“Touring is not for the faint of heart. Without a child, it is an animal exercise in mileage, calories and sleep, which leaves me plagued with thoughts about what my karma must be that I have landed in a sickly-colored motel in this or that middle of nowhere. Touring with a child is more pleasurable, a true exploration, but frankly, tiring.” — Tift Merritt, Oxford American
Tift Merritt is off the road.
Raleigh’s Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter-essayist-mother has followed the white lines from gig to gig since her debut CD, “Bramble Rose,” was released in 2002.
Her travels have led her to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, New York, Paris and Los Angeles, where her sophomore release, “Tambourine,” was celebrated in 2005 with a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album.
Merritt has shunned the road before, notably to write songs for “Stitch of the World,” her current CD on Hillsborough-based Yep Roc Records, and through her pregnancy with her daughter, Jean. When the album was released in January 2017, Merritt and Jean, who is nearing her second birthday, embarked on a tour that included a month in Europe.
Recently, she spoke to News & Observer about her daughter, her career and her April 20 concert at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall.
N&O: This show will be a homecoming of sorts, bringing you back to UNC, where you studied creative writing with the late Doris Betts and others in the English and American Studies departments.
Merritt: Well, I guess it is a homecoming, because I did start my band when I was at UNC. But I’m not touring right now, so I’m not leaving home. (laughing) In fact, this is my one show so far this year.
N&O: What is it like for you, taking the year off from touring?
Merritt: It’s a change for me, but so far I really like it. I think there’s a different feeling about getting on stage when you are older and wiser, and less self-important. I like my projects that are out of the spotlight as much as I like the ones that are. It’s really nice to get reacquainted with those parts of yourself that have nothing to do with being in front of people.
N&O: Your songwriting has always been intelligent, personal and reflective. How has your work changed over the years?
Merritt: What I would hope to say is that you want your work to deepen over time, and further in and lighter. In personal terms, I think I’m braver than I was when I began. But that is the nature of becoming. I actually think that maybe the next chapter of my work as a writer will be particularly interesting because of what I’ve gained from being a mother. That seems a really interesting chapter to me. I always feel I’m at the beginning. I’m very excited to be writing as a mom because I think it opens a different road into stories. And that feels freeing to me.
N&O: Are you writing songs now from the perspective of motherhood?
Merritt: I guess the short answer is, "No. Not yet." I’m doing a lot of prose. But I think Jean is one of the first times in my life that I’ve had a relationship that is complete, and is musical already. (laughing) I don’t have to imbue it with music — it’s already imbued with music.
Traveling with Jean has been just so wonderful. To have a reason to take her all these places and show her the world has been tremendously satisfying.
N&O: If there’s a common thread binding the songs on “Stitch of the World,” it seems to be a statement of perseverance, survival and acceptance. I’m thinking, for example, of “Heartache is an Uphill Climb,” “Love Soldiers On,” and “My Boat.”
Merritt: Those were all the things I was grappling with and trying to speak to in my own heart. I’m really proud of a lot the writing I did on this one. I wrote all this in the year or so after my marriage fell apart. So for me, it’s hard to think about any of that time without that — trying to make meaning on the other side.
N&O: Have you settled in to living back in Raleigh, after nine productive years in New York?
Merritt: To come back to North Carolina from New York City was really hard. It was really hard to let go of my life in New York and also my idea of myself as being an artist living in New York. But coming home has been a surprising and wonderful gift. I don’t think I’d want to be anywhere else with my daughter. I’m glad her grandparents are such a big part of her life.
And to give her a sense of rootedness and a sense of simplicity and peacefulness and neighborliness in such a chaotic world is something I would never take for granted and always be so grateful for. I feel really lucky to have such a warm and generous and wonderful home. And this show will be a celebration of that, and my humble thank you to it.
Who: Tift Merritt
When: 8 p.m. April 20
Where: Memorial Hall, 114 E. Cameron Ave., Chapel Hill, NC, UNC
Tickets: $25 and up
Info: 919-843- 3333 or carolinaperformingarts.org