Though she was brought up in a family with successful musical lineage, Aubrie Sellers’ first passion was not music, but acting. The daughter of iconic country artist Lee Ann Womack and songwriter Jason Sellers (Rascal Flatts, Reba McEntire and Jason Aldean), and step-daughter of producer Frank Liddell (Miranda Lambert), wanted to make her own name.
So Sellers studied at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in Los Angeles and concentrated on acting for nearly 15 years, appearing in a couple of short films between 2008 and 2011.
“I love acting; I still want to do it,” Sellers said last week. “It’s a very different world and a very different process, auditioning. I think the difference you’re more of a person for hire as an actor. At least you’re not creating your own projects.”
The creation process, and the power to decide from start to finish what she made, was what eventually drew Sellers back to her roots. Now with one album to her name, January’s New City Blues, Sellers has been hitting the road to prove that while country music may run through her veins, her stories and songs are her own.
“I wanted to create something,” Sellers said. “I always had a vision and knew I wanted to make music. I was a little worn out on [acting] and wasn’t feeling creatively fulfilled. I think I just have a lot more creative freedom and fulfillment doing this right now.”
Prior to writing her own songs, which she began working on in 2012, Sellers grew up singing harmony with her mother, first at home and later in public.
“I was probably 14 when I started doing that, and then she was also producing a record around that time as well, and I sang on a couple of her records,” Sellers said. “People around town would ask me to do demos, or record harmony on songs that we wrote. Then I may have done some records with David Nail and Stoney LaRue. I’ve worked on two of Stoney’s records, and that was really fun. Then I sang on Miranda Lambert’s record (2014’s Platinum).”
When Sellers began writing her own songs in 2012, it wasn’t with an album in mind. Although she had been offered record deals previously, she turned all of them down because she had seen her mother and others fight the influence of labels. Instead, she wanted to create the music that mattered to her without having to fight others’ perceptions of it. The first song was “Light of Day,” which is also the first track on New City Blues. The song sets the tone for the album. The message is that while Sellers makes country music, she’s got other influences, like ‘70s and garage rock, as well as blues and folk. She calls this sound garage country.
If her biggest influences were rounded up and turned into a pie chart, the biggest chunk of that chart, about 40 percent, would be Buddy and Julie Miller, she said. The duo would be followed by Ralph Stanley, Led Zeppelin, George Jones and Steve Earle.
“You know it’s hard—they all influence me in such different ways,” Sellers said. I have no way of actually measuring how much. I was exposed to all these, except for Led Zeppelin, at a pretty young age, and they were all definitely part of creating who I am and what I like as an artist.”
The 14 tracks on New City Blues are heavy on guitars, which sometimes come through more forcefully than her delicate voice. And it’s true that while the music leans toward the blues—with all electric guitars—her voice and other nuances provide an equal counterweight toward traditional country, most notably on “Losing Ground,” which deals with depression, anxiety and over-medication.
Other tunes, like “Magazines” and “Paper Doll,” describe the phoniness of the celebrity culture in which Sellers grew up. As a young child, she was very perceptive of the way that people within the industry treated her mother. She wanted no part of that, which later heavily influenced her decision to stay away from major labels. She co-wrote “Like The Rain” with her father, and both her parents contributed backing vocals on the song. Liddell, her step-father, produced the record.
While she avoided outside influence making the album and released it on indie label Thirty Tigers, she has still felt disparagement about her work from country music fans and a few critics. The most common being that her songs don’t go with her voice.
“It started to frustrate me because the whole concept of that does not make any sense to me,” she confided. “I want it to sound that way. What makes it interesting is that my voice is more of a traditional country voice, and it’s a contrast with this crazy rock band music. People are used to hearing voices like mine where they’re very prominent. [When] it’s very hot in the mix and all about the vocal. That’s not what my music is about. If you don’t like it that’s cool, but you can’t say that it’s wrong. I’m aware that the guitars are loud… you can’t always hear every single word I’m saying when I play live. Go see a rock concert. That’s what it’s like.”
Fortunately, for every negative comment, there are numerous compliments and encouragement from her peers, which include old friend and touring partner Chris Stapleton and his wife, Morgan. When Sellers, a self-described introvert, went out with them a few weekends ago, the Stapletons reinforced in her the idea that she has to believe in her own intuition and strategy. That was their blueprint, and it worked out, she said.
“I’ve never been super comfortable being the center of attention,” Sellers said. “They reinforced for me that you have to be your own biggest champion.”
Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.