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In honor of Valentine’s Day I am excited to post the country music video I acted in, which is now on the front page of CMT’s new website: “Old Oak Tree” by the lovely Jenny Leigh. This music video, directed by Jay Curtis Miller, represents a family throughout the generations. I play a loving mother and wife, symbolic of Jenny’s own closely-knit family and the song’s themes of face-to-face connection and community. Personally, quality time and being present is my chosen love language. I think this video is a great reminder to put down our phones and be amongst those we love. That is what makes life beautiful after all.

Here is an interview with artist Jenny Leigh:

When did you first begin writing songs and performing country music?

I’ve been performing for as long as I can remember but when I first heard Martina McBride on the radio, I knew country music was for me. Her song, “A Broken Wing,” stopped me in my tracks. Although I’ve always written stories, I didn’t pair them to music until after college when I got a guitar for Christmas. Then I dove in immediately and have never stopped!

Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?

I am mostly self-taught although I did take a few guitar lessons in a strip mall to get started. I also sang in chorus classes and was a part of an award-winning a cappella group in college, which was the best training. My ear is my secret weapon and I’ve been surrounded by a lot of talented instrumentalists who I’ve had the privilege of learning from over the years. 

Who are a few artists that inspire you?

John Mayer. Even when he says the simplest things, it’s artistic. Same with Kacey Musgraves who takes you on a journey you didn’t even know you wanted to go on. I think the most prolific songwriter of our generation is Chris Stapleton. He has a way of cutting right to the heart with simple songs. They feel like home even when you’re hearing them for the first time. (Read my 2014 Nashville Lifestyles profile on Chris Stapleton here.)

What inspired the song “Old Oak Tree?”

My parents told me the story of their first apartment together. They didn’t have two pennies to pinch together however, they had love, a folding card table, two paint cans to sit on, and cheap champagne to celebrate. I wrote this song with Ryan Sorestad and Nick Donley in Nashville. Ryan comes from a long line of wheat farmers in Canada. Nick brought the Southern charm with the line “rigged up, dixie cup, front yard dandelion center piece.” We all fell out of our chairs because we knew this song was special. 

Why did you want to write about family and connection?

Growing up, it was important to my parents that we sat down at the kitchen table every night as a family. As kids, we were either at sports practice, an arts program, or playing outside with friends. But, when those porch lights flashed, our asses had better be in for dinner. This song is about the importance of gathering as a family. I feel like that is increasingly difficult to do these days with as fast-paced, digitized, and crazy as life is.

What was it like to produce alongside director Jay Curtis Miller?

Jay is patient, kind, and such a visionary. I felt manic with passion towards this project and he was a constant and steady hand throughout the process. He captured the emotion I was really hoping to showcase. Before the shoot, I drove up to Maryland, my home state, to retrieve the oak table that I grew up eating around. Upon returning to Nashville, I stripped all layers of paint, got her down to her original wood, and built her back up for the sake of the video. What I thought would be an afternoon project turned out to be a week-long affair. (Laughs) Fortunately, from my time as an actor and stand-in on the TV show “Nashville” I felt confident in my role as producer.

“Old Oak Tree” was a two-part shoot and took many actors and weeks to prep for. After seeing the final footage, I was so touched by the family vignettes that I cut a lot of the live performance portions to feature them. My hope is this video inspires the viewer to tie their own memories into the storyline. This is definitely my most meaningful project to date.

An Interview with Director Jay Curtis Miller:

How did you first get into directing and why?

I’ve always wanted to be a part of the cinema world and started directing my own shorts in college. I love affecting an audience through this medium.  
Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Jenny is very real, well-versed in the logistics of filming from her experience as an actor, and down to create something different. She gave me a lot of creative freedom, which is rare and appreciated. I admire her talent, work ethic and the fact that she is a good hang. That’s critical.  

What are your secrets for collaborating successfully with artists?

Collaboration is different from artist to artist. I think the secret sauce is having similar tastes, which allows you to align with in terms of overall vision. I admire artists who are strong, passionate and know what want.

Learn more about Jenny Leigh here (and read the bio I wrote for her!)

Lily Clayton Hansen

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