Recent New Mexico transplant Grace Askew shares the music video for "Cactus Lady," available today as a single and on an EP planned for a February release.
Singer-songwriter Grace Askew is a sixth-generation Memphian, but the allure of New Mexico proved irresistible — so powerful, in fact, you can see, hear, and feel its influence on her latest single and its accompanying video despite her having recorded and filmed them before moving to her "dream state" with her husband, Jack, and 6-month-old baby son, Wolf.
"Cactus Lady" is the title track of a Park Chisolm-produced EP set for release in February, the eighth studio record from the veteran touring musician who calls herself a "tumbleweed woman." She gained national attention in 2013 when she competed for Team Blake on The Voice, and more recently for an ambitious project in which she wrote a new song every single day — for two years.
Check out the evocative black-and-white video — directed by Dan Baker and filmed by Peter Braswell — and enjoy the song, which sounds like something that sprung up in the desert under the moonlight, and then read our Q&A with Askew.
Cowboys & Indians: The EP has a very cool desert vibe to it. What was the recording process like?
Grace Askew: Since I started cutting this record after COVID hit, the entire record, including Cactus Lady, had to be cut from afar...plus, my producer Park Chisolm runs his studio in Virginia and I resided (then) in Eads, Tennessee. It was actually a bit more freeing that way though, because I'd cut the song to a click track back in our bedroom and just send it over to Park. Then he'd add his magic and send it on back to me and about 90 percent of the time, I'd be blown away and perfectly content - so he'd knock it out of the park in the first try. Park really understood, from day one, my music's aesthetic, and I immediately knew we'd need to create a lot more music together. My vocals and guitar were also easy to capture in the raw, personal way I wanted with our ranch house's old, creaky wooden floors, a tin roof, lush, natural light, and 100 acres of woods out the windows to look at as I recorded. It was a very conducive environment ... despite having just had a baby boy, Wolf, (our first child) I still managed to squeeze in enough time to create this project and do what I could with what little time and resources I had.
C&I: Tell me about the video and how it relates to the song.
Askew: Dan Baker had a vision to make Memphis look like New Mexico - where he's actually from - so we hit up West Memphis' famed Pancho's (a Mexican restaurant that's been there since the 1950s) and some other more Southwestern-looking abandoned dirt roads and rougher neighborhoods, to give the vibe of the story. The song was sparked while I was driving from White Sands National Monument to Roswell for a gig, having just modeled in a photoshoot for Stetson and Wrangler. En route, I passed an abandoned adobe building with the words Cactus Lady faded on the side, and I told myself, "That's a damn song!" — which became a bit of fiction about a desert highway strip club with a dancer called "Cactus Lady."
C&I: How has living in New Mexico been? You call it your dream state, so I imagine you had high expectations for living there. How does it live up to what you hoped for?
So far, New Mexico has actually exceeded my expectations! I am blown away by the friendliness and hospitality of everyone we've crossed paths with. I have gotten a taste of that kindness in these past 10 years of touring for shows throughout the state, but now that we live here, my hometown's "Southern Hospitality" pales in comparison to this experience. The Delta will always be my home and have a soft spot in my heart, but New Mexico has always been in my blood.
C&I: What are you doing to promote the new record? Usually artists hit the road to tour behind new releases, but of course the pandemic must be putting a damper on that. Do you have any shows or virtual concerts or TV appearances or anything coming up?
Askew: My next virtual show is Saturday, September 26, live for South Main Sounds, a Memphis venue. Showtime is 5 p.m. Mountain Time.
C&I: What do you mean when you call yourself a tumbleweed lady?
Askew: I started calling myself a "tumbleweed woman" from my years and years of touring solo all over the country in my diesel truck, "Wanda." The nickname came from my love of the concept of being "rootless" and a "free spirit" without a place to call home. It just stuck through the years, and now that I am a mother and wife, it has shifted more towards being a strong, independent woman.
C&I: How has your songwriting evolved in the time since you began the daily songwriting challenge? Can you explain this challenge you’ve chosen for yourself? It sounds like an incredible undertaking. Was “Cactus Lady” born from a daily songwriting challenge? I’m guessing most or all of your songs must come from this daily routine now.
Askew: My songwriting has become more sacred and vital to me, now what we've got a baby — my "me time" is something I really don't take for granted anymore and I truly treasure co-writing with other artists. After writing a brand new song and then immediately live streaming a song every single day on social media for two years straight, I was also ready for a breather and to just start receiving input from life, rather than constantly putting out work into the world ... if that makes sense? I feel like our creative minds need to be nourished and re-filled after a while with times of non-creation and meditative, intentional, observant living. The song "Cactus Lady" was written on day 96 of the two-year challenge, while holed up in a hotel Santa Fe, actually, and it was one of those rare songs that hit me hard and came out fast.
C&I: Anything I didn’t ask about that you want people to know — about you, the song, EP, or video?
Askew: I'll be dropping the full EP project (my eighth studio record) February 2021, with producer Park Chisolm (guitarist/producer/writer for Kevin Costner) at the helm of the entire project, dropped under Demolition Music (Nashville).
Photography: Ryan Magnani