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Florence Dore dishes on her new record, growing up in Nashville

Florence Dore's new record is called "Highways and Rocketships." She is also a published author and a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
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Florence Dore's new record is called "Highways and Rocketships." She is also a published author and a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

If you've heard of Florence Dore, it might be because she was your professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Or, you might have caught her at a recent album release show at The Cat's Cradle. Dore is from Nashville, where she grew up and made friends with an interesting array of characters from her own family as well as future musicians.

Dore's new record is called “Highways and Rocketships,” and was produced by Dore and Don Dixon with help from Mitch Easter. Her bandmates include alumni of The dBs, Bruce Springsteen and Son Volt. The album artwork is by Jon Langford from the Mekons.

Dore joined WUNC recently to talk about her new album, growing up in Nashville, her family and the meaning behind some of her songs.

This is an excerpt of an edited transcript of that conversation. You can hear the full interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this post.

We're listening to the first single, “Sweet To Me,” which is told from the point of view of your grandmother. It is loaded with meaning for you and I think will touch plenty of listeners, too.  What was you grandmother's life like?

“She grew up in Centerville, Tennessee, on the farm next door to Sarah Cannon, who you may know as Minnie Pearl. And – when we were growing up in Nashville, and she was looking after us while my own mother ran amok – her mother lived in the house; she was blind and they would bring her food and take care of her. She would tell these great stories about growing up on a farm. She had a pet squirrel and a pet raccoon, and their names were Zip and Doodle, and she talked about feeding them peanuts… I loved the story so much. And I kind of wondered if it was because I wanted to be Zip or Doodle, or if I just wanted to be the peanut, and be in the palm of her hand. She was a really sweet woman.”

You keep it in the family with the song, “Rebel Debutante.” Your mother is the protagonist and it sounds like she had quite a turnaround in life from a debutante to a pot-smoking civil rights activist, and even got featured in the Robert Altman film “Nashville.” How did all of that affect you growing up?

“I grew up in Nashville in the late 60s, early 70s. And yeah, my mother and my father were part of civil rights, hippie scenes, art scenes, and I always respected her politics. She was (arrested) during the sit-ins on West End in Nashville. She told me stories about painting her furniture black. And my grandmother actually said to us at one point, ‘She was right. She was right about the racism. She was right about civil rights.’ And she met Martin Luther King Jr.”

“And so, I always had a lot of respect for her politics, but she was such an awful mother, that it was really confusing. So that song… I worried that it was a little mad, but my sister thinks it’s kind of an homage as well. It's one of those things where if you have a terrible parent who is not able to love you, and yet it's part of your the fabric of your life, and they bring you your life such as it is, and if you're happy about your life, you figure out ways to weave it into something beautiful. And I hope that's what I've done.”

You call “And The Lady Goes” a pop song about menopause and mortality. How do you fit that into three-and-a-half minutes? It's also the song you end your sets with.

“That's one of those songs that, after I had been writing a little bit longer, I had a little bit more confidence. And the idea that I might be producing something that other people might want to hear, that phrase – ‘And The Lady Goes’ – and the melody of it just came to me. And so, sometimes that happens in songwriting, and you have to decide, ‘Okay, what's that song about?’ And I can't remember all the different things that might have become, but that just struck me sitting there writing and having hot flashes as the thing that it should be about.”

Highways and Rocketships” is the new record from Florence Dore. You can find it wherever you buy and stream music.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
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