Pillbox Patti’s Honest Look at Small-town Life with ‘Florida’

by Preshias Harris / 325 days ago / Comments
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Debut album from hit songwriter

In comic books and movies, Superman came up with an alter ego: mild-mannered Clark Kent, a reporter dutifully writing news stories for the Daily Planet.  When danger loomed, Clark would transform into the colorful, costumed Man of Steel, his true identity never suspected by Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, his fellow newspaper employees.

In a way, Pillbox Patti is a Superman/Clark Kent character in reverse.  The colorful, glitzy Pillbox Patti is the alter ego of Nashville-based hit songwriter Nicolette Hayford who moved to Music City around twelve years ago. With cuts on artists that include Lainey Wilson, Kylie Morgan, and Little Big Town, her biggest success as a writer has been with Ashley McBryde’s “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” and “One Night Standards” which received Song of the Year nominations at both the ACM Awards and the CMA Awards. Nicolette also has co-writing credits on eleven of the thirteen songs on McBryde’s Grammy-nominated album, Lindeville, and was named MusicRow’s Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year in 2021.

During the 50th CMA Fest in Nashville, Nicolette/Patti and I got together to talk about the songs on her debut Pillbox Patti project Florida (Monument Records) and her decision to step into the spotlight as an artist. Add/save/listen to Florida here.   I asked her what motivated her to take that step.

“I’ve been writing for a long time and writing all these songs that I’ve loved,” she told me. “In the [writers] room, you always want to bring some truth. I have all these crazy stories and I’ve come through a lot of crazy stuff. I got to a point where I sort of felt that I was disappearing because I was never telling the whole truth of my truth. I felt it was just time to share those stories and celebrate the stuff that I went through in my own voice and my own music in my own way.”

Much as she enjoys her career as a songwriter, she understands the limitations that come with that role.

“’Nicolette’ as a songwriter was writing for other people, because it’s the job of a songwriter to kind of become a chameleon,” she said.  “It’s not my ego and my truth.  It’s my job as a songwriter to help an artist tell their story.  I kinda had written myself into a corner – a really good corner that I love because it’s a damn good corner to be in – but I knew that, sonically, all the things I was saying, everything was gonna come out of nowhere.  So “Pillbox Patti” is a song I wrote in the middle of the night and I knew when I wrote that song that I was going to use that as my artist name and kind of just reintroduce myself as an artist.”

Pillbox Patti also became the title of her first 5-song EP, as well as her adopted stage name. 

“It’s a hundred percent me,” she said. “It’s not a different persona [to Nicolette], but I do have the freedom of telling my whole truth now.”

With her latest 8-song project, titled Florida, Pillbox Patti does not flinch from the truth, much of which she experienced or witnessed growing up. The songs take an honest look at small-town life (“Suwannee,” “25 MPH Town”) that often includes the church as well as drugs and alcohol (“Eat, Pray, Drugs”). The subject matter may be serious and the treatment candid, but the witty, original lyrics and the melodic treatments make this a highly listenable album.

A good example: “Young and Stupid.” I told Patti that the video is so much fun to watch and even has a nod to Robert Palmer’s video for “Simply Irresistible” with the girl guitar players. I asked her if it was as much fun to make as it is to watch.

“Yes, it was so fun!” she said.  “I knew I wanted dancers. It was my first video too, so I didn’t want to be taking myself too seriously and that’s kind of the tone of the song.  It’s kind of like, man, I’m over here worried about how to get Botox because my forehead’s wrinkled and I’ve got all this pressure. And I was like, damn, man, when I was broke and I was in that small town and I was riding around in that s**tty car with the peeling leather seats and the hole in the floorboard and we’d be running from the law.”

Patti recalled that it was a ’93 Pontiac and it was a total piece of junk. “I mean, we’d scrape up change because you could get three dollars of gas and it was a little over a quarter of a tank or something, and we’d just drive around.” Watch the "Young and Stupid" video here. 

The music video, like the song, was inspired by events like that in her own life.  “That video, for ‘Young and Stupid,’ Alexa King and her brother Stephen Kinigopoulos of Running Bear Films shot it and we did it all in one day – that video and the “Suwannee” video – all in one day and we just had a great time.  It was like, how silly but also like, how cool!”

We also talked about another track on Florida titled “Candy Cigarettes,” a song that has a cool, ‘lounge chillout’ vibe, but there’s a serious element underneath the cool. I asked Patti about the story behind that song.

“That was one of the first songs we wrote on our first retreat that I put together to write this album,” she said.  “I was smoking a cigarette, probably, and drinking, and I was thinking, man this is how the hell you get like this. You’re surrounded by people [saying] ‘Just try one sip,’ or you go buy candy cigarettes or whatever.”

She paused for a moment, thinking of how easy it is to slip into bad situations, then added, “There’s a lot of s**t that I watched my mom do that I don’t want to do and that my mom would never want me to do and she grew out of that. But it’s sort of like history repeating itself. There is a very serious undertone to it, in a very chill way because I think it’s a heavy message to deliver so you want to keep that laid back and feeling good.”

Pillbox Patti is unapologetic about her life as seen in these songs and isn’t asking for sympathy. From Patti’s point of view, it is what is, and the witty, honest songs on Florida resonate with a legion of new fans.  Start with “Young and Stupid” (didn’t we all start that way?) and explore the music from this amazing artist from there.

Music, tour info and more about Pillbox Patti at her website, on Facebook, on Twitter and Instagram (@pillboxpatti) and her YouTube channel.  Find her music on Spotify here. #PillboxPatti

 

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About Preshias Harris

Preshias Harris Journalist

Preshias Harris is a music journalist who has interviewed everyone from Alabama to ZZ Top for articles and stories published in numerous music magazines. She is the author of longest-running monthly country music column in America and authored The College of Songology™ 101: The Singer/Songwriter’s ‘Need To Know’ Reference Handbook. As a music career development consultant with special emphasis on emerging and aspiring artists and songwriters, she focuses on ‘chasing the dream’ while understanding the realities of the music industry. She maintains a writers’ room on Music Row – named The Sangtuary – for her clients and their co-writers. She is a member of ASCAP (as a publisher), BMI, The Country Music Association (CMA), The Recording Academy, The National Association of Talent Directors (NATD) and a life member of Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI).

You can find out more about Preshias at https://www.collegeofsongology.com and find her blog at www.nashvillemusicline.com