Lori McKenna may still call Boston her home, but she’s been making a lot of waves in Nashville this year.
“Girl Crush,” a song she co-wrote for Little Big Town with Nashville writers Liz Rose and Hilary Lindsey, has turned a non-controversy at country radio into the biggest country hit of 2015. It’s spent eight weeks (and counting) at the top of Hot Country Songs, logged sales of over 1 million downloads, paired Little Big Town for show-stopping duets with Taylor Swift and Faith Hill and, finally, found real acceptance at country radio -- the song climbs two spots to a No. 10 peak on the Country Airplay chart for the week of June 27.
Though McKenna’s had a role in other country hits before (most recently Hunter Hayes’ “I Want Crazy” and RaeLynn’s “God Made Girls”), and remains an active artist under her own name with eight solo albums in 15 years (2007’s Unglamorous peaked at No. 109 on the Billboard 200), she says the “Girl Crush” experience has given her newfound sense of pride in both her roles.
“I have not always been a confident artist. I always stuck my neck out a bit and waited for someone to say, ‘Oh, it’s cool, you can come outside,’” McKenna says on the phone from her home in suburban Massachusetts. “But this put a little bit of a spark under the side of me that just wants to stay home. I think whatever I do next will be a bigger project. I’m 46, so I’m getting to a point where, ‘How many records do I have left in me?’ I don’t want to put out anything where I wouldn’t be able to stand behind every song.”
For whatever comes next, McKenna has a new team in the form of Luke and Beth Laird’s Nashville-based Creative Nation, which signed McKenna to a deal for publishing and management earlier this month. She joins a roster that includes Barry Dean (Tim McGraw, Ingrid Michaelson), Natalie Hemby (Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum), Native Run, Steve Moakler (Dierks Bentley) and Luke Laird himself (Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves).
McKenna had previously been signed with Universal Music Publishing for the last six years, and says she “always felt like I had a home there,” but was open to an opportunity to consolidate her dual careers when her deal expired this spring. “I’m a singer-songwriter at the end of the day, and when I started talking to Beth as a publisher, she really lit a fire under my artist ass. I’ve always wanted to be the best writer I could be, but now without putting the artist side on the backburner.”
Beth Laird, an admitted “Lori McKenna superfan” since her 2001 album Lorraine, says McKenna’s signing is the latest example of how Creative Nation has rapidly expanded from an office “in my kitchen” just four years ago in September 2011 to its own thriving space on Music Row alongside all of the major publishers, labels and PROs.
“The fact that we’ve had such incredible writers come to us and want to work with us and be here, that’s really blown my mind,” Laird says. “I want to create this culture where people like us are attracted to us, and the one that aren’t we repel. If someone comes here, meets with me and ends up signing with another publishing company, I’m not one of those who gets jealous if they go somewhere else. I want to always feel like a family, which can always get bigger as long as you’re just very careful to get different people on the team.”