In Perfect Harmony: Writing and Recording in Our RV

With Jessy and Jim McFarlin
Jessy writes in a notebook on the couch inside her Keystone Couger

Jim and I got married on January 7, 2020, in Paris. We had just wrapped up a busy year touring as musicians that took us across two continents, playing small clubs, arenas and everywhere in between. It was an adventure, and even when it was hard, we loved being on the move. Musicians are pretty used to being on the road. In fact, Jim and I always feel our deepest connection to each other when we are exploring and learning something new about the world together. So as 2019 ended, we were excited to move into a new decade with so much momentum pushing us forward. We had nothing but raw ambition and plans for new music. 

We lingered in Paris for all of January and some of February for our honeymoon, soaking up the culture, the food, the wines, the museums. We were in an artist’s heaven! Late-night talks turned to Rimbaud and Hemingway, Josephine Baker and James Baldwin, Monet and Picasso––whose old apartment was right around the corner from where we stayed. As we walked the same cobblestone streets as so many artistic geniuses before us, we imagined their mastery rubbing off on us. To say we were inspired is an understatement.  We couldn’t wait to get back home and unleash that creativity onto the blank canvas of our future.

When we got home to East Nashville, the first thing I did was schedule a guitar lesson so I could pour all that inspiration into a new medium. I imagined myself playing guitar onstage for my next album cycle. But as I was practicing late on the night of March 2, out of nowhere, a tornado ripped through East Nashville. I grabbed Tiny, our Maltese-Chihuahua, and Jim grabbed his hard drive––the thing that held years of his music and the transcripts for a book he’d been writing––and we ducked into the stairwell of our building, praying for the best but expecting the worst. When the tornado had finally passed, we were fortunate. Our building was damaged, but our apartment remained untouched.  We breathed a sigh of relief and thanked God for protecting us. 

Only a few days later, the pandemic began sweeping across the country. Work began drying up. All my upcoming tours started to get cancelled and gigs fell through for Jim, too. We were luckier than some; I still had a contract writing commercial music with Warner Chappell, which meant I could lean into that work as a creative outlet and a way to keep us afloat. But on top of the isolation of quarantine, the tumult of our professional lives, and adapting to a stressful new world, tragedy struck my family.

My dad, who lives in New York city, called me one day. He was in an Uber and on his way to an NYU hospital. He serves as the director of a nursing home in New York, which was the epicenter of the pandemic at that time, and he had contracted COVID. He spent ten days in the hospital unconscious and on a ventilator. Hospital staff told us there was only a 10 percent chance he would come off the ventilator alive. My family spent weeks praying together over Zoom calls and trying to support each other as best we could from a distance. And somehow, through luck, karma or sheer divine intervention, Dad healed enough to come off the ventilator. He’d nearly lost his life to COVID, but he survived!

After all the stress of worrying whether or not my dad would make it, Jim and I both desperately needed to get out of our apartment and spend time in nature. Even though I would classify myself as a city girl, since we moved to Nashville, I’d discovered how vital and life-giving the outdoors can be. It was so therapeutic whenever we spent time in nature, and I’d return to my life feeling like a piece of me had been restored.

So, we planned a trip to one of our favorite places: The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. We got up before dawn one morning. Jim made us coffee and we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway in the pitch black. We found a good spot to settle in and watch the sun rise over the hills. We held hands, we sang songs, we prayed. And as the sun crested over the horizon, I wished the tranquility we felt didn’t have to end.

Like a bolt of lightning––like a ray from the sunrise itself––it hit me. Why did it have to? Why return to quarantine in East Nashville at all? Our rent was sky-high, we were confined to the apartment and deep down we missed being on the road so much. So, I spoke my dream aloud to Jim. What if we bought an RV and lived on the road for the foreseeable future?

And the love of my life turned to me and said, “It’s brilliant,” with his eyes bright, and absolutely zero hesitation.

Within six weeks, we researched and bought an RV.  I scoured the internet and found the most beautiful, newly renovated 2003 Keystone Cougar fifth-wheel. It felt like fate. Out of the huge geographic radius where we were looking for RVs, this one was only thirty minutes from where we lived. The sale closed without a problem. We moved into our new RV in mid-September and set up camp at Percy Priest Lake outside of Nashville.

Every night, we fell a little more in love with sitting by the fire, writing songs and talking. We invited friends over to join us for socially distanced, casual performances of our music. We called those gatherings “A Night by the Fire.” We cozied into our Keystone and made a new routine for ourselves for weeks. But eventually, the weather grew colder, signaling the change of seasons. The winter nights in Nashville can be brutal, so we knew we needed to leave. But where should we go?

Inspiration struck us again: Austin, Texas! Another magical, musical city. We would head south, explore a new terrain and let the views passing by our window inform our creative process. My songwriting job made the move easy. I was able to dial into Zoom calls and work with songwriters and producers from all over the country––New York, Los Angeles, Nashville––while also getting hooked up with music industry insiders in Texas. Jim and I could both continue working on our music together from the comfort of our new RV home, and also turn around and take a field trip around Austin to visit fellow songwriters and music producers.

So that’s where we are now, settled into our RV campsite in Austin for the winter. It’s one of the best choices we ever made. We spend time outdoors every day, enjoying the mild winter by taking advantage of the incredible number of parks and trails inside the city. We’ll take long walks to get our creativity flowing and keep us feeling tranquil.

Jim bought us bikes for Christmas, and we took a day trip to Enchanted Rock for our one-year wedding anniversary. We’ve even started holding a few “Nights by the Fire” already, playing music for our campground neighbors and the new friends we’re making. Despite the disruption to our regularly scheduled life, despite the change in what we thought the decade would hold for us, with our little RV and our music, we’re doing just fine. Good music is already spilling out of our cozy little home on wheels.

Where will we go next? We don’t know yet. But it doesn’t matter because life has a way of making its own plans. But with our RV, each other, and our curiosity for the world, we know that no matter what happens, we can just follow the inspiration.

Jessy and Jim RV in a Keystone Cougar fifth wheel.

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