin Enderlin’s first major songwriting acclaim came at age 19 when she wrote “Monday Morning Church” and Alan Jackson recorded it in 2004. With lyrics like “You left my heart as empty as a Monday morning church,” I wondered how a 19-year-old college student even experienced something like that. She states, “I had a friend who passed away in a car accident the week after high school graduation and I really identified with it. Then I lost both my grandfathers that year all within a six month period. Her co-writer brought up the idea of Monday Morning Church from a poem his mother had written
Currently, a song she co-wrote, “The Bar is Getting Lower” is on Reba McEntire’s recently released Stronger Than the Truth album. It’s a heartbreaking story of an aging woman who’s haunted by the unattainable marriage-and-motherhood life script she was never able to successfully follow. She’s also written Lee Ann Womack’s “Last Call,” Luke Bryan’s “You Don’t Know Jack,” and a host of other songs for Randy Travis, Joey and Rory and Terri Clark.
When asked who else influenced her songwriting besides Reba and Terri Clark, she stated, “Johnny Cash was definitely an influence especially being from Arkansas. Also the Statler Brothers, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones.” She continued, “Suzy Bogguss was a huge influence on me and she really helped me when I came to town. I like a lot of singer/songwriters like Theresa Byrd, Gretchen Peters, Kim Richie, Radney Foster, Buddy and Judy Miller, too.”
When people say there’s not good country music out there anymore, Erin replies, “Then you’re just not listening to the right stuff.” She covers currents hits from Arkansas native, Ashley McBryde, Jason Aldean, Randy Houser and George Straight just to name a few.
The younger artists are not disillusioned by the fact that CD and album sales are no longer a thing. Says Erin, “It’s definitely changing the landscape. It offers some interesting opportunities for artists because you can release so much music now and you can do it quickly too. You can still craft an album if you want and people can take it in however they want.”
Her biggest mentor is Jim Moose Brown who co-wrote and produced her latest EPs. She has worked and toured with Jamey Johnson as well. Erin inserts, “I knew Jamey back in the day when he still had his Marine Corp haircut.” Jamey advised her, “Don’t think about the radio, don’t think about the album, just think about which songs you love.” He told her it was fine to include covers from others on her albums as long as they spoke to her.
Recently Erin has released her third EP this year, Chapter Three: Whatever Gets You Through the Night which includes the cover “Sweet Emmylou” that was originally recorded by Joey and Rory Feek. “Rory was the first songwriter that I wrote with when I moved to town. He and [deceased wife] Joey both had both been hugely influential on me and hugely supportive.” Also included on the EP is the soul searching title track, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” and the unapologetically honest, “Use Me Again.”
This year’s first EP, Chapter One: Tonight I Don’t Give a Damn was released April 26, 2019, with a corresponding trilogy of music videos following the same female lead throughout three songs. “I’m obsessed with characters, and the idea of being able to take that to the next level really appeals to me,” she says.
Released June 28, 2019, Chapter Two: I Can Be Your Whiskey, serves as a short story which addresses the search for barroom comfort, before or after a romantic conquest. She has also included the covers “A Man With 18 Wheels,” and my personal favorite, “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You)” which rounded out her 2nd trilogy.
I was privileged to hear Erin Enderlin sing live at a songwriters’ round at Nashville’s City Winery Lounge along with Laura Leigh Jones and Will Jones. It was truly heart-warming to hear music reminiscent of the pre-1990s ladies of country. The lyrics, the depth and heartache of the songs took you back to a time often forgotten until now. As I was writing this column, I got distracted wanting to listen to songs and stories of the various characters who come to life via the music.
Recently, country music’s ultimate storyteller kicked off her summer with quite the successful night at the 2nd Annual Arkansas Country Music Awards (ACMA) on Monday, June 3, 2019. Heralding the musical talents of Arkansas’ very own, Enderlin took home accolades for Female Vocalist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Song of the Year for “World Without Willie” alongside co-writers Alex Kine, Leslie Satcher and Tara Thompson.
As with most country music singers, playing the Opry is the ultimate goal and Erin Enderlin has done it 7 times. She exclaims, “It’s kind of ridiculous. Sometimes I wonder, ‘Are there more five-year-olds thinking, I want to play the Opry, and I want Reba to sing my songs.’ And then it happens!”
Rolling Stone magazine stated that Erin’s music is “the stuff of country classics: concise, tear-stained and all too relatable.” If you long for the traditional, throwback country melodies, follow Erin Enderlin, an artist with some golden-era country backbone.