Tennessee born Lori Michaels knows how to seek out stimulating environments: as a child she hid out in lilacs, as an adult she surrounds herself with some of New York’s finest musicians (Jessica Simpson excluded). Her debut album “The Lilac Testament” puts her twang to good use and is out this month. Now, maybe she can get some sleep.

How does a New York girl get so much twang?
Good lord, I gave up on losing it years ago. I was raised by two wonderful, loving, salt of the earth, beautiful people who happened to go to high school with Dolly Parton in small-town-Tennessee. The twang I hang onto is undeniably homage to them.

What exactly is a lilac testament?
A testament for me is a thing that shows tangible proof of something significant. As a kid, I did a lot of hanging out (or maybe it was hiding out) in the lilacs that surrounded the house I grew up in –  they're a fixed reminder of where I come from – yards and yards of lilacs.  The songs are decidedly a testament – tangible proof - of where I've been and the things that matter to me.

What did you want The Lilac Testament to sound like?  Did you succeed?
I needed it to sound like the music clamoring around in my head. That was my reason for wanting to record the songs. I'd been working on the material just me with a piano or guitar and it was time to get it – OUT of my head and hear it from another perspective in order to feel like I had “finished” the work and stop the endless replay. Did I succeed?   I look at it this way. It was deeply satisfying, and most definitely cured my headache. 

Why is Gerald Menke so damn good?
You said it, sister. I think I cried the first time he played pedal steel on one of my songs. You know, Gerald is a good soul AND a talented musician that's why he sounds so organically amazing. Killer combo.

How did your music go and get itself involved with Jessica Simpson?
Yeesh. I've never actually seen an episode of the show – so I completely admit to a prejudice with no supporting evidence aside from an aversion to reality TV. But I really had nothing to do with it. Getting a song on the Newlyweds' DVD is all Charles Newman's brainchild. MTV asks him for material, and he recommends what he thinks works. Apparently I write the perfect background music for Nick Lachey flashbacks . . . who knew?

I am a fan of Frank Bango, and so was delighted to find his name as a backing vocalist on “The Lilac Testament.”  How did you come to meet him?
You have very good taste in music if you're listening to Mr. Bango. More people should be like you. Frank is a friend who helped me out when I was trying to decide what the next step to doing a record should be.  Frank is one of my favorite songwriters as well and I'm grateful to him for loaning me his pipes for harmonies on the record. It meant a lot to me to have him involved.

Whose music do you wish you wrote?
It's an interestingly worded question. My gut response is “I just wish I wrote my own music better.”  I mean Elvis Costello sets the bar for me as a songwriter, but I don't have it in me to write about his experience  – I'd love to express my insides musically as well as he does, I guess.

What do you think about 5 minutes before you fall asleep?
Ah, that implies that I actually sleep. In the best possible way these days: songs, the band, the record, work, life - all conspire to keep me up way more than is probably good for me. I hate to sleep when I'm happy. I might miss something.