It’s often said that we learn most about ourselves during trying times. North Carolina native Abigail Dowd had plenty of reasons, seven to be exact, to live in a constant state of sorrow and not continue to move forward.
After her house flooded seven times, Dowd decided to find the beauty in the world and to give thanks for what she had: the love, life and relationships that make her feel whole, and with her creativity flowing, she’s infused that gratitude into her newest album, Beautiful Day.
We chatted with Dowd all about the album, including many of the songs on it, recording live with a full-band, finding gratitude in trying times, what she hopes listeners take away from the album and more!
Pro Country: Since your debut album, Don’t Wake Me was released in 2017, you’ve steadily released new albums every other year, including 2021’s Beautiful Day. How important is it for you to remain active in that way and to continuously offer new content for your listeners?
Abigail Dowd: It’s not something I think a lot about. I feel blessed that songs keep coming, and when there are a number of them unrecorded, and when folks start asking where they can find these new songs, I start thinking about the next album.
PC: Prior to Beautiful Day, you experienced several house floods, which you’ve said was a big source of inspiration for the album. How did such a trying time spawn that level of creativity in you?
AD: One of the nice things about living out of a suitcase in the guest rooms of friends and neighbors was that there weren’t a lot of distractions. I had my guitar and a couple changes of clothes, and a lot of time alone.
Our house had flooded six or seven times, and the mold made me too sick to live there. The city eventually bought and demolished it, but before that happened, my husband stayed there with our cat and dog trying to salvage it all. Not being able to be there with him, I had a choice of feeling helpless or seeing the silver lining in every day. I chose the latter and was blessed beyond measure.
PC: “Beautiful Day” opens its album, and touches on hiding struggles, resiliency and strength, and is a bit of an ironic title. Can you talk about making the decision to have it open the album and why you chose it as the title track?
AD: The short answer is that it just felt right. I liked the way it set the tone, musically and thematically. Some hear struggle in these songs, but I find such beauty and magicalness in those dark places. Kind of like Andy Dufresne crawling through a sewer to come out clean on the other side (in Shawshank Redemption). In the song “Beautiful Day,” I wanted to convey to the listener, “I see you. I hear you,” and I think that comes across too in songs like “Don’t Want To Talk About It” and “After the Fall.”
PC: “Diamond” is a song that sounds as if you’re questioning your faith at times and finding strength from within. Given what you were going through prior to the album’s release, what did you learn about yourself and your own personal strength?
AD: Something I love about songwriting is when songs present themselves before I realize what they mean. “Diamond” is one of those. I wrote it before the house ever flooded. I was having fun rolling with the flow one afternoon before a show and wrote the whole song in one sitting, and performed it that night just to see how it would go over. Only later did it start to feel like an anthem, and a reminder that home is not a house. My faith strengthened tenfold during the year of the flooding, and there was a lot of rediscovery of what that meant to me. A difference between force and fortitude and how to go with the flow while staying present and grateful for every moment.
AD: “St. Vrain” is the introduction to “River.” I was sitting on a boulder in the St. Vrain creek in Lyons, Colorado, noodling on my guitar and most of the piece fell into place. Then I started strumming and singing lyrics, which became “River.” I had my cell phone on my knee, recording, and listening back, I liked the way “St. Vrain” segues into “River.” They both stand on their own as well, so I knew I wanted them to be separate, back-to-back tracks.
I had been on a Rodriguez’s kick around that time, listening to all his albums. He has a beautiful instrumental introduction to “Sandrevan Lullaby” on Coming to Reality. I love that he wasn’t in a hurry to get to the lyrics.
PC: “Apple Trees” is a reminiscent tune, and is our favorite on Beautiful Day. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song?
AD: I love that this is your favorite tune. I have a soft spot for it, myself. I didn’t sit down with any intention to write this one. As the words started coming to me on top of the guitar riff I was playing, I realized I was painting imagery of a farm in Maine where I spent a lot of time, and where a former boyfriend and I had planted two apple trees. We worked so hard to keep the deer away from them. I miss the loons and chilly afternoons drinking instant coffee on the porch after swimming in the pond or splitting wood. A few years after we’d broken up, I was playing a show back in NC, and a stranger with a kind face introduced herself as the partner of my former boyfriend’s sibling. When I asked how the farm was, she told me that the apple trees were still there. There was something poetic about it, knowing they made it.
PC: “Judgement Day” delves into struggles with self-identity and finding a path in life. How true is that related to your own life?
AD: After I wrote “Judgement Day,” I was surprised by how many people connect with the song. I was listening to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” yesterday and it reminded me of the narrator of “Judgment Day.”
PC: “Don’t Want to Talk About It” is a song about coping, and is written from a male perspective. How important is it for you to strike a balance between being a storyteller and being receptive of and telling other peoples’ stories?
AD: What a great question. It’s not something I really think about. I’d have to give more thought to come up with a good answer that I believe for more than a minute. On this particular song, I wanted to write a song to say,” I don’t judge you.” It’s rare for me to sit down with an intention like that when I write, and it was coming out rather condescending. And then it just flipped. I could feel them talking back to me, and “Don’t Want to Talk About It” was there.
PC: “Rise Above” features some of the most sparse instrumentation on Beautiful Day. Can you talk about that and why you decided to record it that way?
AD: I’m visual when it comes to sound. I see colors or scenes when I write and perform a song. This song is always set in vast, endless darkness for me. It seems sparse, but there’s acoustic guitar, lap steel, bass, organ, percussion and electric guitar weaving together ethereally. Jason Richmond has a way of holding space as a producer and we all played through the song together a few times and landed here.
PC: You’ve said that “Run” was inspired by a book by Wade Davis. What was it about the book that connected with you and spawned “Run”?
AD: I studied Anthropology in college, and if music wasn’t knocking at my door every morning, I would have probably gone the route of Indiana Jones or Jane Goodall. So I love books like Wade Davis’ “Wayfinders.” When he described that half of the world’s languages are on the brink of extinction- and these are the indigenous languages that are connected to nature, and inherently connect all beings- I was haunted by the idea of being the last person who could speak my language, of not being able to tell generations of stories or sing songs or communicate with another human through that lens. It was eye opening to say the least.
PC: “Grandmother Moon” is a song about giving thanks and serves as the album closer. After the trials leading up to the album’s release, how were you able to remain thankful and grateful?
AD: It’s what we focus on. It’s pretty overwhelming when your neighbors offer their guest room indefinitely and make you feel like part of the family. By the end of seven months, I had lived with both our families, gotten to know my in-laws better than I ever could have otherwise and deepened friendships with every friend I stayed with. It started to feel like the most abundant time in my life. Sometimes I wouldn’t know where I’d be staying that night, and by the time the sun set, someone would have reached out. Songs were flowing, my husband and I were working together as a team to find a solution, and when I let go of expectations and took it a day at a time, I was seeing blessings everywhere. And during 2020, when we were living together in a dry house with our health, even through a pandemic, there was a lot to be grateful for.
PC: Beautiful Day was recorded live with a full band. Can you talk about why you decided to record it in that way and how it enhanced the final product?
AD: I knew I wanted to record my next album live. It was my non-negotiable. When Jason Richmond reached out to me, it was one of the first things I told him when we met for coffee. He laughed and said he was usually the one trying to convince folks to record that way. After that conversation, I knew we were on the same page and trusted him. So when he listened to the demos and said he heard a full band sound, I was in.
I think the whole experience of recording the album, working with Jason and all the guys enhanced these songs. I loved showing up with complete trust and openness to finding our way together. When you first write a song, there’s spark. Sometimes I think the very first couple recordings after a song is written are the best, and it’s hard to capture that again by the time you record the album. But getting into a studio with a full band for the first time and jumping in without forcing anything, it gave that freshness back to the songs. I think this album captures that energy. It’s one of the things I love most when I listen to it.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Beautiful Day after listening all the way through?
AD: I hope folks take what they need. We all have a story. We all go through it in our own way, and this human thing is an incredible way for our spirits to evolve. Judging each other, dictating what and how each other should believe and live is all so beside the point. For me, the album reminds me that we are all connected; to breathe and give thanks and not try to figure it all out. Others might take away something entirely different and that’s cool with me. It’s theirs as much as mine.
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for the rest of 2021?
AD: Be kind. Give back. And listen to that voice I’ve always known is there and follow it a little more, instead of looking around wondering what folks think or what I should be doing. Releasing this album feels like sending a kid out into the world, so I’m grateful that opportunities are coming back to get out and perform. We’re going to take it everywhere that’ll have us. I’m thinking about the next album and I’m launching a podcast soon. Waking up every day and seeing what lights me up and holding the faith to roll with it.
*Feature image by Angela Kerr*
**Abigail’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!**