Heather McEntire Splits the Difference

When you’re born and raised in the South as singer/songwriter Heather McEntire was, being queer demands certain virtues because that singular incarnation is far from a simple proposition. Asked to sum up the experience in a few words, McEntire says, “Complicated. Revolutionary, frankly.” She laughs, then adds, “Brave. I also like that the visibility is becoming more consistent because more people are coming out.” The front-woman of Mount Moriah came out to family and friends a few years back when Amendment 1 was on the ballot, eventually passing with 61 percent of the vote in favor of not recognizing or allowing same-sex marriages in the state. McEntire felt compelled to put a personal spin on the issue in hopes of touching the hearts and changing the minds of those closest to her, figuring that, if they knew someone they loved was on the receiving end of that particular pitchfork, it might sway their vote.

“Between that — which was a few years ago — and the recent Supreme Court ruling, I have noticed it’s become more personal to my family. They’re more willing to talk about it and engage with me in my life,” she confides. “I think what [Amendment 1] did was create more of an impact, ramping up queer politics and queer rights, that pushed into the Supreme Court ruling. Along with other important issues — like racism — there’s been a kind of steady swell of interest and I’ve noticed my family becoming more engaged.”

McEntire considers herself to be an activist, as well as an artist, with the lines between those identities being blurred, though not from any external pressures. “I don’t feel like I have a mission to be an activist. I just can’t help it,” she laughs, then explains, “When I’m writing about something so passionately, something that I really care about, I do it to the nines. For me, it feels like something that I have to do. It’s a real shame, if I don’t use any platform that I may have to poetically or literally talk about justice and these issues. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s political. It feels personal.”

She continues, “When I was young and listening to country music on the FM dial, I never felt like any of those stories were mine. And I think that is the feeling… that is my motivation to write from my own, unique perspective which is a lot of things, and one of those things is being queer in the South.”

For Mount Moriah’s new How to Dance, McEntire — along with bandmates Jenks Miller and Casey Toll — took a step back and to the side, intentionally drawing on ancient mysticism and symbolism, rather than personal identities and politics. The goal, McEntire says, was “not to water anything down or censor anything, but to relate to as many people as possible and leave a lot open to interpretation.” The band is hopeful that the juxtaposition of cosmic themes with earthy sounds will do the trick. “I think listeners, in general, are going to take in what they’re going to take in. If they don’t want to see something, they’re not going to see it,” McEntire offers, “but I think we have to put it out there. This record, How to Dance, there’s a bit more abstract language that I don’t expect people to get on the first listen. But I think, if they’re open to meeting me halfway and digging in a little bit, I think it’ll be really interesting for them.”

In Taoist terms, you can’t know the light, if you don’t know the dark because they define each other. And that’s the point How to Dance attempts to make. “That’s nail on the head,” McEntire says. “This record came from a very dark place. I had to first acknowledge what I was going through, what the darkness was, and really get to know it. I had to acknowledge its power and also acknowledge my own power to work through it.”