Conversations – Country music star Tenille looks for the light
19-year-old Canadian country music artist Tenille hails from Grande Prairie, Alberta and is the latest blossoming star from the land of the Wild Rose.
She’s the youngest 2011 Female artist of the year award winner at the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA), and released her sophomore album Light March 12th.
She is a leader, who uses her music to motivate and inspire boys and girls of all ages. She was award a CCMA Slaight Music Humanitarian award.
The album features the lead single “Dear Heart”, co-written with Gordie Simpson (Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride) which expresses her willingness to share her vulnerability. It is currently on rotation on Canadian country radio.
Signed to Royalty Records, Tenille took home the Association of Country Music in Alberta’s Fan’s Choice Award, won the ACMA Female Artist of the Year Award for the second year running and was honoured with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in early 2013.
She spoke to MMA Crossfire’s Kenai Andrews recently.
Welcome back to The Crossfire.
CONVERSATIONS: COUNTRY MUSIC STAR TENILLE
MMA Crossfire: Welcome to The Crossfire Tenille. You have some things on your plate, including an album called Light coming out on March 12th.
Tenille: Yes, I’m so excited! It’s so much fun to watch the process of an album come together and songs selections, and writing the songs, and then taking them into the studio and watching so much soul that goes into them being a part watching the artwork come together and then a finished copy. I’m so excited to get it out there!
MMA Crossfire: Do you enjoy the behind-the-scenes aspect of the album?
Tenille: Absolutely I do. I’m grateful I’m in a position where I can be involved in all aspects of it. I love being a part of something right from the beginning to a finished project. That’s very important to me so, grateful I’ve been able to work with really cool people that let me be right there for the whole process. That was so fun.
MMA Crossfire: So what were some of the experiences that helped generate this new album?
Tenille: Well, the album in a whole is called Light, in reference to the light within each of us and the passion anybody can have doing what they love and going up and lighting up the world with it. Based around that theme, these experiences or stories on this project all have some sort of positive result. No matter where it is or what you’re going through, there is always something that can be taken away from it. So, in the darkest corner of a room, there’s still light. I’m really excited about the songs and having people hopefully relate to them. I know there’s a lot of personal experiences for me related on this project. Some of them are about leaving home and growing up and that’s the thing I’m desperately facing after finishing high school last year, and figuring things out, and find a place, and a lot of those songs and stories relate directly to that.
MMA Crossfire: Now the lead single is “Dear Heart.”
Tenille: Yes it is! I can’t wait to share the music video for that song. It should be very soon. That should be out in the next few weeks.
MMA Crossfire: How old are you for the record?
Tenille: I’m nineteen.
MMA Crossfire: Wow. And you’re from the land of the Wild Rose.
Tenille: I sure am (Laughs). Northern Alberta, born and raised.
MMA Crossfire: Obviously you’ve been to eastern Canada. What are your thoughts on the east?
Tenille: Honestly, everyone I’ve met has been really great to work with. It’s very different than at home in a lot of respects, but I totally enjoy being out there. I’m looking forward to getting even further east as well on this school tour. I hope to learn even more about Canada through that.
MMA Crossfire: Talk about the tour.
Tenille: Yes. We are taking a program called Play It Forward to schools across Canada and the goal of the project is to inspire kids to be what they do best, which is play and then, through that, play it forward. We want to encourage them to chase their dreams, find that passion, do what they love, become a good leader through that and make a difference for other people.
So, through songs and stories and these presentations we get to talk to these kids about that and we also get to recognize positive leadership efforts of our nations’ youth at each school we visit. The teachers and admin staff have 1-3 predetermined leaders that we get to surprise and recognize on the day of the presentation and bring them up in front of their peers and congratulate them for their efforts to make a difference in their own environment. They set a great example for others and it’s so amazing and inspiring hearing these stories of these kids every single day, who completely assure us that the future is in great hands.
They have amazing stories and it’s really cool. It’s not always the athletic ones who get recognized or the highest academics. It’s all about leadership. It’s really cool. Each of those leaders receives $75 that they get to place however they choose. And at the end of the tour we put all of the leaders in a draw for $10,000. And the winner then gets to split the final prize between a charity of choice that the leader’s passionate about and a program in their school that keeps the spirit going through their hallways.
We kick off this tour in a few weeks. We start in B.C. and work our way across to Ontario and then we continue to the east coast later in the fall of this year. I’m so excited to get out there.
MMA Crossfire: Sounds amazing. And all this at nineteen years-old. I think I was still reading the comics at nineteen.
Tenille: (Laughs). Well thank you very much. I’m so grateful to have found something I love and to be out there living it. I’m just very grateful.
MMA Crossfire: Was country music your first love from the beginning or did you get hooked into it somehow?
Tenille: Well to be honest, country music’s definitely been a huge part of my life. I grew up listening to all kinds of music. I think once I started writing my own music and when I found that niche, I loved the community in country music and that family feel. Being able to send out messages and have people relate to that. Honestly though, I just love music as music. That’s one of the cool things to not necessarily labeling it as country music and just saying that the music presentation and all of a sudden it’s so cool how it doesn’t matter what it sounds like if it has that message and it’s reaching out to those kids, it really doesn’t matter. I definitely love that aspect of music as a whole for sure.
MMA Crossfire: Who were some of your influences?
Tenille: I definitely grew up listening to Shania Twain. I’m a huge fan of hers. She’s a big idol for me and somebody that I looked up to for her originality and her Canadian success. Definitely grew up knowing every single word to those songs (Laughs).
MMA Crossfire: Is it something you can relate to personally in the songs?
Tenille: Absolutely, and just so much fun to listen to. She actually set a huge moment for me. When I was young, I went to her concert all dressed up like her and had a big sign that said, ‘Shania can I please sing with you?’ And in a complete fluke she ended up calling me up on stage and it was such a dream come true standing next to a person I grew up being completely inspired by. Standing next to her in what I learned to be in front of 18,000 people at the Rexall Place in Edmonton. I was like, ‘This is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.’
MMA Crossfire: I’m sure there was some work between that magical moment for you and your accomplishments. Talk about some of the work you put in to put yourself in there.
Tenille: Well, thanks! I definitely think that networking is a huge part of that. Once I started writing and really wanted to get things going faster, I do have to say I owe a lot of gratitude to the Canadian Country Music beat and to different songwriter workshops and places where you just get to meet people within the industry. I think I was fourteen the first year I attended the CCMA week and sat in the front row of the all the seminars and took in as much information and contacts as I possibly could to garner information. And from there, I’m really proud to say I work with some of people now and built some really cool relationships with that initial networking. I feel that’s a really important part of putting some work in, so that’s been a really big part of it for me, for sure.
MMA Crossfire: You won the female artist of the year at the 2012 Alberta Country Music awards..
Tenille: Yes that was a huge honour. The first year that they held that which was for the 2011 year, that as such an honour to hold the first ever title and then to attend the CMACs again this year and receive that was just amazing. It’s just a cool industry here in Alberta for country music and a lot of peers and more like friends in the industry and it’s really cool to grow up in the music industry alongside such talented Alberta artists so it’s really an honour to take that title.
MMA Crossfire: A good country. What ingredients does a good country song has to have?
Tenille: I definitely think that‘s so personal. I think that the way people experience any genre of music is going to reflect a different answer. For me, country music is about a message. It’s about something that you relate to, something that you listen to and you’re like, ‘That reminds me of this,’ or, ‘I think of this person when I think of this song,’ or, ‘I’ve totally been through that and they said it so well.’ Even on a very deep level where it’s a sad song that you completely relate to or it’s one you just want to turn up when you’re driving that you love listening to and sing along with, I love that country music can be so personal.
MMA Crossfire: You mentioned that you listen to other music, so what other music do you like and who are some of your favourite artists in those genres.
Tenille: Well.. I definitely enjoy.. that’s an interesting question. I like to cover a lot of different types of songs at some of the shows. We definitely play ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey a lot. I love listening to Train and U2, I’m a big fan of theirs. I would say that they are some of the people I love to listen to from other genres.
MMA Crossfire: What’s your favourite U2 song?
Tenille: “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ I love that song.
MMA Crossfire: That is one of their classics (Laughs). Are you into sports?
Tenille: Sports? Definitely not. (Laughs). I’m a big fan. I have no athletic skill whatsoever. My only relation to sports would be singing the anthem at hockey games, so that’s about as far as it gets for me (Laughs).
MMA Crossfire: I think they need to sing the anthems at MMA shows because this is MMA Crossfire and we cover a lot of mixed martial arts here. I take it you’re not a big MMA fan.
Tenille: Honestly, I really can’t say a lot about it. I’m not as huge into it, but I would be happy to sing the anthem there for sure (Laughs).
MMA Crossfire: That is good to hear because MMA is actually a big hotbed there in Alberta. They had a big UFC show there last year in Calgary, UFC 149. They’re probably going to go there sometime this year as well. What if I told you that in mixed martial arts, the women are garnering big headlines for their fights?
MMA Crossfire: Yes they just had a big pay-per-view last month and the main event was a women’s fight. The numbers are in now and the pay-per-view did big numbers on the strength on that fight.
Tenille: That’s pretty awesome.
MMA Crossfire: So they’re really doing it big right now and I just thought you being a country music artist, there’s a MMA fighter by the name of ‘Cowboy’ Donald Cerrone, who I think would just love your music. I think I will link this story to him and see what he thinks.
Tenille: Well, cool! Thanks for sharing it, that’s awesome! (Laughs)
MMA Crossfire: You are a big philanthropist, raising big money for big causes. You’ve raised over $160,000 for Sunrise House a youth shelter…
Tenille: Yes, well thank you. That is through an event called Big Hearts for Big Kids. That is something that we started in my home community of Grande Prairie, Alberta about four years ago. The $160,000 is actually what me made a couple of weekends ago at our fourth annual event. Over the past four years, we’ve raised over $350,000 for this shelter, which is an incredible reflection of the amazing community support that we have in Grande Prairie and how much people love to come together to celebrate music and make a difference for something that really needs a lot of support.
It definitely hits home for me. I love to be able to reach out to kids in my communities, my own age, who are looking for those opportunities and who really need that support, need that place to turn to where home just isn’t. When I started to hear about how much the shelter is used.. how many kids sleep in those beds every single night, I just wanted to do something to be able to raise awareness and help them out where I could.
At the time their doors were really close to shutting down, so we’re proud to say in the past four years of Big Hearts for Big Kids we have helped them re-open their doors and made a huge difference for them. That’s thanks to the sponsors and volunteers and committee members and the artists who come up to participate in the concerts to make that happen so it really has been life changing being in Big Hearts for Big Kids.
MMA Crossfire: You’re nineteen and you have all these things on your plate. How did these subjects get on your radar screen Was it maybe a friend went through something that made you aware of these?
Tenille: Well, actually my mom had come home from a fundraiser that she went to with a friend of hers. She brought home some pamphlets and they were sitting on the table and I was reading them going, ‘What is this Sunridge House? What is this? Where is this?’ I think I was in Grade 8 or Grade 9 at the time. Then I started to read into statistics and started thinking about kids within my own environment, within my own school hallways even that I started finding out were turning to this shelter. It just made it so much more real to me to know that it’s kids in my own hometown who need that support. It was based out of that almost shock value of realistic measures that right in front of me, for sure.
MMA Crossfire: You have a striking resemblance to Jewel.
Tenille: Really? Well thanks, I will take that as a compliment as well! I’m a big fan of hers as well.
MMA Crossfire: She’s quite a talent. Speaking of talent, you’ve opened up for such names like Terri Clark, John Landry and Randy Travis. You’ve seen them up close. What is it that they have that separates them from good, because there’s good and there is great. What makes them great?
Tenille: I think it’s definitely the passion for what they do and the way that they connect to an audience. Having opened for some of these people, it’s pretty neat to watch them in concert and see in action how they bring people in and more than that, watch the audience respond and see how much of a great time they have. I think that’s such an important element of a great entertainer.
MMA Crossfire: Thanks for speaking us to today Tenille. It’s been a pleasure. any last words to the readers on your album Light?
Tenille: I hope that they relate to it and connect to the songs and enjoy the message within it.
MMA Crossfire: I’m sure they will. Thanks again.
Tenille: Thank you, Kenai.