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Interview: Ana Cristina Cash on new album Shine, songwriting and performing at the Grand Ole Opry

We caught up with the singer-songwriter as she prepares to release her latest record.

Ana Cristina Cash
Credit: David McClister

Ana Cristina Cash may be an unknown name to many, but that could all be about to change.

Originally from Miami, she began performing aged six when she appeared on the Spanish-speaking variety show Sabado Gigante and was signed to Sony’s Latin division aged 16. Since then she’s performed at the 2005 Presidential Inaguration, and her song You Can Change The World became the theme song for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Next month, she’ll release her second full-length English-language album, Shine – her first release since 2017’s Tough Love EP – which was recorded at the Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, Tennessee and produced by her husband, John Carter Cash (son of the legendary country stars Johnny and June Carter Cash).

I recently spoke to Ana Cristina to find out more about the new record, how she approaches songwriting and what’s in the pipeline for 2020.

Hi Ana Cristina! How are you?

Good! Everything nice in the UK?

Yeah it’s all right, a bit cold but we’re doing good so far…

Good. I love it over there. We try to go almost every year. I love it so much. It’s wonderful over there.

So can you tell us a bit more about your music and your style?

Absolutely. So on this record, Shine, it is a mix of country, pop, with Americana and a fusion of blues. So very, very contemporary. I have ballads on there as well as faster tracks that give off more of a bluesy vibe along with the country and pop.

My background is I came from the Latin music industry. I was signed as a Latin musician at Sony Music as a teenager, because my parents are from Cuba and migrated to the United States in the 1960s. So I have a background in Latin music. But I’ve released several albums since then. I’ve done pop-soul and everything in English, but this is my first venture really into the country-pop market, I would say. And for my lifestyle right now – I live in Nashville, Tennessee and I have for many years, since 2014. So I’ve kind of adopted the lifestyle really [laughs].

Why did you feel that now was the right time to make this record?

I wanted to write songs that told stories, and I feel like country music is the genre that does that the best, honestly. And I felt like I had a lot to say with this record. It was just a very fitting genre. So I think now’s the time definitely to get these songs out there, get the message across – not only messages about love and heartbreak but empowerment. There’s definitely a lot of female empowerment, encouraging people to be strong.

Like the first single that I shot the video for, Broken Roses, is a song about mental health and I partnered with an organisation called ChangeDirection.org that advocates for mental health as well. The video of Broken Roses shows the deterioration of a romantic relationship when one of the partners is on drugs and is depressed, essentially.

You’ve mentioned the songwriting for this album and I know it’s been a few years in the making. Did your songwriting process change over the course of making the record?

You know, this is one of the first albums where it was very collaborative. I have some songs that I wrote by myself entirely, like the song Tug Of War, which is a song about warning someone to stay away from your man, like a woman infringing on your territory. But then a lot of the other songs… Because Nashville is so collaborative, I feel I really opened up being able to write with other co-writers for them.

I was kind of scared at the beginning because I usually just write all of my own music, and I was never really open to so much collaboration with songwriting. So when that opened up I felt really comfortable with it. A lot of the people I worked with and wrote songs with made me feel very comfortable. I almost felt I’d be in a room with someone before that and just be like, ‘let’s write a song’, and almost like someone stealing a piece of your soul. I don’t know if that sounds strange but it wasn’t like that at all, so I was wrong [laughs].

It was just a very collaborative fun process. It’s just a different way to write. So I would say it’s the record where I’ve had the most fun writing collaborations versus me just always doing everything on my own like I have in the past for my English records. A lot of my Spanish work I had other writers, but for my English work everything before this I wrote by myself entirely.

But I do write every track on this album, either on my own or with someone, minus the two covers which are on there. One is Roy Orbison’s Dream, and the other being Seminole Wind. Those are the two covers.

Why did you choose to cover those two particular songs on this album?

Dream reminds me of something from another era, pretty much because it was, and I wanted to do something that was kind of retro and old-timey and reverberated a lot. It had a beautiful timeless feel, so that’s why it appealed to me. And also the background vocals – I don’t know if the Jordanaires did the original but I did all of my harmonies for that song, for the background vocals. I wanted to create a very similar vintage vibe with the chorus harmonies. Also I thought it was a fun challenge.

And then Seminole Wind is a very fitting song for me because I’m from Florida, just like the original writer [laughs]. So I felt like it says a lot about the details of my home – the swamplands and the Seminoles. The melody is very haunting as well. So my husband and producer John Carter Cash actually was the one that brought that to me – he said, ‘you might want to try this, check this out’. And I fell in love with the song and I wanted to do my own version that was completely different from the original – it’s kind of driving and this is slow, kind of dark and haunting.

You mentioned this is a very collaborative album. Did you have any particular favourite co-writers you worked with on this album? And is there anyone you’d like to co-write with in future?

Oh boy! I absolutely loved working with all my co-writers. It’s very hard for me to pick just one off this record. I think… In terms of someone I’d want to write with in the future, there’s a great writer here in Nashville named Shane McAnally. I love him, he’s great. Love his songs. I think that’d be cool.

But yeah, I wrote with so many different people for this. Bill Miller, Kevin Dunn, Jodie Marsh, Sean Camp, my own husband John Carter Cash co-wrote a few of the songs with me. Jim Comacho – I mean, great people that I can call friends which is really cool. When you open up your soul like that to someone you really feel like you know them and they know you, so that was really cool.

I also wanted to ask you about Brand New Pair Of Shoes…

Oh yes! Sorry, I forgot to mention, my big co-write with my father-in-law [Johnny Cash]…

How did that come about?

So my husband John Carter Cash is his son, Johnny Cash. He had a bunch of unfinished poetry and lyrics lying around of his father’s, and when he was doing the poetry book Forever Words he reached out to several artists, a lot of different people to complete his father’s songs. So some of these ended up in the poetry book and on Forever Words 1. I think there’s a Forever Words 2 coming out that this one will be a part of as well.

He brought me Brand New Pair Of Shoes, and it was literally just a photocopy of Johnny Cash’s lyrics on a page. It wasn’t formatted necessarily – all the lyrics were there, but they were kind of in different places. So I was tasked with putting that together [laughs] essentially, and I created the music for it and reformatted all the choruses while trying to keep all of his original words intact. I played around with a few melodies, but I ultimately decided because it had a kind of sexy sort of vibe to it, talking about the fur coats and the perfume, that I wanted it to be a jazz song. So I started singing it first, and then I started playing my guitar to it a little bit. I just turned it into something very jazz-oriented.

The other song I wanted to ask about was Renegade Rose which you’ve just released as a single. Can you tell us a bit more about the song? I know you’ve been working on a video too…

Yeah, I have a video for Renegade Rose. It’s the second single that was released from my record, and that’s a co-write between myself, Jodie Marr and Jim Comacho. Two lovers on the run, like Bonnie and Clyde, very uptempo, there are horns and all sorts of instruments in there. Just a very driving song that is fun to perform live.

What does a typical Ana Cristina show look like?

Well, I like to really connect with my audience. I like to just be among friends, essentially. Outfit changes, lot of glam performances, some on piano, some on guitar with me playing, full band. I just generally like to have a lot of fun with my shows. I think of it like a fun party, really. I get more out of it I think than anyone because I really draw from the energy of the audience.

You’ve mentioned about signing your first record deal when you were a teenager. What do you think has been the secret to staying in this business for so long?

Essentially I think it’s the drive to create something. I really feel that’s what it is. And to connect with people. And there’s something really magical and inexplicable to me about having a song in your mind that then recording it is like alchemy, essentially. Something that didn’t exist a second ago all of a sudden exists. And it’s sort of tangible, and you can play it back. It’s always been astonishing to me how these songs in my head could come alive in some way. And I’m always learning. I’ve always been a total student of my songwriting craft. And I think it’s discovering more about myself and where I am in that time period of my life. I’m always surprised about what comes out sometimes. I have no idea about what’s gonna come out.

You made your Grand Ole Opry debut at the end of last year – what was that like?

Oh wow! That was just one of the proudest experiences of my life. I visited the Grand Ole Opry as a teenager, just as a tourist, on one of those backstage tours everyone takes when they come visit Nashville and they bring the tour group on the stage and you stand in the circle with the microphone. I remember thinking in my head, ‘how cool would it be to perform here someday’.

And then fast forward years later, just singing for several years in Nashville. Before that I’d been performing in my native Miami, Florida as well as Los Angeles, but just being part of the Nashville community, performing everywhere for years, I finally got the opportunity to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. A bunch of my family from Florida flew in and the great Jeannie Seely introduced me, and I got to sing two songs – my song Tough Love Woman and my song Broken Roses. It literally was one of the best experiences of my life and I’m going back to sing on April 25th. I think Trace Adkins is also on the list to perform that night.

What song do you wish you’d written?

OK, so God Only Knows by The Beach Boys. Beautiful song and the melody is haunting. I really am drawn to haunting melodies and what Brian Wilson did there was incredible. It’s a very simple song yet very complex. I don’t know how you can make a simple yet complex song like that. It’s pretty incredible.

What’s in the pipeline for you over the next few months? Is the album going to be your main focus?

Yes, essentially the album and performances and appearances in support of the album. And I’m going to record a jazz album next actually. The process of that will begin in April and I’ve already begun to do research for the songs I want. I wanna have a few originals for the jazz project but I want the rest to be classic songs essentially. Some might be more well-known ones, some might be more obscure. I’ve always gravitated towards jazz singers like Sarah Vaughan and blues singers like Etta James and Dinah Shore, so I really like this is my chance to pursue that genre next and kind of just give that a go. Because I really enjoy listening to that in my spare time.

Do you have any plans to come over to the UK any time soon?

That I know of, not immediately, but I know there are opportunities coming up, especially with my PR team. They will notify me if there’s something they feel I could be a part of and I would absolutely love to be there for anything, really [laughs]. Just to have the excuse to be in the UK because I love the UK so much.

Ana Cristina Cash’s new album Shine will be released on 24th April 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

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