A Cup of Coffee with Alecia Nugent (Interview)

By Dave Parsons


A native of Hickory Grove, Louisiana, Alecia Nugent grew up listening to her dad’s band, and learned to sing gospel and harmony at the piano. She cut an independently recorded album that led to a contract with Rounder Records, yielding three albums between 2004 and 2009. She moved to Nashville, to great reviews, and appeared 71 times on the Grand Ole Opry.  But in 2009, she took a break from touring to focus on being a mom after a divorce.

Nugent retained the range and power of her voice from a decade earlier and she still has a knack for choosing material.  In country and bluegrass music, certain artists shine like gems, their talent and authenticity setting them apart, and yet circumstances keep them from becoming household names. Alecia Nugent is undoubtedly one of those rare jewels.  

I recently had the chance to sit down with Alecia at a coffee shop ion Nashville to talk about her career and her music.

Me: I remember when you were on the Jamboree years ago and then you moved to Nashville. Was that progression to try to get more in the music business? 

Alecia Nugent:  

Me:  I know you stayed with Tom T. and Dixie Hall when you first moved to town.  Can you give me a little background on what that was like?

Alecia Nugent:  Yeah, in was 2005 that I actually started working for Tom T. and Dixie,a and I think it was around 2006 that they invited me to come and live on the property, in one of their apartments. I worked for them for about five years I guess, before I moved back home to Louisiana for a while. 

Me: Did that mold some of what you do musically or was that something you already had established? 

Alecia Nugent: I think I probably already had musically established what I was doing because I had started singing with my dad’s band when I was 15. It was a bluegrass band, and fronted that band at the age of 15, and I was well in my mid to late 20s when I moved up here. I always loved Tom T. Hall and he and Miss Dixie have become very influential with the bluegrass community, so that certainly helped being around them and working with them.  I had the chance to sing the demos for a lot of the songs that they wrote, and that’s actually how I came up with I Cried All the Way to Kentucky, which was a pretty good bluegrass hit for me.  They wrote it and asked me to come in and sing the demo while I was working there, and I fell in love with it when I did the demo, so I just decided I wanted to cut it myself. 

Me: You’ve got like four albums or five? 

Alecia Nugent: Four. The last one, well, let’s go back to the first one. I wrote most of the stuff on there. On the last one, I wrote five out of the nine. I just kind of gradually got into the co-writing thing as I spent more time here in Nashville. 

When I first came to Nashville, I wasn’t writing at all. I still do not really consider myself a writer, certainly not to the stature of people like Tom T. But I am one of the few people that got to write with Tom T.  Because of my close connection with him, and Miss Dixie both. They helped me write New Japan Family Band, which is kind of an autobiographical song about growing up with a family band. So yeah, as I was doing albums, I gradually got to the chance to co-write here and there, and certainly did a lot more co-writing for the fourth album. 

Me: Bluegrass usually has this really sad overtones to it. I guess what I’m thinking is when you’re trying to say something to an audience, when you are trying to put an album together, how do you pick songs that try to show that?

Alecia Nugent: I think the first three records that were on Rounder, I certainly didn’t try to have any sort of a theme. It was just basically out of all the songs that were pitched to me, I listened to hundreds of songs, and just tried to narrow it down to the ones that were my favorites.  Certainly, some of those become favorites I think because of a story in the song, maybe it’s something that you can relate to. I’m such a lyricist fan that when something is just well written, I seem to really crave that kind of song.  When the melody fits it just right, and it’s a perfect marriage between lyrics and melody, I’m a sucker for it.  Once I’ve become a huge fan of the song, it tends to be something that just ends up on the album.  

Me: Are you still touring as much as you were or not doing as much? 

Alecia Nugent: No, I’m not. Basically, when I decided I needed to move back to Louisiana in 2009, and I had just released my third album on Rounder, which was Hillbilly Goddess, I made the decision to move back to Louisiana because I was a single mom. I had been divorced several years and trying to tour and put out records, with three daughters, so it just became hard for me to be away from my children that much.  I knew that it was going to be easier for me to tour and raise my kids as a single mom with the help of family back home. So, I made the decision to go back to Louisiana and shortly after I moved back there, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, stage four. 

So, I was getting ready to put out the fourth record on Rounder at that time. We were in the process of picking out songs and everything. And when my dad got the diagnosis, I called Ken Irwin at Rounder Records and just said, I need to put this on hold indefinitely, because I needed to concentrate on family. So after that, there was no other discussion with Rounder for quite a while, and I just kind of fell off the face of the earth as far as the music world was concerned. And I just became so involved with life and family at that time. 

It was quite a while after my dad died, before I even was sure that I wanted to come back to music, and by the time that I decided I needed to come back to music and wanted to, I had lost my record deal with Rounder. I mean when I called them up, they were like well, the industry’s changed a lot and you haven’t been touring and we need to sell records. We’re in the record selling business. 

Me: What have you done for me lately? 

Alecia Nugent: Yeah, that’s the music industry.

Me:  I know you are now doing stewardess work too. 

Alecia Nugent:  After putting a record out independently, which was the fourth record, we put that out during the middle of a pandemic, and did not having any luck with it whatsoever.  So, after a couple of years of struggling back in Nashville I knew that I needed to do something.  I’ve reached the 50 mark, and I really need to have some retirement, and some sort of a plan for the future. 

So I decided at that time to do something different, and I’ve always kind of thought I would have a lot of fun as a flight attendant. So, I went for it, and here I am.  I actually have to commute out to Denver right now.  Denver is my base. They started me out in Oakland, California.  That was originally my base, and then they moved me to Denver.  

Me:  Do you ever tell anybody, hey, I’m a singer.  Has anyone recognized you?

Alecia Nugent: I don’t think anybody has recognized me, but a couple of my captains have said, I’ve got a good friend that’s a musician in Nashville.  They texted them and their musician friend would say oh, yeah I know her….she’s a talented artist.  So, then the pilots would play my music over the plane. I’ve gotten to the point where now I see if I’m the head flight attendant on a flight, like last weekend, I was on a flight to Houston, I just started singing over the PA, and all of a sudden you see all these hands pop out They were like you’re pretty good. 

Me:  I just wondered how that equated between the two things and I’m surprised they haven’t tried to market that yet.  (Alecia’s husband joins us.)   So you were a single mom, you have three kids, and then this guy comes in. How did that happen? 

Alecia Nugent: There’s a lot of me waiting there, 22 years later. I moved back here in 2017. We met online probably two and a half years ago. We both swiped right, and it worked out. That’s hard to do at this age, so I got lucky. 

Me: You got married in Denver or? 

Alecia Nugent: Yeah, well, Estes Park.  He flew out to Denver because he had a couple of weeks off during the holidays and my schedule just got so crazy with trying to fly and not being home very much, that we were just trying to figure out how we’re gonna fly away with my crazy schedule. 

So I just said, you know what, you’re off a couple of weeks during the holidays and I’m gonna be out in Denver, why don’t you just come spend those couple of weeks with me out there and we could just get married there?  I would love to have a winter wedding. And he said, okay, sounds good. 

Me: The pictures are beautiful. So, where do you go from here? 

Alecia Nugent: I don’t know, that’s a good question. I really am trying to find my way back to the music business. I certainly never planned on leaving the music. After losing my deal with Rounder, trying to take care of family, I came back with a clean slate. I made that country album in hopes to, not to leave the bluegrass world, but in hopes to expand my audience, and because so many of those bluegrass festivals are going away, it’s so hard to make a living playing bluegrass festivals. So, I was hoping to be able to ride that fence and play bluegrass festivals or bluegrass venues, but also play some of the country stuff.  There’s a lot of musicians today that are making a living in the corporate world, playing private parties and things like that, so when I made that record, I was hoping to have a single that would still be accepted to the Bluegrass audience and also kind of expand into a new genre. 

I just wanted to see what it would do because I’ve always been a fan of country music, classic country, as well as Bluegrass, so I always wanted to do it. So I said, I’m just going to go for it and see what happens, and then the pandemic happened, and trying to release it during the pandemic, certainly didn’t help me at all. 

Me: You’d think everybody would have been home and been moving to the internet and things. 

Alecia Nugent: Right. 

Me: So, are you going to try another album? 

Alecia Nugent: I am. He and I have been talking about it a lot lately, just trying to release another Bluegrass album independently.  The country world is just so big, and you just can’t compete with the major labels. With Bluegrass it certainly helps that I have a background there already. I have some history there, where people recognize my name, and know me from the Rounder records. I think it would certainly help. 

Me: I’ve always wondered how you market bluegrass as far as new stuff, or do you do old stuff that somebody’s gonna pigeonhole you in that genre. 

Alecia Nugent: True.  I don’t know I’ve seen a lot of success with bluegrass artists doing old country stuff. I think people recognize a song title and it’s just a magnet. They go to it and they’re like, I wanna hear their take on this. 

I’ve actually considered one of the other songs that’s on that 4th record, because it has a mandolin kick, of thinking this would be a great bluegrass song as well.  It would be kind of cool to just come out with like all hits of country, but do it with a bluegrass, acoustic sound on it. 

I mean, The Old Side of Town, that’s probably had more plays on some of the Red Dirt Radio or other country formats, that play the classics of Tom T. Hall.  But, they would also play my version of it because people recognize the song.  And, it happened to the girl version versus the male version of it. So, maybe that is a good idea. 

Me:   How did the title of The Hillbilly Goddess come up?  Was that just the album and the song off of there or…? 

Alecia Nugent:  That actually came about when I was releasing the second album, and I was doing the release party.  A writer here in town came to that show for my release party for the second album, and so then he decided he was going to review that record and during that review he called me the Hillbilly Goddess. 

After that, my management team at that time said, I think it would be awesome. This could stick and this would become your title and they just thought, how cool would it be to write a song for the next record and be the hillbilly goddess. 

I got with Carl Jackson and Sonya Kelly to write the song and it just kind of happened from there. It’s kind of pretentious but at the same time it’s like, no, I have an identity.  I have a brand. I have a thing here, and it just stuck ever since then. 

I remember, I had the white gown on the album cover and then of course, they wanted to get, being that my last name was Nugent, they wanted to reach out to Ted Nugent, because having a musician that’s a rock and roll idol, but a country boy, and with me kind of doing this video, talking to him. 

I grew up in the country, and they thought it would be good to kind of tie the two of us together. It never happened, but then management was going after like John Deere.  We mentioned John Deere in the song and they tried to get some sponsorships. It doesn’t bother me I mean I’m not calling myself a goddess, but it I got labeled with that,  so, I just said okay…let’s run with that. 

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