Rissi Palmer on Soulful Comeback: ‘It’s Scary and Empowering’
It was no coincidence that Rissi Palmer booked a Nashville date for the weekend of the CMA Music Festival. She’s played it plenty of times before. But this time she booked a slot at Sunday Night Soul, a bi-monthly showcase organized by roots-soul singer Jason Eskridge at the small East Nashville club the 5 Spot. She liked the idea of performing the songs from her new EP, The Back Porch Sessions, for a racially diverse crowd of soul heads — or, as she put it, “people that I didn’t necessarily get to sing to the first time around.”
In the 2000s, Palmer made a run at mainstream country success, garnering attention as the rare singing, songwriting woman of color getting any country radio airplay that decade. Knowing what she was up against, she emphasized that she had a stake in the genre’s culture with her debut single, “Country Girl.” But the handful of singles and self-titled album she released during her time in Nashville failed to yield a commercial breakthrough and she was, for a time, caught in contractual limbo with her record label and working at a mall.
Fast forward to 2015. Palmer is living in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and their daughter and making trips back to Nashville to develop her new music — with its neo-soul-to-throwback-southern-R&B sound and down-home, confessional point-of-view — when and how she wants to. “It’s a different vibe,” she explains, sitting at a picnic table on the porch behind the 5 Spot. “The country’s still there, because that’s still a part of me. But this project is definitely more intentionally soul.”
The way your life has gone over the past several years — leaving Nashville, taking time away from recording and touring, focusing on your family — is kind of the opposite of. . .
What people [in the industry] do?
So what’s it like reentering the fray at this point?
I did a small acoustic tour last year, just up and down the southeast, before we started working on this project, and we called it the I’m Not Dead Tour. Because a lot of people were like, “Where did Rissi Palmer go? She just disappeared off the face of the Earth.” It’s a little frustrating in that all the ground I covered the first time, in a lot of ways I’m at square one again. That’s probably the worst part of it. But it’s good because the sound is different this time, so maybe it falls on fresh ears. It’s not the same thing that people have heard from me before, so it almost is like I’m a new artist.
The idea of having professional momentum, or the perception of momentum, is such a powerful thing.
Yes. And it’s not easy trying to get that going again. So that’s where I am right now. We’re taking a more grassroots approach, which is very different from the first time. It’s a learning experience, and I’m in charge this time. It’s a lot on me, and it’s scary and empowering at the same time.