By Brent Thompson
The story has been told so many times that it tends to overshadow Allison Moorer’s prolific body of work. But for the uninitiated, here it is again: The mother of Moorer and her sister, Shelby Lynne, was murdered by their father who then turned the gun on himself. Though she has addressed the murder/suicide topic in both discussion and song over the years, she is now baring herself like never before via her new book and companion album, both titled Blood. On Wednesday, November 6, the Oscar and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter will appear at Saturn. A discussion moderated by Paul Janeway (of St. Paul & The Broken Bones) will be followed by a musical performance and book signing. Recently, Moorer spoke with us by phone from her Nashville home as the release date of Blood neared.
Birmingham Stages: Allison, thanks for your time. We are looking forward to the Saturn event on November 6.
Allison Moorer: This is going to be the first one of those shows. Paul Janeway will be with me that night – he will be my moderator. We’ll do 30 to 45 minutes of talking and then I’ll play some songs from the new record. Then we’ll take some questions from the audience and sign some books and records.
Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about the origin of the book.
Moorer: It came from an interview I did with Maya Angelou. My son was about six weeks old and I was asked to go in and do her radio show and of course I didn’t want to say “No” to that. I went and we were talking and she asked me about my childhood and at one point she said, “OK, what are you going to tell [Moorer’s son] John Henry? When he’s old enough to ask, what are you going to tell him about this?” and I didn’t have an answer. It just got me thinking and I decided I needed to write it down. I didn’t even know what it was going to be – I didn’t know it was going to be a memoir – I just started writing. I think it was the fall of 2012 that I started in earnest what is in the readers’ hands now. I think I did four rewrites from top to bottom between 2012 and 2017 because it takes a while to figure out how to tell things. I finished the book in June 2017.
Birmingham Stages: As the release date quickly approaches, how do you feel? Are you relieved, anxious or a little of both?
Moorer: A little bit of both. It is so naked and it is the most bare thing I’ve ever done and it’s completely honest. It’s not shrouded by any sort of poetic license – it’s the story as I remember it and how I felt as a little girl. The whole thing to me is a psychological exploration of what happens when you grow up in an abusive household and an unstable household and how things add up and affect you for the rest of your life.
Birmingham Stages: Was the companion album that accompanies the book originally planned or did the idea come later in the process?
Moorer: I didn’t know that I would do an album until the beginning of this year. It was suggested that I make an EP as a companion piece and I thought that’s what I would do but then I just kept writing. It turned into a full-length record with the addition of “Cold Cold Earth” and “Blood” that I had previously recorded. So it was almost accidental, but I think that the record goes a long way in fleshing out the characters even more. I always say, “You tell the story until the story is told.” I have mined this territory over and over, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever done it justice and it took me a long time to gain the maturity that I needed to tell it properly.
Birmingham Stages: How did your family react to you writing the book?
Moorer: I didn’t seek their approval. My sister’s point-of-view is the one that I really care the most about because it’s really a story about our immediate family and what I’m doing is acting as a witness to that. Our extended family – they may agree, they may disagree, I don’t know. That’s their right just like it’s my right to write it as I see it.
Birmingham Stages: How many tour dates are set up at this time?
Moorer: I think I’ve got 10 on the books right now.
Birmingham Stages: In addition to performing new material, will you perform older songs on this tour?
Moorer: I’m sure I will. I haven’t really decided yet and it’ll probably change from night to night.
Birmingham Stages: You’ve amassed a large catalog of songs by this point. How do older songs stay fresh and relevant after you’ve performed them literally hundreds of times?
Moorer: The ones I don’t like I don’t do, but they aren’t too many of those. I can’t remember them all to tell you the truth, but most of them feel like old friends.
Birmingham Stages: You’ve seen a lot of changes in the music industry over the years. How do you feel about the current climate in the era of Youtube, iTunes, Spotify and satellite radio? It seems to be a give-and-take of easy access and clutter.
Moorer: I feel like there’s not a damn thing I can do about it so I better make the best of it. I’m not one to sit around and complain about the good old days being over. I can buy pretty much any record I want on vinyl and if I want it on vinyl I can go get it. I think that’s a wonderful development. If I want to go to my phone and say, “Gosh, I love that old song – let me find it” I can go to Spotify – which I do pay for – and find it. There is a lot of clutter, but there aren’t as many gatekeepers so I think it’s a plus. The ancient beast in the game is terrestrial radio, so we’ll what they do to keep their ratings up.
Birmingham Stages: I was interested in your take on that subject because your lengthy career gives you a perspective that many other artists can’t claim.
Moorer: [laughs] Yeah, and it’ll change again and it’ll change again. That’s life and that’s the world. If we’re not changing, then we’re dying. You’ve got to keep up. I miss the days of going into Tower Records every week to see what’s new and see the Top 25 releases. But we have some great independent stores and I’d say support those stores and support artists by buying records directly because that’s what’s putting money in our pockets now. No other streams of revenue can be counted on and the margins get thinner and thinner.
Birmingham Stages: After this tour ends, what are your upcoming plans?
Moorer: I have no idea. I’ve got my regular job as a songwriter and I’m actually working on my second book.
Allison Moorer will appear at Saturn on Wednesday, November 6. A book discussion (moderated by Paul Janeway) will be followed by a musical performance and book signing. Showtime is 8 p.m. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $23 ($50 for a ticket/book bundle) and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.