The Canadian songbird tells us which song she wishes she had written and about the time Shania Twain pulled her on stage for a sing-along.
Q&A with Opry NextStage Artist Tenille Townes
Opry: You’re from Alberta, Canada. When you made your Opry debut your town chartered a plane to come see you perform. How did you get involved in the Canadian country music scene?
Tenille: My family and friends and whole hometown community are just incredible. The fact that they did that still blows my mind. They are just the most wonderful people, and it was so special to share my very first time at the Opry with all of them. And yeah, I’m so grateful to be from the Great White North up there. Definitely got my toes wet just going out to as many shows as I possibly could as a little kid, to all the concerts that came through town and falling in love with my favorite records in the backseat as a little kid driving wherever we would drive. There’s quite a cool community of Canadian country music up there that I’m grateful to have started things off in.
You were pulled out of the crowd at a Shania Twain concert to sing with her when you were 9. Set the stage for us. What was it like to sing along with the best-selling female artist in country music history at age 9?
I mean, I’m a diehard Shania Twain fan, always had been. I literally knew all the words to all of her songs and would just sing them everywhere. We heard about this tour that was coming close to my hometown — it was like five hours away — so we packed up the vehicle and a bunch of my family was coming to the show. We all had tickets up in the nosebleeds, and my mom and I ended up getting to sit pretty close to the stage.
Anyways, before we got to the concert, I asked my mom to make me a little costume because I wanted to look like Shania, so she made me the one from the Miami concert with the yellow and red and orange stripes with the yellow ponytail on top of my head.
I belted my lungs out that whole concert. I held my sign that said “Shania, can I please sing with you?” She came around and reached out her hand and brought me up. The rest of it is a bit of a white-clouded dream as to what happened, but I’ll never forget standing next to my hero, looking out to 18,000 people, going “This is it. This is what I’m going to do.” I can’t wait to pay that forward someday to some other little kid.
At what point did you decide you wanted to take the leap, move to Nashville, and really chase this?
I made my first trip to Nashville when I was 14, and I got to come and write some songs with a dear friend of mine and came to the Opry and saw The Bluebird and went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and visited all of the amazing, pivotal, historic parts of Nashville that I just fell in love with. I basically kept coming back from that point as much as my parents would let me skip school.
I got to move here almost five years ago. My dad and I packed up my little Tacoma and drove 45 hours from Grande Prairie, Alberta all the way to Nashville, Tennessee. I love being in this community so much. It’s such a dream to be here.
Your Living Room Worktapes EP offers a raw look at who you are as an artist. The songs are stripped down and intimate, a departure from the type of songs new artists release to radio. What does that choice mean to you as a songwriter?
It was really exciting for me to get to introduce these songs, going back to the way they were written, just like picking up a guitar and singing a melody and having that sort of living room invitation for people to hear these songs for the first time. I love a living room. I love that it represents a safe place to just be who you are and talk about anything. It’s just comfortable and safe, and I wanted this music to have that kind of a welcoming atmosphere to kick things off.
Your songs like “Jersey on the Wall” are really vivid. Listeners can picture it with their own eyes. How do you get to that place in your writing?
That is the ultimate goal to me. I absolutely love that part of writing. It’s a fine balance. You really want to paint a picture for somebody, so they are right there in that moment when they hear it. This is one of my favorite things to picture live in a show, is the fact that people are listening live to a song. It’s like everyone’s got their own movie in their own head about their own life and what this song means to them as it’s happening. As a writer, to think of how many different stories you could be weaving into the line is for me, one of the coolest things you can think about. I love that part of songwriting very much.
Who are some songwriters you most admire?
I am a diehard Lori McKenna fan. I love her so much, and I’ve obsessed over all of her records. I love the way she is truly so vivid in the way she paints those lines. It’s so ordinary in the most beautiful way. It just feels so honest and raw. I’m a huge Patty Griffin fan. I absolutely love and look up to so many writers in this community, the Tom Douglases and Gordie Sampsons and Josh Kears and so many of my favorites.
What’s a song you wish you had written?
“The House That Built Me,” Miranda Lambert, which is Tom Douglas [and] Allen Shamblin song. I love that song so much. It’s so beautifully said, and it makes me teary every time. I got to watch it on The Bandwagon Tour this summer, and every single time it took me back to my childhood house. I think that is so powerful when a song can do that, no matter how many times you hear it.
You mentioned The Bandwagon Tour. You’ve gone on tour with Opry member group Little Big Town and will soon head out with Opry member Dierks Bentley. What does the Opry legacy mean to you as an Opry NextStage artist?
It’s just such an honor to be a part of this program and looking up to artists like that and getting to watch what it means to be on the road. I think what’s such an anchor of country music is really all about that connection to people. It was really cool this summer getting to watch what that means in a live concert setting, time after time and just learning from those Opry members.
To me, carrying this legacy is such a great honor. I’m just so grateful to be a part of the beginning of something and to have the support of Opry. Truly, it means the world. They’re just such a historic legacy of the country music family. It means so much to have them be a part of this next year. I’m just so excited.
Now it's time for some rapid-fire questions. What is your least favorite word?
Curse words. I don’t like curse words very much sometimes.
What is your favorite TV show of all time?
Friends. Also, I Love Lucy. Also, Gilmore Girls. Currently, This is Us. Apparently, I really like watching TV shows that pull at your heartstrings.
What is the last song that you listened to?
One of the last songs I just listened to is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” — Jeannie Seely on the Ryman stage at the Grand Ole Opry. So cool.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
You know, I think I got this one from my dad. You know the sound of popcorn in a bowl? It’s random and weird, but I don’t like that sound.
What’s your favorite word?
“Love!” That’s a good one.
Who is the bravest person you know?
I know so many brave people. Recently I just met this little girl, Cory, at CMA week, and she was this patient with St. Jude. She was so sweet and beautiful and really brave. She was 5, and she was wearing these most adorable little cowboy boots.