When the nominees for the Americana Music Association awards was released there was some that commented on the lack of diversity; which is a shortcut for racial diversity. I agree there’s no one of color represented. But the implication is that racism is to blame. Yeah, that’s not it.
Though I do believe there is an inherent bias in the AMA wards nominees it tends towards the popular and well-known and not on skin color. If an African-American act sold as many albums as Mumford and Sons you can bet they would be o the list.
Though I’m willing to call out discrimination when I see it, the simple fast is there’s not a lot of diversity on the Americana charts, which represent the source of the radio-centric voters for the AMA Awards. Superior performers like the Carolina Chocolate Drops are few and with no representation there’s no opportunity for celebration.
Some have suggested we expand Americana to include the Blues and R&B. Though these genres, like country , folk, and jazz, feed into the greater American music ocean they are going fine on their own as mature, rich and diverse genres. Beside we already have extraordinarily talented musicians that, regardless of color, deserves celebration without us wringing our hands when we do so.
Some want to dig deeper than the charts and top level performers to see if there’s a strata of increased diversity somewhere below the surface. I’m all for seeking out undiscovered talent, but seek how far and for what reason?
Personally I’m not an advocate for pilfering other mature genres or lowering a musical bar, those are forms of racism. How far afield would we have to travel to address some imagined suppression of racial diversity?
Then there is outright racism. After appearing on the Opry stage Darius Rucker received a tweet stating that he should “leave country to the white folk.” Now that’s racist as well as historically imprecise. Huffington Post held an interesting discussion on the subject of race in mainstream country industry and culture.Though I don’t fully agree with all the discussion it’s a healthy and interesting conversation. Perhaps there should be a roundtable on race in the more left-leaning Americana genre.
Hosted by Marc Lamont Hill with guests Charles Hughes (Memphis, TN) Music Historian at Rhodes College, Cowboy Troy @cowboytroy (Mt. Pleasant, MI) Recording Artist at Warner Music Nashville, Rissi Palmer @RissiPalmer (Raleigh, NC) Country Music Singer / Songwriter, John Bryant (Dallas, TX) Ray Charles’ Drummer and Stanley Crouch (Brooklyn, NY) Writer and Music Critic
If you’re a struggling musician I suggest you take a look at the career of Jim Lauderdale. Between early setbacks as a Bluegrass banjo player, and being marginalized in Music Row there were plenty of opportunities to chuck his guitar in the gutter and call it quits. But he persevered and used his songwriting as a musical dowsing rod to move him always forward toward unexpected and exciting places.
If the Americana genre didn’t already exist it would have to be created for Lauderdale. He’s worked in multiple genres (Bluegrass, country, rock, soul) with multiple artists (George Jones, Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and more), but the music has always been grounded in honesty with a twist of risk. This will to be daring, attention to legacy, while pushing forward has allowed Lauderdale to become something you don’t see music in the music industry, unique.
He’s now a Grammy winning singer/songwriter, the subject of a crowd-sourced biopic (Jim Lauderdale: The King of Broken Hearts)
He hosts, along with Buddy Miller, “The Buddy & Jim Show” Saturdays 10 pm ET on SiriusXM Outlaw Country. He also hosts the “Music City Roots: Live from the Loveless Cafe”, weekly Americana music show broadcast live on WSM from the Loveless Barn on Highway 100 in Nashville. He is also the MC for the Americana Music Awards and Honors show in Nashville where his catch-phrase “Now THAT’S Americana” is as much of a delight as the stellar performances on the storied Ryman Auditorium stage.
I talked to Lauderdale, through spotty reception, on the road to Nashville the day after his birthday performance at the Music City Roots spin-off, “Scenic City Roots, in Chattanooga Tennessee
Twang Nation: Jim? How are you today?
Jim Lauderdale: Just fine. Driving on a beautiful, crisp spring day heading back to Nashville from Chattanooga Tennessee.
TN: Happy belated birthday, You share a birth with Bob Harris ( “‘Whispering Bob Harris” the legendary is the host of the BBC 2 music program The Old Grey Whistle Test, and a supporter of country and roots music)
JL: Really? It’s also George Shuffler’s birthday, who played guitar for the Stanley Brothers.
TN: Cool. So you’re taking some time off from your tour supporting the “Buddy and Jim” album. How’s that going?
JL: It’s been great! We too some time off because Buddy is producing the Wood Brothers and he also co-produces the music for the TV show Nashville with T Bone Burnett. He’s got a pretty full plate most of the time. Our next date is in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall. I love playing that space.
TN: I’ll be there. The first time I saw you and Buddy working with the new material it was at last year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. It was a morning slot but the place was still full.
JL: I love that festival. Warren Hellman has done so much for the community. He’ll be missed.
TN: True. So let’s visit your childhood in Troutman, North Carolina. Your father was a minister and your mother was a music teacher. How did this shape you musically?
JL: I believe it helped to train my ears. They were both great singers, so it was a combination of hearing a lot of church music. Hearing my mother, who was a choir director at the church, a chorus teacher, and a piano teacher, I was hearing stuff all the time. My older sister was the first to start buying records like the Beatles when I was in the first grade. At the time music was just exploding and so much was coming from the radio and in North Carolina radio then was a mixture of rock and roll, soul music like Stax and Motown, and then there were peripheral country stations where Bluegrass was being played. So there was just so much great music being played and available. I think Buddy and i share a lot of the same influences. that’s how all these influences made me want to sing. I started singing really early and then started playing drums for a few years when I was 11 and then, when I was 13, I started playing blues harmonica. When I was 15 I started playing the banjo and getting more into Bluegrass music. I always wanted to do a Bluegrass record but it took me a long time to get a deal to do one. When it happened I got to do it with Ralph Stanley and his band, the Clinch Mountain Boys (1999′s I Feel Like Singing Today)
TN: Not bad company to keep for your inaugural Bluegrass venture.
JL: That was kind of a dream because I grew up loving his work. I used to try and play banjo in his style and sing in a tenor like Ralph would. One of the best things to happen out of that was that I began writing with Robert Hunter (poet and lyricist for the Grateful Dead.) A friend of mine, Rob Bleetstein, put me in touch with him in the Bay Area. i knew that Robert and Jerry Garcia were huge Stanley Brothers’ fans, so that’s how I started writing with Robert and since then we’ve created 4 albums. The last two were Bluegrass of stuff we’ve done together. I have an upcoming album with the North Mississippi Allstars coming out in the fall and it has stuff that Robert and I wrote as well. So, even though it took me a long tie to get something out in that world, it was worth the wait because of all the good things that have happened.
TN: Making up for lost time.
JL: Right. And the same with Buddy. We had met back in New York in the early 80′s. We were both living there and both had country bands going and Buddy, to me, had the best band there. There was a nice country scene going on in New York at the time. There were about 5 bars in New York like the Lone Star Cafe that featured country music. So there was a lot of work. Eventually we both ended up on the west coast and started playing gigs together. Then Buddy came to Nashville first and ended up playing with Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris. His career really took off! So we’ve known each other for 33 years and have talked about doing a record for the past 17 years so this new album was also worth the wait. Our schedules just wouldn’t allow it. But last year we started this radio show last summer on SiriusXM Outlaw Country (The Buddy & Jim Show , Saturdays 10 pm ET) and that started moving things toward us sitting down and writing material. It happened pretty quickly, we spent a few days in pre-production and wrote some stuff but we cut the album in three days in his home studio. He produced the album and we’re really happy with it. I love playing with Buddy, he always makes me smile.
TN: There’s a song you wrote that was covered by George Strait called The King of Broken Hearst. It’s got a great story.
JL: I moved to L.A. partly to be in the same atmosphere that Gram Parsons had been in. There was this story that came from (former rock ‘n’ roll groupie and author) Pamela Des Barres, who was a friend of his, who said he had this L.A. party and was playing George Jones records. These people had never heard him (Jones) and he started crying. he said “That’s the king of broken hearts.” It was one of those times when an idea just comes to you. I play that song all the time and I love it.
TN: Gram is seen as the patron saint of the Americana genre and , I believe, you and Buddy have earned a place at that table. With your work with the Americana Music Awards and Music City Roots would you consider yourself an ambassador of Americana?
JL: Oh, I don’t know about that. But I’m certainly happy it’s out there. The guy I mentioned before, Rob Bleetstein, helped to coin there term (along with Jon Grimson of Nashville) for a trade publication that’s no longer around called Gavin Report. It was like Billboard and R&R (Radio & Records) magazine. They needed a chart for rootsy American music and Rob said “How about Americana?” So that put a name on it. But to me it’s just great that Americana allows a broad umbrella for roots music – Blues, Bluegrass, folk, rock, country – music that is not overproduced and it’s all connected, And it’s a place that, in his later years, someone like Johnny Cash can get played on the radio. And Merle Haggard, and folks like Guy Clark and Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and jimmie Dale Gilmore. Stuff that’s too rootsy for mainstream radio. it’s nice to have a place where people can be recognized.
TN: You’ve worked in the Music Row world and the Americana world and been successful in both. What do you think contributes to your success to work in both of those environments?
JL: Well I had plans but things would work out a different that what I thought. It was accidental in some ways. I wanted to make Blue grass records as a teenager, but it never worked out. Then in my early 30s I finally got a record contract in the country genre. But that record was too country at the time to be accepted in 1988. Dwight Yoakam’s producer and guitarist Pete Anderson did it with me (The unreleased CBS album that later appeared on an overseas label as Point of No Return.) My next album wasn’t as traditional but it was pretty far out there. It was co-produced by Rodney Crowell and John Leventhal (1991′s Planet of Love) Even though that album didn’t have a lot of commercial success, 8 of the 10 songs went on to be recorded by other people like George Strait. So that too me into that world of songwriting though my plan was to have a successful career with my own records. I kept putting out my own records and, when it wouldn’t work out, the only way to rise above of the disappointment was to write myself out of it. I still had a contract for a few more majors, but I started doing some independent labels and was more eclectic. Bluegrass with country mixed with R&B ad soul. The work I’m doing with the North Mississippi Allstars I did with Robert Hunter is more blues, rock and soul. I’m also trying to finish up a stripped down acoustic record that I’m writing with Robert. He’s really important in my like as far as music, so I want to keep that going.
TN: Speaking of Robert Hunter lest year you were in the Bay Area with the American Beauty Project. How did that come about?
JL: Those two albums (Grateful Dead’s) Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty opened up a door in my spirit when I heard them. All the things I’d done before – country, Bluegrass, rock – came together in those two records. To me they were like the Gram Parsons solo albums with Emmylou, those records are touchstones. The New York Guitar Festival which was put together by David Spellman, each year, would choose a different album and then singers and guitar players would play a song from that record. A few year’s ago they chose American Beauty and it went over really well. The singer Catherine Russell, Ollabelle, Larry Campbell and his wife Teresa Williams became the core of the American Beauty project which we took around the country. We still do it occasionally and will probably do some more shows in the future. It’s always a lot of fun.
TN: Tell me about your work with the roots-rock band Donna the Buffalo.
JL: I met them at the Newport Folk Festival while opening for Lucinda Williams on her “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” tour. I met this group of folks that were really friendly, but I had missed their show earlier in the day. We made this friendship and we then jammed together at Merlefest in North Carolina. They then invited me to play their festival that they put on in the summer and offered to back me up during my set. So over the years we’ve worked festivals and sat in with each other. I started to write songs for all of us to do and when i had an album’s worth we went into the studio and did it (2003′s Wait Til Spring) We still do stuff when we can. They’ve got a new album coming out in June which I’ve heard and it’s fantastic (tonight Tomorrow & Yesterday – June 18) They are one of my favorite bands as an audience member and I love to sit in with them. We have a few new songs we’ve written but i need some more material to do another record.
TN: Any other new artists that have caught your ear?
JL: There’s a lady that just moved to Nashville, Lera Lynn. There’s another band that just moved from L.A. to Nashville called HoneyHoney that I like a lot. There”s a songwriter named Ryan Tanner I think is really good. And there’s a guy in North Carolina named Daniel Justin Smith that I think is really good. There’s no shortage of new, young singer, songwriter and pickers that are acoustically influenced and have their own style of country and roots music. I’m really encouraged by that. When i host the Music City Roots showcase it gives me an opportunity to be exposed to new performers. There was a band on the other night out of Birmingham, Alabama called St Paul and the Broken Bones. They are a kind of soul review kind of band and they are just out of this world. There’s a woman called Sara Petite out of San Diego who I like a lot. I also love Shovels and Rope, Robert Ellis , Max Gomez and the Milk Carton Kids.
TN: Who would you like to write music with someone that you haven’t?
JL: Gosh, I wish I could work with Eric Clapton. I love his work. I would also like to work with Keith Richards. I got to sing harmony with him on the song Hickory Wind on a Gram Parsons tribute called “Return to Sin City.” Norah Jones was on that, I’d like to work with her. I did a song with John Leventhal called Planet of Love that was pitched to Ray Charles to do with Norah Jones, but that didn’t happen before he passed away. I always wanted to work with Doc Pomus before he passed. And I always wanted to do something with Jerry Garcia and I’m sorry that didn’t happen. I’m slowly getting to work with a lot of folks I hold in high esteem. I got to write with Dan Pen and we’ve been working on some things in England with him and Nick Lowe’s great band. I got to song with George Jones years ago and that was a treat. You just never know in this up and down world of music.
TN: You’ve moved deftly between genres in this time, is there a musical era you would like to travel to and perform?
JL: The 60′s and early 70′s for the soul, country and rock music that was coming out and then the late 50′s early 60′s for Bluegrass. And the 50′s for Blues music. Being able to work in those times at the peak of the music would have been great.
TN: You’re a great singer, songwriter but your also a consummate showman. You’re very personable and funny on stage. Many have also taken note of your rhinestone bedecked clothing when you perform. How many suits do you have and where do you get them?
JL: Oh, I think i have 20 or 25 suits with shirts. I have gotten a few vintage pieces here and there, but i get most of my things new and custom made from Manuel (Cuevas) who is a designer and tailor here in Nashville that used to work with Nudie (Cohn) out of L.A. when he was a teenager. He’s still here producing things for people like Jack White.
TN: Thanks for your time and keep your eyes on the road.
The first time I heard Nashville-based Jessica Maros and Tyler James, collectively knows as Escondido, it was the video for their garage-country noir song Bad Without You I was hooked. I even used the song on my podcast. I told you I was hooked.
There were shades of contemporaries Nikki Lane and Fist Aid Kit, but then again embodying a sound all their own.
Jessica and Tyler were kind enough to answer some questions a few days after their debut on the Conan O’Brien show (see below) about their chance meeting, their excellent taste in influences, and how it feels to have David Lynch as a fan.
Twang Nation: You recorded the album in a single day, What was the rush? Was there some limit on resources?
Tyler: Although it was really nice to save money on studio time… tracking the album in one day was intentional. Jess and i spent two months arranging the songs before hand so there wasn’t much confusion when tracking. I wanted to capture that initial instinct in the studio and not second guess ourselves. We started tracking around 10am and were done by 9pm… did around 3 takes of every song and i went through after and chose my favorites. I’m a huge Dylan fan and read alot about how he’d get the best players out there but throw them for a loop so they couldn’t over-think it.
Jessica: I wanted to capture a moment. Its interesting when you put a group of people in a room and see what happens.Tyler had a great knack for finding the right musicians, we really vibed off each other. We play the songs so much better now but back then….there was naivety about it. The song ‘Don’t love me too much’ was literally written on the spot. I had only a chorus and a verse and we were going to keep it as an Interlude. Once we started jamming it turned into a song and I wrote the second verse on the fly. Those are moments that I wish to relive on a daily basis. You can’t plan that.
TN: Your meeting was a happenstance occurrence. When did you realize you were kindred spirits?
Tyler: Right away… Jess starts most of the songs and they immediately get my wheels spinning on all the possibilities. We share a lot of musical influence but she keeps it simple and i lean towards the complex, so it balances out well.
Jessica: I agree with Tyler… The moment he started creating a drum beat for ‘Rodeo Queen’ we were instantly on the same page. I’ve worked with a lot of musicians throughout the years and nobody could understand the simplicity of my writing. Tyler took it to another level. We don’t even need to talk about it. I’ll start an idea send it to him and he makes it better. We have the same vision.
TN: Who did you listen to growing up?
Tyler: Mostly 60s/70s stuff… Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Beatles, Tom Petty, The Band, Beach Boys, Randy Newman, Rolling Stones, Bill Withers, Tom Waits, Shuggie Otis, Bread, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Judee Sill, Al Green, John Denver, Fleetwood Mac, Stephen Bishop
Jessica: I grew up with Slovakian immigrants so my musical taste never got cool until I had a boyfriend in eighth grade that introduced me to Smashing Pumpkins, Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright. Than I met a guy in a bar I worked at who taught me guitar and introduced me to Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Phoebe Snow, Little Feet, Steely Dan and I was hooked. He changed my life.
TN: Were you given formal music lessons?
Tyler: I took 10 years of piano lessons and 5 years of trumpet lessons.. made it a lot easier to pick up stringed and rhythm instruments down the road
Jessica: I had piano lessons for 5 yrs and never got good at it. I always wanted to play violin but my dad never took me seriously. Than I was given a guitar by a friend and taught myself. I watched youtube videos to learn guitar chords. I don’t consider myself a guitar player though. I just use it to write.
TN: The album has a Ennio Morricone vibe about it. Was he an influence?
Tyler: Yes definitely. My dad is a huge Clint Eastwood fan so the interest started there… but we’d start every day of pre-production listening to all of Morricone’s stuff as well as his counter parts. Burt Bacharach has a lot of killer compositions in the vein as well.
Jessica: Yes he was. We wanted to create a soundtrack to our life using his influence with a pop sensibility to it.
TN: What other band(s) influence you?
Tyler: I was on a huge Tom Petty, Rolling Stones kick while making the record.. i love the short/hooky songs where the rhythm and groove is a big part of it sound. Having the drums prominent in the mix isn’t limited to the club music happening right now.
Jessica: I’m a huge Chris Isaak fan. If I could write a songs like Neil Young, I’d retire. Sometimes you can’t change what comes from your heart so you just go with it. When I sit down and write a song I really want to make sure its coming from a truthful place.
TN: David Lynch tweeted that he really loved your song “Black Roses.” How did you feel about that?
Tyler: I’m a huge Twin Peaks fan so it obviously meant a lot… although the word ‘tweet’ in general is problematic
Jessica: I woke up Monday morning with my phone going crazy. I should have video taped it. The strangest thing is that he was mentioned as an influence for our ‘Black Roses’ video. Interesting what happens when you put those thoughts into the world and it comes back to you in the strangest ways.
TN:Jessica’s other profession is in clothing and jewelry design. How did it feel to be featured artist in Vogue.com?
Jessica: It was surreal. I’m grateful I was mentioned through music rather than fashion. Fashion is another outlet for me but music is my life. The fact that Vogue featured me in my dream profession was an indication that I’m on the right path.
TN: “Black Roses” has been featured on CMT and NPR. Those demographics that aren’t typically bridged. Why do you think you appeal to a broader audience?
Tyler: Perhaps because it’s the world we come from. We’re heavily influenced by our Nashville home but we listen to as much new music as we can. We all should be students of our own profession… start with the classics but not be limited by them.
Jessica: Not sure to be honest. We’re just going with the flow of things, I don’t think you can control who your audience is. Some bands cater to a specific sub culture but we’re just having fun creating our own little world and hoping people will join us!
TN: If you could perform on stage with any artist living or dead who would it be?
Tyler: That’s a tough question… probably Neil Young or The Band. Having a some wine and an axe up at Big Pink would have been my jam.
Jessica: I’d love to perform with Tom Petty and if I could be on stage with Bob Marley in my next life….that would make for a happy ending.
Escondido will perform with The Staves on an East Coast tour this May. check their site for more upcoming dates.
Elizabeth Cook stopped by the Late Show for her third visit to explain the Australian country music scene to David Letterman. Just what makes the Best Bush Ballad!
Cook also performed Tear This Building Down from her current EP Gospel Plow. She was joined by the Georgia Southern University “Southern Pride marching band. Cook is a 1996 graduate of Georgia Southern with dual degrees in Accounting and Computer Information Systems.
Hurray For The Riff Raff are a young band enjoying a good deal of buzz, but don’t let that mislead you into thinking they are the flavor of the week. They balance the hype by deftly exploring and evolution of roots and folk, namely Americans music. At 25 years old the band’s front woman, creative and spiritual guide Alynda Lee Segarra, is already an accomplished singer-songwriter having been a solo performer before joining in with the loose collective that is Hurray For The Riff Raff.
After seeing HFTRR captivate a capacity crowd at San Francisco’s Amnesia bar I realized this might be the last time I was able to see them in such an intimate space. They are about to become one of those bands that will break big but, I believe , will still embody a authenticity of artistry and spirit that drew me to them in the first place.
The following is a brief email interview I conducted with Segarra. I hope you enjoy it.
Baron Lane for Twang Nation: First off, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for my readers. I saw you and the band at Amesia in San Francisco last week and the place was packed. I believe you could have filled a place twice it’s size. Has this been the typical reception to your current tour.
Alynda Lee Segarra from Hurray For The Riff Raff: We always have a great response in SF. The west coast is definitely more foreign to us as a band because we don’t get out there as much as we’d like to. But there are certain cities that treat us like we’re at home, SF/Bay area Oakland definitely is one of those cities!
TN: Does the name ‘Hurray for The Riff Raff’ reflect a personal or band identity or creed?
ALS: I really relate to the name, it’s about cheering for the underdog. I’ve always felt like an alien, as a child I felt like I was born in the wrong era, I was obsessed with the 1950′s and I was sure there had been a mistake. It had a lot to do with the music of that time but it was something more than that, I felt like I wasn’t made for “modern times” in America. I longed for something older, for a way of life that had been basically stomped out. I felt I was born into a world where everything had been discovered, explored, bought up and sold already. As far as music to inspire me, when I was a child the radio had the Spice Girls, NSync, all this crap that I knew I was supposed to like but did nothing for my soul. It was the old music that did it for me. Doo Wop, Motown, and then Rock n Roll as I grew up.
I was in the middle of NYC, which was a blessing and a curse. I saw a long life ahead of me working, buying, and working some more, struggling to survive in such a competitive and increasingly expensive city.
It all lead me to work really hard at finding an alternative way of life, and I was lucky enough to be able to take a chance and leave. Everyone in the band is a fucking weirdo, although we may not look like it! But we are! And that’s the beauty of it. We have all had that desire to search for something…”real” I guess is the word. I don’t know what the word is.
But now that we play and write music, we get to add to this scene that we’ve wanted our whole lives. A music scene for weirdos who want to get down to some good music that sounds old and new at the same time. To create a music scene that isn’t bought up and sold yet. Anyone who wants apart of that is riff raff to me.
TN: Was music a part of your life growing up in the Bronx?
ALS: I have always escaped through music. I used to obsessively learn lyrics when I was a kid, I’d learn songs from old musicals like “West Side Story”, “The Wizard of OZ”, “Singing in the Rain”. I loved the way those actors sang, I liked the way they pronounced their words, their tone etc. When I got older and started getting more rebellious I was discovering the punk scene in the Lower East Side. I’d take the subway and go to a show down there, it blew up my world. I loved the live shows, and I loved the political messages a lot of the bands had. I really started connecting to feminist punk bands, it gave me this sense of pride and courage that was really important for me as a kid.
TN: You left home at 17. Being on your own must have been tough. How did you manage?
ALS: I followed my instincts, had some rough times, relied on a lot of friends. I had to go through that time period in order to be who I am today.
TN: Was the guitar your first instrument? Do you play anything else?
ALS: I played a little guitar in middle school, but nothing big. I guess I consider the washboard my first instrument. I started playing it with the Dead Man Street Orchestra, when I was traveling with them. I just loved being in charge of the rhythm, it gave me enough confidence to go on to learn the banjo and then meet up with the guitar again after that. I play a little piano at home, I wanna start jamming on the harmonica next!
TN: Who are your singer/songwriter inspirations?
ALS: Wow, I have a lot! Gillian Welch is a HUGE inspiration to me, she is brilliant at crafting a song. She is a bridge between the old world and today, and I’ve learned a lot from listening to her. Of course there’s John Lennon, I personally connect to his acoustic album that was released after his death. A lot of demos and just a raw portrait of him as a songwriter. Early Bob Dylan of course, Neil Young. But there’s so many musicians of today that I listen to that push me to work harder. Shovels and Rope, John Fullbright, The Alabama Shakes, Clear Plastic Masks, Sam Doores and Riley Downing. I feel so lucky to be able to see these guys live and be peers with them. Everyone is pushing each other to do their best.
TN: What were the events that led your from road kid to The Dead Man Street Orchestra?
ALS: We all fell into a family sort of dynamic in New Orleans. It was a really incredible time, probably one of the happiest I’ll ever be. It was the year before the storm, the winter time and we were between halloween and mardi gras. We actually played all together for the first time in Jackson Square on Lundi Gras day. I first played music with two of the members Kiowa Wells and Barnabus Jones at the railroad tracks. We sang some Johnny Cash songs and I played washboard with some seashells i found. i was hooked, I needed to play music all the time. I owe my life to all those guys, they’re all so talented and taught me so much.
TN: You self-released two albums (2008s It Don’t Mean I Don’t Love You and 2010s Young Blood Blues) as a solo act under the HFTFF moniker. You then recruited the Tumbleweeds to back you. Why did you decide to take HFTFF to a fill bands instead of a solo act?
ALS: It was always a full band, just had different members. It was a really different sound for the first two records, I was inspired by a sound that was very New Orleans at that time. A lot of the young artists there were playing this dark/gypsy banjo accordion stuff, and I loved it, but I grew out of it. Sam Doores and Dan Cutler helped me grow into the sound I wanted. Yosi Perlstein had been with me since Young Blood Blues and he was so important with the change because his drumming added to my more “rocking’ songs but he could also play a mean country fiddle. I got lucky with these guys!
TN: “Look Out Mama” draws from a variety of styles to form a organic body of work. What’s your view on genres in regards to your band?
ALS: I’m not good at genres, Sam is way better at that stuff. I just say we play Americana, Folk/Country whatever. But there’s a lot of old blues in there, early Soul and R&B.
TN: I’m interested in the unexpected album cover for “Look Out Mama.” What is it depicting?
ALS: It’s my father. He’s about 19 and in Vietnam. His buddy took that picture and it’s hung up in his hallway at home. I grew up with that picture, it was burned into my subconscious. I thought a lot about it, how it must have been to be so young and thrown into that situation. What it must have been like to come home and have to get back to everyday life. It made me think a lot about people I meet, where they are coming from, what they’ve been through.
It also made me question our government from a very young age. Was it worth it? Was it worth all the lives that had to be repaired? The ones we lost? I thought it really fit the music of the album, and it had been recorded while my community in New Orleans was mourning the loss of a friend who had been murdered in his house.
It was a time that I was thinking a lot about violence, about how it’s being fed to us. How we’re killing each other, and when I think about it too much it drives me crazy. A lot of people are talking about violence in the media, which is a worthy discussion, but why don’t we think that the wars we are in overseas will come home at some point? The poverty and anger, the hatred against our neighbors. We got a lot of work to do.
I just wanted to create something positive. I write about my dad on the back of that album, about how he inspires me to be hopeful and to try to make something different for the world.
TN: You come from Puerto Rican roots. How has that shaped your music?
ALS: When I started growing into an adolescent I was drawn to a music and style that has a predominantly white audience. For some reason at that age I felt shame about who I was. I didn’t “belong” with ether group of white punks or your average New York Puerto Rican. It led to me to really search within myself for who I wanted to become. I didn’t have a role model who looked just like me. I had to pick and choose what inspired me from a wide variety of sources with all different faces and backgrounds. I also learned that I don’t want to be apart of any scene that doesn’t celebrate difference.
The punk scene was incredibly important to me when I was a teenager, but I also felt a lot of stress on pretending I was exactly the same as all the other kids. When in reality I grew up very different than most of the white kids who were around. My family was different, we dealt with different hardships, we ate different food, we talked different. But in the punk scene we were all supposed to be the same. But there are some differences that are meant to be treasured, so we can truly learn from each other.
I remember feeling like somewhere along the line I had chosen to be white. But I never would truly be, no matter what the outside world perceived me as. Poetry taught me who I was and the beautiful history of Puerto Rican poets inspired me. Poetry was where I felt at home. I remember reading Puerto Rican poetry from the LES and realizing that writing was an integral part of my path in life. I remember reading a poem that read “Puerto rico is a beautiful place, Puerto ricqueno is a beautiful race” and that just rung out forever in me like a bell. I wanted to start combining my worlds. It lead me to folk music, which lead me to traveling and Woody Guthrie and political musical figures who believed in the soul and the struggle of the people.
Being Puerto Rican is at the core of my existence, it is the landscape of my family’s experience and so it is mine. It also changes my feminist experience. It is a gift to me, that I get to see the world I see through Puerto Rican eyes, I can bring a little something different to the table. It’s also meant that I have a lot of anger inside me because I want all people of color to be free. I want to break down the traps that are set up before them to keep them in their place.
Now I play folk music. I’m not letting anything stop me from being wholly who I am anymore. I’m going to create a space for myself to be entirely who I am. Folk music encourages that, the Queer scene around the world encourages it, New Orleans encourages it as well.
TN: What is your process for creating songs? Slow incubation or flash of inspiration?
ALS: I have to catch the tunes as they fall on me. They come fast and not always complete, i’ve learned to keep a recorder handy. I’ve learned to honor the song when it comes. Sometimes you have to be late, sometimes you have to turn off your phone. Townes Van Zandt said he never gave up on a song. That’s quite a thing to say because a lot of songs come to us writers. To give each and every one a solid try is really doing good work. That’s what I strive for.
TN: and last, what’s next for HFTRR?
ALS: This summer we’re gonna be doing a lot of touring that I’m super excited about, and hopefully putting the finishing touches on our new album. I want to play a lot of festivals, make some new friends and keep writing. I got a feeling 2013 is gonna be a good year for the ole’ riff raff.
Singer-songwriter Alison Sudol, known professionally as A Fine Frenzy, conducted a Twitter interview with The Civil Wars’ Joy Williams today as part of a campaign for the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards, which will be held on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013. The series of interviews are done with participation from Twitter, as part of their Artist Interview series that will also include Miranda Lambert , Reba McEntire and others.
The interview can been see in it’s entirety below. If you, like me, read the exchange looking for clues as to what happened with the Civil Wars sudden hiatus you will be disappointed. The brief interview sums up to two gal-pals sharing holiday plans, food preferences, how they miss each other and intimate photos of woolen socks.
The 2010 documentary Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm, will be released in movie theaters nationwide for the first time next year.
The film follows longtime Band singer and drummer, as he works on 2010′s Electric Dirt, the follow up to 2007′s Dirt Farmer , the winner of the inaugural Grammy for Best Americana Album.
Director Jacob Hatley shot the film over more than two years, spending time with Helm and his family at the Helm’s Woodstock, New York, home, the famed locale of Helm’s Midnight Ramble concert series.
Film distributor Kino Lorber said, “It was a privilege to meet Levon at one of his last Midnight Rambles and verify personally how insightfully this music-packed film captured the generosity of spirit, the humanity and the immense talent of one of America’s greatest musical artists. We see this as a mission now to be able to open the film, and Levon’s life, to legions of fans, followers and new audiences, who will be thrilled to discover the scope and depth of his contribution.
Levon Helm died on April 19th in New York of throat cancer. He was 71.
For a movie slated for test-screening next month in Charlottesville, VA (fitting since the the movie takes place in Virginia) details on My Fool Heart (Facebook) are as rare as hen’s teeth.
Here’s what we do know, first the official story brief : “… Jim Waive stars as a humble Virginia diner singer who is the target of two London hit men in the debut feature film MY FOOL HEART from writer-director Jeffrey Martin.” “Throughout the movie, Jim Waive keeps losing his treasured possessions. Justin plays the Mysterious man who finds Jim’s lost things on the sidewalks of Nashville.”
Then there’s the extraordinary cast from Americana, Country and Bluegrass music fields – Elizabeth Cook, Justin Townes Earle, Merle Haggard, Wayne Henderson, Sarah Jarosz, Jim Lauderdale, Charlie McCoy, Jesse McReynolds, Dr. Ralph Stanley and Jim Waive and the Young Divorcees
I contacted the writer-director Jeffrey Martin on the road to shed some light on this intriguing film. He was very forthcoming in an email interview on his motivation for the film and how how love of music helped to influence My Fool Heart.
I very much look forward to seeing this film soon and readers of this blog might feel the same way after reading this interview. Enjoy
Baron Lane – Who are some of your influences as a director?
Jeffrey Martin – MY FOOL HEART was influenced by Cassavettes and other directors who believed even if your bank account was low you could grab a camera and make a movie. It’s a stupid idea but it obviously influenced me. When you make a really cheap film, you get to call the shots and take extravagant chances. Sometimes they pay off.
BL – My Fool Heart is billed as a comedy, but based on what i’ve been able to glean online it looks more like a black comedy. Is that accurate?
JM – Most black comedies have a more bitter or cynical take on life. I think of MY FOOL HEART in the classical sense of comedy. It’s about how things come out in the end and in this movie things do come out okay in the end. But coming out okay is a serious struggle. For me, whenever you look closely at anything in life, especially the serious things like love, marriage, children, death, there is something comical. It’s like when things in life get so bad and crazy you have to just laugh. In the South, tragedy and comedy seem tightly intertwined. Weird and terrible things happen and people laugh about it. Humor makes a lot of things more bearable. Life is hard. There’s not a lot of cynicism in this movie.
BL – What time period is the movie set in? How did that time period shape the music chosen for the movie?
JM – The movie is set today. It’s also set in Virginia which is a place where long ago and today sit side-by-side. That’s what I love about Virginia. I grew up in California and Florida suburbs so when I first went to Virginia I was enchanted by the old things. Even current things seem to have an old feeling in Virginia like a faded photograph or like you’re looking through wavy antique glass. I love Virginia. I spent 30 years there, but I’m not a native. To be really from Virginia isn’t like a jacket you can buy or just put on. The music chosen began in Albemarle County, Virginia and moved outward. If you’re into Americana or bluegrass music, you’ll notice all the lines and connections. The geography lessons.
BL – Where did your story of My Fool Heart come from?
JM – I don’t know. Strange things just pop into my head. I saw Jim Waive, a local Charlottesville musician, playing for tips at the Blue Moon Diner and this whole crazy idea came into my head about a musician like Jim being hunted down by professional killers. It seemed both serious and funny. Like what kind of great music he might start writing under the pressure of death. Like in the old westerns when the bad guys shot at your feet and made you dance.
BL – Cameron Crowe and Quentin Tarantino create films where the music becomes a character in the film. Does music come front and center in My Fool Heart?
JM- Music is huge in this film. It’s the subject and it’s the air you breath watching the movie. But the movie’s plot and characters are also commenting on the music you’re hearing which is a little unusual in a fictional feature film. Also the bluegrass, country and Americana music – old and new – blend together in a way that maybe makes you think of the music’s history if you’re a music fanatic. Crowe and Tarantino are both great, but they use music differently.
BL – What did you grow up listening to?
I had older brothers so I grew up deeply immersed in the music of the 1960′s and 1970′s: Dylan, the Beatles, the Band, the Beach Boys, Van Morrison. I went to college in North Carolina and first heard Emmylou Harris who had just moved away from Greensboro and cut her first album. I got to see Lester Flatt when Marty Stuart was his teenage guitar player. Also lots of bluegrass and pickers and bands like the Dillards who were playing locally then. I was listening to that first Scruggs Brothers LP, Doug Sahm Band, John Hartford, Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Mac Wiseman, Doc and Merle Watson. The mid-Atlantic was an amazing musical region during the 70′s and 80′s with people like Emmylou Harris, Danny Gatton, Stevie Ray Vaughn playing in ridiculously tiny venues. I stood next to all of them playing their sets, two feet away. The Band, as well, with Richard Manuel singing in that beautiful voice. I always liked old American sounds.
Lucinda, who co-produced the movie, was from Charlottesville, Virginia and took me up there when I was 18. She’s from really old Virginia culture. Her great grandfather, Col. Charles Marshall, was General Lee’s military secretary who spent the entire Civil War on Lee’s personal staff and wrote Lee’s famous Farewell to the Troops and is the guy between Lee and Grant in the schoolbook Appomattox painting. Lucinda introduced me to the mountain people still living in Sugar Hollow where they had a farm. Hand-churned butter, brown eggs, horses and wagons – I thought I was dreaming but there it was: time frozen. A lot of that gets into the movie somehow. Lucinda went to country dances out there in the Hollow with the Virginia Vagabonds playing, some of those guys played at the White House for FDR. For her, this would have been as a litle girl around the early 1960′s when Paul Clayton had his cabin near there. Bob Dylan visited the area for a week in 1962 and it seems to have revolutionized his world when he went back to New York and came up with “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” Dylan writes about all that in “Chronicles.” Dylan’s deep inside this movie. Jesse McReynolds and other older bluegrass guys told me about Dylan’s influence on them. We tend to think the river flowed the other way, but it was definitely two directions according Jesse. It’s hard to underestimate the influence of Bob Dylan on music. He’s way bigger than Hank Williams and that’s a stupid comment to make if you haven’t thought about it too much. I dug into Appalachian music up one side and down the other and kept seeing Bob Dylan peeking out. Growing up though I also listened to whatever came on the radio. It was a great time. As a teenager, I moved to Winter Haven, Florida where Gram Parsons was from. He was a Snively so he was related to everyone down there. I remember my next older brother talking about him and all that country music. And in college in Greensboro, N.C., Emmylou Harris was playing down on Tate Street just a few years before so I picked up on her when the first album came out and never let go. I remember being 15 in Florida and turning out all the lights in the house and listening to Johnny Cash “Folsom Prison” and imagining I was in jail. Until I left Florida, part of me was.
BL – The cast for My Fool Heart - Merle Haggard, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Jim Lauderdale, Elizabeth Cook, Justin Townes Earle – reads like a who’s who of classic country and Americana. What was the motivation behind casting such a heavy assortment of musicians?
JM – My joke rule was that nobody who was a SAG member could be in the movie. Keep it to nonprofessional actors. We did become a SAG movie though when Merle joined us. The inspiration or idea came from this thought I had. I sat and watched Jim Waive play at the diner for tips and drew this imaginary line from the guys at the bottom playing for free and going all through the middle level and to the very top of the music business, the icons. I thought the story was about that. What is success? Is it talent? Luck? I knew people at the top always considered themselves just a step away from that diner tip jar because you never forget where you came from. And sure enough, a bunch of them dug the idea and wanted to play a part in it. We wound up with Dr. Ralph Stanley and Jesse McReynolds, two IBMA Bluegrass Hall of Fame members. Also Merle Haggard and Charlie McCoy, two Country Hall of Fame members. I used to sit on my bed reading Dylan’s liner notes and I would always see the name Charlie McCoy. It came full circle for me when Charlie agreed to give me a tour of Nashville and that old recording world of working with Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash – all the greats. That’s in the movie. It’s worth the price of admission. And Jesse McReynolds tells about playing with Bob Wills, amazing stuff. But it’s not a documentary. This all unfolds in the course of the story.
BL – Finding one musician that can act is pretty rare, where you concerned with the high odds of bad acting in such a large roster of musicians?
JM – Filming musicians is like handling dynamite. You have to be on your toes.
Everybody gets nervous. Merle was nervous. I was nervous. Ralph Stanley told me that he’d been dreading it for days. But if you can help them relax and just take the temperature down and get into that space, strange and wonderful things happen. Merle is powerful and mesmerizing. I wrote his lines, but Merle went deep into the country preacher. And Justin Townes Earle is fantastic. Most of the film, he’s silent. Then at the end, he finally talks and he has the entire film on his shoulders. Justin is a sweet, soulful, deep guy and he brought something to the film that I never expected. I actually expanded his part to use all his great footage. Merle too.
BL – What was your background in music and how did you choose the music for the movie?
JM – I have no background in music. I sang in my elementary school choir until the director tried to isolate where the bad voice was. When I stopped singing and just faked it, she said, “That’s better.” I have no talent which is good. I’m 100% enthusiastic fan. Musicians fear no competition from me. I’m in awe of musicians. I can’t duplicate what they do. I’m not a director or writer with a guitar at home. I suck at everything musical except loving it. MY FOOL HEART’s soundtrack is the music I love: Elizabeth Cook, Merle Haggard, Charlie McCoy, Jesse McReynolds, Wayne Henderson, Jim Lauderdale, Ralph Stanley, Justin Townes Earle.
BL – If you could make a biographic film of one musician’s life who would it be and why?
JM – I don’t think I’d be interested. The magic is in the songs, not the person. Documentary is a better angle on hitting that target. A biopic wouldn’t be my thing.
As I said in an earlier post the first time I saw the Muscle Shoals, Alabama’s Secret Sisters ( Laura Rogers Lydia Rogers) was at a GRAMMY event for the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers honoring T Bone Burnett. Burnett’s then recent protégés had just released their self-titled debut album which featured him at the production helm. The Sisters opened the event and I saw what he perhaps saw while watching their performance as did the jaded industry folks who stopped hobnobbing and stood entranced by the delicate harmony and winning personalities on stage. I was a fan.
The duo recently released a 7 inch released by Jack White’s Third Man Records and had their song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder”, inspired by the Alabama tornado outbreak, featured on the T Bone produced soundtrack for The Hunger Games.
The duo were kind enough to give thoughtful l answers to emailed questions submitted by me and some of my twitter followers.
Twang Nation: What was your first experience with music? The Secret Sisters: The two of us have been completely surrounded by music since we were babies. We spent many summers attending bluegrass festivals with our dad, who is a bluegrass musician. Though we can’t remember that far back, it’s very likely that the first concert we ever attended was a bluegrass festival somewhere in the South. We really believe that bluegrass musicians are some of the most incredible, skilled artists in the music world, and growing up in those circles helped us appreciate a time-honored musical genre and tradition that still finds its way into our music on a regular basis. We are very influenced by certain aspects of the bluegrass world, and that sound has been ingrained in us since we were very young.
TN: Alabama musicians seem to look after one another – from the Drive-By Truckers , John Paul White from the Civil Wars and Doc Daily – what is the source of that camaraderie and how has it helped you? TSS: We believe that the camaraderie comes from the desire to see Alabama be well represented again. Alabama is known for producing some of the most legendary artists, musicians, and songwriters in all of music history. It seems to us that all Alabama musicians are proud of the heritage we have, and we just really cheer for one another when big things happen, when our fellow Alabama artists get recognized for their talent. We’ve had countless compliments and expressions of support from other artists in Alabama, and knowing that those people are supporting us helps us keep going. It’s almost as though we’ve all subconsciously joined a movement to put Alabama back in the musical spotlight. That movement also requires a bit of a responsibility-we don’t want to do anything to tarnish the reputation of great music in our state, and we believe that all the artists in Alabama help to hold each other accountable for always putting out quality music.
TN:What is your songwriting process like? Do you walk into the studio with ideas fully formed or do you work it out in the studio? TSS: All of our songs come about in unique ways. Sometimes they come to us quickly, other times we struggle with them for hours and hours. We’ve spent a lot of time this year working together on our songs, and also exploring songwriting with some of our very favorite cowriters. It has been a wonderful learning experience and we still have so much to figure out. For the second record, we’ve chosen to have our songs mostly complete when we go into the studio. It saves time, and having a real grasp of the song ahead of time gives everything a good direction to work from. Of course some changes will be made once we get into the studio, but for the most part our songs are all ironed out and ready to be put to tape.
TN:Your self-titled debut album album was executive produced by one of the godfather’s of Americana, T-Bone Burnett. How was working with him and how did it open doors for you. Did his association hamper you in any way? TSS: Working with T bone has been very advantageous for us. He has been very kind and protective towards us, and we truly believe that much of our progress can be attributed to his involvement in our career. His knowledge of music history and sound quality is absolutely incredible, and he has taught us so much, in a very short amount of time. Having him in our corner helped us be involved in the Hunger Games soundtrack, which was a huge boost to our career. He’s constantly fighting for us and involving us in the cool projects that he undertakes, and it’s very nice to know that someone so well-respected is looking out for us.
TN:What compels young performers to create or cover music that is, or sounds like it’s, from generations before they were born? TSS: For the two of us, we choose to cover songs only if we love them. We obviously tend to love music from the early years of the 20th century, but we will cover any song that really touches us. The kind of songs we gravitate towards reminds us of home, our family, the South, God and faith, and all the other things that are most important to us. We think that young performers like us get tired of being surrounded by music that is fleeting. We want to cover and create music that can withstand the test of time. For the two of us, there’s also a sense of preservation in the music we play. We value early American roots music so much, and to think of that music fading into obscurity breaks our hearts. So we use our voices and our platform, no matter how big or small it may be, to remind everyone of how sincere and special the music from long ago is.
TN:You recorded the song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” for the The Hunger Games soundtrack. Did you read the books? If so did you imagine your music as a backdrop while you reading it? TSS: Honestly, we had written the song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” before we read the books. When we were approached about being on the soundtrack, we knew that we had a song in our pockets that would work very well in light of the subject matter of the books. So we submitted the song for consideration, and everyone involved agreed that though the song was begun previously, it was truly meant to be associated with that film. When we finally read the books, we were stunned at how perfectly our song fit with the emotional themes in the stories. It reminded us that music has its own way of getting to where it’s supposed to be.
TN:In a period of music industry turbulence and self-reflection how have you shaped the direction of your careers? TSS: We don’t let our career define us. We’ve focused on staying true to our beliefs and morals, and we both believe that we can be happy no matter what happens in our career, so long as we choose to be happy and grateful for whatever comes our way. We try not to get too worried about music business ups and downs. We simply make the kind of music we want to make, and if at any point we are pushed to be something other than what we want to be, we will walk away. Luckily, we are surrounded by people who help us preserve our true identities and the music that moves us, and we just let that music do what it will. Ultimately, our faith reassures us that we’re so blessed, in every moment, and that everything will pan out exactly as it should.
TN: How was it to play Jack White’s divorce party? Was it at all awkward? TSS: We actually did not play at Jack White’s divorce party. Not exactly sure how that rumor got started, but we are friends and fans of both Jack and Karen, and we love them both dearly and treasure their sweet family.
TN: How is your new album coming? Who’s playing on it and does it have a title yet? TSS: As of right now, we haven’t started tracking the record yet. We focused most of our time this year on writing the entirety of our record, and hope to go into the studio in October to start cutting songs. We did some of the songwriting with our good friend, Brandi Carlile, and that experience was absolutely priceless for us. We feel that Brandi really understands our musical inspiration, and she helped us develop our songs into something we are very proud of. We don’t know quite yet who will be playing on our record, but we can promise that some of the friends we’ve made in the past will be making appearances. We toured with so many incredible people last year, and several of them have offered to make a contribution to our second record. So be on the lookout for some awesome collaborating!
TN: John Paul White (The Civil Wars) mentioned be collaborated with you for a song on the album, who else has had a hand in writing songs for it? TSS: We did write a song with John Paul, and he was so great to work with. He really taught us so much, and we are proud for him and Joy and the success they’ve had. As mentioned before, we’ve worked with Brandi Carlile quite a bit on our songs, as well as Dan Wilson, Kevin Griffin, and other Nashville writers that we love and respect. At the end of the day, we really love the moments when just the two of us get together to write a song, mainly because we feel that those moments help us grow exponentially as writers. As we spend time writing together, our respect for one another grows, and the songs that come out of those sessions surprise us every time. Like maybe we are supposed to be doing this after all.
The GRAMMY nominees categories that I cover does not come with choreographed dancers or share the stage with Rihanna. They appear further down on the list near Best World Music Album and Best Spoken Word Album - the Americana/folk/bluegrass and the speck of trad country that might find its way into a movie soundtrack or liner note nods. This is the the pre-telecast posse, the back of the bus and behind the gym crowd. This is where the cool kids hang out. Where Lou Reed can sit between a nominee for Best Opera Recording and Best Comedy Album. These are the rough and rowdy mongrels of music.
I watch the nominee concert dutifully but it’s nothing to do with me or my readers. I am waiting for the full list to be posted online. Then I run my eye over it. downward to the Best Folk Album, some nice surprises with The Civil Wars and Eddie Vedder. Best Bluegrass Album, great to see the old guard Del McCoury and Ralph Stanley in the mix with Steve Martin and Jim Lauderdale. Next the big enchilada – Best Americana Album. Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm, Lucinda Williams legends all…wait…who’s this? Who is Linda Chorney?
I’m a frikkin “Influencer” for krips sake (or so Klout tells me), how is it I don’t know this person? Where did she come from and how, after 6 albums, is it that I haven’t heard of her until now? i like a to be surprised as much as the next music blogger, but sometimes there is this feeling that if you missed this artist how many others are sliding past your gaze. I needed to atone and find out who this person is.
So i did what any red-blooded Americana blogger would do – I Googled her. First off a video that appears to be centered on scuba diving in some tropical locale. She’s easy on the eyes, but how does she sound? First impression is Aimee Mann, Chrissie Hynde and Michelle Shocked on a serious Meet The Beatles! bender. I emailed her directly from her site. She can’t already have a layer of people to sift through for a conversation. I’m the the official GRAMMY folk/Americana blogger guy. I figure that that should account for something!
Maybe it did. Maybe I caught her at a vulnerable time in the wake of her nomination. Maybe she confused with with her friend Bryan Lang. Whatever…i had an interview set.
I hope the below exchange let’s you get to know Linda Chorney and you find her as charming and talented as I did. enjoy…
Twang Nation – So, how are you feeling?
Linda Chorney – I’m still a little but in shock but I feel great. When I told my mom and dad (about the Best Americana Album Grammy nomination) and my mom said this is one of her greatest moments since your birth for me.
TN – Wow, you can’t buy fans like that.
LC - (laughs) When I was younger they paid for my demo tapes and have been coming to biker bars that I’ve played throughout my life. They’ve waited for me to get my big break and now it’s kind of come.
TN – Tell me a little about how you got here.
LC – I once broke the top 40 in the adult contemporary on the Friday Morning Quarterback (music industry news publication) with my song Living Alone. We thought then that something was going to happen. Then the day we had some deals on the table was on September 11th (2001) and everything sort of got put on hold. I said to myself that I didn’t die that day, and nobody I know died. How important is another song? So I didn’t take (the deals falling through) that hard. Though I took the the events of September 11th very hard and wrote a song about it on my third album.
TN – I’ve been blogging about this genre for several years and lived in New York City for 5 years, how is it I’m just now hearing about a Grammy nominated Americana artists based from New Jersey?
LC – Probably because I’ve been bopping around the whole world. I played on Bleecker Street for years, at Red Line and the Back Fence and a few other clubs. I’ve played the Hamptons. I like to travel! I’ve bartered my way around the world. I’m an avid scuba diver but diving costs a lot of money so when I travel I will write a few dive places and say “Hey I’m a singer/songwriter and will perform for your crew aboard or your place in exchange for scuba diving. Diving can easily can run you a couple of hundred bucks a day. One place that responded was the Bottom Time Bar in Palau Micronesia and that where I shot my video for my song Sink or Swim (see below) I played a weekend and was able to dive for two weeks for free.
TN – Not a bad gig.
LC – it was awesome! I also went to Mount Everest where I sang at 17,000 feet – I’ve sung below sea-level and sung 17,000 feet above sea-level.
TN – Did you know you were in the running for a Grammy nomination?
LC – From the feedback I was getting from Grammy 365 people. I said to my executive producer, “Jonathan is all the people that say I’m great and are voting for me actually do vote for me I think we might have a shot.” I had no idea what I was doing. This is my first time with the whole Grammy process, two weeks before the ballets were due I had zero contacts. My husband and I stayed up 20 hours a day and we wrote every single person we could on the Grammy 365 site to ask for their contact information. Out of the roughly 6000 emails we personally wrote – we didn’t have a staff it was just me and him – then around 2000 people responded and I asked them to consider my stuff. I was overwhelmed with responses. One guy was the historian on (Martin) Scorsese’s George Harrison documentary, he said very nice things about my stuff, he said it touched him and that he was going to talk to other people about me and get them to consider my music – this happened several time with others - I was just blown away!
TN – Tell me the story about your executive producer and how y’all met.
LC – I was in Colorado playing a ski resorts, because the moneys good and I sell a lot of merch and get to keep all the money, and I would ski to my gig every day with my guitar on my back to perform at 10.000 feet. At one gig this quirky guy comes up to me after buying all my CDs I had for sale and said “You have something special here. I’m a doctor but I wanted to be a musician, so I know how hard it can be. I’d lie to send you something.” I had no idea who this guy was or if he was hitting on me so I gave him a P.O. Box address and sure enough a few weeks later a chord-less mic and guitar pickup showed up in the mail and it contained a note that read “This is for you kid, way to go.” Over the years I got to know his family, and we became really good friends. Last year he approaches me and says “Linda, I want you to make the album you’ve never been able to make before, and I’ll pay for it.”
Every other album I’ve done has been out of my own pocket and I was always watching the clock , I didn’t have the money for live drums or more time for the engineer, I knew how to make a great album but I never had the resources. Jonathan says “I want you to do this album without compromise Linda. I’m going to give you the money for this album and I don’t want anything in return. I just want you to make the greatest album that you can and I want to be part of the process.” I was so touched by this! Jonathan also knows some musicians like Jeff Pevar (CPR) and Leon Pendarvis (band leader for the Saturday Night Live band) who is a great keyboard player. So he got them involved in the project. I knew Lisa Fischer (singer and background vocalist for the Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross, and others) because she sang background on my adult contemporary charting song Living Alone. And I knew bass player Will Lee (The Late Show with David Letterman, B.B. King, Cat Stevens, Ringo Starr, James Brown and many others), then I knew people here in my neighborhood (Asbury Park, NJ) who should be famous , like Arlan Feiles, who has his own album coming out soon and to me is like Bob Dylan with a prettier voice. I had him sing a duet with me called Finally on the album and then I have a song on the album called Do It While You Can, with a kind of a Satchmo vocal vibe to it and Richie Blackwell (Bruce Springsteen) helped with that. So this whole thing is a passion project. There was no thought to “Let’s make this song four minutes so we can get radio airplay.”
The second CD (on Emotional Jukebox) has a symphony I fantasized about making (Mother Natures Symphony.) The 15 minute piece begins with classical to Bluegrass to folk then back to classical and then ends with a Beatles ending.
TN – Wow, you’re not one to walk the genre straight and narrow are you. You also cover Led Zeppelin’s Going to California on Emotional Jukebox.
LC – I do! I had to fight to have that on because I jammed it in the end with a Flamenco solo by this guy Hernan Romero (Al Di Meola) who this amazing player that was just in the Latin GRAMMYs who I met in Boston who’s been on a couple of my albums. I had this idea of the song that ended up being 7 minutes long and we still got airplay. They don’t make songs like that anymore. I like solos. On my song I’m Only Sleeping I put a whirly solo it it. I like music!
TN – Where was the album recorded?
LC – We recorded at Sear Sound in New York and Lupos Studio with Frank Wolf, who I’ve worked with in the past, engineering the project. He’s an amazing talent. I spent the most time on the album than anybody. I did all the editing and arranging myself on my Pro Tools at home at night with the master and poured over every single bar on the album to make sure I had all the instrumentation in all the right places so it was tasty, clean and interesting to me. that was my goal. I probably spent over 2000 hours on it.
TN – well your hard work is being recognized. When did you find out about your nomination?
LC – We were having a party that night and somebody gave me a mock GRAMMY because we all conceded to the fact that I didn’t stand a chance against these amazing and well-known artists – John Hiatt, Jeff Bridges, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Ry Cooder – who is one of my heros – there was just no slot open for an unknown. So all the people went home from the party and then I started getting all these emails saying “Congratulations.” “You have my support.” “I’ll see you in L.A.” I thought this has to be a mistake. This must be a chain email that I’m on and somebody else was nominated. Then I had a hard time finding the list of nominees online. Then we found the list of nominees on GRAMMY.com and there in Americana Album of the year was my name first on the list. I had to wake up my executive producer, Jonathan, at midnight to tell him about it. We freaked out. He believed in me and my music and he’s such an amazing person.
TN – I love that you are on the nominee list, and that the GRAMMY Americana category appears to be a big tent where talent is rewarded no matter how what your profile.
LC – Early in the process I did put my album up for a lot of categories – best Album, and all of that. In retrospect i should have concentrated on the one category. I submitted for 8 but but as I was getting up to speed submitting my work it occurred to me that I might have been spreading myself too thin and that might not be in my best interest. So then I started concentrating on the Americana music category.
TN – Have you got your speech ready?
LC – (laughs) Not yet.I think I might have a mock one ready for You Tube and to post on my blog (lindachorney.wordpress.com) to thank the people that helped me.