It’s been eight years since Lauren Alaina was the runner up to Scotty McCreery on American Idol, at just seventeen years old. While the show was a great step for her and her career, it hasn’t been plain sailing the whole way. From a whirlwind debut album after the show, it took six years before her second record, ‘Road Less Traveled’, was released.
When Taylor Magazine sat down with Lauren, she reminisced about her trips to Nashville when she was still a young girl. “I recorded a little CD and I took a bunch of them to Music Row and I went there in my cowgirl hat, knocked on the doors and gave them my CDs. That didn’t work out,” she laughed. “Getting into the music industry was a lot of guessing and hoping for the best.”
We caught up with Lauren while she was in London, and discussed everything from writing songs about painful life experiences, what she wished she’d known on American Idol, and the album that changed her life.
“I just recently wrote a song about my stepdad who passed away in October and I cried the whole writing session. But then you get this really amazing song. The reward is worth the digging. Music heals, and that’s why I fell in love with it, that’s why everyone fell in love with it. If I can be a part of that, that’s amazing.” – Lauren Alaina
Taylor Magazine: How did you get into country music? Tell us a little bit about your journey.
Lauren Alaina: I grew up in Rossville, Georgia, where country music is definitely the most popular kind of music. I grew up listening to R&B and Pop, and all kinds of music, but country always felt the most true to me because of where I grew up . It talks about a lot of things that happen in Georgia. I started singing at three years old, and fell in love with music very early on. It was always my favourite thing to do, to sing and write songs. I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision to be a singer. It was just kind of always that way.
Getting into the music industry was a lot of guessing and hoping for the best. I started travelling to Nashville when I was 11/12. I recorded a little CD and I took a bunch of them to Music Row, and I went there in my cowgirl hat, knocked on the doors and gave them my CDs. That didn’t work out, but I ended up singing downtown. I sang with bands on Broadway and then I was on American Idol. That changed everything for me. I had to work really hard for five or six years to get actual success on radio. It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it.
Taylor Magazine: What’s your favourite part of what you do and what’s the most challenging part?
Lauren Alaina: Being on stage, or the meet and greets are my favourite parts. The most challenging is definitely being away from home so much and missing holidays and things. My nephews get twice as big every time I see them!
Taylor Magazine: What’s it like to be in the UK and to be performing here?
Lauren Alaina: The fans here are unlike any I’ve ever been in front of. They’re very excited, they know the music and it’s far away from home, so that’s always surprising to me. It feels like America, but older. I’m here for three weeks, and that’s a long time to be away – typically I’ll be gone for a week at most! We just played the Dixie Fields Festival, and I was really ready for this tour because the fans were amazing and knew all the words to ‘Ladies In The 90s’. They were screaming it so loud I let them take over a chorus!
Taylor Magazine: How is the songwriting process for you?
Lauren Alaina: I try to write once a week when I’m home. Typically when my schedule is Thursday – Sunday on the road, so I’ll write at the start of the week. I need one day a week to get myself together and do some laundry. Do you call it laundry? You have different names for everything here!
Taylor Magazine: Yup, we call it laundry too! So, you’ve collaborated with incredible people and well-known names in the country music world like Kane Brown and Chris Lane. Who is next on the list?
Lauren Alaina: I’m obsessed with Shawn Mendes. I know he’s pop but that would be really cool because he has a lot of country vibes in his music. In the country scene, I’d say Morgan Wallen – he’s amazing.
Taylor Magazine: When it comes to collaborating, how different is it compared to working alone?
Lauren Alaina: So far, both of the collaborations I’ve done (we have a third coming up with Jon Pardi!), I didn’t write the songs. For me, it’s very important if I don’t write on the record to be able to put my stamp on it. When I went in to record with Kane on ‘What If’, the second verse with the echoes wasn’t there and I added those to be able to showcase myself. I reworked the melody a little bit. It also means I have to make sure the song makes sense for what I do, and I want to sing songs that I would write myself. You don’t want to get lost on the radio. I’ve spent a lot of time designing my craft and writing in a way that sounds distinct, but some of it came naturally.
“I have a much clearer understanding of who I am and that’s the hardest thing to do as an artist. You want to stay true to that, but also evolve.” – Lauren Alaina
Taylor Magazine: How have you grown as an artist?
Lauren Alaina: For my first album, I didn’t really get to write much of it because it was so fast after American Idol. Since then, I’ve become a really good songwriter. I tried to make that my focus and get as good as I could at writing. That changed everything for me. I have more of an idea of what I want to do as an artist now. If I cut a song I didn’t write, I’m able to make a better decision on whether or not it fits me, because I’ve worked so hard on my songwriting. I have a much clearer understanding of who I am and that’s the hardest thing to do as an artist. You want to stay true to that, but also evolve. With ‘Road Less Traveled’, we laid the foundation and now we’re going to expand on that.
Taylor Magazine: When writing for your new record, how did you decide which songs made it to the album?
Lauren Alaina: I feel like the songs pick themselves. I can write 200 songs for a project and 12 of them will pretty much say, “I’m the best song.” You have to write as much as possible and then put the pen down. You go through and figure out what the best songs are and what I want to say to people. On the last album, the songs naturally just rose to the top.
Taylor Magazine: Do you have a favourite song you’ve written and a favourite one to perform?
Lauren Alaina: ‘Three’ is my favourite song I’ve written. It’s all about my dream, the sacrifices I’ve made and thanking my family and the fans for supporting me. ‘Road Less Traveled’ was always my favourite to perform, but recently it’s been ‘Ladies In The 90s’ because it’s so fun, I get to move a lot on stage and people are singing it back to me.
Taylor Magazine: Your fans often talk about how your music has helped them through a rough patch. Is there a song or an album that’s done that for you?
Lauren Alaina: I remember when Taylor Swift’s album, ‘Red’ came out. I was like, “This album has changed my life.” It was so well written and she was so young. You had a little bit of everything you needed on there. Love songs, breakup songs, everything. One of the best country songs I’ve ever heard that is so beautifully written is Cole Swindell’s song ‘Break Up In The End’. In the last year I went through a really bad breakup. I actually heard the song before we broke up but I would go through that relationship again because I learned so much from it.
Taylor Magazine: How difficult is it to go through something, like a painful breakup, and pour that into a song?
Lauren Alaina: Honestly, from a bit of a selfish standpoint, it’s very helpful. When you go through things like that, it’s hard as a songwriter. As an artist you’re like, “Thank goodness we went through this!” but as a songwriter you’re like, “Oh gosh, I have to go and write about this!” Creative people in the industry constantly think about how they can turn something into a song. When there’s pain involved, it’s really hard to get that out. I just recently wrote a song about my stepdad who passed away in October and I cried the whole writing session. But then you get this really amazing song. The reward is worth the digging. Music heals, and that’s why I fell in love with it, that’s why everyone fell in love with it. If I can be a part of that, that’s amazing.
Taylor Magazine: How do you pick yourself up when you’re having a down day or things are hectic and a bit much?
Lauren Alaina: The fans, basically. They keep coming to the shows. Even if there were five of them at the show, they turned up and sang every word. I’ve always been a fan of music, and when I think, “What if one of my favourite artists went through a rough time and they quit, how would I feel?” I would be devastated. So, I kept sticking it out when I’ve felt like this, and thank goodness I did.
Taylor Magazine: What are your bucket list moments and highlights as an artist?
Lauren Alaina: Winning an ACM Award was crazy. ‘Road Less Traveled’ being the number one song was obviously a given. I recently wrote a song that was cut by an outside artist that was a really big deal to me – Kane Brown and Becky G cut ‘Lost In The Middle of Nowhere’.
Taylor Magazine: What’s your most memorable concert or performance of another artist, and who inspires you the most?
Lauren Alaina: Justin Timberlake changed my life. When I got to see him live, I was like, “Woah”. He’s great at everything: singing; dancing; the show was so inspiring. I’m inspired by a real mixture of people! Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, Reba McEntire. I draw inspiration from people in the scene now as well. We’re so different but Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris. The place they write from is very inspiring!
“I’d have lots to say to my 16 year-old self! Take more pictures, and those people writing mean comments on the internet? Delete them and know they don’t matter. They don’t define you.” – Lauren Alaina
Taylor Magazine: How does it feel to be part of the collective group of inspiring female artists at a difficult time in country music?
Lauren Alaina: All of the difficulties for women in the industry could have separated us, but it’s brought us so close together and it makes me proud and excited for all the women in Nashville. It’s made us friends and we’re rooting for each other. And that’s the way it should be.
Taylor Magazine: How do you unwind and de-stress?
Lauren Alaina: I’ve really had to work on looking after myself after a hectic week or month, because I work so much. I’ve had to learn to be with myself. I like to cook and clean and hang out at the house with my boyfriend. I try to do things like that because I live such a busy life so I always make sure to just be kind to myself.
Taylor Magazine: What’s next for you?
Lauren Alaina: Now that I’m done with my tour in the UK, I’ll be doing my first headline tour in the US so I’m very excited about that. Then, I’m back in the studio! Keep a look out…