You’d better take a fast look around you because the musical landscape of Nashville is changing fast. Over the past five years Nashville has started to move steadily away from its image as the hometown of Country Music making room for more diverse genres of music to blossom within its hallowed corridors. Already home to a thriving Christian Music community as well as a strong Indie Rock scene Nashville has in recent years seen a resurgence of Women’s Music starting to percolate beneath the surface, many of the performers openly lesbian. Artists with strong national followings such as Jen Foster, Mary Gauthier, Jonell Mosser and Steff Mahan already call Music City home and venues like the Lipstick Lounge and Out on the Deck with at Bev and Anne’s have been showcasing the diversity of talent the women’s and lesbian communities in Nashville have to offer for several years now.
The significance of this fact comes into sharp focus once one remembers how difficult a time artists in the past like k.d. lang and the Indigo Girls had. Indigo Girl Amy Ray even infamously penned the blistering song “Nashville” as a cautionary tale for any who dared venture in the town that’s “Made for people passin’ through. The last chance for a cause I thought I knew.” It seems that Ray’s caution has gone unheeded in the years that followed that release as the quotient of successful female lesbian and lesbian friendly acts has skyrocketed making Nashville an heretofore unlikely destination for Women’s Music.
One of the most recent additions to Nashville’s Women’s Music scene is the delightful Canadian transplant Tracy Rice who will be the featured performer at September 16th’s Out on The Deck at Bev & Anne’s as well as September 23rd’s Wild West Showdown. Rice’s intelligently crafted work resonates with sonic references to sources as diverse as Heart, Melissa Etheridge and Stevie Nicks alongside a certain flare for truthful and compassionate storytelling that resonates easily with the power of such performers as Rosanne Cash and Janis Ian. Her original songs are full of equal parts happiness and loneliness; celebration and regret, but above all truth and a compassion for humanity that sees right to the heart of the matter with pitch perfect clarity. Recently, the incredibly busy Rice took time before hopping on a plane to Atlanta and then Birmingham, AL via her native Canada to speak with me concerning her work and the transition from the Canadian North to the Deep South.
What made you decide to make such a big change by moving to Nashville from Ontario, Canada?
I opened for Terri Clarke in Canada a while back and at the time I was getting a lot of great encouragement from her camp to get down to Nashville and get some things done that I couldn’t do in Canada. I started making regular trips and then decided it was time to make the move. It was a major thing for me because any time you move from city to city it’s a big decision, but moving to an entirely different country was huge.
Did your identity as a lesbian weigh in your decision at all?
Hell yes! I wrestled with it for a ling time before I made a decision. As a lesbian I really didn’t know what the pulse here would be as far as my safety and my acceptance as an artist. While I had career goals I never want to put myself in a situation where I would be made feel like a second class citizen because of my sexuality. I was out in certain circles in Ontario but that was it. I am definitely developing a growing audience every time I play. I really feel a sense of support from the music community here in addition to that of the GLBT community. It makes me happy to know that I appeal to more than one demographic and I wouldn’t have it any other way
There has been a sort of explosion of successful lesbian songwriters and performers in Nashville. Besides yourself there is Jen Foster, Steff Mahan, RoJo & Co. , Mary Gauthier and the list goes on and on with more like yourself and Soul/Blues performer Michelle Malone arriving every day. In your opinion why do you feel a city traditionally hostile to gay artists has started to embrace these same artists?
I think that the quality artists that have appeared recently are a reflection of who’s here already. We’re tuned in to the people who have already laid the foundation for us. If you look at the number of country artists that inhabit Nashville and then compare that to the number of women that are doing what we are doing you will see that comparatively it is less. Living this lifestyle requires a certain amount of sacrifice in every aspect of your life. Only someone with the dedication to make it happen could do it and do it well.
One look at your itinerary and anyone can instantly tell how incredibly busy you stay as an artist and performer. As an independent artist is it challenging for you to keep up with everything?
It’s already hard naturally, but when you factor in a day job on top of that it’s even harder because there are a number of hats that you have to wear other than just that of artist. Fortunately I now have a great manager that makes my other twelve jobs much easier. * Chuckles *
What kind of sacrifices have you made in your life to be the artist that you want to be?
I eventually want to have a family and settle down, but I also have a drive to do this. I have to decide every day what my priorities are. My career comes first and once I’m done with that I will have time for those other things and there are things that have to be given up on the way. Not everyone has the internal recourses to be able to do that.
What would you say your goals as a songwriter and performer are while you are here?
I have had some pretty clear goals for myself for a long time now. My main goal is to be able to support myself decently using my craft. It took me a little while to wrap my head around the concept that it isn’t really about fame. The idea of being famous made me really kind of uncomfortable. Opening for Terri Clarke was a huge eye opener for me in that arena and it took me some reconciling myself with certain things to be able to come to terms with it.
Tell me a little about your songwriting style. What do you feel is the most important thing for you as a songwriter?
It’s interesting you ask that because I’ve been getting mail lately from women in different parts of the country really encouraging me to keep writing the way that I do. I try to keep my perspective as honest as possible. I don’t like to sugar coat things. I want to stay in that vein as much as possible because I feel like when you approach things from that perspective you reach more people and that is ultimately what artists of any medium want is to connect to someone with their work.