Interview: Lynn Drury on “High Tide”

What is NOLAmericana and why is it needed.

Singer-songwriter Lynn Drury is a stalwart of the New Orleans music scene, and to bring more attention to an overlooked aspect of New Orleans music she has coined the phrase NOLAmericana to differentiate the more singer-songwriter and country-tinged music. To lead by example, she has just released a new album, ‘High Tide’, which was produced by sometime collaborator with the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann and Robert Hunter, Papa Mali, which was recorded at Louisiana’s Dockside Studio. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Lynn Drury on an early morning Zoom call as she was preparing for Jazz Fest to discuss ‘High Tide’ and why she felt the need to coin the term NOLAmericana. She explains how easy it was to work with Papa Mali in the studio, and how this record was her first opportunity to work with  Louisiana and Nashville drummer Doug Belot, who she has known for twenty years.  She explains how she was a relatively late starter in the music business coming to New Orleans in her mid-twenties, and the influence of a childhood and early adult life around the rodeo circuit has had on her subsequent musical career.

How are you?

I’m just trying to squeeze everything into a very busy day. I will be out to Jazz Fest hopefully today.

Tell me about NOLAmericana.

I don’t know, I think, to me, it is just New Orleans americana. I felt New Orleans music seems to get grouped together and when people think of New Orleans music they don’t necessarily think of americana. I think there are a lot of songwriters here and has been over the years, and I thought it would be a cool genre to have, a funky blues country mix.

You’ve just released your 10th album ‘High Tide’. What did producer Papa Mali bring to the project?

He brought a cohesiveness to it. Everything he chose for the song, the guitars, the effects, the approach, was very simplistic but yet it added so much, and this whole record feels like it belongs together.

Did you learn anything from working with him?

I’m not a lead guitar player, but I did learn some licks from him, and as far as producing, which I do want to do, he pretty much just stayed out of the way. He did have his vision, but he allowed me to say if I didn’t like anything, I had the final say so to speak.

You recorded at Dockside Studio, what did that feel like?

That was my idea, I’ve always wanted to record there and I’ve been hearing about it for like twenty years. I finally got to play with Doug Belot, after wanting to play with him for twenty years because he was always so busy and always on the road. I got to play with him during the pandemic because nobody had any gigs, and I thought who’s the best drummer I know? So we started doing these gigs during the pandemic, and then when I was ready to go into the studio I was so excited because I had such a great band.

Who selected the musicians for the recording?

Papa Mali pulled in Roddie Romero and Yvette Landry, and I pulled in Doug Belote and Rene Coman, who’s been playing with me for about seven years and he’s been my go-to bass player. My drummer of twenty years had moved to Florida, so that opened up a slot. I don’t really have a named drummer, so when we went into the studio Doug Belote was like a session guy. It was just the four of us recording for three days, and then Papa Mali was like, I know Roddie and Yvette. It was really cool.

Were all the songs written for the album and how were they selected?

Papa Mali listened to all the songs, and he liked some of them. I think I only had nine and in the studio, I wrote the title track. That song came to me on the first night in the studio, it just came to me, and I went back to the Poolhouse and it just came pouring out, pun not intended. It did come pouring out, and I was just crying, where did this melody come from, I wrote it out and recorded it the next day. That’s never happened to me, write a song and then record it the next day, the band really came up with the rhythm and the bass lines, everything, it was cool. Papa Mali then just put the icing on the cake with that. So, two of the songs were sort of half-finished, that’s ‘Live My Life’ where you can hear I don’t have any words to go right here. I really didn’t, I thought I would just write that line when I got there, you know, but it didn’t happen. My old drummer in Florida was like, I really like that line, you should just leave that in where you don’t know what to say, and I’m like, OK, I’m leaving it in. So, all the songs were written in the past three or four years, ‘Don’t Wait’ was written first and was the catalyst to go in and record. My friend Roxy Bergeron was like, we need to go record that and I’ll help you, and then we got the grant from Threadhead. The Threadhead Cultural Foundation helped fund the initial studio sessions and musicians, so it was pretty exciting. I think after that week I lost my voice completely, I lost my voice for a week after that, it’s true.

The music industry is tough after the pandemic. You mentioned the grant from the Threadhead Cultural Foundation, what did that mean for you as an artist?

It means everything. It means you can begin the process, and once I’m in the process of it there’s no stopping, I just have to get there and I have to know that little beginning of the process is paid for. It means a lot, and that probably is the third or fourth grant I’ve received because they gave me one for ‘Sugar On The Floor’, and one for ‘Come To My House’, so this is is the third one I’ve gotten. They’re an amazing organisation, and they are here to help preserve New Orleans culture and help us musicians make our art.

You mentioned Jazz Fest, how’s it looking this year, and what does it mean for local artists?

It’s pretty amazing. Usually, I get to play every other year, and I get to play French Quarter Festival every year, but Jazz Fest is very special, really special. People come from all over, including Europe, and I get to see fans from all over the US who make a point of coming to see me. It is pretty amazing. I’m going to be there on Saturday, obviously, and I’m going to have the horns that are on the record, Jason Mingledorff and Satoru Ohashi. We had a rehearsal and it was amazing, I had goosebumps, and whenever I get goosebumps in a rehearsal I know it’s going to be so good.

Who are your own favourite songwriters and singers that made you want to pick up the guitar and sing your own songs at the age of 26 or whatever?

John Prine was an influence, lots of people really, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy, I really got into the alt-country thing early on, but I’ve really just loved music all my life. I was always singing, the singing was always there I just didn’t have an outlet, I didn’t know I should be playing music. When I picked up the guitar all the songs just came flooding out. Ani DiFranco was an early influence on me, as was Prince, country music as well because I grew up in the rodeo and it was a base for what I listened to as a kid. I was listening to a lot of different people but they are a few.

You were a late starter as far as your music career goes, what have horses and rodeo taught you that helped with your music?

I went to a rodeo a couple of weeks ago, my sister’s husband still does cattle and everything, and they used his cattle in the rodeo. I went because I just happened to be visiting them, and I realised what a strong culture I’d been raised in. I didn’t realise until I walked in as the urban person stepping into this clearly strong culture. Everyone is dressed the same, and I didn’t wear my boots and I didn’t have my hat, I didn’t have anything to make me feel included in it. I was shocked because from the age of five until I was in my twenties, probably twenty-one, I was in that culture. I definitely love country music, and then when I started playing music I wanted to move as far away from country as I could, so I gravitated to New Orleans R&B, a funky kind of thing, and I tried to stamp out the country in me as a person when I started out. I was always looking for a cohesive-sounding thing, I was always writing in different genres, but there was normally always one country song on every record of mine. I think the country just comes out of it, but it takes time to simmer and I think those two things just melded, and that’s NOLAmericana, I guess. It just all came together with time, I’ve been at it for twenty-five or twenty-six years now, so it’s just me now.

You’ve adopted New Orleans now, who would you say is the greatest New Orleans musician, the one who best encapsulates the sound of the city?

You can’t ask me that. Oh my God, you’ve got to go jazz for that, right? We have Trombone Shorty, we have Donald Harrison, and we have so many amazing people I can’t pick, it’s not possible. We are losing a lot of people too, and we have a lot of great songwriters. We have Andrew Duhon, we have Alex McMurray, we have so many amazing people and now I’m drawing a blank. Alex McMurray was an early influence on me, even though he was my peer he’d already been playing a lot of music, so he was already on the scene when I started out. So I was very much following his band around in the early days, writing and being inspired by his band, Royal Fingerbowl.

Are there any plans to come to the UK?

I would love to come to the UK. I studied in London in my senior year, I went through the British Studies Program and studied at the London School of Economics, and I stayed in King’s College. A few years ago I went back, my friend was in Cirque De Soleil and I had a little vacation while she was over there. I’d definitely love to come back, I was supposed to do a festival when the pandemic hit, so I’ll have to get those contacts back out and get over there.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers. What are three of your favourite tracks, albums or artists on your playlists?

I’ve been listening to Billy Preston because I was turned on to a song I’d never heard before. I was listening to Billy Joel’s new song the other day, it’s really good actually. I’m really a pop kind of person. Lukas Nelson is really great, I love him, Ryan Adams is great, but I know he’s in trouble so I can’t like him right now, I love Harry Nilsson, and he was a big influence on me. There are females I like too, but I can’t think of them right now.

Finally, do you want to say anything to our UK readers?

Buy me a plane ticket and bring me over there. You guys always have great music, and I went over there to Manchester and just went out to the clubs and saw some really great live music, just local music like really good rock’n’roll, you know. I think you guys have great taste in music, obviously, let’s keep it rolling, hopefully, I can come visit. One of my old producers is over there, John Porter. He used to be my neighbour here, but then he moved back over there. He did my ‘Come To My House’ record. He’s a great guy and I love him, and he’s like come over and I’ll produce another record for you if you just get over here. So, maybe we will.

Lynn Drury’s ‘High Tide’ is out now and is an independent release.

About Martin Johnson 406 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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