The icy July wind blew through the open air platform as I waited for the next Sydney-bound train. Two suitcases with the zippers almost busting, a backpack, a songwriting book, a guitar, and my arm wrapped around one of my best mates knowing that the quick squeeze goodbye was going to be my bid farewell of a last familiar comfort. I was off to the USA. 90 days to find out if I belonged in a city that I felt my spirit was calling me too.
14 hours of confining myself to the luxury of cattle class as I crossed the Pacific Ocean. 6 hours stuck in of a dull, conventional boarding gate at LAX while the sunny California sky tormented me with the promise of a more exciting world outside. Then after further 6 hours with a numb bottom, in air wifi and a free packet of salted nuts, I landed in Nashville, Tennessee.
All I had was half an A5 page with scribbles of names of everyone that I knew listed. I had two weeks worth of co-writing appointments booked through friends, two publisher's contacts and for the first two weeks, I would be sleeping on a two seater couch and walking 6 miles to a co-write.
The romanticism of it all was so lustful, not the fact that it was so hot the glue melted my shoes regularly, or my daily budget wouldn't allow me to catch a cab. But I was in the songwriting capital of the world, and I was living my dream.
The first weekend I was in town I attended the NSAI summer camp. It was my first attempt at meeting locals and making friends. One of our tutors; hit writer Lance Carpenter (Love Me Like You Mean It- Kelsea Ballerini) took me under his wing and kindly had a few other ambitious writers and I back to his house for a BBQ every evening. Invited to his very first No.1 party, I attended with a big proud smile and a few tears. Sometimes Lance and I would catch up over Mexican and cheese dip and sit in his car and listen to his latest demos. I quickly learnt that Lance has one of the most beautiful, humble souls I have ever met, and his welcoming spirit made it a little easier to be so far from home.
I remember sitting in class beside a sweet, 14 year old girl frantically writing her opinioned constructive notes on someone else's song lyrics. Taken back by her bold, confidence my first thought was "Who does this little kid think she is?". As she stood up to voice her opinion of "what could be better about our classmates song" she said everything I was thinking. Instantly I became a believer in Sara Davis; she was a prolific writer with the drive that reminded me of my younger self.
The first few weeks were pretty lonely. I hadn't made many friends. I would write two times a day Monday-Friday. But on Saturdays, The Davis Family would invite me down to Franklin. I would spend time with Sara, writing a song or simply connect with her passion for music. I got to know and fall in love with her incredible family, so much that I now call them my Nashville family.
It's one thing to show up in town with a suitcase full of aspirations and ambition, but it's another to be heard. Not many writers like to work with un-known writers, it was hard to get in the door. My books were full, but from the few writers that wanted to work with me again after our blind date co-writes. I was pleased that these writers were singing my praise to their publisher, and we were writing great tunes.
August 18, My blind date co-write Marty Morgan was a tall silver fox; he cussed as he painfully adjusted the coffee table to rest closer to him. He looked into the abyss without recognition or response as I threw some title suggestions at him. I kept talking to fill his silent stares, trying to lighten up the lines of deep thought on his face.
"Waiting For Shakespeare, you come up with that title?" he questioned.
I rambled on about the idea. His invalidating look deepened. I thought he hated me. Then suddenly painted across his face, bright as the summer sun a smile illuminated his every expression. "I FREAKING LOVE IT".
We sat in the room for 6 hours; I'd never met someone so open and vulnerable. We shared so much with each other, it's something most writers do in a session, but this was different. I was connecting, I was making a true friend.
Marty became my regular co-writer and buddy. He called me his "Wonder from down-under." Marty began to invite me to play writers rounds with him, work with him on jingles, record vocal sessions for him. He would take me fishing, bike riding, and we would share stories about our lives.
I come to learn of his pedigree and his family's contribution to the history of Country Music. His father George Morgan was an Opry Hall Of Fame member, best known for his song "Candy Kisses". His sister Lorrie Morgan, has charted over 25 times on the Billboard Country Singles Chart and had three no.1 hits. One evening Marty kindly invited me backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. The animation on his face as he shared stories about being a child and running around in the dressing rooms was so delightfully beautiful. We even found an old set list signed by his late father on display that he didn't even know existed, it was a special, unforgettable moment.
It's hard to pat yourself on the back and just be proud and happy for the little victories you achieve. By week 6 I was a mess, I honestly believed that being in a city full of like minded people I was going to find so many friends and maybe love. Instead, I found a lot of loneliness.
I matched on Tinder with a gentleman who was friends with some of my Australian musician friends. I was invited on a bus trip to Santa Clause, Indiana to ride rollercoasters with a bunch of songwriters at Holiday World & Splashing Safari. I jumped on a tour bus with 16 strangers I had never met, hoping that I would be delivered home alive. I had a blast, and to know some faces around town made going out alone less confronting.
There is nothing more intimidating then surrounding yourself with established professionals and being asked what you do. The reply "I'm a songwriter, hoping to move to Nashville one day" is an all too familiar story written by a lot of ambitious songwriters who don't make the cut. Unfortunately without a reference, guitar or any notability in the US, I felt like I was put in that category many times.
I focused on having fun and making genuine connections. I thought if I can make a friend who likes me because of who I am, I won't feel "unworthy" of being in this town with my seemingly unrealistic dreams and a talent that may not be "good enough".
I won't lie, I called my Mum a lot questioning my ability. Shed tears, asked what am I doing here. But the truth was, I knew I wasn't good enough; I knew I needed to step up or go home.
To be continued...