Tenille Townes’ The Lemonade Stand is more than a major label debut album – it’s a safe space. On it, Townes asks big questions and expresses even bigger emotions, her compassionate worldview on full display as her childhood dream of making it big in country music takes root.
The title itself stems from a line in Townes’ empathy-focused debut single “Somebody’s Daughter” where she crafts a narrative about a young woman she saw begging for money on the side of the road. The lyrics give the woman a name (“she could be a Sarah, an Emily”), reflect on her past without judgement (“Bet she was somebody’s best friend laughing/Back when she was somebody’s sister/Countin’ change at the lemonade stand/Probably somebody’s high school first kiss/Dancin’ in a gym where the kids all talk about someday plans”), and finally, pack a thought-provoking punch as Townes ponders, “I wonder if she got lost or they forgot her.”
While the song emphasizes compassion, the album’s title stands for unity. “It represents a gathering place,” Townes tells Audiofemme. “I hope this record somehow reminds people of their dreams, too – because that feeling was very much saturated in the creation of it.” Coming together during, in Townes words, a season of “trust and faith,” there’s a certain magic that runs through the project. Across twelve songs, Townes demonstrates a sense of wisdom beyond her 26 years, crafting songs that present a deity with a list of hard-hitting questions, share her vision of heaven and suggest that life’s beauty is intangible, experienced within.
Since making the 37-hour drive from her hometown in Alberta, Canada to Music City, Townes has spent the past seven years working with some of the city’s best songwriters, connecting to her voice in the process. “Being able to really disappear into the Nashville community and craft these songs and find my voice and the things I wanted to say, that time felt really sacred to me to be digging into those thoughts,” she expresses.
Townes recorded the project over the course of seven weeks at a church-turned-studio in East Nashville. One of the “transcendent” moments of the album-making process came when she sat around the altar of the church to record “When I Meet My Maker.” Townes was wearing her great-grandmother’s earrings while recording and vows that she could feel her presence, her spirit serving as the heartbeat of the song that depicts Townes’ perspective of heaven. “When I meet my maker/I’ll walk on heaven’s boulevard/Up above the clouds/In between the stars/I’ll ask him all my questions/And he’ll answer with a smile/I’ll tell him how I love him/And I’ll thank him for my life,” she sings. She calls the song the “most raw” form of expression on the album.
That vulnerability is also reflected in “Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Asking).” The song is inspired by Townes’ visit to a local high school reeling from a fatal car accident involving five of its students. One of them was a star basketball player and valedictorian who had her whole life ahead of her. The singer gets candid on the track, her reflections on the tragedy expanding into existential questions she’d pose to the powers that be if she ever got the chance. Her humility is reflected in the song’s parentheticals, but ultimately it’s about the life-altering events that can test the faith of even the most devout. “That felt like a very raw place to dig into,” Townes says, admitting that she wrestles with the idea of being able to ask those questions, but affirms, “I think we’re allowed to.”
Townes continues her soul-searching journey with poetic closing number, “The Most Beautiful Things.” Written by Townes, Josh Kear and Gordie Sampson, the song is based on the famous Helen Keller quote “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” The songwriting trio felt compelled to write a song around this idea, channeling it into such lyrics as “So why do we close our eyes, when we pray, cry, kiss, dream? Maybe the most beautiful things in this life are felt and never seen.”
Townes brings these heartfelt words to life with her voice soaring over a serene melody of twinkling piano. The song also features the voice of seven-year-old Amelia, the daughter of sound engineer Jason Hall, which Townes says captures the child-like innocence of the song’s message. “It felt special to really put some music around that idea and capture that wonder and innocent-hearted way of actually noticing the beautiful things around us,” Townes observes. “I really believe they’re always there; it’s just having the eyes to see them and feel it and recognize that.”
For Townes, one of the most beautiful elements she’s experienced in life comes in the simplest, most pure form – love – a feeling that she hopes fans gravitate to in her music as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and flood the streets for racial justice. “I hope that people feel like they can come and be filled up with this music and be reminded of the kid that they used to be, standing at some lemonade stand and dreaming of their place in the world, not afraid to notice the beautiful things around them and just show up and be who they are. I hope that they feel like they’re not alone and that they’re filled up with the idea of their dreams,” Townes says. “This record definitely is the dream that I had as a seven-year-old kid. I hope that people feel that when they hear these songs.”