CLEVELAND, Ohio - The smart ones never stop learning . . . and Ohio's own Anne E. DeChant is one smart lady.
"I just felt sort of at a standstill,'' said DeChant, an Avon Lake native who moved to Nashville in 2008. "I felt like there was something more I needed to learn or do.
"I was comfortable in Cleveland,'' she said in a call from Toronto, where her partner, Erin Shim, has a home. "I could get gigs [but] I felt like, 'Is this it, or is there more to do?' ''
So DeChant, who returns to Northeast Ohio for a Saturday, March 3, gig at the Music Box Supper Club, and on Friday and Saturday, March 16 and 17, at Lorain County Community College's Stocker Arts Center, picked up stakes and headed to Music City to hone her skills as a writer.
"I had no aspirations of going to Nashville and getting a record label,'' she said. "At that point, that wasn't my goal.''
Her success in Cleveland, as a solo artist and with the much-loved and respected trio Odd Girl Out, opened some doors in Nashville and made it possible for her to get some of her music heard. But it wasn't a cakewalk. "I always carried the Cleveland success with me, but it's very difficult, the industry there in Nashville,'' DeChant said. "You've gotta have something to keep you propped up [because] there are many 'No's' and people who ignore you. Believe me, I had my days when it was pretty bad.''
But her time here convinced her there was and is an audience for her style of Americana music, and Midwest resolve - maybe another word for stubbornness -- served her well: She wouldn't quit . . . either writing or learning.
"Nashville's not going to do anything to fit me,'' said DeChant, whose years in Music City have made her a bit more pragmatic. "It's a big business, and the growth of the city reflects that. "At first, I tried to adapt to Nashville,'' she said. "I thought, 'I can do this. I can outsmart them or figure out what they're doing.' ''
There is no doubt, truthfully, that DeChant can write the cookie cutter stuff that pollutes mainstream country radio. Neither is there any doubt, though, that she's better than that. Only she had to learn it herself and stop trying to "adapt to Nashville.''
"I was writing stuff I would never sing myself,'' she said. "That should've been an indicator.''
A meeting with an ASCAP producer opened her eyes to the truth. She played him her music, the kind of reflective, intelligent lyrics she's always written and he fell in love with it. His advice: "You shouldn't try to write for Jason Aldean or any of these other people. Do what you do, period.''
"That's how he left it,'' DeChant said. "I took him seriously.''
So, really, what she's doing is what she's always done . . . only better. It's that whole 'how do you get to Carnegie Hall?' thing: practice, practice, practice. She's convinced she's a better writer now, partly because she writes so much and partly because she's able to soak up the subtleties of the craft from the scores of gifted writers in Nashville.
"There is so much talent [in Nashville,'' and it's talent you don't ever hear about or see,'' DeChant said. "I was learning from these people - how to be more simplistic with my writing, but how to be more poignant: the beauty of the true craft in it.''
It's a perfect time for DeChant, too. The bro-country style of country is fading, giving way to artists like Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Shawn Colvin, Margo Price and one of her personal favorites, Mary Chapin Carpenter. Once mainstream radio figures that out, it'll be Katy-bar-the-door time for singer-songwriters like DeChant again.
"First, I think there there's a better chance of getting something cut if radio figures out this is the next big thing,'' she said. "By all accounts, that's what people are ready for.''
The shift means it's more likely for her to find opening act gigs as well, because she will be teaming with like-minded writers. It's a formula she well knows.
"I think it was the same with Odd Girl Out,'' she said. "Why were we successful? We were really good, but it was at the same time when the Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge and Tracy Chapman were big. All that really helped us.''
Lesson learned. Just as you'd expect.