Life happens for Tammy Cochran

Jeffrey B. Remz, November 2002

In this day and age when country singers sing simple tales of love won and lost - usually won since it's a lot safer - enter Tammy Cochran.

The attractive, blonde Ohioan received some acclaim last year with her self-titled debut and the single, "Angels in Waiting."

But don't expect Cochran to go soft with her sophomore album. Nope, the entire album goes into excruciating, sometimes painful detail through the perils of love for better and for worse.

In fact, Cochran, often compared to country greats Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, brings something to the table often found lacking in country music nowadays - the story song.

"I was pretty much trying to go the same path that I took with the first album - keeping the music very real and very relatable," says Cochran in a telephone interview from her Nashville home shortly after the disc was released. "The whole album kind of leads you through a whole relationship, and we really did not intend that to happen. I just trying to do what I've been doing - keep it very country, which is what I try to do anyway. People who get the album and listen to the songwriting on it, there's definitely pieces, parts where I bare my soul in my songwriting."

In one respect, the songs came out as a bit of a surprise to Cochran and producer Billy Joe Walker Jr.

"We didn't plan it at all and didn't really notice it until it was time to sequence, (putting the songs in order) in the order we wanted," she says. "We started looking at the songs and the context of each song, and Billy Joe and I looked at each other. We got one big circle of a relationship."

The decision was easy - go through the steps of a relationship in order.

For example, the lead off "Love Won't Let Me Go" tells about the beginning of a relationship where "my heart starts racin'/When I'm next to you/and love won't let me not go crazy when you come around."

In the follow-up "Wanted," the big, sturdy voiced Cochran, who doesn't fall prey to oversinging either in these emotion-laden songs, Cochran declares her desire for a long-term relationship.

But then in her own (one of four she wrote), "Go Slow," Cochran steps back a bit, cautioning "There's no need to rush right through it."

And then the story songs set in with "White Lies and Picket Fences" where a couple heads to Alabama only for the man to leave his girlfriend pregnant; the title track where dreams don't always come true, but that can be okay; and the very chilling "Dead of the NIght" about abuse and murder.

"Dead of the Night," one of two co-writes for Cochran with Patricia Gray, describes a nine-year-old girl's reaction to to domestic abuse by shooting her father.

Not exactly a pretty song.

"I was watching a Lifetime movie which I always do, and there was a terrible movie on about spousal abuse," says Cochran, not remembering the name of the movie. "Just coincidentally I was practicing my guitar and just kind of came up with this melody, and it was a really haunting melody. I didn't know where I was going to go with it. I was humming around and the 'dead of the night' came out of my mouth. I called Patricia and told her my idea. I played her the melody over the phone. She thought I was depressed and suicidal, and she was all concerned with me. 'Are you okay?' and all that kind of stuff. We had a good laugh and wrote the song two weeks later. I never really thought it would be cut (because of the subject matter)."

Did the label object?

"That song, everyone just loved it. We had one line in the song that we changed to make it a little bit less harsh (in the original version, the killing results from a switchblade knife, instead of a .45).

Interestingly enough, Cochran and Walker reached a block after recording half the album. She needed more songs.

In fact, they didn't even have the title track. "We were just about getting ready to do the last two songs. A song plugger (they pitch songs to artists to record) brought the song to the studio and played it for us. I was kind of burnt out from listening to songs. I said, 'Please'."

But good thing Cochran took a listen.

"It was just an immediate reaction. Everyone was blown away by it. We ended up dropping a song from the album to put 'Life Happened' in its place.'

In picking songs, Cochran says it is vital that she personally relate to the songs. So, being in her early 30s and having been through a brief marriage, she's not about to pick some puppy love material.

"If I write it, of course, I'm going to relate to it," she says. "That's also a key factor in picking my songs. I really believe a song is a little mini movie. An artist has to be an actress for 3 1/2 minutes. I try to pick songs that I can personally relate to. I don't have to conjure up fake emotion. I can just sing from my heart."

"When I'm listening to songs, and you listen to thousands of songs, you're kind of on auto pilot for awhile," she says. "Usually I listen to a verse and the chorus...I don't want to know who the songwriter is (to avoid any bias). If it has me intrigued by the end of the first chorus, then I'll continue listening."

"Songs have a way of taking you back to certain times of my life," she says. "Sometimes I'll be listening and I'll just drift to a certain point in my life, and I realize it was the song that was doing that. I really think the best songs are the ones that evoke emotions or memories."

For Cochran, those emotions and memories are the product of growing up in tiny Austinburg, Ohio, a town of maybe 1,000 people in northeastern Ohio near Lake Erie.

Cochran stared singing at home and by the time she was a young teen was signing at the local dance hall performing country music. She went through a few bands before forming her own and singing hits of the mid-to-late 1980s period.

Cochran set her goals on a career in country and soon after graduating high school, she moved to Nashville.

In probably what is an unusual move, her parents moved with her. Her father worked as a heavy equipment operator, while her mother was an investigator.

Cochran was no overnight success. In fact, it took her eight years before she inked a deal with Sony. During the difficult time of her marriage, Cochran hit a club where a friend was playing. He wanted her to come on stage and sing. She agreed, even though she hadn't done so in awhile.

Hardly anyone was there, but one person there worked for a publishing company. Cochran agreed to return there the next night at his request, and he brought along Blake Chancey of Sony.

Chancey apparently liked what he heard because he recorded Cochran and later convinced Sony to sign her.

A few singles did not do much of anything, but "Angels in Waiting" did. It was a difficult song for Cochran because it refers to her two brothers, who both died of cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease affecting the ability to digest foods and breath.

The song wasn't a huge hit, but it received much airplay and gave Cochran a toehold through publicity.

"I was actually surprised that everybody seemed to relate to it because to me it was so personal," says Cochran of the sad ballad.

In fact, before its release as a single, Cochran had lunch with her mother to ensure she was okay about its release.

"At first, I thought this is about me and my two bothers," says Cochran. "Who is going to relate to this? Then you realize everybody I come into contact with this relates to this song whether it's a grandmother, a brother, a sister or a friend. That's what took me by surprise."

As an added benefit, Cochran says the song helped generate much awareness about cystic fibrosis. "I just feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing by helping out the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation."

As for her parents, Cochran says, "they were totally thrilled because they know my brothers would have been thrilled with it and been proud. They were huge supporters of me and my singing."

Cochran says she didn't feel a lot of pressure with recording the second album. "The record company didn't really put pressure on me," she says. "If anything, I probably put a little bit of pressure on myself. You have your whole life to make your first album and a few months to make your second. I was still out touring, writing songs, supporting the first album, doing interviews when I was trying to work on the second album."

Due to the delay in picking songs, Cochran required nine months to finish the sophomore disc, a very long time. "I'm glad the time budget went over because I think we made a much better album that we would have," she says.

Cochran indicates she has adjusted to the ups and downs of a musical career. "When the first single came out ("If You Can" from the debut), I kind of drove myself (crazy) looking at the charts and looking at the numbers and all that stuff," says Cochran.

But the single did not do so well, delaying the release of the album.

'It just made me a nervous wreck," she says. "After that happened, I didn't even pay attention really. I just learned to accept whatever happens happens. I've got to know that I did my job and pick songs that I can be proud of, and everything else is out of my hands."

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •