Her profile may have been a little bit lower the last few years, but the power and passion she brings to everything she does is at an all-time high. She’s battled back from the devastating Nashville flood and finally finds herself on solid footing. She’s managing living with multiple sclerosis and serves as an inspiration as she does so.
Musically, she’s about to make a splash on the small screen. The video for “Whiskey and You,” from her independent-release album Alive, is about to make its debut. The song touches Roberts on a deep, personal and painful level — all of which is reflected in the video.
Along with the video coming out, Roberts is itching to get out and about herself. Fresh off a pair of shows in Maryland, she’s fired up to bring her music directly to her fans.
In the following exclusive interview, we discuss all of these things, along with her take on the independent experience, faith, Facebook and even “clones.”
The first thing I must ask, is how are you doing health-wise?
I’m doing really good. I try to do the best that I can for myself everyday. I try to wake up early and go to the gym with a friend or two or we run trails here in town.
I’ve learned that If I take care of me: If I sleep and I eat right, then I’m good. During the flood time when it was stressful and we were rebuilding, I had symptoms come back like losing the use of my hands. But if I’m taking care of me and my environment is not stressful, then I feel great.
I trained for a 50K this past summer – a trail run. That’s 31 miles and I did it! So I guess I am doing really good!
That’s great to hear! Now, you mentioned last year’s flood. Are you finally rebuilt and recovered from it?
Yes! Onward and upward! I think the final step for me was last Saturday. I was able to get a new car. It’s not new, but it’s new to me!
Yes, I think that was the final step for me. I can put it behind me and move on. We are back in the house – my mom and my sister and me and the dogs. My Mom and my sister had bought cars and I just hadn’t gotten one myself. So now that I have, I’ve moved forward in my mind.
Speaking of your new car, I understand it’s kind of a “clone” of your old car.
It’s is! (Laughs) Do you read my Facebook? (Laughs)
Yes I do!
It’s like a blessing. It has more miles on it than the car that flooded, but when I saw it, it was what I wanted. And I know that I’m supposed to have it because number one: I qualified for my loan! (Laughs) And number two: It was just like my other one. So I feel like in a way that I’ve never lost it. So that’s why I feel like I’ve finally moved on.
My friends were picking me up and taking me everywhere or I was using my Mom’s car or my sister’s car or walking sometimes! Now I kinda have that freedom back. I can drive myself to writing appointments or drive myself to the studio, the grocery store, the gym or meetings or wherever I need to go.
I’m excited! And it is pretty much a clone of my other one that I had just gotten paid off! (Laughs)
Let’s talk about the single “Whiskey and You.” That song first appeared on Tim McGraw’s Let It Go album in 2007. What is it about that song that made you want to record it?
I had that song on my computer since probably about that time (2007). We were looking for songs for my third album; after Men and Mascara. I heard that he had cut it and I waited and waited to see if they were going to release it as his single and they didn’t.
I’ve always loved the song. I always look for songs with lyrics that are powerful and mean something to me. That’s what drew me to “Whiskey and You” to begin with. The video is very much reflective of that.
I grew up in a home with alcoholism, so I’m very aware of what it can do to a family or what it can do to someone’s life. The lyrics tell the story from an alcoholic’s perspective and the line that really hits me the most is “I drink because I’m lonesome and I’m lonesome because I drink.”
That song just got me the first time I heard it. I knew I wanted to record it because I could relate to that – having lived with an alcoholic for 19 years. I just feel it’s something a lot of people live with and deal with. Hopefully it’s a song that can help people.
And the video, I think, is just as powerful. I’m so excited that’s coming out; hopefully in the next week.
To be honest, I prefer your version over Tim’s. To me, yours is so much more soulful, sorrowful and aching. After what you just said, it helps to explain how you’re able to put all of that into the delivery of the song.
Thank you. I appreciate it. I’ve never heard his, on purpose.
I don’t record a song unless it really means something to me. And that song always meant something to me. That’s why I never listened to his version because I wanted it to be my take on the lyrics and the music. I had only been told he recorded it but didn’t want anyone to play it for me.
I love that song and the lyrics and what is says. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. And I still see it. I might not live in it, but it’s still in my family.
As you mentioned, the video for “Whiskey and You” should be out next week (see the preview video below). After what we’ve already discussed, it sounds like it will be an emotional and gripping one.
I portray an alcoholic, obviously, in the video because that’s who is singing the song. And I got to use my acting skills, finally! I took acting in L.A. for a year when I lived there. Hopefully, I’ll get to use them in a movie on down the road. But I got to use them in this video.
I play somebody who’s really lonely and very sad – sad because of the decisions that she’s made. My character loses her love interest in video because she’s an alcoholic.
I interpreted the video from the very first time I sang the song. When I’m in the studio and I’m singing the vocals behind the microphone, I always see a video in my head. And then Zac Adams, the director, had his ideas, as well. So we have some of his ideas also in the video.
But for the most part, the loneliness and the sadness that I feel in the video is how I always pictured it. I’m really proud of it.
Let’s talk touring. A few weeks ago, you did a couple of shows at the Ram’s Head in Annapolis, Maryland. Those were your first shows outside of Nashville in quite a while. Any nerves about getting back out there or did being with your fans feel more like home to you?
I really wanted to be on the road. And I’ve wanted to be on the road since I came back from L.A., which was the end of 2009. It had been so long since I’d been on the road – and definitely not by choice. It was just life. Life happened, you know. It had been so long so I was definitely nervous, but really excited!
I didn’t want to go back home. I get sad when I get back home. As soon as I’m home, I’m on my computer and like, “Okay, where can I play next? Where can I play next?” And I’m calling around venues, but then I have to tell myself, “Okay, Julie. You’ve got a booking agent now. Let them do their job!’ (Laughs) But I just want to be gone all of the time!
It was so exciting for me and it was so sad for me when I got on that plane to come back. I love Nashville, but I’m so happy on the road. That’s where I want to be and where I’m doing what I’m meant to do on my journey in this life. I don’t want to be at home looking up venues or emailing. I want to be at the venues!
Of course, you’re still promoting your album, Alive, which came out last summer. The album is an independent release. How much of a learning experience has that been having to do it all by yourself?
It was definitely a huge learning curve. Things like learning about licensing songs that I did not write; bar codes and ISRC codes; and the kind of stuff like learning how to get your music on iTunes and CD Baby. Then learning what kind of CD cases you want your CD to be in if you want to sell physical copies. All of that was a huge learning curve. Every day is a learning curve. Thankfully, I have great friends that help me out with some of these things.
I’m actually meeting with Jason Collum, my producer, in a little bit to discuss how we can continue promoting Alive and at the same time working on the next project. So every day, I’m learning something new and I’m always trying to find ways to reach people who don’t know I have new music out.
I run into that every day. People write on my Facebook, “Hey! When are you getting new music?” And I say, “Well, I released Alive.” And they didn’t know about Alive. Or I’m in the grocery store or somewhere in Nashville and somebody says, “Hey! Aren’t you that singer?” And I say,“Yeah.” And they say, “When are you gonna release new music?” That’s happened to me twice in the grocery store in the last month!
That’s what I’m running into so I’m still trying to find ways to let people know that Alive is out and I’m alive and I’m here and making music and getting back out on the road!
One of the standout songs is “Stronger,” where you’re talking about life and the sometimes painful path we all have to walk down. What inspired you to write that song?
Well, you can definitely relate it to a lot of people’s lives and a lot of parts of my life. I wrote that one with Don Schlitz. Don and I were part of a prison tour where we went into prisons around the country and played music for about a year a half. The tour was after the flood and actually also prior to the floor.
I was playing women’s prisons with Don and with Marcus Hummon and The Magdalene Foundation, out of Nashville. We met a lot of women with stories about their lives that were really sad. I realized that these women who were in prison aren’t that much different than me. I could’ve chosen a different path. Music saved me. I didn’t grow up in a perfect home, like most of these women we met. I turned to music and a lot of these women turned to the streets.
That inspired Don and me to write “Stronger.” I’ve sung it in a prison since then and it really connected with the women. That’s who we were thinking about when we wrote those lyrics: those women and their stories. They feel like people have left them, but they always have faith and they always have God. And that’s how I’ve always felt, too, about my own life.
Obviously faith is a major part of your life. Would you like to share that with us?
It’s definitely a major part of my life. If I didn’t have my faith, I probably wouldn’t be talking to you right now! (Laughs) There’s been so many stumbling blocks and so many things that could’ve made me quit at this point in my life from following my dreams.
I believe in my heart that God is with me every single second of my day. He wants me to sing and has put these dreams in my soul. And if I keep my faith and continue working hard, I will keep finding ways around the things that try to stop me – whether it’s a health thing or whether it’s a flood.
When I was a little girl I prayed every night that I could get a record deal. I prayed every night. And I got my record deal. Now I pray every single night that I can just sing and play shows and make music for the rest of my life and make a living doing it.
I feel like that’s my purpose. God will guide me and help me. He helped me figure out how to make a record. He helped me figure out how to get it out. He helped me get that show in Maryland on my own. He even helped me talk to you today!
Everything I do every day I couldn’t do without my faith. Everything that happens in my life is because I believe that it was God’s purpose and meant to be. If something doesn’t happen that I want to, then it wasn’t meant to be. But I never give up! (Laughs)
For those of us who “like” you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter, we know you’re such a positive person. You project such love, joy and appreciation for even the little things in life that so many of us may take for granted. What’s your secret?
Honestly, I wake up wanting to look at my Facebook. That’s also kinda what keeps me going. I know that people out there love what I do and are supporting my dreams. So I look forward to talking with them on Facebook. I do have bad days, like everybody does. During those days, I just don’t write on there! (Laughs)
But I truly do feel very blessed to be able to talk with everybody on there. And I’m excited that I can write things that really have nothing to do with my music; just things about my life. “Here’s my dog Lucy! She got her hair done today!” I like to share that kinda stuff, too.
That’s why I look forward to it. I can talk with my friends. I call them my “Facebook Family” because I feel like I can tell them anything I want about my life on there. I look forward to it every day.
And I try to be positive! Because I feel like I’m fortunate in a lot of ways. I don’t take anything in my life for granted.