Janelle Arthur knew she had a special song on her hands as soon as she wrote “Hand Me Downs.” She knew it was even more special after it was recorded as a duet with the iconic Dolly Parton, but in a world that was changing because of a pandemic, she did what may have seemed impossible to many; she held off on releasing it until the time was right.
Fast forward to the end of April, and the time was finally right to release the song into the world. A month and a half since its release and nearly 400,000 Spotify streams later, Arthur’s patience has proven itself to be a virtue. In a time where finding things to be grateful for may be harder to come by, “Hand Me Downs” proves that family is what is most important in life, and that alone is something we should be eternally grateful for.
We chatted with Arthur all about “Hand Me Downs,” including how Dolly Parton got involved with the song, waiting to release it, the inspiration behind the song, returning to playing live music and more!
Pro Country: Your last two singles, “Chasing Ghosts” and “White Horse,” have earned nearly 400,000 combined streams in about a year. Is there a certain level of validation that comes with being able to tangibly see the success and support those songs had?
Janelle Arthur: It is really encouraging when you feel like your songs are resonating with people. I think most songwriters want to feel understood. When people relate and respond to your lyrics and music, it is very validating and motivating.
PC: After you have success like you had with “Chasing Ghosts” and “White Horse,” is there a sense of pressure, internally or externally, to achieve a certain level of success with subsequent releases?
JA: There is really no pressure this time when luckily I have someone like Dolly Parton on my side. I always have felt that this song would speak for itself and reach the people that it is supposed to reach.
PC: Why did you feel that your new single, “Hand Me Downs,” was the right follow up to “Chasing Ghosts”?
JA: “Hand Me Downs” was actually supposed to come out last year after my song “White Horse.” When the world shut down, we knew that we needed to hold off on such a special song. Once things seemed to be more settled and started to open back up, we knew it was the right time to put it out into the world.
PC: “Hand Me Downs” is a touching duet with Dolly Parton. Can you talk about how Dolly became involved with the song and what it meant to you to have an icon like Dolly singing with you on a song you co-wrote?
JA: Dolly and I met when I was cast to portray her in the production of “Paradise Road.” We reconnected later when I was on American Idol. Months after co-writing “Hand Me Downs,” it hit me that this song needed to be heard by her. I felt that it was a special song and that Dolly could relate to it. I reached out to a friend who is on her team and he played this song for her. She loved it and wanted to sing on it. It was incredibly humbling and overwhelming to know that she wanted to sing on a song I had written.
PC: You’ve had a lot of big moments in your music career, from your success on American Idol to performing on the Grand Ole Opry and performing at CMT events. Where does performing a duet with Dolly Parton and having her in your corner rank amongst your career achievements so far?
JA: Being a girl from East Tennessee who also got her start portraying a young Dolly Parton, nothing could really be more full-circle or rank higher than collaborating with Dolly herself. I feel that although I still have goals in my life and career, I already have fulfilled pretty much everything on my bucket list, and anything else is just the cherry on top!
PC: You co-wrote “Hand Me Downs” with Emily Lynch. Can you take us in the writing room and talk about the inspiration behind the song?
JA: My friend Nathan Angelo connected me with Emily Lynch to write. It was the very first time we had met and the first song we had ever written together. She came in with the idea “Hand Me Downs” and, of course being a family person, I immediately responded to this hook. It was a very quick write from what I remember, and we both were very proud of the song. She even recorded a version of it herself.
PC: There are several elements in “Hand Me Downs” that make the song deeply personal to you. What do you hope listeners take away from the song?
JA: There are a lot of personal things in this song, but I feel that most people can relate to it. I hope what they take away from this song is the message that we should be proud of what we inherit from our family. The good, the bad and the quirky. It is what makes us who we are.
PC: You served as co-producer on “Hand Me Downs.” How important is it for you to be hands-on with your music and the way it is presented?
JA: It has always been super important to me to be involved in what I record, but this recording was more important to me than pretty much any other song I have ever been a part of. I was so blessed to work with someone as gifted as Jen Stegall. To be heard, understood, encouraged and validated by someone of her caliber was huge for me.
PC: “Hand Me Downs” has already become your most-streamed song on Spotify. What do you think it is about the song that has allowed it to connect with listeners the way it has?
JA: I believe that the meaning behind the song speaks to people of all ages. But, I also think the pandemic reminded us and made us so much more aware that at the end of the day, family and relationships are what matter the most.
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for the rest of 2021?
JA: Thankfully, I am booking quite a few shows for 2021. I plan on playing as many shows as I can and to keep writing and releasing music!
*”Hand Me Downs” is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*