This is a world where a girl with a guitar is going places. Americana artist McKenzie Lockhart is a Muscle Shoals native who has found her voice as a singer/songwriter. On her first album, "Interlaced," scheduled to be released Sept. 9, she puts forth her perspective on community and faith.
Lockhart considers herself a bit of a latecomer to the music world. The Muscle Shoals High School graduate played sports in elementary and middle schools and didn’t pick up a guitar until she was a teenager.
“I always loved music, but I’m really reserved,” she said. “It was an odd thing for me at age 13 or 14 to ask for a guitar for Christmas. My parents thought it was out of the blue. It was probably an act of the Lord, honestly, that a guitar got in my hands and I stuck with it. I dropped everything to do it.”
She said she didn’t play in front of anyone until she was 15. Although she has a successful music career and an album under her belt, she said it’s strange to her as a young adult to think she’s coming up on 10 years of performing.
“It’s odd to think about my personality and who I am and this is the path my life has taken,” she said. “I started at 15 and have never looked back.”
Lockhart grew up in church and faith permeates through her music and her life. In addition to Corey Kilgannon and Nashville, Tennessee, artist Andy Gullahorn, she credits singer/songwriter Patty Griffin as being one of her biggest influences musically.
“I work part time at a church in the area with college students,” she said. “That journey has been super interesting. Faith as a child came easy; it has become more difficult just because of life circumstances. It’s harder but it’s still there. Even in the songs on this record, they’re mostly relational but faith is there.”
Lockhart said a few songs on her new record deal with her being her worst self when she’s with her fiance, Payton Pruitt.
“He still sticks around,” she said. “As I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve realized the value in truthful, honest songs about life and not just church. I think the church still needs honest songs to let you know you’re not the only one being mean to the one you love. And, not the only one needing forgiveness for those things.”
Pruitt, who is also a local musician and part of the band the Bear and the Bride, said in the four years he has known Lockhart, he has seen her gain confidence and grow as a songwriter.
“She’s always been great; I think she’s always been one of the best artists around the Shoals area especially in our age group,” Pruitt said. “She’s grown in that she puts herself out there more and in the right places.
"In her writing, she has become more serious. It’s bigger ideas and deeper ideas because she’s getting older, as we all are. She’s more comfortable and she’s not afraid to write about how she really feels.”
Lockhart said she also thinks she has grown as a songwriter, and working with co-writers on "Interlaced" was an act of bravery on her part.
“It’s hard. I grew up in this area with incredible songwriters like Dillon Hodges – before, I would put off co-writing sessions with him because he’s so good,” she said. “Now, with this record, Jordy Searcy, who was a UNA student and was on 'The Voice,' has really helped me feel comfortable with co-writing.”
Lockhart co-wrote a few songs on "Interlaced" with Pruitt and he played on some of the tracks. She said Pruitt and Searcy were key to helping her form some of the songs on the album.
One of the songs on "Interlaced," "New York," is an older song, the artist said. Lockhart, who is 24, wrote it when she was 19.
“It was weird recording that one and remembering when I wrote it,” Lockhart said. “It feels like so long ago even though it was only five years. A lot has happened in that time.”
Lockhart spent 10 months working as an intern with a company in Nashville and values the experience, but it made her anxious to return to the Shoals.
“So I moved there; it was an opportunity to go and see what it was like,” she said. “I really had a hard time plugging in – I think it’s weird that I consider Nashville a big city. It was hard for me being as introverted and reserved as I am to get out and meet people and get involved. It was a time in my life where I struggled and a lot of the songs I wrote during that time reflect that.”
She said while in Nashville, she went to shows and was inspired musically. But even with her fiance there with her, it felt wrong.
“We went to a Penny and Sparrow show there,” she said. “It was a Cause a Scene show they were playing in a church, and they announced from the stage they were moving to Florence. We were like, what are we doing here? We decided then we were moving back (to the Shoals) as soon as we could.”
Since moving back, Lockhart and Pruitt have found a new appreciation for the Shoals community. They started a house show movement, Co-Op, to help foster the local young music scene.
“Nashville was a needed growth experience, but to come back and be able to make music with our friends – and not just music but art in general – it’s good to be part of the community,” she said. “I feel like Payton and I both play more here in Florence than we were able to do in Nashville. It’s a good home base – I feel as if I’ve gained hours back to my life. We’re planted in the Shoals for as long as the Lord has us here.”
She said being part of the Shoals music scene is encouraging to her as an artist. Compared to some of her talented, successful friends, she thinks her current ambitions seem small.
“I’m not super interested in playing stadiums or arenas,” she said. “I really love playing house shows where people will stick around and you get to interact with them personally.”
Lockhart will perform an "Interlaced" EP release show with Jordy Searcy and Lee Taylor on Sept. 8 at 116 Mobile in Florence. Tickets are $7 at the door, $5 for UNA students with a MANE card. CDs will be available for purchase at the show.