Interview With Artist/Prosongwriter Jenny Yates
Cowriter of Garth Brook's Hit 'Standing Outside the Fire'
Interview with Jenny Yates, a Nashville-based artist with a new CD, Out of the Blue, , and songwriter of hits by Garth Brooks and others, including “Standing Outside The Fire” – co-written with and performed by Garth Brooks. We met at Fido in Hillsboro Village in Nashville, TN.
[Doak Turner] Jenny, what is happening good with you these days?
Jenny Yates I’m doing great. I’ve just finished my first record and have begun performing again, which feels terrific.
[Doak Turner] Tell me about your new CD.
Jenny Yates I got to a point in my life where I was making a “To Do” list. At the top of that list was to “Make A CD.” I realized that if I got to the end of my life and had not made a record – it would be a regret and I vowed long ago to do everything I could to not have regrets – and this was something I could do something about.
[Doak Turner] After having years of songwriting success, having your work sung by others, how did you approach making your own record?
Jenny Yates It had to be about the songs. I had many years of writing, many songs to choose from. My criteria was to choose songs that I could stand up and sing, just me and my guitar, that would still communicate that stripped down way; songs that were true for me. And then, I worked at putting them in a musical context that supported the songs, and would let them present themselves.
[Doak Turner] You started the CD with one of my favorite songs, “The Streets of Your Town,” that has been recorded by Kathy Mattea. Tell me about that song.
Jenny Yates “Streets” is about feeling an attraction for someone – being lost in that feeling because there’s no way out of it – and how everything comes to life when you feel that way – everything speaks to you – and brings up that wanting. The entire lyric came out of the first line –“there’s a red Ferrari following me” – that alone spoke to me of a powerful, sexy something just out of view and not leaving me alone— yet turning to find there’s nothing tangible there. And, from there I just let the images spill out on the page.
It was the first song that I wrote with Andrew Gold. He had forgotten that we had a writing appointment that day. I called and then showed up at his house. He had quickly come up with the brilliant hooky music and melody for this song. One of the great things about working with someone who is so talented, as Andrew is, he hears parts as he’s writing and records them as you go, so the by the time you’ve finished the writing appointment, there is also a nearly finished demo – which sounds like a record.
[Doak Turner] You have a line in that song that says, “I’m a walking billboard looking to settle down.” Where did that come from?
Jenny Yates There are things in this world that call out for attention. The feeling that made me write this lyric was so wanting to shout out and say “hey – I'm the someone you been looking for.” That is sort of the angst in the song that silently pleads – want me.
[Doak Turner] How did Kathy Mattea hear the song?
Jenny Yates My understanding is that Kathy is a fan of Andrew’s and her producer at the time was Josh Leo, who also produced the Bryndle album. The group Bryndle is made up of Karla Bonoff, Wendy Waldman, Andrew Gold and Kenny Edwards. I was lucky enough that “Streets” was included on that album as well, which was a another great album to be part of. So, I think Kathy heard the tune from Josh, and was already a fan of Andrew’s, and all the members of Bryndle.
[Doak Turner] Let’s talk about your writing with Garth Brooks. How did that happen, writing with Garth? Did you become friends with Garth before he was a big artist?
Jenny Yates Yes. I was signed to ASCAP by Bob Doyle (who later managed Garth Brooks). Bob left ASCAP and invested everything in a couple writer/artists, and Garth was one of them. Bob would mention to writers that he had a new guy and we should come and write with Garth, so I did go and write with Garth. We worked on one song that is still unfinished, but we became friends, and would get together at the end of the day and swap songs back and forth. This was before he had a record deal. Then, he got real famous and I didn’t see him for a couple years.
[Doak Turner] Let’s talk about one of the biggest songs that you have written, “Standing Outside The Fire.” It should be a theme for a lot of people. It has one of the best lines I have ever heard in a song, “Life is not tried it is merely survived, if you’re standing outside the fire.”
Jenny Yates Garth credits me with that line, which is very nice. Garth called and said he was coming to California, would I like to get together? So, we had an appointment to meet for breakfast – and within fifteen minutes after I arrived – out of conversation – Garth described something as being just outside the fire for him – and we both knew what that meant and started to work on the song.
[Doak Turner] Garth and Trisha Yearwood are on a couple songs on your CD, what was that like for you?
Jenny Yates It was great. So much talent. It was like having a very front row seat at a very private concert. And, it was a joy to get to watch the two of them, no pressures, just singing. So much talent.
[Doak Turner] You’re so lucky to have the friendships that developed with these talented people. Were you living in Nashville in order to develop these relationships?
Jenny Yates I lived in Nashville for six months when I was signed with my first publisher, Al Gallico. But I’ve never really lived in Nashville, I just come here often enough and have for enough years, that folks think I live here. And, I have great friendships and relationships here. There are so many talented people in Nashville. Some become more famous than others, but the talent pool is extraordinary.
[Doak Turner] If someone lives out of town and can make a couple trips to Nashville for the songwriting business, what advice can you give them?
Jenny Yates First of all, you need to look at what you want. Is it to make it as a songwriter in Music City, USA? It is a tough dream to have – but it is a doable dream. It is important to be here. I do believe Nashville is the only place left where songwriting is looked upon as a career. Perhaps it’s helpful to look at Nashville as a place to learn. And, show up eager and willing to learn.
[Doak Turner] You’ve said your strength is words, what are the best places for you to get your ideas?
Jenny Yates Absolutely everywhere. Honestly, I get ideas from eavesdropping on conversations, from daydreaming, driving, reading, movies, TV, the mountains, nature, music, other songs, poetry, photography, painting. I’m always thinking in terms of writing and the meaning of things, or being moved by a phrase.
[Doak Turner] Do you have set habits in the way you work? How do you approach a writing appointment?
Jenny Yates To this day I feel it is my responsibility to have something to bring to the table. It is my work ethic, which I think came from years and years of working toward getting some place in the music business – and feeling the need to prove myself. It’s just second nature now, the way I work. I will come in with ideas – a hook line, a couple verses or a chorus, sometimes an entire lyric, on rare occasions I'll have a musical idea.
[Doak Turner] Please tell me how you keep these ideas – such as a hook-book.
Jenny Yates It has changed since we are now in the computer age. In the old days, I had a big box with articles, notes, napkins, pieces of paper and other inspirations, and, I would type out pages of lines or ideas or words. I’m still in the process of typing them into my computer and then I can print out the pages. Then I'll have these pages with me in a writing appointment and invariably I’ll look it over and a few ideas will pop out, and it’s always different which ones pop and hopefully, one will be something that gels with my co-writer. Often, I’ll get up real early when I’m to write, and just work on whatever is in my head that morning, thinking in terms of my co-writer, hoping to be on the same wave.
[Doak Turner] What is the toughest song you have ever written that came deep from your gut that needed to be written?
Jenny Yates I don’t think I've written it yet. Perhaps I’ve outgrown ones that might answer that question, but as I get older, as I’ve done this writing thing more, I find that it gets tougher. I’m harder on myself. Wanting more out of an idea. Wanting to say more and in song, that usually means saying more by saying less. Digging deeper. I want my work to be real, to resonate in an honest way, and I feel like a beginner.
[Doak Turner] What were your influences for your singing and songwriting?
Jenny Yates I started singing professionally when I was 14. I would listen to everything, looking for songs that moved me. I knew over 500 tunes and I got to sing great songs by so many – Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Laura Nyro, Cat Stevens, Dan Fogelberg, Carol King, great singers & songwriters. Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, the list goes on. I don’t think there is any better way to learn about great songs than to sing them.
[Doak Turner] How do you choose co-writers?
Jenny Yates People whose work moves me. I have a wish list, folks that I would love to work with. And, I’ve been able to work with many people who were on my list.
[Doak Turner] Who would you love to write a song with in Nashville or anywhere?
Jenny Yates I still love writing with Garth. Working with him is great for many reasons, one being that anything is possible. All ideas are possible. He is such a great songwriter. With as many tunes as we’ve written together, no two songs have happened in the same way. One may be written quickly, another takes years, some I might have music for, others just words. Working with Garth is never the same and always terrifically challenging and rewarding.
I got to work with Tony Joe White in November. He’s been on my wish list for quite sometime, and Mike Reid and I have finally started a tune. He’s another I’ve wanted to work with forever. Michel Legrand is on my wish list.
[Doak Turner] What type of songwriting workshop would you do for songwriters?
Jenny Yates I’d love to share whatever I know that might be useful to others. Work habits. Dealing with getting your work out, dealing with the inevitability of rejection. Co-writing and its advantages and disadvantages. Finding ideas and recognizing ideas. Song structure. There are so many things that go into writing songs, if I've learned tools that might be useful to others – I’d love for them to have them.
[Doak Turner] Any advice to songwriters?
Jenny Yates From a heart point of view – do it because you love it. If you write because you love it, you will never be disappointed. It will never let you down, there will always be joy in the doing. And, from a craft standpoint, write everyday. If you work at it everyday – you’ll be there when a great idea comes along and you’ll know what to do to make a great song.
[Doak Turner] What is in your future?
Jenny Yates More singing. More writing. Hopefully, some more doors will open for me.
[Doak Turner] Where can someone purchase your awesome CD, Out of the Blue?
Jenny Yates Right now it is at www.CDBaby.com/Yates and I have a website, www.jennyyates.com
[Doak Turner] Thank you, Jenny, for your time and insight. Best wishes for continued success.
Jenny Yates Thank you.