From playing bluegrass covers in bars at 12 years old to save up money for a car, to opting out of college, then opening for Nathaniel Rateliff at the Alabama Theater, 20 year old songwriter, Maddie Medley’s drive and resilience are apparent when meeting her. Her recent success can be attributed to these qualities, though she hasn’t done it alone. Maddie talked to us about a Birmingham radio DJ, a Nashville songwriter, and a manager that have taken her music from demos in her bedroom, to songs that people are starting to sing along to.
As a member of Elizabeth Cook’s touring band, a journalist for Rolling Stone Country, and an artist in his own right, Andrew Leahey has lived and chronicled many sides of the industry. Each one has given him a better understanding of the direction he hopes to take his own music. After recovering from brain surgery a couple of years ago, his desire to tour was amplified, and he packed 175 tour dates into one year. The volume and intensity of those shows influenced his new record, which is expected in 2018.
Jess Nolan arrived in Nashville two years ago, amidst the flood of songwriters moving here to both find their voices and be heard. Instead of looking to learn from the great writers that have had their start in Nashville, Nolan was looking primarily to learn from the diverse musicianship in town. Her music aligns most predominantly with classic artists in the soul and R&B genres, thus differing from the majority of Nashville-based acts. However, her differences have earned her an esteemed role in the local scene, and have prompted a focus inward making for songs true to her spirit.
Leah Grams Johnson has a tendency to travel off the beaten path. When she moved from Boston to Nashville, she found herself living and working on a large plot of land as a horse trainer in Nolensville. Her desire to create in unorthodox locations led Leah to apply for, and be awarded the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Artist Residency in Taos, New Mexico, which she will attend this coming summer. While appreciating the way songwriting is valued in Nashville, Leah also uses nature and her travels as a primary source of comfort and inspiration for her songwriting. She chatted with us about how working with horses helps externalize her writing process.
AMBER RUBARTH HAS MORE EXPERIENCE ON THE FOLK CIRCUIT, NATIONALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY, THAN MANY OF HER NASHVILLE PEERS. SHE’S BEEN RELEASING MUSIC SINCE 2005 AND WAS THE WINNER OF MOUNTAIN STAGE’S NEW SONG CONTEST IN 2010 WHICH LED TO THE ALBUM A COMMON CASE OF DISAPPEARING, PRODUCED BY JAQUIRE KING IN 2011.
THE TEAM AT WMOT AND MUSIC CITY ROOTS HAVE BEEN ANTICIPATING RUBARTH’S NEW RECORD SINCE SHE PLAYED THE TITLE TRACK OFF OF IT, WILDFLOWERS IN THE GRAVEYARD, DURING A GUEST APPEARANCE WITH DAVE EGGAR AT MUSIC CITY ROOTS IN 2016. THE WAIT WAS WELL WORTH IT, AS THE RECORD IS BEAUTIFULLY ARRANGED AND PRODUCED, AND THEMATICALLY EPITOMIZES THE FOLK TRADITION. RUBARTH TALKED TO US ABOUT THE PHYSICAL PRESENCE OF WILDFLOWERS IN THE GRAVEYARD IN HER LIFE, AND HOW THAT CAME TO BECOME THE NAME OF THE ALBUM.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM SAYS A NEW BAND SHOULD PLAY LIVE A LOT AND WORK OUT WHO THEY ARE ON STAGE IN SMALL VENUES BEFORE GOING INTO THE STUDIO. EASTLAND FLIPPED THE SCRIPT. A GROUP OF MUSICIANS WHO’D MOSTLY TOURED AND WORKED IN SUPPORT OF OTHERS CAME TOGETHER OVER A SHARED LOVE OF HARMONY DRIVEN 1970S COUNTRY ROCK. THEN THEY FOCUSED ON WRITING, REHEARSING AND RECORDING BEFORE THEY UNVEILED THE PROJECT IN RECENT MONTHS WITH THE SINGLE “OUR TOWN” AND A SERIES OF SHOWS. WE FILMED THIS ACOUSTIC PERFORMANCE OF "FABLES AND FIRE" AT THEIR REHEARSAL SPACE AT CLAIR AUDIO IN EAST NASHVILLE.
KASHENA SAMPSON MOVED TO NASHVILLE WITH A PLAN, AND SPENT THE PAST TWO YEARS SAVING HER MONEY BARTENDING AT THE BASEMENT EAST TO RECORD AND RELEASE HER DEBUT RECORD, WILD HEART. SHE PAID FOR THE STUDIO AND THE BAND IN CASH, WRAPPED IN PAPER THANK YOU NOTES FOR HER RECORDING SESSION AT THE ALL-ANALOG BOMB SHELTER IN EAST NASHVILLE. SHE PLANNED TO MAKE AN EP, BUT STUDIO OWNER AND PRODUCER JOHN ESTES CONVINCED HER TO RECORD 10 TRACKS, ALMOST ALL THE SONGS SHE’D WRITTEN SO FAR. SAMPSON TOLD US WRITING CAN BE A STRUGGLE FOR HER BUT SHE KNOWS WHEN SHE'S ON TO SOMETHING GOOD.
BETWEEN LABEL PR STRATEGIES AND CROWD-FUNDING CAMPAIGNS, MOST ARTISTS FEEL FORTUNATE TO RELEASE A NEW ALBUM EVERY TWO TO THREE YEARS. BUT THROWBACK COUNTRY AND R&B ARTIST CHARLEY CROCKETT AIMS TO PUT OUT MUSIC AS FAST AS HE CAN WRITE IT OR COLLECT IT, AND HE WORKS QUICKLY. THE LATEST IS A COVERS PROJECT CALLED LIL G.L.’S HONKY TONK JUBILEE, WHICH FOLLOWS 2016’S IN THE NIGHT, WHILE YET ANOTHER ALBUM IS IN THE CAN FOR NEXT YEAR. HE SAYS HE’S JUST TRYING TO FOLLOW THE PRECEDENT SET BY HIS MUSICAL HEROES.
NASHVILLE IS MORE CROWDED THAN EVER WITH NEW AND EMERGING ARTISTS, BUT HUGH MASTERSON HAD A HANDFUL OF FRIENDS HERE TO SHOW HIM AROUND WHEN HE ARRIVED TWO AND A HALF YEARS AGO. THE RELATIONSHIPS CAME FROM HIS TIME IN THE WILD BIRDS, TOURING THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST WITH ANOTHER BAND THE LONELY H. SOME OF THOSE MUSICIANS BECAME NIKKI LANE’S BAND AND MOVED TO NASHVILLE FIRST. FOR A PROLIFIC MUSICIAN, HUGH HAS BATTLED STAGE FRIGHT WHEN IT CAME TO PERFORMING HIS OWN ORIGINAL MUSIC AS A FRONT MAN. BUT HAVING HIS BAND’S INSTRUMENTS STOLEN OUT OF A VAN - TWICE - WAS PART OF THE JOLT HE NEEDED TO STEP FORWARD.
AMERICANA MUSIC HAS GAINED A REPUTATION FOR BEING CANDID ITS POLITICAL VIEWS, AND CHASTITY BROWN IS CERTAINLY NO STRANGER TO THAT. CHARACTERIZED BY ACTIVELY SPEAKING AND WRITING ABOUT SOCIAL INEQUALITIES, AND USING THE DEEP UNDERLYING THEMES TO GUIDE HER SONGWRITING, BROWN’S MUSIC OFTEN HAS A HEAVY TINGE OF SADNESS. HER NEW RECORD, SILHOUETTES OF SIRENS, FALLS IN LINE WITH THESE THEMES, BUT PULLS AWAY FROM HER SOUTHERN ROOTS AND MORE PREDOMINANTLY TOWARDS HER NEW HOME IN THE MID-WEST.
BEFORE EVEN GRADUATING COLLEGE, LYDIA LUCE HAD ACQUIRED AN EXPANSIVE EXPERIENCE IN ALL REALMS OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY. WITH A MOM THAT SERVES AS A CLASSICAL CONDUCTOR FOR AN ORCHESTRA, LUCE WENT TO A CONSERVATORY FOR A YEAR BEFORE DECIDING TO ATTEND BERKELEY, WHICH RESULTED IN HER PLAYING A FEW GIGS WITH ROD STEWART, WORKING AS A FULL TIME EMPLOYEE AT THE SMITHSONIAN, AND LEAVING THAT JOB TO PURSUE AND EVENTUALLY EARN A MASTER'S DEGREE IN VIOLA PERFORMANCE.
LUCE FOUND HER TRUE CALLING IN SONGWRITING, AND HER HOME IN NASHVILLE WHERE SHE HAS BEEN PLANNING OUT HER DEBUT FULL-LENGTH ALBUM, WHILE TRYING TO FIND THE RIGHT PLAYERS AND PRODUCERS TO WORK WITH.
WE CHATTED WITH LUCE ABOUT HER TEACHING A CLASS ON HOW TO ENTER THE REAL WORLD AS A STRING PLAYER, HAVING A 9-5 JOB, AND HER FORTHCOMING DEBUT FULL-LENGTH ALBUM.
ZACH SCHMIDT MADE HIS WAY TO NASHVILLE, BY WAY OF PENNSYLVANIA AND A WITH A FEW STOPS ALONG THE WAY. THESE PIT STOPS CULMINATED IN THE RELEASE OF HIS DEBUT FULL-LENGTH ALBUM THE DAY WE LOST THE WAR, WHICH CAME OUT LAST FALL AND FEATURED THE 10 BEST SONGS HE HAD WRITTEN UP UNTIL THEN. WE FILMED A VIDEO WITH HIM AT SANTA’S PUB, A KARAOKE, DIVE BAR NEAR THE FAIRGROUNDS, WHERE HE PERFORMS EVERY SUNDAY NIGHT. FROM THE WAY THE BARTENDERS GREETED HIM, IT WAS CLEAR THE HE HAS FOUND A HOME IN NASHVILLE, IN SOMEWHAT OF AN UNLIKELY PLACE, AS SCHMIDT SEEMS TO DO.
SCHMIDT TALKED TO US ABOUT NEEDING A CHANGE FROM SMALL-TOWN PENNSYLVANIA, SINGING ON STAGE WITH JOHN PRINE AT NEWPORT FOLK, AND HIS FIRST NIGHT IN NASHVILLE GOING TO TWO DOLLAR TUESDAY AT THE 5 SPOT.
CHARLIE WHITTEN HAS MADE HIS ROUNDS IN NASHVILLE, AND THE WORLD, AFTER RECENTLY COMING OFF OF A EUROPEAN TOUR PLAYING BASS WITH ANDREW COMBS. WHILE WHITTEN IS KNOWN AND LOVED AS A PLAYER AROUND TOWN, HE’S READY TO GET HIS OWN VOICE AND WORDS OUT THERE. WITH TWO PREVIOUS EPS, HIS NEW EP, PLAYWRIGHT, ISN’T HIS FIRST SOLO RELEASE, BUT IT’S THE FIRST OF HIS OWN THAT HE’S PRODUCED HIMSELF. THE EP HAS DEPTH, BUT ALSO A SENSE OF WHIMSICALITY INTERSPERSED BETWEEN THE DEEPLY THOUGHTFUL AND RESONATING LYRICS. THE DECISION TO RECORD THE SONGS TO TAPE OCCURRED IN A SIMILARLY SPONTANEOUS FASHION WHEN WHITTEN STUMBLED UPON A TWO INCH TAPE AT GOODWILL THAT HE WAS THEN INSPIRED TO USE FOR THE RECORD.
WE SAT DOWN WITH WHITTEN TO TALK ABOUT THE NEW RECORD, HIS UPCOMING TWO WEEK WRITING RETREAT TO NYC, AND SLEEPY TOWNS HE DREAMS OF MOVING TO.
BEING HUMBLE IN AN INDUSTRY THAT TENDS TO FAVOR EGOISM IS NO EASY FEAT. BUT REUBEN BIDEZ’S OFFSTAGE PERSONALITY IS REFRESHINGLY MODEST IN CONTRAST TO THE POWER THAT HIS MUSIC EXUDES.
BIDEZ MOVED TO NASHVILLE FROM ATLANTA A FEW YEARS BACK, BUT HIS MUSIC DRAWS FROM ELEMENTS THAT CAN’T QUITE BE ATTRIBUTED TO ANY ONE REGION. HIS MOST RECENT EP, TURNING TO WINE, DRAWS ON AN INTENSE VULNERABILITY AND EXPOSED EMOTIONS, WHILE HIS SINGLE “TOO MANY ALARMS” HAS A MORE LIGHTHEARTED FEEL THAT HE SAYS TENDS TO LEAVE LISTENERS WITH THEIR OWN UNIQUE INTERPRETATION. WE RECORDED THIS VIDEO ON THE DAY OF REUBEN'S BONNAROO PERFORMANCE, IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE RELEASE OF THIS SINGLE, "TOO MANY ALARMS". WE SAT DOWN WITH REUBEN TO TALK ABOUT COUNTRY MUSIC, MUSIC FESTIVALS, AND THE NOSTALGIA HIS MUSIC TENDS TO PROVOKE.