‘I Wanted to Be Honest’ — H.C. McEntire Explores ‘Every Acre’ With New Album [INTERVIEW]
H.C. McEntire's new album Every Acre, out Jan. 27, has an inverse relationship to her 2020 release Eno Axis. Where the latter offers a devotional to routine and the home, Every Acre considers its landscape with the sting of loss, surveying it through themes of grief, mental health, and the complexities of kinship.
"I'm looking at different sides of it," McEntire puts it on the phone over coffee from her home in North Carolina. "There's no romanticism on this record."
Like Eno Axis, though, Every Acre draws on the natural world for inspiration while navigating these emotions, pairing them with earnest, alt-country storytelling. The album opens with "New View," a "conversation with nature" inspired by a moonlit meditation session. Rather than an assertion of community, it's an invitation to communion, naming a litany of writers from McEntire's background as a poet that includes Wendell Berry, Sharon Olds, and Ada Límon.
"I've never name-dropped in that way," McEntire laughs at this lyric. "But it seemed important...it comes from a place of falling in love with a person and also falling back in love with the craft."
"New View" is an example of the fine-tuned sound on Every Acre, which largely does away with the heavy textures of Eno Axis. The slower builds and delicate production allows the musicians' work together to speak for itself, the product of a collaborative environment McEntire says was a driving force of the album.
"That's Luke [Norton] 's guitar line," she points out on "New View," citing him as well as bassist Casey Toll, drummer Daniel Faust, and co-producer Missy Thangs, some of whom have worked with McEntire since her time with Angel Olsen and Mount Moriah. McEntire recalls that she only came to the studio with six songs ready, allowing the rest to flow from the group's creative process. "There's a demonstration of real trust."
Also featured on Every Acre are Amy Ray and S.G. Goodman, who have backing vocals on "Turpentine" and "Shadows," respectively. McEntire first met Ray around 2010 after opening for her at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, and the two have been "working on a really close friendship" ever since.
"Everything goes back to Amy, every part of my career," says McEntire. "Let's face it, without the Indigo Girls, a lot of queer performers wouldn't be here."
She particularly admires Ray's practice of pairing music with activism, a career that includes recent appearances with the No More Pipeline Blues Band and musical protests against Confederate monuments in the South. "A lot of this record is about land and ownership, and those power dynamics...and so I knew that she got it."
McEntire's connection with S.G. Goodman is more recent, a result of spending time with Goodman's 2020 debut, Old Time Feeling, over quarantine. Their collaboration on "Shadows" was a kind of meet-cute for their blossoming friendship — as McEntire puts it, between admiring Goodman's work and having friends in common, "it kind of felt like... 'let's just ask.'"
"There's a realness there," she remarks of Goodman's live performances and her 2022 release Teeth Marks. "Her accent is her accent, and she doesn't try to hide it. I love that."
Perhaps it's the artists' foregrounding in trust that allows Every Acre to plumb its darker depths with such ease. McEntire notes that it was Thangs' idea to put "New View" at the head of the album, where it opens up to that darkness while allowing a crack of light to shine through. "Shadows," meanwhile, takes on the work of making space for vulnerability and connection, pairing this emotional work with domestic imagery: "how else do I use this broom to make room?"
"Rows of Clover," McEntire's first composition for the record, describes the turmoil of "clawing at the garden" while mourning time lost to depression. "Those were the first lines I wrote," she points out, explaining that she wanted the song to be readily understood as a frank admission of struggling. "I wanted to be honest."
Equally honest is "Soft Crook," an early single accompanied by a DIY music video that pairs the album's conversations about pain with its explorations of connection. Like "New View," "Soft Crook" focuses on vulnerability, but it's a different kind, an urgent giving-over that McEntire has previously described as "white-hot surrender." She says that she wanted Every Acre to dispel some of the shame around depression through these upfront lyrics — as well as make space for "self-healing" through creation.
"When I was writing ["Rows of Clover"], I wasn't healed," she laughs. "I was really, honestly in the thick of it. It's cool to see how these songs are hitting me in a different way [now]."
A tour throughout the South accompanied the release of Every Acre and its singles. The trek served as a refreshing return to the stage for McEntire, who says the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic brought up the emotional reckoning she explores on the album.
"All of a sudden, you're home, and you're playing 'Me and My Dog' [by boygenius], and you face your shadows — and you realize you have yourself," she reflects.
But as Every Acre concludes, despite the support offered by others, recovery and connection ultimately come from within. On the closer "Gospel of a Certain Kind," McEntire immerses herself in ritual over a steady march from Faust's drumbeat, incanting "heal me / words brave and binding." The spell of these words flows through the rest of the lyrics, informing imagery of brewing tea, rearranging a room, and planting seeds in the earth until the final revelation: "a vice, a wife, alone, you choose."
"There's a power in owning your pain," McEntire says simply.