It's been a busy 12 months since the beehive-sporting, boot-clicking, "bluntry" (blues + county) songstress Grace Askew belted out her sultry rendition of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" for Blake Shelton on Season Four of The Voice. In between hitting the road in her pickup truck (which she's named "Lorraine") to tour, the 27-year old Memphis native spent some time in the famed Sun Studio recording her new album Scaredy Cat, which drops August 11th.
The first track on the album is "Wild Heart," a song Askew tells Rolling Stone Country "defines me pretty well." Listen to the exclusive premiere of the "Wild Heart" below, followed by our candid chat with the singer we deemed the Number One "most robbed contestant" of The Voice Season Four.
It's been about a year since your stint on Blake Shelton's team on The Voice. What did you learn from that experience?
That I can trust my gut feeling about myself. Being on national television was a position I had never been in before. It tested my courage. It put me in a place — performance wise —outside where I had been before. Instead of performing for 500 people, I was on national television, so it really showed me what I was made of.
When Shelton asked you to describe your sound, you said "bluntry," a mix of blues and country. Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
I remember when I was nine years old, I absolutely fell in love with Clarence "Frogman" Henry, a New Orleans singer. I was floored by his music. I remember running around the house singing his songs all day. I was influence by a lot of older music, like Joni Mitchell. Harry Nilsson is another one who blew my mind. He's one of the big reasons I started writing songs and getting serious about music.
When did you realize you wanted to make music your career?
It was never like, "Oh, I'm going to do this for a living." I just always knew I loved music so much that I never wanted to stop doing it. And then one day after going through a really bad breakup, I just started booking tours at 22 years old. I had been playing guitar since 13, so I hit the road and got really serious about my music. I just caught that wanderlust and have been going ever since.
From B.B. King and Rufus Thomas to Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, the list of great artists who have recorded at Sun Studio goes on and on. What was it like recording your album in such a historic place?
It was just so surreal. I feel like Elvis is like my guardian angel. All these things in my life have involved Elvis, from my first crush to the first CD that I ever bought. I did a little one-hour session at Sun when I was 19, but little did I know that eight years later I'd be cutting an album where all my heroes had been. It was such a blessing to be able to cut an album there.
Was there any added pressure recording at Sun Studio, or was it just so surreal that you didn't think about it?
There was the pressure of it being hallowed ground with all my heroes, so I wanted it to be good, but at the same time, I'm really good at not over-thinking it. I just went in and cut 11 songs in four hours. I wanted it to be rough, raw and janky. And that's exactly how it came out.
What was your inspiration behind the music on the album?
It's a lot of Memphis-sounding songs. I keep re-falling in love with Memphis over and over the last couple of years. I've been on the road so much, but every time I come back home it reminds me of my roots, so I keep writing songs that involve that Memphis sound.
There's a lot of authentic pain in your voice in this album, including in tracks like "Calvary" and "Only Human." Where does that pain come from?
A lot of us artists are overly sensitive. I'm not afraid of feeling things. As a musician, I don't have the fear of feeling things because music is that outlet. It makes it okay to put it down on a sheet of paper and play it on the guitar, it feels so good, even when it's something sad.
Are you going on tour to promote the new album?
Yeah, I'm going to do a lot of summer festivals, and then I'm hitting the road in September in my F-150 pickup, "Lorraine." It has a topper with a bed in the back. I am a road dog. I like to say I'm a "Tennessee Tumbleweed." Touring is my livelihood.
I think the perfect place to listen to this album is a dark dive bar with a tallboy in my hand.
I can definitely see that.
When you envision people listening to this album, what are they doing?
I want people dancing for the second half of this album. The party starts around track six. I want the second half of the album to be a party — drinking your tallboy with a juke joint feel. The first half of the album is closer to my heart as a storyteller, so it's a good balance.