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Nashville songwriters spread outside country

Associated Press • Jan 18, 2020 at 3:02 AM

NASHVILLE — Nashville songwriters are showing up at the Grammys this year, but not just in the country music categories. The city’s writing talent has been increasingly tapped to help craft nominated soundtracks, pop songs and R&B albums over the last couple of years.

In the all-genre song of the year category this year, four of the eight songs nominated include Nashville-based writers, including Taylor Swift, country legend Tanya Tucker, songwriting couple Ruby Amanfu and Sam Ashworth, and a trio of hit country songwriters Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Natalie Hemby. The Grammy Awards will be held in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, airing on CBS.

“For me, it’s opened a lot of doors, which I am grateful for,” said Hemby, who scored two nominations, including song of the year for “Always Remember Us This Way” and best song nod for visual media for “I’ll Never Love Again” from the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack with Lady Gaga.

“We’ve known as long as we’ve been active here, it’s not just about country,” said Amanfu, who has released her own solo albums plus songs as a member of the band Sam & Ruby, as well as appearing on albums by Jack White and Beyonce. “We love country. We thank it for putting us on the map.”

Amanfu and Ashworth, who are married, met R&B artist H.E.R. through producer David “Swag R’Celious” Harris and the couple worked with her during a weeklong writing session in Nashville where “Hard Place,” which is nominated for song of the year and record of the year, was written.

“We’ve been writing all kinds of other music for years,” said Ashworth, who is also nominated in the album of the year category as a co-writer on H.E.R.’s album “I Used to Know Her.” “Now this has happened and it feels really good.”

Lindsey, McKenna and Liz Rose make up the trio of country songwriters dubbed “The Love Junkies,” whose reputation as songwriters soared with Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” which won two Grammys and was also nominated for song of the year in 2016. The trio are nominated again for best country song for co-writing “It All Comes Out in the Wash” with Miranda Lambert.

“We’re not trying to redo what we’ve done,” said Rose, who is best known for co-writing on Taylor Swift’s first two country records. “We’re not competing with ourselves. It’s really about a friendship and we just happen to get together and write songs.”

Lindsey has been writing for soundtracks for years and also with pop writers including Lady Gaga, Michelle Branch and Jessica Simpson. In addition to the Lambert track, she has Grammy nominations this year for song of the year for “Always Remember Us This Way” and for best song written for visual media for “I’ll Never Love Again.” Lindsey said The Love Junkies moniker has helped elevate their reputation among artists.

“When you hear an artist go, ‘I want to write with The Love Junkies,’ you’re like, ’Oh wow, we really are a thing,’ ” said Lindsey.

When Nashville producer Dave Cobb was brought in to help craft songs for the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack, he called up some of his favorite Nashville writers. Lindsey already had writing credits with Lady Gaga from her Grammy-nominated “Joanne” album, including the hit single “Million Reasons.”

But Hemby admitted to being starstruck in the studio where Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper were working on the script while the songs were being written.

“I hugged Bradley Cooper a little longer than he probably hugged me,” Hemby said.

McKenna, Lindsey and Hemby described the soundtrack recording as very fluid, with the script still being tweaked and Lady Gaga working with a live band in the studio.

McKenna said that experience helped her spread her wings out of the normal Nashville way of songwriting, which can be approached as plugging away at a song or two in a writer’s room from 9 to 5 like a regular job.

“Sometimes you have to get out of your own lane, like the way you write best, and sort of be exposed to a different way of writing,” McKenna said. “It makes you grow as a writer, so the next time something comes up and you land in a room with someone that is real pop oriented, in the back of your brain, you’re like, ‘Wait a minute. I can do this. I’ve done this before.’ ”

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