Lucy Isabel’s full-length album debut, Rambling Stranger, is a moving collection of carefully crafted lyrics and powerful production that finds the New Jersey native’s soaring vocals matching the precision of some of Nashville’s best and brightest. Trading the New York acting life for that of a songwriter in Music City, Lucy has also racked up the miles as a touring artist with no limit to her troubadour’s ambition. Her music is appreciated as Americana, echoing a childhood on the Jersey shore, her dramatic training, and a love of the road. This show has been rescheduled for April 16th, 2020.
AI- Rambling Stranger came out last summer– where’d you record that?
LI- I recorded it in Nashville… We used OmniSound studios.
Who were some of the players on that record?
We actually did it in two sessions, so there were a couple of different players. The first session, we had Jake Finch on drums and Sean Trainor on keys and the guitarist was a guy called Luke Enyeart… And on bass for the first session was Steve Haan. In the second session, it was still the same drummer and keyboard player. The guitarist was a guy named John Prentice, and the bass player on that one was Lane Faulkner.
You had done a couple of EPs prior to this full-length– and I know that with the full-length, you guys did as much as you possibly could live. Was that something new or had you always tried to do your recordings that way?
Well, they were pretty different scenarios. The EPs I did with my friend Mike Emmerich. He engineered and produced it, and it was kind of just like a basement studio deal. We tracked pretty much everything. When we were going into the studio for Rambling Stranger, I had Jared Anderson engineering– and just because of the nature of the songs and just kind of generally how I like to perform, we decided to just do it all in live takes.
Tell me about working with Jared Anderson. He’s known as a “songwriter’s” producer. What was that like for you?
It’s great! He knows what he’s doing! He came out of Berkeley in 2015, and he just was super well versed, really in all facets of it. He knows what he’s doing on the board, and he just had a great ear for instrumentation. He and I get along great, so it was super easy to kind of communicate with each other about what we were both feeling for the songs.
You initially set out to be an actress? You got a theatre degree from Yale and were hanging your future on New York and the stage. What made the shift for you to rapidly and completely switch directions and head to Nashville to be a songwriter and performer?
I spent most of my senior year of college thinking about how I didn’t really want to live in New York. I grew up on the beach in New Jersey, and we can literally see Manhattan from the beach. New York was very present in my life for all of my childhood and approaching adulthood, and I kind of was just feeling like I wanted something different. I didn’t want the same thing that I’d always known. So I ended up moving down to Nashville.
Had you always played music?
A little bit. When I was in middle school, I did like the obligatory band and stuff like that, like the concert bands. I played trumpet in middle school and I played violin for a couple of years. But it wasn’t until high school that I started learning to play piano. And then when I was in college, I taught myself to play guitar.
What was the path that put you on the songwriting? Were there particular artists you were studying or admiring and you thought, “I need to try this out too.”
It was kind of just that singing is my favorite thing. In my acting career, I mostly did musical theater, and I was just like that annoying kid who was always singing at every turn and my sisters were constantly telling me to shut up, you know? (Laughs) So music was always just kind of a part of me and for most of my life, my outlet for it had been in a theatrical setting. I think once I got to college and especially once I taught myself to play guitar, I realized that there were different ways that I could do it. As soon as I started playing guitar, I started writing music, you know, they came hand in hand. I started listening to less musical theater and more popular music, and I’m sure that had a hand in it as well.
Is your husband in the music business too?
Oh, certainly not! No (laughs), he works in the running industry. He works for a company that sells like running socks and stuff like that.
You always seem to be on the move and in a way so is he– just in a different capacity!
And speaking of which I saw that back in October, you had a show scheduled for every day of that month from Tennessee to New York to Indiana to Mississippi, West Virginia… Did you make a show every night that month? Did that actually end up happening the way you wanted it to?
Yeah, I played 31 shows in 31 days. Actually, I did it in 30 days. I played two shows in one day, which meant that I had an off day elsewhere. But yeah, it was crazy and at the same time not as overwhelming as I thought it would be going into it. You know, I thought like, “Oh boy, why am I doing this?” But once I was actually doing it, it just felt second nature– and I scheduled it in a way that I wasn’t driving myself crazy. It wasn’t like I was doing eight-hour drives and then playing a show. I kept everything pretty regional for the most part.
Do you prefer the traveling? Being on the road and performing in that capacity?
I think yes. I mean I’ve always been a person who’s liked to move around and see new places and meet new people. And also just kind of the nature of the music scene in Nashville is… It’s great ’cause it’s a very strong community and nobody looks at you funny when you tell them that you’re a musician, like for real, that that is your job. But it’s hard to make a living here as a musician if you’re the act, you know? There’s a million other ways you can do it. You can be a sideman or producer, an engineer, or anything like that and you can stay pretty stationary in Nashville. But if you’re looking to actually be the person on stage that people are looking to, you kind of have to get out of the city to make a living doing it.
Well, that’s sort of an old school path to success as well. I think a lot of artists in the 21st century don’t take that road, pun intended because they think they don’t need to– you know, with the internet and streaming. Is that going to be your plan? To be a road warrior, to get in front of as many people as you can and play those songs and hope they hope they stick with everybody?
Yeah, I mean, I like it. I enjoy the travel and like I said, I like meeting new people and seeing new places. I’m kind of straddling the line of like a folk Americana person. When I tour, I pretty much just play alone wherever I go. So that gives me a very folky, singer-songwriter vibe. I think that lends itself well to a grassroots effort, to just kind of getting out and playing, whatever audience shows up and hoping you make some connections with people.
I saw in another interview that you had done where you talked about writing in collaboration with other folks and that you did enjoy it. Have you had the opportunity to write with many people in Nashville since you’ve been there?
You know, I don’t do a ton of co-writing. Often what I’ll do is if people are coming into Nashville from out of town and they’re trying to get a bunch of co-writes lined up with people, I’ll kind of write with out-of-town folks. And I have a couple of people who are based in Nashville that I write with. But it’s honestly just hard ’cause I am on the road so much that I mostly end up writing alone and I mostly end up writing alone while I’m driving to a gig.
I like to ask people if they have a guilty pleasure song, something that nobody knows that they do. And oftentimes when you spend a lot of time driving and on the road, you always hear this recurring song that you end up singing at the top of your lungs, that you were really glad that there’s nobody else in the car to hear you sing. Do you have one of those?
It’s not necessarily like guilty pleasure songs that I do, but the way that I do it, which is sometimes when I’m driving, I will just listen to a single song on repeat the entire time (laughs) and it’s weird. And eventually I have a moment where I’m like, “Okay, you should stop doing this.” A lot of times it’ll end up I’ve become so obsessed with the song that I’m like, “Oh, I want to sing this!” So I just listen and listen and listen and listen until I know it, you know, until I know all the words, and I know how it goes. I don’t think there’s any one song in particular that I’d be embarrassed to let people know I’m into, but I don’t think anybody would necessarily enjoy a four-hour drive with me where I’m listening to literally the same three-minute song the entire time!