Country Singer Julie Roberts Shares Her Nashville Flood Survival Story
Julie Roberts has always gotten a rush out of Nashville and its country music scene. Until the recent Nashville flood, that rush was more emotional than physical. However, when last month’s rush of flood-water overtook her home, she and her family had to be rescued from the second story of their house.
Roberts is busy writing and recording her third studio album after her self-titled 2004 album Julie Roberts–which spawned her top ten hit “Break Down Here”–and 2006 follow-up Men and Mascara. And while most recording artists would think that’s enough on their plate, she’s also working on a movie of her life, entertaining the troops overseas and providing music to inmates in a prison tour with some of her Nashville co-writers.
The singer/songwriter was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule–which now includes rebuilding that flooded home–to speak with The 9513 about her flood experience and all of the other projects she’s working on.
KEN MORTON JR: You had an adventure as wild as anyone during the Nashville floods. Would you mind telling me your story?
JULIE ROBERTS: It was on that Sunday. It started at about 6 am. I live with my Mom and my sister and four dogs, and we were awakened by banging on the front door. And we were all asleep and we were all startled awake, you know? Momma went out there. I didn’t even hear it to be honest with you. Momma heard it because the dogs started barking. She went downstairs to see what was going on, and everybody was just running. I mean running. All the people were running down to the end of our street. They said that we had to get out and that the water was coming up. We live right next to the river and it had gone over its banks and was rising.
Momma came in and told us what was going on, and it takes about ten minutes just to comprehend what’s going on. We’ve never had to deal with anything like that. We were told we weren’t in a flood plain. Nobody that lives there has flood insurance. So we didn’t ever expect something like this to happen. So, we got dressed and all went back outside to check on what was going on. And when we went back outside, my car was floating away. And I waded in to try to go get it, but I couldn’t get it of course. And at that point, we knew this was really serious. We knew we had to get out of the house. The water was rising really fast.
The rescue people came by boat and said that they’d be back. They were concentrating on the elderly and the sick first. So we had a little bit of time to carry everything we could up to the second level. A lot we couldn’t–mostly because the water was rising so fast. And then we couldn’t go back downstairs because the water was so high. The power was still on and covering the outlets so we were kind of scared to go back downstairs because of the electrical current and things like that. So we went up and opened up an upstairs window. It was real quiet. It was like a movie. Real quiet. Scary quiet. All you could hear was water rushing.
KMJ: How long between the time you saw the water coming towards the house and the time it was rushing inside?
ROBERTS: It was about 7 am when we knew we were going to be in trouble, and it was about noon when rescue started coming by. But, after that, rescue would come by about every hour to an hour-and-a-half and yell, “Is everybody okay?”
In between their visits it was real quiet. We’d yell back, “Yeah, we’re good.” And they’d yell back, “We haven’t forgotten about you!” And then they’d tell us that they were going to get, or were still getting, the elderly people and and the sick people. They probably came back between 1 pm and 2 pm. And by that time, the water was up over my chest when I walked downstairs. They had to bust through our front door. We had to come downstairs and kind of wade through the broken door. There were about five or six men and they helped us all into the boat. We grabbed all of our dogs, and I ditched my little ankle boot I’ve been wearing.
The dogs had to be in these dog carriers. One dog, Molly, we didn’t have a carrier for so we handed her up to the guys on the boat. And then we went up and picked up another elderly lady and her husband who has bone cancer that are our neighbors. We picked them up and it’s still pouring down rain. We all had life jackets on. We rode over to the shelter. The water was that high, that the water was all the way almost to the shelter. It finally got shallow enough on the road we were travelling on that more rescue people were able to help us out of the boat. So we hung out at the shelter for a couple hours and I found somebody to get me over to Kroger. My ankle was killing me at that point. And I wanted to get out with my dogs. My mom and I and the dogs got a ride over to Kroger, and I had a friend pick us up from there. We’ve been living with friends since that Sunday now.
KMJ: And how is the house now?
ROBERTS: We went back to house the Tuesday afterwards to take photos. And we went back Wednesday to start cleaning things up, to start taking out trash. Everything is gone. Especially downstairs. The stuff we were able to take upstairs was okay, like my guitars. There were some clothes we were able to get. But tons is gone. We lost a lot a lot of things. But we’re alive. We have our lives. We’re over there cleaning every day. I’m going back over there today. I’m taking out sheet rock and taking out the carpet. I have to trash everything. Universal Music Group sent 16 people over this weekend to help us. We’ve had a lot of help. The community here has totally come together. There’s people I don’t even know inside my house helping out. They’re doing it because everyone is helping each other.
KMJ: From the outside looking in, that’s one of the more remarkable pieces to this all. The flood is terrible, but the way Nashville is rallying to help their own is amazing in itself. It’s pretty awe-inspiring.
ROBERTS: It really is amazing. We did a show right after with Vince Gill, and then a second one on the following Thursday for GAC. It’s really helping people that have lost everything and didn’t have flood insurance. For them, everything’s gone. They don’t know what the next day is going to bring.
KMJ: What goes through your mind as you’re sitting there in the second story of your home watching the water rise and rush past your windowsill?
ROBERTS: We had a few hours to sit there and watch it. It’s kind of unreal. You see it on TV, like when we had [Hurricane] Katrina. And you watch it for days on television. You never think that you’ll ever experience that. You worry about your life. You worry if you’re going to live. My sister and I were trying to make the best out of the bad situation. As we were sitting up there looking out the window, we saw stuff floating by and were pointing out the funny stuff to each other. We were trying to make the best of it. But the water is rising and rising, and every couple hours you hear a voice calling out to you. But I never lost faith. They kept telling me and letting me know that they hadn’t forgot about us. I had faith that we were going to get out of there.
Sure, you’re scared. But I just had a strong faith. I always have. I thought things would be okay. God won’t give you anything you can’t handle. But definitely when the water is rising and it’s coming up your stairs, you are starting to wonder what’s going to happen to you.
KMJ: Let’s switch gears and talk about what’s going with you musically. You’re working diligently on your third album. Tell me a little about that process and where you’re at.
ROBERTS: I’m writing and recording right now [for] my third record, and I’m so excited about it. It’s going to be an extension of my Breakdown Here record. It’s real country. It’s real songs. It might even have a few songs about this flood experience that I’m going to write. I actually wrote a song a couple years ago that we just recorded for this album. It’s out on the internet and it’s called “Somebody Does.”
We had recorded it, and just had it mixed, and we think this song might help people right now. You’ll kind of hear a little bit of the direction of the album. I’m just writing a lot and recording. It’s not much different song-wise. They’re always lyrics that mean a lot to me, that I can relate to or that someone in my family can relate to. That’s whether I write it or not.
KMJ: I know you’ve been working with One Flew South’s Chris Roberts. Who else are you writing with on this album?
ROBERTS: Marcus Hummons. I’m doing a prison tour with Marcus Hummons and Don Shlitz, who is another amazing writer. There’s lots of people who I really respect that I’m working on this album with. I’ve been working on this album for a long time. I’ve been really honing in on it–except for about a year period that I was in L.A. Now, I’m back this year and I’m really focusing again on it.
KMJ: I want to circle back in on that time you spent in Los Angeles, but before we leave the topic of the album, do you have a timeline on when we might hear the finished version of the album?
ROBERTS: You can hear that one song now. Honestly, I really have been working on it for a long time. I don’t want the circumstance of the flood to hold me back much more than a couple weeks. I want to get back in and keep recording in the studio. We have more we’re doing before the end of this week. So, hopefully, sooner than later. I want to get back on the road doing shows. Doing shows is where I’m happiest. Travelling like that is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. Not being able to be on the road is why I came back from L.A. Hopefully sooner than later. We’ll let everyone know when that is when we have a definite date for you.
KMJ: Sounds good. You mentioned Los Angeles. I know you were studying acting and working on a screenplay based on your own life story. You’re even working with the screenwriter of Coal Miner’s Daughter. Tell me about that project.
ROBERTS: This is another project that I’ve been working on for a few years and has gone through the writer’s strike. Do you remember when that happened?
KMJ: I do.
ROBERTS: We’re working with a second script writer, who is amazing. But changes in regimes at different movie companies… they like different writers. Right now, were working with Tom [Rickman] who wrote Coal Miner’s Daughter. It started a couple years ago when I was playing a show in L.A. Someone at my booking agency–who also works with made-for-television movies–knew my music. They had seen a special that CMT had aired about my mom and me. And we’re very close. And I think that’s why we were able to get through the scenario we did because we have each other. We’ve always had that strong bond because we have each other and we’ll get through anything.
They asked about my mom and why we’re so close. Why have I recorded so many songs about my momma? And I have. I’ve recorded a lot of songs about my mom. I started telling them my story. Our story is not pretty. It’s about strength. I didn’t have a good childhood growing up. I saw her have a hard life. My mom was married to my dad, who was an abusive alcoholic. Our whole mission was to get me to Nashville–and for her to get here after I came. She came three years after I came. So that’s what the movie is about. The movie is about our strength in doing everything we can to do what you want in life. And for me, that’s country music.
Momma did everything she could to get me to Nashville. And now I want to do everything I can to give her the best life because she deserves it. That’s what the movie’s about. I moved out there for close to a year and did acting classes and worked with the script writer. Now we have a script. I’m not positive it’s finished. We may have extra chapters to the script now after these last couple weeks. It shows our strength getting past all of this. That’s a project that we’re still working on.
KMJ: That’s also something we’ll look forward to. You just got back from a USO Tour as well. Tell me how that went.
ROBERTS: It was really amazing. I hope that I can do more. They’re some of the most rewarding shows that we’ve ever played. We went to Australia. I didn’t even know we had troops stationed there, but we do. I had my mom with me and it was the first time that she had ever been out of the United States. So, she’s getting to do a lot that she hadn’t got to do before in her life, which is great.
We sung for our troops and their families that are stationed out in the Outback. It was really amazing and really rewarding. The really appreciated us coming over there. And after that, I got to play for the National Guard out of Oregon. For us, I always wanted to be part of the USO Tour. Hopefully, I can do a lot more. I just wanted to let them know that we appreciated them for what they sacrifice for us–for what they do for us every day overseas. It was really amazing. I had never been to Australia before. I want to go back. It was kind of a quick trip so I want to go back and really see it. I did get to ride a camel.
KMJ: You rode a camel in Australia?
ROBERTS: (Laughing) I did get to ride a camel. I got to a few things that happen only in the Outback. We got to see some wallabies, and also mine for opals. I did get to see things. I went with the Denver Broncos cheerleaders ,and they were all extremely nice. We all got to meet a lot of people. It was awesome.
KMJ: I’ve got one last question for you. What is country music to Julie Roberts?
ROBERTS: Country music to me has always been my escape. It’s been my safe place. It saved me from a lot of things. Let me tell you something. When I was growing up at home and we would have these bad situations, we would always get in Mom’s truck and we would leave. We’d get in her truck and leave home. We wouldn’t talk when we were leaving. We would just turn on the country music. Country music. We would turn it up really loud. And that was my escape. It was my escape through the stories that were real life. And I could relate to those real stories–even at that young age. It makes me feel that I’m not alone. I don’t know if I’m explaining this really well, but it literally saved me from life. It made me have my mission–that I wanted to sing it and help people the same way it helped me. It made me not give up. It was where Momma and I turned to when we didn’t know where else to go. We’d get in that truck and turn it up and sing really, really loud. And it would make us so happy. And it does now. When I get in the car, the first thing I do is turn it up. When I’m in the studio, that’s when I’m happiest. When I’m on the tour bus on the way to a show, that’s when I’m happiest. I’m not happy when I’m sitting at home not doing country music. It’s always been that way in my life and it always will be. It’s life to me. It understands me.
- Ken Morton, Jr.: The inferiority complex of the CMA never ceases to amaze me.
- Barry Mazor: Thanks for explaining that to me, Luckyol.
- luckyoldsun: Barry, I think you're taking it a bit too seriously. CMT has to keep coming up with new lists to make. …
- Barry Mazor: Thi is a world in which the "top 40 most influential country artists of all time" do not include, for …
- luckyoldsun: I just noticed that Garth and King George are still to come. So unless I'm missing something else, the remaining seven …
- Leeann Ward: I hate it when people pronounce the days of the week with a "dy" ending instead of "day." It's like …
- luckyoldsun: Looking at that bizarre CMT Artists' list with Johnny Cash coming in at #8, it raises the question--Who are the …
- Leeann Ward: I'd have to agree with LOS here. The song was fair game to be released. It's no surprised that it …
- luckyoldsun: "'Brotherly Love,' IS a Keith Whitley song. Trying to take advantage of the impact sales, and the tragedy of Keith’s …
- Leeann Ward: Yes, we know that it's technically a Keith Whitley song, as Juli noted above.