In early 2013, Dallas native Deidre Thornell made her first impression to country music fans with her debut EP, “Destination Unknown,” and she made sure it was a lasting one.
With the release of her second EP, “Dallas,” Thornell showcased a natural progression in her sound, and found some of her greatest success to date.
As she prepares to write the third chapter of her recorded music career later this year, Thornell details her journey to writing the third chapter, including performing the National Anthem at a Dallas Cowboys game, performing at the Ryman Auditorium, growing as a songwriter, and so much more. Read below to hear all about it!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Deidre Thornell: I had many different types of influences- I guess it depends on what aspect we’re talking about. When I was younger, I took vocal cues from Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt, Janis Joplin, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Whitney Houston, Martina McBride, Faith Hill and would be mesmerized by the stage presence of Reba, Cher, Madonna, Jo Dee Messina, and so many more. All these women are strong and unique in their own way.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to make music for a living?
DT: I have sung since I was a little girl. The earliest memory that my mom says she remembers is when I was 2-3 years old, and I would sing along out loud to the music playing in the grocery store. I have a huge family, and have always wanted the attention if there was ever a phone or camera out. I’m not sure if there was ever a specific moment, but I do remember after the 6th grade talent show, that I took part in since Kindergarten, I cried to my mom and begged her to help me find more opportunities to sing in front of people, and I was off to the races from there! She helped me find a way to continue being on stage, so the next step was the Opry Circuit in Texas.
PC: You performed the National Anthem at a Dallas Cowboys game at just 18 years old. How did that opportunity come to you, and how surreal the whole experience?
DT: This is probably one of my most favorite experiences to talk about!!! One day I received an email asking if I would be interested in performing The Anthem for a Dallas Cowboys game. I didn’t believe it. My mom didn’t believe it, so we simply replied asking them how they found me, who the reference was, and if they could send an email with the official letterhead. We received an email back that was by someone who worked for the company, with the official letterhead attached, and they said they had heard my name through a friend of a friend who said I was good and to look me up. They looked up my music on ReverbNation that I had at the time and contacted me! It was surreal. I don’t think I really believed it was going to happen until the day of!
When we got there, one of our point of contacts was this incredible guy named Dan. He showed us around, and I could tell he thought my mom and I were really fun to hang out with, so instead of showing us to our seats in the stadium after sound check, HE PUT US IN A FIELD SUIT NEXT TO JERRY JONES’ GRANDKID’S SUITE! It was awesome! We hung out with these ladies who were just a blast! I wanted to cry, my mom was crying. It was such an emotional day. My favorite part of the whole experience was how it made me feel knowing I was performing in front of 90,000 people. It was intense and amazing. Surreal is the only word that captures how it really felt. As I was walking off the field, I was escorted by Dan, and I swear to you, I almost fell, and he was holding me up for a few steps; all those screaming fans, the Military folks that were there, being surrounded by 7-8 ft tall human beings (football players) – it was overwhelmingly awesome. Not to mention the fact that The Anthem is such a powerful song about our Country. Everyone loves that. I’ve tried to get back and perform, but haven’t had any luck just yet!
PC: Were you feeling any type of pressure, internally or externally, as you were preparing to release music for the first time with the “Destination Unknown” EP?
DT: Definitely! I don’t think the pressure internally and externally ever goes away when an artist is releasing music or new music of the first time. I was so young when I recorded that too! We had a great time in the studio. Paul Osborn with Audio Dallas Studios is still a dear friend of mine, and he puts out great work.
PC: “Looking for a Place to Shine” has become the fan-favorite song from “Destination Unknown.” What did that song mean to you when you wrote it? What does it mean to you now?
DT: I’m glad we are talking about this song, because it is one of my favorites. George Strait once said that he didn’t have to write the songs that he sang, because he just wanted to perform good music that people can relate to. If fans/audiences think he wrote the song he is singing about, then it must be believable, and that he’s doing his job right. We live in a world where we are forced to now believe that “true artists” must write, sing, perform, have a look, have “it” to become “it” – but I have always believed what George has lived by; that I don’t have to write the songs I sing in order for me, or my fans, to connect with them. In this case, “Looking for a Place to Shine” was one of those songs. It’s so relatable and a good country tune. It was written by Natalie Hemby and Angela Lauer. If you don’t know these writers, give them a search. I acquired this song through a songwriting friend of mine while I was looking for tunes to record to put out an EP of original music. This song has always resonated with people. I had the song for two years, then released it on the “Destination Unknown” EP. Two weeks after the release to iTunes and all media outlets, I get a phone call from my co-manager at the time and she said, “Did you watch Nashville (the TV show) last night?! “Looking for a Place To Shine” was one of the songs performed on there!!!!!” That was a huge shock then, all of the sudden my CD sales and streams went up like crazy. Although I did not write the song, just recorded it and perform it, I am so happy for the songwriters that did, because they deserve the success for such a cute country tune. Thanks for asking about it!
PC: What kind of validation was it to be one of five national finalists on the Texaco Country Showdown so early in your career? What did it mean to you to be able to perform at the Ryman?
DT: Are you kidding?! Performing at The Ryman is the ultimate dream of a Nashville country music recording artist. I know I’m not at my peak of my career, but if I were to die today, I am so happy to be able to say I performed at The Mother Church. The acoustics in that place are ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. The Nashville community does a great job keeping up with it. It is fun to say I have performed there before; definitely not the last I HOPE!! I met some really amazing and talented artist friends through that process! Good times!
PC: “Somewhere Wild and Free” has become your signature song. Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind that song?
DT: It really has become a signature song! Thanks for noticing. I never really get to talk about these things, so I’m thankful for your insightful questions!
Inspiration behind it? It was a beautiful March spring day, and I was driving to co-write with Bill DiLuigi. I had the windows down, the warm breeze was blowing in, I was smiling from being so happy for no reason other than just being content and joyful; you know those days? Anyway, I walked in and told Bill, “I want to write a song like Joe Nichols’ ‘Sunny and 75.’ It makes me feel so good and it’s so beautiful outside. Let’s write something happy, fresh, fun, but with heart!” He was as excited as I was! I told him a story about how I went with my roommate to go take pictures with her friends for photography class. We went to an abandoned airport hangar, an abandoned train tussle and an abandoned train track bridge that was dangling over the Cumberland River. That day, it was so windy that it scared the living daylight out of me. I was nervous, excited, scared, sweating, cold, hot, and happy all at the same time! In that moment, the wind blew so hard that it LITERALLY could have pushed us 3 girls right over the edge and down at least 100ft into the cold rushing water. We got the pictures we needed and left. I teared up silently on the way home thinking, “That feeling I just experienced must be what it feels like to be in love,” and I think I tried to incorporate that in “Somewhere Wild and Free.” I listen to that song and it takes me back to that moment, and I like that.
PC: “Dallas” is one of the standout tracks on its EP. Can you talk about the writing process and meaning behind that song?
DT: I wrote this song with Kirsti Mana. She is a pro-writer that has written for or with many amazing artists, including Blake Shelton and Kelsea Ballerini. We sat at her kitchen table, and she was questioning me where I was from and what my life was like before moving to Nashville, and also asked how I was adjusting. I told her, it was great, but I was having a hard time. I picked up my roots in Texas and was now sewing and growing them in a new place. I left all I’ve ever known for nothing I know about, and that there was a guy I left behind in Dallas. He had fallen in love with me, and I was starting to with him, but the fact of the matter is, I was going to always put myself first, at least then. I want to accomplish more goals and dreams before “settling down” so to speak. So, “Dallas” was a song that talks about how complicated the distance was from him.
PC: The “Dallas” EP has a more modernized sound than the “Destination Unknown” EP. Was this intentional or was this progression natural as you were writing and recording the EP?
DT: It was intentional. It was a natural progression though, definitely. I went from my first EP with only two tracks I had written or co-written to a six-song EP where I have written or co-written 5 of the 6 tracks; “Ghost Town” being the exception. I think my sound will continue to evolve. That’s what artistry is. There is no formula. No one knows what they’re doing, even when they say or think they know. We are all in this industry trying to figure it all out together.
PC: It’s been almost six years since you released the “Destination Unknown” EP. Where do you sense that you’ve grown the most in that time?
DT: Songwriting. No doubt. I have a catalog of about 100 songs now, and I’d say about 70% are finished and could be recorded.
PC: You will be performing several shows as part of “The Music of Nashville” throughout 2019. What is it about the show that appealed to you and how much fun is it performing many of the greatest country songs in that setting?
DT: I love performing with The Music of Nashville because it is an outlet for me to be on stage 2-3 times a week, with steady pay, and the audiences that see our show fall in love with country music all over again! We perform songs that you and I grew up listening to, and songs our parents and grandparents grew up listening to! We get to dress ourselves (LOTS OF SPRAKLES!!!!), for the most part choose the songs we sing, in collaboration with Mark’s help (producer/creator/band leader of the show). It’s even more fun because the cast is made up of artists like me, doing their artist thing in Nashville. But the band – the band. PHENOMENAL. These guys have collectively played with Joe Diffie, Trick Pony, Micky Gilly, Lorrie Morgan, Tanya Tucker, Shania Twain, Pam Tillis, LeeAnn Womack, Crystal Gayle, Stevie Wonder, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift…I could keep going. I mean, come on – AND they are so cool! We are all friends, and I’m happy to see them week after week. I hope to see this show stay alive and well year after year to become one of Music City’s leading attractions with the top dogs: The Ryman, The Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame. “The Music of Nashville” – what a dream!
PC: You teased new music on social media this week, what information can you give about what you’re working on? What other plans do you have for 2019?
DT: Plans for 2019: play out on the road more! I’ve done the dive bar circuit. That’s not my demographic. I want more fairs, festivals, large events, rodeos, the National Anthem at Super Bowl! Right now, I’m in the stages of finding a booking agent and management, if that comes along. I’ll keep writing. I plan of releasing new music this summer and this fall, to be followed by lyrics video, music video, and an acoustic video! I want more content to show my fans. I’m working with a new producer, so I can’t wait to see what’s in store this year! I’m so excited.
*All images courtesy of Deidre Thornell Facebook Page*
Great interview Deidre Gmother Jane