Lori McKenna acknowledges that she’s written “all these songs about my mom over the years because she passed away when I was little.” But with “People Get Old,” whose video is premiering exclusively below, the two-time Grammy-winning songwriter gives her dad one, too.
“‘People Get Old’ is pretty much about my dad,” the Massachusetts-based McKenna tells Billboard about the first single from her upcoming solo album The Tree, which comes out July 20. “Writing a song about my dad proved to be much more difficult because he’s such a big part of my life, although he may have gotten the sort end of the stick poetically. He’s 83 this year, so I finally delivered a song for him.” McKenna’s father did get to hear it early, when he made a rare appearance at one of her shows last fall and gave her “the approval” afterwards.
“It’s one of those songs where it takes you back in time,” McKenna, the first woman to win the ACM Award for Songwriter of the Year, says of “People Get Old.” “I love nostalgic songs, so this one let me start picking part the parts of my childhood I remembered and wanted to put in a song, like going down memory lane a bit. In so many ways I still remember him as a younger man, doing family trips and all that. I remember him so much as this hard-working guy who wore a three-piece suit for 42 years, so I wanted to include an image of him not working — and couldn’t come up with anything in my memory bank. My husband, Gene, helped me out with that, so a little bit of his dad is in there, too.”
McKenna’s father isn’t the only family member included in The Tree. In fact, she says, the album “is really about family. Most of the other songs that are on there connect to me as family in one way or another. I really learned a lot about how I see my family and my role in it. It’s funny what songs will teach us.”
The follow-up to 2016’s Grammy-nominated The Bird & The Rifle, The Tree is the 11th artist album for McKenna, who’s written hits for Tim McGraw (“Humble & Kind”) and Little Big Town (“Girl Crush”), and was the first woman to win the CMA Award for Song of the Year in consecutive years. It’s her second album with producer Dave Cobb and features songwriting collaborations with Natalie Hembry, Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey, Barry Dean, Aaron Raitiere, Luke Laird and others.
“I’m always one to believe that the people I work with as a songwriter, I’m not really gonna get in their way,” notes McKenna, who will start touring to promote The Tree during the summer. “I’m in a different lane, a much smaller audience than Tim McGraw, let’s say. He doesn’t worry about me ’cause I’m not going to get in his way. So he’s only helpful to me. I’m really lucky I work with artists who know I put out records and have that side of my career. They understand that and get that, and also really support that side of what I do. So I’ve been lucky.”