The rising country singer moved from St. Louis to Nashville and from the background to center stage with a song of love with a capital L.
Tera Lynne Fister hopes her new single, “I Understand (I Will Never Understand),” will travel far and bring unity, acceptance, and support to everyone.
Sporting tattoos and bright pink hair, she might seem an unlikely rising country singer-songwriter, but she’s been around with her own music and been lending her musical support to others for nearly a decade. The St. Louis native played rhythm guitar and sang background vocals for Kelsey Hickman, opening for acts like Alabama, Jo Dee Messina, and Neal McCoy. She can also be seen doing background vocals on tapings of the USA Network’s singing competition Real Country.
Her affinity for country goes way back. Credit Fister’s late mom with an apt label for her daughter’s style, which Mother Fister dubbed “psychedelic honky-tonk rock.” To hear her mom tell it, Fister was born singing. Fast-forward 28 years and you’ll find a grownup Fister fronting her own band, Lady and the Gents, and playing around Nashville, where she landed eight years ago.
“I Understand (I Will Never Understand)” follows her debut single, “Hell Raiser,” and marks the next step toward her forthcoming self-titled seven-song album. “I Understand (I Will Never Understand)” was co-written by Fister, honky-tonker Graham Nancarrow (the eponymous band Nancarrow), and John Bohlinger (Real Country, Nashville Star, The Next GAC Star) following a conversation about the state of the world.
“This song was written out of desperation,” says Fister. “We could never grasp the pain of those outside of our race, sexual orientation, and nationality. So what can we do? What should we do? Silence fell upon the writing room. We will use our voices and talents to extend love, peace, and active support.”
Fister says she believes in music “more than anything” and thinks music can change the world: “We have ears to listen. We have hands to help. We have voices to raise the decibel of your needs and share your stories. And we understand, we will never understand.”
We talked with Fister about her career, the new song, and the video, which features Nancarrow and the new country group Chapel Hart (and, in a cameo appearance, Fister’s pup, Saoirse Sue).
Cowboys & Indians: For people who aren’t familiar with you, what’s the 411 on Tera Lynne Fister?
Tera Lynne Fister: I am a pink-headed, tattooed, motorcycle-riding, fun-loving soul. My emotions run deep and they come out in song. That is what I have to offer the world, a little piece of me, one song at a time. I am originally from outside of St. Louis, Missouri. I currently reside in Nashville, Tennessee. The Nashville music scene for me, in non-pandemic times, is colorful, busy, and encouraging. During this hell of a year it has been reimagined, readjusted, and very social-media-based.
C&I: How and when did you get into music?
Fister: I’ve been singing since birth. My mom used to joke I came out of her womb singing. “Tera, be quiet” was a family phrase growing up. I took piano around 8 and got my first guitar around 10. That was it for me — all I would ever need was in my hands.
C&I: Who are the musicians you loved growing up and dig now?
Fister: My favorite musicians growing up were Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. I had bouts with Waylon and Merle too. My mom listened to ’90s. My dad listened to the Garth Brooks and the Rat Pack. My brother was in musical theater and my sister was a rock head. I really had everything I could possibly get my ears on. Then it was Backstreet Boys. Then it was Fall Out Boy. And every subgenre that goes along with those. I got crazy into Billy Joel for a while. Kacey Musgraves had a huge effect on my early years in Nashville. She was my soundtrack for years. If you know you know. I am currently on a Charlotte Sands, Elton John, Tyler Childers, and John Mayer kick. My rotation with music is always on spin. One day it’s Nirvana; the next it’s Patsy Cline. Just the way I like it.
C&I: Tell us about the song “I Understand (I Will Never Understand).” How did it come together?
Fister: This song came about because of desperation, I think. When I got to the write that day with Graham Nancarrow and John Bohlinger, we really didn’t have much on the table. We all sat down and tuned up, stared at our blank pages and screens, and just looked at each other. The riots and marches in Nashville had just happened, and also the tornadoes, and I was feeling it. My insides were/are just torn up about all the hate and the heaviness in the world. We all were feeling it. It became the topic of conversation. How did we get here? Why are we still here? Why are these conversations so old yet so new? What can we do? What should we do? How do we bring a positive healing energy? How do we get humans to stop talking and listen to each other?
We kept discussing how we all just didn’t understand it. Any of it. Why in 2020 the world still has such ridiculous divides such as race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion. We started talking about how we could never truly understand what someone else’s experiences have put them through. Good or bad. And then, boom. The line. It just fell out. “I understand, that I will never understand.” But we have voices, we have music, and we have words to help raise the decibel of those that need our help in fighting the good fight.
And a song was born.
When the song was finished, I looked up from vigorously writing and felt like I had just won the biggest prize of my life. I knew in my gut the moment we finished the first run-through that this song was going to be a game changer. I think it is my most important work to date. I brought it to life in the studio a month later. And now the music video is in your hands!
C&I: What’s the message you’d like people to take from the song?
Fister: As far was what do I want people to take away from this song, all that comes to mind is love. Loving each other, loving yourself, loving your neighbor. Love comes in acceptance, in listening, in patience, in effort. It comes in so many forms. And I am a firm believer in the fact that there is a reason we have two ears, two eyes, two hands, and only one mouth. Our opinions and ideals are rarely the only, much less the most important, in the room.
C&I: In the video, I especially love that people are singing together. I wanted to be there in the scene at the end when you’re around the fire singing with what I assume are friends. It looked pretty spontaneous and like it was a real group of folks from different backgrounds enjoying each other’s company, the night, and the music — and feeling the meaning. What was it like?
Fister: The music video was truly a magical and dramatic day/evening. To make a long story short, we had to be at the studio at 8 a.m. to do our studio shoot section. The evening previous I had been part of a writers round, and somewhere during that evening, I had $3 grand stolen from my purse. That $3 grand was everything I had saved to pay everyone helping me create the music video the following day. So the morning of the music video shoot, I get ready, have everything organized, and grab my purse to walk out the door to start a glorious day of shooting and pay everyone, and poof. The money is gone. Panic sets in. Tears start to pour down my face, messing up my makeup that was done for the shoot. I get to the studio and explain to everyone what has happened. I am grief-stricken and figure everyone is just going to go home cause they’re not getting paid, at least not right then and there as discussed, and they all just looked at me. The band, the videographer, and the engineer, and said “Tera, don’t even worry about it. We just want to be a part of this.” WHAT!!!! These people will never understand what they did for me that day. So I pulled myself up by the bootstraps, fixed my swollen tear-stained face, filed a police report, and shot a music video with my friends. These folks carried my heavy heart throughout the entire day with friendship, laughter, and love. When it came time for the evening shoot, I called on some friends for a bonfire and BBQ. Everyone came over and we just enjoyed each other’s company, making music, sharing stories, and eating good food. My videographer, Lexy Burke, captured that love and displayed it so beautifully on film.
This song is an olive branch of love and acceptance to every soul I have ever had the privilege of coming across. I understand I will never understand your struggles, but I am here for you, in any fashion you need me.
To give you an answer and closure about the stolen mone: No, I never got it back. No, no one was ever held responsible for its disappearance. The cops did what they could, but it was cash and it was gone and there was no proof of anything. So after a few days, I reached out on social media and explained what had happened. I was still distraught. And hurt. And confused. Very confused. And, I kid you not, when my story got out, I had such an outpouring of support and love, that between Venmo, PayPal, and merch purchases, I got every cent back and was able to pay everybody in full within three days! Even more proof that good always overpowers bad. What a freaking whirlwind of like 72 hours. By the time Friday rolled around I was exhausted.
C&I: What’s something surprising about you that people might not get judging by your delightful pink hair?
Fister: Something people may not get judging by my appearance is that I can actually be quite shy and reserved off stage. I am most myself with a guitar in my hands and a microphone in front of my face. When it comes to getting off stage and making conversation, my mind tends to go blank and I can feel a bit uneasy. Which seems ridiculous, even to me. Which is why I try my best to ignore it and just make myself talk! If something makes you uncomfortable, you might as well face it head on!
C&I: Anything else you’d like to talk about?
Fister: I’d like to just say thank you. Thank you for giving this song a chance at a real life. I truly believe in its magic, and I think it can really touch a lot of lives, even if only for 3.5 minutes at a time, if given the chance. For that, I am forever grateful.