The *Unofficial* Iris DeMent FAQ
Version 3.8

Last updated on
February 12, 2002

Originally Compiled by Steve Figueroa

Thanks Steve!

“I write what I know, my hopes and dreams and disappointments,
and just try to be as honest about it as I can be” – Iris DeMent

* A note: This FAQ appeared on Iris’ “official” website Steve’s site at —  www.irisdement.com for some time.  The groundwork for it was done by Steve using interviews, liner notes, etc.  I’ll continue to call it “unofficial” as I take over maintaining it. While I’ll continue to strive for accuracy as Steve did, please take all you read herein with a grain of salt.



  1. Who is Iris DeMent?


  1. What albums are available?
  2. Has she released any CD singles?
  3. What other albums does she appear on?


  1. Where and when was Iris born?
  2. Who are her parents?
  3. Does Iris have any brothers and sisters?
  4. Where does Iris live now?
  5. Is Iris married?
  6. There are quite a few religious references in Iris’ lyrics; what faith is she?
  7. How did she come to be a professional singer-songwriter?


  1. What musicians have influenced Iris?
  2. Which musicians are Iris associated with today?
  3. What is Iris’ relationship with Merle Haggard?
  4. Have any other artists covered Iris’ songs?
  5. Who are The Troublemakers?


  1. Our Town
  2. These Hills
  3. Sweet Forgiveness
  4. After You’re Gone
  5. When Love Was Young
  6. Mama’s Opry
  7. This Kind of Happy
  8. Trouble
  9. There’s a Wall in Washington
  10. When My Morning Comes Around
  11. Letter to Mom
  12. Wasteland of the Free
  13. I’ll Take my Sorrow Straight
  14. God May Forgive You (But I Won’t)


  1. Is there an Iris DeMent Fan Club?
  2. The Goo Goo Dolls have a song called `Iris’, coincidence?
  3. What other sources of info are there?


1. Who is Iris DeMent?

Some would say that Iris is a performing singer-songwriter and others, a folk singer. Still others would label her a country singer, but Iris defies labels and so does her music. She is a uniquely talented musician with an ability to write wonderful songs and deliver them with the kind of pure honesty that has been sadly lacking in modern music of any genre.



1. What albums are available?

INFAMOUS ANGEL: originally released January 16, 1992 on Philo/Rounder and then re-released on May 25, 1993 on Warner Brothers Records

MY LIFE: released April 12, 1994 on Warner Brothers Records

THE WAY I SHOULD: released October 8, 1996 on Warner Brothers Records (originally scheduled for August 27, but it was delayed for artwork changes)

2. Has she released any CD singles?

Yes… but good luck trying to find ’em! They are as follows:

OUR TOWN (WEA Intl. Inc.; WO194CD 9362-41030-2; 1993, Germany)
Our Town (album version)
God May Forgive You (But I Won’t) (by Harlan Howard/Bobby Braddock)
Heart’s Highway (by Eddie Miller/Alice Harper)

SWEET IS THE MELODY (WEA Intl. Inc.; WO248CD 9362-41580-2; 1994, Germany)
Sweet is the Melody (album version)
French Boy (a.k.a. Je Besoin de Mon Garçon Français)
Keep on the Sunny Side (by A.P. Carter of The Carter Family)
(note: tracks 2 & 3 were recorded live at The Diamond Circle Theatre, Durango, Colorado 2/12/94)

WASTELAND OF THE FREE (WEA Intl. Inc.; WO392CD 9362-43835-2; 1997, Germany)
Wasteland of the Free (edit, 4:05)
The Way I Should (album version)
Letter to Mom (album version)
Wasteland of the Free (album version)

3. What other albums does she appear on?

Here’s a list of some of the guest appearances Iris has made on other artist’s albums and compilations; Words in [brackets] indicate her contribution to the song, otherwise she’s the primary artist heard on the track

Jann Browne (1990): TELL ME WHY
(WEA/Atlantic/Curb Records)
Lovebird [Harmony Vocals]

Emmylou Harris (1990): BRAND NEW DANCE
(WEA/Warner Brothers)
Wheels of Love [Harmony Vocals]
Brand New Dance [Harmony Vocals]

Jann Browne (1991): IT ONLY HURTS WHEN I LAUGH
song(s)? [Backing Vocals]

Nanci Griffith (1993): OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS
Ten Degrees and Getting Colder [Harmony Vocals]
Are You Tired of Me My Darling [Harmony Vocals]

Tom Paxton (1994): WEARING THE TIME
(Sugar Hill Records)
Along the Verdigris [Backing Vocals]

Various Artists (1994): BEST OF MOUNTAIN STAGE LIVE, VOL. 6
(Blue Plate Records; Other artist include Bruce Hornsby, Cracker, R.E.M., Nanci Griffith, Me Phi Me, Jeffrey Gaines, Paul Brady, Barenaked Ladies, Col. Bruce Hampton and The Aquarium Rescue Unit)
After You’re Gone (live)

(WEA/Atlantic/Rhino/Hightone; Other artists include Joe Ely, Lucinda Williams, Marshall Crenshaw, Peter Case, Dwight Yoakam Tom Russell, Robert Earl Keen & The Sunshine Boys, Rosie Flores, Barrence Whitfield, Billy Joe Shaver, Katy Moffatt, John Doe, Dave Alvin and Steve Young)
Big City

Merle Haggard (1996): 1996
(WEA/Atlantic/Curb Records)
No Time to Cry [Piano]

John McCutcheon (1997): SPROUT WINGS & FLY
(Rounder Records)
(The Carter Family’s) Over the Garden Wall [Harmony Vocals]

(Blue Plate Records; Other artists include Richard Thompson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Richie Havens, John Hartford, Taj Mahal, Delevantes, Steve Forbert, Bill Morrissey, Cheryl Wheeler and Holly Near)
Sweet is the Melody (live)

(Sony/Egyptian Records; A great collection of artists contribute to to this album in honor of the “The Singing Brakeman”, Jimmie Rodgers; Iris appears along with Bono, Alison Krauss, Bob Dylan, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dickie Betts, David Ball, Steve Earle, Aaron Neville, Van Morrison, John Mellencamp, Jerry Garcia, Willie Nelson and Dwight Yoakam)
Hobo Bill’s Last Ride

Tom Russell (1997): THE LONG WAY AROUND
(WEA/Atlantic/Rhino/Hightone; This album features Tom performing with the likes of Nanci Griffith, Dave Alvin, Katy Moffatt, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and, of course, Iris)
Big Water [Duet]
Box of Visions [Duet]

Various Artists (1997): KSGR BROADCASTS VOL. 5
(A double-CD benefit album put out by an Austin, TX radio station)
Let the Mystery Be (recorded live at KSGR on February 25, 1997)

The Beautiful South (1997): “LIAR’S BAR” CD SINGLE
(A&M/GO! Discs Ltd; Live recording taken from the British television show “Later With Jools Holland”; The Beautiful South were the featured artist of the evening and Iris was one of several guests)
You’ve Done Nothing Wrong [Harmony vocals, lead vocal provided by the band’s female singer]

Various Artists (1997): WOMEN IN COUNTRY
(The Hit Label Ltd., released in the UK; a compilation of album tracks by various female artists)
I’ll Take My Sorrow Straight (note: same as album version)

(Compass Records; companion CD to the book of the same title)
Easy’s Gettin’ Harder Every Day (note: same as album version)

(Shanachie; Iris’ contribution comes from the Tom Russell album “The Long Way Around”, see the above entry; Other artists on this album include Robbie Fulks, Dale Watson, Don Walser and Kelly Willis)
Box of Visions [Duet with Tom Russell (see above)]

(MCA Nashville; Other artists include Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, The Flatlanders, Lucinda Williams, Allison Moorer, Dwight Yoakam, The Mavericks, Don Walser, Steve Earle, Don Edwards and George Strait)
Whispering Pines

(This album is available through Red House Records (P.O. Box 4044, St. Paul, MN; CAT# 55104 (RHR CD 109). Other artists include of David Wilcox, Dave Alvin, Lowen & Navarro, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Bruce Cockburn, Dar Williams, Dillon O’Brian, Maura O’Connell, John Gorka, Tish Hinojosa, Richard Thompson and Mary Black)
Our Town (live in KPFK Studios)

Jeff Black (1998): BIRMINGHAM ROAD
     Uniontown [Backing vocals]
Ghosts in the Graveyard [Backing vocals]

Randy Scruggs (1998): CROWN OF JEWELS
(WEA/Warner Brothers; An amazing array of artists join Randy including Travis Tritt, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Hornsby, John Prine, John Hiatt, Matraca Berg, Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Joan Osborne, Trisha Yearwood, Lee Roy Parnell, Rosanne Cash, Sam Bush, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gary Chapman, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Jeff Hanna, Delbert McClinton, Roger McGuinn, Tammy Rogers, Earl Scruggs, Harry Stinson and Marty Stuart)
Wildwood Flower [Duet with Emmylou Harris]
City of New Orleans [Backing vocals]

      Song of Choice [Duet]

Various Artists (1998): REAL: THE TOM T. HALL PROJECT
(Warner Brothers; Other artists include Johnny Cash, Kelly Willis, Richard Buckner, R.B. Morris, Freedy Johnston, Jonny Polonsky, Ron Sexsmith, Calexico, Syd Straw & The Skeletons, Joel R.L. Phelps, Joe Henry, Ralph Stanley featuring Ralph Stanley II, The Mary Janes, Mary Cutrufello, Whiskeytown, and Mark Olson with Victoria Williams)
I Miss a Lot of Trains

Steve Earle & The Del McCoury Band (1999): THE MOUNTAIN
(E-Squared Records; Other artists include Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Cowboy Jack Clement, Sam Bush, Gene Wooten, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Stuart Duncan, Marty Stuart, David Ferguson and Kathy Chiavola)
I’m Still in Love With You [Duet with Steve Earle]

(Hightone Records)
     Wayfarin’ Stranger
Patrick Russell [Duet with Tom Russell]
Ambrose Larsen [Duet with Sondre Bratland]
Acres of Corn
The Old Rugged Cross [Duet with Kari Bremnes]
When Irish Girls Grow Up [Duet with Dolores Keane]
Throwin’ Horseshoes at The Moon [Duet with Tom Russell]
Wayfarin’ Stranger (revisited)
Love Abides [Duet with Tom Russell]

(Astor Place; Other artists include Jonatha Brooke, Marshall Crenshaw, Chrissie Hynde, Curtis Stigers, Ron Sexsmith, Jules Shear, Suzzy & Maggie Roche, Patty Larkin, Cry Cry Cry, John Cale & Suzanne Vega, John Gorka, Larry Kirwin & Black 47, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Paul Brady)
Pack Up Your Sorrows [Duet with Loudon Wainwright III]

John Prine (1999): IN SPITE OF OURSELVES
(Oh Boy! Records; this album features John doing duets with Iris, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Trisha Yearwood, Connie Smith, Melba Montgomery, Patty Loveless, Dolores Keane and Fiona Prine)
We’re Not the Jet Set [Duet]
Let’s Invite Them Over [Duet]
We Could [Duet]
In Spite of Ourselves [Duet]

Delbert McClinton (2001): NOTHING PERSONAL
(New West Records)
Birmingham Tonight [Harmony Vocal]

Soundtrack (2001): SONGCATCHER
(Vanguard Records; other artists include Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Maria McKee, Roseanne Cash, Emmy Rossum, Allison Moorer, Dolly Parton, Hazel Dickens, David Mansfield, Pat Carroll, Sara Evans, Deana Carter, Patty Loveless, Julie Miller)
Pretty Saro

Keith Sykes (2001): DON’T COUNT US OUT
(Syren Records; other guests include John Prine, Todd Snider, Rodney Crowell and Susan Marshall)
It’s Just You [Duet]
Lavender Blue [Duet]

(Rebel Records; Also appearing are Gillian Welch, Pam Tillis, Dolly Parton, Maria Muldaur, Joan Baez, Sara Evans, Patty Mitchell, Chely Wright, Melba Montgomery, Jeannie Seely, Lucinda Williams, Gail Davies, Kristi Stanley and Valerie Smith)
Ridin’ That Midnight Train [Duet]
Trust Each Other [Duet]


1. Where and when was Iris born?

Iris Luella DeMent was born in Paragould, Arkansas (a small town just west of the Missouri bootheel) on January 5, 1961. Her family had been farmers for generations but soon after Iris was born the farm hit hard times forcing the family to sell it and move into town. Then, in 1964, her family relocated to Long Beach, California and then Buena Park (suburbs of Los Angeles) where her father took work as a janitor at The Movieland Wax Museum and where Iris attended school.

Source of information: Contemporary Musicians Volume 13 December 1994 (article by Megan Rubiner Zinn) and the liner notes from “Infamous Angel”

“After we moved to California, I remember having a sense of us not really fitting in,” recalls DeMent. “I was very intrigued by my own parents, because I knew they were different from other adults in our neighborhood. I was interested in where they came from and what made them the way they were.

“I guess making this kind of music makes me feel safer in the world somehow, and helps me get a better sense of where I came from.”

Source of quotes: The Detroit News 1/25/96; Slick-Fingered Chet Atkins and Rootsy Newcomer Iris DeMent (article by Kevin Ransom)

“We lived in a housing tract,” she said. “We didn’t have a city or a section of tall buildings, but it was heavily populated with houses lined up against each other, which was very unlike where my family came from.”

“I didn’t see myself musically” she said. “I left the church and dropped out of school when I was seventeen, but I didn’t pursue it. I had other jobs and did non-musical things. I’d come home at night and play the piano, singing for myself.”

Source of quotes: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

2. Who are her parents?

Iris’ father, Patric Shaw DeMent, was a major inspiration for the material on the album My Life, which Iris dedicated to his memory after his death in 1992. Her mother, Flora Mae DeMent, can be heard providing lead vocal on the song `Higher Ground’ from “Infamous Angel”.

“My mom was in her late 40’s and my dad was 56 when we moved to California,” she said. “They were pretty much who they were. They were determined to continue being who they were. They worked really hard to keep everything in the home the way it had been before. They took us to churches that were full of a lot of Arkansas and Oklahoma transplants. The minister was from the same town that we were from. I felt like I got a good dose of both worlds”.

Source of quotes: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

3. Does Iris have any brothers and sisters?

That’s an understatement! Iris is the youngest of 14 children (7 boys and 7 girls). Her brothers and sisters all played piano and sang and her older sisters performed in a singing trio as The DeMent Sisters.

“My sister Faith played the accordion and wrote some of the songs that they did,” she remembered. “They formed this group when they were in junior high and high school. They started out singing just for the church, [then] they got matching dresses and started going out and singing at Marine bases. There was a country, Christian singer that had them sing some backup for him on two of his records. They weren’t famous or anything, but considering that they were kids, they had pretty much developed their sound and were doing their own songs and traveling around a little bit singing them”.

Source of quotes: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

4. Where does Iris live now?

Gladstone, Missouri (just north of Kansas City)

5. Is Iris married?

Iris married her long-time boyfriend Elmer McCall on November 16th, 1991 (they met while she was waitressing in a pizza parlor). Elmer is a former firefighter who worked as Iris’ manager while they were married and collaborated with her on `Trouble’ and `I’ll Take My Sorrow Straight’ (from “The Way I Should”).  They divorced in the summer of 1999.

6. There are quite a few religious references in Iris’ lyrics; what faith is she?

“I grew up in Assemblies of God. We would go at least three times a week, sometimes every night of the week.”

“One day the preacher drove up in a Cadillac. I was about seventh grade, and bells started going off in my head. I know that Jesus didn’t drive around in a nice car. Of course, they all try to rationalize that away. But it’s a fact, whether Pat Robertson wants to talk about it or not, that the Christians of today do not much resemble the person they claim to be patterning themselves after,” DeMent asserted. “As much as I loved being part of the church … I didn’t believe all the things they were telling me.”

Source of quotes: The Michigan Daily, 1996: Plain But Not Simple (article by Jennifer Buckley)

Iris’ decision [to leave the church at age 16] came to a head over a pair of nylons: “The minister said the rules were that I had to wear nylons or leave the church choir. I knew there was no rule in the Bible about nylons. I realized that meant it was all right for the minister to think for himself and make up new rules, but it wasn’t all right for me to do the same. But he had the power and my choice was to abide or leave the choir. I left”.

Source of quote: bio on Iris from The Old Settler’s Bluegrass Festival website

“Even though I don’t go to those churches anymore, I don’t think I can ever separate myself musically from those churches,” she says. “I was three days old when I went to my first church service, and the churches we went to had a lot of really great music – really soulful, sincere singing.

“That’s pretty much what I was submerged in most of my life, even though today I’m not a Christian…. From what I remember from church, being a Christian means that you believe that people have to believe that Jesus is the only way to get to a better place. For a long time I did call myself a Christian, even though I didn’t go to a church. But then I realized that that belief is really at the crux of Christianity – that the foundation of Christianity is to make everybody become like them, because if they don’t become like them, they are doomed to burn in hell forever and ever and ever. That’s basically what Christianity is all about. I simply do not believe that, and I can’t believe that, and as hard as it is for me to say, I’m not a Christian.”

Source of quotes: No Depression #6, Nov./Dec. 1996; Homespun of the Brave (article by David Cantwell)

7. How did she come to be a professional singer-songwriter?

“I’ve always wanted to write songs,” she said recently. “As I got to be a teenager, I wanted to write them even more, but for some reason I just couldn’t. I would feel really intimidated by other people who were able to do it, and to do it well. I could never imagine myself being able to come anywhere near that.

“I’d sit and write a line and I would compare it to somebody else’s and decide it was no good. As much as I wanted to write, I never got past a line or two”.

Source of quote: The Michigan Daily, 1996: Plain But Not Simple (article by Jennifer Buckley)

Iris dropped out of school at 17 (she has a G.E.D.) After leaving home, she moved to Topeka, Kansas where a creative-writing course at Washburn College course rekindled her desire to write music, something she remembers doing as early as age 5.

“I suddenly realized that I had become pretty unhappy, and that I wasn’t enjoying any of these other things that I was trying to do,” she said. “I made a conscious decision to stop running from the thing that I loved and just do it. Even if nobody liked it, even if it got me nowhere, even if everybody laughed at my songs, I was going to write them and I was going to go out to sing them.”

“That class did a lot to stimulate me creatively, and had a lot to do with why I went into writing songs,” she recalled. “The teacher was really good. She didn’t dwell on your structure or your misspellings, even though she would point that out. But if you had a good creative idea, she would get really excited. She seemed to truly enjoy that when a student would find things. I thrived on that.”

A few months after the class met for the last time, DeMent wrote her first song. “I sat down one day and decided that I wanted to write a song,” she said. “I decided to stop worrying about everybody else and what they would think about it and write for me. After one, you write songs forever. For some reason, that day, I managed to get a verse and chorus and another verse. It was just amazing. For somebody who could never write more than one line, I was in heaven. I just kept going from there”.

Source of quote: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

She was 25.

“It was kind of late to start writing, but it was the time for me,” DeMent said. “I had to have some life experiences to help me get to that place where I realized that the right person to be was the person that I was. When I decided that, when I decided to pursue the thing I loved, was when I started being able to write.”

Source of quote: The Michigan Daily, 1996: Plain But Not Simple (article by Jennifer Buckley)

She began writing songs in her head because she didn’t have a piano and then she borrowed her brother’s guitar and taught herself to play. Her first full-fledged song was “Our Town,” inspired by a drive through a deserted Oklahoma town.

Soon, Iris decided to leave Topeka for Kansas City, Missouri.

I had no real reason to move from Topeka to Kansas City, except that I liked it. I didn’t want to go back to California, and it was closer to Nashville.

Source of quote: liner notes for “Infamous Angel”, Kansas City, 199

For 2 years she participated in “open mic” nights and talent shows. After deciding to seriously pursue a songwriting career, DeMent relocated again to Nashville where she met songwriter Gene Levine (Nanci Griffith’s `Once in a Very Blue Moon’). Levine advised her to send a demo to producer Jim Rooney who in turn brought her to the attention of a Rounder/Philo executive and she was quickly signed to a recording contract.

Rooney, who was instrumental in advancing the career of Nanci Griffith, produced her debut album, “Infamous Angel”. In early 1993, Warner’s London A&R chief Andy Wickham played “Infamous Angel” for Warner Bros. President Lenny Waronker who knew by the end of the first track, `Let the Mystery Be’ that he wanted to sign her.

After securing a record contract, Iris left Nashville for good.

“I liked Nashville. I was happy there. At the same time I was happy to go,” she admitted. “For me, I thought it was a little stifling, being in a community where every other person — well, probably more than that — was either a songwriter or a singer or involved in the music business. It made me a little claustrophobic.”

“The reason I went there was I wanted to make records and I wanted to find someone that would help me do that. Once I found somebody willing to do that, I decided to come home to Kansas City, which is where my boyfriend was.”

Almost immediately, letters from appreciative fans began arriving in DeMent’s mailbox. No one was more surprised than Iris herself.

“The weirdest thing … was to have somebody from clear across the country that you’ve never met writing you a letter about your song, and what it said to them and what it did for them, and meant to them. That was when the shock started hitting me.

“These things, that I’d created in my house, with nobody abound, can actually go out and affect people clear around the world. That’s a very satisfying sort of experience to have,” said DeMent.

Source of quotes: The Michigan Daily, 1996: Plain But Not Simple (article by Jennifer Buckley)



1. What musicians have influenced Iris?

The Carter Family & Jimmie Rodgers
“I didn’t actually discover their records until I grew up,” reminisces DeMent. “But the songs sounded vaguely familiar to me. One day, I played them for my mom. She hadn’t heard those records in 40 years, but she sang along, word for word. That’s when I remembered her singing those songs around the house when I was a girl.”

Source of quote: The Detroit News 1/25/96; Slick-Fingered Chet Atkins and Rootsy Newcomer Iris DeMent (article by Kevin Ransom)

Loretta Lynn
The first record DeMent remembers ever hearing was one of her mom’s Loretta Lynn albums. “I loved that record,” she recalled. “It’s the first album I memorized from front to back…. A number of the songs [Lynn] wrote, but it was all gospel hymns. I don’t know the name of it, I think it was just like “Loretta Lynn Sings Gospel Hymns”. She’s got long red hair on the cover and a yellow lacy dress. That’s probably why I liked the album so much as a kid. She looked really, really pretty on there.”

Source of quote: No Depression #6, Nov./Dec. 1996; Homespun of the Brave (article by David Cantwell)

Earl Scruggs
Earl provides his distinctive banjo picking on Iris’ album “The Way I Should”. Iris once told a story about being invited to his house for dinner, the only problem being that she didn’t have the directions. But one of the fringe benefits (or curses) of being a living legend in Nashville is that you’re never hard to find. Iris merely pulled out her copy of “Nashville Map of the Stars” and arrived on schedule.

“From the time I was a kid, I always knew his name,” she said. “My parents were big fans of Flatt and Scruggs. It was thrilling to actually meet him and to sit in a room and watch him play his banjo. That was the highlight of the whole record. He’s one of the nicest, warmest men I’ve probably ever met”.

Source of quote: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

Amongst others, Iris has also sited Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Tom T. Hall as influences, but her strongest musical influences were also her earliest, her family….

“There was constant music in the house,” DeMent recalled. “Everybody in my family was involved in music in some way. All of my sisters sang and played piano and some played the guitar too. My brother, who lived at home, played guitar and wrote songs. It was his dream to be a country singer. My first recollections are the piano banging all the time, records playing, my mother singing and my brother walking around the house with a guitar slung over his shoulders.”

Source of quote: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

…and Gospel Music.

“It’s the one form of music that was consistently in my world from the beginning,” she said. “I still sing those songs. I don’t think I could separate what I do from that type of music, even on this record, even though it’s plugged-in and has certain rock influences on some songs. Lyrically and in terms of what I try to do musically, there’s no separating me from that. I still aim with my music for the response that those church songs evoked in my family and myself and the people around me”.

Source of quote: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

“The thing I picked up on as a kid, and that I still sense in those older gospel songs, is just a lot of sincerity. People had struggles, they had a lot of problems. Most of the people who wrote those songs came from poorer settings where they were really struggling with life, and you hear that in the songs. That’s the quality in them I’m drawn to not the religious dogma. It’s just that sense you can get from them that they were written for the right reasons.

Source of quote: No Depression #6, Nov./Dec. 1996; Homespun of the Brave (article by David Cantwell)

2. Which musicians are Iris associated with today?

Steve Earle
Iris has opened for Steve and performs with him on the duet `I’m Still in Love With You’ from the Steve Earle/Del McCoury Band album “The Mountain”; Steve had this to say about Iris:
Merle Haggard says Iris DeMent is one of the “best damn singers” he’s ever heard. I agree. She’s also one of the best songwriters I know. I was standing in the audience at a festival in Australia last year listening to Iris sing and I decided right then and there I was going to write something for us to sing together. My obsessions are becoming more practical in my old age.

Source of quote: SteveEarle.net January 1999 (prior to the release of “The Mountain”)

Nanci Griffith
“She’s great. I went out with her for six weeks in, I guess, 1993; I opened her American tour for Other Voices, Other Rooms. She was just really nice to me. She helped me a lot; I’m sure there are a lot of people who know of me as a result of those shows”.

Source of quote: transcript from an interview conducted in March of 1997 by John Hoppenthaler in Palm Beach, Florida.

Emmylou Harris
Emmylou has performed with Iris on several occasions and provides harmony vocals on `Mama’s Opry’.  She had this to say about Iris:
“Her voice is extraordinary, there’s nobody like her,” country singer Emmylou Harris effused in the Chicago Tribune. “There’s such a homogeneous sound on radio today, it’s almost a shock to hear something so immediately identifiable and unique”.

Source of quote: Contemporary Musicians Volume 13 December 1994 (article by Megan Rubiner Zinn)

John Prine
Contributed some of the liner-note information for “Infamous Angel” (prior to even meeting her) and has had Iris for an opening act; Iris has often covered John’s song `Mexican Home’ in concert.
“…Iris DeMent’s songs talk.  They talk about isolated memories of life, love and living.  And Iris has a voice I like a whole lot, like one you’ve heard before but not really.  So listen to this music, this Iris DeMent.  It’s good for you.

Source of quote: “Infamous Angel” liner notes

Tom Russell
Iris has appeared on two of Tom’s albums: on “The Long Way Around” (1997) she provides duet vocals for two songs and on “The Man from God Knows Where” (1999) she is featured extensively on several songs, both in lead and supporting vocal roles.

Randy Scruggs (son of Earl Scruggs and producer of “The Way I Should”)
“I spent a long time thinking about who I was going to work with,” DeMent said. “That’s not an easy thing for me. I’ve always gone on intuition. When I met Jim Rooney, who produced my first two records, I felt right with him. I felt comfortable. I chose Randy for the same reason. It felt right. I felt that he understood my music. He cared about it and he had his own vision as well.”

Source of quote: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

Iris has opened for Mary Chapin Carpenter. Robin and Linda Williams make a guest appearance on backing vocals for `The Shores of Jordan’.

“The Way I Should” is filled with many notable musicians including Dire Straits’ guitarist Mark Knopfler, long-time Mary Chapin Carpenter collaborator John Jennings, former Allman Brothers and recent Rolling Stones touring keyboardist Chuck Leavell and Steuart Smith (guitarist for Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell).  Also appearing are Delbert McClinton, one-time Stevie Ray Vaughan collaborator Lonnie Mack and former Fleetwood Mac/Mick Fleetwood’s Zoo members Billy Burnette and Bekka Bramlett.

3. What is Iris’ relationship with Merle Haggard?

Iris met Merle shortly after recording `Big City’ for the album “Tulare Dust: A Songwriters’ Tribute To Merle Haggard”. Until then he had never heard of her, but was apparently so taken with her performance on the track that he went out and bought both of her (then) available albums. After hearing them he called her up to personally congratulate her. In that same conversation, he also honoured her by asking permission to record `No Time to Cry’.

It’s not every day that Merle goes so overboard for another musician, in fact Iris is pretty much the only performer to come out in the 1990’s that he has so wholeheartedly endorsed. He asked if she would like to play piano on the album which the cover appears (entitled “1996”) and she even spent a short time on tour with Merle playing an electric keyboard.

“It wasn’t so much that he needed a piano player, or that I’m such a great piano player. It’s more that he knew that I admire him a lot and I think he knew that I could benefit from being around a group of people like that, which is mainly why I went. And I definitely did. It was really neat to watch somebody who I’d idolized and in a lot of ways even patterned myself after. Not exactly, but in certain aspects for sure. To be around him and that band, I learned a lot. It was really inspiring.

Source of quote: transcript from an interview conducted in March of 1997 by John Hoppenthaler in Palm Beach, Florida.

Merle had this to say about Iris:

My favorite cut on “Tulare Dust” is `Big City’ with Iris DeMent. I think she is one of the greatest singers I have ever heard in my life. I heard her on my tribute, went out and bought what was available, which was two albums. Found out she’s a new artist and she can’t get played because she’s too goddamned good. She’s got too much to say, songs mean too much. They make too much sense. There’s not the same line dance tempo going on. If I hear another line dance song I think I’m going to puke.

Source of quote: Q & A With Merle Haggard (article by Joel Selvin)

4. Have any other artists covered Iris’ songs?

10,000 Maniacs were joined by former Talking Head leader David Byrne and performed `Let The Mystery Be’ in their 1993 appearance on MTV Unplugged (marking, in all likelihood, the only exposure Iris will ever receive on mTV…). Merle Haggard performed her song `No Time To Cry’ on his album “1996” with Iris providing the piano accompaniment.

“The first song [of mine] I heard was Natalie and David Byrne and I liked it a lot,” she said. “I thought it sounded pretty cool. I can’t say that I’ve ever heard Merle doing anything that I didn’t approve of. So, naturally, when he did something of mine, it was a double treat. He did a really good job with the song. I liked it a lot.”

Source of quote: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

The traditional folk duo of Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin recorded `Our Town’ and even named the album that it appears on “Our Town”!  The album is available through Rounder Records and was originally released on 5/1/93.

Rhythm Roundup (based in Vancouver, BC Canada) recorded `Let the Mystery Be’ for their album “Ridin’ the Range” on Lynn Valley Records.   Ordering information available at https://www.festival.bc.ca/roundup/.

British singer Kate Rusby recorded `Our Town’ for her 1999 release “Sleepless” (Pure Records PRCD06).

5. Who are the Troublemakers?

The Troublemakers were Iris’ backing band for much of the tour that supported “The Way I Should”.  They are Richard McLaurin (of the band Farmer not so John) on guitar, Fran Breen on drums and Don Johnson on bass.



“There’s much more potential to get your feelings hurt when it’s a personal song,” DeMent says. “But the rewards are greater. When I sing something from my own life and somebody tells me they understood it and got something out of it, it’s a very good feeling. The risks are big and the rewards are big”.

Source of quote: Austin City Limits Online, 1995

1. Our Town

`Our Town’ was Iris’ first full-fledged composition.

“I was taking a trip down to Oklahoma to see my brother. At about six o’clock at night or a little later, I was driving along and I just saw this town where it just seemed like there were no people there. It had everything else but people. I started wondering what happened to all those people. That idea stuck with me and when I got back I started imagining this lady who might have lived there”.

Source of quote: liner notes for “Infamous Angel”, Kansas City, 1991

2. These Hills

`These Hills’ might have also come from that trip to Oklahoma. There’s a lot of Indian history there. I started thinking about the Indians and wanted to write a song about them back in the old days. But that didn’t work. I didn’t work. I didn’t know enough about it. I even tried reading books about them, but the song never worked. The only thing I kept was the part about the dandelions. I kept messing with it and then one day it seemed to make sense to turn it into what it is”.

Source of quote: liner notes for “Infamous Angel”, Kansas City, 1991

3. Sweet Forgiveness

“Sometimes I’d try to write a song about something that was a pretty big concept like `Sweet Forgiveness’. I wanted to write about forgiveness as I thought about it in relation to members of my family and myself – the things I have to forgive in my life. So I tried to narrow it down to something I knew about. My boyfriend Elmer is a very forgiving person, so I thought about him and I just wrote it”.

Source of quote: liner notes for “Infamous Angel”, Kansas City, 1991

4. After You’re Gone

“While I was living in Kansas City, my dad had a stroke. I took the train down to my mom’s and he was in bad shape. One side was completely paralyzed. When I left, he was there in the middle of the living room in a big hospital bed. It was very strange for me, because I had never seen my dad sick a day in his life. I took the train home and walked in my apartment and `After You’re Gone’ just came to me right away. I didn’t think about it. It just seemed like the thing to say about that at that time. It’s amazing how easy it is to be simple once you can get to that simple place”.

Source of quote: liner notes for “Infamous Angel”, Kansas City, 1991

5. When Love Was Young

“`When Love Was Young’ was a line and a melody that I had, and then it seemed like a story came together for it one day. Although I’ve never been married, I’ve lived long enough to know something about it. There’s little bits and pieces that I take from my life, and then I let my imagination go.”

Source of quote: liner notes for “Infamous Angel”, Kansas City, 1991

6. Mama’s Opry

“I started to think about what it was about my mother that struck me the most. And I was thinking the way most kids think about their mothers – like an angel from Heaven! – so I tried to write some of these kinds of songs, but that wasn’t my mother. So I thought that the main thing about her was her love for music. I remembered that she’d let me turn the records up real loud, and she’d sing with me on the records. And I remembered just as plain as day her telling me that she was sure she could have gone on to be a singing star at this place called “The Grand Ole Opry”.

Even at that age it startled me that she actually thought she could have done this big thing. So that’s how I wrote the song, remembering that. It was so personal that I couldn’t sing it for other people, but I eventually played it for my brothers and sisters, and they liked it and understood it, so I thought, `Well, I’ll just have to get up my courage and sing it out in public’.”

Source of quote: liner notes for “Infamous Angel”, Kansas City, 1991

7. This Kind of Happy

This song was co-written with Merle Haggard

“It’s a song that I had for a couple of years before I met Merle,” DeMent said. “I have a lot of songs like it — songs that I can’t finish. I like them enough that, from time to time, I keep going back and trying to see if I can find the missing piece. That was one of those songs.”

DeMent and Haggard completed the song in a single session. “Merle was playing a show in Des Moines, a couple of hours from where I live, ” DeMent said. “My husband Elmer and I went up there to see the show. That evening, sitting on the bus, Merle asked me if I had any songs he’d never heard, so I played that one for him in hopes that he could help me finish. Sure enough, he did. He wrote the chorus right then and there.”

Source of quote: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

8. Trouble

A duet with Delbert McClinton, who also plays harmonica on the track; co-written with (Iris’ then husband) Elmer McCall.

“That was the last song that we recorded for the album,” DeMent recalled. “I wasn’t planning on putting it on the record. It was kind of a loose, let’s-have-a-good-time kind of song. That’s why the instrumental at the end goes on and on. No one was thinking of it being on the record. It was a song that I had just written a few weeks earlier with my husband. It was just so out of character for me. Later, when we decided to keep the song and started thinking of things we might do with it, Delbert’s name came up. It seemed to be in his style.”

Source of quote: @Country, February 1997 (article by Craig Harris)

9. There’s a Wall in Washington

“Wall in Washington” is political, but it’s also the only song on the new one that’s older than my second record. It’s even older than my first record. I just never knew how to do that song before. I never had enough confidence to record it. But it always stuck with me”.

Source of quote: Country Standard Time: DeMent spells out what matters most (article by Roy Kasten)

“‘The Wall In Washington’ is trying to get people to ask questions,” DeMent explains. “First of all, to actually talk about the pain and the huge loss, which often takes a back seat. And then to try to get the next generation to reflect and ask, ‘Why did this happen?’ ‘Cause if you don’t do that, then how are you going to make a good decision when your time comes? And the whole idea of ‘Wasteland’ is: Here’s what I see as a problem; now let’s fix it”.

Source of quote: No Depression #6, Nov./Dec. 1996; Homespun of the Brave (article by David Cantwell)

10. When My Morning Comes Around

That song just came from a lot of pain. I was in a really bad place when I wrote it, one of those places where I thought dying would be better. I knew I needed to imagine something else, a really great place, where things are good. That song is just the pictures in my mind of that place. It was the first song I wrote for the record; I wasn’t sure I would include it”.

Source of quote: Country Standard Time: DeMent spells out what matters most (article by Roy Kasten)

11. Letter to Mom

“I know some people are really going to be offended by that song, but I left it on there because some people are helped by it,” she says. “I know that from the letters I’ve gotten from people who’ve heard me sing it at shows.”

Still, she was also concerned about the reaction of one particular listener. “It sounds like a letter to my mom – and even though I do that a lot in my songs, I’ve never done it with a subject like this,” she said. “And I was actually concerned for my mother that it might bother her, that people would think that this was something I experienced as a kid. And I didn’t…. But I felt like if I don’t have the courage – when I think of what those people went through who have experienced that, and the courage it takes to face life and deal with that – if I don’t have the courage to even just identify with it in a song, then that’s a pretty terrible thing. So if it helps somebody, even if it makes my mother uncomfortable, or me, I’ve got to go through with it.”

Source of quotes: No Depression #6, Nov./Dec. 1996; Homespun of the Brave (article by David Cantwell)

That song is a hard story, but the character feels pretty strong and alive. She’s someone who stands up and says what’s happened to her, and she has to be strong. It’s funny how quickly that song came to me. When I finished writing it, I asked myself, “Why is this an up tempo song?” It just was. This person isn’t soft-spoken and it’s not a depressing song. So the tempo fit.

Source of quote: Country Standard Time: DeMent spells out what matters most (article by Roy Kasten)

“You know, I tried writing that song several different ways. I had it set in my mind to write about it, but I couldn’t quite come up with a way to do it that I felt good about. I almost gave up, to be honest. Then `Letter To Mom’ popped into my head. It’s about a family that has a real problem bringing the subject up. A person can get rejected by a family just for bringing it up and trying to talk about what happened. It can be as horrifying to deal with later in life as it was with the original incident”.

Source of quote: Microsoft Music Central; Perennial Favourite: Iris DeMent (article by Michael McCall)

12. Wasteland of the Free

“You know, there’s a couple of songs I almost took off the new record,” DeMent reveals between loads of laundry. “I realized ‘Wasteland Of The Free’ could get me killed – and I ain’t ready to go yet. People aren’t used to hearing things like that [the ‘We kill for oil’ line] in public… I had to ask myself if I was up for hate mail… But you know, I think the odd thing is that a lot of people have thought those words. So I guess the main reason I had to put it on there is because that’s around-the-kitchen-table talk, and if I have the courage to say it around the kitchen table, and I don’t have the courage to say it out in public, then I’m not as much of a person as I like to think of myself as being.”

Source of quote: No Depression #6, Nov./Dec. 1996; Homespun of the Brave (article by David Cantwell)

13. I’ll Take My Sorrow Straight

Co-written with (Iris’ then husband) Elmer McCall

“I had been listening to [Haggard’s] album “Big City” a lot, and it kind of came out of that, stylistically. I’ve been trying my whole life to be more delicate. After I write songs, I worry that I’m too blunt. But I enjoy songs that way, and I guess I enjoy being that way myself, too. That’s what that song is about”.

Source of quote: Microsoft Music Central; Perennial Favourite: Iris DeMent (article by Michael McCall)

14. God May Forgive You (But I Won’t)

A song by Harlan Howard and Bobby Braddock (Tree Publishing). The song is unavailable on Iris’ albums but was available for a short time as a b-side on the CD single for `Our Town’. Iris has frequently performed it live and has mentioned at a concert that she learned the song from Rosie Flores. Rosie’s version is available on her self-titled 1987 album (reissued as “Honky Tonk Reprise” on Rounder Records).



1. Is there an Iris DeMent Fan Club?

Well… yes and no. Here is the address as it is listed in her CD’s:

Iris DeMent Fan Club
P.O. Box 28856
Gladstone, MO 64188
**NOTE: The liner notes for “Infamous Angel” incorrectly have the ZIP as 64118

…however, when I sent away for a fan club kit back in November of 1997 my check was returned to me with an apology stating that they were no longer selling fan club kits and that I’d been added to their mailing list instead; perhaps when the next CD is released they’ll start it back up again.

Iris can also be contacted through her booking agency:

Monterey Peninsula Artists
c/o Kevin Daley
509 Hartnell St.
Monterey, CA 93940 USA
(408) 375-4889 Voice
(408) 375-2623 Fax

2. The Goo Goo Dolls have a song called `Iris’, coincidence?

There is a song by The Goo Goo Dolls named `Iris’ on the soundtrack to the Meg Ryan/Nicholas Cage movie “City of Angels”. Quite the successful song, it actually reached #1 on 5 different charts! According to an interview with Johnny Rzeznik (singer and guitarist for the band):

“I was looking at the L.A. Weekly and saw an ad for an Iris DeMent show. I just thought Iris was a really pretty name”

Source of quote: the New Zealand music magazine “Rip It Up”

3. What other sources of info are there?

Well, I got most of the information for this FAQ from the Web and the liner notes of her CD’s, but one of the articles that I found included a long selection of articles as their bibliography so if you’re looking for more, I hope this helps (I’ve also added a few that they didn’t have):

bulletAcoustic Guitar, July 1994bulletAtlanta Journal-Constitution, June 6, 1992 (as reprinted from the Philadelphia Inquirer); March 13, 1993; April 23, 1994bulletBillboard, March 12, 1994; April 23, 1994bulletBoston Globe, June 4, 1993; April 21, 1994bulletChicago Tribune, July 11, 1993; April 21, 1994bulletChristian Science Monitor, April 22, 1994bulletCountry Music, July 1994bulletCreative Loafing (Atlanta), April 23, 1994bulletDenver Post, October 2, 1992; April 28, 1994bulletDetroit News, July 16, 1993bulletEntertainment Weekly, September 4, 1992; April 15, 1994bulletGuardian (London), May 12, 1993bulletKnoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee), April 24, 1994bulletLos Angeles Times, March 6, 1993; April 17, 1994bulletMetro Pulse (Knoxville, TN), April 22, 1994bulletMetro Times (Detroit), April 27, 1994bulletMusician, May 1994bulletNashville Scene, April 28, 1994bulletNew England Folk Almanac, June 1994bulletNewsweek, April 18, 1994bulletNew York Times, October 31, 1992bulletPulse!, June 1994bulletRolling Stone, May 13, 1993; October 20, 1994bulletSan Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 1994bulletSPIN, June 1994bulletStereo Review, September 1992bulletWashington Post, June 28, 1992bulletCountry Music Magazine, July/August 1998




This is a posts type "audio" for testing.