Aubrie Sellers is poised to make quite a splash in country music this year. Her 14-song debut, New City Blues, hit shelves in January, boasting a soulfulness and a lo-fi sensibility that put her songwriting front and center. She’s had plenty of role models in the genre to choose from: her mother, Lee Ann Womack, is one of the most influential women country music has seen in the last several decades; her father, Jason Sellers, has a well-established songwriting career; her stepfather, Frank Liddell, has landed producer credits for the likes of Miranda Lambert (and lent his skills to New City Blues, too). But while those connections may seem like a leg up, Aubrie approaches her debut with an informed perspective that signifies a lifetime of studying country’s greatest successes and most infamous outlaws. We caught up with Sellers at South by Southwest, where she played alongside up-and-comers as well as industry vets like Willie Nelson. Check out the conversation below.
: Tell me about your week so far. Is this your first experience with SXSW?
Aubrie Sellers: This is my first time here, and today is our first day, so I’ve never experienced this before—I had no idea what it was going to be like. We only have two things today, the Daytrotter session and then tonight we’re opening for Willie Nelson at the Luck Ranch show. Tomorrow, we have like five or something shows—it’s going to be pretty crazy. I’ve never done it before, so I’m just going to go with the flow.
: Your debut came out in January, but it sounds like you’ve been making music for a good while. How did you go about collecting songs for that?
Sellers: It was actually a pretty long process. The first song on the record, “Light of Day,” I wrote in 2012, and I went in to track in 2013. After that, we went in and cut a few more songs a year after that. It was a very long mixing process, but I wrote until I felt like I had enough songs to make a record. Frank was a great editor—obviously he’s my stepdad, that’s how I know him, but the reason I wasn’t to work with him wasn’t because of that. He really, every artist that he works with, they sound like themselves—they make great records and they sound like themselves. A lot of producers are great in town, but you can tell they produced the record because it has a lot of them in it. It can still be great music that way, but I wanted it to sound like me, especially with it being my debut record.
So, like I said, I started writing probably around 2012, and there are 14 songs on the record, so we put a lot on there. It was really fun. Mixing the record and everything, I put a lot of time into the detail of everything. It took me a long time to find the right person to mix it, I went through a bunch of different things before I mastered it. It ended up taking a few years, and I wanted to make sure it was just like I wanted it. We didn’t have a label, so I didn’t have any deadlines or anything.
: Tell me about growing up with music—how did you get into the idea of being a professional musician yourself?
Sellers: Obviously, I was born into music and always sang. I was surrounded by music and loved music, but I think being surrounded by it all the time…I wasn’t sure that was what I wanted my main career path to be, just because I was around it all the time already. I wanted to break free for a while, so I did some other stuff. In 2012 was when I really said, “I think I’m going to start writing all the time and give this a real shot.” It was just around then, that I started writing for this record, that I knew that was definitely what I wanted to do and that I wanted to make a record.
I did a lot of other stuff—I did a lot of acting growing up, and I went to school for that. It was my thing that I did that no one else in my family did. I had to have something like that. I was like, you know what? I really think I’m supposed to be making music. That’s what I decided, and then it happened. I did it!
: You’re opening for Chris Stapleton, and I feel like there’s a thread of similarity there within country music in sort of defining what the genre or the distinction means for you.
Sellers: My perception of what’s happening right now, it reminds me of a couple different eras in the past for country. I think the first outlaw era, when there were some artists who came out and were doing their own thing, came in sort of a wave, with Waylon and Willie and all of them. There was sort of a second wave of that with Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam in the ‘90s, and I think there’s a new wave of that now. I think that music comes in waves, is what I’m saying, and I think there’s a new wave now where people are like, ‘Oh, this is something different—it’s different from what’s been going on.” I think it comes in cycles, and I’m excited. Having a few different artists who are coming out with different stuff and being successful at it puts an energy behind the movement of it, as opposed to if you were just coming out without that. I think it sort of started with some acts like Miranda [Lambert] and Kacey [Musgraves] breaking through into the mainstream country world, doing something a little different, and then of course Chris [Stapleton] and Sturgill [Simpson] and all these guys coming out and doing it as well.
: One of my favorite songs on the record is “Losing Ground.” Do you have a favorite song from the record, and can you tell me about “Losing Ground”?
Sellers: I like so many of the songs on the record for different reasons. “Sit Here and Cry” really encompasses my sound, I think. When I think of a song that encompasses what makes my sound or my record unique, it’s “Sit Here and Cry” or “Light of Day.” “Losing Ground” is a very traditional-sounding song, but it’s a very personal song, and when I wrote it I just sat down and wrote it. I wasn’t ever expecting that I would make a record or whatever. So that’s become really special because it was a personal song that people seemed to connect to when I wasn’t expecting it. So there’s different reasons to like different songs on the record.
: What is it that stands out to you about a good song?
Sellers: I listen to a lot of different genres. I listen to rock ‘n’ roll and a lot of traditional country and bluegrass, and I think the thing that they all have in common is that they’re all really raw. That’s generally what I tend to be drawn to is really raw, soulful music that’s not overproduced or over-edited—music that’s very emotional and has a lot of drive. Those are the qualities that I’ve noticed in a lot of the music that I love.
: You weren’t new to singing on this record, but speaking of the personal nature of your songs—was it a big shift to start performing your own original material?
Sellers: I sang a lot of background vocals for people before, and that was really my only experience of being on stage before I started playing my own stuff. It was very nerve-wracking for me. I’m not a natural…well, I’m introverted, so I’m just not used to being the center of attention. I’ve been getting used to it, and I think that a good show for me is just if I feel comfortable afterward. Chris Stapleton’s crowd has been really great. If a crowd can be accepting of the music or understanding of the music, it makes for a great show.