Ana Cristina Cash is a singer – songwriter who is based in Nashville and who is married to John Carter Cash, the only child of Johnny and June Carter Cash.
Her critically acclaimed jazz infused country album Shine, which was produced by her husband, was released in April of this past year and like a lot of other great music released in the early days of the pandemic, has fought against being lost in the maelstrom of craziness that is 2020.
Since the release of the album, Cash has promoted it in multiple ways including doing a series of acoustic versions of her songs on YouTube called the Cash Cabin Live Sessions.They can be accessed on her YouTube site here.
A talented bilingual performer of Cuban descent and a rising star in her own right before she married John Carter, Cash also recently translated her father-in-law’s song “Folsom Prison Blues”, for the Norteño band Los Tigres Del Norte in preparation of their performance at Folsom Prison and their subsequent live album Los Tigres Del Norte At Folsom Prison , which recently garnered the group a Latin Grammy for best Norteño album.
Earlier this year, inspired by her daughter’s love for Hawaiian culture and our inability to travel and see our families during the Covid-19 pandemic, Cash also released a version of “Mele Kalikimaka,” the Hawaiian Christmas song originally made famous by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.
I recently spoke with Ana via phone about that song, the album Shine, the song “Brand New Pair of Shoes”, which is a song from the album in which she shares a co- writing credit with her late father-in- law, and about her advice to up and coming songwriters. Our conversation, edited for length and clarity is below.
Americana Highways: You started singing in front of audiences at the age of six. Growing up, who would you consider to be your biggest musical influences?
Ana Cristina Cash: Growing up as a child in Miami during the late eighties and early nineties, the most prevalent fixture there, for my world was Gloria Estefan, who was doing crossover music in that she was doing Latin music and pop music. She had fun singing in both Spanish and in English, and I loved that about her. I would say vocally Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey were also huge influences on me and for just being an overall entertainer, Shania Twain was a huge influence on me as well. I started listening to a lot of country music as a child and Shania, Leanne Rimes, and Faith Hill were some of my favorites as well as a lot of old school singers like Patsy Cline. I feel that I always identified more with female vocalists and I would spend a lot of time studying their vocals and learning their songs. In addition, I also had a big interest in musical theater growing up as well.
AH: Can you point to a specific time while growing up when you knew that you wanted to pursue being a singer – songwriter or is that something that just progressed over time ?
ACC: I would say it’s something that I always had an interest in. I started singing along with Disney films as a child and my grandmother was the first one who suggested to my parents that I should audition for a variety show that was based in Miami at the time. Once I started doing things in the studio with the show, I fell in love with it and I would say that I was probably seven or eight years old the first time I put headphones on in a recording studio. I fell in love with the whole recording process. I remember feeling that this is something that I really enjoy and I feel like I’m making people happy with my singing. I still feel that way now, but I feel like when you’re a child and you’re putting that energy out in the world, people are more receptive to you because you’re a child. So I really felt like I was sharing happiness with people with my singing and it was a feeling I came to know very well. It was something that just became a part of my identity and it still is because I have been doing it for so long.
AH: What would you say inspires you as a songwriter?
ACC : I would say the things that are happening in my life. A lot of times I take the things that I am feeling that day and I ask myself what it is that is making me feel that way. It’s kind of like a personal therapy session because I ask myself what is it that is making me feel frustrated or angry, or what is it that is making me feel happy and in love ? After investigating my emotions in that sense, I just take it from there.
There are other times when I just think of clever titles and record them but it still really comes down to recording my feelings and the inspiration I get from them because I feel it’s the place where I can be the most honest with myself. Sometimes we don’t really want to verbalize our feelings to other people because people might think we’re crazy or we’re doing something wrong or that’s not the way we should be feeling, you know? I like to think that I am usually telling the truth in my songs.
AH: So many of your songs have strong female protagonists. Is that something that just comes about naturally in your songwriting or do you feel like it’s a direct result of you listening to artists like Patsy Cline or even Shania because a lot of their female characters also tended to be strong?
ACC: It’s interesting that you’ve asked this question. This is one of the first times I’ve heard that question put so specifically. To answer your question, I would have to say that it’s because I write who I need to be at the time. You know, if I need to be strong or if that’s the message that I feel will resonate with other women to have strength and believe in themselves then that is what I will write about in the song. My life, like everybody else’s, is a roller coaster. There are a lot of ups and downs and it is not always rainbows and sunshine. Now, I think that inner strength is something that we all need if you’re male or female but, I identify mostly as a female because that is one of the things that I am. I would say that I’ve always written what I needed to be because I feel that that’s authentic and I feel that that’s what other people may be feeling too. I always try to write about and create the heroes that I want to be.
AH: How would you best describe the power of music in our lives and more specifically, what does music mean to you in your life?
ACC: Music honestly has always been a huge presence in my life. I had a very good childhood with very good parents, but you know, things weren’t always perfect. I don’t think anyone’s childhood is perfect. If we’re being very honest and raw with ourselves, none of our lives are perfect. So I always remember using music as a form of escape, whether I needed to be happy in that moment or whether I needed it to feel like I had a purpose when I would use it to entertain people. I think as a whole, music is something for people to identify with emotionally, to help them feel like somebody understands like a friend does. Music has always been a friend to me. It’s always been there as a listening ear, you know? There are so many songs that I can personally remember thinking that this singer or this singer-songwriter really identifies with what I am feeling like right now. So I think in that sense, it’s something that is relatable to all of us, because it helps us cope and it’s an escape.
AH: On your latest album Shine, from earlier this year, how did you approach putting the songs together for the record ? Did you approach it with a theme in mind or did the songs get chosen for the record because it was the best songs you thought you had ready at the time?
ACC: You know, it’s interesting because I’m normally more focused on creating a center topic when it comes to making a record. This particular group of songs for Shine came about over a period of about two to three years and there were a lot of songs for me to choose from when choosing for the record. I ended up selecting the ones that I felt matched up best with each other because I wanted the album to sound cohesive.
I do plan on releasing some of the others that I didn’t use on the album some time in the future because I feel a lot of those songs are strong songs as well.
With that being said, while a lot of the songs on the album have similar underlying themes, like female empowerment for instance, I can’t tell you that I decided to sit down and say that the album was going to be about one particular thing.I think each song stands on its own and is inspiring on its own and together they just magically got woven together to create the wonderful body of work that is Shine.
AH: On Shine you have a song called “Brand New Pair of Shoes” in which you share a co-writing credit with your late father-in-law Johnny Cash. How did that come about?
ACC: So it started when my husband John Carter entrusted me with the lyrics that his father Johnny had written and asked if I would like to make a song with them. So I sat down with my guitar, restructured the lyrics a little bit, came up with the melody, which gave it the bar room jazz feel that I thought it needed and that’s how it came about.
I think it is a fun song the way the lyrics are kind of tongue in cheek and are describing a sort of satirical situation. I asked my husband what he thought his dad was going through at the time when he wrote the lyrics and he just smiled and said he was definitely talking about his mom June in the song, which made me love the song even more.
One of the other exciting things about the song for me is that not only was I given special permission by Sony to release it on Shine because it is also part of the Johnny Cash – Forever Words (Expanded Edition) album which is basically an expanded version of the 2018 album containing various artists doing unreleased songs written by my father-in law, it was also one of the first singles to be released from that new version of the album.
AH: You recently released a cover version of the Christmas song “Mele Kalikimaka.” What was your motivation for covering that song?
ACC: Sure. So mine and John’s daughter, Grace June, who has just turned three, remembers that we took her to Hawaii last year and that we took her to a luau when we were there. So, when we got home, she started begging us to show her luau videos over and over again with the people dancing and smiling in them. She really became fixated on luaus. So I told her when Christmas rolls around this year that mommy is going to record the Hawaiian Christmas song for her. And of course with that, she got really excited. So at the top of the track, if you listen to it, there are really fast or Tahitian style drums because that’s her favorite part of the whole song – the drums. If you listen to a lot of the recordings of the song, you don’t really hear the song start off like that. I put the drums in there like that just for her, for her enjoyment.
Another thing about the song is that I was also thinking about Covid and not being able to travel to see our families throughout this entire year and I just wanted to create a song with a visual using bright and beautiful colors for Christmas. Kind of like a tropical Christmas or the ones I grew up with in Florida.
AH: What can you tell us about your future plans ?
ACC: I am working on an EP right now that will be ready for me to release it out into the world relatively soon. It will be less like in the vein of Shine and more like pop country I would say.
AH: Can you talk about a prospective release date for it?
ACC: I can’t really say at this point, because it is in such an early stage. Also at some point in the future a goal of mine is to do a full on jazz record with like 12 or 14 songs because I was influenced so much by jazz vocalists like Jo Stafford and Billie Holliday, that it seems like an obvious choice for me to pay tribute to them.
AH: Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to up and coming female singer songwriters ?
ACC: I would say that you have to be ready to play the game and hustle and by hustle I mean you have to be ready to put in the work. I say that because a lot of people think being here in the music business is just something that is glamorous when the truth is it’s really just a lot of hard work. It requires a lot of hours working, a lot of hours on the road, a lot of hours doing interviews, and a lot of hours perfecting your songwriting craft. I think if you have a goal, keep that goal in mind and take steps to reach it. I also think it’s important to be kind to people. And by that I mean you want to be kind to not only your fans, but to the people that are helping you, because it’s a team effort. You want to be kind with your co-writers, your producers, your managers, your publicists, your interviewers, and record label folk. I mean you have to realize that there’s an entire machine that needs to believe in you as a person and people want to work with kind people. So I think that’s the most important thing of all.
Ana Cristina Cash’s album Shine and her cover version of “Mele Kalikimaka” are both available for purchase on her website .