On Monday, Lila McCann will be filming a video here for the second single from her fast-rising self-titled debut album.
Next Tuesday, McCann will start ninth grade in her hometown of Steilacoom, Wash.
The 15-year-old, whose album (released June 17) achieved Billboard Heatseeker Impact status at No. 94 on The Billboard 200 and whose first single, “Down Came A Blackbird,” is at No. 29 on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in the current issue, has a very low-key attitude about her newfound success.
She and her label, Asylum Records, downplay any comparisons to LeAnn Rimes, and McCann plans to stay in school and pursue her career around her education.
Asylum Co-President Kyle Lehning signed her to a development deal two years ago on the recommendation of then-Elektra Entertainment Group President Seymour Stein.
“I was playing at the Palomino Club in Los Angeles when I was 12 or so, and Seymour saw me there, and he loved me,” says McCann. “That was really cool.
“Then Seymour set up a showcase for me with Kyle in June of ‘95. Then I got my record deal in December of that year.”
Lehning says that before the showcase he listened to a McCann tape that he found “good, but not great. Nothing was killing me. We were kind of hemming and hawing about what to do, because there wasn’t an obvious direction.
“Then I got a tape of her singing demos, and one of those was ‘Down Came A Blackbird.’ When I heard her singing that, I felt that was a unique and creative direction that fit her really well.”
Lehning emphasizes that McCann was signed before Rimes hit.
“It’s not about that at all,” Lehning says. “She was pre-LeAnn. It didn’t matter how old or young she might be. All of our artists are long-term artists for us.”
They selected Mark Spiro to produce, partly because he had written “Blackbird” (with Michael Smotherman) and partly due to his work producing Julian Lennon.
“I had done demos of Mark’s songs,” McCann says, “and we loved him. I don’t think we could have chosen a better producer. Most of the songs for the album came through Mark.
“We went song-searching through all the publishing companies around Nashville - me and my mother and my manager and Mary Martin from Asylum. That’s how we found the other songs.
“We had had the song ‘Blackbird’ for about 2-1/2 years. That was the first song we picked for the album. I had demoed ‘Blackbird’ for Mark before. I had been doing it live, and everybody thought it was pretty cool, and it was cool to see how people reacted to it.”
McCann co-wrote one song with Spiro on the album and is already writing songs for the follow-up.
“Writing is fun,” she says, “and I definitely want to do more.”
“Down Came A Blackbird” is, says Lehning, a song that tends to polarize people. “We came with that as the first single because we knew there would be comparisons with LeAnn and we felt that that song would separate her from such comparisons, because that song is different from any other female record that is out there.
“I thought it was a unique record and would make a name for Lila right off the bat and separate her from the pack.”
McCann has not done a radio tour but does phone interviews and makes frequent stops at the area’s primary country station, KMPS Seattle.
There, music director Tony Thomas says she’s become a local fixture.
“Until this year,” he says, “there hasn’t been a country artist from the Puget Sound area since maybe Gail Davies. Now we’ve got both Lila and Michael Peterson. Lila has a neat, contemporary sound, we feel, and she has a huge following here.
“We like the music and love her story and put the two together on the air. The fact that she’s a teenager is secondary to the fact that she can really sing.”
For the moment, McCann says she plans to wait until next summer to tour, but “if anything comes up, I would definitely go for it. My plan right now is to go on and graduate from high school and then go on tour for a few years so I can really get into it a lot and then maybe go to college. I will definitely stay in country music.”
She began singing at lodges and dances in and around Steilacoom with her father’s group, the Southlanders.
“My dad has a country music band, and I’ve been singing with them since I was 4 years old,” she says. “So that’s 11 years now.
“I was singing stuff from the Judds and ‘Young Love,’ and I sang ‘On Down The Line’ by Patty Loveless and ‘Crazy’ and stuff like that. After a while, I would open up for my dad’s show and sing the first hour. Then people would come out to see just me, and that was cool.”
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