Tenille Townes Builds a Sanctuary With ‘The Lemonade Stand’

Photo Credit: Matthew Berinato

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.”

The Lemonade Stand is out tomorrow, June 26th. Follow Tenille Townes on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Emma Hern’s Self-Titled Debut

Emma Hern is as grounded as they come. As a young musician, some might expect a bit more hesitation in a debut EP. Hern’s self-titled freshman effort is slick and satisfying, drawing its inspiration from traditional rock and blues.

“Then you held me tight / Almost every goddamn night / You whispered in my ear, only the midnight train could hear me coming undone.” Simplicity is underrated. Songs like “Fool Who Should Have Known” showcase so clearly that direct lyrics and a powerful voice can move a listener. It’s an album of familiar themes, love and loss, yet on repeated listens it resonates with a crisp flavor all its own.

We talked with Emma about going to Berklee School of Music, her move to Nashville, and how she finds the “fresh” in retro rock.

AF: You grew up in Richmond, Virginia. What’s the music scene like in Richmond?

EH: Richmond has an extremely diverse music scene and is home to some wonderful festivals like Friday Cheers or River Rock (think music festival + extreme sports + a beautiful river) The town is really supportive of live music.

I was pretty young when I first started playing in Richmond. Actually so young that often times I had to have my parents with me to get into the bar or venue I was playing at that night. I was around 14 and was in a band with some older guys and teachers, mainly doing covers, sometimes until 1 a.m. on a school night. My parents were so supportive during that time – as long as I finished my homework. Now that I am older, I love to go back to Richmond whenever I get a chance and see who is playing or what new venues have opened up.

AF: Who were your earliest musical influences and what about them inspired you to start writing?

EH: I asked for an Aretha Franklin CD for Christmas when I was five… so she was certainly my earliest musical influence. I used to literally scream “Chain of Fools” and “Natural Woman” in the shower. Again, my parents were very supportive during this time of “creative exploration.”

I honestly didn’t start writing until I made it to college. Patty Griffin and Lori McKenna were huge influences for me at that time of my life. I learned a lot from their styles while I was trying to find my own voice as a writer.

AF: Graduating from Berklee is no small feat. What was your college experience like?

EH: When I first showed up it was really difficult for me. Although I had been performing for years, I had never taken music lessons growing up and found myself thrown into the deep end with kids who were years ahead of me in music theory. However, I learned a lot while at Berklee. It provided me with a safe environment to experiment with my sound and for that, I am grateful.

I really struggled finding a balance between my love of simple blues and soul lyrics and being taken seriously [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][by my songwriting peers] as a lyricist. For some reason I had it in my head that if my lyrics were not earth-shattering metaphors posing the ultimate question by the first chorus, I was less of a writer. It took me a while, but I finally realized I am who I am. I write and sing in the style that I grew up listening to and that shaped me. I love it and there’s nothing wrong with simple. Of course, as an artist you always want to be pushing yourself to be a better writer, but I’ve found a happy medium.

AF: What is it about Nashville that made you want to move there over NYC or Los Angeles?

EH: I was SO against moving to Nashville. I really wanted to branch out and head out on my own to NYC or LA. I was visiting some of my bandmates in Nashville the summer before I was planning to move, and they took me to this dive bar, Dino’s. Flash forward three months – I was packing up all my things and making the drive to Nashville. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I am blown away by the music community in this town and have never felt so supported in my music. (Dino’s is still my favorite dive bar.)

AF: Nashville is a breeding ground for talent, yet it’s also a very saturated space. What was your strategy in terms of standing out from the crowd when you first arrived?

EH: Whew. I don’t think there is a right way or wrong way to do this whole music thing.
When I moved down here I just hit the pavement running. I said yes to every opportunity. I worked REALLY hard and heard so many nos.

I think maybe I got lucky. When I first started playing out in Nashville, the band and I were just trying to figure out our sound and having a blast doing it. Everyone was smiling and laughing on stage while I was dancing around. I think in a sea of acoustic guitars, that may have helped us stand out a bit.

AF: Your self-titled debut EP has a familiarity to it that feels really good. How do you balance writing within such a distinctive genre (retro rock / soul) while also keeping your music fresh?

EH: I think that rock and soul sound is what naturally comes out of me when I sit down to write. It is ingrained in my heart, so I focus really hard on trying to add some pop sensibilities in my choruses to make it more current. It’s always a battle, but I try to think about making blues and rock and soul accessible to a mainstream audience. Most of the EP was tracked live. The band and I were all together in one room doing full takes of the songs, so the arrangements and mixing process were really vital in keeping it fresh. I think where we placed certain things in the mix really helped to make it more current. Kyle Dreaden did a great job of working with me on that.

AF: What current artists are you listening to on the regular?

EH: Anderson East, Lake Street Dive, Theo Katzman, PJ Morton, Phoebe Bridgers, Tedeschi Trucks are on repeat and I’m always listening to my mom’s old vinyl.

AF: Do you have any plans to tour in the near future?

EH: Of course! Keep your eyes peeled for summer dates.

Emma Hern’s self-titled debut EP is out May 11. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ALBUM REVIEW: Sam Smith “In the Lonely Hour”


British crooner Sam Smith finally released his debut album, “In the Lonely Hour”, on May 26 with Capitol Records. After a year prepping for his debut with his critically acclaimed EP “Nirvana” and features on hit songs with Disclosure and Naughty Boy on top of touring even before his album was released, Smith has gained wide recognition not just in his home country but in the U.S. as well. With all these accolades and even TV exposure – on Saturday Night Live no less – it’s no wonder that “In the Lonely Hour” became one of the most anticipated albums of 2014.

The biggest reason for his steadily growing exposure is most likely his powerful, heartbreaking voice. Smith can sing and when he does, everyone will stop and listen and feel a bit more breathless than before. He doesn’t grasp for notes, he easily caresses them and glides through them with incredible passion and dedication. He’s fearless in his vocals, daring to soar to the highest notes and play with dynamics.

Of course with this sort of voice, he especially shines in the genre of “tear-inducing, earth shattering unrequited love music” which is basically the premise for “In the Lonely Hour”. Most of the songs on the album are mid to slow tempo appeals to a lover that will never return Smith’s feelings. The instrumentals also range from isolating guitar lines to grand orchestral movements, all adding to the sweeping loneliness that Smith reinforces with his moving vocals. But other than Smith’s phenomenal voice, there isn’t anything here that could really separate it from other sorrowful, self-pitying albums. The lyrics aren’t particularly arresting; sometimes they almost seem surface-level and at other times, they’re nearly unhealthy in their obsession over this unreturned feeling. It’s not an album you should listen to in large doses unless you want to be pulled down into the abyss of self-loathing and hopelessness.

If this album was put on a heart monitor, it would be a relatively even line with spikes in the beginning for “Money on My Mind” and “Stay with Me” and at the end for “Lay Me Down”, which all happen to be singles. The middle of the album is forgettable although “Like I Can” and “Life Support” attempt to change the pacing. Overall, it’s a solid and safe debut; the only experimentation Smith tries is with his own voice. In a way, it’s somewhat unsatisfying because with such vocal talent, he has a chance to explore different kinds of instrumentation and lyrics. Even if he’s making his words accessible to a wider audience, perhaps something more personal, more specific would’ve given more life to his songs. It’s a concrete start and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. “In the Lonely Hour” is available now in the UK and will be released in the US on June 17.

BAND OF THE MONTH: Leverage Models


“My only rules were that I would shut my conscious impulses as much as possible (my impulse to interrogate and analyze every gesture, ponder what imaginative impulse every sound was for, worry about what outlet would be used to release the music) and just make,” Shannon Fields has written, regarding his approach to music and his new project–and AudioFemme’s Band Of The Month!–Leverage Models. Fields’ creative impulses and internal landscapes are at the heart of this group. Friends and cohorts appear on Leverage Models’ self-titled debut, too, in such high and ever-evolving numbers that trying to count them would be futile, but Sharon Van Etten, Sinkane and Yeasayer all number among Leverage Models’ contributers. Fields, who dreamt up his first band, Stars Like Fleas, in 1999 and played under that name for nearly a decade, has always been inclined towards collaboration.

Listening to Leverage Models is a fantastically colorful experience, so much so that the first few times through the album feel like being in a brand new, exotic and densely stimulating city–it’s hard to have concrete thoughts on the music when you’re so busy just trying to take it all in. In a wonderfully interior journey, Leverage Models presents a mostly-joyous, always-elaborate layering of futuristic soul music, electronic riffs and repetitive vocal lines that sound more like instrumental licks than voices. It’s hard to see the seams of this album: the music’s many aspects seem like they must have simultaneously sprung, fully formed, into being. Since the album bears so little comparison to anything else in its category, finding the songs’ trajectories requires enough listening to get past just being dazzled by the bright lights and shiny metals, but once you do, the album is actually pretty accessible. Some of the songs, like “Sweet” (with Sharon Van Etten) are surprisingly catchy, with strong R&B influence and an endearing sense of excitement swelling beneath the melodies.

In the fifteen-odd years he’s been recording–first with Stars Like Fleas, and now Leverage Models–Fields has put out only four full-length albums, with a few years’ space between each. It’s easy to see why: each complex, densely compiled release packs a hefty wallop. None more so than Leverage Models, which feels like the summation of the full five years Fields took to create it, with an elegant blend of complexity in its instrumental arrangements and sweet simplicity in its intent.

Listen to the oh-so-stunning, “A Chance To Go”, here via Soundcloud


If you can’t catch Leverage Models at our SXSW showcase this Wednesday, cozy up with Shannon right here instead! Audiofemme got in touch with him and asked him a few questions about music, and the internet, and resurrecting his teenage self who would then listen to the new album. Here’s what went down:

AF: Tell us about the process of beginning your new project, Leverage Models. How did you want it to differ from your work with Stars Like Fleas? What inspires your music writing?

Shannon: Leverage Models didn’t really begin deliberately. Stars Like Fleas was a very large family of musicians that was so emotionally volatile, and so draining to keep afloat that when it finally ripped itself apart I just moved to the country and started spending all day in my home studio with absolutely no agenda except to find something to glue myself back together with. I suddenly had a surplus of time and space to create in. But also this sort of crushing weight of having a part of my identity, something I’d built for almost 10 years (Stars Like Fleas, my life in Brooklyn) vanish overnight. I felt free of the albatross it had become for me, but also a huge wave of “what now?” anxiety. The only way I could handle that was to entirely avoid thinking about the “what now?”, or about who I am or what I had to offer anybody. So that was a pretty radical change to my creative process. With the Fleas, the creative process was analytical to the point of compulsion – it was 2 parts sound creation / performance and 98 parts self-interrogation, willful deconstruction, avoidance of any convention, avoidance of anything that might work in an immediate or superficial way for anybody.  And I don’t regret a moment of that. But Leverage Models originated in my just making songs that made me feel better and that I enjoyed living inside, without questioning anything (because at the time I had no intention of doing anything with those songs). Honestly, this was and still is straight up therapy….an approach I hadn’t previously had much respect for.  I don’t want to suggest there isn’t still some of that going on with Leverage Models, but I try to keep the higher functioning parts of my brain out of the room until it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture of an album, or a mix. Until then I let the lizard parts of my brainstem drive the bus. I think I’m more interested these days in the logic of craft and folk art rather than the trappings of modernism, that constant privileging of newness and confrontation of norms, so Leverage Models focuses much more on the shared conventions of pop music and just trying to be disciplined about writing and arranging well. (That said, lyrics are a different conversation entirely….a different ballgame, and equally important to me).

AF: Now that the album has been out for a few months, how do you feel about it? Do you have a favorite song? 

S: I spent a year on the record and I’m completely happy with it. It’s not the record I would make today, but it’s a good snapshot where I was at a year ago, and I’m proud of the response I’ve gotten from some of the people whose opinions I care the most about. I don’t actually listen to my own records and can’t say I have a favorite song. Right now my favorite song to play live is The Chance To Go.  With most of the songs I wrote and recorded them predominantly at home before bringing in the band to replace demo arrangements. But The Chance To Go came out of a live improvisational session with the band. One morning we woke up, I described a groove to the band, and maybe 15 minutes later we had that song. It feels more spontaneous and live than other things on the record because it is. Also….A Slow Marriage is one that ages well for me….it might be the most open, direct and personal…it feels simultaneously vulnerable and synthetic…which is how I feel most days.

AF: How do you feel about music in the digital age? Would you go to war in order to save the internet from extinction?

S: I’m a little bit confused and alienated by the new relationship to music that the culture has. Music is a little more of a disposable lifestyle accessory and a little less precious then it was when I was a teenager. I don’t know that I have a strong feeling about whether that’s a good or bad thing….I guess it’s a mixed bag, like all change. It’s what culture does. That said, I might not have any kind of social life or a career without the Internet….it’s easier to do everything (except make money), including just talking to people…which has always been difficult for me. It doesn’t carry over into performance, but offstage I have a crippling amount of social anxiety. So email is great. And I think when I moved to the country my music career might have been over in a pre-Internet world. Now it matters much less where I live.

AF: You’ve picked out of the way spots to do a lot of your recording, and Leverage Models was recorded in a farmhouse outside of Cooperstown, NY. Why do you choose such remote locations?

S: Ha!…because I live in that farmhouse in the country outside of Cooperstown! My band lives in Brooklyn but I left before Leverage Models happened. I record mainly in my home studio, in between barn chores (my wife and I are breeding horses) and other work around the property. Splitting my days between physical labor and creative work gives me a rhythm that’s really healthy for me. I feel like a better person for it…even if that’s sentimentalized nonsense, it’s a fiction that helps me get through the day. And I just feel physically and mentally more stable. NYC was breaking me. Also, I should mention that I generally record the full band and mix at The Isokon in Woodstock, NY, — mainly because D. James Goodwin, who runs it, is someone I trust and have a longstanding relationship with. He’s a powerful creative human and he gets me.

AF: What are your strengths as a musician? Would you say you have any weaknesses?

S: I’m not putting my head in either of those nooses. Is this a job interview, Annie?

AF: If one of your songs (while you’re in the process of writing it that is), were a small child (or pet), would you say that it would have a mind of its own or would it generally stay in line and follow the rules?

S: Oh I’m probably training feral animals here, metaphorically speaking.  In my writing process I make a conscious effort not to know where I’m going when I begin a song. Sometimes I do try to generate ideas by throwing myself curve balls (horrible cliché’s, instruments and mixing choices that are steeped in cheesy baggage, pastiche, etc.) but mainly I just work really fast and intuitively up front…so fast I don’t have time to question what I’m doing….following my reflexes and my pleasure centers. I write/record in manic highs and edit when I’m miserable. Then if I’ve painted myself into a corner, finding my way out usually leads to something that’s better than it would be if I tried to really over-direct and control the process.

AF: If you could have any person, living or dead, real or fictitious, listen to a song off Leverage Models, who would it be? What do you think they/it would think about that song?

S: Hmmmm….the only thing that comes to mind would be my teenage self. And….I really have no idea what I would think. But I think I’d be pretty down. I would probably question all the slap bass.

AF: If you could experience your own music through one of your other senses, which would it be? What would it taste/smell/feel/look like?

S: Can I experience someone else’s music this way? That seems like a pretty heavy gift to use in such a self-indulgent way. I’m a little food-obsessed. I think Maurice Fulton’s music would make for a pretty satisfying combination of salt, heat and sweetness, without a lot of heavy starchy proteins.

AF: What is one of your favorite cities to perform in? Do you have any weird tour bus necessities?

S: We’re lucky to get a bar towel and some hot water on a hospitality rider and we tour in my 2008 soccer-mom minivan, packed so full of shit none of us can move our legs. I look forward to having weird tour bus necessities though.

As for chosen cities, I just like performing anywhere that people seem hungry for music and aren’t so self-conscious that they’re afraid to move their bodies at a show. But to be honest, I was just as uptight and self-conscious for a long time. It took a long while to get to the point where I really internalized that I am going to die – I think that’s what it pivots on – and was able to full let go of all those kinds of very Midwestern, probably very male inhibitions. So we love playing smaller towns that are usually passed over; where you play to a small crowd but everyone who comes up to you is grateful and excited. It makes me remember being that kid in Kansas City…remembering the feeling you have – living in what you think is the ass-end of the universe — when you see something that changes the game for you, turns a light on, makes the world feel suddenly larger and more nuanced and more capable of possibility and not limited to the values of whatever oppressive cool-crowd you’re stuck under, shows you a way out or inspires you to remake yourself. Anyway, we seem to find a lot of these places in the south. On our current tour, D.C. (a huge house party with a few hundred people, put on by the Lamont Street Collective), Asheville NC, Charlotte NC, and Jacksonville FL were all surprisingly bonkers. I just like to feel like I’m making some kind of real connection with every person there. If I don’t, I feel like a complete failure as a performer and as a person…no matter how much people might have liked it or how ‘on’ the band was. I always take crowd reactions personally, I’m very motivated to feel that connection, even when I know I’m doing things onstage to actively bait or confront them a bit (which happens).

AF: Do you have any words of wisdom for Audiofemme? Any secrets you’d like to divulge?


1.  No wisdom, but a thanks to Audiofemme for helping to provide a balance to the music journalists’ boys club. I’m not sure boys clubs are our scene. I’m used to getting threatening looks in boys’ clubs.

2.  I’m very good at keeping secrets. You first.