Lucie Silvas is picky. Not picky in a difficult way, or picky the way that someone is when they come over and they don’t like what you have for them to eat. She’s discerning, really, in the way that friend who makes you the most incredible playlists might be, the ones that don’t seem to stick to any particular genre or decade but always seem to dig up a track you can’t stop listening to. She says she’s not a fan of cover songs—the ones she’s chosen to record have spanned from Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” on her 2004 debut Breathe In to, most recently, a goosebump-inducing take on One Direction’s “Perfect.”
“I’m picky about it because it has to mean something to me in some way. It has to be something I can see myself singing for a good reason, not just to cover it and bash it out,” she says. “I don’t want it to be like karaoke.”
While Silva does include a single cover on Letters for Ghosts, the full-length she self-released this fall, recording one for the Directioners was more of a just-for-fun creative exercise.
“That song is just so catchy,” she says. “It’s one of those things that every time it came on, I was like ‘Man, I love that song.’ Then I turned it into a ballad. I seem to turn all songs into ballads.”
There may be some truth to that turning-all-songs-to-ballads statement as it pertains to Silvas’ cover songs, but the rest of Letters to Ghosts begs to differ. Rife with foot-stomping beats, big choruses and acoustic guitar picking tied together with her gritty, passionate vocals, this is a record that will appeal to pop fans as much as roots revivalists. The release comes a whopping nine years after Silvas’ last full-length The Same Side was released via Mercury Records to considerable mainstream success in the UK, and Letters to Ghosts is an apt signifier of all that has changed for Silvas in the meantime.
“I can’t actually believe that I waited that long to release music. It’s crazy to me now,” she says. “But all these years I just wasn’t ready to do it. I think partly it was hurt, and fear of what might happen.”
Silvas talks a lot about how crippling fear can be, but these days it’s mostly in the context of how it doesn’t hold her back anymore. After all, in those nine years she moved continents, relocating from her home in England (by way of New Zealand) and settling down in Nashville. She was dropped from a major label, ultimately embracing the freedom of a recording schedule without rules or deadlines. She got married, too, so while many of the songs on Letters to Ghosts are about loss and heartbreak, the tone with which she sings them sounds triumphant. The heartbreak happened, and whether it’s tangential to music industry successes or romantic woes, now it’s over, as much a faded part of the past as the intended recipients of her title track.
“I don’t know what it is about things that hurt us, why we almost want to hold on to them. They’re almost a security blanket for us. You feel like if you let go of [the] pain, then you’ve got nothing—then it really is over,” she says. Album track “Roots” lays that sentiment out, drawing from a painful breakup to articulate remnant pain that can be far more universal. “When you’ve cut a tree down, it all looks fine. The ground is all new. But there are roots underneath. They’re still under there. So we came up with the title, ‘Roots;’ ‘I could pull the roots up / but they’re all that’s left / And I’m not ready to lose you yet.’ It’s saying the pain is a comfort to me, and I don’t want that part of my life to be over just yet, even though it hurts so badly.”
“Roots” is an emotional stronghold in Silvas’ live show, a point in the set when she often opts for minimal instrumentation that spotlights the heavy emotions behind the song. But while the lyrical weight of songs like “Roots” pepper the new record, its release signifies that she’s certainly pulled up any lingering roots or fears from her previous music industry highs and lows.
“After all this—after the back and forth of having a record deal and not having a record deal; being out in the public doing gigs and not doing gigs; having money to make music and not having money; having support, having no support—you sort of learn that there is one common denominator: you and what you’re doing with your own talent and your aspirations,” she says. “That never actually has to change.”
“You don’t have to be seen to be an artist. You either are one or you’re not,” she says. “I’m just really proud that I got to make it and I let go of all my bullshit from the past. It’s going to continue to happen. The biggest artists in the world have really low times, but then they’re back again. There’s just no way to be exempt from that. You’ve always got to keep your head in the right place.”
Silvas knows a thing or two about artistry, surrounding herself with a strong network of Nashville talents ranging from husband John Osborne to drummer and songwriter Ian Fitchuk and rising songwriter Maren Morris, all of whom make appearances in the liner notes of Letters to Ghosts.
“The collaborative part of this is one of my favorite things,” says Silvas. She’s effusive about Osborne’s contributions to the record as a producer and guitar player, despite his increasingly busy schedule on the road with his own band Brothers Osborne. Fitchuk, who’s worked regularly with other standout Nashville acts like Andrew Combs and Kacey Musgraves, has long been a collaborator and songwriting partner for Silvas, and Morris a longtime friend and co-writer as well. “It’s ridiculous, the talent that you find in this town every day… It’s like a college campus of talented people who are also friends. I just can’t imagine not being in that, not being part of it.”