Fabulous Flip Sides interview with Pam Tillis

We discuss songs from Pam Tillis’ new album “Looking for a Feeling” on Stellar Cat Records, talk about the music of her late father Mel Tillis, and highlight an all-female concert series called Chicks with Hits.
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Photo by Matt Spicher, courtesy of Conqueroo

Photo by Matt Spicher, courtesy of Conqueroo

GOLDMINE: Congratulations on your new album Looking for a Feeling. There is quite a variety and many timeless tracks on it, but before we do that, I would like to celebrate with you something that few artists have achieved. In the 1990s you reached country music’s Top 5 ten times in that decade. Wow! I would like to begin with one of those songs, written by Gretchen Peters, who my daughter Brianna and I saw and met, along with Gretchen’s piano accompanist husband Barry Walsh, here in your home state of Florida last year. Your performance of Gretchen’s “Let That Pony Run,” which reminds me in structure of her “Independence Day” composition, is so wonderful.

PAM TILLIS: Thank you. Thank you very much. Gretchen is wonderful, not only as a songwriter, but she is a great singer, too.

GM: She sure is. The flip side of that single, from your hit filled Homeward Looking Angel album is another of my favorites, “Fine, Fine, Very Fine Love” which was co-written by Jim Photoglo, who I know of from his early 1980s Top 40 pop hits “We Were Meant to be Lovers” and “Fool in Love With You.” Your high notes are so powerful and believable.

PT: I love the feeling of that song and I was in love at the time. There’s a side of me that has some R&B underpinnings.

Pam Tillis flip side

Pam Tillis

Flip side: Fine, Fine, Very Fine Love

A side: Let That Pony Run

Top Country Singles debut: January 2, 1993

Peak position: No. 4

Arista 12506-7

GM: Speaking of R&B, let’s move to a song from your new album, with a southern bluesy R&B sound, “The Scheme of Things.”

PT: Yes. That’s a little R&B. The title of the song has that classic phrase and where it lands feels very much like a country song but then it has an element of roadhouse blues to it. A lot of the songs on the new album are very much hybrids.

GM: “Karma” certainly has a hybrid of styles, leaning toward a bouncy pop sound, with a catchy chorus. I love the line, “I used to be the heartbeaker, now I’m the breakee.”

PT: “Karma” is exactly the opposite of “The Scheme of Things.” There is a wide range of emotions on the album but both of those songs are about somebody trying to put their pain in context and not minimizing it, saying that it is real and there is hurt, but let’s take it in the context of life, being in the middle of a storm, but knowing that life will continue and you will grow out of it and grow through it.

GM: Then there is “Better Friends,” which is so pretty, in 3/4 time, with great chorus harmonies, about trying to go back to being friends after a relationship ends.

PT: It is like somebody has made a mistake but they are owning it. There is a lot of that in the record. For the harmonies, I was thinking back to some of the Todd Rundgren harmonies that I love and tried to capture that sound, like on “Hello It’s Me.” “Better Friends” is probably going to be the second single after the title tune “Looking for a Feeling,” which we released first because I think it kind of sums up the record with a different sound.

Pam Tillis Looking

GM: When I worked at Peaches Records and Tapes in 1978, I would play Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends” on our speakers, with a theme in line with your “Better Friends” song. Like you, my wife Donna is also a fan of his “Hello It’s Me,” and Brianna is a fan of Todd’s production work on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell album, a big family favorite. With “Last Summer’s Wine” I immediately thought about Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine,” from another family favorite album Did I Shave My Legs For This? Your delivery is very pretty.

PT: Thank you. That is one of the countrier songs on the record. I wrote that with my friend Bobby Tomberlin, and it is like an older, wiser “Maybe It was Memphis,” as a nostalgic look back on a particularly hot summer romance.

GM: “Lady Music” has an interesting theme and is a very nice song.

PT: Well, thank you. The guy in that song as an amalgam of different characters that I grew up around. I just thought about these old troubadors and how they had a romance with music. It was their muse. Sometimes those guys were on the top of the world and sometimes they were in the ditches but “Lady Music” was always there, whispering in their ear and driving them to create great songs.

GM: “My Kind of Medicine” is very pretty. There is a horse and a dog in the story.

PT: I don’t have horses right now and would like to have some one day but I do have dogs. My mom came to her love of animals later in life as the most devoted dog owner and I kind of came to it late in life too. Now I think of animals as little furry gurus. I have a new appreciation of the intelligence of non-human beings. I have a big old boy who is a Dogo Argentino, about 135 pounds, named Scout and I have a petite pit mix, named Pearl and she is the queen of the house and that little one keeps the big one in line. I find a lot of peace in nature. Over the years people have shared their happiness with me and their losses too. For the song I was trying to not tell people what to do, but share with them ways that I try to cope. Sometimes it is the most simplest things in life that are the most appealing.

Pearl, Pam and Scout, courtesy of Facebook: Pam Tillis Official Music Page

Pearl, Pam and Scout, courtesy of Facebook: Pam Tillis Official Music Page

GM: “Burning Star” is gentle and steady with a beautiful violin on the recording.

PT: Oh, thank you. The guy who played on it is an amazing musician. I had a lot of things on my mind when I was writing that song. When I sing, “Lay with me in a bed of ashes” I was thinking about Pompeii. In our world, we are so much more vulnerable than we realize. I know it is not your average country song. My mom and I used to like to watch Ancient Aliens together and that inspired me in the lyrics to write about ancient paintings on canyon walls where it looks like people are in a space machine, and you really don’t know the past or the future. The song is about seeking spiritual guidance when you live in a time where you feel the ground is literally shifting beneath your feet. Not only coronavirus but also climate change is extremely unsettling. As I tour the country, so many of the places that I loved going to 25 years ago have been incredibly impacted. I love the people of California, for example, and it is heartbreaking to see the wildfire damage. I am from Florida and you wonder when Miami Beach will sink into the ocean. Oh my God! It is changed so much in our lifetime. I don’t want to preach in a song, although I might have to at some point, and might not be able to stop myself. I just want to highlight in my music that these are things that I am grappling with like everybody else and I am an optimist. I don’t want to be cynical but be watchful.

GM: You are originally from Plant City, Florida. I drove there to the Strawberry Festival to see The Band Perry. What a quaint town.

PT: My mom and dad said it was like Mayberry, a great place for me to grow up.

GM: You are in East Nashville now. Were you impacted by this year’s tornadoes?

PT: There was a tornado one block over and two blocks down. I had to get up and stand in the hall away from any windows. It came through so fast. We had super storms growing up, but nothing like this. Honest to God, I have never seen anything like it. We are all still in shock over here. We are really proud of how incredible the people of Nashville are. There were 4,000 people who came to our neighborhood the day after the storm with their work gloves on. Some days they would have to turn people back with so many people wanting to help. That’s what gives you faith in the future. People are amazing.

GM: You have talked about your mother, now let’s talk about your father. I mentioned him in my memorial to Kenny Rogers, highlighting his composition “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” which became the first Top 40 country hit for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. Your dad’s lyrics are so perfect and insightful from a broken soldier’s point of view, coming home from war, balancing a sense of duty with the feelings of protest we were facing at the time.

PT: That’s a classic! Oh my God, Daddy just had it and he knew he had been blessed with that little extra something. He had humor but he had insight too. I like that you used that word. It is funny in us talking about genres blending together, I never knew this but when I did the album It's All Relative - Tillis Sings Tillis, I read in an interview that Daddy and Kris Kristofferson had been into Bob Dylan’s, and I said, “Daddy, I would have never imagined that.” Country music has never existed in a vacuum, it has always borrowed from other styles and other genres have borrowed from country.

Father and daughter Mel and Pam, courtesy of Facebook: Pam Tillis Official Music Page

Father and daughter Mel and Pam, courtesy of Facebook: Pam Tillis Official Music Page

GM: Another Top 40 country song that your dad wrote and sang, which has meaning here in Daytona Beach, is “It’s a Long Way to Daytona,” a tribute to our auto racing.

PT: He loved that song! I think somebody just needs to bring that back around. It is so good. I will put it on my mission to promote that country oldie.

Pam Tillis Daytona

GM: When touring resumes, will you be doing any more Chicks with Hits shows with Terry Clark and Suzy Bogguss?

PT: We plan to, in July and August. Fans can always go to my tour schedule tab at my website pamtillis.com. Every now and then a date with my friend Lorrie Morgan pops up, too. That has been a nice thing for me in recent years as for years and years I was the only female on the tour. I really have enjoyed the camraderie with my sisters in song in the last few years. I sure have enjoyed talking with you and I am so happy that you and your family like Todd Rundgren too. The blend of the 1970s was the inspiration for the record and I hope Goldmine readers will check it out.

Chicks with Hits: Terry Clark, Pam Tillis and Suzy Bogguss, courtesy of pamtillis.com

Chicks with Hits: Terry Clark, Pam Tillis and Suzy Bogguss, courtesy of pamtillis.com

Related links:

pamtillis.com

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