With a Grammy in hand and a long list of No. 1 hit singles, records, and top charting music, Rosanne Cash has taken the country, folk and blues scene by storm. Now, armed with her new album, The River & the Thread, read how Rosanne uses Pinterest place boards to dedicate and map out inspiration for her lyrics and songs.
It seems music runs in your genes. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Did you always know music was in your future growing up?
I started writing poetry at the age of 8 or 9, and I knew I wanted to be a writer of some kind. In my early teens I started thinking about putting poems to music, but I didn’t have a concept of being a ‘songwriter’ yet. I don’t think I really registered that women could be songwriters until Joni Mitchell. At 18, I started writing my first (terrible) songs. However, I didn’t want to be a singer or a performer. Instead, I went to the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in Los Angeles. After a couple years of college and six months of living in London, I loved the work and the intensity of acting school. But I knew after a few months that I could never lead an actor’s life. It was too hard, with too much rejection and emphasis on appearance. But it was a great experience and I use some tools I learned in performance today.
I was writing songs all along, and I ended up making a record in Germany. I still didn’t want to become a performer, but after that record, it was just the next natural step on the path. It was very hard at first–in fact, it was very hard for many years. I had stage fright and I didn’t enjoy the attention. I wasn’t very good at it. But if you keep showing up for work, something happens…you get better, you find more subtle experiences, and I have come to love the temporal nature of live performance, and the spontaneity. I have learned to get out of my own way.
With all music you have released over the years, how have you grown as an artist and performer? Any significant moments or milestones?
I’m curious, and it keeps me growing. I love what I do, and I feel incredibly lucky that I get to live out my dreams of music and writing and performing. I was very sick several years ago and had a good hard look at my own mortality. When I recovered, I felt an urgency about doing the things I most want to do in this life, not wasting any time doing them, and not hedging my bets. As my friend Ethan Russell says about people my age, “You have more to say, and less time to say it.” It’s motivating.
You just released your new album, The River & the Thread, and we caught your map of places that chronicles the journey you took in creating the album. Can you tell us more behind the inspiration for your place board?
I love maps. I spent many hours in the map room at the New York Public Library looking at maps from the last 300 years–mostly of the Southern states, including Civil War field maps, which were beautiful and chilling. I thought of maps the whole time I was making the record, and imagined all the geo-cultural-spiritual spots I was singing about–Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Virginia–as well as Barcelona and Paris. The whole album is a map. I wanted to put a map on the album cover, but the shot on the bridge was too compelling, so the Pinterest board satisfied a lot of Map-Love I had!
You’ve dedicated a board, Modern Blue to a song off your new album. From the description, the song is about “carrying your home inside of you”. How do you combat being on the road, on tour, and away from the ones you love for long periods of time?
I am never away from my son for a long period of time. I have never gone out for a month, or weeks at a time, because of my kids. The longest I was ever away from my kids was 16 days and it almost killed me. So I’m a weekend warrior during the school year, and I take him with me on school breaks. He goes to camp in the summer and we work a lot then. I have an internal balancing mechanism–I go out for 2 to 4 days, sometimes 5 days, then I’m home and I’m really HOME. And I do travel with my husband, so I see him more than anyone.
What is the biggest challenge today for musicians starting out? Any advice for young talent looking to follow in your footsteps?
It’s a tough business. The whole backstory of a musician’s life–the pace you keep, the travel and the exhaustion–is a little shocking to young musicians. My daughter is a musician and she said she knows bands who are outraged and complain after the first 6am lobby call, “I can’t do this!”
There’s a huge wake-up call about the exact nature of the job. No, you don’t get airlifted to a perfect theater with a perfect sound system minutes before you walk on stage. Well…maybe some people have that experience but most of us are in the trenches, grabbing a nap between sound check and the show and trying to figure out if there’s a real meal in our future.
But if you love it, and more than that, if it’s the reason you’re on the planet–to make music–then you develop your stamina and you show up and don’t complain. This is all assuming that you have a strong work ethic regarding the actual work–that you “show the muse you’re serious”, as my friend Steven Pressfield says.