Posted on April 13, 2019
This trip to Nashville wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I’d had this vision of going out there and writing a load of songs and going to show after show after show and seeing all the friends I’ve made out there. I managed to do some of those things – and I’m really proud of what I achieved – but my mental health really dominated the trip, much more than I’d hoped it would.
We got off to a pretty rocky start when I forgot to take my medication the night before we flew out. We had to leave at two o’clock in the morning so I never really went to bed and therefore my nightly routine was disrupted. Plus I was excited and nervous and just generally all over the place. We got to the airport and I couldn’t even walk the distance to security, I was so completely out of energy. I thought it was the lack of sleep and stress of travelling but I physically couldn’t do it. We ended up asking the airport staff for assistance and they were absolutely amazing, at every airport we travelled through over the trip: they got me a wheelchair and took me wherever I needed to be, getting me early access to the planes, and so on. It was so helpful and honestly made the whole thing possible. I don’t know what I would’ve done without their help. It took a few days to recover and it was only then that we realised what had caused it.
The reason we go at this time of year is because the Nashville Songwriters Association International hold the Tin Pan South songwriters festival, where hundreds of songwriters perform songs that they’ve written. They have a great mix of famous and up and coming so you get a lot of different, beautifully written songs. All of the shows that I went to were good and some of them were fantastic. My favourites include Lori McKenna, Alyssa Micaela, Emily Shackelton, Hannah Ellis, Natalie Hemby, and Travis Meadows. They were truly incredible.
There were a couple of other musical highlights too. By some wonderful coincidence, Kelly Clarkson was playing the Bridgestone Arena while we were in Nashville. I’ve always wanted to see her and I’ve always wanted to go to a show at Bridgestone. And to make it even sweeter, Kelsea Ballerini – who I LOVE – was opening. So it was perfect. The show was amazing and I had a blast. Totally a bucket list moment.
The other musical highlight was getting to see my friend, Caylan Hays, perform. We’ve written together several times and on my last trip, she came to see me play a gig and by another beautiful coincidence, she was playing on the last night of our stay. She was fantastic. She’s such a talented writer and I love her voice. Throw in some gorgeous electric guitar and I was in love. You can check out her music here.
And of course, I got to go to two Song Suffragettes rounds. I love this organisation with my whole heart and so it meant so much to me to see both shows while I was there. They – the people who run it and the girls who play – are so inspiring and I hope I can play with them again someday.
I had several writing sessions while we were there and for the most part, they were a struggle. I love the people I was writing with dearly but my brain still isn’t right: a casualty of my depression and the medications I’m taking. We’re still trying to find the balance where I’m emotionally stable and not creativity stifled. Still, I’m trying and I so appreciate these writers for having patience with me while I work through this. I also got to spend some time with friends, old and new, and they really inspired me in this dark patch of my life.
But throughout the trip, I really, really struggled. My anxiety was so high that I actually had trouble breathing and my depression was so overwhelming that I found myself falling apart (even in public places, which I’m usually able to avoid doing) multiple times. There were lots of tears and lots of Diazepam; it was very hard. I struggled desperately with wanting to go home and I was battling suicidal thoughts (helpfully described by Claudia Boleyn as, “my brain trying to kill me”) for most of the trip. In truth, it was a bit of a nightmare but there were some really great moments that helped me manage it and of course, I had my wonderful people (my Mum and my writing partner, Richard Sanderson) there to support me. The trip wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Also, shout out to Pancake Pantry for teaching me what it’s like to get excited about food.
Category: anxiety, depression, event, holidays, medication, mental health, music, suicide, video Tagged: anxiety, creative block, creativity, depressed, depression, diazepam, kelly clarkson, kelsea ballerini, medication, mental health, mental illness, nashville, nashville tennessee, nsai, song suffragettes, songwriter, songwriters, songwriting, songwriting festival, suicidal thoughts, tin pan south, tin pan south 2019
Posted on April 6, 2019
Hello friends! I’m back from Nashville! I’m jet lagged as hell right now so a full blog post is a bit much for me but I did one of these last year and really enjoyed it so I thought I’d do it again. So here are thirteen (well, actually fourteen) songs for the thirteen days I was in Nashville…
FRIDAY – ‘Great Ones’ by Maren Morris (written by Maren Morris, Ryan Hurd, and Mikey Reaves)
Maren Morris is one of my all time favourite artists and songwriters and I spent the journey listening to her new album, ‘Girl’. It usually takes me a while to get into new albums but this song immediately jumped out at me as a favourite. I love the detail in the lyrics and the congruence of the mythical, atmospheric production. It just gives me this sense that love like that is really possible when I often doubt that.
You’re the perfect storm
So let it pour down on me
If they tell the story in a hundred years
No one would believe that you and me were really here
Just a memory of what the real thing can be
SATURDAY – ‘This Town Still Talks About You’ by Natalie Hemby (written by Natalie Hemby)
I first listened to the ‘Puxico’ record on my way into Nashville and so every song reminds me of Nashville and vice versa. This song is one of my favourites (so much so that I’ve written about it multiple times). Wandering around Nashville and reacquainting myself with the city really brought it back.
Oh this town still talks about you
Like you never left
Hidden sounds in cracked sidewalks and church pews
How could we forget?
SUNDAY – ‘Loving You, Using You’ by Caylan Hays
I got to see a lot of my friend Caylan while I was in Nashville, which was absolutely wonderful. I love her a lot and her songwriting is just beautiful so of course I had to include her on this list.
Maybe I’m loving you because I’m lonely
Maybe I’m holding you because you know me
Maybe I’m loving you
Oh, because you’re lonely too
Maybe I’m here because I’m grieving
Maybe I’m terrified of leaving
Maybe I’m loving you
Maybe I’m using you
I wish I knew the truth
MONDAY – ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Kalie Shorr
I love Kalie’s music so it was a real treat to go to Song Suffragettes and hear three new songs. The level of care and detail in her songs just takes my breath away. She’s recording her first album at the moment and I’m honestly so excited for it. She’s one special songwriter.
Before you know it every bottle says drink me
Before you know it, yeah, you’re gonna start shrinking
He’ll make you feel small, and there’s so far to fall
When you’re loving a madman
So hey Alice, how is Wonderland?
TUESDAY – ‘Humble and Kind’ by Lori McKenna (written by Lori McKenna)
On the Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of seeing Lori McKenna perform again, which is a bit of a spiritual experience, especially when it comes to this song. The lyrics, the melody, and her voice just come together in this perfect way and it’s absolutely stunning.
Hold the door, say “please”, say “thank you”
Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie
I know you got mountains to climb
But always stay humble and kind
WEDNESDAY – ‘Rainbow’ by Kacey Musgraves (written by Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby, and Shane McAnally)
This is one of my favourite Kacey Musgraves songs and it has been for years. At the late show on the Wednesday night, Natalie Hemby talked about it and then sang it and it was absolutely gorgeous. Easily one of my favourite moments of the whole festival.
Well the sky has finally opened
The rain and wind stopped blowin’
But you’re stuck out in the same ol’ storm again
You hold tight to your umbrella
Well, darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head
THURSDAY – ‘Black’ by Travis Meadows
Travis Meadows is an astounding songwriter and after missing his show last year, I was very excited to see him again this year. He was a complete standout. He told some great stories and his songs are just beautiful. The imagery and the emotion are just SO good.
You taught me there was more to life than getting by
If you want your dreams, the only limit is the sky
If you use your head, you won’t have to break your back
You taught me how to drink my coffee black
FRIDAY – ‘Miss Me More’ by Kelsea Ballerini (written by Kelsea Ballerini, David Hodges, and Brett McLaughlin) / ‘Since U Been Gone’ by Kelly Clarkson (written by Max Martin and Lukasz Gottwald)
There just so happened to be a Kelly Clarkson concert while we were in Nashville. She’s an artist I’ve always wanted to see and I’ve always wanted to see a concert in Nashville so I couldn’t resist. Plus Kelsea Ballerini was opening and I just adore her and her music. Her current single, ‘Miss Me More’ is one of my favourites off her current album, ‘Unapologetically.’
I thought I’d miss you
But I miss me more
I miss my own beat, to my own snare drum
I miss me more
Miss my own sheets in the bed I made up
I forgot I had dreams, I forgot I had wings
Forgot who I was before I ever kissed you
Yeah, I thought I’d miss you
But I miss me more
As you can imagine, Kelly Clarkson is a fantastic performer and the show was incredible. There were so many moments that took my breath away but there’s nothing quite like a whole arena screaming along to the same song. It was so much fun and so freeing.
But since you’ve been gone
I can breathe for the first time
I’m so moving on
Thanks to you
Now I get what I want
Since you’ve been gone
SATURDAY – Born on a Windy Day by Anna Vaus
On the last day of the festival, I went to a really good show. It was really hard to choose a song for this day but this song by Anna Vaus just captured my imagination. I loved the story and the imagery and I keep going back to the little video I took of it.
And a bird’s gonna fly if it’s got wings
A cowboy’s gonna run off when the sunset sings
It’s just one of those things that I can’t change
Oh, I was born, I was born on a windy day
SUNDAY – ‘I’ll Be There For You’ by The Rembrandts (written by Phil Solem, Danny Wilde, David Crane, Marta Kauffman, Michael Skloff, and Allee Willis)
The day after the festival finished, I was exhausted and so me and my writing partner had a chill day watching Friends while I recovered. I find it very difficult, especially in Nashville, to take down time and let go of being productive all the time. But I know that I have to build in recovery time because otherwise I burn out and have meltdowns. So we took a day off and watched Friends, hence this song choice.
So no one told you life was gonna be this way
Your job’s a joke, you’re broke
Your love life’s D.O.A
It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear
When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month
Or even your year
MONDAY – ‘Hypocrite’ by Savannah Keyes
I met Savannah when we played Song Suffragettes together and I love her and her music so much. Her lyric writing is just so detailed and clever. I’m so excited that she’s releasing music and this is her first single, which she played at the Song Suffragettes round I went to that night. I love her performance of it; she’s so cheeky and honest.
We all wish we weren’t so human sometimes
But we’re trying, yeah, we’re trying
We all wish we weren’t so human sometimes
But I’m trying, damnit, I’m trying
TUESDAY – ‘Flavor’ by Maren Morris (written by Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins, and Laura Veltz)
Maren Morris is pretty much always on in the background of my life, ever since I discovered her first EP, so it’s not surprising that she features on this list so many times. I loved this song when she started playing it on tour a few years back and I’m so happy that it made the new album – it’s a true Maren Morris song.
I’m cooking up my own flavor
Even if it ain’t your style
You only see one layer
Original can take a while
Making a mess straight out of scratch
Think what you think about that
Oh I’m just tryna make good a little bit greater
I’m cooking up my own flavor
(This was also the evening I went to see Caylan (Caylan Hays) play a show and I wish I could choose all of the songs she performed. I can’t wait for her to release them – they were utterly gorgeous.)
WEDNESDAY – ‘A Song For Everything’ (written by Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins, and Laura Veltz)
A fitting end for a trip focussed on music and songwriting. I love Maren Morris and I love this song. It’s beautifully produced and the melody and lyrics are just gorgeous. It’s definitely one of my favourite songs on the album and I only hope I can write a song as good as this one day.
One danced you through love
One rocked you through lonely
Mixtaped your heartbreak
And made you feel holy
Category: music, video Tagged: anna vaus, caylan hays, friends, girl, golden hour, kacey musgraves, kalie shorr, kelly clarkson, kelsea ballerini, lori mckenna, maren morris, music, nashville, nashville tennessee, natalie hemby, playlist, rainbow, savannah keyes, tin pan south, tin pan south 2019, travis meadows
Posted on April 21, 2018
Ten points if you understand that reference.
As many of you know, I was in Nashville from 1st April to 11th April so here is a post all about that: the travel, the being away from home, some of the things I did, and how I felt about it all. A big part of this is that I do just want to write down some of my thoughts about it but I also think that documenting these experiences as a person with Autism, as a person with mental illness, could be helpful, especially when there is so little information and testimony about living with these issues.
The flight out was smooth. In the literal sense, anyway. But about an hour before we arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, I started sneezing. I didn’t think much of it until we were walking through the airport and it still hadn’t stopped. And then my nose started to run (this is gross and probably too much information, but it was like water was just leaking out of my nose) and all the sniffing I was doing to try and stop it gradually gave me a terrible headache. So that was a struggle. And it just wouldn’t stop. By the time we arrived in Nashville several hours later, I had the beginnings of a migraine and was practically useless. Fortunately, I was travelling with my Mum and one of my best friends, Richard (who is also my writing partner), so I could hand over responsibility and focus on staying upright. We got to our accommodation and I fell asleep as soon as I sat down (getting back up and walking to the bed was the most asleep I’ve ever been while awake and, no joke, I laughed hysterically until I fell asleep). The jetlag got me good – I was so tired that I fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon every single day – and I still hadn’t gotten myself in sync by the time we were flying home.
Before I get on to the rest of the trip, I have to say that none of it would have been possible if my Mum hadn’t come with me. This was my third trip to the US and she has been with me each time, sometimes working and sometimes taking a holiday – she freaking deserves one with how hard she works, at everything – and I could not do it without her. This probably deserves it’s own post but in short: she helps me keep my anxiety under control, helps me process everything that’s happening, removes the stress around food by either being there to catch me when I fail at it or completely assuming responsibility for it… She is the certainty I need when every other thing around me is uncertain. All of these things make it possible for me to be functional, let alone make the most out of the trip and the opportunities I’m presented with. She is a complete superstar and I’m so, so grateful.
Another thing that I think is important to mention is how much I struggle with food when I travel. I have huge, huge anxiety around food (see my recent post) and there aren’t many things I can manage. I remember thinking, before my first trip, that there would finally be things I could eat but my perception of the food was wrong; I was convinced I’d gain loads of weight but I actually lost more than half a stone. Since then, both me and my Mum have been more prepared: we travel with things like rice cakes (one of my staples), shop on the first day, and never rely on restaurants or venues. So, this time, we made a huge thing of Stir Fry at the beginning of the week and I basically ate that all week. I know that some people would find that boring but for me, it was comforting to know that there was a meal a day that I wouldn’t have to worry about. Sometimes that’s all I can manage so I need to know that it’s something I can eat. Again, a major shout out to my Mum for supporting me with that. And to Pancake Pantry for getting me excited about food.
The reason for going at this time of year is the Tin Pan South songwriting festival. Over five days, there are a hundred songwriters’ rounds where all of these incredible songwriters play their songs – some famous, some never released – and tell the stories that inspired them. As a songwriter, it’s the most amazing and motivating experience. As you guys probably know from my playlist post, I saw so many people that I was so excited by but I’m not sure anyone is interested in that, given that this is primarily a mental health blog. Let me know if you would be interested in that. But having said that, I can’t not mention some of them: Natalie Hemby (one of my all time favourite songwriters) was incredible and hilarious; Alyssa Micaela and Emily Shackelton were wonderful; Abby Anderson’s ‘History’ was one of my favourite songs of the festival; the show with Jeff Cohen, Kara DioGuardi, Jamie Hartman, and Ingrid Andress (one of my favourite finds of the week) was mind blowing and definitely a highlight; and Nikita Karmen was another great discovery. All of the shows were fantastic though and I felt so lucky to be there. I felt (and do still although my mental health has crashed since) so, so inspired and can’t wait to write new songs having learned so much.
And on that note, I got to hang out and write songs with one of my favourite people in Nashville. Her name is Caylan and we met during my first trip to Nashville in 2016. We wrote one of my favourite and most personal songs several days later. She is such a beautiful songwriter and again, we wrote some really cool songs and it was so, so nice to see her again. I also did some writing with Richard, which is one of my favourite things to do.
The biggest, most exciting part of my trip was playing a Song Suffragettes round. I’ve been following them on social media and watching their shows on Periscope for years now and I have always been so inspired by their mission to promote these incredible up and coming young women in country music. I’ve always done my best to see the shows in person when in Nashville and it has truly been a dream of mine to play at one of their rounds. And on this trip, that dream came true. It was nerve wracking but it was one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had and definitely so in the last year: everyone behind the show was so lovely and the other girls were so sweet and so welcoming. My performances weren’t perfect but I’m still proud of them and I felt so, so honoured to be there. It was inspiring and motivating and so special. We finished the show with a cover of ‘Delicate’ by Taylor Swift, which we’d put together in the back room before going on stage and, again, that was really fun. Oh, and the video of that is now on YouTube!
After the show, we went out to the lobby to meet and talk to anyone who wanted to talk. That turned out to be a real highlight. I hadn’t expected anyone to want to say more than hello since it was my first time playing and no one would’ve known me before the show but so many people came up to me and the conversations we had were and are very special to me. Two of the three songs I played are incredibly personal, including one about my experiences with trying to get help with my mental health, and these are the songs that seem to really connect with people. I’ve had people come up to me, tell me what it meant to them to hear these songs, and share some amazingly personal stories. It blows my mind that a little song that I wrote in my friend’s front room on a Thursday afternoon has made people feel safe enough to share these really important things with me. I’m so honoured. That whole night was so special to me. A massive thank you again to everyone behind Song Suffragettes for all you guys do and thank you, thank you, thank you for inviting me to play.
The last couple of days were a bit of a blur after that but my last activity in Nashville was a memorable one. We went to The Candle Bar to make our own candles, something I’d seen on Instagram and really wanted to do. I really, really struggle with candles because of how sensitive to smells I am so I was excited to find out whether I could create a candle that I could not only tolerate but also enjoy. Because you’re pouring out the fragrance and the wax, you are in control of how strong the candle will smell; obviously you want to be able to smell it but this made it possible to add slightly less of the fragrance so that it won’t be overwhelming. It was a really fun experience, simple and chilled and interesting. I had commitment issues over which container to use and had to change once I’d chosen the fragrance because the colour of it didn’t match how it smelled, but choosing the fragrance was easy: there were only two that I liked. I ended up going for the pink pepper and grapefruit because, as a smell, it had no sharp edges, if that makes sense. There was nothing jarring about it. Since I’ve been home, I’ve only lit it once but I really like it. It’s subtle, which is perfect for me, but I can still smell it and it does actually smell like the fragrance I chose. So I’m really happy with it and would definitely recommend the experience.
And then it was time to go home. Usually I dread going home but after the roller coaster of emotions that I went through on this trip and having the kittens waiting for me, I was ready to go. But it was still hard. I’ve jokingly compared my love for Nashville to a long distance relationship but fortunately, I know it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’ll be back and it will be there, waiting for me. The plane ride home went fine, although we took extra precautions and I wore a mask for most of it. I felt ridiculous but I kept reminding myself that I was trying to avoid more illness and discomfort, that I am allowed to take care of myself.
Before I sign off, there are a couple of other things that I wanted to mention and the first one is about the emotions throughout the trip. The first half of the ten days was really hard: I was overwhelmed by anxiety and struggling to stay ahead of a particularly bad episode of Depression, my self doubt was paralyzing, and I just had this overwhelming longing to go home where I felt safe and less like I was going to fall apart at any second. It was horrible, but fortunately it did pass (although it’s come back in full force since I’ve been back) and I was able to enjoy the rest of the trip apart from some anxiety (which is totally normal – I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t anxious, and very anxious at that). The lows were very low and the highs were very high, as usual. And with everything on top of that, I was completely and utterly exhausted. So it was definitely a rollercoaster.
The other thing I want to say is that it was vital that I had some time out from it all. I’m going to write a ‘tips for travelling when you’re autistic’ post but I also want to include it here. With all the emotions, the anxiety, the walking and standing, etc, I had to have some recovery time. Apart from the times where I just fell asleep on the sofa, we would watch TV together (shout out to Episodes and Queer Eye – highly recommend both). I tried to ignore the little voice in my head that kept telling me I was wasting the trip by doing that but I tried to remember that I was doing it to ensure that I could make the most of the trip. It’s hard to see it that way sometimes. But without rest, I wouldn’t have been able to go out every night – sometimes to two shows – and I wouldn’t have been able to write the best songs I could and I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the experience. So yes, if you need to take breaks, take breaks.
And that’s it for this post. I hope it was interesting, that there were a few helpful things in here. I have lots of blog posts on the go or in the planning stages so I’ll talk to you all soon!
Category: anxiety, autism, depression, emotions, event, food, mental health, music Tagged: actuallyautistic, aeroplane, america, anxiety, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic spectrum disorder, candle, candle making, depression, festival, flying, music, music festival, nashville, nashville tennessee, nsai, self care, self doubt, singersongwriter, song suffragettes, songwriter, songwriters, songwriting, songwriting festival, tennessee, tin pan south, travelling, united states, usa
Hey! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as a number of mental health issues. I’m also a singer-songwriter so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is now available on iTunes and Spotify, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.