Depending on when you first encountered veteran singer Rosanne Cash, you might know her as the cranberry-haired commentator in Ken Burns’ recent “Country Music” documentary, or the Americana music titan singing about life and death, or the country music star trying to cure her “Seven Year Ache.”
That’s her signature song, the first of her 10 No. 1 country hits in the ’80s. She can’t escape performing it.
“I’ve never stopped doing it,” said Cash, who will return to the Guthrie Theater on Monday. “I’ve been through periods of my life where I was bored with singing it and kind of tuned out. Now I really enjoy it. I started to play it in a different fingering on guitar; just doing that feels kind of new and fun. It’s sweet, actually.”
After three outstanding concept records, including the triple Grammy-winning “The River and the Thread” — an examination of her Southern roots, including Memphis, where she was born, and Arkansas, where her famous father, Johnny Cash, grew up — the 64-year-old music maverick is touring behind a more intimate project, 2018’s “She Remembers Everything.”
“This was way more personal,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many people tried to talk me out of doing that.”
People encouraged her to write another concept project or even a country record. But, thinking about the state of the nation, she felt she needed to speak up in song.
“Women my age still have a lot to say, and we have a lot less to lose by saying it,” Cash pointed out. “And even if we had a lot to lose, it’s still worth saying.
“In the ’80s I read Carolyn Heilbrun’s book ‘Writing a Woman’s Life,’ and she said this thing that has stuck with me for 30 years: that women should live their lives out loud, purely to balance out the millennia of stories from men.
“Yeah, these songs, I’ve gotta say them out loud.”
In a recent call from her New York apartment, Cash had a lot to say.
On the Ken Burns doc
Cash served as a consultant on the project for years before filming began, then wound up on camera several times. It surely was a career boost, but what matters to Cash is what it did for country music — and her country.
“I think it was good for Americans to be proud of this shared musical DNA,” she said. “It was really as much about who we are as Americans as it was about music. Tracing the African banjo and the Celtic fiddle, that’s the story of America.”
On her latest album
“I learned that I could take a risk and let go of the outcome. I learned I could write lyrics obtusely and still have it be somewhat accessible. I learned not to care as much about what people thought.”
Cash took a risk working with a new producer, Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, Decemberists), on some tunes instead of doing the entire project with her husband/producer/guitarist John Leventhal. She took a risk writing songs about trauma and death.
“It’s not what they’re playing on Top 40 radio,” Cash said in an understatement. “I’m happy I did it. I’m very proud I did it.”
On her Grammy-nominated song “Crossing to Jerusalem”
It was about “taking stock of being in a long-term relationship. John and I are both doing that.”
“You’re at the back half. You realize that one of you is going to leave the other. Instead of being morbid about it, every moment can be a little thrill.”
On collaborating with Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson
Having been friends with Kristofferson since she was a teenager and Costello for the past 25 years, Cash had an idea to write a tune with them.
She already had the first verse of “8 Gods of Harlem,” based on a shooting incident. She asked each to write his own verse, imagining the song as a play about a child who is the victim of gun violence, with Kristofferson as the child’s father, Cash as the mother and Costello as the brother.
At first, Cash was afraid the song would seem like an outlier on an album of deeply personal material, but then she realized: “I’ve been an activist against gun violence for over 20 years. So, it is a part of me and what I think and do.”
On writing songs and prose
“They require the same rigor and ruthlessness,” said Cash, who has written four books as well as articles for such publications as the Oxford American and New York magazine.
“I don’t like consulting with anyone about my lyrics. I’m pretty confident as a lyricist. I’ve never had a [record company] person tell me to change my lyrics.
“If I’m writing a short essay, after the first couple of edits I’ll read it for John, and he generally has really good ideas, like, ‘You don’t really need that paragraph.’ I’m much more open to his comments. Then you have to submit it to an editor.”
On her biggest challenge
“Living in my own head.
“I’m a little bit obsessive and I tend to worry. I’m a little addicted to stress. I can go down a rabbit hole really quickly, which is why it’s good for me to be married to John Leventhal. He’s really steady, cheerful and funny. He can be misanthropic and a curmudgeon. But as far as deeper issues, he’s pretty stable.
“He told me once that I ‘front normal,’ ” she joked.
On joining the Daughters of the American Revolution
“I thought: Not one group owns patriotism. My family has been here since the mid-1600s. I welcome refugees and immigrants. So, I’m going to join the DAR to plant a flag in that idea.”
When she signed up last year, she was well aware of the DAR’s negative image for refusing to let black opera singer Marian Anderson perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in 1939. Cash said the DAR apologized, made reparations and later invited Anderson to perform there.
“We now have women of color in the DAR in my chapter and other chapters. It’s still a fairly conservative organization, and you’re not allowed to espouse political beliefs. But I’m proud I’ve got so many patriot ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War.
“For me, it was almost a subversive statement. It was so counterintuitive to who I am. Yet it makes perfect sense to me. These women do more community service than anybody I’ve ever seen in my life.”