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.
I am Amber Rubarth and my new record is called Wildflowers in the Graveyard. It just came out September 29th. It’s built around the theme of life-death renewal cycles, in nature and in relationships, just how things move. I wrote it soon after a car accident and I didn’t know if I would be able to play music again. It was a really difficult time for me, and I looked to nature to see the more graceful ways that things let go of what used to be and move on - and how a lot of times death of something will lead to fertile soil or something else. So that’s what the whole album is built around, kind of exploring that idea. The wildflowers in the graveyard was a scene that I kept walking by when I lived in New York. There were all these wildflowers growing over old gravestones from the 1800s, and it was just a thing I kept on referring to to know that I would be okay later.
Can you tell us about where we filmed this video?
There’s a secret park in Nashville and it’s hidden...kind of in plain site. And no one ever goes there but me. There’s this little wooden stage. It’s where I took the cover for my album also. There’s little fairy villages that kids have built throughout the park. It’s just this really charming space with lots of birds and squirrels.
So there’s a movie coming out that you’re in?
It's called American Folk and it's coming out on January 26th next year. And the writer/director of it wanted - there’s a whole bunch of music, it’s kind of honoring American folk music - and the writer wanted two musicians trying to act, rather than actors trying to play music, because music is what carries the whole thing. So it’s Joe Purdy and myself. We filmed it across the country, in 14 states and it was a wild adventure. It takes place the week of September 11th, so the setting it’s in are all the positive things that were done that week that weren’t covered as much by the media. People were really going out of their way to show kindness to each other without the duality of politics. So people really tried to bring themselves together and tried to deal with this trauma in a way that was supportive of each other. It’s set during that week and the two characters connect over loving the same old folk songs. David Hines, the guy who wrote it, one of his big things that he connected that with is that folk music and music in general is shared and it’s for the message and for the community. And it’s not like, I think what we’ve turned it into with pop music today. There’s a separation. Like how big can the artist be compared to the fans? It’s kind of a different thing than what the seeds of it were built around. The songs didn’t belong to anybody; they belonged to everybody.
So do you guys sing the whole soundtrack as well?
Yeah, everything was done live for the film. We did it while we were on camera. So we actually went back and recorded the full soundtrack so we would have songs without dialogue and stuff.
Is it a musical?
It’s a story with music interspersed. They end up connecting over doing this long drive and the van keeps breaking down so they make music together.
Will the movie be in theaters when it comes out?
Yeah, they’re doing a ten city theatrical release. Then we’re doing a tour around it, and the soundtrack is coming out on Thirty Tigers.
So is the tour your own music or music from the movie?
Kind of both, but we’re promoting the movie.
That’s a cool concept. I’ve never really heard of that.
I know! None of us - the writer/director, David Hines had never made a movie before; Joe and I had never acted before.
You’re about to go to South Africa?
I’m leaving in a few days for two weeks.
Why South Africa?
Because it’s amazing! I went there last year for a tour also and I got invited because this venue in England had double booked the night and and I ended up on this bill with this South African artist. And I got to do his album release tour with him last year, a co-bill. And we had so much fun, we’re doing it again this year. It’s beautiful out there and this time it’s just around… it’s called KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern region of South Africa and it’s super lush. It’s going to be Spring there which is wild. It’s just beautiful and very wild and untouched and raw and gorgeous people. We’re playing a lot villages and venues. A lot of folk club, sitting rooms, but we’re also doing...last year one of my favorite parts was playing for this little school called Zulufadder and we’re filling in a lot of things like that too. It's such a gift when you’re able to travel some place totally different. It shakes you from your world.
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.
Can you give us the story on how the band formed?
So, I’ve always loved really old school music. I’ve always really loved guitar-driven bands with lots of harmonies and I’ve always wanted to be in those bands. And for a long time I’ve been like side-manning for a lot of people. Then one day I realized, I lived in Nashville and I could make that band. So the first person I called was Mr. Jesse Isley who thinks, lives, and breathes 70s. He’s just like monster guitar player and has the perfect vibe. So I hit up Jesse and was like, “Jesse, I’ve got an idea that’s like super 70s, Eagles feel - lots of harmonies, lots of guitarmonies,” and his response to that was, “I’m listening.” We moved from there. Jesse brought in Danny who is our drummer. I hadn’t met Danny, but after that we became very good friends. Adam, our lead guitar player, we just picked him off the street actually. We found him behind a trash can. And then Taylor Bray has produced all of us at one point or another, and so we hit him up because he’s a badass bass player and that’s kind of how this whole thing got started.
Where did the name come from?
[laugh] Easiness? So we had been coming up with lots and lots of names...like 150 names, and no one liked any of the ideas we came up with. So we were at Ugly Mugs just sitting there hanging out and I was just going through this list and everybody was saying no to everything I had to say, and I was like, “Man, this is ridiculous. I’m just going to pick the street we’re on.” And they were like, “What street are we on? Eastland?” And I was like, “Yeah, Eastland.” And they were like, “We actually kinda like that.” Have you ever tried to come with a band name? It’s the worst.
What’s happening next?
Well we’ve got a bunch of shows and things coming up. We’re releasing another single in December and probably full album coming in January or February. Just planning around Wes’s schedule now that he’s a dad.
So have you recorded the whole album already?
Yes, we cut most of the record a year and half ago. The first thing we ever did as a band was write and record. We never tried to book any shows, we never sought out any help - publicity, management, anything like that. We were like let’s write and record. Whenever we could all get together which was like once in a blue moon. People can do it the way that they want but we would rather have a great product before we start to try and talk to sales people. There’s no recipe for success in terms of order of operation, but you have to have great songs. There’s no point in doing any of it - you’re wasting time - if the songs aren’t good and well conceived. You can find a lot of ways to dress it up but really there’s no point in wasting management and PR people’s time if you don’t have a product that moves people, if there’s not an emotional connection in the music, then stop, start over again, and then acquire resources. And all of these songs have been written by the five of us, in different groups, different sects of writing, have all happened within these five guys.
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.
"Usually when I’m writing a song and I start crying, I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is probably it. I can feel this!”
I’m writing in the hopes that you’ll relate, that someone will relate, like, “Yes, I felt that too.” Cause when we relate to each other it kind of takes the weight off of things. Like, “Oh wow, you’ve been through that too?” I mean, that’s what I’ve always used music for, you know? When I’m listening to it, I’m just like relating, like, “Yeah, I hear ya. I’ve been there. I know what that feels like,” and that’s really what I’m doing when I write a song."
So how long have you been in Nashville?
I moved to Nashville two years ago in November to do music, to make this record. It seemed to me that this is where everything was happening, where all the musicians were. I kinda have always been told, if you want to be a musician you gotta go hang out with musicians, see what’s going on, and learn...as much as I can. So that’s why I moved out here. I moved here from Las Vegas, I went to high school in Vegas, my family is still there. I grew up in a lot of places. I was born in South Korea, I lived in Hong Kong until third grade and the my family moved to Connecticut and right before high school we moved to Vegas. I come from a real musical family. I have two sisters and we all sang together, a three part harmony, and they’ve always written songs, since I can remember. I kinda started my songwriting a little later than them, when I was probably around 23/24, I started writing songs. So this is my first record that I just put out.
Do your sisters still do music?
My older sister plays in Vegas around town - she does a lot of cover stuff in the casinos and stuff like that. My middle sister is married and she has two kids but she does a lot of writing. She’s written a couple musicals in the past few years which is super cool.
Were your parents military - moving around so much?
My dad was in the garment business, so clothing. He would oversee all the manufacturing and bringing them to retailers, doing all the selling and all that stuff. They’re both from California, my parents.
You’ve lived in so many different kinds of places!
I know, and then I lived in L.A. for seven years.
So how does Nashville compare to all of those?
It’s smaller. And everyone says it’s a city but to me it feels like a town. There’s not a day that I leave the house that I don’t run into somebody. Which I like, because I like community, but it’s also crazy! I’m not used to that! Living in the South is different compared to the West Coast for sure.
Can you tell us about the record you just put out?
It’s called Wild Heart and I recorded it over at the Bomb Shelter with John Estes producing it. John Estes also played on it, he played bass, and Jeremy Fetzer on guitar, and Jon Radford on drums, and Elizabeth Estes played strings - violin and John played cello. We recorded it in six days, analog to tape. So the first two days was laying down the tracks so we did five songs each day. Then we took a day to do the overdubs, me and John. Then the background vocals and the mixing, and that was that. I payed for it all in cash with my bartending money from the Basement East. I just had to make this record, that’s what I moved out here to do and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I couldn’t even pay my rent, like the first year that I lived here. Every month I was selling something to pay my rent and I just started saving money and picking up as many shifts as possible working. And I would put it in my little box over here - well, I shouldn’t say where I hide my money. I paid everybody in cash. I was like, “Oh here’s your money in cash.” I wrapped it in a piece of paper with a thank you note and that was that…It didn’t really help with my taxes after. I probably should have gotten like a receipt. It was like old school. I was like her you go! It was a great experience. I had been working on this record for so long and talking with different people about working with them to make it and nothing was really feeling write. And when I went over to the Bomb Shelter and met with Andrea, and he introduced me to John. He said we’d be good working together, and it just felt right. I could also afford it. You know what I mean? It wasn’t like, “Oh well hey, it’s gonna be like 20 grand to record.” I can’t afford that. I can’t even pay my rent. It was a really great experience. I love being in the studio.
I think a lot of cool people have recorded there too, right? Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff…
Yeah! Very raw sounding. That’s what I like. I didn’t want it to be overproduced. I wanted it to be real. I wanted people to feel the emotion in the music because that’s what music is to me. It’s to tap into those emotions. It’s like therapy kinda. And John just...I really trusted him. It just felt great. I wanna do my next record there too. Everyone’s like, “Oh you could go here or go here,” and I’m like, “No, man;” I’m a creature of habit I guess.
So this is the first music you’ve put out. How did you decide what songs to put on it?
I didn’t have many more [songs] than that. I really didn’t. I just started writing a couple years ago. First I went in to make just an EP and John talked me into doing a full record. And there was maybe one or two to choose between. Songwriting’s not really a thing that I just sit down every day and write a song, you know? It comes from an experience or something I’ve gone through. I guess you’re going through stuff every day. I don’t force myself to really write songs. It’s not the easiest thing...Songwriting doesn’t come easy to me.
But maybe when you do write something it’s more meaningful?
I like to really take my time on a song...to really look at the lyric and what I’m saying and what’s the best way to say it and how I feel when I’m writing it. Usually when I’m writing a song and I start crying, I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is probably it. I can feel this!” But now I’m starting to write. I’ve got a few more songs. Write now I have seven or so songs that I’m half done and still working on.
Do you think that’s maybe a more old school thing? To write more slowly?
I think so. I think everyone’s different in how they approach their songwriting. The only person I’ve ever co-written with is my sister. And a lot of people are like, “Oh, let’s write a song!” And I’m always just like, I don’t know how I feel about that. I mean, it’s not bad. But for me, I have not done a lot of co-writing. I guess it is an old school way of doing it, I’m not sure.
I feel like in Nashville, that can easily become seeing how many hits you can get out…
Yeah, just a hit, instead of like this is the emotion that I’m talking about it and I’m writing in the hopes that you’ll relate, that someone will relate, like, “Yes, I felt that too.” Cause when we relate to each other it kind of takes the weight off of things. Like, “Oh wow, you’ve been through that too?” I mean, that’s what I’ve always used music for, you know? When I’m listening to it, I’m just like relating, like, “Yeah, I hear ya. I’ve been there. I know what that feels like,” and that’s really what I’m doing when I write a song. Instead of being like, “This is going to be a hit! What do I need to do to make it on the radio…” I don’t know.
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.
"Well, I love to be productive. I look up to people like Ernest Tubb. He had 50 studio albums. Loretta Lynn did too. And we live in an era where it’s like, people will tell you you’re lucky to put out three records and have a seven year career. I’ve heard that before and I’m not saying it’s true. When I’m sixty-something years old, I know all that’s going to matter to me is if I’m proud of the records I’ve made.
And you know, no artist is the same person six months later. I like how you said that and I don’t like to sit on stuff. There’s thing you have to do and I have to practice patience, which when I was younger I didn’t practice and I do have good patience now but I like to be active. I love writing original songs and I have a lot of songs but I like recording other people’s songs just as much. A lot of George Jones and Etta James’ biggest hits they didn’t even have a hand in, but boy they could interpret that song."
It’s funny you’re in Nashville right now since your whole album is centered around honky tonks, but I’m guessing what you’re referencing isn’t the same thing people in Nashville picture when they hear that word. Can you tell us about your honky tonks?
The way I know honky tonk music is through the jug bands and the drinking songs we learned on the street, being in bands in the French Quarter in New Orleans and all that. So I would hear a lot of the kinda bluesier type of honky tonk country stuff, hillbilly stuff, like a lot of Hank Williams drinking songs, a lot of that type of stuff, songs of anguish and all that and you know, playing a lot in Texas and Louisiana so I would really call it more of Texas and Louisiana honky tonk, really. I did it real traditional, you know. I love the early thirties and forties and fifties, kinda western swing classic country music, I just love that. And while a lot of people are doing throwback music, classic or nostalgia music, I didn’t hear anybody doing them real - I didn’t want to use the updated sounds besides the technology that makes it easy to record - I really wanted to keep it old school because that’s the type of stuff I listen to these days.
So when you recorded it, did you do mostly live takes?
Yeah, we did them in a nice little studio, but a really old fashioned joint. And we did live takes with a three piece and I overdubbed in the pedal steel and some fiddle and straight steel, some guitar.
Where did you record it?
I recorded it at a little farm going East out of Austin from near Bass rock, by these boys that are known out of Texas for recording old school rockabilly and stuff - Billy Horton, there’s a couple brothers, The Horton Brothers. Billy recorded it and co-produced the record with me. We brought in Austin’s finest obscure honky tonkers so I got a lot of really cool dudes on it. And my favorite honky tonker of them all, Brennen Leigh, sings on about half the songs and she’s the only modern songwriter that I covered on the whole record. I just think she’s that good. She’s inspired me a lot, especially with this type of music. Brennen had put out an all Lefty Frizzell tribute record a couple years before that, that I really liked and it inspired me and I decided to mix up a lot of different artists, but that’s why I did it. And you know how the business is, you get these records out of original material and you gotta really let them get out there and run their course and let them do their thing and I didn’t want to try to compete too much with the record I had out. It was an easy way for me to record old time music that I’m really into. That one was called Lil G.L.’s Honky Tonk Jubilee. Jay Moeller who also produced the record with me and played drums on, he started calling me Lil G.L. when we met. There’s an old, obscure R&B singer who had a few sides that were hits and then he disappeared. This guy named G.L. Crockett from Mississippi. And he used to kid with me about us possibly being related, so he started calling me Lil G.L. and I liked it as a pseudonym. Anyway, I recorded a new album out in Memphis of all originals that’s coming out at the beginning of the year. But after we do that record, during that cycle, I want to do one called Lil G.L.’s Blues Bonanza and just do a bunch of 50s up-tempo jump blues, rockabilly type deal. Kind of do that between my original albums. That’s the idea I had.
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.
What brought you to Nashville?
Music and friends.
You had friends here already?
I had a lot of friends actually. Alex… a lot of the people that play with Nikki Lane. I used to be in a band called the Wild Birds and about 10 years ago I would play shows with a band from the Pacific Northwest called the Lonely H which was Eric and Johnny Whitman, Mark Fredson, and a bunch of those guys and they all moved here a few years before I moved here. I had been living in Milwaukee for 15 years, moved there for college and stayed there and just needed a change and warmer weather too to be honest. And as a musician, if you’re going to move, this is the place that makes sense.
How is the music scene there?
It’s good. There’s a lot of differences. There’s a lot of great musicians and practice spaces are cheap and people take practice really seriously so the bands I was in we always practiced three times a week. It was just part of the deal. If you were in a band you had to go to rehearsal. And here, you hire a band and get one rehearsal, if you’re lucky, you’ll get two rehearsal before a gig. And everyone’s really professional and they come prepared, but when you’re playing with different guys all the time it can be kind of nerve racking because you’re used to with the same guys and rehearsing a lot so that’s kind of different. And when you rehearse here, you’re usually stuffed into somebody’s living room, playing into tiny amps and trying to make it work.
Do you think the difference is that people here are trying to do it as a career, where as people there may have other full time jobs and are just doing it for fun?
I think that’s pretty accurate. You know, it was like a club. You would go to band practice and everyone wanted to be really good at what they did. But it was also drink beers at the bar together after the gig and keep hanging. So yeah, I think so.
Is this the first time you’ve done your own music outside a band?
Yeah, I had always played guitar or bass with different bands and new that I could sing and was too shy to do it. You know that story. But I thought I sounded really good in the car by myself. And I knew that I could write but I always was kind of too shy and chicken to do it. And I just got to the point that I started feeling guilty and knew if I didn’t step out and do something I would regret it and I was just never going to do it. And you don’t want to hinder yourself. I was in a band and we had gotten robbed for the second time, all our gear got ripped off and the wind was out of our sail. And I just wanted to start writing and playing my own thing and everyone that was in that band ended up being in the band with me. And back home, my name is Hugh Robert Masterson, so people called me Hugh Bob, so we started a band, Hugh Bob and the Hustle. That was my first time writing songs and singing and being the front person. And then I moved down here and The Hustle stayed back in Milwaukee so I decided to just go by my name, Hugh Masterson.
It was probably easier playing with the same band, to start doing your own music?
Yes, absolutely. There’s a comfort level there. They were very supportive and helped craft songs. But yeah, a lot of pats on the back when I needed it.
What was the first show like playing all of your own music?
I was so terrified. I was so nervous. I was sitting in the basement of the venue and I just wanted to run away. Just so much fear and anxiety. And again, I was like, I could just slip out into the alley and leave and that would be my legacy. They would be like, “yeah, I guess he’s pretty good but he never played a show.” I just had to step up and do it. I was really nervous and my mouth was really dry, but after a couple songs, the crowd was digging it, then it felt really good and I think when the adrenaline kicks in and takes over, the fear goes away.
Then after that was it easy?
Yeah, then I was excited about it. I still get anxiety before shows. Some shows more than others, I never know when it’s gonna come, but the adrenaline kicks in and knocks it out.
Do you want to talk about your new album?
Yeah, Lost and Found. I had recorded it in Benton Harbor, Michigan with this guy Bill Skibbe at this place called Key Club Recording Company, where the Kills and the Dead Weather record. The Black Keys did a record there, a couple records ago. It’s the type of place that you sleep there. You record there and you sleep there. There’s bunk beds, and no windows, so you’re just locked in and focused on what you’re doing. So it was an interesting experience. Then I came down here with the songs and The Hustle stayed behind but I recorded with those guys. But when I came down here, Justin Glasco mixed it and we added horns and a harmonic, and a guest vocal on one of them, which was a benefit of living here. He said we needed a horn section on this song and just text somebody and they come over and bring their buddy and they already have the song figured out too.
Probably that day too.
Yeah, for sure. You can’t really do that anywhere else.
When did you put it out?
This is your first full length. Did you have anything out before that?
Under Hugh Bob and the Hustle, I put out a record. This is the first under my name.
So what is the plan following this?
I want to record again. These songs, it feels like Hugh Bob and the Hustle but it feels more mature than the first record. I just had a lot of fun with the first record and it was a lot of tongue in cheek kind of stuff. And I think there’s more maturity with this and I think the next stuff I record will be a little less rock-country and a little more down to earth. Because I found myself going on the road with a lot of different people and having to play these theaters by myself. I wrote these songs thinking I was going to have a band on stage with me, so I wrote them to be kind of fun songs, and some of those songs you can’t do by yourself. So I think a lot of the songs I’ve been writing, is writing with the idea that it’s going to sound great with a band but if I have to play solo shows that it’s going to transfer a lot better that way.
Can you tell us about the place where the video was filmed?
We filmed the song today, Small Town, which I wrote with Brian Elmquist from the Lone Bellow and it was the first song I wrote when I moved down here. And we filmed it today at the wood shop. I work here, it’s called Woodtones and we build custom cabinets and furniture.
Catch Hugh at Music City Roots on October 25th.
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.
In many of the reviews of your music and interviews with you, you’ve been characterized predominantly as evoking sadness. Can you speak to how accurately that characterizes who you are and how this sadness seeps through your music?
A little bit about myself is that I grew up in Tennessee and 12 years ago migrated to Minneapolis. Much of what I was writing before as a singer-songwriter was influenced by the southern culture. Now with this new record, I feel that it’s akin to my roots, but very much set in the sonic palette that is influence by the ethereal type guitars that happen in Minneapolis. It’s very much a reflective album and my attempt to write different types of heartbreak whether they’re ones that were lived or ones that were imagined… and to give a little bit of respect and light to those stories whether it be marginalized experience or just the simple loss of a loved one. Ideally, there’s also moments of transcendence and like a good ole get-down sorta stompin’ sorta time.
How did it feel to finally have all these songs out there?
So after 4 years, I finally have this new album out that I am freakin’ thrilled to have been touring Europe and touring the Southern part of the states behind this album and just I’m excited to share it with folks so I hope you enjoy.
Pilgrimage Festival Recap ft. the Texas Gentleman, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Ruby Amanfu, & Angaleena Presley
At this year’s Pilgrimage Festival, the town of Franklin was greeted with an even heavier dose of Americana than usual. We were excited to see a lineup of artists that we play in regular rotation, and thus, decided to open a dialogue about what the genre of Roots and Americana is and how each artist interprets their music with regards to the genre.
Beau Bedford, The Texas Gentlemen:
You know, something I think as the Gents we can all appreciate are earnest songwriters and performers that are coming from a real rootsy place and one of my personal favorite things about coming from Texas and being born in a place like America is this rich heritage of art and music and what has happened in the last 100 years of music is incredible. And Americana at it’s roots is supposed to be celebrating that and as the gents that’s something we value almost above all art forms because it’s something that’s completely from the bottom of your heart and it’s connected to the earth and it’s rootsy and that’s something we want to be a part of now - carrying on that legacy and heritage that dudes like Blind Lemon Jefferson and the Blues Guys, Robert Johnson, and all the folk stuff that was happening in the hills of the Appalachian. To go back and know the history of American music is to really be able to take it to somewhere new today and that’s what we like doing as the Gents.
I really, you know man, I never contemplated like genre as I’ve made music through the years but I have always been interested in the music that has come to define the genre. People like John Prine, more recently like Elizabeth Cook, Todd Snider - I’ve always liked that kind of music. It always just seems kind of like you know, rock and roll done by people who maybe grew up listening to some country music I guess. In this day and age, it’s kind of well defined as Americana.
I never really consider anything I’m creating in that light, you know, what genre is it, where does it fit in. I’m always more happy to get up every day and do what I’m finding exciting. I do think a lot of that has ended up in the world of Americana because you have to find a place to fit in and our society is for some reason kind of arranged by classification - socially as well as in terms of art and culture and stuff like that - so it’s really interesting living in this time where it’s like a sense of definability adds to the legitimacy of it or something like that.
I think a lot of people are like “What even is Americana?” because it’s such a broad term and how I like to think of it, is more thematically, like does it feel real and does it sound different from something co-written in a room on Music Row with 8 other people? It’s more of you being able to hear the authenticity to it and I feel like that’s kind of why it’s so broad because if it sounds genuine I think people can dig it. It seems like it used to more contingent on if there were more traditional roots elements like pedal steel and banjo in it, but now groups like Big Thief are getting lumped into Americana, which I would have considered more indie, and I think it’s because it sounds so raw and so honest.
It seems though that there is something to that because it seems like the music that comes from all of those Americana artists is very personal. It seems to be something that, it’s almost as if they feel like, I have something to say therefore I make music, and not I’m going to make music so people think I have something to say.
Or like I’m going to make money so I’m going to make music.
What direction do you think that people are going in their musical taste that Americana is getting more popular? Do you think it’s kind of a shift away from contrived, top-40 songs?
I think in some ways it is. I think one of the driving forces behind what attracts people to the Americana thing is that it’s not simply a well promoted album with a catchy single on it and you see the gig in a hockey arena and go wow, and never think about it again. And these bands that are in this genre, whether it’s Big Thief, or Alabama Shakes, they all put on an amazing live performance as well. I feel there’s several steps solidifying yourself among that group of music listeners. If they’re going to love it they’re going to love all of it. They want to love the show, and the record, and the people making the music and all that is really important. It’s a more old school way of appreciating music. You used to have the big vinyl record - I mean you do have them again - but when they were everything and had the liner notes on them and the pictures and this was your way to relate personally to this music and I think a lot of what people are looking for now is a more personal experience. They’re choosing their music, and they’re choosing their clothes, and they’re choosing how they eat and what car they drive and all this kind of stuff based on wanting to have that more personal experience. And I think those artists because they’re creating a personal narrative that people really identify with that and want to be engaged with it.
I wonder if, because we’re about a century out from the beginning of industrialization and mass production, people are starting to want that individuality back and that’s the cycle of how it works.
Yeah! I think that’s true.
Yeah, definitely. I saw an article the other day where Clapton was saying the guitar is over but I can guarantee someone will come along and make it as popular as it’s ever been again because that’s how it is in music. It was so easy for my generation to feel like there’s never going to be another boy band like N’Sync, or whatever, but man, that stuff just pops up every few years. People forget and then they love it again. They get a chance to reacquaint themselves with it and love it all over again. It’s kind of like when they remake old movies, there’s a slightly different take on it, there’s a slightly different look to it. You can sit around and argue until you’re blue in the face which one is the better one, but it’s kinda best to not think about that when it comes to art or music or something and choose it based on if you like it.
You span a lot of genres, and it’s hard to categorize you. And the song with Steelism is even more of a mixing of genres...
Yeah, the song with Steelism is called “Roulette” on their new record and it’s one of those lovely collaborative pieces where you have no idea what is going to come up when you come to a room together. Steelism has their style and I have myself and we came together and created this piece of music that really does transcend what either of us do. So everytime we play that song we feel that it is brand new, every time, because it’s so outside of the box of our own sets, of our own styles of music.
So are they your backing band now?
The first time I played with Steelism was for my album release in 2015 on an album called Standing Still that came out on Thirty Tigers and that was my first time playing with Steelism. And we have continued to play together, and the drummer, Jon Radford and I have played together since I was a wee little lad. And we’ve just continued to play together and sometimes with smaller shows, I’ll just have Jeremy Fetzer and he and I will go out together. But this has been a really neat thing and with them having an album come out this summer it was important to get out there and do some gigs and I had some opportunities and they had some opportunities, so we just put our heads together and said let’s do that together and see what kind of kinetic energy we can have.
I think one of the cool things about your music, is you hear a song and don’t think, “Oh this would fit on this radio station” or “This would fit this playlist” or something like that. Do you find that when you’re writing, do you think about any of that at all?
It’s so interesting because I’m a songwriter at heart. Even before I was a singer, I was a songwriter and I’ve had many lives. Some of those lives, I was just a songwriter where I wrote songs for other artists to sing, and some of those lives were me writing songs for myself to sing, and some of those lives were me writing songs for myself that didn’t land on any records of mine that other artists cut. There’s a song that I never released as a solo artist, but released as a duo, Sam and Ruby, a song called “Heaven’s My Home” that the Duhks ended up cutting and getting nominated for a Grammy. As much as you are along for the ride and as much as I’m along for the ride, I hope that everyone else is too, because I think the best things in life happen when we are just along for the ride.
When you’re songwriting and storytelling, do you try to think of it in a way that transcends your experiences and do you think that’s why other people can cut your songs and it speaks to them too?
You know, it’s really interesting as a songwriter, art is a challenging thing to talk about because it’s all feel. If you look at someone’s piece of art or if you listen to a piece of art, piece of music, you may have a really visceral reaction to something that connects to your experience and what you’ve been through. So maybe what I went through when I wrote a song - I don’t know if it was particularly something that I thought might reach somebody, but I think in my being so vulnerable and so broken open and to share my truth, that’s when somebody else can share theirs. It’s like this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, and it’s like when you shine your light other people can feel that warmth and feel that confidence to have their own. I believe that.
I think that’s the quality of your stuff back at the radio station that we love, because a lot of what I think categorizes something as Roots and Americana is the honesty and storytelling quality and you have such a way of doing that.
I am so honored to hear that! I love that. Thank you.
I wanted to talk to you about the Americana genre, and how it’s given a place for your music, when you’re very much not in the country music industry.
Americana Radio has been so great to me. They’ve been playing the crap out of our record and I’m so grateful for that. The record itself is sort of a nervous breakthrough about genres and what box do I fit in, and what it’s like for a girl as opposed to a boy and I’m getting a lot of people texting me, “Your songs playing on so-and-so”. That’s great because it really never happened. It’s awesome.
When you’re writing music, do you really think about that kind of thing at all?
With this record, I can’t say that I didn’t think about it because some of the songs are like metaphors for just my angst and disappointment at how few females there are in the commercial world. So this record maybe a little, but usually no.
Do you think this sexism, really, is throughout the music industry or more centered in Country?
To me, it’s criminal almost. In 2016 there were 10 solo female artists who cracked the top 30. That’s not enough. I want there to be another Dolly Parton, another Loretta Lynn and to reach that kind of iconic status you need a grand stage. But thank God for Americana stations because you guys are growing your roots and becoming more prominent and so the hope is still alive.
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.
Give a little bit of your background.
My mom’s a classical conductor for an orchestra and I grew up playing in her orchestra. So I started on classical music and went to a conservatory for my first college for a year and hated it. I was like practicing 8 hours a day and was miserable and not liking it. Then I went to Berkeley eventually after a couple schools and got into Bluegrass and old time fiddle music and started songwriting - I started songwriting a bit before Berkeley but I would play viola and sing - I don’t really do that anymore. Then worked at the Smithsonian after Berkeley for a year, doing musicology and thought I wanted to do that. It was really cool; I learned a lot… I had this one project that was like 112 records from UNESCO from all over the world and I had to listen to them. I probably listened to 40 of them and I would listen to them, read the liner notes, learn about the culture a little bit and then write this blurb for the website. So just so much music and it was really cool but I wasn’t playing. So then I went to UCLA for grad school, doing viola performance, got a teaching assistantship so I was teaching like chamber groups, classical music at UCLA, the undergrads. My boss and I started this course - how to get a job as a string player in the real world when you’re used to being antisocial and locking yourself in a room and just practicing for 8 hours a day. How do you go out and get jobs after graduating? So I taught that course for a little bit. Then in between years, I moved out to Nashville for 3 months and recorded an EP and was like “songwriting is awesome”. I liked creating and with Classical music you don’t get to create, you’re interpreting, but you’re not creating, you’re interpreting someone else’s creation which is really great but it’s not as fulfilling. So I loved it and started songwriting and went back to LA and did that a lot. And I still played fiddle and I still play fiddle for other people, obviously, just trying to mix it up.
How long have you been in Nashville?
I’ve been here since last December.
And you were in LA before that?
Yes, I was there for like 2 and half years, after DC. I was working at the Smithsonian for like 9 months and really did not love DC. Mostly because what I was doing. If I was performing or was like utilizing my time better… I had a 9-5 and was there on a computer from 9-5, working on the archive and doing cool stuff but it wasn’t my passion, it was just not creative. And my boss was super cool, at one point I was like, I have to be performing I’m going crazy and I started weaning myself out of the job and I started studying viola again with this woman, she was like the principal violist for I think the Baltimore Symphony. I studied with her once a week and practiced like 5 hours a day and got my chops back up and got a scholarship to UCLA. Because I was like I need to playing, I’m not playing at all. At that time I thought I would go into string session work and be a string player, so I just wanted to get better at viola and stuff. One of the last things I did before I left Berkeley was to get to play with Rod Stewart. It was really interesting. It was easy string music but it was an incredible experience because it was an amphitheater and we played like 3 shows with him and Santana opened and I got to meet both of them. That was like one of the last things I did and then I went to go work at this Smithsonian and I thought “Man, I’d like to be performing and just be around musicians. Not the ones that are studying the music but also the ones that are playing.”
So what was the goal in moving to Nashville?
I was writing. I love LA and there’s a scene for Americana - Country music but it’s not as big as it is here and I just felt like Nashville was the move to get me going in my solo project more, as far as song writing and more of people trying to understand the genres that I do. I fell in love with Nashville, started visiting a bunch.
So what are you working on now?
I guess my biggest focus now is...I have all these songs, some of them I’ve co-written, some of them I’ve written on my own but really, fully discovering what my sound means to me and what it is. What my sound is live, what it is recorded, who I should be working with to help me find that sound production wise. I feel like I’ve recorded now with a few different people and I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning but really just getting to the bottom of what my sound is. I feel like whatever it is, I have to be cool with it for the next two years… Whatever project I release, be fine with it and be like this is me, this is totally me. I’m so cool with this for two years or however long and I feel like I haven’t found that yet. I’m getting closer but… And being able to just really articulate that as an artist and get in the studio and be like, “Hey strings are important to me and I really want this.” I want to be able to have more control over it and approach it from a knowledgeable place and not just be like, “Whatever, you choose, you’re the producer.” So I’m kinda just in this creating and growing phase. And also just discovering. And maybe it’s just rediscovering songs I’ve already written and deciding if I want them to be my current repertoire.
Do you think it’s a common occurrence that people go into the studio and come out with something that’s not really their sound, but it just becomes their sound because that’s how it was produced?
Totally, yeah. And I think that’s why, in my opinion I get stressed out playing with full band sometimes because the lack of control. I think it’s easy when you go into the studio and you have all these layers and you think the song could only exist with all the layers and it can’t exist on it’s own. And a good song should exist in whatever format. A good song should be able to be full band or just completely stripped down, no matter the genre. Maybe that’s just an opinion. It might be better with a full band but you should be able to really feel the song in whatever format. So I feel like yeah, maybe people can get lost in the layers.
What do you feel like you’re looking for in who you’re going to end up working with?
I feel like someone who has idea but not a brand or a set thing. There’s so many producer you can hear what producer that was. Which is a cool thing and that’s a part of the artistry and a part of the painting of the picture. But I think that someone who allows me to do what I want to do and be who I already am and also let my strengths show but only support it in a way that it’s beneficial to the song. Not just like, “this needs to fit in this category or genre,” but just letting me take control, and also experiment a little bit.
I don’t think you can take one formula and apply it to a whole bunch of different sounds or artists or whatever. Not to say anyone I work with has done that specifically, but yeah you have to really understand the song by itself and start from the bare minimum and work up. There’s always, I feel like with live stuff, I’m realizing my live band I’ve always been like, “throw drums on it,” and I don’t need it. Some of my favorite music doesn’t have drums on it, or had percussion, but the percussive aspect is treated in the same way as like a guitar player is improvising and filling in the holes rather than like, “this is my position and I’m gonna do this consistently throughout the song.” More of like a listening, this is what the song needs, vibing the song out.
There’s so many player that are technically great but they’re not listening. They’re like, “this is my part, I’m going to play my part.” And that works too. There’s so many different ways of performing and that works too, but I don’t think that’s what I want for my music. I want people that are like organic and feeling each other out when they’re in the moment. That sounds so hippy but there are so many variable that are happening when you’re performing live, so it’s being able to listen and feed off of each other's’ energies.
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.
Can you tell me about the song that you did for the video?
Yeah, the song I did was called “The Favors That You Ask” and it’s on a record that I put out last October called The Day We Lost The War and it was the first song that I wrote when I moved to Nashville. I was living on the floor of a friend’s office that was connected to his bedroom and I wrote it kind of about being new to town and having a different friend that would just ask things of me because she knew I didn’t have any other friends.
Can you tell me about the whole concept of the album?
I recorded at Ronnie Milsap’s old studio on music circle. We did it in two days and recorded it with a bunch of friends of mine that rehearsed a crap ton in the few weeks leading up to it and then just went in and recorded it in two days, live, pretty much as raw as it can possibly be. There was really no concept to it other than songs I had written over my life being a songwriter. They were just kinda like the 10 best songs I felt like I had at that time. And I was just like cool, I have no idea what it’s like to make a record for real, so let’s just do it.
What is the day we lost the war? Why did you decide to title the album that?
Well the first song on the album is called “The Day We Lost the War.” It was a combination of a few things that have nothing to do with each other. The first is that the song and the album is kind of reflecting a relationship and the war is a conflict within that relationship - that’s the first part The second part is, I remember being younger and watching President Bush 2 on the aircraft carrier saying that we had won the War in Iraq then everything just going terribly wrong after that, and it was a very vivid memory in my mind. After he declared this big win for the United States, and so many things going wrong after that, I feel like that’s the day we lost the war.
Where are you from?
Is that more rural or more urban?
Because you have an accent.
Pittsburgh’s a funny place because it’s 20 minutes away from West Virginia, 20 minutes away from Ohio, very blue collar, kind of a weird place. So you kinda have a lot of people who live in that area, have varying accents. But if you grew up in the city of Pittsburgh there’s a very distinct accent, kind of a melting together of New England, meets southern, meets uneducated and it’s just kind of a weird thing. They say “yins”, “Yins” is a Pittsburgh thing.
What prompted you to move to Nashville?
A combination of a lot of things. But, I was playing music nearly every night of the week in Pittsburgh, waking up early working a full time job that I hated, not really having too many friends around Pittsburgh anymore, seeing a girl that i didn’t really like… kind of everything in my life was kind of going to shit. I just needed a change. Anywhere would have worked, but I was touring some, living in Pittsburgh, playing a ton, writing a ton, but I wanted to take my music career a little more seriously than I was and not have it be a side project to my job that I had. So it was either here or Austin in my mind, and Austin was a little farther from my family so Nashville was a logical choice. I knew one friend here, the guy that let me sleep on the floor of his office until I found a place, so it just seemed like it would work.
Did it feel liberating like you were finally doing what you wanted to do? Or was it more terrifying and you had no idea…
No, it was extremely liberating. I was incredibly depressed living in Pittsburgh, drinking way too much, and overall in a terrible mood about everything. So when I put the two weeks in at my job and knew that I was gonna move, it felt like a million pounds were lifted off my shoulders.
It’s always nice when you have that feeling when you quit something.
Yeah, I think about that period of time a lot. You know one of the main things that prompted me to do it was, my sister was getting married, leading up to the Fall of 2013, so I thought, ‘She’s starting a new life for herself, I might as well too. I need to get the fuck out of Pittsburgh.’ So that’s what happened.
Did you think it was easy to meet people in Nashville?
I had an acquaintance at the time, now a good friend of mine. My last show that I played in Pittsburgh was a Saturday night. I was moving to Nashville on Monday and I met Joshua Black Wilkins. I don’t know if you know him or not but he’s a guy that plays around town and he’s a great photographer as well. And we talked for a while and I told him I was moving to Nashville on Monday and he said, “Cool, do you have plans Tuesday night?” And I didn’t because I didn’t really know anyone or anything to do and so he told me to meet him at the Five Spot at nine o’clock and I did and I walked in the room and he was there waiting for me with a beer. And we’ve been friends ever since, and he introduced me to - that’s back when two dollar Tuesday was the only thing to do on a Tuesday night so everybody in town was at two dollar Tuesday and he introduced me to pretty much all the friends that I still have, at least that were in town at that point.
So you’ve been on the road for a little bit. You were at Wildwood Revival and Newport Folk. Can you tell me about those?
Sure, I didn’t really do too much at Newport Folk. I went up and did some after parties that were related to the festival and the Family Tent which is a small little tent up there. But the first time I went up to Newport I kinda vowed to not miss it unless I really had something big going on in my life. It was an incredible year, I got to sing on stage with John Prine, which was very cool. Wildwood was really great too. I had my whole band down there and it’s just such a special festival. They can really pull big acts because it’s catered to that but it really has a small festival vibe to it. I think it’s like a thousand people or something like that. So if you’re there throughout the day you can see anyone ranging from us to Shakey Graves. It’s just the experience really, it’s a cool hang.
I feel like that’s becoming more of a thing - these smaller more boutique-like festivals that still have really incredible artists and really famous artists, for headliners at least, but they’re kinda more catered towards a specific audience. In this case more towards the Americana world, but what do you think that says about what’s happening in music right now and what the audience is wanting?
I have a lot of opinions on this but I’ll try to keep it short. I think that the general audience is wanting more substance than what they’ve been given. You look at mainstream country radio, at least, and think about people like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, and Margo, and you see, in my mind, a shift to substance and narrative in songs instead of calculated country songs that are written for the lowest common denominator. And I think with the festivals and things kind of turning to a special audience, people just kinda realize what people want. People want to have that experience of, I’m here with only maybe a couple hundred other people, and I’m seeing an artist that would normally play for ten thousand. I think people just want to have any sort of connection they can, one to the music, to the experience, to whatever they can grasp their hands to that feels special.
I feel like as an artist that has to also be more fulfilling.
It makes a difference to an artist when you get a response from your audience and you’re doing something and you can really just open your eyes for a second look out at everybody and everybody’s dancing along and having a good time and singing along. Wildwood was the first time that I really looked out and I could see people singing along to my music and that was kind of a crazy feeling for me.
Well it seems like Nashville has worked out for you. What are your plans next?
I’m planning a new record in November. I’m playing AmericanaFest and have some tour dates throughout the Fall but I’m really just focusing on writing up until the second weekend in November.
What do you anticipate the vibe of this album to be?
I don’t know that we’ve quite figured it out yet. I’m going in with an actual producer for the first time in my life. Once we get songs to a place that I feel comfortable with, I think we’ll kinda sort that out as it comes. I’m trying not to think too much about that because I want it to be kinda loose and open to whatever some other musicians might bring to the table but I think it will be fun and I think it will be a good point in my life, where I’m starting to feel the best about the songs I’ve been writing over anything else I’ve written in my entire life. So they’re just kinda flowing out easy.
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.
Can you tell us about your background and how you ended up moving to Nashville?
I lived in Charlotte, NC and was going to school at Appalachian State. I was a freshman there and I realized around that point that I wanted to pursue some kind of career in music and I needed to go to a music town. I had a sister going to Vanderbilt as a grad student here in Nashville, and other than that I didn’t know anybody. And all the other music towns - New York, LA, Austin, I didn’t know anybody either so at least I knew one person here, my sister, to help me get my feet on the ground. So I transferred over to Belmont and studied music and some sort of Spirituality minor which was interesting, and so I moved here and stayed put.
Is your sister still here?
She stayed for a long time and had her first baby boy here and then she moved to Pittsburg to do her post-doc program with her husband that she met at Vanderbilt. And now they live in Maryland with another fresh baby boy. She’s three years older than me but it feels like a lot more.
I think people in Nashville stay young longer.
I hope so.
30 here feels like 23 anywhere else. At least based on the phase of life.
It kills me because my little sister is a year younger than me, lives in Knoxville, ownes a house and is killing it too. She works at the University of Tennessee. And here I am, 28 year old Charlie still renting and working part time jobs. But I think I envy them in ways and they envy me in ways and they vocalize that. I get to travel a lot, I’ve gotten to travel a whole lot over the past eight years living in Nashville. I’ve got a lot of great friends and a lot of freedom so there’s a give and take with everything.
You play with other people too. Is that what you do most of the time when you’re not playing your own music?
Yes, I don’t like the word sideman… It’s kind of silly sounding but I like playing guitar and singing harmonies, almost as much as playing writing songs and playing my own stuff so it’s a lot of fun. I currently do that with Becca Mancari in town, Andrew Combs when he’ll have me, and a bunch of other singer-songwriter, really great people. Whoever needs a guitar player or bass player, I’ll just play that gig.
Have you been travelling a lot with stuff like that?
Little one offs with Caleb Groh, went to Cincinnati for a show with Jake McMullen, went to New York and did a couple showcases. Prior to that, the biggest tour I did was overseas with Andrew for about a month. We went to Europe and it was so much fun.
For the most recent record?
For his most recent release, yeah. We did the American tour then went to Europe. It was so much fun to play bass and that’s the first time I had played bass in a long time.
You’re primarily a guitar player?
How did you pick up playing bass?
I think Andrew had heard me play guitar and sing with people and thought, “He could probably play bass too.” He bought me a plane ticket to Ireland without ever hearing me play bass or play a song, he just figured I could do it.
Had you ever played bass?
That was my first instrument growing up because none of my other friends wanted to play it. They all wanted to play guitar or drums in our garage band, so I picked up the bass. But I haven’t picked it up since I was 16 or 17. I switched to guitar shortly after that. BUt I had the rudiments down. I knew how to use my fingers the right way with the bass. So it was easy coming back to it.
How had playing with other musicians influenced your own music?
I think when you have to serve someone else’s viewpoint in the song, it’s just helped me approach songs way more, “How is this going to sound as a band?” rather than just me writing with a piano or guitar in my room. I’m already thinking from the writing process at the get go where the bass player is going to fit into the mix, or keys or any sort of paddy organ, or other pad like keys are going to fit in and add into the blend and texture. So I think I’m writing from a standpoint of how is this going to sound full band, rather than myself in a room which is a first for me because I wrote both previous albums with that in mind. I built the songs with the guitar parts that were already written. Whereas with this most recent album that I’m about to put out, it was way more of a - Yeah, I’ll write the songs on guitar and stuff but immediately stripped them back down and thought about the band atmosphere, off the bat which I think came from playing with other people and thinking about the song in that kind of picture.
So it sounds like you’re taking a bit more of the producer role?
Absolutely, yeah, this album was produced by myself and the engineer actually, there wasn’t really any outside producers in the room. So between Billy Bennett and I, we called all the shots for this release and I think it turned out really nice and it’s really spacious and lush and pretty.
Where did you record it?
The Bomb Shelter in East Nashville. It’s great vibes, great guys.
Can you talk a little about the vibe of the album?
It’s just 4 songs, it’s an EP. But it’s the first thing I’ve ever pressed to vinyl because we tracked it on two inch tape and it just has a nice warm sound that we wanted to continue into the process. And there’s just something about sitting down with these four songs that I think go hand in hand with each other and they’re written around the same time and the same musicians played on them all. Anyway, I think it’s just nice to put them on vinyl and have two tracks on each side. It’s a 12 inch, 45 rpm so it goes by pretty quickly. You listen to two songs then flip it. And it’s just a nice way to listen to it and the jackets look really good. Other than that, we tracked it over the course of two to three days, and it was all done pretty much live in the room, minimal overdubs. It was mixed down and mastered to tape and it was a fairly quick process. The releasing process just takes forever…
Are you planning on staying in Nashville?
That’s an excellent question. I’ve lived here for a long time and I’m not one to say this town is changing because that’s going to happen to when any cool town is cool and it’s cool to have seen that growth over the past 8 years and to have lived all over the city and to have worked all over the city from delivering flowers to landscaping to waiting table to coffee shops, I’ve pretty much done it all. I think Nashville still has plenty to give to me with it’s growth, but at the same time, I’m in a situation where my rent is really still pretty cheap and I live in a pretty hip part of town. But if that left me, the rent hike has gone up so much and I’m not ready to buy, I’d probably have to move, if my lease was terminated at my current house. So it’s something I’m always thinking about, where my backup city’s going to be. When I travel I’m always making notes of the places I could see myself. I do love Nashville though.
I’d find someplace that’s what Nashville was 8 years ago and start that process over again. I really like the Northeast, Providence, RI, Portland, ME, and Burlington, VT are all pretty sleepy still but very cool and rent is pretty affordable.
Do you think it would be harder to do music there without as many venues to play and less of that going on?
I think it would encourage me to tour a lot more. I think it would be good for me. I play a lot of shows in Nashville and that’s fun, but I think it would encourage me to get out of town more. Which is something I’ve always wanted to more of. It’s just a tough thing to do when you’re at my level, to go out and play for a few people, to have a hard time booking. I think if I had a little team behind me… maybe that’s just an excuse. I have friends that bust their butts without a team behind them and I just need to go out there and do it. So I think if i lived in a sleepier town, or a not as vibrant music scene, it would help me get out of town more and play and I think that would be good for me. But Nashville’s so great that everyone’s doing this. It just encourages you every day to write a better song and play a better gig and to have a better stage presence and to think more about your tones and vocal deliveries because everyone’s doing it. I go out and see music constantly and it’s a nice challenging atmosphere that might lose that challenge if I’m in a town that people don’t take that seriously. But who’s to say if people in the Northeast don’t take it seriously.
There’s definitely that scene in Boston and New York, so it’s up there, just maybe not the smaller towns.
I get to spend two and a half weeks in New York dogsitting in September. So I just get to be in Brooklyn living for free in a beautiful apartment and I’m gonna bring my little four-track and some outboard gear. I’ve never had time to sit and write like that. It’s gonna be like a free vacation, I just have to walk the dogs three times a day. It’ll be great, I’ll make coffee, I’ll walk the dogs, I’ll write, I’ll repeat and hopefully I’ll come out with enough material to start my next record because it’s about time.
It’s like a retreat… but to the big city.
New York is so, back to that challenge factor, when everyone’s there to kill it and hustling, every time I’m there I make voice memos of songs and I’m really creative in a vibrant atmosphere. So I’m thinking if I’m normally there for three days and feel that good, if I’m there for three weeks, I bet I could really get some work done.
Can you tell you tell us the story behind the song you played for the video?
I’ve got three pretty heavy songs on the album so I wanted that to just be an outlier of happiness. It’s still about a relationship but it’s about how silly it is to try to force something that’s just not right. I had the hots for a young lady and the feelings weren’t reciprocated and that was a first time thing for me. So I just wrote that silly little song about how it felt to try and force loving someone that wasn’t necessarily right and that’s okay. So definitely not a very heavy song at all, but I think it’s kind of nice to have on the record. I think it’s the third song so it lifts people up after two somewhat downers.
And yet it’s still kind of sad.
Yeah, of course. It’s still about unrequited love. But it wasn’t even love. It’s just a silly little I was trying to date someone and they weren’t having it.The full band version is great, there’s a little guitar solo.
The whole reason we tracked to tape - I haven’t told anyone this story and it’s such a good story - one of the cool things that made us want to do tape… I was at a Goodwill dropping off stuff to donate. I always donate and buy from Goodwill. I feel like the more I donate, the better deals and stuff I find. I’ve found some pretty sweet steals. But anyway, I was donating something that probably should have just been thrown away but there was a guy next to me donating that worked at a studio and there’s a bunch of tape and stuff an probably studio equipment. So I said, “Hey man, I know this is probably not the most kosher thing in the world, but if you’re just going to give it away, can I grab one of those reels of tape?” And he said, “Oh, I don’t care, man.” So I took one of theses beautiful two inch Ampex reels and I contacted the engineer Billy before we even booked the studio time and said, “Hey, I’ve got this tape I found at Goodwill for free and I’m wondering if it’ll work.” So Billy took it home and baked it. It’s this process where, pretty much, if it’s old tape it re-hardens it and makes it able to be run through a machine again. And he played it back and it was a bunch of really cool 80s country tunes. So we dropped that into protools so we could save it and then use that tape to record the album on, this free tape that I found at Goodwill so I thought that was really sweet.
Hadley chatted with me about her obsession with female-fronted power groups, the future of pop music, and the trends she’s seeing in contemporary listeners. Coming from a music school background, Nashville was an obvious location for Hadley to continue learning, writing, and playing with her colleagues. With the influence of her musician friends and bringing to surface thoughts she had suppressed, Hadley wrote the song featured in our video series, Speak Fondly, off her most recent EP, Momentum.
Do you want to just start out and tell us a little bit about your background.
Yeah. I grew up moving around a lot when I was a kid and ended up in Chicago where my school had a great music program. I took piano lessons as a kid and was in choir and stuff like that and really was just a musical theater kid forever so I was always around music. Neither of my parents were musicians so they always had music playing in the house and I was always surrounded by it and trying to make it as much as I could. And then I started writing songs in high school when I started having a lot of feelings. And then that led me to Berkeley and that led me here.
What made you decide to move to Nashville?
I knew that, you know as a musician, you go to New York, L.A., or Nashville if you want to be immersed in the business. I'd been in New York a lot and while I love it I didn't think it was a good fit for me musically at the time. And California, I didn't really have a lot of experience there and so I hadn't even really thought about it. But Nashville - I'd come here a few times. Berkeley has this Nashville trip where they bus 100 students down here every spring for like five days and they really immerse you in as much of the Berkeley alumni in the business here as they can for being a hundred college students. And that combined with people who I already knew who were here and it's also in close proximity to Chicago where I'm from which is nice but I'm happy that I moved here. I don't plan on leaving anytime soon.
You have a lot of friends here from Berkeley that you did music with there and are doing music here with now. How does that influence your music now, having those people you did music with on a learning capacity, but are here now making music on your own accord?
Yeah, I think we grew up a lot at Berkeley, you know all coming from different backgrounds and different levels and learning our own thing. What I'm getting at is that we did a lot at Berkeley - everybody kind of learned people's styles and strengths and you know, who you can call upon to do different things, and I think a lot of us are still learning our capabilities and our tastes are changing and it's great to have this group or this community of people that you can call upon and say “Hey I want to mess around with this idea or I really need a cool guitar line or hey can we do a demo of this song that I just wrote today.”
Then everyone's more or less stoked about it. So it's very lucky to be a part of a community like that here and that has expanded since moving here. It was very comforting to move here when a lot of Berkeley kids moved here at the same time. I think there were maybe 15 or 20 of us from the same class that all moved down here within a couple of weeks. And you know at the end of every semester, there is a bit of a wave of new Berkeley kids that finds their way down here. But one of the beautiful things is just how it keeps expanding. I met people through my job at a restaurant and I mean at the end of the day Nashville's a small town with a lot more people than they anticipated. So it still has kind of that small town feel where you are never more than a few degrees of separation from anybody.
So what are you working on now. You most recently put out an EP?
I put out an EP, almost a year ago now. Wow. And it was a five song EP that we recorded mostly at the Sound Emporium studios and it was just a collection of five songs that I had written over the last few years that I decided needed to be out into the world. Since then I've just been kind of writing both towards the next project and just writing to figure out exactly where I want to go from here.
So what’s your plan for the new stuff?
So it's a little bit more pop minded. I think my music resides in the singer-songwriter genre. But you know, that can be very vague, much to my dislike sometimes. It's a little bit more pop minded in that I'm thinking more about like melodic hooks and different production choices that can be made, but still keeping the honesty in my lyrics and just still having really carefully crafted lyrics I should say, as pretentious as that sounds.
How do you feel about the pop music that’s popular right now?
I have a lot of mixed thoughts about it because at the end of the day kind of like what we were just talking about, if it gets stuck in your head, sometimes people consider that to be a valid pop song even if the lyrics aren't great or if the lyrics are amazing but you can't remember it. There are ends to both spectrums. I personally have been geeking out about a lot of female fronted pop recently. Like the new Haim record has been like my jam ever since it came out. I think because there's so much pop music out there and so much just music out there in general, there's a lot to choose from. And because of that I’ve found that I've tailored my pop likes to kind of what I was saying really great well-crafted lyrics with these awesome melodies behind it - just good songs at the end of the day.
Do you think pop music is changing with kind of the resurgence of other genres?
Yeah I think it is. I mean one thing with just like Americana music in general that's like this “new genre”. It's like at the end of the day it's honest music rooted in the tradition of making good music. And I think, you know, the country influences behind it kind of color it in a different way. I think it's done a lot. I mean like with AmericanaFest here in Nashville, you find people from all age ranges and musical tastes. There are super country acts that play. But there's also bluegrass, and there's also more folk people, and then more like Singer-Songwriters, and maybe not straight up pop people but you know have some pop influences or some pop colors on them. It's a wide range and I think the fact that it's diverse within that genre is really cool. And I'm interested to see how it changes as well.
I’m just wondering if people are going to get bored with it.
Yeah. It's interesting. When did that start, like the whole Americana movement? A few years ago?
I think Margo Price may have been the start of that, at least catching the younger audience’s attention.
Yeah I mean she's putting out new stuff too. And I think when like when Chris Stapleton's album came out too people were like, “Country music is changing.” But I think if anything, it's a testament to people responding to good songs and you know kind of reacting to stuff that has been put out on the radio and everywhere else that doesn't necessarily catch you in a way that a good story told through music does. As weird as that sounds.
I also feel like there’s a mass of young people now that are influenced by people like Townes Van Zandt.
I think it's interesting because you find like a lot of the music that I grew up listening to like Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton - that sound was really popular when it was really popular but it has this like nostalgic feel for us but it was only 15 years ago and people aren't making that kind of music any more. It’s not what everyone’s listening to you anymore like it was. I think at the end of the day it's about the songs and people are writing good songs and people are responding to that.
Like one of my favorite artists, Anna Nalick. Remember that song Breathe 2 am? She's putting out new music soon. She's been hinting on her social media. I saw her perform maybe like two or three years ago and she's awesome. And her new stuff is wonderful but she still plays all of her old stuff and it all still holds up and it's just really good music.
Well I think with those people, some of it sounds a little dated in it’s production, but it still makes you feel something in a way that a lot of pop songs today don’t do.
I think maybe people are starting to want that again.
Right, and I always say like my biggest inspiration are just like badass women of the singer songwriter genre in the 90s, like Shawn Colvin and the Indigo Girls. Poetry set to hooks is so cool and it's not only nostalgic from like you said, from a production standpoint like, “Oh I listened to that song when I was a kid or 20 years ago or whatever,” but like certain songs by those artists are just these epic stories poetry that's told in pop realm with like a four piece band behind it. Which I think is super rad and I hope it comes back because I want to make that kind of music.
It’s funny to me how people can be so idolized in a previous form of themselves, like their older music, but no one cares to listen to their new stuff...
Or like people who you go to see for their first record and but they play the new stuff it's all like... I don't know. I totally I know what you're talking about though. I don't know. I think it's a struggle to stay relevant. I don't know if it's trying to keep up with what people are listening to or just like keep putting out good music and knowing that people are going to respond to that regardless. Or hoping that people respond to just something that's honest and authentically you as an artist.
Can you talk about the song you played in the video?
So that song speak fondly is on the EP that I put out, the Momentum EP. When I wrote it, I was going through a lot of change personally. I also had just so much that was going on between going to like perform at different shows around the country and different music festivals. Then I went to tour Ireland and the UK with a friend of mine who had booked a tour over there and I was playing with her. And in the midst of it all, I was gone like almost every weekend out of Nashville and then for like a chunk of time in Ireland and I didn't really have time to like sit down and reflect and realize how I was feeling, which was a lot. Which never happens I usually am way too in my head and feel everything all at once. But at this time I was in kind of writing rut and didn't realize why and then when I finally was back home and had a second to sit down I thought “Oh my god, I need to tie up loose ends and actually say goodbye to somebody. And like… let somebody go.” It was that realization and kind of like that being flooded with having to move forward that spun that song. Anyway I was kind of meaning to wish someone a bittersweet farewell and tie up any loose ends that I had. That thankfully got me out of my writing rut and actually say “Hey, what's wrong? What's going on?” Not to sound conceited but I was like “I need to focus on what I was feeling,” as all the writers do a lot of the time.
What else do you have coming up?
October 4th at the 5 Spot with Matt Lovell, Brooks Hubbard, and J.R. Wyatt.
Thomas Csorba may be young, but his concise, yet poetic way of storytelling gives his music an element of wisdom far beyond his years.
I sat down with Thomas on an East Nashville porch on a day off from his first tour crossing the Texas border into the rest of the country. His calm and thoughtful demeanor is a fitting companion for his honest and self-aware lyrics. When Thomas wrote his first full length album, From The Foxhole out earlier this year, he drew on influences like Willie Nelson, Woody Guthrie, and Townes Van Zandt, which left him well versed in how to write about what he knew.
Can you tell us about the song you performed in the video?
The song I did in the video is called “Leaving The City” and it’s about hard work when hard work doesn’t feel like a very appealing thing to do, the story of a WW II veteran towards the end of his life. And I think it’s a very good representation of the record as a whole. The record is called From The Foxhole and deal with that idea of hard work when it doesn't seem that exciting of a thing to do.
When was the album released and where did you record it?
We recorded this record in Austin, Texas at Rattle Trap Audio. A good friend of mine, Brian Douglas Phillips recorded it and produced it. It was an awesome experience. It felt like a bunch of guys making music together. It was really fun and this is one of the songs that we knew instantly was a keeper for the final track listing.
What’s your background with music look like?
I’m from Houston, TX originally and grew up listening to artists like Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, and Woody Guthrie, and soon after I found out that I loved that stuff, started making my own music. Put out a couple little EPs in high school and this past Spring released my first full length record.
I know that right now you’re doing a bit of touring. What does that look like?
This is my first time out and about. I’ve played some shows outside of Texas but this is my first long run outside of Texas. I’m playing the Basement in Nashville, and Eddie’s Attic and a couple other shows around the area - really excited about those two though. And then off to Colorado for a couple dates. It’s awesome. I’ve toured Texas quite a bit and don’t plan on stopping, but it’s really cool to stretch and leave Texas for a little while.
Are you booking everything yourself?
I’ve got a buddy that’s helping me but nothing formally. It’s been awesome that way because the shows I play, whether it’s an opening gig, I’m usually opening for friends of mine. There’s a lot of camaraderie around the way shows are booked right now. It’s been a really sweet thing. Very people oriented.
Can you tell me about the show you just played in Nashville?
Yeah, I played a show at Blood:Water International which is a company that helps with HIV and Aids prevention and deals with all that over in Africa. And there was a charity event we played last night and it was great. They’re an awesome company and were very kind to invite me to come and play.
What plans do you have in the future for recording and releasing new things? What do you see yourself doing at the end of this tour?
I’m working on a new record, like always, always writing. I’ve written a ton of songs this year and am shaping it out to be a new record. I’m not sure when we’ll get into the studio to do it, but hopefully soon. I love being in the studio and I think nowadays you can put music out really easily and that’s a really exciting thing. Being a DIY Americana artist, it’s really approachable, and not easy, but you can put music out there pretty easily so that’s pretty exciting. Hopefully soon, as soon as possible, really.
Are you planning on staying in Texas and keeping that as home base?
Yeah, I love Texas. I live in Waco, Texas right now and I love that town. I grew up in the city, so being in a smaller town, that’s very entrepreneurial minded that’s filled with creatives, be it songwriters or entrepreneurs or photographers or other artists - that’s been an awesome thing. It’s good for me to not get distracted but to get to work, but also to develop really genuine relationships and I think that fuels art in any capacity. It’s been a great place to live. I love being in Texas. I can stand the heat and humidity so I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
Right now it seems like a lot of the music that’s gaining popularity right now is based in Texas roots. Artists like Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson are the influences for the artists getting popular right now. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Well I think that that vein of music is, it feels good to hear somebody else struggle. It feels good to hear somebody else be honest, and I think that’s a really attractive thing. And so when people, like Townes for example are ably to be really honest and really funny in a really poetic way, it’s really easy for people to grab onto that. I think Willie Nelson’s the same. It’s the idea of making music true to your roots - it’s really approachable. Everybody has roots. Everybody’s roots are different. And a story is a story. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a good story or a bad story when it comes to people. I think that everybody has something to say and in this kind of genre of music that is emerging, people are starting to realize that. That everybody has something to say and it’s worthwhile getting to share it.
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.
So what have you been up to?
I’ve been out on the road for the past week. I played some shows in Charlotte, NC and Washington D.C. and New York City. This whole tour was kind of an excuse to go hang out at Newport Folk Festival, so I spent three days in Newport and had an amazing time. The shows were great, too. In New York we had like 70 people come out and it was a cool little hotel that we did the show at - kinda a nonconventional show, but everybody’s so attentive and it was a lot of fun. Newport was really great. I got to see the legendary John Prine do his thing. Roger Waters came out and played a song with him. It just really felt like a big family reunion. A ton of my friends were there playing and hanging out and so we had a grand ole time. A lot of late night jamming around the fireplace. It was actually cold enough that we could have a fire. One day I was so cold - I didn’t pack a jacket because it was like 100 degrees in Nashville when I left - and a cold front came through so it was like in the low 60s and all I had on was a short sleeve shirt. So I was going to buy a Newport hoodie but they were all sold out of hoodies. I guess a lot of people had the same idea I did. So I started poking around vendors and I found a lady that sold Mexican blankets. Best 20 bucks I spent all weekend was a Mexican blanket that I wore like a poncho the rest of the day. But it did the trick though!
You’ll probably use it more than the hoodie after the fact.
That was kind of my thought. Definitely a better story.
Can you tell us a bit about the single we did the video for and the experience of playing Bonnaroo [where we filmed the video]?
The single we put out, it’s called “Too Many Alarms”. We just did it as a stand alone single. It’s a song I actually recorded with my bass player Wyatt Funderburk and we recorded it together as well. It’s been a cool song to play live and also people really grab hold to it in different ways. It’s funny, people say it means things to them that when I wrote it, it didn’t mean that to me, so it’s really cool to see this song take shape in different people’s lives and kind of mold itself into maybe what they needed to hear. We debuted it the day before Bonnaroo. Americana Songwriter put it out on Thursday, it came out Friday, then we played Bonnaroo on Saturday. PLaying Bonnaroo was a huge honor and it was a lot of fun. It’s such a big event that it’s hard to take in the magnitude of how many people are there. It’s a good thing I didn’t think about how many people were there or it probably would have freaked me out. What if they just started stampeding and crushed me? [laughs] This is probably a form of claustrophobia that I probably have. I don’t know; this is really weird.
The performance was a lot of fun and we had my friend Claire Indie Nunn, who has played cello for me over the past few years. We had her come and play cello on the song “Intruder” that’s on the EP I put out last year called Turning to Wine. So we really pulled out all the stops. And I mean, the shows were great, top notch. I felt really honored to play the same place that all these folks were playing. Hopefully we’ll do it again.
The new single is a stand alone, but you just put out the EP this past Fall?
That was September of this past year, so we’re actually coming up on a year, which is crazy, but it’s still new to a lot of people so it’s still got some legs on it.
I feel like the new song has more of the traditional country country elements and some of that Texas sound, and the EP has bit more pop elements. Are you planning on moving in the one direction or are you just kinda trying new things right now?
I think for me it definitely has some traditional country elements to it and I think for me, I can see myself go in that direction. But I’m also the kind of person not wanting to get bogged down in one genre. I also think the sound of the EP versus the single “Too Many Alarms” has a lot to do with who produced it. When you work with the producer you kinda let them mold the sound a little bit. Funny you should ask about Texas and stuff, I’m actually going to Texas next week to record some songs out in Dallas. Not everybody knows about this yet but I’m going to record some new songs. Some guys in the Texas Gentleman are going to play on the record, or EP, I don’t even know what it is yet, but it’s going to be a few songs. My buddy, Jeff Saenz who runs Modern Electric Studios in Dallas is going to produce it for me. The thought behind it for me was - let’s put Reuben in a different environment and see what comes out. There’s probably going to be a little bit of like rockabilly kind of vibe to it. I always say that my definition of country music and my music is like when you say George Harrison played country music. He’s not your traditional country artist at all, but he definitely had some country influence and country vibe to it. And I can’t deny that maybe Nashville has rubbed off on me a little bit.
Hayley [Reuben’s wife] had said something to me that I thought was funny - that it’s always older people that tend to like your music. Do you have anything to say about that?
Yeah, I’ve noticed that and it’s like the more mature listeners tend to like my sound, although I do have some young fans, although they probably have old souls. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain it, but I definitely feel like I’m cut from old cloth if that makes sense. I feel like I’ve always been drawn to older music and I also have older parents so maybe that has something to do with it too. I think maybe for the older folks that like my music, it might just be that they like what they hear and maybe it’s reminiscent of something. Maybe there’s a little bit of nostalgia happening and I don’t mind that at all. I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you like my music. [laughs] That was the Backstreet Boys I just quoted, by the way.
It was? It sounded so genuine!
Well when you say it with inflection it’s suddenly not so cheesy.
You’re playing AmericanaFest coming up? What kind of showcases are they?
I’m actually playing Wednesday, September 13th 10pm at ACME Feed and Seed on Broadway. I’ve never played on Broadway before so this is actually the first time. They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway [laughs]. It’s a cool venue. One of these days I need to play Robert’s Western World. Robert’s is the most traditional...So yeah, we’ll be at ACME and I’m bringing the whole band. I’ve got some other Nashville shows coming up. You can check out my website and they’re all listed there.
When Bearheart formed, they struggled working as a DIY band, with hired guns who were heavily influencing their music, but interested primarily in the money. On the verge of exiting the music scene altogether, founding member, Matthew Leonhardt explains how the music discovery aspect of festivals has brought the band out of their musical hiatus.
Can you tell me how the band formed?
Chris, my percussionist and I have been playing years together. We met in a college speech class, funny enough. We started with some old songs that I was playing. He would play percussion and we would just hang out and play music. He encouraged me to actually do something with music. He just really enjoyed and believed in what I was doing. Long story short we got a bunch of guys together, Bearheart formed as our two last names combined. His last name is Barrett, mine is Leonhardt, so Bearheart. Hired some guys, cut two records.
What direction is the band headed in now?
The direction that we were kind of pushed in [by the] people we hired, [who] were really fairly well known musician in Nashville but they were banjo and fiddle players so therefore our sound was pushed in an Americana and Bluegrass style. When they left we saw the opportunity to be a little more modern, so our two new bandmates, Jake and Shad are bringing more electricity into our sound. It’s not purely acoustic purely traditional. It’s still Americana but leaning towards a rock-country sound.
What has your experience been like with other Nashville musicians?
It’s been good to an extent. Nashville is full of musicians, they’re everywhere. You can’t throw a rock and not hit at least 20 of them. Everybody’s been really great. I find that people in Nashville still love music. I love the fact that Nashville is insanely eclectic now; it’s not only country. They all bring something different to the table. Not everyone is from Nashville. A lot of musicians are converging on Nashville because it’s become so eclectic and it’s not just country, so they’re all bringing their different ideas and styles.
What’s the song you played for us?
The song that we did in the video is called Meant to Be. I wrote it in Atlanta; it’s a love song, of course, and how a relationship just doesn’t work out sometimes. I had been dating my old roommate's identical twin sister, which is weird. We had this weird relationship. I remember being outside, she had this really nice house that she was living in and I could tell that things were just crumbling. It was sunny outside, it was beautiful, and what better situation than to just write a really sad song. So that’s how that song came to be. The direction it’s taking us is just a more mature form of songwriting. Studying more of my personal idols, finding my own voice in songwriting, maturing as a musician, and just trying to evolve from our old style of good-time bluegrass music.
Chris, Shad, and I have known each other and played with each other for awhile. One of the first bands that I started with Chris, wasn’t called Bearheart, but I remember playing a show at Belmont where one of my current roommates played percussion and Shad played bass which is a long time ago but we’ve all known each other for a long time. Jake goes to church with Chris and really just dug our music. Chris plugs Bearheart like no other. He believes in what we’re doing so much that he just shows our music to everybody, if they’re a musician or if they’re not. Jake just kinda fell into our laps at the right time. We had a bass player at the time, and he was like “If that falls through let me know,” and lo and behold, that fell through.
Can you explain where the location we filmed is?
I live out in Leiper’s Fork with three other guys. It was a random move for me. I was living out in Ashland CIty and I got a great job and it came basically with this living situation. We live on six acres of land. It’s open, it’s beautiful. You can hear the birds chirping. We have a barn on this property that we just turned into a workshop and we work on all kinds of stuff. We recorded in this old, busted up workshop. We love it. We spend most of our time out here when we’re at the house.
What are your plans to record a new record?
Actually we’re still trying to figure that out. The majority of us have wives, families, careers that we’re really excited about… We were contacted by a festival in Wyoming. They heard our music on Pandora, really dug us and reached out to us. We weren’t ever really planning on doing music on a large scale anymore. But this out of nowhere reignited a fire in us to play. We still had a bunch of songs that we were sitting on and not really doing anything with. So we hired two new guys and are gonna go do this festival. We aren’t currently playing, we used to play a lot in and around Nashville, but this is kind of a new beginning for us. When we get back from this festival, we’re gonna get back in this studio and cut probably two new EPs, maybe a full length, 10 songs. And just start plugging away at the local scene again, hopefully start getting out on a regular basis and see where that takes us.
What made you stop playing as much?
We were a six piece at one point and four people left basically at the same time. Things got a little heated. We were a DIY band and we hired some people that were a little to interested in money and it just kind of affected what we were. It fell apart. Chris my percussionist got married, started a career and was really enjoying it. I got a job that turned into a career. We were just focusing on our future other than music. We still did music as an outlet but we weren’t actively pursuing because we had pushed so hard in the past. The last two records we had pushed so hard and it just didn’t work out. But it is what it is and things have really turned around, making us rethink what our role is in the music industry or just in general.
Zoe Nutt moved to Nashville to study Classical Music, but quickly found Songwriting to be a more fulfilling alternative. After releasing a debut record last year entitled, Like You which delicately, yet honestly addresses her struggles with progressive hearing loss, Zoe’s ready to turn a new page in her musical career. Zoe chatted with us about plans for her sophomore album, playing with a new band, and successes she’s had in her first full year of songwriting.
How did you get into songwriting?
I have really only been songwriting for about a year and a half. I’ve always written poems and been a creative in that sense. But I studied classical music at Belmont University. It wasn’t until I was in that major that I realized it wasn’t for me. Classical music wasn’t for me. I wanted to sing something that was true to my heart and I auditioned for the songwriting program at Belmont. I used the first three songs I had written, recorded them, and sent them off. Luckily I got in and since then I’ve been writing songs.
How did you get into music altogether? What made you decide to major in Classical Music?
Well I’ve always sung, as a kid, I’ve always been musical in that sense. I’ve always taken great pride in listening to music and knowing what the lyrics meant...how that song is conveyed. I’d taken piano lessons a little but I didn’t take it seriously until high school when I wanted to audition for a musical and didn’t get the part I wanted. So in true fashion, I decided, I’m gonna go learn how to sing really well. So I took classical lessons. And since then I just thought, well I’m good at this - I got really good at it - so I might as well pursue it. But I guess I was still kind of confused as to what I wanted to do, and it was something I was good at so I thought why don’t I just go for this and figure it out from there.
Can you tell me about your relationship with the Nashville community and music community, outside of college?
I think this is probably true for a lot of people in Nashville my age, it seems like it’s just sheer luck, just meeting the right person at the right time. When I went to Belmont, I was very secluded. I didn’t reach out to a lot of people in the songwriting, music business world because I was in classical music at the time. I knew this one guy named Luke Enyeart who plays guitar. He was a guitar major there. I didn’t know him well, but by the time I graduated college and realized songwriting was the way I wanted to go, I said, “I want to start a band and I want that guy in my band. I’ve seen him play and I’m gonna go contact him.” So I reached out to him and he said, “Hey, I’ve got some roommates, they’ll all be in your band”. From then it just spiraled off. One person knows another, or someone plays for another band. It just becomes a networking thing where you make friends and because all of your friends live in this town and want to do the same thing, you become more connected in the music business as well. So I think I’d chalk it up to just not being afraid to go make some friends and ask random people to be in your band. It’s really just luck and having a little fun with it.
What would you say has been the most validating moment as a songwriter thus far?
There have been a lot of little, small steps that add up and I think are validating because you work on all these little things and eventually you get a show that you really care about or you play a song finally the way you’ve really wanted to play it. Those are all validating. I’d say this year the very big validation points have been the music festivals I’ve gotten to play - Red Ants Pants Fest coming up, Rhythm and Blooms Fest, and Riverbend Fest and hopefully many more to come in the future. I’ve only been doing this for a year, so I feel proud that I’ve gotten that far. I’d say those are the most validating things.
Can you tell us about your most recently released album and the process of pulling those songs together for it?
I’ve only got one record out right now and I’m working on a second. It was recorded in Knoxville, TN where I’m from with producer, Travis Wyrick. He really helped me find my voice when I was still in classical music mode - very much in this perfectionist mindset, it has to be this way or the highway. He helped me embrace maybe the mess ups in my voice or the imperfections that I thought weren’t beautiful, in fact were and have really helped shape my sound. The first album I have out is called Like You. It’s a grouping of songs, I had just started figuring out what I wanted to write as a songwriter and I think it’s really of timeline of that. But the title track is called “Like You” and it addresses my progressive hearing loss. I’m deaf in my right ear and half in my left with tinnitus, so I think that song definitely took precedence over the others. I had lost a huge amount of hearing at the end of my college years and into graduating. I guess that is what I really like to address first, is why I decided for the album to be called Like You. The song is just a letter to my children, that I do not have right now, just saying that no one will ever sound like you. I think I’m very proud of that first album and proud of what it says and what it says to me that I’ve gone through and I’m just excited to do a second one that has a totally new meaning. I can move on from the hearing loss thing and say, “Okay, what’s next?”
What are your plans for the next album? How does it differ from this one?
Well the big difference between this album and the first is that different artists are recording on it. I now have a full band that I play with on the regular, so we’ve really been able to play these songs and perfect them in a way that you can’t do with studio musicians, no matter how amazing and talented the studio musicians are. Which mine on my first record were just fabulous and I loved everything they did. We’re a band now and it’ll be a little more experimental, weirder sounds, not all love songs, but things that maybe your first album of songs may be about. It’s not just about me this time, not just about my life, but hopefully songs about other people’s lives.
The video recording that Roots Radio has online right now is called “Come Over”. It’s a song of mine that I wrote with Cameron Newby and it’s really inspired by love gone wrong. Some people have called it a ‘friends with benefits’ song which I can laugh at, I think it’s pretty funny. I think it goes a little deeper than that. It’s really about the tragedy of settling for the wrong person. It’s more than just calling someone to come over. This song will be on the sophomore record. I think it’s different than everything else I’ve done because it’s a little more risque. It has a bit of a country feel to it. Having the full band behind me just adds this creativeness that maybe I couldn’t think of myself. It has sort of a country feel, which the entire album won’t be a country feel, but I think it pays homage to me living in Nashville, TN in a way. The song that we’re about to play on air is called “East Houston Street” and it will also be on the record. Both of these were recorded by Don Bates over here in East Nashville. “East Houston Street” is a lot funkier. It’s just a got a funky kind of vibe to it. You can really dance to it, it’s more uplifting. I don’t think the first album you could dance to, it’s more you cry to it. But the second album will have these more upbeats moments that are just fun. Having a full band that can really convey these moments in a song that I want is what I think is going to be so important to this album. When I wrote East Houston Street, I cut up a bunch of newspaper articles, highlighted things, circled pictures, kind of put it together in this hodge podge way and said, “Alright, this is my song, how do I do this? How do I make this into a story?”
What does the timeline look like for releasing this sophomore album?
My Sophomore album will hopefully be out by the beginning of 2018. That’s my goal. We have a lot of the songs already written but some are still in that gestation period where we don’t know what they’ll be totally yet and that’s extremely exciting. We’re planning on touring heavily for that second album and really show the world what we’ve got. Go around the US, meet some great people and play some great songs.
Anthony Adams and the Nite Owls
Anthony Adams and the Nite Owls are regulars at the Tuesday Writers’ Nights at Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor, a musician’s hang in Franklin. They’ll tell you that songwriting isn’t just a Nashville thing.
Anthony Adams moved to Nashville from Indiana 10 years ago, but it was at Kimbro’s in Franklin where he found his home base and his people. Most nights he’s behind the bar. But frequently he’s on stage performing for the regulars. One of his favorite things to do there became an inspiration on his recently released album, “Are We Livin’”, which was made at a popular all analog studio in West Nashville.
We sat down with Anthony to talk about this new record, moving to Nashville, and the community he’s found here.
Can you explain where you’re from, how you ended up in Nashville, and how you got looped into the music world here?
I moved here from Indiana 10 years ago, this year, in July actually. I came on the recommendation from a friend who lived here for a little bit then moved back to Indiana and said there was a good scene here. So I packed up and moved here and then just slowly started going to open mics and meeting people and about 5 years ago I came to Kimbro’s and I met most of my band here, if not all of them. Been doing it ever since.
You have a new record out. Can you tell us about that?
The song that I played is on [that] record, out July 1st, and I co-wrote that with my wife. We were dancing in the kitchen and I was looking over and saw some flowers that I had gotten her and the petals were starting to fall off, and so I said that first line and she stopped me and made me write it down. It was a lot of fun to write with her. She’s got some beautiful words. The record we recorded at Welcome to 1979 onto two-inch tape and it was our first time doing that and we did it with vinyl in mind. We’ll be releasing our sophomore album on vinyl and we’re stoked about it. It just sounds amazing. The title track of the record is “Are We Living” and we invited a bunch of friends in to sing on one of the last choruses because when we play at Kimbro’s or wherever we have a good following, the crowd usually sings along and it’s a very magical thing. That gave me the idea to bring about 15-20 people in on the record to sing with us, so there’s “Are We Livin’”.
What would you say your most valuable moment as a songwriter has been since living in Nashville?
I would say being on this stage here at Kimbro’s and having the whole room sing one of my songs, that really does it for me. It’s special.
What are your plans post record-release? Continuing playing shows in town or touring with the new record?
We’ve got some shows booked back at home in Indiana and down near Chattanooga. We’re going to try to do a regional tour and we’re currently putting that together. To continue to play for people who have never heard our music and turn them on to it and give them a good record to go home with.
Can you tell me about the community you’ve found in Nashville, particularly the songwriting community?
Yeah, there’s a lot of support. I don’t feel like there’s much competition, at least in my circle. You know it seems that everyone’s out to help one another and keep them going, and encourage new songs. I think that the community that has spoken to me most has been here at Kimbro’s and I think that’s true for a lot of songwriters. We do the Songwriter’s Night on Tuesdays and it’s just an amazing group of individuals. Some have left and we have new ones and some have been around for a long time and it’s been amazing here. I call this my second home for sure. It’s got a family vibe to it.
We’re in Franklin technically. Do you think there’s a difference between the community here versus in Nashville, or do you see them as the same community?
Some people think Franklin’s hours away from Nashville. Before I found Kimbro’s and the community here, I hung out at a place in East Nashville at a place called The Building and it was an amazing community. A lot of great songwriters came out of that place. And when I moved to Franklin, I found Kimbro’s and it was just a larger community, another arm of the music community here i n Nashville. Franklin people do pride themselves on having their own scene and we are definitely trying to become more a part of the Nashville scene as well. We have some friends that are in great bands in Nashville and we want to be a part of that scene as well. There are a lot more music venues in Nashville so I think the community is bigger there than here, it’s a little more kind of niche.
Can you talk a little bit about how you got into songwriting?
I don’t even know. From what I remember, in middle school I remember sitting at my desk and just writing lyrics. I wrote a song about heartache, a relationship that went bad and I had never even been in a relationship at that point. I sang throughout my school career and then when I was going to college, my cousin taught me how to play guitar and that kinda opened the door for me. Then I started finding bands like Dave Matthews and Pearl Jam and Radiohead and really opened my eyes to the songwriting aspect of it all. Then moving to Nashville was the best education I could have asked for - just going out every night and seeing the talent of songwriters just increase every time I went out. It would be like well here’s the level here and this guy’s great and I’ll shoot for that, and then you see someone else and it just went up, you know, this guy’s even better. As a songwriter it’s the best thing I could choose to do and I’m glad I came because it’s what I love and it’s helped me hone my craft, just being here surrounded by all these great musicians from all over the world.
July 20th, 2017
Courtney Marie Andrews
June 8th, 2017
This song is yet to be recorded, and was performed as a solo, stripped-down performance in one take at Belmont United Methodist Church in the Hillsboro Village area of Nashville.
"Back in November, only two days or so after the election, this song hit me like a brick at a Love's Truck Stop. I pulled over, and wrote it in 10 minutes. That's how some songs are delivered, fully formed, and you must write them when they come. For the first time in my womanhood, I felt powerless, because the man who was supposed to rule our country made some very shocking and hurtful comments about women. It reminded me of all the times I, or someone close to me, had been harassed, sexually abused, cat-called, or body shamed. The song is intended to empower, and to conquer our demons. It is a statement, not a plead or a question. We ARE more than bodies. We are strong, intelligent, capable humans, with our own opinions and thoughts. It's a song that I desperately needed as a reminder, and a song that I hope serves as a reminder to women who feel powerless." - Courtney Marie Andrews
Courtney's most recent record, Honest Life, came out on May 17th, 2017. Courtney produced the entire record herself at Litho Studios in Seattle with recording engineer Floyd Reitsma.
See more from Courtney including Tour Dates at https://www.courtneymarieandrews.com/.
June 1st, 2017
This not yet released song was filmed in a partially torn down church in the Five Points area of East Nashville. Wesley was in town playing fellow Texan, Kirby Brown's EP release show and Wesley was kind enough to lend us some of his time and songs to film this video.
His most debut studio album, El Dorado was released in 2014 and produced by Beau Bedford and since then, Wesley has been writing new material for a follow-up album.
Check out the full album here: https://open.spotify.com/album/79Gkkn56XzJGnhp3MGhqFW
and his website here: http://wesleygeiger.com/.
May 18th, 2017
Leah Blevins hails from Sandy Hook, KY, a one-stoplight town in the hills of Appalachia. Raised in the Baptist church, singing has always been a huge part of her life. Music runs deep in her family through four generations. Her grandfather and his sister set high standards, training Leah and her two sisters in three part harmony and gospel hymns from an early age. She emerged from her family and the Bluegrass State with a bone-deep love of music.
At 21, Leah made the move down I-65 to Nashville and began collaborating with Ken Coomer, record producer and founding member of Wilco. Through Coomer, Leah began co-writing with renowned songwriters such as Paul McDonald, Brian Wright, and Buzz Casin. Leah and Coomer recorded the first five tracks of her upcoming debut record in 2015 at his studio, Cartoon Moon, in East Nashville – with more on the way. She has performed on CMT's Edge Live with Sons of Bill as well as on their most recent studio album, produced by Coomer, on the track Road to Canaan.
Leah’s sound echoes the original roots of country music with a vocal range and style reminiscent of Emmy-Lou Harris, Stevie Nicks, and early-Dolly Parton. Her voice seethes with hope and heartbreak, capturing a time that has slipped away and calling her listeners back to what matters most - love, loss, and room to breathe. She walks a fine line between grit and fragility that is all too familiar to anyone who has ever lived with a wide-open heart.
"The song isn't a reference to any relationship or story in particular - it's an experience that most people have encountered at some point in their life. It means simply knowing your self worth and realizing when it's time inflect that realization." - Leah Blevins
Stay up to date with Leah through her website.
Joel Adam Russell
May 11th, 2017
Joel Adam Russell was born and raised in North Texas, lived for a time amongst the dairy farms and orange groves of Central California, and he has recently set up camp in Nashville. With an earnest voice he sings songs that have the capacity to feel like they are simultaneously private journal entries as well as public anthems. He's often stated that his greatest musical influence was the Southern Baptist Church his grandfather pastored, but his writing has been seasoned by all the great American music stylings (folk, blues, country, etc.).
It's the story, as it was told to me, of a woman who'd dated a man for years only to have him up and leave her for another. To add insult to injury, the way in which this woman found out her ex had decided to marry his new love (after only a two month engagement) was through a photograph of the pair signing their marriage license, and in the photo the new girl is wearing a beloved vintage shirt that actually belonged to the woman telling me the story. I knew I had to try and write the song when the woman bitterly said, "I... I don't care. If they're in love, great. I'm happy for 'em... whatever. But that shirt. I want that shirt back." - Joel
Catie hails from New Braunfels, TX, and in her words, "I've always played music. I think it found me."
She grew up playing fiddle for people and polka music was my first professional gig, then she went back to her roots of country music. Growing up on her grandfather's records... Bob Wills, Ray Price, George Jones, Asleep At The Wheel... she started writing songs with Bill Whitbeck, when she was 14 years old.
"Writing helping me find my voice... In life and vocally. I never sang before that. It made me really nervous to be exposed like that. I was used to always "hiding" behind an instrument." Catie explains.
She started going to college at TLU in Seguin and then got a scholarship to Berklee when she was only 16 to finish her degree. She then moved out to LA at 19 for a few years, but missed country music, so moved back to Nashville exactly a year ago.
"It's been the best thing I've done. I write during the week, play shows on weekends, and take fiddle gigs when I can. I made my Opry debut at the Ryman a few months back. It was such a special night. My parents and my 94 yr. old grandma came all the way from Texas to see me! I have the best family - I couldn't do it without them." she says.
April 20th, 2017
Becca Mancari is a traveler. She's lived everywhere — Staten Island, Florida, Virginia, India, Pennsylvania — and she's collected plenty of tales along the way, spinning the sounds and stories of the modern world into songs that mix the organic stomp of American roots music with the approach and attitude of raw rock & roll.
This is personal music, performed by a storyteller who's lived and loved. Born in Staten Island to an Italian-Irish preacher and a Puerto Rican mother, Becca spent her childhood moving around the East Coast. It's no surprise, then, that she found herself drawn to a group of train hoppers in central Virginia, where she relocated as a teenager to attend college. Surrounded by fellow travelers, Becca began to make music — not the kind of music she made during her earlier years, when she sang in her father's church — but music for front porches, for bonfires, for slow dances and road trips, and train rides and new romances. The sound was inspired by everything from Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited to Neil Young's Harvest Moon, not to mention the Appalachian folk music that her Virginia friends played. It was bold and broad, and it sounded like Becca Mancari.
After college, Becca continued her travels, eventually winding up in the musical hotbed of Nashville, Tennessee. There, she continues writing songs that blur the lines between genres, sharing shows with artists like Hurray For The Riff Raff and Natalie Prass along the way. "Summertime Mama," her first single was produced by Adam Landry and Justin Collins (Deer Tick, Middle Brother, Diamond Rugs, Lilly Hiatt) and recorded with members of her touring band, the music is a snapshot from a musician who's still on the move, constantly writing songs about the people she's met and the impression they leave.The recordings aren't perfect, and Becca likes that. Because life isn't perfect.
"Things that are perfect tend to sound flatlined," she explains. "There's no 'human' there. I like to hear the person when I listen to songs. And I hope people can hear me.”
"This song is called Dirty Dishes, and it wants to be a point and blame song, but it keeps coming back on yourself. Not being able to face your own mistakes and shot failings." - Becca
Check out Becca's website for tour dates at: www.beccamancari.com.
April 13th, 2017
You just released your first full-length record, See For Days. It’s your first release in almost three years. Can you tell me about the process of writing and releasing this? How long have you been working on the material for this album?
The songs are a few of the many songs I have written over the past few years. I typically write very slowly, I write almost everyday but if I'm not feeling it I don't force it. I try to write songs that are simple and true. I'm very meat and potatoes when it comes to songwriting.
You come from a family of musicians. How has this been influential in the development of your sound?
Music was a huge part of my childhood, I would fall asleep as a kid to my dad playing guitar or spinning records. He introduced me to great music at a very young age, he gave me my first Wilco album at 13 years old. He helped shape my musical landscape at a very early age.
You’ve been in Nashville for 7 years now and have worked in many areas of the music industry. What has been most surprising and most encouraging to you regarding the state of the music industry, specifically in Nashville right now?
The most encouraging thing is seeing all of the growth in areas that aren't a part of the music row crap. So many companies and individuals are moving here to be a part of this killer music scene in Nashville. One of the great things about Nashville is the support you get from other artists, I don't see that in other cities.
As an Americana station, we like our ability to pick up on great music that slips through the cracks among other genres and stations. How has the growing Americana environment in Nashville influenced your genre and how you categorize your own music?
I think Americana used to be such a small sub genre, now people like Jason Isbell are selling out 5 nights at the Ryman and actually selling records. It has given a lot of hope for people like me.
What’s next for you following the album release? Do you anticipate more touring following this release?
I will be going on tour opening for The Lone Bellow in late April, I will be doing some more touring throughout the spring and summer.
If you could pick any band to be opening for on tour right now, who would it be?
That is such a hard question, it's a tie between Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers or Neil Young. Those are two of my favorites.
April 6th, 2017
Katie Pruitt is an up and coming singer/songwriter in Nashville, TN. She began songwriting in high school after she realized how easily she was able to communicate her feelings through song. After giving her home state of Georgia a chance she moved to Nashville in 2014 and hit the ground running.
Influenced heavily by John Mayer, Ryan Adams, The Avett Brothers, and Brandi Carlisle her music is rooted in old school blues and Americana with elements of pop. Her insanely honest and freakishly mature lyrics paired with the musical arrangements of her songs will captivate any listener effortlessly.
Being brought up Catholic in a small suburb of North Atlanta the word "Gay" was not okay. Not unlike many young millennials, Katie was uncomfortable with her sexuality but was terrified to be honest. Although some might view her song "Loving Her" as controversial, Katie views it as a way to give young closeted teens a much more positive and prideful perspective, on the issue.
For the next several months Katie is working hard with Nashville Producer Ian Miller and LA producer Mike Viola, to release her official debut EP "Ordinary" in the fall of 2017. The EP will be available on Spotify and iTunes. Tour dates and upcoming shows include April 28th at the Basement, Key West Songwriter's festival May 10th-14th and Music City Roots July 26th. Follow Katie on Instagram @katiepruittmusic to stay in the loop.
More info on Katie's website: https://www.katiepruittofficial.com/.
Major and the Monbacks
March 30th, 2017
You just released the single “We Are Doing Fine” in advance of your full length record, set to come out June 16. Can you talk to us about the writing process behind this album and how it stylistically differs from your previous releases?
Neal: This album was different I think in the way that we approached the songs going into the studio as unfinished, with room to add different parts and textures, rather than using a studio to just capture the sound of a live band, which we did more on the first album. So, we had more room and time marked off to experiment, which allowed for some of the more fun things on the record, backwards guitar solo, mellotron strings, tape manipulation, flutes, bells, reversed vocals etc.
In addition to that, you just signed to Yep Roc Records. Congrats on that! How has it changed the plan for the band, and where do you see yourselves going in the next year?
Cole: For years we purposefully kept our whole band operation internal, waiting for the right time and the right group of people that we really trusted to help grow the band. Now that we've finally taken that next step with Yep Roc on board (and New Frontier Touring on the booking side), our plans actually haven't changed much at all. Our plan will always be to write and record music, and to continue growing and touring as much as we can. We hope that our new team will help us make those things happen in a much bigger way and allow us to focus even more on making and recording music. In a year, we will hopefully be working on our next record, we've actually already started writing new songs, a few of which we debuted live at SXSW.
You ended up playing quite a few shows at SXSW this year. We know SXSW can be stressful between all the walking and finding someplace to park, but what was the most rewarding part of the week for you?
Cole: The most rewarding part was probably just being part of a festival that had thousands of bands from all over the world coming together to showcase their music. The massiveness of the festival and the almost unimaginable number of parties, shows, and things going on all at the same time was pretty damn cool. Being able to play 8 shows in 6 days in the same city was unlike anything we have ever done and I can't wait to do it again.
Since SXSW is about discovering new artists, what new artists are you guys listening to right now?
Neal: Lemon Twigs!!! I think that's the band that we've found the most common ground with as a group since Dr. Dog. A couple of us got a chance to catch them in Austin, and they restored my faith in rock n' roll.
Cole: Okey Dokey from Nashville, TN. They are some sort of crazy mashup of modern spacey psychedelic rock and Motown/soul. And their live show was pure sweaty rock n roll. "Low Rent / / Blue Skies" has been playing on repeat since the 26 hour van drive home from Austin to Virginia.
The Beatles’ influence on your music has been a common conversation topic around the new single. Are there any influences for this record that listeners may find surprising?
Neal: Fo sho, fo sho, everybody in the band has somewhat overlapping and diverging musical tastes. I think the Beatles reference is fairly obvious because we make melodic guitar rock/pop with an emphasis on vocal harmonies, but there's also just as much of a 70's country-funk influence going on sometimes. We've kind of been able to find some ground between 60's baroque pop, 70's country funk, and indie rock I guess. We're also no strangers to soul and R&B music, since we used to play a lot of those classics in our formative, 11 piece, matching-suit-wearing years.
What would you say is the band’s major focus right now? Do you anticipate a lot of touring following the album release?
Cole: The band's focus right now is mainly on getting ready for the album release and gearing up for a big tour planned for the summer. We have also been getting together over the last few months to write and arrange some songs even newer than the new album songs that we hope to be able to road test this summer. We will also be embarking on our first ever cross country US tour this summer in support of the new record, from Virginia to California and everywhere in between. Tour announcements coming soon!
Any ridiculous stories from touring with 6 guys in one van?
Neal: It's all one giant misadventure with no clear beginning or end...We once got the opportunity to spend 16 hours in a Sheetz parking lot waiting for a tow truck to cross the Virginia line into north Carolina. If you come to one of our shows, we'll tell you what happened next.
The new album 'Moonlight Anthems' will be available June 16, 2017 via Yep Roc Records.
Check out the single "We Are Doing Fine" here.
March 23rd, 2017
The song title is "Heart on the Floor", it's a song about two people at the end of a relationship reminiscing on promises to always stay together. - Devon
Check out his music: https://open.spotify.com/artist/5cbak2U6nZWXDYiG72E3lH & https://soundcloud.com/devon-gilfillian and website: http://www.devongmusic.com.
The Highland Reunion
March 9th, 2017
"The three of us grew up in the same home town in Indiana. After moving away we each found our way to Nashville at separate times and eventually crossed paths with Jamie (bass), who was born and raised here. We recorded our first EP direct to tape at Battletapes Studio over on the East side in 2015 and now we're gearing up to hit the studio again with a bunch of new songs we've been playing out this past year and a half."
More info at www.thehighlandreunion.com.
March 1st, 2017
Chancy (Adjective) - Involving luck, risk or uncertainty
Chancey is a soulful, Rhythm and blues trio, named after it's frontman and principal songwriter Matt Chancey. Pairing his efforts with drummer/percussionist Michael Mann and keyboard player Nathaniel Melville, they share a diverse range of musical backgrounds to create a truly unique, yet endearingly familiar sound.
For more info + tour dates check out https://www.facebook.com/chanceyband/.
Sylvia Rose Novak
FEBRUARY 23rd, 2017
For more info + tour dates check out https://sylviarosenovak.com/.
Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers
FEBRUARY 16th, 2017
We spent a day in Nashville with Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers. Check out her visit below.
1pm at the Roots Radio Studio with Whit "Witness" Hubner
7:30pm at The Basement
10am at a West Nashville Studio
11am -- A stripped-down performance on the studio's porch
So it’s been almost a year since the release of your third record, can you tell us about both the writing and recording process for your most recent, self-titled record?
It took a long time to write and finish because I was on the road most of the time. Not to be dodgy or anything but I’ve always thought the specifics on the entire process are kind of boring. It’s like explaining a magic trick in a way, and kind of takes some magic away for me. There is no one point of reference to build an outline exactly from with writing, inspiration, and reasons and everything. You live you’re life then it’s pen to paper to instrument to microphone. Beyond that is heady engineering stuff that I’m even worse at explaining with any sense of flow.
I know you produced it yourself, what was that like, seeing the album through the initial writing stages to the final end product?
You mentioned being finished with a new album. What are your plans for the release of that? Are you producing it yourself? How does it part both musically and lyrically from the self-titled record?
It should come out this fall. I did produce it myself. It’s less personal in many ways. It’s more outside looking in on this one and the sound is altogether more musical than the last record in my opinion. It’s another step in the conversation of life for me with music and it feels like a step forward but perhaps for some it’s more of a tango, or a dirge, or a waltz. I guess I’ll see.
What was the transition like, jumping straight from touring with Old Crow Medicine Show to releasing your own record and touring as a solo artist?
You’ve been posting images in different cities reading 1984 and Brave New World. What has your experience been like reading these dystopian novels while traveling across the country and seeing so many different parts of the world? Has this been influential in your writing, or even your personal experience while touring?
It’s definitely got the alarm bells ringing on what it means to live in this country with what’s happening right now. The hypocrisy is violent. I believe most people despite their differences are good and want the same things but the conversation is misdirected, distracted, and moving in a thousand directions. I tour mostly alone by car these days because that’s how I like it. Mostly because I can go where I want, when I please, and get to know the places I go to and the people and places along the way. Once you get off the interstate onto the 10’s of thousands of back roads and highways, this country can look third world poor in a whole lot of places, and yet those populations are still holding on (by an invisible thread) to dreams of a future that’s built on the past industrial model which to me, and them I believe, seems more hopeless and unsustainable in many ways. Not to mention the cities which is the same in many ways but the dreaming wage slaves can see the illusive promise of the mansion on the hill a little clearer and so the hopeful illusion’s of grandeur perhaps seem more attainable to keep following the old carrot on a stick. To me the problems are primarily between have and have nots, same as always. I agree with Orwell on one thing for certain… that slight of hand game of blaming color, religion, gender, or sexual preference is being used to turn brother against brother while some very rich people consolidate their power. I guarantee while you’re looking at one hand they’re going to pick your pocket with the other.
You also traveled with the crew of the Austin to Boston tour and narrated the film. How was traveling with these four different artists, and developing a narrative to define the experience?
That was the kind of adventure that got me hooked on traveling in the first place only I started with less destination, so the narrative was easy in that it’s written in every tour and journey if you’re doing it right. That particular tour was exceptional in that all the bands related to it have since gone on to really wonderful things with their careers and lives and the beauty of catching them together in that time was that green fire that was burning in each of them.
What’s it like now, being on tour with Bear’s Den, coming from this unique experience that seemed to take place in a sort-of time warp with the VW busses and campsites, to a tour that I imagine is more typical routing, venues, and travel arrangements?
It’s really not all that different. Same adventure, same road, different day, revolving cast. They’ve obviously grown quite a bit since then but their spirit is still very passionate and excited about what they’re doing and I’m still doing whatever it is that I’m doing.
What’s your impression of the current state of Americana music and where do you see it going?
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what Americana Music is exactly, but from what I’ve gathered from it’s awards, radio, etc… there’s some great people making great work, but I couldn’t say honestly I’ve been overly inspired by the bulk of what’s come down the pike. I like songs to challenge me if someone’s going to sing and that’s what I hope to hear more of. I’m hoping now that there’s more interesting things to sing about than white people having a good time or having their hearts broken (which I’m also quite guilty of) and more people will start writing more challenging concepts lyrically and take some of the car commercial appeal and nostalgia out of the music. I hope they try to set fire to any dormant hearts or minds out there rather than push units.
February 2nd, 2017
K Phillips’ life has been like a country song. Born in West Texas and raised by his grandparents in the Concho Valley, K’s grandfather was both a cattle rancher and a criminal court judge. His mother was a radio disc jockey who named her only son after her favorite Texan, Kris Kristofferson. K began playing guitar at age 5 and began writing songs at 6. At age 18 he lost both his best friend and his girlfriend in two separate drowning instances. In the wake of these tragedies, music understandably took on a deeper resonance. It became how he processed life and heartache.
His latest album, Dirty Wonder (Rock Ridge Music), out March 10, 2017, is a breakup record that’s part autobiographical, part imagined, and part observational, chronicling a third-party breakup K witnessed firsthand. It’s a redemptive album, brimming with clever allusions, pent-up sexual tension, and loveable roguish characters. The album was produced by award-winning songwriter Gordy Quist of The Band of Heathens and features a vocal cameo from Adam Duritz from Counting Crows.
Check out more from K at http://www.kphillipsmusic.com/.
JANUARY 26TH, 2017
You recorded your debut record “Medicine For Birds” last Winter in Nashville with producer, Charlie Peacock, for a September release. Why did you decide it to record in Nashville and can you talk about the experience of working with Charlie and the recording process?
I actually recorded with Charlie the winter of 2015. It's been a bit of a slow, steady build getting up to this point. I chose Charlie because I felt like he would balance out some of my oddities. He's a very knowledgeable producer and I thought it'd be a great experiment to work with someone that came from the other end of the spectrum.
At the time I was freshly 21 and without a band, so working with someone like Charlie was vital to the project. In addition to having precise musical abilities and his own beautiful studio, he has a network of amazing players he's able to call in Nashville. I learned firsthand that Nashville is the place to find world-class musicians.
What has the reaction to the album been like for you? What were you most surprised about post-release, finally having a complete record available to the public?
I honestly have trouble trying to explain the feeling. I know it's been said a million times, but it's completely surreal. I never thought I'd see my 20-something year old face occupying such space in The NY Times or any of the other great publications that had something to say about it. I guess I'm just honored to be invited to the table.
One of the most surprising realizations post release was the wide range of listeners. There are those who are partial to folkish storytelling and even some who just love to dance. Sometimes it feels a little strange having people come up and comment on a song's meaning -- it at times feels like an evaluation of my diary. I prefer to listen instead of speak though. I know what I wrote the song about, but I love when people have their own ideas as to what it means or why it was written. I think of songs as a snapshot soundtrack to their writer's personal journey. That being said, I'm incredibly happy that people can relate to songs written by a stranger like me.
I know you spent some time on both coasts, living in L.A. for high school and on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Were there drastically different musical influences in these distinct areas? Are there certain lyrical elements or sounds to your music that you can attribute back to the direct influence of one of these locations?
I had completely different musical influences in LA and on The Eastern Shore.
In LA I was surrounded by Latino culture on a daily basis. I would visit my family and hear mariachi or merengue music coming from the streets or the radio. In the city I would see shows and hear music that was a modernized version of rock or pop.
On the Eastern Shore, I often found myself looking backwards - in a way, embracing the original instruments of the region. I think that's why a good bit of the album has fiddle, harmonica and acoustic picking. My move to Virginia changed what I wrote about as well. I don't think I could've written 'Magnolia is Medicine' or 'Woman I'm Hollerin'' in LA.
Who is the voice in the outro of Orange Flower? What does closing the song in a proverbial woman-to-woman conversation, in such a casual and light-hearted tone conclude about the song?
The woman I'm speaking to is Ruby Amanfu! She's a phenomenal vocalist who sang backup on several of my tracks. I geeked out so hard when I met her ( I was a fan since I first heard her on 'Love Interruption')
I think the best thing about that outro is that in a very nonchalant way, it shows that us women singing are not victims. Even though 'Orange Flower' can be seen by some as 'venting about guy problems' I'm glad to have ended the song in a way that's very clear. Almost as if we're saying, "no, no. We're just fine. And this lame bouquet isn't where my story ends” haha.
This is the first date on your tour with Lydia Loveless. What are you most excited about for this tour? Is there anything you’re nervous about?
I honestly can't wait to share the travel stories and remedies with fellow artists. I'm really looking forward to meeting Lydia and hearing her point of view. I'm also happy to say that this is the first big run of dates for my guys and me. None of us have ever been gone from home this long playing music. Of course it'll be sweet to play in towns we've never been to before as well.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind “Loretta Lynn”. The inclusive “we” pairs you and Loretta together as at odds against what seems to be an oppressive power. Lynn is known to have lyrically spoken out about the liberation of birth control and the double-standards for divorced women, a feminist before the time of widely-accepted feminism. Did she influence you in this capacity and can you speak to that influence both musically and as a female growing up in the midst of a new wave of feminism?
I was first struck by Loretta when I was a teenager listening to her song "Don't Come Home A-Drinkin". I saw this beautiful woman boldly stick up for herself during a time period where the ideal women were usually fashioned up to be sweet, complacent and angelic. I thought it was so badass of her. I guess that's how I came to envision myself having a conversation with her in my song 'Loretta Lynn'.
And yes. Since my song 'Loretta Lynn' was thought up as a dialogue between me and her, I tried to draw a lot of parallels, to show that while it may have been awhile since Loretta first personally expressed the need for feminism , there are still a lot of unhealthy expectations placed on women today. Her bravery helped me fully realize that it was good for us women to tell our stories and that we should never be ashamed of sharing our experiences. Most importantly, sharing our frustrations or disappointment is not a sign of weakness-- I think it's quite the opposite. It's a firsthand recount of endurance.
Furthermore, what has your experience been like being a young, female, solo artist in the music industry?
It's been a bittersweet experience for me. The wonderful side is getting to meet new people, visiting places I've never seen with my best friends, and having a shot at having heroes actually hear my music. The strange part has been growing up alongside it and sometimes not knowing what's normal-- not totally being able to gauge when someone is asking just a bit too much of you.
Check out Angelica's music, bio, tour dates, and more at http://www.angelicagarcia.net/.
Adrian + Meredith
January 19th, 2017
How did you meet and start making music together?
We first met in Washington, DC where Adrian and had been living for 7+ years. He was already scheduled to move to Nashville, TN the summer that Meredith took an internship at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. They met through an open mic community called Modern Times. While we dabbled in playing music together, it took almost 2 years into dating before they started performing together. Eventually Meredith left her full-time time in Lansing, MI to move down to Nashville and tour full time with Adrian. Our first duo tour was out on the west coast in 2014, and the project Adrian+Meredith was born.
You recently released your debut album, “More Than a Little”. Can you tell us about the process of making it?
We had a list of songs that fell into that "rootsy-racquet" people are calling, and it was important to find the right Producer for the sound we wanted.. It kind of came together naturally, as Mark Robertson (of Th'Legendary Shackshakers) has a long history in the sounds we were shooting for, and he also was a regular, playing with Derek Hoke at The 5 Spot on $2 Tuesday, where we would hang on a weekly basis. So we got to chat over Tuesdays for a while, about the sound.. which really helped with pre-production.
Once we got into the studio, we tracked it all in one room, live, to 2" analog tape. Scott at Fry Pharmacy is great at using the tape as recording device and initial sounds, and bouncing everything to a computer once we're done in the studio. Fry Pharmacy is a dark, hard-floored, high-ceiling room with a ton of old recording equipment, and our studio time felt like we were playing in a dark basement club, like so many nights before. So it was really easy to get into a dark, heavy, groove that we were going for.
What story does the title track tell, and what prompted you to name the album after it?
The song More Than A Little was the first song that we co-wrote. Originally Adrian was going to scrap the chords, but when Meredith came up with the driving rhythm, we knew the song was going to stick; so it made sense for this song to become the title track to our Adrian+Meredith debut record.
What does the genre “Americana” mean to you? How does being labeled within this genre influence your songwriting?
Americana seems to be the new tagline for Alt-Country, which has been around for decades. Musically and lyrically, we've been inspired by Americana over the years, via anything from topic, to arrangements, to instrumentation, but we still have a hard time understanding if we're Americana or not. Our punk-folk side isn't very Americana. Our chord-progressions are definitely not Americana. More Than A Little is bordering on protest themes, which after this record is out, is becoming a popular Americana topic again. It seems more that we continue to write music the way we always have, and it's been up to everyone else to label it Americana.
Can you tell us about your different musical tastes and backgrounds and how you blended those together into the cohesive hardcore folk sound on this album?
We both came from very different musical backgrounds which has made both of us stronger musicians and performers. Adrian grew up on Motown Records and Springsteen, and started his music career playing punk music in the DIY town of Washington DC. Meredith grew up on Eileen Ivers and Peter Ostroushko with a sprinkle of Mary Chapin Carpenter, while her performance career got started in the old time music and dance scene in Michigan. Both influences are very apparent in our songs. The hard-edge of punk with it’s prolific lyrics and chip-on-the-shoulder performances, combined with the rootsy-racquet of fiddle and anchor melodies of traditional folk.
What has your experience with the Americana community, and greater songwriting community been like in Nashville?
There is no question that our music doesn’t really have a home in any genre, and that includes Americana. Being on the outside of a community that is very focused on country, rock, and songwriter-folk, has its moments on both ends of the spectrum. But at the end of the day, we are 100% at home in a community where full-time musicians & industry balances work, life, creativity, and professionalism. We are completely inspired by this city’s work ethic and the amount of do-ers we find ourselves amongst.
What does the new year look like for you, after an album release and some months of touring?
It feels like after every record there comes a time of reflection and re-focus and 2017 holds a lot of that, but it doesn’t mean we’re slowing down. We’re taking the first couple months of the year to write a new batch of songs and re-connect with our Nashville community. Then we’re off to Folk Alliance in February, West Coast in the spring, and Festivals throughout the country for our summer tours, and we’ll be wrapping up 2017 hopefully with our first European tour. We got a lot of great press, airplay, and momentum for this record, and we’re ready to keep that momentum going well into 2017.
Check out Adrian + Meredith's website, http://www.adriankrygowski.com/.
Ian Randall Thorton
DECEMBER 29ND, 2016
Ian Randall Thornton is a locally grown musician and song writer from Norfolk, Virginia. He grew up learning classical instruments (such as upright bass, classical guitar, percussion and piano), but has more recently honed in on the craft of song writing. Thornton plays many instruments in multiple genres, but prefers the unadulterated simplicity of folk music as the setting to display his more weighty lyrical content and concepts. Ian carefully writes and arranges beautiful and compelling folk compositions that lead the listener through emotional cinematic feeling narratives. Though Thornton is still in his early twenties, his sound, maturity, insights and experience are far beyond his years.
Stay tuned for Ian's soon to be released album, coming this Spring.
DECEMBER 22nd, 2016
Roanoke is a rising folk/americana band formed/based out of Nashville, TN. Lead by Joey Beesley (lead vocals, guitar) and Taylor Dupuis (lead vocals), the two come together to create rich harmonies and unforgettable songs of love, heartbreak, and exploration.
You released your first full length album, Shine on a Rainy Day, earlier this year. Can you talk about the process of making that album? What was the most difficult part of the process? What inspired your sound for this record?
The process of making the album was all natural. When I write songs I tend to wait for the songs to write themselves. When Dave produces he lets the music make itself. We'd go in the studio around 1:00 every day. I'd play a few of the songs acoustically for everyone and then we'd all go in, hit record, and play them three or four times.
You’ve talked a lot about the concept of feeling at home, particularly in reference to recording with your cousin, Dave Cobb. Can you tell us a bit about the dynamic of recording with family and how you came into contact with him and got to the point that you wanted him to produce this album?
I had wanted to record another record with since the first one we did together in '06. We had met in '05 at my great aunt (his grandmother's) funeral. He produces the same way I write. On the spot and not over thought. Life sort of kept us apart for a few years between. Finally, when we got together to record my song "down home" for the Southern family we felt the time was write for us to do a full length album together again.
We’ve heard you praise Kris Kristofferson for capturing the present moment in Nashville in a way that no one else could seem to do. How would you define the present moment in Nashville right now?
It's hard for me to describe our present moment in Nashville when I'm not putting it in a song. I guess I'd say we're in a transition period. Not only in music but also the infrastructure of our city. The good news is good art always seems to come out of periods like these.
Your music rides that line between Southern Rock and Country, not really fitting entirely into either category. We like to see Americana as picking up the music that can’t quite be categorized by these genres, among others. What elements of Americana do you think your music most relates to? How would you define Americana music?
I know it’s simple but Americana music is just that, American. It's a little of this and a little of that and everything between. Thank goodness there have been troubadours on the music side as well as the business who have cared enough over the years to build a real foundation for artists like myself to be accepted.
We’ve been delighted to see the Americana community grow in Nashville. Have you worked a lot with other Americana artists here? What is your view of the emerging Americana community in Nashville, and how do you foresee it influencing your work?
I've worked with a few Americana artists. First to mind are Andrew Combs, Lucette, Chris Knight and more.. it's like working with anyone. We don't really think about that label when we go in to create. We just try to be natural.
You’re closing out this tour now, so what’s in the works for the future? More touring? Another album? What does 2017 look like for you?
This has been a great year. Too soon to think about another album. Although, I do look forward to it. Yes, a lot more touring. It's the first time in my life I've been able to look a year ahead and know exactly what I'm doing this Christmas. It's a blessing to be able to see that.
December 8th, 2016
Your new record, The Education of a Wandering Man, was released this October. Can you tell me a bit about making and recording it?
Jonathan: Utah was really about our move to California and everything we felt when we moved there, from homesickness, to the excitement of that city, to just heading West, the adventure of that. And then we started writing The Education when we got back to Texas so the writing had a different feel for us. A lot of it was about heading back home, putting down roots, having to get to know your home again because you’ve been gone. You know we stayed out in L.A. for three and half years - we were planning on moving there for a year and seeing what happened. And a lot of things happened. I had a kid so I experienced fatherhood and welcomed a new baby boy in the world. We wrote songs about the trials and tribulations of home ownership. We write from a very autobiographical, first-hand perspective.
Zach: Some of the songs we had accrued travelling around. We toured on Utah for two and a half years, so there were a lot of travel stories.
Jon: We’re a lot older than we were when we wrote Utah. We wrote some of those songs a year or two before we even recorded the album and the album was recorded in 2012 and came out in 2013. We wrote some of the songs in 2010 and 2011, so that was six years ago. It doesn’t feel that because the album was re-released by Republic in 2014. But when you really think about where we were in our lives when we wrote those songs, it was a very different head space. Whereas we recorded the last one in a cabin, for this one we wanted to use the same methodology to record it, meaning we didn’t want to get into a normal studio. We still wanted to record it ourselves and produce it ourselves, so we took over a guest house in the hill country of Austin and got the band in and we lived there for a couple weeks and did the same thing we did in Utah, just in Austin this time around. So a lot of it was tracked live and maybe not quite as much as the last album, but a lot of it was. I think we maybe explored a little bit more on this album - a little grittier guitar tones, the production is a little more thoughtful.
Zach: A little cleaner, I would say. For Utah we just had a tape machine and we would do these live takes but we were really limited on what we had there so there’s so much bleed into everything, so it’s really kind of trashy in an endearing way, but we wanted to try cleaning it up a bit this time around.
So you’re both from Texas?
Jon: I’m from Magnolia, that’s where the line “Old Magnolia” comes from.
Zach: I grew up all over Texas and then when I was 15 I moved to Magnolia so that’s how John and I met. So we’ve known each other since we were 15 and started playing songs and dabbling in music shortly after.
Jon: We might’ve actually met when we were 14.
Zach: My first day of Freshman year was my birthday so I was 15 that day.
Jon: We wrote our first song together before we could drive.
Zach: We were writing songs together before we could drive to Best Buy and buy shitty recording software.
Jon: I think the other thing on this record when I listen to it, which I don’t do very often now, but musical influences were a lot more diverse on this one, it reminds me of just being on tour. Whoever’s driving has control of the radio so there’s old soul on one minute, old country the next, there’s rock. So it’s cool I think listening to bunch of different types of music that we like and the band likes, that influence the style of songs on this record, whereas the last record was more folk-centric.
Can you tell me about the name of the album?
Jon: Louis L’Amore was this American Western novelist. His autobiography is like a memoir. He lived this fascinating life. He was a sailor, worked all these different jobs, read copious amounts of books and had all these experiences. Then he wrote these Western stories that were very much based in some sort of truth. He’d travel these little towns and he’d collect these stories about the old West and build his characters out of these stories he had heard and that book really moved us. We wrote the song “Wandering Man” because of it. And when it came time to name this record that seemed really appropriate after traveling three years.
So would you say most of the ideas behind the album title derive from being on tour and the emotions and thought processes surrounding that?
Jon: Touring is a facet of the inspiration for it but The Education of the Wandering of a Man, that phrase to us means not knowing exactly the path - I mean no one knows their future - it’s not knowing your future and kind of accepting it and embracing the things as they come and as they happen and really living for experience and embracing just the experience of life. We can make all these plans, we can try to adhere to these plans, but we’re all just kinda wandering through life just making use of the best things we got when we got ‘em.
You’re headed back to Texas for the last leg of your tour now. What has been the most memorable experience of the tour thus far?
Zach: Boston was pretty fun, as a show. The crowd was amazing but our show was really early because it was Halloween night, so as soon as we were done it turned into this huge club so there were all these Halloween costumes and all these people like clubbing. It was such a drastic difference so that was very memorable. We were in Chicago when the Cubs won to go to the World Series so we started in the Golden Age and people starting cheering really loudly and at first we were both like “man, they love this song,” and we quickly realized that they were just really excited that the Cubs had won, so we had a moment to celebrate with them, then we got back into the concert. We were in both of these large towns where these events were taking place which was interesting.
What’s in store for you when you get back? More touring?
Jon: We are not touring anymore this year. We’ve been going at it pretty hard for a pretty long time and my wife and I are actually taking a vacation. We haven’t taken a vacation in years so I’m trying to spend some time with family - Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes stepping away is as important as staying determined. Sometimes part of being a successful creative does incorporate time away. You come back and you’re actually excited to play more shows and get back on the road.
Zach: Yeah, get some time at home, travel for leisure, not for music-centric stuff. Travel for the love of the outdoors or just to get your mind off of things. Fire it back up in the new year.
“Company Man” is based on a true story? Do you want to explain the story behind that and how that song came into being?
Jon: So it’s about how for us, there’s a piece of land in Huntsville, Texas. We’ve been going there since we’ve known each other. Basically, a pipeline company appraocehs us and says they’re putting a pipeline through the property and there’s nothing we could do about it, essentially what’s happening with the North Dakota stuff and it was the biggest headache. In the name of imminent domain, it’s about the feeling of powerlessness, it’s a classic little man versus the big man, it’s the powerless feeling of the little man sometimes. We didn’t have a herd of buffalo to march on the pipeline.
Zach: No, we could maybe get some cows.
Jon: A few deer.
Zach: Six cows.
Jon: You know, it’s about the frustration of feeling powerless. You would think if there’s anything sovereign, it’s the land that you own, right? But that’s not even the case.
What do you see Americana music as?
Zach: It means so many different things. What kind of definition could you give it that’s not general? But I guess if I had to define it, to me Americana has become music with pop sensibility that’s not pop music. You have these songs with really good pop sensibilities. A lot of Americana songs you want to sing to. They have good melodies, it’s music with real instruments, but it’s not pop music per say. So it creates a home for that kind of music.
Jon: It’s tough because I think for a long time Americana was just perceived as kind of bluegrass, folk, very guitar, banjo, mandolin driven, and it’s evolved. It’s fun to see it take on a different name. You know, American roots music whether it be blues or bluegrass, the scope has changed. But I think it’s all sort of rooted in music that was founded here.
Zach: I think Americana has become a very general moniker. But I think it’s almost serving as this haven for musicians that don’t really feel at home or comfortable with just a pop classification. It’s created a home for that kind of music.
Jon: It’s funny because an indie band used to be just be an unsigned band but now it’s a form of like indie rock and another side of music.
Zach: And it probably falls under Americana too.
Billboard just put out an article saying that Americana charts surpassed Country charts for the first time in history, prompted heavily be the release of Bon Iver’s new album.
Zach: I think it’s more like an honesty that people find in the music too.
Jon: I was even thinking about, traditionally you think of real instruments, but at what point do people consider synths and things real instruments as well?
Zach: How long do they have to be around to qualify?
Jon: Americana is by definition rooted in American heritage music. So I think it’s like Blues music is like a 1-4-5 progression and that is what Blues is. Maybe Bon Iver will push the envelope. Or maybe the term Americana will get more and more diluted.
Maybe diluted or maybe more of a scope. What I do like is it’s providing an outlet; seeing Americana radio stations pop up, another outlet for music that you wouldn’t hear on a traditional country station. So it’s cool to see that there’s a movement of people hearing cool song writing and not just dirt roads.
It’s definitely cool for us to see people like Emmylou Harris, that are legendary in their own respects but traditionally haven’t gotten much airplay.
Jon: Look at Guy Clark. He’s not unknown, but to a lot of people he is, and he’s legendary, was legendary, still is legendary.
Zach: Will continue to be.
Jon: Just people like that. He was playing a 300 cap room in Dallas a couple years before he died and I could not believe Guy Clark was playing this small of a venue. And I was like, “Are you kidding me? Guy Clark is here?” This guy is like…
Jon: Yeah! He’s like a hero. Well in my opinion, the sea is changing in a positive way.
Zach: I agree. People like Emmylou and Lauderdale pioneered it and now it’s finally paying dividends to them.
Jon: You know, so many people disagree but I credit a lot of it to Mumford and Sons. First time in decades a banjo got on the radio. Those guys really did change the culture of music.
Zach: They changed the whole scope.
Jon: It took a young, different, fresh, unique band to blast everyone’s eyes open again. And that to me changed the landscape.
Zach: And from Britain!
And a lot of their fame, along with the Lumineers was from specific DJs at radio stations. I know with the Lumineers, it was one DJ at one radio station who repeatedly played their first single until it caught on...
Zach: It’s a spark, all it needs is a spark.
Jon: You know there’s people playing like deep cuts off of our new album.
Zach: Our good friend that lives here texted me the other day like “Yeah I heard Midnight Hour on the radio”. And I was like “No way, which station?” And he told me it was a new Americana station that plays whatever the fuck they want.
Jon: That’s so cool and I think there’s a hunger for that. It’s like why people stopped buying magazines - the curation is so regimented. It’s like I’d rather get on Spotify and dig around until I find something good. But if you can actually start providing worthwhile curation for people, people want to listen. You give people a reason and really help them discover new music.
Arts Fishing Club
December 1st, 2016
Arts Fishing Club is a group of folk/rock musicians fronted by Christopher Kessenich. In 2015, he went on an adventure of a tour, walking from Portland, Maine, to Nashville, Tennessee. Four months, 1600 miles, and 50+ shows later, Kessenich ended the walking tour with a renewed perspective.
To listen to Arts Fishing Club's EP, visit www.noisetrade.com.
Colin Elmore & The Danville Train
November 24th, 2016
Q: So The Wild Blue was your debut EP? Can you talk about the process of making that album? What was the most difficult part of the process? What inspired your sound for this record?
A: It was certainly a learning experience. It’s almost been 3 years since initially tracked the Wild Blue with our producer Teddy Morgan. The first night of tracking was supposed to be strictly for pre-production and song selection but we ended up getting two of the 4 tracks in the first and second takes that night and just kept them. I’d say if we did it over again we would’ve spent a little more time and set a few more boundaries for ourselves but we had only been playing together for about 6 months at the time.
Q: You also have some versions of “Hail Mary” floating around the internet. Do you plan a release for that track, or better yet, an accompanying album in the future?
A: Yeah there are probably three, very different, versions of that song on youtube/soundcloud/etc… We actually just signed with Sony Music Nashville a couple months ago and are in the process with them on cutting an EP that’s slated for a spring 2017 release. We’re still picking which tunes we will do but I have a feeling Hail Mary will be on there.
Q: Can you tell us what exactly the Danville Train is? Where did you get that name from?
A: The Danville Train started out more as a writing community that sort of morphed into a backing band. It’s been through several different iterations over the last 3 years… The current members are Jake Finch (drums), Dylan Jones (keys), Austin Webb (bass), and Collin Pastore (pedal steel) and they back several different artists here in town. There are several shows we’ve played with 4 different artists on the bill where the band doesn’t change. So I think those fellas are kinda central to our creative circle. The name comes from the song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. “Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville Train”. We would have weekly viewings of the Last Waltz in my garage when we were starting out so beyond that there’s no real meaning behind the name for us.
Q: Americana music seems to be quickly catching traction in the Southern region, and even nationally, with Americana charts surpassing Country charts in recent weeks. What does the genre “Americana” mean to you? How does being labeled within this genre influence your songwriting?
A: Great question. I grew up in the Ozarks of Missouri so traditional/roots/bluegrass music was a big part of the culture and my upbringing. What I love about Americana music is that, by nature, it’s a blends several different genres. There could be any combination of Rock and roll, country, folk, or rhythm and blues in there… there’s a lot of different colors to work with in the Americana palette so it gives you a lot of freedom.
Q: Americana seems to be particularly booming in Nashville, after a legendary Americana Fest and a growing tradition of many nationally recognized Americana artists emerging from this area. What has your experience with the Americana community in Nashville been like?
A: I’m insanely proud of the Americana community in Nashville. There is something special happening here. Obviously there are artists that have broken out of Nashville recently (Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves and the like)… but I look around at my peers (they’re really more like family) and am blown away by how original, and genuine, and brilliant they are. I suppose that’s why people are moving here in droves… It’s a rich time to be alive in Nashville.
You can check out more of Colin Elmore & the Danville Train by going to colinelmore.com.
November 17th, 2o16
Born in East Texas and raised in Arkansas, Kirby Brown recorded his latest project, Out of Exile, at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
"His formative years were spent on the farm where his taste for music was fostered, being exposed to gospel, bluegrass, and the classic country his grandfather would strum in the evenings. With the influence of his father, a closeted poet, he became interested in reading Whitman and Frost. This fresh form of expression would become the bedrock on which Kirby’s artistic life would be built."
To learn more about Kirby and his Texas sound, visit his website KirbyBrownMusic.com. Be sure to watch the video for his song "Joni." It's beautiful.
WMOT Roots Radio 89.5 is thankful for Shure for providing the audio equipment used in making this video.
November 10th, 2016
Roots Radio sat down with J.R. Wyatt before his 10/10 Family Wash show to discuss his take on the Americana scene and his new album, “Staying Gold”, released earlier this summer.
Q: You put out a new album this summer, can you tell me a bit about the process of making it?
A: A few of the songs I had for a few years. I had been playing them but I hadn’t really recorded them because it was such an undertaking to do a full length album, and I just never had enough money to do it or anything like that. Some of them I wrote close to when we decided to record. So when I moved down to Nashville, I met all these guys in my band and I met my producer, Alex and it made sense to do a DIY approach. Alex’s parents have this pool house and they let us do it in that space for free, which is awesome. Then we had the band come in for three days to record and then we just did overdubs and solo stuff later. I tried to have a narrative thread through the album, it’s not a concept album but I still wanted to make a narrative thread going throughout the whole thing. I wanted to make the songs make sense, like they’re all coming from the same place and we just kinda laid it down and then the editing process and all that took awhile because we didn’t know what we were doing. Somehow we found our footing and made it happen and now it’s out and we’re trying to work on more stuff.
Q: What would you say was the most difficult part of recording it was? What was your biggest inspiration for the sound and themes behind this record?
A: The most difficult part was probably mixing it. Alex Martin and I spent a lot of time making sure it was exactly what I wanted. We didn’t have a “professional” room to mix in, per se, so sometimes it was a little wonky. Looking back, though, the whole thing was pretty easy, which is surprising, given that we were figuring it out as we went along.
For inspiration, the list is pretty endless. Both sonically and lyrically, I wanted to make the album cohesive. I was aiming for something that sounded tight, but not too polished. At a certain point you just have to go wherever the song and sound is taking you. If you fight it too much, I think it becomes unnatural. From a songwriting aspect, the themes and lyrical content is largely either autobiographical, or relates to my life in some way. Again, I wanted to have a cohesive narrative thread throughout the album. At the risk of sounding utterly pretentious, the album is about life. It’s a coming of age tale that delves into the heartache and beauty of growing up.
Q: Your title track is called “Staying Gold” and you put it as the last track on the album - I feel like that’s a bit different.
A: It is a little different. So like I said before, with the narrative thread throughout the whole thing - the first song is called “Settle Down, Son” which is kinda like people giving me advice while I’m growing up and I think that’s probably the oldest song on the album. And then “Staying Gold” is the newest one and it’s kinda like me giving advice to my little brother. It’s like if I had to do it again or give any advice to him, what would I say, and that’s the song I came up with. You know when people say “Stay gold” like from The Outsiders - I always thought it’s not easy to stay gold. How do you do that? How do you maintain this bright disposition in this life that keeps getting harder and harder? The whole album made sense to be called that because it’s a struggle to do that and the whole album is about how it’s a struggle to maintain your composure through this crazy life.
Q: Who were some of your biggest musical influences for the album?
A: Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Ray LaMontagne, Jackson Browne. A lot of people have told me it sounds like a Jackson Browne album which I find kinda strange but I guess I can hear some of it in there. So that kinds of stuff, and like 70s singer-songwriters.
Q: What would you say Americana music is in your opinion?
A: To me it’s a mix of like rock, country, folk, bluegrass. All of those things, but the fringe of those genres that come together to make Americana. And a lot of people have different ideas on the interpretation of it. I think mostly it’s just easy to say Americana because everyone kinda has something in their head as to what Americana is and to me it seems that Nashville is turning into the Americana scene which is like these misfits who are trying to make their way into the mainstream - I guess that’s my best interpretation.
Q: How does being labeled within the Americana genre influence your songwriting?
A: I don’t think it really does. I just write songs and they come out how they come out. I have sounds and ideas in mind, but I don’t think genre really changes my writing. To me, a good song is a good song. You can make it sound a million different ways depending on who’s playing it, but at the end of the day it should defy genre.
Q: Americana is steadily growing in Nashville. Even we are still grasping how large and diverse this community is. What has your experience with the Americana community in Nashville been like?
A: Overall, it’s a very supportive community. I’m still on the fringe of the whole scene. I feel like a lot of people in this genre are misfits, and that’s part of what makes it beautiful and diverse.
Q: When you were a kid and lip-synching in front of the mirror, what were you singing along to?
A: My mom was a Whitney Houston fan and I would sing along to that, but my dad was a huge John Denver fan, so I used to sing along to his songs and watch his tapes and sing along to that. And then a little later in life, I was really into N’Sync and I’m not ashamed to say that.
J.R. Wyatt’s debut full-length album, "Staying Gold", is available now. Give it a listen below.
November 3rd, 2016
WMOT 89.5 Roots Radio is excited to introduce our first video in a new series we call Young Americana. Each week we'll be introducing an artist through live videos and interviews.
We kicked things off with Forlorn Strangers, an all acoustic band from Nashville, TN, with great harmonies and bluegrass riffs.