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Singer-songwriter Tara Dente found truth in her hometown mud

Tara Dente plays The Castle Theater in Bloomington Saturday night
Tara Dente
Tara Dente plays the Castle Theatre in Bloomington Saturday night.

Tara Dente examines the emotions that flood the hearts of many people when they return to their “hometowns” on her latest single and most recent album. The New Jersey born singer/songwriter whose music is fairly characterized as Americana is now based in Nashville. She opens for Matthew Curry when he returns to his Bloomington hometown Saturday.

In this lightly edited interview with WGLT's Jon Norton, Dente said the single “Anyone’s Hometown” came from visiting her hometown of Long Branch, New Jersey.

DENTE: It started with how uncomfortable I realized I was feeling just driving through the streets or walking through the streets of the places that I was familiar with, because I was almost afraid of the people I would run into. Because of just how much history was building up in these places. I figured I'm probably not the only one who feels like they're a little bit afraid to turn the corner in the place that they're familiar with.

WGLT: I've done that when I've gone back to my (home). I'm from northern Minnesota, but lived in Illinois for a long, long time now. But whenever I go back to northern Minnesota, it's exactly like you described. Who am I going to run into and all these haunts that I used to hit? Just brings back these weird memories, you know, sometimes good, sometimes weird.

DENTE: Yeah, you know, so it's both of those things. And that's what the song is about. The beautiful right next to the ugly, the beautiful right next to the painful and sort of overly familiar or the things that you want to run away from.

You know the lines in the sidewalk like the ones in your hands

And the place where you wrote in the concrete like it was sand

It's like a knife in the chest to drive by your childhood home

Not knowing who's cooking in the kitchen and dreaming in the place where you had grown

“Anyone’s Hometown” by Tara Dente

I'd like to continue this idea (about hometowns) with your EP “Truth in the Mud.” This came out last year, and the title track seems to be a look back at your home area. The one line, “the places where you play in the mud is where you find your truth.” I love that line. Can you explain your relationship with mud?

DENTE: Sure.

Or with the mud of New Jersey Shore?

DENTE: I used to walk a few blocks down the road from the home where I grew up. And there was this apartment complex called Pleasure Bay, next to it there was a baseball field and behind that was a bay, a river. So, you would kind of jump off of that little barrier that sort of holds up the land against the high tide. And when it was low tide, you could jump down onto this tiny little sort of muddy beach … wasn't really a beach … it was just private. And it felt like a place where I could be in my thoughts and playing pretend with my sister and my brother sometimes. I'm part of a generation that grew up without cell phones, that's a really good memory, just being in this really simple state of mind. And simple place where we would sometimes find a wallet with some cash in it that would wash up on this little sandy beach. And sometimes we would find shells, we would find sometimes not so great things like tires, and things would just wash up. I hadn't thought about that place for a very long time.

And then when I wrote the song, I started thinking about those places that I used to go to. And I thought about how, when you strip away all of the things that have become your identity as an adult, then you go back to the simplest times when you weren't comparing yourself to anyone, and you had no even concept of your persona and who you are in the world, you're just existing and you're just happy and sort of blissful. Or if you have the privilege to be … and I did at the age of nine or 10, I felt like going back to that mindset would put me in touch with some kind of greater truth about myself.

Did it?

DENTE: That's a good question. (laughs)

Those nasty follow-up questions, right?

DENTE: You know, I think you just spoiled the whole album for me. No, I'm just kidding.(laughs again) You know, I think that it’s a catch-22 I don't think that we ever can really go backward, we can't really know who we were as children. And then as an adult, we have those layers that become our identity. So, you can't really go back to one or the other. You just are where you are. I like the idea of being able to uncover your deepest desires from the things that you did when there was no pressure on you. I know as a child I created a lot. I played music, I made art. I was outside a lot. And those are some of the things that I love most about myself. So, the things that you love to do as a child often do kind of shed some light on what brings you joy to you as an adult.

If I understand correctly, you've lived in a couple of other different places, and it sounds like Vermont was one of them. But you now live in Nashville. Was that move itself pandemic related?

DENTE: Well, I visited Nashville for my birthday this past summer for the first time and I really liked it. I had been based in the Asbury Park, New Jersey, area for a good decade. I love the venues I would play at and I'm grateful for all of it.

But I think there comes a point when you need to be challenged. It's dangerous to get to a point when you feel like you could do no wrong. And I think it's important to be in a place where you're challenged, and people are going to give you honest feedback and so I wanted to be a little bit more of a small fish in a big pond and just be around people who had really, really challenged me. I think Nashville is ripe for the pickin. If you want to be in music, there are too many shows to attend. You can't go to all the music here. I anticipate being really inspired to become the best version of myself.

Sometimes when people get away from home, they have another way of finding themselves as things get stripped away, the familiar gets stripped away. People, buildings … are you finding that in this music town with all these amazingly talented musicians?

DENTE: I definitely had a really hard time acclimating the first month I was here, and you know, I cried a lot. It's crazy, ripping yourself away from everything that's familiar. It's not really normal for humans to put themselves in that situation. It doesn't happen that often because I think we're built to stay connected to the communities and to the familiar and rightfully so for evolutionary purposes. I think it makes sense. I think musicians are … some people would call it an affliction. It's a curse some others what's called a curse. And it's also, you know, a complete joy to be so motivated by your art and the desire to make it and grow it and all that, but it can really rip you out of like your comfort zones. And that's exactly what happened. I think I just knew I had to be here. Just had a gut instinct. And so, I went with it. And it's hard. Yeah, but this town is really welcoming. Everyone has been so nice. I think it's really about whatever you want to get out of it is what you're going to get. Conan O'Brien said if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. So far, I think I made the right choice.

Dente plays The Castle Theater in Bloomington Saturday night. She opens for Bloomington’s hometown phenom Matthew Curry, who himself now lives in Nashville.

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.