GRAMMY Award-winning songwriter Natalie Hemby has spent the past decade behind the scenes in the country music industry. The Nashville native earned her first No. 1 song in 2010 with Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar” and has had more than 30 songs recorded by the singer. Her songs also have been recorded by Little Big Town (“Pontoon”), Jon Pardi (“Heartache Medication”) and Lady A (“Downtown”), among others.
In 2019 Hemby’s songwriting and singing talents inspired the Highwomen, the country supergroup that includes Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires, to invite her to join the band. Hemby, 44, reintroduces herself as a solo artist with her sophomore album, Pins and Needles, available today via Fantasy Records. She co-wrote each of the project’s 11 tracks, which follows her 2017 debut Puxico.
“Puxico was a love letter to my grandparents, to their hometown, but this is a real introduction into who I really am musically,” Hemby tells me. “It’s very eclectic. It has all different types of elements in it. I wanted to make a record that sounded like a musical journey but was a little quirky and fun as well.”
Hemby blends her love for ’90s music throughout Pins and Needles. Inspired by Sheryl Crow, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Amy Grant and the Rolling Stones, Hemby says the project merges her influences with her husband’s. Fittingly her husband, Mike Wrucke, produced the album.
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The driving “New Madrid” helps bridge the gap between Puxico and Pins and Needles while the foot-stomping bluegrass-inspired “Hardest Part About Business” has Hemby sharing the lessons she’s learned working in the corporate and music worlds. “The hardest part about business is minding your own,” she croons alongside a swampy beat.
“I’ve worked so many different types of jobs to help support what I wanted to do for a living,” Hemby says. “My heart’s cry was, ‘I just want to do music. I don’t care what it looks like anymore.’ For a long time, I wanted it to be a record deal. I wanted it to be all of these things but after a while you just have to let go of that stuff.”
After several record deal misses in her 20s, Hemby gave up the dream of being an artist and instead focused on songwriting. She worked jobs outside of the industry to financially support herself and to help fund her passion for music. Those jobs included working at Comcast, stocking pantries and serving as a hostess.
“Finding a way to have my own income already taken care of helped me not make bad and desperate decisions because I had the money, so I didn’t need that,” she says.
Her financial acumen has since paid off. Hemby’s many side jobs gave her the time, ability and inspiration to continue writing songs. She has written eight No. 1 songs and earlier this year won a GRAMMY Award for Best Country Song for penning the Highwomen’s “Crowded Table” with Carlile and Lori McKenna. While Hemby admits coming into fame in her 40s is a double-edged sword, she’s grateful for having time to prepare for life in the spotlight.
“There’s this part of you that is thinking, ‘Man, could this not have happened earlier?’” she says. “I had all this time to do this earlier but with that you wouldn’t have experience. You wouldn’t have the know-how to deal with different situations.
“My train didn’t come too early, so I got all this time to prepare for when it did and now it’s here and I’m ready for it. … It’s been the perfect timing for me for this all to hit.”
The extra time also allowed Hemby the ability to live life and in doing so, find more song inspiration. In an industry that caters to the young Hemby exemplifies that accomplishing ones dreams later in life can become the norm.
“I do think it’s unfair though, that men get more of a chance at a later age and women do not,” she says. “A lot my favorite artists who are women are songwriters here in Nashville in their late 30s and early 40s and they blow everybody out of the water. Madi Diaz, Sarah Buxton, Jessi Alexander, I could just go on and on. There’s so many amazing girl artists out there that are older and wiser and have really interesting things to say, but I’m also rooting for the young ones, too. I wish people would take more time. There really is no rush and I’m living proof of that.”
Hemby started work on Pins and Needles before becoming a member of the Highwomen. She says being part of the band has helped her learn the ropes with touring, set design and branding. She also has studied the way Carlile, Morris and Shires handled situations with their respective bands and crews.
“I have so much more respect for them because doing a record and then playing live are two different beasts entirely,” she says. “It’s really interesting to me because it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of preparation. It’s very time consuming.”
Along the way, she’s learned business advice from those around her as well as U2’s Bono. Hemby says an article she read where Bono was giving advice to a new artist has always stuck with her.
“He said, ‘Whatever you do, when you have your first successful record don’t buy a house. Then all your money and your creative energy goes into this house that you’re trying to build.’ And honestly I agree with that,” she says. “I feel like when you become successful just ease into what you can afford to buy. You don’t have to go crazy.
“Having a big house doesn’t make you happy or having a boat doesn’t make you happy. It does for a minute, but really you have to be happy with your job and your family and your friends. That’s really all that matters. If you can save your money there’s no greater thing than your grandpa needs a new truck, and you get to go buy one for him. That is what makes all of it worth it.”
While Pins and Needles continues to introduce Hemby as a solo artist, she says in this season of life she has taken a pause from writing songs. Instead, she is focusing on performing and promoting her new record. Hemby admits she has at least six more records in the works, adding that her solo projects, collaborations and songwriting career remains a balancing act.
“I cannot do it all and do it all well,” she says. “Something has to go for sure and right now writing has just been a little bit more on the back burner. But, it’s good because when you are putting this on the back burner you are also filling your well back up of song ideas. You’re living life and you’re doing your thing and then you have time to reflect on it and then you write about it.”
Hemby says “Pinwheel” best describes where she is in life right now as she is seeing her dreams come to fruition. “Carried all my dreams by the handle, heavy as an anvil/ And then they all showed up,” she sings on the track.
“I feel like my life is going around in a whirl,” she says. “It’s like all these amazing colors but they’re all blended together and it’s all going by so fast. All my dreams are showing up at the same time and it’s so exciting and so much fun, but I’m also trying to balance it all and that’s a good problem to have.”