ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Singer/songwriter Shawn Colvin is best known for her 1998 Grammy Award winning hit, Sunny Came Home.
(Soundbite of song "Sunny Came Home")
Ms. SHAWN COLVIN (Singer/songwriter): (Singing) Sunny came home to her favorite room. Sunny sat down in the kitchen.
SEABROOK: But after her last album, Ms. Colvin stopped writing. She's quit a lot of things over her career of 25 plus years. She's quit drinking, ended a marriage, and tackled depression. But what brought her back from a creative dry spell? Ms. Colvin is on tour with her new album, These Four Walls, and she joins us in Studio 3A here with her guitar. Welcome.
Ms. COLVIN: Thank you.
SEABROOK: It's so great to have you in studio, and you have a beautiful guitar on your lap. Before we ask you to play your guitar, though, I want to know what happened. You stopped writing. How did you start again? Three years is a long time.
Ms. COLVIN: It is. Although I have to admit after every record I kind of give it a rest for a while. This just happened to be a longer rest.
SEABROOK: You've been through so many things in the last, you know, few years - the depression, divorce, all of these things. Is there an upside to these sort of dark, dark passages?
Ms. COLVIN: Yeah, always. I mean if you survive them, you know, and I think it's - it's just life. We all get thrown curve balls, you know. Divorce isn't' uncommon. Depression isn't that uncommon, and I've been dealing with that for a long, long time. So yeah, nobody escapes.
SEABROOK: Tell me about that moment that you started to write Summer Dress.
Ms. COLVIN: Now, that is actually somewhat dramatic, really, because I remember very vividly that I was going to play a gig in the summer of 2004 at the Salt Lake City Botanical Gardens. And I was there waiting to go on and they had me in this beautiful green house as my, you know, dressing room. For some reason it all came together, you know, at this point in time and it was a beautiful summer day and I was wearing a very light cotton dress and I just started writing these lines down.
SEABROOK: Will you play it for us?
Ms. COLVIN: Yes.
Ms. COLVIN: (Singing) I put on my finest summer dress. So light and thin it was my best. I brushed my hair. I held my breath. I went out to face the wilderness. I went out to face the wilderness. The men in hats, the boys on bikes, the perfect girls and baby dikes and the superstars, the blighted ones I went out to face them one by one. I went out to face them one by one. I said goodbye Miriam and as you turned to watch me don't cry Miriam and don't try to stop me. 'Cause I'm gonna go where the lights are bright and the sacred secrets sail like kites. We've been sleeping girl all our lives and we never lived, we just survived. We never lived, we just survived. And so goodbye Miriam and as you turn to watch me don't cry Miriam. And don't try to stop me. As I put on my finest summer dress, so light and thin, torn at the chest. I brushed my hair. I held my breath. I went out to face the wilderness. I went out to face the wilderness.
SEABROOK: That was beautiful.
Ms. COLVIN: Thank you.
SEABROOK: It's such a beautiful image, but the song is not - it's not necessarily a happy one, is it?
Ms. COLVIN: None of my songs are happy songs. I mean not in a simple way, they never are. But I always feel like they're hopeful. And I love a simple song. I love a simple feel-good pop song; there's nothing wrong with it. But somehow what I write just always has a little struggle in it.
Ms. COLVIN: Yeah.
SEABROOK: I was looking at some of the reviews of your past work and this album, and the official review on iTunes is really interesting because it talks about how you skate this line between adult contemporary and modern folk. And I wonder where you see your music fitting.
Ms. COLVIN: I don't even - adult contemporary and modern folk. Whoo...
SEABROOK: Yeah, it's sort of...
Ms. COLVIN: I don't know. Well, I just - I'm inclined to go back to - my biggest influence, I think, is probably Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor was very important to me, and a lot of the singer/songwriters of the '70s.
SEABROOK: Folk heroes.
Ms. COLVIN: Pardon?
SEABROOK: Folk heroes.
Ms. COLVIN: Yes. And we didn't make distinctions then, so those are the people that I learned from and that's what I do. Whatever you want to call it, you know, it's just - it's right out of their book.
SEABROOK: And at some point, I guess, you know, writing about music becomes dancing about architecture.
Ms. COLVIN: Well, we all do it. It's kind of like - and it's sort of - it's a great amalgamation of - you know...
SEABROOK: Who do you think is great?
Ms. COLVIN: Oh gosh. I always panic when someone asks me that...
SEABROOK: I'm sorry.
Ms. COLVIN: No, it's okay. Patty Griffin to me is awesome, Rufus Wainwright, Teddy Thompson...
SEABROOK: You get to play with Patty Griffin, who you say is one of your favorites...
Ms. COLVIN: Yeah.
SEABROOK: In - on this very album.
(Soundbite of song "Cinnamon Road")
Ms. COLVIN: (Singing) Oh where did you go Cinnamon Road? I want to feel better. Oh bible in beat (unintelligible) reaching forever.
SEABROOK: So you work with Patty Griffin, and these tight harmonies really make this song just stand out on the album. Is it one of your favorites on the album? Or...
Ms. COLVIN: You know, the funny thing about this record is, I really can listen to it from top to bottom and be very happy. So that's a great thing to be able to say about your own record, or you're not, you know, cringing at some song or feeling like it - it just didn't live up to all the others.
SEABROOK: You've been working with John Leventhal now. He produced this album.
Ms. COLVIN: Uh-huh. We've worked together a lot. This is the fourth record we've made together and the third one in a row. And we just consciously wanted to be a little simpler on this record, so hopefully it's a little more organic.
SEABROOK: Was it your idea to cover the Bee Gee's song on this album?
Ms. COLVIN: It was nobody's idea, although I guess if you had to give credit it would be John, because the record was done and we were mixing it and we were in the studio. So we were in there and there was a piano in there and some guitars and a bass and we were just passing the time, and John - he just starts banging away on things. We were singing Beach Boys. You know, we just were having fun and he played Words. And I don't know why, but I just said, well, let's - let's turn on the mike.
SEABROOK: We'll definitely make sure we put that up on npr.org, our Web site. So...
Ms. COLVIN: Okay.
SEABROOK: You said - I saw you say in another interview that you feel like yourself again after a long time. Do you still feel that?
Ms. COLVIN: It's just part of the aging process. You begin to become resolved and resigned about things in your life, knowing that it's more than half over. And there's looking back inherent in that, and it's really a time of reassessment, you know. Somehow it's not all ahead of you anymore. You don't have that excuse, that overview, and time becomes more precious, so you look at, well, what am I going to do with what I've got left?
SEABROOK: Can you play us the title track...
Ms. COLVIN: Yeah.
SEABROOK: ...from this album, These Four walls?
Ms. COLVIN: (Singing) I'm gonna die in these four walls. I've had enough and I tried it all. I watched the day break and I see the night fall in these four walls. Show me trouble I'll take it down. I drew a line on his patch of ground. And everything's safe and everything's sung in these four walls. In these four walls. Up on a rooftop I can remember borders I had to break. Now I can say I had this life to make. To make. And I'm gonna miss your southern drawl. And baby's footsteps in an empty hall. And every little thing I can ever recall in these four walls. In these four walls. And up on a rooftop you feel like you're flying. You're thinking your heart could break. And oh can you say we have this love to make. To make. And I'm gonna die in these four walls. I've had enough and I tried it all. I watched the day break and I see the night fall in these four walls. In these four walls. In these four walls.
SEABROOK: That song is - it pulls at my heartstrings somehow, and I can't decide whether it's resignation or contentment that's coming across.
Ms. COLVIN: It's both. It's both. It's both. That's the bitter sweetness of it. It is resignation, but there's - it's lovely to be home.
SEABROOK: Thank you so much for coming.
Ms. COLVIN: Sure. I appreciate it.
(Soundbite of music)
SEABROOK: Shawn Colvin's new album is These Four Walls. This is WEEKEND EDITION. Scott Simon returns next week. I'm Andrea Seabrook.