30 Dec 2023 Artist of the Month: Townsend
By Donna Lampkin Stephens
The Conway-based musician, who goes by one name, has combined her background in healthcare and her experience of deep loss with her music, resulting in echoes of hope that have reverberated around the world.
“I have a higher purpose now,” she said. “I feel like it’s selfish to keep it all to myself. I’ve been given a story to share to build a community, to better myself and other people.”
According to her bio, Townsend has opened for chart-topping artists such as Sister Hazel, Jason Reeves, Kris Allen, Maggie Rose and Ben Rector and has twice been named a semifinalist in an international songwriting contest. Her songs have appeared in commercials and short films. She describes her music as similar to that of Tracy Chapman and Brandi Carlile—“Americana with a touch of country and soul.”
Townsend, 34, grew up in Pine Bluff, where music was always a part of her life. Self-taught, she played drums for a punk rock band through junior high and high school before attending the University of Central Arkansas to study communication sciences and disorders.
“I started picking up the guitar, and I wanted to start a band,” she recalled. “Through the encouragement of my friends, I ended up as the front man, singing and playing guitar.”
The five-person band was called Townsend. “I was in Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority, and they’d always have me play guitar at events, and we got hired for a lot of Greek events,” she said.
But she’d grown up with the understanding that music was a hobby, not a career. A good student, she thought her future would be in healthcare. But the gigs got bigger, and after graduation, she faced a decision—music or further education.
“A lot of my band mates were getting married and moving on with their lives,” she said. “I was thinking I would make my career as a speech therapist, so I went straight on to the master’s program.”
But she and her drummer, Terrance Richardson, continued their side gig with acoustic shows while she was in graduate school. After graduating in 2013, she got a job in the nursing home setting, still playing music on the side. But in 2016, Richardson, whom she’d met while a freshman at UCA and with whom she’d collaborated musically for nine years, died in a car accident.
“That was a big blow,” Townsend said. “He was my best friend, my security blanket. He was the one who encouraged me to get up and sing and front the band.”
Richardson’s death “absolutely changed everything.” In the aftermath, she stepped away from music for the first time in her life. “It was something I did every single day, but I did not touch anything for at least a year,” she remembered. “It wasn’t fun. I usually had him in there with me, having a great time, but after he died, music brought more grief than joy.”
About a year later, while working through that grief, she started writing again, including the single “Show Me Home.”
“That was pretty therapeutic for me,” she said. “It really resonated with me, hoping that Terrance would show me my way back to myself, figuring things back out again. That was my catalyst back into music.”
A CD release party for the single honored Richardson in 2018 and marked her return to music. “Through sharing that story and playing music again, trying to get back into the scene, I realized that everybody has something in common—basically to need to know they’re not alone,” she said. “I had a lot of anxiety through the grieving process, and I tried to heal myself. I worked out, ate well, went to church—I was in the best health ever, but there was still something off, and I finally made the call to go to counseling.”
That experience resulted in the song “Watch the Walls.” “I’d completely lost light and hope, and I was searching for that, and that’s when people started talking to me about how they could relate to that song, and they would tell me their stories,” she said.
A serviceman who’d lost several people to suicide made her promise to tell people at her next gig that everyone has their demons and “you’re not alone.”
“I held my promise,” she said. “I’ve been through it, and I found myself feeling called that I can do more.”
Thus was eventually born her weekly podcast “You’re Not Alone with Townsend,” which has “quite literally become a mental health movement,” she said. She hopes to use her more than 30,000 social media followers all over the world to make mental health more of a conversation and less of a stigma. In less than a year, the podcast has been streamed nearly 50,000 times. It is available on all streaming platforms.
Her latest musical project, “brOKen,” shows “how the trauma we experience will always be a part of us. It leaves us broken, but in the end we’re really OK,” she said. “I feel like it was a calling. I was in healthcare; I can do more. I love helping people and listening to people’s stories.”
For more information, visit TownsendTmusic.com or follow TownsendTmusic on social media.
- Packaged with care - February 1, 2024
- Artist of the Month: Townsend - December 30, 2023
- Shirt designers remind us of experiences unique to the 501 - September 10, 2023