On Drive and Cry, country singer Emily Nenni encourages listeners to let it all out

click to enlarge On Drive and Cry, country singer Emily Nenni encourages listeners to let it all out
Alysse Gafkjen photo
Emily Nenni is happy and sad at the same time.

Country singer Emily Nenni is a pro in juxtapositions. The cover for her latest album Drive and Cry, for example, is bubblegum pink, but with a photo of a cool, confident Nenni dressed in black from her hat to her boots.

Album opener "Get to Know Ya" gets the good times rolling as Nenni sings about clocking out from work, putting on her biggest hoops and the jeans she "can really only stand up in" before heading to the local bar for a night of music and dancing, hoping to find a denim-clad fella who can keep up with her.

As the album continues, however, you get a little audio whiplash. "We Sure Could Two Step," for example, is a classic honky tonk romp with an instrumental break perfect for dancing in the middle of the song. Lyrically though, Nenni takes listeners through the experience of lost love.

"Sure felt right / who knows what at first sight / Soon the odds were stacked and we couldn't win / Never knew the feeling, never knew if it was real, and now I know I'll never feel it again."

Nenni attributes her musical contrasts to her love of Motown and the girl groups from that era.

"You listen to a lot of Supremes or any girl groups, the music is so upbeat, and you can really dance to it and the melody is a little sad, but then you look at the lyrics and you think 'Whoa, that song's a real bummer but it sounds really happy,'" Nenni says. "I love that about the music. You probably can't hear Motown in that record, but it is influenced — at least lyrically — by it."

Growing up in Orinda, California, about 20 minutes from Berkeley, Nenni listened to a bit of everything thanks to a father who worked in radio and a mother whose taste ranged from Patsy Cline to Missy Elliott.

An introvert, Nenni saw herself as a songwriter, not a performer, and gravitated toward country music the more she wrote.

"I wanted to write stuff that was more straightforward lyrically and emotionally, and I noticed [country music was] where it was going," she says. "Then once I moved to Nashville when I was 21 and started seeing live music and seeing how much fun everyone was having and what joy it brought to everybody, I realized, 'OK, I definitely want to play country music.'"

"...'Whoa, that song's a real bummer but it sounds really happy,'" Nenni says

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During her 10 years in Nashville, Nenni supported herself with a variety of jobs, including working at a guitar shop, at a restaurant, as a bartender and, most recently, selling cowboy boots. In between those jobs, Nenni also spent time on a ranch in Southern Colorado to work and write what would become the aptly named On the Ranch, which was released in 2022.

"It's only been about a year since I've been doing music full time," Nenni says. "I've always had to make time for music. And if you make time, that means you really care about it. You make it happen."

Nenni wrote all of Drive and Cry, which was released in May, by herself, save for the album-closing cover of Terry Allen's "Amarillo Highway." Nenni says all of her songwriting is autobiographical, but Drive and Cry in particular was even more personal and required a couple months of getting into her head and reflecting on everything that had been on her mind since writing On the Ranch.

"That's definitely how I process things, putting pen to paper," Nenni says. "Honestly, the sad songs, those are the ones I write first. The song 'Drive and Cry' I wrote in, like, two minutes. It just came out."

A proud driver and crier, Nenni, who also made her Grand Ole Opry debut in May, has started hearing from fans that they have driven and cried to Drive and Cry. Nenni says she first makes sure the person is OK before acknowledging what a great release it is, calling it an honor to be the soundtrack to someone's on-the-road crying session.

"Think I'm gonna drive and cry / I'm overdue for a tire rotation and bloodshot eyes / Don't you worry 'bout me, I'm gonna have a bawl / That's my kind of high / I think I'm gonna drive and cry" she sings on the title track.

"I often drive and cry," Nenni says. "It can be happy tears, sad tears. It's always a good mixture." ♦

Emily Nenni, Lucas Brookbank Brown • Mon, June 24 at 9 pm • $15 • 21+ • The District Bar • 916 W. First Ave. • sp.knittingfactory.com

Bachman-Turner Overdrive @ Northern Quest Resort & Casino

Wed., July 24, 8 p.m.
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