RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
On her debut album, 25-year-old Georgia-bred singer-songwriter Katie Pruitt describes the inner conflicts of her youth so clearly she's even helped her parents understand her experiences. Jewly Hight talked with her about learning to communicate.
JEWLY HIGHT, BYLINE: Katie Pruitt formed an impression early on of the conventional, upright life she should aspire to, growing up in an Atlanta suburb with parents who worked white-collar jobs and took her and her brother to weekly Mass and Catholic school.
KATIE PRUITT: We went to confession once a week, where - and they're like, confess your sins. I'm like, I didn't share with my brother. (Laughter) Like, I don't know what I did wrong this week. So that was pretty intense, you know, in my formative years, kind of learning what good and bad is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NORMAL")
K PRUITT: (Singing) God was a word I had spoken but I hardly knew. Kneeling down at the altar with no clue who I was talking to.
HIGHT: Pruitt got into music in middle school. Her mother, Jennifer (ph), taught her basic chords and simple hymns on guitar. And from there, she moved on to pop-punk covers. By high school, Pruitt was a budding singer-songwriter who made recordings for her friends and family.
(SOUNDBITE OF KATIE PRUITT SONG)
K PRUITT: (Singing) Seventeen and running from the strangers we're becoming. Crazy kids found happiness people rarely ever find. Our parents stood amazed at all the hell we raised. Those long nights and lazy days are the ones that come to mind.
HIGHT: As much as Pruitt wanted to be heard, there were certain things she held back.
K PRUITT: I definitely remember having crushes on girls in high school and writing this song to a girl or about a girl. But then, when I played it for people, you know, I obviously wasn't out, so I would just change the pronoun and kind of hide behind that and - just 'cause I wanted people to, like, hear the song more than I cared, I think, at the time, about being out. But it still did feel a little bit inauthentic 'cause I'm like, I wonder if they knew what it was actually about if I would feel better understood, you know?
HIGHT: Pruitt felt like she could be more fully herself when she started college in Nashville, a safe distance from her hometown. She joined a band that played parties and weddings, and she took classes in commercial songwriting. But her real breakthrough came when she figured out how to bring her closely guarded emotions right out front.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVING HER")
K PRUITT: (Singing) And if loving her's a drug, then I want to be addicted. Why would I get clean when the high's this good? She says I'm the only on one who can hit it. And all the other druggies just wish they could. They wish they could.
The first time I played "Loving Her" in front of an audience, I was like, what if this is too specific? (Laughter). Like, am I being too outright about this? But the response that I would get from people was a lot of positive reactions. And there was, like, a certain confidence that it gave me to really - OK, I don't need to hide behind this veil. I can just say exactly what's on my mind.
HIGHT: Pruitt was adept enough at it that word got around Nashville. Industry veteran Gary Paczosa signed her to Rounder Records and gave her and her equally untested co-producer free reign of the studio where Paczosa's sitting now.
GARY PACZOSA: I think we all felt it from the beginning, the conviction that she has for the - what she wants to say in a song. That's what drove the entire process.
HIGHT: Still, Pruitt gave a lot of thought to how sharing her confessional tunes, particularly one titled "Georgia," might affect her relationship with her parents.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GEORGIA")
K PRUITT: (Singing) 'Cause if I told my mom, she would scream at the top of her lungs, saying I don't belong. I don't belong. Sure hope she's wrong.
HIGHT: Pruitt sent her mom the song and waited.
JENNIFER PRUITT: Hey, honey. I just thought I'd give you a call. I just listened to the song quite a few times. The bridge has been crossed now, so you don't have to worry about it anymore. It's a beautiful song...
HIGHT: Beautiful but also wrenching, Jennifer Pruitt says now.
J PRUITT: It was very difficult to hear. You know, it's difficult to hear at all, when you're a parent, that your child that you love has gone through some pain and that you might have been the cause of some of that.
HIGHT: Jennifer Pruitt gained insight not only from her daughter's songs but also through lots of difficult conversations, books and a faith-based support group.
J PRUITT: I just had to go through what I had to go through to get to this place. And you know, it's what you do when you love somebody. That's what you do. It was like, OK, I'm not willing to not be part of my daughter's life over this.
HIGHT: Katie Pruitt thought her mom should be part of this interview.
K PRUITT: When I found out that we were doing this, I called her immediately and was like, are you comfortable with this?
HIGHT: Katie made a convincing argument.
K PRUITT: This story isn't unique to us. Like, there's a lot of parents and kids going through this same thing.
HIGHT: For NPR News, I'm Jewly Hight in Nashville.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEARCHING FOR THE TRUTH")
K PRUITT: (Singing) Yeah, I keep on searching for the truth.
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