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At The Center Of Terri Hendrix's Ambitious 'Project 5': Songs Of Resilience, Hope, And Strength

Nathan Cone
Lloyd Maines (L) and Terri Hendrix (R) in the TPR studios.

Even when Terri Hendrix gets the blues, she does so with joy and passion. Her latest album, “Love You Strong,” was released earlier this year after a five-year hiatus from recording. It features some of her most emotionally naked lyrics, and her upcoming album, “The Slaughterhouse Sessions,” began life as a “dark, mysterious kind of thing,” as Hendrix’s musical partner Lloyd Maines points out. But hope is an essential element of Hendrix’s songwriting, and a theme that carries across her ambitious “Project 5” — an endeavor which will find her releasing four brand new records and an autobiography, all within the span of roughly a year and a half.

“Every record talks about resilience, and hope, and strength,” Hendrix says. “[It] all goes back to loving each other strong. That’s the point of the project.”

Many of the songs on “Love You Strong” are about making connections and keeping love alive despite the pain, loss and suffering in life. “It seemed like a good record to be able to sing songs I’ve been wanting to sing about for a while,” Hendrix says. For example, “about what makes somebody stay and take care of another person and be selfless.” The theme found its home in “Earth Kind Rose,” inspired by Hendrix’s own parents.

It’s time for him to go back inside/It’s time to change her sheets He’s gonna look her in the eyes/And see who she used to be Sometimes he turns the engine/When the wind begs him to leave Then he lays down by her side/Until she falls asleep

Another song, “Vulnerable,” deals frankly with the raw emotions that are released when relatives don’t see eye to eye, especially around the holidays. Its melancholy mood is matched by moments of self-doubt, including this admission:

I wanna drink I wanna lose myself Into the body of someone else Someone too brave to have ever felt So vulnerable

I told Hendrix that after a career of positivity, I was surprised to hear those words coming out of her mouth.

“I was surprised as well!” she says. “I think my responsibility with making music is to be the yin and the yang. So some songs might by funny, like ‘Fifty Shades of Hey,’ but on the opposite side would be ‘Vulnerable.’ During the holidays, I’m not the only one that feels that way. [They] tend to bring out the worst and best in people. Sometimes it tends to be a time when families seem to fall apart.”

“The fact is, ‘Vulnerable’ is the truth,” Hendrix confesses. “We have alcoholism in our family to the point that I wanted to address it within a song. Because it’s really important to be addressed as far as I was concerned. It kind of comes with being a musician I think. The more personal [the topic] perhaps, the more universal [it becomes].”

I mention offhand that this year, holiday meals may be more stressful than ever thanks to the election cycle.

Hendrix recalls a recent gig at an elementary school, and remarks that the school rules prohibited bullying and name calling. “If we just did what we learned in kindergarten, there wouldn’t be this political discourse right now. It’s okay to have a difference of opinion, but racing to the bottom of the barrel perhaps is not the best way to teach our kids to … be able to communicate in an effective manner that doesn’t totally degrade and demean a human being,” she says with a slow head shake. Looking up, she enthuses, “maybe on ‘Talk to a Human’ we’ll have to write a song about that!”

"It's okay to have a difference of opinion, but racing to the bottom of the barrel perhaps is not the best way to teach our kids."

“Talk to a Human,” an album about communication due in 2017, will be the forthcoming culmination of all her music-making this year, which continues with the aforementioned “Slaughterhouse Sessions” in October and Hendrix’s electronic experiment, “Who Is Ann?” which is also coming next year. Throughout it all, and since 1998, she’s kept virtuoso musician and producer Lloyd Maines by her side. For all his talents (and there are many, watch more here), Maines says he’s a little envious, and even more respectful of, songwriters like Hendrix.

“I help to mold songs for people, and kind of help them get the songs recorded,” he explains. “But when you start writing these introspective and pretty hard-hitting emotional songs, I have to just totally respect the writers that are willing to put their heart and soul out there for everyone to listen to. I think Terri has done that.”

Despite Maines’ modesty, he’s been a valuable asset to Hendrix’s sound. On “Love You Strong,” he co-wrote two of the songs, including “The Texas Star,” a tribute to strong-willed Texas women Ann Richards, Liz Carpenter, Barbara Jordan, and Molly Ivins.

For “The Slaughterhouse Sessions,” Hendrix and Maines decamped to Taos, New Mexico, and a renovated slaughterhouse that had been turned into a “posh guest house,” Maines jokes. The record, he says, is full of Hendrix’s trademark honesty and humor, but the sound is unlike what she’s attempted before. “I think on the entire record there’s only one acoustic guitar,” Maines muses. “The rest of it is all metal body resonator. The sound of industrial blues, hard edge.” No cymbals, either. Just earthy, wooden percussion.

As she thinks about the forthcoming release, Hendrix remarks, “Running an independent label has never been as challenging.” She’s been doing it for 20 years now, first as Tycoon Cowgirl Records, and since 1998 as Wilory Records, named after the farm she stayed on for a time with her late mentor, Marion Williamson, milking goats and writing songs. Now, “it was like a little mini-Amazon at my house getting the pre-orders shipped out,” she says. There’s a whole side of the business that needs tending just like any farm needs to grow. The part that ain’t art, Hendrix calls it.

In addition to mailing out CDs to press and fans who’ve pre-ordered the album, “There’s about 30 social media sites,” Hendrix says with a hearty laugh. “There’s messages coming in from everywhere!”

“When I first started running an independent label,” she explains, “there wasn’t a lot of me out there, but now there’s a lot. And it’s just hard to really focus the energy.”

The emotional and physical toll of touring, health issues (Hendrix has epilepsy), and an ongoing effort to build a community arts center in San Marcos have led her to cut back on touring and focus on regional appearances and media.

“People are counting on me to get it off the ground,” she says of the OYOU center, which stands for “Own Your Own Universe.” That’s one of the reasons why this year we’re seeing a flurry of recording activity. “It’s the year to do it, because time is not waiting for me. I really want to get the arts center built and off the ground while I’m young enough to be able to run it effectively.”

“As far as the music business, it’ll just have to work itself out as it goes. Because honestly, it’s a little over my head, and I don’t really feel like hiring anybody to bring it down to my eye level!”

And with that, Hendrix lets out a laugh. She’ll succeed though, as she has for two decades now. On her own terms, independent, and in service to her community — of friends, fans, and family. Which we all are.