Bonner Rhae Finds Her Path with Debut Album, ‘Forward Address’

Many artists say that releasing music is cathartic, but for Bonner Rhae, it truly was.

The release of her debut album, Forward Address, marked both an end and beginning for the Alvin, Texas native. The eight-song effort boldly marks the end of a season where she was merely content with how her life was unfolding. However, the album also marks the beginning of a new season; one where Rhae once again chases after the dream to be a country music singer she’s had since she was a little girl, and as she puts it in this interview, Forward Address would have made that little girl very proud.

We chatted with Rhae all about Forward Address, as well as her early musical aspirations, finding her way back into music, lessons learned and more!

Pro Country: Your bio mentions that you grew up in a household where music was encouraged and that you began singing and writing songs very early in your life. What was it about music and expressing yourself through songs that connected with you so early in your life?

Bonner Rhae: When I first started singing, more than anything, I connected with the attention [laughs]. When I was really young, I loved being in front of people on stage. I’m the oldest daughter, so I definitely have that “oldest daughter” energy; I would organize little musicals and make my younger siblings perform, but of course, I was simultaneously directing and playing the lead role [laughs].

Since the day I was born, my dream has been to be a country singer. It never really occurred to me that I could write my own songs until Taylor Swift started taking off. Her songwriting was so well-known about her. That was the first time that it dawned on me that people wrote their own songs. When that happened, I had a high school boyfriend that cheated on me, as high school boyfriends do, and I told myself “I bet I could write a song about this,” and I just did it, and was pretty good!

I always loved writing; I thought I would end up working for a magazine one day, but when I wrote that song, it made me realize that’s what I wanted to do. I’ve always connected with the songs I’ve listened to, so that seemed to be the fit.

PC: I’m not ashamed to admit that I remember buying Taylor Swift’s first album and seeing the “Tim McGraw” music video on CMT for the first time [laughs].

BR: Heck yeah! That’s the first song I ever learned on guitar. She inspired me to start playing the guitar as well. She inspired quite a few girls in the industry these days.

PC: You mentioned aspirations of being a country singer for as long as you can remember. We read an old interview you did where you mentioned stepping away from music for a few years several years ago. What was it that made you want to step away, and conversely, what drew you back in?

BR: I got in a relationship in college, and it was the first time a guy wasn’t completely obsessed with the fact that I could play guitar [laughs]. I was in a vulnerable part of my life, and it really affected me. I just stopped. I felt almost embarrassed. I stopped playing and singing. There were a few times where I tried to pick it back up, and I just couldn’t do it.

I ended up getting married, and as that marriage continued on, I got to a point where I wasn’t particularly happy, and I decided to do the things that made me happy. I didn’t want to continue the rhetoric of being who someone else wanted me to be. For me, it was always music. I went to a Miranda Lambert concert, and I started crying at the show. I was watching a powerful female artist on the stage, and knew full well that that was my dream and what I’d wanted for my whole life, and I was letting somebody else’s desires for my life control me. I told myself I was going to go for it and see what happened. Luckily, I have very supportive parents who were all for it and continue to be all for it.

Diving back in was rough, though. When you pick up the guitar again for the first time in six years, it’s not as easy as you expect it to be. You expect to pick it up and be able to play like you once could, but it’s kind of like running: if you stop running for a while and start again, it’s not easy. And it’s the same with songwriting too. You can have natural talent, but it’s a practice; it’s a muscle. You have to flex that muscle, because if you don’t, you lose your strength. It’s kind of depressing when you start at it again and you feel like everything you write stinks [laughs]. I pushed through the not fun part, but now I’m in the beautiful part of it.

PC: Speaking of being in the beautiful part of your journey, you opened the year by releasing “No Rolling Stone.” What emotions were you feeling as you were preparing to release music for the first time and having the song out into the world, especially having gone through that time of finding your way back into music?

BR: It was very bizarre. I went through a divorce last year, and in this insane period of change in my life where I’m doing all these things that are really great, there’s things that have been really hard at the same time. Releasing “No Rolling Stone,” which is a song about chasing your dreams though they might not always be easy, was very thematic. Releasing these songs that are literally pieces of my life and what I’ve gone through in the past year has been very nostalgic. I’m very proud of myself for taking a chance on myself and allowing myself to chase the things that I want. I feel a lot of pride. Ten year-old Bonner would be so happy right now. Even when things are harder than I’d hoped or things in the industry don’t go as planned, I think of her and how excited she would be. She’d be thrilled with the number of streams these songs have gotten. It’s been a fun experience.

PC: To that point, “No Rolling Stone” has been in the top 100 on the Texas Country Music Chart for several weeks now. What has it been like to see the song hanging around on the chart and to know that it’s getting airplay amongst some of the biggest songs in Texas?

BR: Oh my gosh, it’s insane to me! I’m fighting through tears talking about it right now [laughs]. When it first popped up on the chart, I didn’t even know. We didn’t even promote it to Texas radio, mostly because I couldn’t find a promoter that wanted to work with my Americana release schedule. We thought we would promote to Americana with that one and hit Texas radio with the next one. Somebody messaged me on Instagram and congratulated me for being on the Texas Country Music Chart, and I said, “What?!”I looked it up and I think it was number 99 at the time. To wind up in the top 100 at all was cool, but for it to continue hanging around, and even get up into the 70s, was an incredible feeling for a debut single. I’m super excited about it!

PC: “Forward Address” serves as the title track from its album and was the second single released prior to the album’s release. What drew you to have “Forward Address” serve as the title track for its album?

BR: To me, that song is equal parts remembering your past, but also looking towards the future. I think that’s what’s so beautiful about it, and I felt like it perfectly encompassed both my life and the album. I thought it was a beautiful name for the album, and it’s the first track on the album, so I felt it was a beautiful way to start things off. It’s looking at the past, looking towards the future and enjoying the now. A lot of the songs on the album encompass those feelings, but not necessarily all in one, so that’s why I thought it should be the title track.

I released it as the second single, quite frankly, because I just wanted to [laughs]. We were talking about some other ones, but that was one of the ones that I was really connecting with. I was really proud of it and wanted to get it out. I had some other suggestions made to me, but at the end of the day, you’re the artist and you steer the ship, so we went with that one.

PC: “Small Town Beauty Queen” is our favorite song on Forward Address, and is one of three songs you solo-wrote on the album. Can you take us in your head and talk about how the song came together?

BR: I love that you brought this one up! I have two songs that are tied for my favorites I’ve written: one is “Small Town Beauty Queen,” and the other isn’t out yet. Maybe on the next album [laughs]. “Small Town Beauty Queen” was written when I was still in my marriage. At one point in my life, I connected with the thought of getting married and just being a wife. I reached a point in my marriage where I realized that wasn’t working out for me. I thought I steered myself wrong, and I was connecting with that part of myself and the broken heart I was secretly nursing behind the scenes. I pulled so many different parts of my life together for this song. I think it’s a really complex song, which is part of why I’m so proud of it.

I also feel like people don’t write very strongly about vanity a lot, and vanity is woven throughout the song, so I think that’s a really cool thing. I really challenged myself with the song to use a lot of imagery, and I felt like I did that. When one of my producers, Walk Wilkins, heard the first version of it, he said it was incredible and that he loved it, but it wasn’t done yet. He said he wanted me to sit with it a little longer and let it marinate, and I eventually came back with the final version. Walt said he felt like it’s a song I could be known for as a songwriter, which was incredibly flattering. It was exciting that he felt that way, because I felt the same way about it too.

The biggest compliment I get after shows when I play that song is people saying “That ‘small town beauty’ song punched me in the stomach in the best possible way.” [laughs].

PC:  “My Feet Don’t Touch the Ground” is a Brandon Jenkins cover, and serves as the only song on Forward Address that you didn’t have a hand in writing. What drew you to record the song and made you feel that it would fit with the rest of the project?

BR: I’ve always felt that I have put my own stamp on that song. I’ve covered it in my shows for a while now. It’s a tried and true song. It did really well for Stoney, but I don’t think it’s been covered recently. A lot of people assume I wrote it, which is incredible to me, because I thought it was so well-known.

I hadn’t even thought about putting a cover on the album. In a pre-production meeting, I was playing that one, and Walt said we should cut it, because it sounded beautiful. I grew up playing that song in my bedroom in my parents’ house, so it’s a meaningful, nostalgic song for me. I think we did a good job of making it my own.

PC: “You Had It Coming” closes Forward Address with a gothic, bluesy tune. Can you talk about the sonic inspiration for the song and how much fun you had expanding into that sound?

BR: When I wrote that song, I knew I wanted it to have old west vibes. Quite frankly, I have a hard time envisioning final products. Once we start making a song, I’ll have opinions and ideas for the feel of a song. Walt Wilkins and Kyle Hutton produced the heck out of it. Walt was telling the band what we wanted to do, and he told the drummer to not be afraid to use the Tom drums. I wasn’t envisioning it at all, but when they started playing, I said, “Oh, okay! I’m seeing it now!” I wish I had more that I offered in the production of the song, but my producers just did such a fabulous job on it.

PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Forward Address after listening all the way through?

BR: More than anything, I hope there’s at least one song on the album that connects with each individual on a personal level. I think music has such a power to make people feel like they’re not alone; I know that it’s always done that for me. Music says things that make you think, “Yes! That’s how I feel,” or “Those are the words I’ve been searching for in my soul.” I hope that there’s one song on this album for each person. There’s also a little bit of a storyline, and I hope people take the time to listen through the whole work and listen for the storyline.

PC: You’ve mentioned that the writing, recording and release process of Forward Address allowed you to look inward and learn about yourself and what you wanted in life. That said, what was the biggest thing you learned in the process?

BR: I learned that I wanted to start my life over [laughs]. I think working through this process has helped me realize that I might not have been in the marriage I wanted to be in and that even though I did my best, it was time to let it go. It was terrifying, but it was very empowering. My producers were so great about empowering me. My manager is the best hype man and makes me feel like I can do this. It gave me confidence to look at my life and decide that one way was the easier, more comfortable way, but that wasn’t going to fulfil me in the end. It showed me that I needed to take the harder path, and I’m glad it inspired me to do that, because I’m really happy now.

PC: Along with promoting Forward Address, what do you have planned for the rest of 2023?

BR: I’m doing everything I can to promote this record! I’m also hitting the ground running with plans for new music. I was just in Nashville last week writing songs and working on demos. We’re talking to producers and trying to find the right fit for me. We’re really starting to work on that, which is crazy, because even when you just release something, it’s like, “Okay, next thing!” [laughs]. I’ll be playing shows and going back and forth to Nashville, and I’ll be doing everything I can to get songs out there.

*Bonner’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!


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