Americana Highways brings you this premiere of Hope Dunbar’s song “What Were You Thinking” from her upcoming album Sweetheartland, due to be available on April 2, 2021. The record was produced by Jesse Thompson and Zack Smith;
recorded and mixed at Ten Four Recording Company with additional recording at Fatback in Nashville, Tennessee; mixed by Chad Brown and mastered by Yes Master Studios, Nashville. The album artwork is courtesy of Dave Robinson with album design by Natalie Schmieding. Musicians on the album are Hope Dunbar on vocals, and acoustic guitar; Zack Smith on acoustic guitar, electric and slide guitars, resonator guitar, banjo, harmonica, percussion and background vocals; Jesse Thompson on acoustic and electric guitars, lap steel, dobro, and background vocals; Andrew Benfante on keyboards; Taylor Thompson and Justin Ferwerda on bass; Dillon Napier on drums; and Reed Waddle, Kyshona Armstrong and Shannon Labrie on background vocals.
We also interviewed Hope Dunbar about the song; the premiere is just beneath the interview. This is a courageous song of brutally direct betrayal and heartbreak. “What were you thinking?”
AH: What prompted you to write this song? Is there a story behind it? What is the message you wanted to convey or the tale you wanted to tell?
HD: This song has been around for many years, and I’ve loved singing it for audiences everywhere. I wrote it while part of a year-long, weekly songwriting group back in 2014 called “Real Women, Real Songs.” We were given a prompt each week from which we were meant to write something. This song came from week 6 of 52 and the prompt was: PUZZLED. I believe the next idea I had was the title, “What were you thinking?” The message I wished to convey was the idea of first being bewildered and puzzled by the infidelity and foolishness of a lover, and then digging deeper into the scenario only to discover that, really, the puzzling behavior might be one’s own, entering into a relationship where red lights of warning had been flashing for some time. And also I really wanted to explore singing loudly and with feeling.
AH: You recorded this album before the pandemic hit. Do you look back on the recording process almost like it was a lifetime ago with all that has happened since then? What made you wait to release the album until 2021?
HD: It does feel like another lifetime ago. There was a time when I sat stuck in stuckness, unsure of where I was going or what path I could forge moving forward into an unknown future. After a frenzy of music-making in 2019, the halting of everything in March of 2020 brought me pretty low and left me a little lost for a time. All of which is to say, I didn’t have a master plan to hold on to this work until just the right time. Instead, I kind of rode the wave of how this world has been moving, and it brought me finally to a place where I decided it was time. I’m really proud of this record, and it deserves to live out in the world. Now’s the time.
AH: And related to the last question, what was the easiest part of the recording process? The hardest? How was this song in particular to record?
HD: Honestly, the easiest part of the recording process was working with Zack and Jesse and the other musicians who played on the record. They brought joy and intensity, professionalism and playfulness to this work that I think comes through on the record from top to bottom. The hardest part? In the past, I’ve been a little tentative about studio work. Some musicians love it, but I’ve always thought of it as being a little too much under the microscope. I knew that, in order to create what I imagined in my mind, I had to get over that self-doubt and walk in there with the kind of heart and voice I wanted to communicate to the listener visiting this “Sweetheartland.” You’d think after all those songs I’ve written and all those gigs I’ve played, something like that would be easy, but it wasn’t. It was a stretch, and I’m so glad I did it.
AH: If you had to describe your music using only five words or adjectives, how would you describe it?
HD: Oh boy. Um… how ’bout “Truth about strength and weakness.”
AH: Time to share: what is a secret about this song, or about your album, that you’d like to tell our readers that they can’t learn anywhere else?
HD: Here’s the scoop everybody: for this album we recorded eleven songs. In the end it was clear “Sweetheartland” was meant to be a nine-song album. The two unreleased songs are safely tucked away somewhere in Nebraska and may or may not appear in the music-verse in the future. (Ohhhh, this looks like a revealed secret that just hints at another secret… how mysterious.)
Pre-save/pre-order link for the album: https://show.co/lhxZtAf