By Myki Angeline
For many of us music provides the soundtrack to our daily lives, fondest memories, and deepest heartbreaks. There is that one song upon hearing it can summon up the memory of the exact moment we experienced our first kiss, or the feeling of accomplishment when we walked away from a suffocating career. And for those who are creators find themselves utilizing their craft to navigate through self-expression, self-realization, and owning their identity. One such artist is Garrison Starr, who found the strength to be open about her sexual identity through singing and songwriting.
Her journey in getting to this pivotal point in her life was laden with several emotional and religious obstacles; all of which she shares in her column, The Stuff We’re Made Of. The blog premiered on Amy Phoeler’s Smart Girls in June 2017. There she talks candidly on growing up in Mississippi in a fundamentalist Christian family who were very supportive of her creative side, yet struggled with Starr being a lesbian.
Once Starr focused on creating music there was no stopping her. In her 20+ years in this industry she has released 15 albums as a solo artist, the most recent being What If There Is No Destination. Her songs have been featured in a plethora of TV shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Pretty Little Liars, Nashville, Army Wives) and commercials. Starr has toured with legends like Melissa Etheridge, Steve Earle, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. She has collaborated with many artists, which includes her work with comedian, actor, and singer Margaret Cho. In 2016, Starr produced and co-wrote Margaret Cho’s album American Myth which garnered a GRAMMY nomination for “Best Comedy Album” the following year.
Starr’s latest project is the powerhouse trio My Sister, My Brother which is comprised of herself, and fellow accomplished artists Sean McConnell, and Peter Groenwald. Billboard has hailed them a “songwriting supergroup” who announced the release of a five track self-titled album on March 6. All three artists share equal roles in writing and producing, and already embarked on an international tour through February.
It was an honor to interview Garrison Starr for this week’s Front and Center. I found myself relating so much to her childhood upbringing – fighting to just be herself. Through music, she is bold and transparent, inspiring so many of us in the LGBTQ Community.
WiMN: Your latest album What If There Is No Destination is very transparent and intimate. Have you always been this open with your music and songwriting?
GS: Thank you! And yes. I have. Probably to a fault.
WiMN: You grew up in Mississippi, and have lived in other cities like Nashville and Los Angeles. Did living in such diverse surroundings influence your creative flow?
GS: Well, I can say that living in Los Angeles has changed me for the better in terms of being able to be myself and fully express who I am. I needed to break away from where I came from to be able to come back again without bitterness and anger. It’s still a challenge.
WiMN: Who was the first music artist you recall admiring and why? Which current artist do you admire today
GS: Oh, man. The first band I remember connecting with, to be totally honest, is The Bangles. I came up listening to The Beatles, The Stones, Dionne Warwick, Bonnie Raitt, The Ink Spots and a lot of music my parents loved. But I really connected with The Bangles. They’re still my favorite band of all time. Vicki Peterson is my rock and roll hero. I think because they’re female and they were kicking ass – and honestly I probably thought they were all hot. Hahaha. Either way, I was drawn to them.
Today? That’s such a hard question!!! There are lots I admire, both in the spotlight and out. But I’d say Neilson Hubbard is at the top of the list. He produced my latest record that is set to come out sometime this year, and he’s the most badass artist I know. He’s one of my mentors and always reminds me to worship the art, not the artist. Without the art, there is no artist. I love that.
I hear all the words unspoken, I can’t fix what’s broken if you won’t let it show
WiMN: I connect with you so hard on the level of growing up as a tomboy, not fitting into female social norms, and never questioning that label as gender-biased. At what age did you truly embrace your truth? Did that change the influence in your music and songwriting?
GS: This is a great question. To be honest, I am only just now fully embracing my essence and my truth. It’s a process, and I’ve had so much shame around feeling like a late-bloomer in all kinds of ways. But I am happier than I’ve ever been. I think my songwriting has changed in the sense that I’ve been collaborating more than ever these last few years. That has changed my life in so many amazing ways. Being able to work with so many other talented writers and artists – embracing and celebrating others gifts – this has blessed me more than I can say and I’m a better writer and human because of it.
WiMN: It goes without saying you have inspired so many in the queer community with your own brave story and music. Is there a story with any one particular person you inspired that you could share with us?
GS: Thank you so much for saying that. I hope I have – I try hard to be brave. I can’t say there is one experience with anyone I can think of in this moment, but again – I hope that I have helped to empower and pave the way for anybody who is struggling in the same way others have done for me.
WiMN: What sparked the creation of your new project My Sister, My Brother, and how did you come to choose working with Sean McConnell, and Peter Groenwald?
GS: We were all at a writer’s camp for Concord Music Publishing in Nashville and we were paired up one day. We ended up writing “Nothing Without You,” and we were all like holy shit. This is something. So we kept on writing and here we are! It’s been such a blessing to work with Peter and Sean. They are angel humans.
WiMN: In your interview with Margaret Cho (I love her and her podcast!) back in 2012 you mentioned the desire to release a Gospel album. Will you? Did you?
GS: Yes, Margaret is so wonderful. I adore her. I would like to one day. It’s always on my mind.
WiMN: Lightning round. Give us the first word or two that come to mind:
GS: Favorite drink: Red Wine
GS: Pet Peeve: People who get up in my space in public
GS: Place to deconstruct: Home
GS: Brownies or cookies?: Depends
GS: Last movie you watched: Secret Life of Pets 2
GS: Last song that made you cry: “Boys in the Street” by Greg Holden
GS: Greta Thunberg: Good on her
WiMN: What do you have in store for 2020?
GS: I have a new record coming out at some point, and I’m gonna keep on keeping on with everything else! Whatever I’m doing, I’m gonna leave it all on the field. Thank you for having me!