By Wayne Bledsoe, 8-14-2015
Singer-songwriter Angela Easterling says having a child and moving back to her hometown was the best thing that ever happened to her art.
"It's the greatest influence for songwriting that I've ever had," she says.
Easterling, her musical and romantic partner, Brandon Turner, and the couple's young son live in Greer, S.C., on land her family has had since 1791, and even more specifically in the house her grandfather built after returning from World War II.
Easterling's new album, "Common Law Wife," is filled songs about family and rural life.
"I started making up songs when I was little kid," says Easterling, who grew up in nearby Greenville, S.C. "They were about what I was doing or playing with toys. When I was about 13, I started trying to write pop songs like I heard on the radio."
She says neither of her parents were particularly musical.
"All the music I found was on my own. The only live music I heard was in church on Sunday. I loved Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz.' I loved musical theater, and I wanted to go to New York and be on Broadway."
She was in high school when began listening to Tori Amos.
"It had a huge effect on me," she says. "That was the first time I really heard a woman speaking her own truth. Then I started listening to Joni Mitchell and some others."
Easterling moved to Boston to attend Emerson College. During that time she bought a guitar and learned how to play.
"I used to go to open mikes at Club Passim (in nearby Cambridge) and sit in fear that they'd call my name. I wanted to play, but I was so scared."
After graduating she moved to Los Angeles, where she discovered something she hadn't expected.
"Country music was having a boom when I was there. It was really fun and I loved it. It's ironic that I found country music in Southern California, but that's where I first heard Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. It gave me the freedom to explore it without any cultural baggage that I might have had growing up here. I realized that was where I wanted to come from as an artist."
However, gigs in Southern California didn't pay very well, and it was a long way between venues and cities.
"I remember looking at MySpace pages of friends in South Carolina and seeing that people were playing tons of gigs. It was because they were touring and I wanted to get out on the road."
At the same time her family's land was being threatened by a road that was being built through the area and she wanted to get back home to it.
"We lost some of it, but we still have 80 acres."
When she and Turner became parents, they knew it was a better place than Los Angeles to raise a child.
"It's a great place for a little boy to grow up," she says. "I was the first generation to not grow up on this land."
Easterling has earned high praise from other artists, including Byrds founder Roger McGuinn, who called her "a bright shining star on the horizon," and fans who continue to discover her music.