Rosanne Cash was stuck as she tried to write the follow-up to 2013’s The River & the Thread. That album — which found her writing from the perspective of figures in her legendary family tree — was a huge success, winning three Grammys. Cash intended to write in the same vein for the follow-up. But then “this pressure cooker started building in America that didn’t exactly take women into consideration,” says Cash. “I grew up in the Sixties and Seventies. I believed in progress and that things would be come more equal, that women would get equal pay and all the prejudice and subjection would fall away. And then I would feel crushed and that this horrible regressive thing was happening.”
That fear defines Cash’s latest album She Remembers Everything, released late last year. Rolling Stone’s four-star review called it “a master class in channeling life into song.” Coming from a personal place, Cash tackles “rage, beauty … and madness” over dark, meditative melodies. In a video about the making of the album, streaming below, Cash describes how she channeled that madness into song; she says she wrote the excellent “Undiscovered Country” as a testament to #MeToo movement and women who speak up. “I think at the end of my life the regrets I would have would be about not living out loud,” says Cash. “Not saying what is true for me.” Cash begins a large U.S. tour beginning February 17th in Northridge, California. In a Q&A that follows the video, Cash goes deeper on the album and why she’s “optimistic and dispirited” about the future of the country.
Can you tell me why you wanted to make a short film for She Remembers Everything?
The visuals that accompany this album — based on art by Portia Munson — are really compelling and beautiful, as well as a little disturbing. I thought an expanded visual record was important. Also, I really like doing acoustic versions of produced tracks and it was great to break three of these songs down to the bones and perform them live.
You mentioned the pressure of feeling like you had to write character songs again. Where did that pressure come from, and how did you decide to go in a different direction?
It made sense to quite a few people around me who have some stake in my work. Mostly men, honestly. The themed, concept records, third-person songs — all that had been successful for a three-record cycle. The arts centers have an easy way to promote a show. Journalists have a story to latch onto. I didn’t care. I thought that even if it sold five records and the arts centers didn’t want me, I had to do it. I had to write and record these really personal, gothic, female songs. It felt like a deathbed wish. That’s dramatic and as far as I know, I’m not dying, but it felt that urgent. I’m so happy with what I did. It may not be as successful as The River & the Thread but it’s real and true to me and a document of this moment of my life. Reckoning with mortality, feminist rage and sorrow, trauma and love and a long-term relationship. I had to document it all.
How did you “play with darkness,” as you mentioned, on the new album?
I’m secure enough to allow myself to go dark and find a way back to my kitchen and my husband and friends and kids and my life. But playing with darkness — teasing the lines and images out of it, laying a rhyme scheme over a nightmare …? Major fun.
Are you optimistic about the future of the country?
Both optimistic and dispirited. It’s going to take a long time to undo the damage. Every day is a new insult: redefining what domestic violence means to favor the abuser, removing the ban from toxic pesticides, giving legitimacy to dictators and racists…. I could go on and on. In the moment I feel shaken but in the long view, I think we will re-commit to our principles and our humanity. I meet a lot of people when I perform and I see how they respond to music and I see the community you can create in two hours. I believe we can take that and expand it. Art and music are essential because they open the heart and mind and once those are open you can’t help but notice the suffering of others and you change your behavior. I just don’t know if I’ll be around to see the damage undone, but I believe my kids will.