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Hailey Whitters built a career in Nashville, and comes home on her new album 'Raised'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Hailey Whitters has spent much of the last decade away from her hometown of Shueyville, Iowa. But in her new album, "Raised," Hailey Whitters comes home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIDDLE OF AMERICA")

HAILEY WHITTERS: (Singing) Planting family trees on the same gravel road, a whole lot of nothing is still something to some folks...

SIMON: "Raised" is her third album, and it is rooted in Iowa - high school memories, the lovable chaos of a large family and dreaming big in a small town. Hailey Whitters joins us now from Nashville. Thanks so much for being with us.

WHITTERS: Hey, thanks for having me - excited to be here.

SIMON: Why did you want to go home to Iowa for this album?

WHITTERS: I found myself going back there just mentally. You know, I hit kind of my 10-year mark here in Nashville. Everyone always says Nashville's a 10-year town. And I kept just going back home. You know, I was looking at my high school friends. They were on baby 2, about to have baby 3, buying the house, buying the boat. It seemed like they'd had all these milestones to kind of show for their 20s. And I was just very inspired by the lifestyle and the pace of life and the memories and nostalgia that I had growing up in Iowa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG FAMILY")

WHITTERS: (Singing) It's bunk beds and matching sheets, sharing the bathroom sink, fistfighting over window seats all the way to KOA. It's more...

SIMON: Tell us about your family and how we hear about them in this album and in all of your music, I guess.

WHITTERS: I come from a very big Irish Catholic family. I'm one of six. My mom and dad are both one of nine. And my grandpa's one of 15. I am so close, still, with second, third cousins. My fiance jokes every time he comes home he's still meeting someone new.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG FAMILY")

WHITTERS: (Singing) It's all husbands and ex-wives and boyfriends and picked lines to the word of God according to who's preaching in the living room. It's secrets and suppers, looking more like your mother - all in a little house in a little town, but ain't nothing small about big family.

Everyone kind of knew who my family was, knew of my family in our town growing up. Still to this day, we all are so close. We get together for holidays, still. Christmas Eve at Aunt Tina's (ph) is always a big party. You know, she's - her teeth are turning red from drinking too much wine, and everyone's just kind of laughing and being merry and enjoying being together. You know, growing up, it was just complete chaos, and I don't know if I knew how lucky I was back then to have such a big, lovable family. But now as an adult, I can definitely see it, and I'm so grateful for the way that they raised me.

SIMON: That's so beautiful.

WHITTERS: (Laughter).

SIMON: Let me ask you about high school 'cause there's a theory that runs - so I don't have to tell you - that we never really get out of high school. Well, let me get you to tell us about the single on this album, "Everything She Ain't."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYTHING SHE AIN'T")

WHITTERS: (Singing) She ain't a peach you ought to be picking. She ain't the cup of tea you ought to be sipping. She treats you like you're broke, like you need fixing. You ain't getting nothing back for all that you're giving. If you're good with who you're kissing...

SIMON: What's the back story?

WHITTERS: Well, the music video for that song shows me as the Cow Pie High homecoming queen.

SIMON: I - excuse me. That's not really the name of your high school, right?

WHITTERS: Well, it's kind of the nickname for my high school. So my high school was out in the country. You know, the city kids always thought it was just a bunch of farm kids that went to that school.

SIMON: Yeah.

WHITTERS: So they called us Cow Pie High.

SIMON: Does it have another name that they might appreciate hearing on the air?

WHITTERS: (Laughter) Prairie High School. But yeah, I mean, I've always felt a little more girl next door than Hollywood smile. And that song is really just about kind of embracing who you are and what makes you different and knowing that you can bring all that and some more to the table.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYTHING SHE AIN'T")

WHITTERS: (Singing) Honey, there's plenty of fish in the sea. But if you take a second look, you'll see there's only one of me. The whiskey in your soda, the lime to your Corona...

SIMON: I gather you think the Midwest has its own place in country music, that sometimes it doesn't get the respect it merits.

WHITTERS: You know, growing up, I didn't hear a whole lot of songs about the Midwest. I just love being able to sing songs about it through my filter. I mean, I remember moving down to Nashville, and everyone said, you're from Iowa. You're from the North. What do you know about country? And, you know, the scenery might be a little different. It's probably more cornfields and ball caps than red dirt and cowboy hats, but we're still pretty country up there.

SIMON: How do you decide what goes into a song?

WHITTERS: You know, I always try and just be authentic and be honest and write lyrics that I feel like move people. So many of the things that we experience, you know, on a daily basis in real life - the joy, you know, pain, laughter, connectedness - those are the things I kind of try and tap into when I'm writing songs. Hopefully many people feel like they can come together and feel connected in three minutes.

SIMON: You've just been nominated for your first Grammy.

WHITTERS: Yes (laughter).

SIMON: And what's that feel like?

WHITTERS: It feels surreal. And I don't know if it will feel real until we're actually there and we're sitting in the seats. I mean, it's a very cool thing.

SIMON: What song on this album would you like us to go out on?

WHITTERS: "Boys Back Home."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOYS BACK HOME")

WHITTERS: (Singing) The boys back home ain't more than a stone's throw from a six-pack, pinch of wintergreen Skoal. They ain't scared of nothing except for your brothers. They walk like their daddies, marry girls like their mothers. And their dreams...

SIMON: And tell us about it, if you could.

WHITTERS: "Boys Back Home" was inspired by the boys I grew up with. We used to pile in the back of one of their pickup trucks. Someone would pick up a bottle of cheap Hawkeye Vodka. We'd drive out to a clearing in the middle of the woods and put the tailgate down, turn up the country music, sit around all night drinking, talking about life. You know, it was the kind of thing we told our parents we were all staying at each other's houses so we could stay out all night.

And those are the guys who taught me how to drink, how to fight, how to kiss, how to cry. And I've been all over the place, and I've come to think that, you know, it don't matter where you come from. There are no boys like the boys that you grew up with. So I wanted to sing a little song telling them thank you, celebrating them. I know that I wouldn't be who I am today without them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOYS BACK HOME")

WHITTERS: (Singing) It's all sure rock roads for the boys back home.

SIMON: Hailey Whitters - joining us from Nashville, but thinking of Iowa - thanks so much for being with us.

WHITTERS: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOYS BACK HOME")

WHITTERS: (Singing) When I think about all of the men that I've known, there ain't none like the boys back home. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.