After taping this week’s National Podcast of Texas, songwriter Liz Rose asked, “We didn’t talk too much about Taylor Swift, did we?” Although writing sixteen songs with Swift—including huge early hits like “Tim McGraw,” “White Horse,” “Teardrops on My Guitar,” and “You Belong With Me”—earned her awards, more opportunities, and still-significant monthly royalty checks, she’s hesitant to allow it to define her. “[Swift is] brilliant,” says Rose, who was born in Dallas and raised in Irving. “I just knew enough to let her be her.”
As one of Nashville’s most in-demand songwriters, Rose writes mostly by appointment with her collaborators—recording artists and/or fellow songwriters. The goal is always the same: to have an artist looking for the right song choose the one written by Rose. It’s a bit of a mysterious process where a lot has to align, but lightning seems to strike for Rose more than for most: she co-wrote Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” which earned a Grammy for Best Country Song in 2016, and songs she’s written have appeared on albums by Bonnie Raitt, Alison Krauss, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, LeeAnn Womack, Miranda Lambert, and Tim McGraw. She is also part of the celebrated Love Junkies, a songwriting trio she formed with Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna.
Rose owns her own publishing company, Liz Rose Music, where she represents the songs from some of Nashville’s best songwriters and mentors young Texas songwriters through Texas Songwriter U—an annual songwriting development program. And while she never aspired to be a performing artist—she doesn’t really play an instrument and is largely considered a lyricist—she released her own record last year, Swimming Alone.
In our National Podcast of Texas conversation, we discuss not just the songwriting process and how a song gets from a writer’s room to the top of the Billboard country chart, but also what makes Texas songwriting different, the controversy over country radio’s resistance to female artists, and, yeah, Taylor Swift.
Some highlights (condensed and edited for clarity):
On Texas Songwriters
They have something different. And it’s some grit. Just like the writers from Georgia have something different or writers from Muscle Shoals have their thing. I hope that I took some of that and used it in Nashville. When I write with someone from Texas, I write differently. There’s a difference when I write with Miranda or Jack Ingram. I think we work really hard to keep a little bit of grit and that honesty. And maybe give them the finger in the lyrics a little bit. It’s just what we do. I hope I stay true to that.
On Songwriting for a Living
It’s a job. Successful writers show up every day by 11 a.m. I testified in front of the Copyright Royalty Board in Washington and I told them, “Maybe you think we’re all stoned and we’re writing in the backs of buses. But this isn’t something we do on the side.” We get up every day, pay our bills, get in the car, take our kids to school, and go to an office. We go to work and we do this every day, and sometimes we have to write five hundred songs to get one song cut.
On Her Work With Taylor Swift
It’s just something about the way I wrote connected with her. She was writing with other people at the time, too, and came back to me and said, “You know, I figured out that the best songs I write, the most that are me, as an artist, I’m writing with you. So why don’t just the two of us write for a while?” It was chemistry. We bounced off each other so well, and I always tell young girls, there is no fairy dust here. That was something about the chemistry. I knew enough to let her be her … and I respected her. And I understood her, because my daughters were fourteen and sixteen at the time. And it was just fun. She’s just brilliant. And because I’m not an artist, I let her be the artist. And because she was so smart, headstrong, and brilliant, I just said, “They’re her songs, she can say whatever she likes.” And if we needed to get to a chorus or I felt like a line needed to be twisted or something, then that’s what we did. But that’s why that worked, because it was her voice. And that’s why she connected with all those kids.
On Her Continued Success
You’re only as good as your last hit. You’re only as good as the last song you just wrote and how you feel about yourself. Once I write a song, I don’t have any control over what happens to it. And I think so much of is just being open to things and saying yes to things and not overly strategizing. It’s not about who’s bigger to write with. It’s more like, “That would be cool to hang out with them and get some songs written.”