By Selena Haynes | Photos Joshua Black Wilkins
A Nashville staple, Cheley Tackett, is back in the groove with her new album, ‘Buckeye.’ The CD release party is scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17 at Douglas Corner. Focus asked Tackett a few questions for our readers to become acquainted or reacquainted as the case may be.
What was your inspiration to make this album?
I had these songs piling up that seemed unrelated in style and content until I realized there was a common thread in that most of the songs were related to my home state of Ohio in one way or another. As a few examples, “Used to Feel Good” is a song inspired by my great aunt and uncle who lived in Dayton and were married for 70 years! “Crucible Steel” is about my parents’ hometown of Portsmouth. It used to be the No. 1 steel mill town in the United States during WWII. It is now the #1 pill mill town in the U.S. “$2 Bill” mentions my granddad giving me a $2 bill for my birthday. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t have a lot of money, much less enough to buy birthday and Christmas presents for 35 grandchildren. Every Christmas, though, I got a crisp $2 bill from them.
Has being an out lesbian ever held you back in the music industry?
That’s a tough one and it’s hard to know with any certitude because discrimination often plays out subtly. I don’t think it has in any blatant way but I certainly think looking back that there are doors that probably didn’t open that would have otherwise. I made a decision though early on to be who I am and decided I didn’t want to work with anyone who would have trouble working with me living my truth. Conversely, as an artist, there’s no more loyal fans to have than members of the LGBTQ community so I think even if it’s hurt me on some level within the industry, it’s also helped in terms of building a following.
How old were you when you wrote your first song?
I can’t remember not singing or writing songs. I have vague recollections of writing songs in notebooks when I was 12-ish. I started taking guitar lessons around age 10 — when I finally got big enough to actually hold the guitar. Songwriting just naturally followed. I started singing my original songs for other people in college.
I’ve noticed your dad is a big influence in your life. Why is that?
Dad has led a pretty interesting life (and he’s a bit of a character). He was shot by a sniper in Vietnam and was left a paraplegic as a result. He’s been in a wheelchair since before I was born. He was twice named Ohio’s Outstanding Disabled American Veteran and he went on to be involved in politics serving as County Commissioner for something like 35 years, as well as working for the Governor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and running for state Senate and Congress. He’s certainly taught me about tenacity, work ethic and helping other people. He’s also raised me to have a good sense of humor. He’s still trying to teach me to be more diplomatic. That seems to be a harder one for me to grasp.
Are there any other people or artists from which you take inspiration?
I’m inspired by so many people and artists and events. I think you’ll hear an array of influences on “Buckeye” ranging from country influences like Kathy Mattea and Mary Chapin Carpenter to more rock influences like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp.
Where are you now, musically, and personally?
I’ve become much more comfortable letting the song guide what my music sounds like instead of trying to conform to make it fit mainstream radio. The arrangements on “Buckeye” vary from sparse acoustic tracks to full-throttle rock that sounds more like something Tom Petty might have released.
I also went “old school” with this new project and actually have something of a concept album instead of just slapping a bunch of singles together that would be good for streaming.
My personal life is good … probably a little boring for a musician type (thank goodness my friends have drama for me to write about). My wife Tera and I just celebrated 12 years together and will celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary in a few days.
In a previous interview, you mentioned it’s all about the bottom line in the music industry and when the record labels see and understand, they will back LGBT artists. How close are we now?
Good question. In terms of the music industry, in previous interviews I was being pretty specific to the country music industry. I think rock and pop have been friendlier to LGBT artists. You’d think with the political atmosphere that we might have taken a step back, but I’m actually more encouraged than ever. We have openly gay artists getting airplay on some mainstream country radio, as well as openly gay managers, producers, radio and TV hosts. While we have country artists coming out into the open, no one dominating the charts as an artist in country music is openly gay. Of course, as much as we want that for our community, we also want to get to a place where it just doesn’t matter anymore.
It’s important for people in the LGBT+ community to relate and connect with strong, positive, role models. Do you mind telling us your coming out story?
My coming out story is a little anticlimactic. I was a late bloomer. I never had much interest in boys but didn’t recognize my attraction to women either. About a year after moving to Nashville, I met a gal and fell in love. I wasn’t comfortable proceeding with the relationship until I told my family.
So, I had a conversation on the phone with my mom. I was going to Ohio that weekend anyway and tried to put off the discussion until I was home and we were face to face but my mom kept saying, “Honey, there’s something going on with you. Tell me what it is.” I told her there was something, that I was fine, but I wanted to talk to her about it face to face. She just kept at it and finally said, “Well, what if I guess?” I got frustrated and sarcastic and said, “Ok, have at it.” Thinking, of course, there was no way she was going to land on it. First thing out of her mouth was, “I think you’re gay” and I immediately said, “I think you’re right.” And there it was.
She told Dad and he was pretty indifferent. My brother and just about everybody else knew before I did. In terms of a coming out, it was pretty easy on me. There were little things to work through and occasionally still are. I was raised in the Church of Christ and theology was one issue. There were some concerns about the possibility of my being out impacting my Dad’s campaigns, my music career, etc. My parents did and still do worry about someone trying to hurt me just because I’m gay. But, I’ve been blessed in that with my family, I had an absolute understanding that no matter what I told my mom that day, even if she struggled to understand entirely, that there would be love and some level of acceptance and I knew the same would hold true for my dad and brother.
God, I wish everyone in the LGBTQ community could have a family and a coming out like that.
MORE ABOUT CHELEY TACKETT
Spotify: Cheley Tackett
Upcoming show dates: Nov. 10 at Lipstick Lounge; Nov. 17 CD release party, Douglas Corner