Life can take you on a very strange and very difficult-to-predict journey.
While that is true for just about everyone, it seems to be a little bit more true for those in the music industry.
Take Sylvia Hutton for example.
In 1983, she was winning the Academy of Country Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year, on the strength of her hit, “Nobody.”
After the release of her 2002 album A Cradle in Bethlehem, Hutton said that she was feeling a little burnt out with the whole thing, and decided to take a break to focus on writing and getting closer to the music, the result of which is her new, upcoming album: It’s All in the Family.
The album itself is a bit of a throwback, featuring more down-to-earth, homespun and authentic sounding country music than what you're likely to find playing on the radio these days.
Now, on the eve of the release of her first album in 14 years, Sylvia spoke with The Contributor about the album,and why it’s her most personal album to date.
What made you decide that now was time to put out an album since your last release 14 years ago?
I went through a pretty serious life transition about a year and a half ago, and it gave me an opportunity to kind of re-look at how I wanted the next chapter of my life to go. I went through a divorce. I had been married for 24 years, so it was a pretty big change in my life. I always look at things as an opportunity, and when I looked at it that way, I really did some soul-searching and realized I had another record in me.
I really did not know how that was going to manifest. Was I going to write songs? Was I going to look for songs from some of my favorite songwriters around town? I kind of stumbled into someone who became a friend, Bobby Tomberlin, and he and I began writing songs. Then, my friend John Mock, who I’ve known for 25 years – he and I have produced all my independant records together – he began writing melodies. My friend Thom Schuyler and I ended up writing lyrics for the song he wrote melodies to.
How does this compare to albums you have worked on in the past? Is this usually how you would do things or is this a little bit different?
It was very different. I didn’t know at the outset I was going to be co-writing nine of the 12 songs. That kind of happened as we went. I would say this record is different in that I think it’s probably my most personal record. But I don’t mean personal in kind of a navel gazing kind of way. I feel like this record really reflects how I see the world, my perspective on my life, and it’s just personal in that way. Sometimes when you sing songs, and especially my recording career in the 1980s because I was so young, I was in my 20s … A lot of times you are like the actress when you are singing the song, trying to imagine yourself in the situation that you’re singing about. I feel like I’m getting my perspective. It is my take on life and my thoughts and my feelings. So from that perspective, it’s more grounded.
Would you say your music style has changed?
I think I feel more drawn to acoustic productions. Back in the ‘80s, I think the production on my records is what you would call “pop country.” Not that there’s not some pop in there still because I did grow up in the Midwest. I have a lot of musical influences, and think this record reflects that, but the record also reflects the influence of my roots, which on this record I feel like I got to explore.
The record is called It’s All in the Family. One of the first things I realized when I first was making the record was that I wanted the voice of my grandfather’s fiddle and his banjo to be on the record in some way, and that really shaped the production as well. There is banjo, mandolin, fiddle. Stuart Duncan played my grandfather’s fiddle on the intro on “Grandpa Kirby Runnin’ the Hounds,” and John Mock is playing the banjo on the intro of that song.
On the album, I noticed that one of the themes that seemed to keep popping up again and again is “family.”
Yes. The influence and inspiration for this record is such a reflection of where I am in my life right now. The past several years I have been a member of Ancestory.com. I have been very interested in learning more about my roots, where I come from and who I come from.
I think in a lot of respects, this record is a nod to my Grandpa Kirby, who was a musician, and who really loved and was passionate about music. He lived to be 91 years old and died in 1987. He got to witness my career and was really proud of me that I went into music. I think it was a dream he had to put aside because he ended up having 14 children and it took a whole lof energy to raise those kids and feed them and clothe them. He didn’t get to pursue a career in music, so he felt pretty proud that he had a granddaughter that did.
It sounds like he had a pretty big influence on you in going toward music in the first place.
I did not realize it at the time, but looking back, knowing that music was in my family, knowing there was a passion for it, and then making trips from Kokomo, Ind., as a kid to see my grandparents, and listening to the Grand Ole Opry on a Friday night. It definitely planted a seed there, and I think at this time in my life, when you have more perspective, the opportunity is there to embrace “Oh wow, that did have an impact on me,” and now I’m trying to put the puzzle pieces of that together on this record.
It’s All in the Family was released Oct. 7 from Red Pony Records.