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Singer-Songwriter of the Year: Hunter Park (She Returns from War)

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Hunter Park, the singer-songwriter who performs and records under the name She Returns From War, writes from the heart.

It may sound sappy and cliché on paper, but when you hear Park bellow her poetic lyrics with primal force over insistent acoustic guitar strums or spacey, loose-limbed Americana arrangements, the effect is anything but. Oh, What A Love, her 2015 debut LP, followed two EPs that established the template that has rocketed Park to the top of the scene in just a few short years.

We caught Park in the process of recording her follow-up to that record with Wolfgang Zimmerman, who also happens to be this year's CPMA Producer of the Year, so her mind was full of the new sounds and styles she's been trying on. Still, she seems to intuit what drives people to praise her songwriting prowess.

"I don't want to sound cliché, but I'm writing from a personal, emotional place," she explains. "I like to think that all of the songs are relatable. I write about specific things in a really vague way, so everyone's got something in my songs they can relate to."

That's something that's clear over and over again in Park's songs, whether it's the lovingly poetic description of affection in "Little Pharaoh" ("I would like the chance to travel all the hallways of your spine/ I would plant a thousand flowers and pick the petals for the rest of time") or the evocative, almost mechanical description of heartbreak described in "Clean Switch" ("I won't be your brick wall, a safety retriever/ If I'm just being honest, I know you were never mine either"). Park clearly has a way with words and a motivation to use them.

She's also quite driven to make her songs work for her. "What motivates me most is music, and performing gives me the opportunity to travel, to meet people, to go on adventures, and cool stuff like that," she says. "And I always want to bring new material to the table. Sometimes that's a challenge for me, because I don't want to write the same country song over and over again."

That desire to move and evolve comes across on more atmospheric cuts on Oh, What a Love, but Park is doubling down on that for her new record, citing Angel Olsen's new record, among others, as inspiration.

"I want to keep bringing people material where I throw a curveball every now and then," she says. "I think people are really going to tell a difference on this next album."

The magic that won her the singer-songwriter of the year mantle, though, will remain.

"I feel like sometimes what I do audibly makes people uncomfortable, because they don't know how to process it yet," she hypothesizes. "Sometimes I think people don't think it makes sense, which is fine. Adding a little bit of chaos to what you're doing makes the song stick with you, too."

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