Democracy Dies in Darkness


One of the best new voices in country music has punk roots

August 8, 2018 at 9:00 AM

H.C. McEntire's “Lionheart” is a sweeping, introspective Dolly-esque record about religion and queerness. (Heather Evans Smith/Merge Records)

Heather McEntire has a few issues with the formulaic narratives of the country songs she grew up with in rural Appalachia. Man and woman fall in love. Heartbreak ensues. Maybe sprinkle in a little idealism, or a return to a particular brand of righteous living. For McEntire, who got her start in punk rock bands, those ideas didn’t resonate.

“Growing up, country music was all that was around me, and hymns, and neither one of those narratively felt accurate to what I was feeling,” she says. “It’s a real bummer when you love country music and you hear these songs that you remember in the ’80s that you know every single word to, but you can’t really apply it to your life. Or even further, at some point it really directly conflicts with your beliefs.”

But the North Carolina songwriter decided to embrace that kind of music and released her solo debut album, “Lionheart,” in January under the moniker H.C. McEntire. It’s full of sweeping, introspective, Dolly Parton-esque tunes that find McEntire grappling with religion and her family’s difficulty in accepting her queerness. McEntire says she wasn’t trying to reclaim country music so much as guide her audience through their own vulnerabilities.

Along the way, she gained an unlikely advocate in punk icon Kathleen Hanna, founder of the legendary feminist punk group Bikini Kill. After seeing McEntire perform in 2014, Hanna encouraged her to open up about her life in song, and coached her through the recording of “Lionheart” from afar.

“When Kathleen and I started collaborating, I wasn’t sure what was happening,” McEntire says. “I really thought we were going to make a punk record and my dreams were going to come true. . . . I was at a place within my creative identity where I wasn’t sure which direction to go, and what I realize now is she guided me to my strength and what would empower me as a person.”

Show: Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the Black Cat. $22-$25.

Hau Chu is an editorial aide working with the pop culture, Weekend and Sunday Arts & Style teams. He has written for KidsPost and previously worked at the New York Daily News.

Post Recommends

We're glad you're enjoying The Washington Post.

Get access to this story, and every story, on the web and in our apps with our Basic Digital subscription.

Welcome to The Washington Post

Thank you for subscribing