Becky Warren's 'War Surplus' Follows A Couple's Life After Deployment

Nov 11, 2016
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This is Veterans Day 15 years into the war in Afghanistan. Though it is now the longest war in American history, it's one that few Americans have experienced firsthand. That makes for a growing gap between military families and other Americans. To bridge that gap, singer-songwriter Becky Warren put the experiences that she knows well into a new album. She talked about it with NPR's Quil Lawrence.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Becky Warren's album "War Surplus" is a classic whiskey-soaked, honky-tonk, girl-meets-boy story in 12 songs. Except this story is girl meets boy, boy deploys, boy comes home with PTSD which, soaked in whiskey, tears apart their marriage, which is also something of a classic in the veterans community.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIVE BAR SWEETHEART")

BECKY WARREN: (Singing) Ash on the carpet, stains on the wall - everybody's here 'cause they're better off drowning in alcohol.

LAWRENCE: Warren was married to an Iraq vet and lived some of that story, though she's careful to stress that the album is about a fictional couple drawn from many sources.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIVE BAR SWEETHEART")

WARREN: (Singing) She floated in on a Saturday and redeemed the place. She's my dive bar sweetheart, my angel in cheap gin.

LAWRENCE: And she hopes the story will feel familiar enough to anyone.

WARREN: So while I love that there are people that have lived this, that hear themselves in this, I also hope that people that haven't lived this hear it and feel like they understand what veterans and their families are facing.

LAWRENCE: The songs on the album alternate from his and her perspective. Warren sings with firsthand knowledge of the loneliness back home when he goes away. And for the perspective from the war zone, she borrows.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY CALM, GET LOW")

WARREN: (Singing) Killing time in Iraq where the meaning of life is to make it back.

LAWRENCE: "My War: Killing Time In Iraq" is a memoir written by combat vet Colby Buzzell. Warren based the song "Stay Calm, Get Low" directly on that book. Buzzell liked it enough that he wrote the liner notes for Warren's album. That song also has a decidedly Springsteen singalong hook.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY CALM, GET LOW")

WARREN: (Singing) We're all going to make it home. Sha, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, sha, na, na, na, na, na, na, sha, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na.

LAWRENCE: But once they get home, they're different. For Warren's boy and girl on the album, home is San Antonio, Texas.

Do you want to play "San Antonio?"

WARREN: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF BECKY WARREN SONG, "SAN ANTONIO")

LAWRENCE: The song pivots from a promise to stay together and heal to drunken bar fighting songs to songs about lashing out at the person you love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAN ANTONIO")

WARREN: (Singing) Oh, San Antonio, I've been cut clean down to the bone.

LAWRENCE: Warren's real-life Iraq vet ex-husband has heard the songs. He's doing better now, by the way - remarried and expecting a child. He asked us to keep his name out of the story, but he told me that even if parts of the album were hard to hear, he supports the message. Becky Warren says that message is, you don't need to be a vet to relate to one.

WARREN: A lot of people can understand conditions that are similar in some way to PTSD. A lot of people can understand anxiety or depression or other things. A lot of people can understand what it's like to care about somebody who's going through something incredibly difficult where you can't help.

LAWRENCE: Becky Warren just toured the album opening for the Indigo Girls, and now she's back in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAN ANTONIO")

WARREN: (Singing) And the only thing I know...

LAWRENCE: Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAN ANTONIO")

WARREN: (Singing) Is I'm finally home. I'm finally home. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.