A Hot Mess

Hot rising star Alana Springsteen talks beaches, bumps in the romantic road, punctuation and the highly personal songs on her debut LP

If you were in New York City in January, perhaps you saw Alana Springsteen—on the big billboard looming over Times Square, which played the breakout video of her new single, “you don’t deserve a country song.”

A big moment in the Big Apple, for a young singer-songwriter from a teeny town.

Springsteen couldn’t be there herself, but she felt the electricity of the moment. “Part of my label, Columbia, is out of New York, so I was like, guys, if you can take a break during lunch and please go get this on video…because I was freaking out about it,” says the singer-songwriter.

“country song” is one of the cuts on Springsteen’s new full-length debut album, Twenty Something: Messing It Up (Columbia/Sony, available March 23), the first of her planned three-part musical project after a trio of well-received independent EPs.

But there seems very little about Springsteen’s career trajectory, at this point in her young life, that indicates she’s messing it up in any way. She’s only 22, but she’s been writing music since she was a preteen, dreaming of one day being on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. (The video for “country song,” in fact, opens with a 10-year-old Alana on a backstage visit to the Opry, vowing to someday return as a performer.)

Last fall, on the night she turned 22, she made good on that vow, making her Opry debut with an introduction by fellow hitmaker Luke Bryan, for whom she’ll soon be opening shows on a summer tour.

Now this twenty-something—who is no relation to any other entertainers, e.g., Bruce, who happen to share her last name—is holding steady on the course that she set over a decade ago.

“At eight or nine years old,” Sprngsteen says, “I was saying to my parents, ‘I want to be a country music artist.’ That’s all I wanted to do, music. Once I started playing guitar at seven and writing my own songs, there was never a plan B for me. There was never anything else I could see myself doing. I feel like I was put in this world to make music and connect with people through the songs that I write.”

She wrote her first song, “Fairy Tale,” when she was nine, sitting on her bedroom floor. “I was talking to my mom about how her and my dad met in college, and she was talking about their love story and first dates and stuff he did to make her fall in love. I was like, man, that sounds like a fairy tale, and I decided to write a song about it.”

She’s written a lot of songs since then, and she co-wrote all except one on Twenty Something, which continues the intensely melodic, self-confessional, growing-up and getting-personal tones of her three previous EP releases.

She says the album’s “Missing It Up” subtitle reflects some of her rough rides on the road of romance.  

“I think it’s pretty clear the areas that I’ve messed up,” she says, “when it comes to matters of the heart, picking the wrong guys, falling in love for the wrong reasons, not trusting my gut. When you’re in your twenties, you’re changing so much and taking it a day at a time and figuring out things about yourself as you are having these experiences—like feeling like you can’t really love someone you don’t know.”

Sounds very personal, and it is. She adds that, when they hear the new album—and they will—those “wrong guys” will know she’s talking to them, or at least about them, in songs including “goodbye looks good on You,” “shoulder to cry on” and “caught Up to me.” The leadoff single, “you don’t deserve a country song,” gives a loutish ex’ a thumping musical kiss-off, telling him he’s not going to get a sweet exit elegy. “I ain’t wasting any paper or any ink in this pen,” she sings. “I ain’t dusting off an old record, crying watching it spin.” Clearly, this is a gal who isn’t mushing and gushing on old memories. She’s moving on.

“I never name names,” she says. “I never call anybody out, specifically. But I think these people are probably going to know that certain songs are about them. It’s pretty inevitable. I don’t talk to my exes anymore. It didn’t end that way. It was more like we both realized it was best for us to not be in each other’s lives.”

She never names names…and on the songs of Twenty Something, heck, she doesn’t even use “proper” punctuation. All the titles are in lowercase. That’s not a typing error, she insists—it’s intentional.

“My eighth-grade teacher would probably not be very proud,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not the best with grammar, admittedly, but that was actually a very purposeful choice. It’s one of the funny quirks I have. Even when I’m writing notes or letters or texting, I never capitalize letters. It’s an aesthetic thing for me.”

So, no capital letters—but digits, on the other hand, figure prominently in her life. Her lucky number is 18; it’s her birthday in October, it’s the date she appeared on the Opry, and it will be the total number of songs, combined, on Twenty Something and its two planned follow-up albums—six songs on each of the three LPs. (She’s already written all of them.)

And there’s another number very important to her; it’s on the inside of her right forearm—a tattoo of three numbers, 757.

“Seven five seven is my hometown area code,” she says. “I’m from a little town in Virginia Beach called Pungo. I grew up five minutes from the ocean, a straight shot down Sandbridge Road. In the small town where I grew up, it’s a lot of farmers who’ve been there for generations, a real cross-section of coastal and country. I grew up riding horses, strawberry festivals, cornfields. I think a lot of that bleeds into my music. I always say that I want a lot of my songs to feel like a top-down Jeep ride along the water, because that’s where I’m my happiest.”

And she’s certainly happy that she’ll be going back to the beach this summer. She’ll be one of the formers at the Beach It! Music Festival, slated for June 23-25 on the familiar sands of Virginia Beach.

“A country festival that’s coming to my hometown for the first time!” she says. “I’m just a hometown girl, and Virginia Beach will always have a massive piece of her heart.”

She’s been in Nashville since she was 14, when she signed her first publishing deal, and her mom, dad and three brothers relocated with her—for her to get closer to the music business on which she had laser-focused her sights.

“My parents have always been so supportive,” she says. “From day one, they were the ones who told me to chase my dreams, and they would take me to Nashville on trips. When I was 10 years old, we would drive 12 hours back and forth, so I could spend a couple of weeks each time writing and learning about the industry.”

She’s certainly learned a bit about the industry, by being immersed in it and now finding such auspicious signs of success—including being named earlier this year as part of the 2023 class of CMT’s Women of Country, recognizing the genre’s most promising female newcomers and rising stars. But she knows she’s still got some learning to do.

“The most rewarding thing for me has been really getting to know myself,” she says, “and learning even more what makes me different from everybody else. So that’s advice I keep telling myself—just learning more about myself, getting really good at trusting my gut, and confidently living into that.”

Messes and all.

—Neil Pond


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