Family ties run deep in the South, but singer-songwriter Hannah Aldridge, daughter of famed Muscle Shoals songwriter Walt Aldridge, presents a compelling case study: a talented offspring who followed in her father's footsteps while staying true to her own heart. Aldridge, now 25 years old, didn't start singing until age 21, when she took a commercial songwriting class at Middle Tennessee State University, on a lark in an effort to break up her sound engineering studies. But the singing bug bit her good and hard, and she's since pursued a grassroots career as an Americana artist, while fulfilling publishing deals with popular TV shows like "Hart of Dixie." Though Dad didn't initially approve of Hannah's new career path, he eventually came around, producing her debut album, "Born to be Broken," due for release this summer. Folio Weekly chatted with Aldridge, who performs with her husband, Word Strickland, at The Original Café Eleven May 30. She spoke about her songwriting evolution, her independent ethos and coming to terms with being a performer.
Folio Weekly: You have a new full-length record coming out this summer, Hannah. How does it differ from your first two EPs?
Hannah Aldridge: Totally different. [Laughs.] When I released the first EP, "Wanderer," two years ago … man, I was a baby. I wasn't even intending on being a musician. So, we went in and cut another acoustic EP, just something that people could take home with them that would sound a little more like what Word and I do live. In the meantime, I worked for a year writing a great album in terms of songs. My dad actually produced it and really whipped me into shape — he did not let any crap get put on that album. He was a great filter; his motto was, "If you have really great songs, the production will be the icing on top."
F.W.: You were a late bloomer as a musician. Didn't your dad influence you to pursue the craft when you were growing up?
H.A.: It's funny, my mom was actually the one who really pushed me to take music lessons and do talent shows. And even up until he started producing the new album, my dad was very hesitant about the whole thing. People assume that he stood over me with a whip saying, "Play your scales on the piano!" But actually it was the complete opposite — he really discouraged me from being a musician because he knew how hard it was. I wanted to be in the music industry, but a performer? No way. Then I started writing songs that got good reactions, and at some point, it made sense to go out and play those songs. That developed into touring … but honestly, my dad had nothing to do with it.
F.W.: Muscle Shoals is a big hub for Americana music, but Nashville is a whole other beast. How have you dealt with life in Music City?
H.A.: I went to school with the intention of learning everything I could about the music industry, so I know how disheartening and destructive it can be for a musician living in Nashville. The best thing for me has been to step away from it as much as possible and create my own plan. But Nashville is great because it's so humbling.
F.W.: Have you ever been humbled on stage?
H.A.: Oh, yes. I'm still not comfortable in front of a crowd. [Laughs.] I can remember one show in Ireland on New Year's Eve 2011, and I stepped out in front of the crowd and almost freaked out — thought I was going to pass out on stage and forget my lyrics. But at that moment, I had this revelation: "You don't have that option. These people are here to listen to you, and you're going to do the best that you can. Music is what you're choosing to do, and you're going to have to find a way to enjoy it; otherwise, it's not the right career for you." So I've slowly started to gain a little confidence on stage. But it's hard. The type of music I play is really personal.
F.W.: Will it be hard for you to have critics reviewing your upcoming album?
H.A.: Feeling deflated? I've got a whole lot of that coming my way in the next couple of months. [Laughs.] I have to give the album to people who matter in the music industry in some form or fashion and have them say they hate it or love it, which I guess just comes with the territory. But that's OK. They don't all have to love my music.