Effortless Heart: Courtney Patton on ‘Electrostatic’, Influences & Relearning to Sing

Like an old friend arriving to catch up after too much time away, Courtney Patton’s Electrostatic opens succinctly with, “This past year tried to kill us all.” She’s ready, I’m ready, we’re all ready to take that deep sigh, and harkening back to her ’70s singer-songwriter heroes, Patton exhales slowly and deliberately through ten songs that showcase her unapologetic vulnerability and everywoman’s savvy.

Courtney and a crack outfit holed up at the Finishing School in Austin, Texas last December with co-producer Gordy Quist (Band of Heathens), amping up the soul without forsaking twang, plumbing Patton’s depths and memories to broaden rather than redefine her style. From the artist’s standpoint, it’s an emotion-inducing culmination of important influences and hard-earned experiences she calls “one o’ my favorite memories in life, musically, to have made that record.”

Album standouts include the title track, a transcendentalist ballad drawn from the world-shattering fatal car accident that took Patton’s sister, and the equally aching “This Heart”, a soft yet vital declaration perched between regret and cathartic resignation.

On “Night Like The Old Days”, Patton invites her husband and fellow songwriter Jason Eady to shake off the crush of the real world hustle, divert towards a back road to nowhere with Shenandoah on the radio or the simple pleasure of an analog, turntable evening at home. It’s a sultry track and notion edged along by light reverb and languid keys that both laments the passing of a relationship’s salad days and perhaps unintentionally our pre-pandemic naïveté.

Attitude and wit abound on “Dog Gettin’ Blues” and the driving “Do You Feel Love”, the latter showcasing Patton’s soaring vocals– a threatened ability not too long ago– and her Texas roots, offering a clever, danceable cut sure to become a sing-along favorite for Courtney’s admirers affectionately dubbed “Patton’s Army.”

The confessional “Casualty” strikes stiffly, “The casualty of bein’ with me is I don’t need nobody at all”. That rings less of bravado and more like the wearied acceptance of an independent artist who has witnessed the highs and lows of a career through the windshield and from the bottom of the bill to the top of the marquee.

Electrostatic is Courtney Patton at her finest, in tune with the writer she wants to be and grateful for every song she can share.

AI- I wanna duck back a little bit before you went into the studio to make Electrostatic, I daresay we were still dealing with the aftershocks of the continuing pandemic. You’d been sufferin’ a bit of writer’s block– was that due to just the stress of the pandemic, being off the road? And what was it that set you in motion to write?

CP- I think it was. The writer’s block comes in waves and it’s not the first time it’s happened. I think all of us that do this for a living go through it in seasons. I had just been touring a lot and I had two teenagers at home and I’d put out a record and it had run its course. It was time to write a new one and sometimes that is harder– when you know that you have to do it, it makes it harder to do it.

When the pandemic hit, it actually helped me get out of that ’cause it forced me to not be idle. Before, I’d only have a few days home and all of my free time was sucked up just bein’ a mom and just existing and tryin’ to get to the next week. This really gave me an opportunity through some buddies that had some songwriter groups to join in and once a week, I had a deadline! It was, “Okay, the theme this week is ‘waves’ and the song is due Wednesday by midnight.” Thursday morning, you’d wake up and get the next week’s prompt, so it made me get creative again.

Also, through the pandemic, my husband and I started a nonprofit– on accident, we didn’t mean to! We started Sequestered Songwriters, a weekly online virtual guitar pull. It started out, it was just gonna be a Merle Haggard birthday celebration– the Hag Off as we call it on our scene– and we’d pass guitars around Facebook Live. We called about ten or twelve of our buddies– Channing Wilson, Adam Hood, Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen, Jamie Lin Wilson– just kind of our best friends and said, “Would you wanna do a virtual guitar pull and sing Merle Haggard songs on his birthday because we’re all stuck at home?” It was like two weeks into the pandemic– April 6th is Hag’s birthday– and we were just trying to find creative ways to surround ourselves with joy when we were really confused about what was goin’ on in the world.

It took off so well that it became a weekly tribute! John Prine passed, so we did a John Prine tribute, and then we got George Strait and Willie Nelson, and then we started doin’ stuff like Aretha Franklin and James Taylor and Tom Waits… We covered the gamut! We did all kinds of fun tributes throughout that year, and it ended up goin’ about eighteen months!

I didn’t watch ’em all, but I saw a fair few of ’em! We were all grounded at home at that was one of the outlets, bein’ able to watch a lot of your favorite artists go online and play songs.

That was another thing that helped stir the creative pot and really get juices flowin’ ’cause you’re tryin’ to learn songs from genres that maybe you’ve never played before, so it really forced me out of that window of everything soundin’ the same. I learned a lot as a musician during that time.

That’s what Jason said. He said that not only did it keep everybody sharp, but he felt like he got better.

Oh for sure! I definitely did!

As you did those theme nights, as I understand it, that pulled back some of your original inspirations and gave you an idea stylistically of what you wanted to do for this new album.

Absolutely! It was really a blessing in disguise. If there’s gonna be a silver lining, that was one of ’em!

Did you have in your mind before goin’ into the studio that you wanted to sound different? You go in R&B directions, a little more conventional country radio pop, you explore a lot. Did you know goin’ in that you wanted to try different sounds? Or did they just evolve that way as you were puttin’ it together?

I grew up listening to the singer-songwriter types. Carole King, James Taylor were huge in my house, and so when we went into the studio, I had written these songs that all sounded very different. I mean, I’ve got a song in Spanish on there! There’s a whole bunch of different things that I didn’t really know how they were gonna go together sonically. I made a big folder of all the songs that I hadn’t recorded and then all of the new songs, and I let Gordy Quist, who helped produce this record there in Austin at the Finishing School, pick the songs. That took me out of them, you know? I didn’t get to have any kind of longing for them to have a home on this record. I just said, “You pick the strongest songs, and let’s go in and do it.”

I gave him records that I liked certain things about. I sent him Neil Young’s Harvest and Harvest Moon. I sent him Carole King’s Tapestry, James Taylor’s Hourglass as a sonic example of what I would like this record to sound like. I wanted it to feel warm. I just wanted to make a singer-songwriter record– I didn’t want to be pigeonholed in some sort of genre, you know? I think for so long in my career, I’ve just been trying to be this thing that I thought I needed to be. This is the first time that I just wrote music and made music and went in and got a record to sound exactly how my heart wanted it to sound without the effort of making it sound that way. These great musicians gave me exactly what my heart’s content was! I look back on it as one o’ my favorite memories in life, musically, to have made that record. I kinda get choked up talkin’ about it even still because it was such a beautiful experience!

We tracked all of those songs live like you would be playin’ show. We would talk real quick about the song, I would play it for them in the kitchen or the control room, we’d talk about a few things, and then we’d go in and just make music! Richard Millsap, the drummer– he’s now on the road with John Fogerty– was a great band leader and really kept things going. It was really magic!

You’re an independent artist– that’s what you’ve always been– largely doing this on your time and your own dime. The song “Casualty”, I think casts that autonomy as both a blessing and a curse: “I don’t need nobody at all.” You tour solo, write solo– and that “thing that you thought you needed to be? What was that and what have you set your sights on now?

I don’t know that career-wise that it’s changed. I’m very happy with where I am. I’ve never wanted to be on a tour bus. I’ve never wanted some of the things that some of my peers have wanted in their careers. I’ve really just wanted to be able to say at the end of the day that my voice and my songs put food on the table for my family. I’ve been able to go out and tour the whole world! Jason and I tour Europe once a year– of course, the pandemic has interrupted that cycle, but I get to go see the most beautiful places and meet the most wonderful people! At the end of the day, that’s success to me, that I’m not having to take a second job to do that anymore. I used to– I didn’t quit my day job until I turned thirty and was goin’ through a divorce. It was like, “Why don’t we just go ahead and rip the Band-Aid off and just wreck your whole life at once! Let’s try to do this music thing full-time!” (Laughs) And it worked!

Being married to Jason has helped tremendously. He is a little bit older than me and he also quit his day job when he was thirty, so he had made a lot of the mistakes that I had an opportunity to make. Now trust me, I’ve made mistakes, but he made a lot of those financial mistakes and he’d taken shows that he didn’t need to take, opening for people who maybe on paper were doing better than he was but at the end of the day, that crowd would never relate to his songs and that would never be his fan base. He would say, “I know that this person is gonna sell this show out and you have an opportunity to open for them for two hundred and fifty bucks– but none of those people are gonna go buy your CDs. None of those people are gonna come to your shows. Don’t do it. These ‘exposure’ gigs aren’t really gonna pay off.” I was able to carve my own path and do it the right way, I think with his guidance, which I was fortunate to have.

I think I always thought you had to maybe play a game with your songs. When I first started outta college, I was writin’ “beer” songs ’cause that’s what was puttin’ people in bars! Pat Green was sellin’ out everywhere and Roger Creager and all these guys were so big when I was in college that I thought that’s what Texas music was. I think I played that game for a bit until I just let go and started writing from the heart and doing music for what it is to me. I see it translating with listeners and fans and I think that’s what I mean. I quit caring or wondering what people want and I started making music for me.

Artists like you, artists like Jamie Lin Wilson, artists that also prioritize their family– I think that’s still something people think is a fairy tale, that it’s not possible. However, you’re out there provin’ that you can! I’m sure it’s not always easy, but the difference between being the singer-songwriter on the road and the mom at home– you’ve got two teenagers– that’s gotta be full-time right there while tryin’ to mount a tour and release an album!

Well, they are pretty self-sufficient now. I have a great co-parenting relationship with their dad, so they’re always with family. They’re not left to their own when I’m gone. I’ve tried really hard since my divorce that we share custody. We shared the whole time but once the pandemic hit, we kinda renegotiated. I used to have them all week and then every other weekend and during the pandemic, my ex-husband said, “Would you be okay if we do week to week?” Because they have a little half-brother and it’s important to them to be around him. I asked the kids what they wanted to do and that’s what they wanted to do, so it freed me up to work one week on, one week off.

Now, album release shows aside, of course– that’s its own beast– but in normal touring, I only work when they’re with their dad. That makes my mom heart happy that I’m not missing important things that I need to be there for. They may not care (laughs), you know, they’re at the age now where like, “Mom’s dumb!” The only time they wanna be around me musically is if one of my friends is in town that has a tour bus (laughs)! “Oh cool! You’re gonna go hang out with Cody Jinks? Yeah, I’ll come hangout!” (Laughs)

Do they express interest in going into the family business?

No, not at all. My son will be in the family business on his dad’s end, probably. He’s very into agriculture and has been since he was a little boy. He’s just now getting his college acceptance letters and I’m really proud and excited for him! He has a lot of really great options and he’s talkin’ about goin’ into soil sciences. So he will be a farmer, and my daughter also wants to do something with ag. They’re really big FFA kids and that interests them way more than music.

My daughter did play saxophone and when she sings, she can sing– and I think she knows she can ’cause she kinda looks at me for my reaction. But I don’t ever wanna put anything on them. I said, “Look, that never goes away. If you wanna quit saxophone so you can go do this FFA thing, you’re still gonna know how to play it and you can still own it and you can still pick it up and play it whenever you want. You might be a little rusty, but there were times that I put the guitar down and didn’t touch it for a really long time. And I didn’t touch the pen for a very long time. It comes back. You gotta work at it.” If they ever wanted to, of course, I would support it, but I don’t know that that’s somethin’ that’s in their hearts. (Laughs) I think I’m an outlier in my family!

The song “Dog Gettin’ Blues”, that was the feeling I got from that song. It was somewhat tongue-in-cheek but putting it all down for good– leaving the road and the stage, not being an artist anymore. I suppose everyone considers that from time to time. Is that something that still taps you on the shoulder?

Now that they’re about to get out of school, I think, “What in the heck am I gonna do with my life once they’re not in my home?” My whole greatest life’s joy is bein’ their mom– see I’m cryin’ again– and when they are out of my house, I’m gonna be so bored! I’m gonna need music so much! So you better watch out– I may turn into a crazy, full-on American Aquarium-style touring artist once the kids are outta school!

“Dog Gettin’ Blues”, I had struggled with vocal issues for the last several years, and it kinda came to a head, unfortunately, post-pandemic. I thought the time down at home would help my voice heal but it didn’t. When we started goin’ back out, it was so out of practice that I started losin’ it after every single show and I knew something was wrong. I went to a specialist in Birmingham who use to be based out of San Antonio, and he did an extensive work-up and diagnosed the problem, and sent me to a really great vocal therapist who’s worked with some pretty incredible artists.

For months and months, I had sessions for a couple, two, three hours a week with her trying to relearn how to sing and how to use my talking voice where it’s not affecting my job. I was doing things wrong and I had been doing them wrong for a long time and I think the way that anybody does. You know, you hurt your leg, and then you walk a different way to not hurt it in that spot– but then you over-compensate and hurt it in a different way. I think that’s what I had been doin’ with my voice for years. You feel a little somethin’ goin’ out, so then you strain a certain way and that was actually doing more harm than good.

We worked through that and I learned a pretty good pre-show routine that I have to do every day and so far– knock on wood– I haven’t lost my voice since I got off vocal rest last year. So “Dog Gettin’ Blues”, I wrote in the throes of that. I had no voice left and had gone to a festival in Cabo San Lucas that I was supposed to play, and the festival promoter said, “We want you to still come even though you can’t sing. We want you to just be here and enjoy the week and we know you’ll be here next year all healthy!” So I went and I drank all the free tequila and I hung out (laughs)! I didn’t sing– and I still lost my voice! That just broke my heart! I was on the plane coming home from that trip when I wrote “Dog Gettin’ Blues” (laughs)!

I had wondered how having COVID had affected your ability to sing. I have a friend who is also a musician and early on, he had COVID, a terrible bout, and it affected his breathing and his singing.

Absolutely, it did do that. Jason and I got it in December of 2020, so we almost made it through that first terrible year without it. We got it very bad. I asked the doctor when I went, I said, “I know I’ve always had vocal issues and these have always been there but could COVID have made it worse?” ‘Cause I had COVID pneumonia and my lungs were probably scarred from that and he said one hundred percent that they had been seeing a lot of that. I do think there was probably a part of that playing a factor in making it worse, exacerbating the situation a little bit.

Luckily, things are better. It’s somethin’ I’m gonna have to live with forever, but now, I know how to do it! I know what’s healthy and what’s not. I’m drinkin’ a lot o’ water on the road, tryin’ to be quiet after shows, not talking over crowds. I’ve figured out my speaking voice was more of the culprit than my singing voice. I’m still a work in progress and I feel myself slipping every now and then, and with my tour schedule being the way it’s about to be for this album release, I really have to be diligent and follow those doctor’s orders so I can stay at peak performance and not have any kind of relapse.

You brought up the Spanish song earlier, “Vengo Por Mi Amor”, the tale of a woman on a mission to rescue her desperado husband or partner. A western, very Marty Robbins-esque, and somewhat unconventional being delivered with a female voice and from a female point of view– which makes it that much better. That’s something you have addressed when it comes to women in country music, that somehow, they always seem to get overlooked for radio airplay, for the songwriting ability, and so many more.

I’ve never been one of those people that likes to talk about that too much. Jamie Lin Wilson and I very much choose to [put our noses] down and just do the work. I think the harder you work and the more you make yourself available to be a part of things and hop up on stage and sing with your friends, it opens a lot of opportunities for female artists. It is harder just by the nature of it– I mean, gosh, my own listening tendencies toward male! I’m a female songwriter so that’s really sad, and I don’t know if that’s because it’s what I hear more, but I really do try to seek good, strong female artists out. I don’t ever wanna be one of those people that says, “Oh, women have it so bad,” because again, I’m really blessed. I’m very happy with my life and my career and I do get opportunities that other artists don’t and I’m grateful for them. I think it can be done and I think it might be a little harder, but I think it’s worth it.

I always wanna be really careful about that. You’ll see it on festival lineups. There’s one happening this next weekend in Texas and there’s fifty artists on a bill and there’s one female act. I was shocked when I saw that! That stuff stinks. At the end of the day, the promoter could have come in and been like, “This is really off balance! We need to fix this!” That kinda stuff is really not cool because there are so many fantastic female artists out there right now that are making some of the best music that’s out– some of the best-written songs, some of the best-performed songs, and they’re out there bustin’ there hiney and they’re not getting the accolades that the men are getting. And they deserve it. But that’s a really slippery thing to talk about with me ’cause I really am more for the school of just get out and work hard and good things’ll happen if you just put in the work.

Let me ask about a pre-pandemic song, “Night Like The Old Days”– stayin’ in and lettin’ the vinyl spin! You and Jason are two artists that love to perform. I believe he’s probably a little bit more inclined towards the travel than you are…

Yeah, his daughter’s grown so he can go out and wander for months on end!

But you both have your own careers which divert you all different places away from each other. When you do come together, is that what it is– a night with a record on? Do you collect vinyl?

Oh, we do! We have more vinyl than we have places to store it right now. We have inherited a couple of ladies’ vinyl collections– older ladies that had decided to get rid of their collections– and I am overwhelmed by the amount of vinyl we have! I need to have maybe a purging party and share some of this with some other people!

But we used to. We would cook dinner, we would put on a record, we would have some wine, and we would do the thing– and then life happened. He tours records and I tour mine and we used to play a lot of shows together and now we don’t really anymore. He came to me with the idea for this song, and he said, “I wanna write it about those old nights like we used to do,” and the whole thought was we need to do it more.

I think maybe the thought was if we wrote the song maybe we would actually make time for each other to do that. It’s so easy when you tour the way that we do, when we get home for two or three days, you don’t wanna leave the bedroom– you just wanna sleep and recoup and decompress from being gone and bein’ around so many people and drivin’ so many miles alone. We both drive ourselves to every show. We’re our own tour managers– he does have one, but they travel independent of one another– so it just gets to be a lot. It’s pretty grueling being gone. We wrote that song in February of 2020… And then the whole world shut down the next month! So we have to laugh a little bit that we got more nights like the old days than we bargained for!

Electrostatic is available now directly from the artist or through all major digital platforms!

Thee Aaron Irons is a music commentator & radio personality for 100.9 The Creek where he hosts Americana Madness weekdays from 10am-3pm and Honky Tonk Hell, a Rockabilly/Rhythm & Blues retrospective that airs every Sunday afternoon at 1pm. He lives in Macon, Georgia with his wife and daughter.