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Hard Time with Starting: A Conversation with Tanya Montana Coe

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Hard Time with Starting: A Conversation with Tanya Montana Coe

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hard Time with Starting: A Conversation with Tanya Montana Coe

The Nashville-based singer-songwriter talks about why her path to being a musician was unexpected — despite her famous dad.

A professional music career was never really encouraged in the Coe home, but Tanya Montana Coe eventually followed in the footsteps of her father, infamous country singer-songwriter David Allan Coe, anyway. She hasn’t really had a relationship with her father in two decades, and didn’t learn to play guitar until later in her life, but she’s now begun to realize the artistic vision that she’s always had — and she’s found a way to make it work alongside the successful business career she already had. 

As it turns out, her vision is much closer to pop music than her first foray into recording. Her latest material — including the single “Damned,” taken from her to-be-announced sophomore album — takes a dramatic shift away from the roots sounds of her 2015 debut, Silver Bullet.

Ahead of her stop at Secret Stages in Birmingham, Coe spoke with Jefferson County Journal about finding her own path in the music business, how she was given her name by Tanya Tucker, and her new, pop-oriented direction. 

Jefferson County Journal: Late last year, you mentioned on Facebook that you were “coming out of retirement” for a show in Nashville. Was there a point that you considered actually giving up music?

Tanya Montana Coe: It’s really more that I had a hard time with starting. [Laughs] Coming from a musical family, I wasn’t really encouraged to play music or be a part of the music industry at all. It was never something that I had even considered. I went all the way through college and got a degree in accounting; I had totally different plans for myself. It really just kind of found me.

I just started taking that journey naturally and organically. There were people coming into my life that were really supportive and encouraging and took me under their wings and really wanted me to pursue music. More specifically, they wanted me to record that first album. Getting my first album, Silver Bullet, recorded was such an amazing feeling for me, but when it came to getting a band together and playing shows and all of that kind of stuff…

I did it. I took it on. But the lifestyle is just — all of the factors that go into it — it wasn’t really making sense for me at that point. So I felt like I needed to take a break. Some of the people that had been supporting me and encouraging me and that had pushed me to do the first album had kind of fallen out of my life. I decided that I needed to make sure that this is something that I wanted to do for myself.

It’s been an interesting journey. I’m not one of those people that always knew that I wanted to play music or be a singer or songwriter. It’s always about me coming to terms with it and making room for it in my life.

Jefferson County Journal: You said that you weren’t really encouraged by your family to do it. Were you discouraged by your family from doing it?

Coe: My parents got divorced when I was 10. So any time I talk about my father, it was probably before I was 10, because he hasn’t really been in my life since then. But he would do things to get us involved — we would do backup harmonies on a recording, and I think we even did a couple of live shows. But [I] weren’t really encouraged to play an instrument or write [my] own songs. I didn’t even learn how to play an instrument until my early 20s. That’s when I learned how to play guitar well enough to write my songs.

After my parents divorced, my mom definitely had a lot of reservations about the music business and the music industry. It wasn’t like I wanted to do music and Mom or Dad was like, “No, you can’t.” It just wasn’t really talked about or brought up as an option as a path to take.

Jefferson County Journal: You recently reconnected with your namesake — country singer Tanya Tucker. How important has she been in your life and how long had it been since you guys had hung out?

Coe: I’m fairly removed from her. My dad and her weren’t even necessarily close, but they would run into each other at an event or something, and of course they had that connection of him writing one of her first big hits [“Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)”]. It just happened that at the time my mom was pregnant with me, they were at a Tanya show and, I guess, Tanya rubbed Mom’s belly and said, “How’s my little Tanya doing?” So that’s how that happened.

I think I saw her one more time when I was seven or eight years old, and then the photo that I shared on Facebook recently was the first time I had seen her since then. But I will say that being introduced to her at such a young age — and she was so popular at the time — I remember at four or five years old, I was a huge Tanya Tucker fan. I knew all of her songs. I was singing them and making up dances to them; lots of home videos. 

Jefferson County Journal: Silver Bullet was very Americana-influenced, very bluesy, very rootsy. The new single, “Damned,” is poppy. What inspired that shift?

Coe: I love country music, but I also love pop and hip-hop music. It doesn’t make much sense for me to go full-blown hip-hop—although, if I could, I would. [Laughs]

I feel very lucky. My producer, Shane Tutmarc, is from Seattle, and he had a huge background in pop music. He’s a huge Beach Boys and Beatles fan. The way that I write, because of my limitations, skill-wise — I would bring him all of these demos that sounded very intimate, stripped-down, very bare-bones, very Americana-ish songs. But that’s not how I envisioned them. That’s fine if I’m doing a live acoustic show. I’m not against doing them that way, but for the recording, I really wanted full-blown production. I really wanted to take advantage of his skill set. It’s more along the lines of music that I actually listen to. [But] there will still be quite a bit of variety on the second album, like there was on Silver Bullet.

Jefferson County Journal: When you play at Secret Stages, will it be more of a stripped-down thing, or will you be able to incorporate some of that production?

Coe: I’m going to be trying something a little different. I hope people will be excited and not disappointed, because to me, it’s the best way to have the big, full sound. I’m going to have Shane playing guitar, but we’re going to be playing and singing to the track. So it’ll have the big production like that recording sounds. I’m looking forward to trying it out and doing it that way. If it goes the way I plan on it going, I think it will give me incentive to do more shows and book more shows and do it that way.

A big reason I didn’t continue playing shows for a while is [because] I’m a realistic person. I’m a businesswoman. I own a business here in east Nashville that I’ve had for nine years [Goodbuy Girls], a women’s boutique. I have an accounting background. I’m very passionate, driven. But things have to make sense to me, especially financially. Getting players together is hard because in Nashville, everyone plays with 10 bands. It’s always a headache — trying to get a full band together, getting them to learn your songs well enough. No one wants to practice. Then you’re spending a fortune, so whatever money you make from the show is basically already spent. And I don’t really feel like doing that. So I took a break, and Shane and I would go around and do more stripped-down shows. But those were in venues where it made sense to do more stripped-down acoustic shows — smaller, more intimate venues.

[But] for the festival, I want a big, banging sound.

Tanya Montana Coe performs at Secret Stages’ Avondale Brewing Company Outdoor Stage on Friday, August 3, at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit secretstages.net

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Blake Ells

Blake works in public relations by day, and he’s a music journalist by night. His work has been published at AL.com, Birmingham Post-Herald, Birmingham News, Weld: Birmingham's Newspaper and Birmingham Magazine, among many others. Blake continues to serve The Literacy Council of Central Alabama, where he has previously served as chair. He is a proud alumnus of Auburn University and was raised in Rogersville, Alabama, but he currently resides in Birmingham. Follow him @blakeells.

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