When clear-voiced singer-songwriter Tenille Arts made her national TV debut on Jan. 29, it came with a performance on ABC’s The Bachelor, a series noted for its ability to wring drama out of the dating experience.
That guest shot led directly to her Reviver recording deal, which was announced in the Billboard Country Update on March 12. So it’s appropriate that Arts’ first single for the label is “I Hate This,” a title steeped in relationship drama. It’s a familiar scenario: After stepping back from a commitment, a woman realizes she loves her boyfriend more than she knew, and now she’s tortured by the thought that he’s gone for good. Absence, according to an old adage, makes the heart grow fonder, and that’s certainly something Arts knows a thing or two about. Her own boyfriend still lives in her native Canada, more than 1,500 miles from her current home in Nashville.
“Everybody has ups and downs in their relationships, so for me, I was kind of taking emotion from that,” she says. “Also, my sister had just gone through a breakup and a few of my friends had, too, around that same time.”
Thus, Arts was ripe to explore the topic when co-writer/producer Adam Wheeler — the author of Clay Walker’s 2003 hit “A Few Questions” — dropped the title on her during three days of co-writing at the Noble Vision office on Music Row in November 2017. He had come up with the “I Hate This” title a month or two prior and made an extra note beside it that cemented the hook: “I still love you, and I hate this.” He figured it was appropriate for Arts, but he was in no rush to push her on day one of their songwriting mini-conference.
“When I write with Tenille, typically, I just stay pretty quiet for a while until she reveals what idea or melody she’s been working on,” he says. “Her ideas are really strong, and of course, they’re really fitting for her usually.”
On day two, he unveiled “I Hate This,” and she was all in on the idea. They went after the chorus first, building out the hook with full-bodied, rounded notes. The melody coalesced around intervals of a third, with each successive line moving up one notch on the scale, playing up the tension.
“I just love that so much,” she says. “The melody there — it’s kind of just like all your emotions are building up. It keeps building and building and building, and then at the end of the chorus, it all just comes to an end and you’re like, ‘I hate this.’ ”
They created contrast in the verses, balancing the chorus’ elongated notes with faster phrases bunched into smaller spaces. And the last words in the chorus pointed the way to the lyrical approach in the verses.
“We wanted to just start all of the lines with ‘I hate,’ you know: ‘I hate running into you,’ ‘I hate trying not to touch,’ ” she says. “All these things that we used to do so naturally, all the sudden, we can’t do those things anymore. I think the verses and the chorus go so nicely together and at the end of the chorus saying, ‘I hate this.’ ”
The first verse has the former couple meeting in public post-breakup, and Arts put something personal into the plot as the woman takes note of a watch on her ex’s arm.
“I gave my boyfriend a watch years ago,” she says. “If I saw him wearing that out in public and we were broken up, I think that would crush me because every time he looks at that he’s going to think of me. That’s a physical thing that you can see that means somebody misses you.”
The second-verse scenario finds the protagonist alone, still focused on his absence. “Most girls my age are probably sitting in bed checking their phone, and now here they are, not being able to text that person, and you’re missing them and you’re hoping that they’re going to call,” says Arts. “It’s almost like it hurts so much more when you’re by yourself.”
The bridge works like a mantra: short breaths that build in intensity as she works through the pain. “This sucks,” she announces in the front half, invoking a word that has seemingly transformed from taboo to colloquial.
“It’s actually been very interesting to play that song live,” she says. “It’s so real. I’ll see a little bit of a smirk on a guy’s face when I say that line.”
“I Hate This” was not on the radar when Arts signed with Reviver, but Wheeler booked a May 17 session to get recordings of some of her newest material. Arts’ mother told her “I Hate This” had to be included. Wheeler’s wife told him the same thing. So they put it into the mix with six other songs.
“It just floored me right off the bat,” says co-producer Matt Rovey (Craig Campbell, Dean Brody). “It’s such a visceral song, and that climb in the chorus to the hook just killed me. I could immediately feel what it could be as a full production.”
They asked the musicians for parts that were softer but still gave a sense of movement to its midtempo pace. Drummer Evan Hutchings created patter with brushes and a gentle kick drum, guitarist Bobby Terry employed a rolling acoustic figure, and bass player Tony Lucido grabbed an instrument with reedy nylon strings instead of the usual steel threads.
“We all kind of agreed that we wanted it to be very real and open and organic so we could really set the scene for her vocal to be the centerpiece,” says Rovey. Arts’ vocal from that tracking session was so strong that it became the foundation for the final version. And that live take is what Reviver President/ CEO David Ross and executive VP/GM Gator Michaels heard when they dropped by the studio at the end of the session.
“It was so great to see David just light up at how much he loved that song,” says Arts. “They asked us to send roughs of what we got in the studio that day because they wanted to live with the music for a little bit if we were going to pick the single out of new songs. Two days later, I got a call from Gator Michaels, and he was like, ‘I am obsessed with ‘I Hate This.’ ”
The drama surrounding the song is no longer limited to the relationship in its storyline. Reviver released it to country radio via PlayMPE on July 24 with an Aug. 27 add date, and it’s likely to incur some interesting plot twists and turns as it works its way through the charts. In any event, its marketplace performance is bound to reflect on the tension in “I Hate This.” It’s there in the chords, in the melody and in the connection that Arts has to the absence at the heart of its lyrics.
“When I get into that character,” she says, “I’m feeling everything.”
(Reprinted with the permission of Billboard Country Update – August 27, 2018. Article written by Tom Roland.)