Stella Parton marches to the beat of her own drum. With forty successful studio albums under her belt, that beat is working well for her. A woman of her own making; Parton doesn’t follow a predetermined set of rules for her outlook on life, her attitude, her fashion, or her music. Rather, Parton makes the rules herself, often going against the grain to create a style and sound that are all her own. We had the chance to catch up with Parton as she celebrates the U.S. release of her new album, Survivor, and chat about her creative process, how she runs her studio time, and how she’s paved her own way as an independent country music artist.
Coming from one of America’s most creative families since the Hemingways, Stella Parton has blazed her own unique pathway to success. From the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains she emerged from extreme poverty and disenfranchisement to see her dreams of performing on the Grand Ole Opry come true and to become an international award-winning singer, songwriter, actress, author, and producer. Parton celebrated the U.S. release of her 40th studio album, Survivor, just as she was celebrating her fifth decade in the industry. As she reflected on her time as a country artist, she remarked “I feel grateful. I feel very blessed to have survived for this long, which you know is the title of my album. I am blessed to be one of the lucky few that’s found the staying power. I learned not to give into opposition and give up a long time ago. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do.”
As a long standing independent artist, Parton discussed her experience in the studio recording Survivor and how she organizes her time to make her music the best it can be while not going overboard with expenses. For Parton, as for many other independent artists, the integrity of her music is at the forefront of her studio experience, not setting or luxuries or perks. “I’ve always been very organized about my work,” Parton remarked, “and I’ve always tried to save time and money when I’m in the studio. When you’re an indie artist you think about all these things and you’re very aware that the clock is running while you’re in the studio.” In looking back at the first independent album she recorded nearly five decades ago, Parton laughed as she reflected on the two experiences. “The projects are similar for me, budget wise, but I certainly feel more like I know what I’m doing this time around. Besides, the new recording technology makes it so much easier to make an album than it was thirty or forty years ago! One thing I love is that you don’t have to have so many people around you all the time. That works in my favor because I’m really very much a loner. Not many people know that about me, but I’m always more comfortable alone when I’m working. I don’t need to have a cheering section on the couch or catering bringing in food. I like to go in and work on my own schedule so I can get as much possible in one day.”
The result of Parton’s time in the studio is a heady mix of deeply personal songs with a handful of fun, upbeat covers. When asked about why the focus on personal songs, Parton responded in her trademark Tennessee twang, “Honey, I’ve always been very transparent. I feel like if you’re going to be in the public eye and you’re going to be a writer or an interpreter of songs and you’re going to try to convey a feeling or a political statement, you had better be honest and true and be comfortable with whatever stage your life is in and accept it for what it is. Life is full of seasons and ups and downs and I wish more people, especially in our industry, would be more transparent about what they do. My album is a simple, straightforward one. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel; I’m giving people an accurate look at Stella. This is the way I approached my reality and this is what I have to share. If people want to listen and share it with me, great!”
One such song Parton wrote from her own life experience is “The Last Rose of Summer”, a ballad about her parents. “The most person song by far is Last Rose. I wrote it about my parents. The Last Rose of Summer is symbolic- it’s a poetic piece about my parents passing over. It’s kind of an imaginary world where my dad would come to get my mother when she passed over. We laid her to rest on the hillside that day, and I like to imagine he waited and as nightfall, he took her back and they’re together.” In terms of covers, Parton recognized “Wake Me Up” as a personal anthem. “I like that song because I could do it in concert as a stripped down acoustic version if I wanted to. I’m just in love with the story because it’s the way I think about my own self. You know? Wake me up when it’s all over, because this is the biggest fantasy life I could have dreamed up. I’ve been doing this a long time, and a lot of people questioned my sanity for trying to be a singer coming from the family I’m from, with the sister I have. But this is MY dream, and I get to live it. That’s why I love it. Every day feels like a dream.”
By far my favorite thing about Stella Parton? She’ll tell you like it is and call you sweetie in the same sentence. She means business, and she gets it taken care of, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t also full of love. That’s a rare and blessed mix.
Parton’s album was released in the United Kingdom last year, but only recently became available in the United States. Fans can hear her album on Spotify and Apple Music. To keep up with Parton, fans can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. For tour information, please visit www.StellaParton.com