Artist Uprising Interview: Nashville Singer-Songwriter Trella Talks Burnout + New Music
When it comes to songwriting, Trella doesn't play games. Photo by David Odonohue.
Trella sometimes calls her writing and recording process “Tetris.” Like the classic, endlessly frustrating game of oddly shaped building blocks, it can take some time and finessing to make her melodies fit together. When they do, the result sounds like pure magic.
Trella has been living and working in Nashville for eight years, and throughout her time, her confidence has grown alongside her talent. On recent records (including the new “Okay If You’re Not Okay”) Trella boldly declares exactly what she feels. Perhaps most importantly, she encourages you to do the same.
The uber-talented artist sat down with Artist Uprising to talk about craft, creativity, confidence and much more.
Artist Uprising: What was the moment you knew, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to play music.’?
Trella: Music was always in my life for as long as I can remember. My mom studied voice and taught choir. My dad was a Methodist pastor, so I grew up surrounded by church music. And when you’re a pastor’s kid, if you’re musical at all, they throw you up on stage and make you sing all the things and play all the instruments. But outside of church, I remember making up weird songs about things like washing my hands. It wasn’t a while before I realized I wanted to build a career as an artist. About 10 years ago, I went through a bad breakup. Before that, I was writing songs here and there, working a preschool job, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. But then, after the breakup, there was a fire in me to release songs I had been writing.
I just had to do it. There’s no explanation other than that
AU: You work extremely hard, and I think it’s difficult for all creatives to manage the balance between work and relaxation. How do you do it?
T: It’s a constant balancing act, and sometimes I get the shame of not working. I was born into a blue collar family, so any time I take a break, I hear a voice telling me I shouldn’t be taking a break. But one of my mentors who is an incredible songwriter told me, ‘Your time off is not really time off. You’re constantly collecting.’ Rest is part of the job, too. Rest is informing your melody. So I always remind myself of that, even though it’s gotten harder in quarantine. I’ll find myself thinking, “I should be doing this; I should be hustling.” The way I got through that was remembering my mentor’s words and remembering that sometimes being present is better than being a workhorse. I feel like when I take a healthy break, I come back and I have a lot to say. And I always know I need a break when a lot of my songs are feeling similar
Photo by Jesse Brantman.
AU: How do you manage burnout?
T: It’s different for everyone, but for me, it’s going on long walks, getting my body moving. Reading is good for me, because I get to take in other really amazing writing. For me, it’s all about taking in really beautiful work and taking my mind off everything, but people can help, too. Just connecting with people you feel safe around can be the best remedy.
AU: What are some of your most memorable or favorite performance moments?
T: One of the shows I’m really proud of was me opening for Johnny Flynn in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was a huge, beautiful show, and It was just me and the piano. Because i didn’t have a budget, I had to just carry it with me. But something overcame me right before. I was doubting myself and feeling like a fraud, like, ‘I can’t believe they got me? What am I doing?’ I just felt fake. But something took over and I proved myself wrong
AU: How do you overcome those feelings of doubt after a show?
T: Sometimes i can do it on my own. Sometimes I have to call a friend and say, ‘This is what I’m thinking; I need you to tell me that it’s not true.’ But sometimes I just have to speak it out loud to myself, which probably looks weird to everyone nearby. I say, “You did your best, and for these people, it was a Friday night. They show up, they have a couple beers, then they leave.” It’s not to say that it’s not important, but you have to remember that this was a bunch of people’s Friday night and that little moment you’re sweating over wasn’t a big deal for them. At the end of the day, just showing up where you’re at and bringing everything you can is all we can do, because we’re just human.
AU: Your song “Comfortable” has a very confident sound, and the lyrics are really tight. Tell us about your songwriting process and how it’s evolved.
T: I’ve been through a lot of therapy and been through a lot in my life. Working on myself has been a huge part of getting better as a songwriter. I’ve been going to the same therapist for 6 years, for example, which has been huge. With my writing, I had gotten used to using imagery and metaphor to cover up what I actually wanted to say, which was, “I’m sad.” But sometimes you just have to say it. What I’ve found to be my niche is to just say things straight up. I try to say exactly how I'm feeling, no cover-ups, then bring it to the studio to throw the paint on the wall and tetris it around so it’s a new thing. As far as volume goes, I write at least 4 songs a week. If I don't remember it the next day, or wake up singing it the next day, I just think it’s not worth it and I don’t record it. That’s my test, and it’s totally okay. Some songs may just be for you and that day.