by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
When you come from a musical tradition that includes legendary artists like Hazel and Alice, Loretta Lynn and Ola Belle Reed, you have some mighty big boots to fill. But that formidable legacy hasn’t dissuaded Virginia’s Dori Freeman from stepping into the spotlight with her eponymous debut. Produced by Teddy Thompson, the set balances a classic sound with contemporary substance — just like Freeman’s foremothers did.
Kelly McCartney: The posture you take as a songwriter seems to be one that is incredibly self-assured and self-sufficient. Is that an accurate reflection of you as a person, as well? And, if so, what got you to such a wise place at such a young age?
Dori Freeman: I’m sure glad it seems that way. Having my daughter at a relatively young age (22) made me a lot more self-assured and self-reliant. My confidence has grown a lot in the last couple years. I started thinking about how, if I want my daughter to be independent and strong, then I need to set that example.
From Hazel Dickens to Loretta Lynn to Kacey Musgraves, roots music women have often made some bold, feminist-minded declarations. How and where do you see yourself fitting into that lineage?
I have a lot of admiration and respect for those three women. I’m lucky to have really encouraging parents who’ve always supported my choice to pursue music. That’s given me a lot of confidence to write about things, no matter how personal. I’m certainly not afraid to write about relationships and men. Men are rarely questioned when they divulge about the same things, so I’m happy to be among a strong group women who aren’t afraid to do that.
What is it about songwriting that allows you to share such internal, even intimate pieces of yourself that you might not ever otherwise express?
Weirdly, for me, it’s much easier to express things I’m going through by writing and singing about them. Even though it’s a really vulnerable place to be in, it’s still the most comfortable way for me to open up. I think it’s important to write about things that are personal and honest — even when it’s a difficult subject — because that’s the only way to strike a true chord with people and make them feel that same vulnerability in relating to you.
Did you have an idea, going in, of how you wanted the record to sound? Or did you follow Teddy’s lead?
I knew I wanted to keep the record pretty sparse and Teddy wanted the same thing. But I was also a little intimidated about coming to New York and recording with a group of really respected musicians that I’d never met. Teddy was great at stepping in and directing and putting me at ease. He also has a really good, imaginative ear and had the idea to add the ’60s girl group vibe on tracks like “Tell Me” and “Fine Fine Fine.”
The record has met with a warm critical response. How’s all the attention feeling?
Bizarre! Overwhelming, but in a really good way. I tried not to have any expectations for the record, so I’m really thrilled about how it’s been received so far.