Artist: H.C. McEntire
Hometown: Durham, North Carolina
Latest Album: Every Acre
What’s your favorite memory from being on stage?
Probably playing on stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and getting to open for and perform with the Indigo Girls there. It is often considered the church of country music in the U.S. You can feel it, from the church pews, to the stained glass, to the energy of everyone who’s ever played there—most of them iconic in the American music canon. Honestly, I cried a little in the dressing room after we came off stage that night. I didn’t expect to be so moved, but I was. Full of gratitude. Hugged each of my bandmates for a little longer than usual. It’s like you have arrived somewhere, wherever that is, when you finally get to play the Ryman. I remember driving home to North Carolina the next day, going across the Blue Ridge mountains, and thinking something like “I don’t have anything to prove now” and just smiling.
What other art forms—literature, film, dance, painting, etc.—inform your music?
I find art created in mediums other than music incredibly inspiring and their influence reaches me probably even more impactful than other music. I love to read poetry, prose, memoirs, mostly nonfiction, and mostly in short-form. Historical documentaries are often a part of my week; they seem to stimulate me and help me relax a bit. Though I’m certainly not someone who keeps up with current or cult films—in fact, often I forget the details and plotlines relatively quickly after watching full-length dramas—the process of learning how to make basic music videos to accompany singles from Every Acre has been pretty exciting. Just editing in iMovie, you know—but it’s letting me see my work in different perspectives and interact with it on a different level, especially in the pacing and space. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become really fascinated by movement and dance, the choreography and execution of it—both modern and experimental as well as traditional forms like ballroom and folk. Most significantly, whenever I hit a creative wall with my own work I tend to switch gears and go to an art museum, let the creations of others move me, pull me out of myself for a while.
What rituals do you have, either in the studio or before a show?
These are boring, but they are honest. On tour, I go on a morning run and spend time stretching and meditating, setting intentions for the day, centering myself mentally and psychically. Closer to show time, I do some basic vocal warmups for a few minutes, get the guitar in my hands and go over a few songs so my fingers feel ready. Cough drops, hot water, honey. In the studio, I like to cleanse the space by burning dried herbs and bringing in a couple personal items that bring me a sense of safety and sacrality. Also, there’s something about recording on a full moon; I always lean into that if the calendar allows.
What has been the best advice you’ve received in your career so far?
I was blessed early on in my career to befriend and be mentored by Amy Ray (of the Indigo Girls) and she has taught me so much—like how important it is to rigidly retain your integrity above all else, to hold it with more gravity than any accolade or opportunity; how self-preservation is crucial to sustaining a healthy relationship with music as a career; take performing seriously and practice regularly; never take one audience member or listener for granted and in fact be explicit and liberal with showing earnest gratitude for their support—make time to shake hands and connect whenever possible, with the house production crew and the person who drove hours to see you play; the importance of putting your heart and full spirit into whatever you’re performing; to write honestly, even if the truth is uncomfortable to others, even you; and perhaps most importantly, she has shown me how important it is to champion contemporaries, especially women and minorities, and be convicted in causes you believe in.
Which elements of nature do you spend the most time with and how do those impact your work?
I’m grateful to live in an area with many hiking trails and nature preserves—my favorite being the Eno River State Park. The natural world plays a large part in my life—it inspires, educates, and mesmerizes me every day. I grew up in the countryside of western North Carolina, so I find great security in being surrounded by nature. It is holy to me, it is real, it is honest; it reminds me of how interconnected everything is, how vast, how even small ecosystems have a power and purpose; it helps me center and ground which also allow me to push creatively. Nature offers endless enamorment and I have deep gratitude for and honor every bit that welcomes me to stand in it, even for a moment.
Photo Credit: Heather Evans Smith