Tenille Townes vividly recalls the first time she walked through the East Nashville church her producer, Jay Joyce, had transformed into a studio. A congregation of instruments — a cluster of guitars here, an organ over there — silently stood, waiting for them to get to work. She immediately felt at home in the musical sanctuary.
“He had yellow flowers on the stand by where the mic was set up, and was like, ‘Okay let’s do this!’” she remembers. “Within one minute of arriving, I had my guitar out. We were jumping in. We really built these songs from the ground up.”
Born in Grande Prairie, Alberta, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter earned accolades for her wise-beyond-her-years ballads before she moved to Nashville in 2013. After years of taking in sets at the Bluebird Café and pushing herself in writing sessions, she started winning over Music Row with the songs that would eventually shape her acoustic EP, Living Room Worktapes. Each track told a potent story: her buoyant voice soared over love songs like “White Horse” and “Where You Are” with their clever choruses, but “Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Asking),” in which she questions her faith after a senseless tragedy, and “Somebody’s Daughter,” an empathetic look into the life of a stranger, proved she had the range to write through life’s most difficult challenges.
“My way of processing how I feel is writing songs and diving into music,” she says of her tendency to put herself in the listener’s shoes. “I like to write from that observer perspective because it gives me an opportunity to process my emotions. I like to be that storyteller and that witness because it makes me feel like I belong in a situation, but I’m also stepping away from it and zooming out a little bit.”