Grammy-winning tunesmith Liz Rose is getting back to her roots with the launch of her new Edgehill Village store Castilleja, which just enjoyed its first holiday season in business. An oasis for creative types, the place is decked out like a stylish Bedouin camp following a tour of the American southwest. In one corner, a retired mechanical horse stands frozen mid-gallop surrounded by a variety of artisanal finds. Repurposed cupboards and tables display vintage serape pillows, custom jewelry and leather goods.
It’s a week after the grand opening and the phone is ringing off the hook with orders. Daughter and manager Hayley Rose Maurer is manning the register, while Liz works the floor. On break from assisting customers, the smile beaming on Liz’s face shows she’s in her element. Growing up, her parents operated a Ben Franklin five and dime, and Liz would join her five siblings in helping with holiday layaway and Easter basket assembly
We settle on an oversized leather couch — which has been the official throne of Liz’s hit songwriting sessions for at least five years — to chat about her new business, music and the love she knows best.
How did you come up with the name Castilleja?
Well, it started out to be Blue Armadillo, and then, my attorney in New York said, “Ew! I see road kill!” Then we thought Yellow Room and then Purple Donkey. I thought, “That’s not it. That’s not the name.”
My daughter Hayley and I were sitting at the house brainstorming and my favorite flower is the Indian Paintbrush, which is a wildflower in Texas. When the kids were little, I would always pull over on the side of the road and make them pick these Indian Paintbrushes. She remembered that and researched the Indian Paintbrush. She found Castilleja, which is its botanical name. The guy Castilleja named the Indian Paintbrush.
It took me two months to lear how to say it and six months to spell it. Everyone in my family said, [puts on her best Texas drawl] “I cain’t say it! I cain’t spell it. And nobody’s going to come to the store they cain’t Google.” I don’t care! It’s so perfect for the store. I can’t imagine the store being called anything else.
As a songwriter, setting is important. Does it help you to surround yourself in color and interesting crafts to stay creative?
Yes, I’m a messy person. I get nervous if everything is clean and white and untouchable. That makes me nuts. I’m a clean but messy person, and that makes me more comfortable. I need distraction. The more distractions, the better off I am.
This couch was in my writing room. I felt like it fit here. “Sober” was written on this couch. And that’s the other thing — I want this place to become a place where people come down after they write and hang out. We see it as more of a hang. We’d like to do some stuff in the new space when we get into the new space this spring — some writers’ rounds and guitar pulls. Nothing very formal, but just spontaneous with margaritas.
Tell me about some of the products in the store.
Hayley and I handpicked everything. We went to flea markets and Round Top and marketing in New York, Dallas, Atlanta and picked every single thing in this store.
My friend Jessie Walker makes baby headbands, and they’re amazing. I said, “Why aren’t you selling those? Can you make a bunch of those?” So we now have Laurel King baby headbands Jessie made. These Mexican blankets! I spent days and nights washing and soaking every one of them to get the itch out. They’re all over my house and they’re great for outside.
We try and do as much fair trade merchandising as we can. And these pillows! These pillows are all vintage serapes I’ve collected from the 30s, 40s and 50s. People look at the price and think, “Ugh!” But they’re all vintage. You’ll have them forever. They’re heirloom pieces you could have in your home. We’re collaborating with Ani and Ari to make the pillows.
This is clearly a passion for you. Would any of this be possible without music?
Oh, no! This would have felt like a job. I get to write songs and release all that creativity. Then I get to come do this. It’s like play time for me. I guess I’m lucky because neither one of them feel like a job.
Who were some of your earliest supporters in music?
Jody Williams. Hands down. Jody told me I needed to write songs. He heard a couple things and he went, “You’re a songwriter.” I was like, “No I’m not. I’m a plugger.” I was a song plugger. I had my own company called King Lizard. I was in business with a guy named Kingsley Brock, and it was great. We had some great cuts and singles. Unfortunately, it folded.
I was writing a little bit with one of our writers. And Jody was signing that writer. Jody heard some of the songs we wrote together and talked me into writing.
A lot of folks get told “No” often in music. How many times have you heard the word, “No?”
Nobody ever told me, “No,” because I never asked for anything. I didn’t come to town to be a songwriter. I didn’t come to town to do anything. I was married, I had three kids and once they all went to school, I thought, “I’ve got to do something!” I worked part time for Brooks and Dunn. Then I worked for a management company for a while, and I worked for a publisher. It always evolved into something.
When I started writing, everybody would say, “You should be writing full time.” I thought, “I can’t be a songwriter! What will people think? I’m a song plugger!” And everybody kept going, “Yes, you can!” So, I did.
Are you careful about the thoughts you choose now?
If I thought about what I was about to do, I wouldn’t do anything. I don’t think about it. Once I start the ball rolling, I’m too embarrassed to back out. So I just keep going.
To me, you seem like a guardian angel for many newcomers in the community, including Taylor Swift when she was new to Nashville. What does it mean to you to be part of her history?
I don’t sit around and think about it. I’m really proud of it, and I think I’m really lucky. It’s still fun to know I’m part of it. I was just doing my job. I was just showing up. I loved writing so much that I would stay at the office and write with whoever wanted to write. Taylor was usually my third writing appointment on Tuesdays. I loved it so much, I thought, “Well, this was fun!” Who could complain about that? I’m glad I was part of it. I love watching her journey continue. I’m so proud of her. She’s just amazing.
What did you see in her that made you want to work with her?
Her drive and her talent. She’s freakishly talented. She’s brilliant.
Take me back to the night you won the Grammy for “White Horse” with Taylor Swift.
In the car on the way, my husband said, “You might win, so you need to be prepared.” I wrote something down so I knew what I was going to say. Taylor was so awesome to let me talk. I mean, who does that? For all she knew, that could have been the one win. So, that was pretty classy.
In a co-write, songwriters bring certain strengths to the table. How have your strengths changed over the years?
Just confidence. There are days where I go, “God. I’m the worst writer in the whole wide world.” I’ve gotten braver about melodies and I started playing guitar. I write some things on my own, and I do writer’s nights, which I very seldom do. But I do them every now and then. I’m kind of writing a record right now. It’s my story, which nobody’s ever wanted to hear what I had to say. So, I’m working on my record.
You’re working on a record?
I think so. We’ve written songs. I’ve written some of these stories with really great girlfriends and my brother . We’ve written a song about the five and dime and just my life growing up. I’m really excited. It’s not for cuts. It’s just for me.
It’s called Swimmin’ Alone. That’s probably the first song I wrote for it. No love songs. There may be a love song about my parents. There’s one about my dad called “Yellow Room.” There’s one about my mom called “Grocery Money.” I can’t talk about it because I get emotional.
Tell me about working with your collaborators, the Love Junkies (Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna). What is it about love that you love so much?
We love writing about the highs, the lows, the heartbreaks and the tragedy of it. It always cracks me up when somebody says they don’t want a love song. That’s what everything’s about!
We hole up in my house and it’s girl time. We shut everything else out and just write songs, drink coffee, wine and just talk about family and everything. It’s a friendship I really cherish.
What version of love do you know best?
I think loving yourself. People will tell you that growing up, “You have to love yourself first.” Until I figured that out, it was a mess — an absolute mess. If you don’t love yourself, how do you even get up and walk out the door? I love my kids fiercely. If Hayley walked over here right now and said, “Mom, I really need your left arm right now.” I would cut it off, and hand it to her because that’s how I feel about my kids. There’s not even a second thought.
I wanted to ask about “Save Your Sin” on Little Big Town’s album Pain Killer. That is such a fiery song!
That song was written in the very first Love Junkies co-write, and in the same session that we wrote “Sober.” Little Big Town wanted to cut it on the last record. We played it out one night, and it went on hold for someone else. When it came off hold, they were in mid-Tornado land.
I called Karen [Fairchild] and told her that “Save Your Sin” came off hold, and she said, “Can we hold it for the next record?” They were good by it, and it’s a great cut. Kimberly kills it!
Then “Tumble and Fall” is a Love Junkies co-write with Karen and Kimberly [Schlapman]. Karen knew exactly how she wanted the song to go with the guys and all that intertwining. She’s just brilliant. We worked a long time on that one.
We wrote “Girl Crush” the day before they came over. We played it for them, and I said, “Y’all will never cut this, but you’ve got to hear it! It’s so cool!” Karen said, “Why wouldn’t we cut it?”
I can’t get enough of “Girl Crush.” I love the song! What was the inspiration behind that track?
Lori wanted to write a song called “Girl Crush.” I said, “We’re not writing ‘Girl Crush.’ We can’t write ‘Girl Crush.’ Three girls are not writing …” She goes, “No, no, no! You’ve got to listen.” I was like, “Lori, we’re not writing ‘Girl Crush!'” We kid around a lot.
Then Hillary came in and Lori said, “Hillary, I want to write a song called, ‘Girl Crush.'” Hillary started singing, “I’ve got a girl crush …” And we all went, “Oh yeah! This is fun! Let’s write it!”
That’s amazing! I can’t imagine any subject being off limits for too long now.
Yeah. That’s true. Well, you know, our hands are tied on so many things but “Girl Crush” is about a girl wanting to be with a guy. She’s got a crush on his girlfriend because she wants to be just like her so he’ll want her.