Michaela Anne Interview


One of the joys of travelling to Nashville every September for the AMA’s Festival is discovering artists not previously encountered and with over 300 acts on offer each year it’s not difficult to come across a number of new-sprung gems.  2017’s pilgrimage was no exception with a number of - new to me - acts particularly impressing, none more than Nashville resident Michaela Anne.

 The 5 Spot on Forrest Avenue in East Nashville is where many emerging local artists cut their teeth, often at the renowned weekly Tuesday sessions hosted by Derek Hoke, which offers entry and beers at the princely sum of $2. Last year’s AMA’s Tuesday 5 Spot evening featured Nashville based band Los Colognes, listed to play the entire Neil Young Tonight’s The Night album in chronological order, but also to be joined on stage by ‘friends’. The mention of ‘friends’ immediately set off alarm bells that this was the place to be on that particular evening. True to form Margo Price, Caitlin Rose and Lilly Hiatt all joined Los Colognes on stage for what proved to be a memorable set with the venue full to capacity from early in the evening.  The icing on the cake was the opportunity to also catch Michaela Anne’s splendid support set, a mixture of traditional honky tonk and bar room weepies, aided by a top-notch collection of musicians.  A fellow annual Nashville wayfarer, who accompanied me to the 5 Spot, had met Michaela on a previous visit to the festival and made the introduction after her show. We agreed to make contact in the coming months for an interview with Lonesome Highway when she arrived back in Nashville following an extensive touring schedule as part of Sam Outlaw’s backing band.

Where do you call home today having relocated from Brooklyn to Nashville or did you even get a chance to unpack a suitcase given your hectic schedule last year?

Nashville’s home now. I moved there 3 years ago. My husband and I bought a house over a year ago but I’ve probably only lived in it collectively a handful of months. 2017 definitely was wild with how much I was on tour so I’m excited to be home a bit more this year.

The East Nashville underground scene is blossoming at present, populated in particular with an apparent endless stream of gifted female artists. On arrival did you find the environment supportive or competitive?

I found it really supportive. My first night in town I played a show at the 5 Spot in East Nashville and immediately met Kristina Murray, Erin Rae McCaskle, Derek Hoke and a handful of other local musicians who have all remained great friends. Erin Rae right away told me she thought Kelsey Waldon and I would hit it off, which we did, and that first year in town I felt immediately embraced and befriended by many of the women whose music I love. There are so many talented artists in town, especially of the female gender and I really do think we all genuinely support each other. Of course everyone probably feels envy or some sense of competition at different points as this is a tough business to keep going and survive in. But at the core I think there’s a sense of feeling like we’re all in this together. And we’re musicians, we love playing AND hearing music, so we genuinely do enjoy hearing each others work and being inspired by it.

I get the impression of Michaela Anne as a decidedly structured and disciplined individual, traits not always to be found in particularly artistic people but a huge advantage in someone focused on making a breakthrough. Is this an accurate assumption?

Ha! Well yes and no. I definitely work hard and am ambitious and driven and probably have a bit more “structure and discipline” then what some would assume the “typical artist” would have but I do also have my head in the clouds quite a bit. I did work for a record label right out of college so I learned at a young age some of the benefits of 9 to 5 office structure and the hard work that goes into promoting music. And of course the important lesson that just being good at music isn’t always enough to build a career. 

Your 2016 album Bright Lights and The Fame is top drawer traditional classic country, avoiding the radio friendly pop crossover sound so dominant on what passes for Country Music Radio today. Did you make a conscious decision to avoid a mainstream sound on the album?

Yes and no. It wasn’t conscious in that we weren’t overtly avoiding it. We were just making the record we liked and wanted to hear. I don’t like hating on things so I wouldn’t speak negatively about it but I would say the pop country radio sound is not one I’m particulary drawn to. I’ll get into a song here and there but generally the production isn’t my preference. I definitely love some good pop music and love a lot of 90s pop country but for my album I was drawing more inspiration from records of the 60s/70s and my favorite old records by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and early Lucinda Williams records.

I believe you had written a number of the songs before heading to Nashville. Were the finished versions dramatically different from what you originally intended?

The majority of the songs were actually written in Nashville. Stars I wrote in Brooklyn following the death of my grandmother, Luisa was in Brooklyn and Liquor Up I started in Brooklyn but finished the day before we started tracking in the studio. Writing in Nashville was the first time I had concentrated and dedicated writing time. In New York, everything takes longer and is more expensive so having a whole day to focus on songwriting was a very rare luxury. Nashville provided me with that and it was exciting to get to focus on songs in a whole new way. I remember when Dave Brainard and I wrote Everything I Couldn’t Be, we started at 9am and didn’t end until 9 at night. We took breaks for meals but I had never had that experience and the attention we gave that song was really exciting for me.

You co-wrote two of the tracks on the album (Everything I Couldn’t Be and Won’t Go Down) with Dave Brainard who previously worked with Brandy Clark.  How did that relationship develop and is co-writing an experience you intend pursuing in the future?

I had met Dave when I opened a show in NY for Brandy and he was playing in her band. We kept in touch and started getting together when I moved to Nashville. He was one of the first people I really started co-writing with. I do intend to keep pursuing co-writing. I love writing alone as well and will always do that but it’s interesting to see how different the songs can come out when you team up with another songwriter. You can push each other out of your habits and go-tos in a way that you don’t on your own. 

Not many artists can boast of breezing into Nashville and having Rodney Crowell appear on their first album recorded there! How did that come about?

Dan Knobler, who produced Bright Lights and the Fame, is married to Rodney’s daughter. We were good friends along with colleagues so I was friendly with the family and Dan suggested we ask Rodney if he’d be interested in singing. Luckily he was and squeezed in the session during a very busy year for him. He’s one of my all time favorite songwriters so it really was surreal and one of those ‘is this really my life?’ moments when I sat in his home studio listening to him sing my song. I’ll always be grateful to both Rodney and Dan for that.

The album was produced by Dan Knobler, who previously worked with Rosanne Cash, Tift Merritt, Erin Rae and Shannon McNally. I believe Dan also relocated from Brooklyn to Nashville and that you had previously worked with him?

Yes Dan and I were friends in Brooklyn and he had been playing guitar for me the last year I lived there. We started talking more about recording and did a couple trial sessions  before he moved to Nashville and then ultimately started working on the record as soon as he arrived. 

Tell me about your transition from a jazz student in Manhattan to a country artist?

Well they are definitely two very different worlds. I grew up singing all kinds of music: country, pop, musical theater, jazz standards, you name it. So when it came time for college I was a little at a loss for what to do. I ended up in jazz school because I loved the American Songbook and old swing tunes, many of which have a lot in common with old country songs and western swing. Patsy Cline used to sing Irving Berlin tunes. But I quickly realized that wasn’t the kind of jazz they were focusing on at the New School and sought out the rootsier music scene in NYC. Luckily I heard about Michael Daves (a great bluegrass guitarist) and started taking lessons from him. From Michael, I learned how to play guitar and he turned me onto the Louvin Brothers, which completely blew my mind. From there I got really into the thriving Bluegrass and Old Time scene in Brooklyn and naturally just progressed into owning the fact that the songs I had been writing for years were much more country sounding and jazz was not the genre where I would be having my career.

Solo shows, a showcase at the Americana Music Festival, playing in Sam Outlaw’s Band, tours of Europe and performing on stage with Ron Pope at Carnegie Hall. 2017 seems to have been a whirlwind year. Did you get an opportunity to do any writing while you were on the road or do you generally require a more relaxed environment for creative inspiration?

I have! I generally don’t write very much while on tour but occasionally a song idea will pop into my head that I’ll save to finish later. I often feel like I need relaxed and reclusive environments to really be able to write. I try to take self imposed “retreats” semi-often to be able to focus more and get some songs under my belt. I’m excited to currently not be touring and get to write a bit more (although I constantly miss the road).

Is it imperative to have a number of projects running in parallel to survive in the industry today given the meagre financial pickings available and do you foresee this changing looking forward?

I honestly have no idea! So many people refer to the music industry these days as the wild west. Formats and platforms keep changing rapidly as far as how/where/when people consume music and where the money will come from. So I’m really unsure of what the future holds for artists. I try to keep the faith that between live shows, selling merch and teaching music lessons I’ll keep getting by and hopefully people will keep valuing music and artists enough to pay for all of these things! I also try to focus on the connection with fans. Streaming/cds/vinyl whatever will all change and come and go but I really believe if you connect with your audience you have a better chance of surviving all of the changes in the long term.

Plans for 2018?

Record an album! I’m currently on a flight out to LA to record a couple new songs of mine with Sam Outlaw and making plans to record a full length by spring. I really really want to return to Europe in 2018 so I’m working on making that happen as well! 

Interview by Declan Culliton  Photograph by Kristine Potter


Interview with Ryan Boldt 

The Deep Dark Wood’s first performance in Ireland at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in 2013 appears to have made as much an impression on the band as it did on those lucky enough to witness their shows. Arriving at the venue with the assistance of a tow truck might not be considered the ideal starting point but everything worked out admirably in the end.

The Canadian band make a return visit to Kilkenny for The Roots Festival in May and frontman Ryan Boldt took the time to chat with Lonesome Highway about the history of the band, his love of Celtic Folk music, their excellent current album Yarrow and much more.

How has The Deep Dark Woods evolved since its formation in 2005 and how difficult was the break up with the original line up?

Members have come and gone since about 2009, Geoff joined just after Winter Hours, Burke left and Clayton Linthicum joined, Lucas left. Chris and the band mutually agreed to part ways. There’s been a lot of changes, most bands that last over 10 years change members. It was quite painful, but we’ve come through it and are a better band because of it. 

What prompted the release of your solo album Broadside Ballads in 2015?

I’d recorded a lot of the songs a couple years before it was released but never got the chance to put it out. The band went on hiatus and it seemed like the perfect time to release it. I wanted to continue playing music and touring even if some of the other members of The Deep Dark Woods didn’t want that. This is all I’ve known for my entire adult life, this and working garbage labour jobs. I didn’t want to go back to mixing concrete or hanging drywall.

The Celtic / English Folk influences which appeared on Broadside Ballads also weave their way through much of the material on your recent album Yarrow. Is this a reflection of the territory you want The Deep Dark Woods to permanently inhabit or will you head in a different direction next time around?

I’ve always been into English, Irish and Scottish folk music. I guess it’s kind of seeped into my own writing over the years. It certainly helps to have people in your band that listen to the same records as you. I’m not really sure what direction the band will head in, I just write songs and the band plays them, we never really think about making it sound a certain way.

The material on Yarrow works remarkably well as a whole, dominated by tales of dark, unearthly and spooky places, occasionally visited in your previous work with the band. Over what period was the album written and how important was it to achieve that symmetry?

I wrote most of the songs over the 3 years the band was hiatus. It was a dark time, which probably contributed to the darker songs I suppose. I wanted the album to be shorter and to the point. I find the previous albums to be too long and not as consistent, I wanted the album to fit onto two sides. I wrote about 14 songs for the record with the help of Shuyler Jansen who I produced the record with and we trimmed it down to 9. In the past we would have recorded all 14 and put them all on there, it was nice to have someone in the studio with me doing some editing, something I’d never had before.

You’re on the record name checking Shirley Collins as an inspiration for your song writing / story telling a number of years before she recorded Lodestar in 2016 after an absence in the studio of nearly 40 years. How did you connect with her music?

I found her records through Fairport Convention, someone gave me a copy of Liege and Lief when I was about 18 or 19. I started going back and looking into albums related to them, that’s when I came across Shirley Collins’ No Roses and from there I found a well of beautiful records. Because of Shirley Collins I’ve discovered a lot of traditional music I had never heard before. Songs like Brigg Fair, Dabbling in the Dew and Richie Story. I love her and hope someday I can sit down and thank her for the influence she’s had on me over the years.

You recently opened for Richard Thompson at The Pitchfork Social on salt Spring Island. I suspect he is another artist that has had an impact on you during your career?

Yes, very much so… Fairport Convention is my favourite band. Opening for Richard Thompson was one of the greatest thrills of my life, the best part was taking the ferry back to Victoria with him, talking about folk music and watching birds. He had binoculars with him.

Understandably much of your musical roadmap direction appears to be from artists and recordings of decades ago. Do you tap into any current artists output or continue to be influenced by the past? 

I’m mainly influenced by stuff from the past, I don’t listen to a lot of modern music. I do like Kurt Vile and Cass McCombs and of course The Sadies are the finest band in Canada.

The inclusion of backing vocals by Kacy Anderson, beautifully threaded through the album, creates a spectacular atmosphere. How did the connection with both Kacy and Clayton (Linthicum) come about? 

I’ve known the both of them for years now. They lived out on the farm in southern Saskatchewan, about a 2 or 3-hour drive from where I was living in Mortlach, which is just a Sunday drive for us prairie folk. Clayton played in the Deep Dark Woods for a couple years after Burke left the group and I’ve been singing songs in my Mortlach living room with Kacy for about 6 years now. The two of them are like my younger siblings, I love them with everything in me, unconditional love. 

 The quality of acts coming out of Canada under the Americana umbrella in recent years is staggering.  The Canadian Council of The Arts and The Canadian Music Fund (CME) appears to offer support to artists quite unlike other countries. Has this been helpful in your continuing career and how does the model work?

Yes, it’s been very helpful. We are very lucky here in Canada. Canada cares about artists, they realize that without music and art we would all be extremely depressed and a lot of us would have no reason to live.

You are due to return to Kilkenny in May 2017 for the Roots Festival. Tell me about your memories of your appearances at the Festival in 2013?

Kilkenny Roots is still one of the greatest festivals we’ve played, the people are so welcoming, real music fans. The night before Kilkenny we were in London, drove after the show and broke down somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We called a tow truck and they basically told us we weren’t going to make it in time. Kiko, our tour manager somehow got the driver to tow us to the ferry terminal in Holyhead, we were able to start the van and barely make it on the ferry, we called another tow in Dublin who came and towed us from the ferry terminal right to the venue. We made it just in time for soundcheck, hadn’t slept a wink, the venue was packed and it was one of the most memorable shows of the past 12 years. We ended up staying up all night listening to people sing Pogues songs in the bar. It was our first time in Ireland and it is now one of my favourite countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.  

Who can we expect to see on stage with you at The Festival?

Geoff Hilhorst will be there playing the organ along with the Yarrow band, Shuyler Jansen, Mike Silverman, Kacy and Clayton and our latest addition Evan Cheadle. My mom and dad and aunt will be there too. They’re flying from Victoria for the festival and to do some family history research. I had family in Kilkenny before they came to Canada. Could be why I feel at home whenever I’m there. 

Interview by Declan Culliton (January 2018)


Interview with Jesse Dayton

Jesse Dayton is a Texas born guitarist, singer and songwriter who has had an ancillary career in acting, directing, screenplay writing and composing soundtracks. He grew up on a diet of traditional country artist such as Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash alongside the music coming from New Orleans and across the border with Mexico. To date he has released 9 studio albums under his own name, one of which was a duets album with Brennen Leigh. The first (Raisin’ Cain) came out in 1995 the most recent The Revealer was released in 2016. Prior to that Dayton had been a member of a rockabilly band The Road Kings who released one self-titled album. He is currently working on his next album and also has a screenplay in the works as well as an acting role on the cards too. A busy man and a very talented one whose guitar playing and production skills are much sort after. 

What were the influences of a boy growing up in Beaumont, Texas?

A lot of Gulf Coast regional influences as it was the Texas/Louisiana border. I could very easily have gone to New Orleans as easy as I could have gone to Austin. Beaumont is pretty much in the middle. I took my parents out to dinner after my graduation, because I was making $500 a week playing in an all-black zydeco band, and I said I have good news and bad news. The good news is I got my own place I don’t need any money and I’m buying the dinner tonight. The bad news is I’m not going to go to the University of Texas.

I grew up playing honky tonk music, rockabilly, rhythm ’n’ blues and all that stuff. But in 1982 a friend of mine said “hey you want to go see The Clash?” So we drove to the Egyptian Theatre in San Antonio. We saw The Clash and Charlie Sexton and Joe Ely opened up the show. So I said “okay, that’s what I want to do.” The whole thing was something bigger than the playing.

Do you think there is a direct correlation to some honky-tonk and punk?

I would totally agree with that. So that meant that some people in Texas never understood me because they didn’t have that same experience. I was born in ’66, so I heard White Riot for the first time when I was 13 or 14 which must have been around ’78/’79 - something like that. Maybe in 1980, but close to it. So I wanted to bring that energy to roots music. My parents had played classic country music and that’s what separates me from the rest of those suburban kids in America because I could sit down and play Harlan Howard songs, or an obscure Willie Nelson song that was never on the radio. These other kids were into some other things, which I was in to too, like hard rock - Thin Lizzy or punk rock. But I knew things like Jolie Blonde and some Zydeco. 

How did the wave of what was termed Cowpunk bands effect you?

I loved all those bands, but at that point once I had a guitar in my hands and when I was 15 I started putting my blinders on. I was in such a weird little town and none of that stuff hit there. If you look back a lot of those guys were also from small towns. They were often the ones that ended up with a discernible and unique sound. They were kind of in a little bubble. They end up doing what they think it’s supposed to sound like. 

Did you think that when you released Raisin’ Cain (on Justice Records) that you were on your way to the big time?

No. I didn’t. Because before that I had already been asked to go to Nashville and talk to executives there at some major labels and I just thought that they were so square. I’d been driving to Houston to see Townes van Zandt and Guy Clark. So I had these different components compartmentalised in my head - ok, these are the singer/songwriter guys that I got to listen to. I had to put in my 10,000 hours on that and these are the guitar players that I think are really great. My brother was hanging out with Clifford Antone in Austin so I was also getting all this great blues stuff - seeing all these great blues guitar players. So when I got to Justice they said “make whatever kind go record you want.” 

I had always thought that if I just had a cult following and could pay my bills that I would be happy. If I was in it for the money then I wouldn’t even be playing guitar I would probably become a music publisher … or a lawyer or something. Something mundane and boring. 

When you started out did you see yourself primarily as a guitar player or a songwriter, Had you made any sort of choice?

I had always wanted to do them together. I had been around great players but they wouldn’t have any songs and I be around great songwriters but they might have a bunch of crappy players. You could tell and you just can’t bluff your way through that. People can hear that. 

My parents were the first ones to make it out of the oil fields and to kinda become academics. So I was reading a lot, a lot of books. I was reading college stuff in Junior High. My parents had me reading The Dubliners alongside an autobiography of Malcolm X when I was in 8th Grade. That was really informing my lyrics. I was trying to put that together and as Springsteen had said I learned more from a 3 minute record than I ever did in school. Learning how to condense it into a song. It’s the way Townes explained those characters and that imagery, listening to a Townes songs is similar to reading a Cormac McCarthy book. It’s landscapes and big stuff. 

That was opening you up to different ideas?

Yeah, but I didn’t realise it at the time as I was just doing it. I was little redneck kid in a small town so I didn’t know how to do it. I was in a bubble.  

Another aspect of your career has been working in film as an actor, screenwriter and soundtrack maker. Has that also expanded your horizons?

Well I tell everyone that all my favourite country stars were in movies or on TV. All of ‘em! Jerry Reed, Willie, Cash - they were all on television shows and in movies. Then I got that call to do that soundtrack (The Devil’s Rejects) in ’07. The thing went big and Rob Zombie had given me 75% of the publishing. The people at the studio hadn’t realised that a rock star had directed the movie - which had really never happened until then - so they didn’t care about the soundtrack (released as Banjo & Sullivan - The Ultimate Collection 1972-1978). He just said to get on with it, that they’re not paying attention. So that became a thing in itself and the next one was put out on Rob’s label rather than with a major. I was in the movie (Halloween 11, he appeared as singer of the fictitious band Captain Clegg & The Night Creatures). He taught me how to make music videos. It was my one on one film school crash course. We then did an animated film and following on from that he said “why don’t you come on tour with me as the band from the movie, everybody will know you as they’ve seen the film.” He said that I’d have to be in character and not do any of my solo stuff. So I just said “How Much?” (Laughs) I’ve been trying to sell out for years as I hear the money’s awesome! So we went on out and it was a 40 date arena tour of North America. Huge places, like Ozzie-type shit. 

I’m playing this weird hybrid of ‘60s surf rock and honky-tonk - it’s all over the place but it’s guitar music and it’s aggressive and kids are seeing me. So while I was on that tour I wrote two pages everyday and when I got home I had an 80 page script. I got it to Malcolm McDowell, who I had been in the movie with, and he said that he’s do it. As soon as I got him to sign on literally overnight I got all the money to make the movie (Zombex). I talked them into letting me direct it which was a kind of catastrophe (laughs) -  but it worked. It was not fun. Being the director was the opposite of being a singer in a band. Total and utter sleep deprivation. I had it all in my head but not on paper. Luckily I had a really talented crew, a bunch of Robert Rodriguez’s people and some great actors. I got John Doe to be in it and I’d asked Mike Ness (Social Distortion) but he said “I can’t really act.” He said to get John Doe, that he was a real actor. Doe said that he would be in it if his friend could be in it too and get killed. So I said “well okay.”

However I felt I was little out of my depth so I ran screaming back into the arms of the music business. I did act in a couple of movies after that though and I’m doing a movie in Canada next year. I’m also licensing a motorbike gang script based on a Kurosawa movie. I like to work a lot.

When I was working with John Doe he asked me if I wanted to do the Letterman show with him. He’d said that he heard that I was a guitar player, he didn’t know too much about me. So I said “yeah man.” He called me after that to tell me that Billy (Zoom) was sick and that they had a big American tour to do and would I learn 30 songs and meet them (X) in New York in a week! It was nerve wracking as Billy Zoom is no slouch. That got me back out there touring again.

You played with The Supersuckers too.

Yeah, I played on Must Have Been High they’re biggest record. I have a demo of me and Eddie (Spaghetti) doing every song on that record on acoustic guitars weeks before we went in to record. They always say that I turned them on to country music. I opened up for them in Dallas and they were like “Man, we really don’t like country music.” I told them that they were really missing out. We supported them on the whole tour when they were playing those songs and Eddie would say that I was the guy who turned them on to country music and I said “Don’t tell them that!”  

With all of what you have done and achieved do you want to do something different next or carry on doing what you have been?

Well a lot of my success has been in that I married a really hot, smart Jewish girl from Los Angeles. I’ve been with her almost 21 years and she put a gun to my head several times and said “look dummy, you’re going to take the money from this TV show and we’re going to buy a house in Austin. Which was at a time when you could buy at a reasonable price. Now our house is worth crazy money. Her family is like a publishing dynasty - her grandfather, Lester Sill, worked with Phil Spector and was the publisher for Elvis and Motown. Her father became even bigger than that. So she decided that we didn’t need other people who were essentially bad bank loans. So we would get enough money to make a record and hire a publicist as well as a radio guy. We stared to actually make money off our records. Her name is Emily Kaye, so she’s a big part of how I learned how to monetise this rather than be saying “Oh well, they’re dropping me because I didn’t sell over a 100,000 units.” I’ve never played that game. The end result was always about did we get more people. That’s all that matters. She took some of the money we made and invested it in other things. In real estate and stuff like that. So that’s the reason I can come and play a small gig like in Whelans and not freak about the money.

 You played in Ireland once before I think?

Yeah I played a festival here a long time ago back in the ‘90s.We had to leave the same day which was bit of a bummer. But we want to come back over here and to Europe again as I’m shocked as to how great these shows have been. We haven’t been here for ever. It’s all been word of mouth and the record (The Revealer) has been out for a while in the States but just got released here. it’s not like we had a huge publicity team, so we’re totally coming back over. We’re super streamlined, so if no one shows up … well, whatever. When we play I see kids who were into the Rob Zombie stuff. I see older guys who were like Rory Gallagher fans or whatever.

What have you planned on the recording front?

We have eight songs already in the can. So I have to do two more songs when I get back then this guy named Vance Powell is going to mix the record. He did Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. We’ll see what happens with that. I’m just trying to morph this thing into a hybrid as I don’t want to recreate anything. Plus I’m older and you don’t care about the same things anymore. I’m not a cynical young man anymore and I can go see something and see it in a different light. I try to keep myself open, something I learned by working with Rob. Rob is so childlike but he’s only something like 2 years older than me. But he keeps in touch with that little kid inside. The people who give up on things like music, art and culture that little kid has been gone from them for a long time.

Interview by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea 


Interview with Worry Dolls


Rosie Jones and Zoe Nicol are the Worry Dolls and first met while attending the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts as students. They have come a long way since those early days and their debut, Go Get Gone has been receiving widespread critical acclaim since the release in January last. Lonesome Highway has reviewed their album and featured their music on our radio show. We were delighted to meet with them on their maiden tour of Ireland for plenty of conversation, laughter and tea …

Tell us about touring. You have not been off the road since the start of 2017.

We have had a couple of days off since the release of the album in January but it has been pretty intense. A few breaks, but it has been constant touring. 

What countries have you been to?

Mainly touring the U.K. but we have also been to Belgium and Spain. We did our own headline tour in England and also toured with Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople fame), which was really different and fun. It was the hottest week of the year and we call it our sweaty clubs Rock 'n' Roll tour. We also did our Country tour with Sam Outlaw and now we are touring Ireland for the first time.

You originally met at Liverpool University?

We became great friends and saw each other play at open mic nights. We began writing and collaborating on a very relaxed basis; let’s just hang out and learn a cover or write a song. We had a Bluegrass band as part of a project and Rosie had purchased a mandolin which she wanted to master by learning Nickle Creek songs. They are technically difficult and I was obsessed – tabbing them not for note and practicing 8 hours a day, wanting to be as good as the best. We realised that we harmonised really well together and that it was all very natural to us.

Is it true that Sir Paul McCartney gave you advice?

Yes, he is a former pupil of the Institute of Performing Arts and he mentors the third-year songwriters. It was just him and us in a room with him listening to our songs. We had been paired by the school as a natural team when we could have been put with anyone from the class.

Was he of practical help in terms of advice?

We were both somewhat in awe of the whole thing but we did soak up what he said to each of us. He was really helpful on little tweaks in song-writing techniques and one of the really big things that we got out of it was his advice to change up the melody in the second verse in order to keep the listener interested. That has stayed with us when writing, that you don’t have to repeat the same thing. It was strange having him listen to our songs and then play them back to us!

So, a couple of E.P.’s released and then the big decision to relocate stateside with a move to Nashville

We had been working towards that decision for a long time and like anything in life, sometimes you just have to do that crazy thing or you never quite see what could happen. We went to Nashville with half an album written and it could have all been an epic failure. But we both trusted that it was the right thing to do.

There are a number of cowrites on the album. Was this a conscious decision?

Our first EP was recorded at University while our second was written when we were living in London and was more representative of what we were doing. We went out to Nashville initially for 10 days, meeting friends and new people. Everybody there says ‘let’s just write a song’; almost like going for a coffee. We were inspired and it became part of the story of the album. Songwriters in Nashville are credited much more than in England where it does not seem to matter who wrote the song. In the States the songwriter if often credited higher than the artist and we wrote so many songs as a shared experience.

Was it a culture shock and intrusive to suddenly be faced with letting others into your creative process?

No. We are together already and a strong writing unit. It might have felt intrusive if it had just been one of us and new people that we had never met. We are so solid in what we want to create so it was ok to let someone else come in and share what they thought would work. There is a transition between writing on your own and writing with another person. We had already been through this when we first decided to start writing together so to let someone new into the collaboration process was not as difficult as it may seem. We felt very much at home in Nashville and we brought a lot of that feeling back home with us to London. We feel like a part of that community now and you just have to know how to find these groups which exist in all of these areas – it’s just finding it and being a part of that network.

Bread & Butter is your record label. Are you happy with their input?

Very much so. It’s a U.K. label but one of the heads works for an American label in their European division. They help us go to the next level by assisting in distribution further afield than just what you could do on your own. It is all about working together to ultimately help us grow as artists. We had recorded the album ourselves and were about to release it before any label was involved. We had a distributor that was willing to come on board but we could never have had the success we did by not waiting for a year in order to have Bread & Butter come on board.

Are you happy with the way that the record has been selling?

We don’t always see the figures for how the album is selling digitally and we always do our best sales after the live shows – hopefully there is a big cheque in the post for us down the road! That would be nice.

The fact that you have done it all yourselves augers well for the future

Yes, and the nice thing about this Irish Tour is that we had been playing recently with a band, whereas now we can get back to our roots. We always wanted the core of it to be just the two of us, which is why we made the album stripped back and that it sounds like us. The additional musicians and instruments that came on board for the record was wonderful but hopefully everyone will appreciate us playing it live as a duo.

On the album there are songs about travelling, the need to be free, experiencing the new, leaving and wanting to return.

The creative process is the best part and the songs are so fresh that some of them were only written a few days before we went into the studio. Miss You Already was written as an acapella song initially and it was only later that we added the instruments for the studio. She Don’t Live Here is about the sacrifices that you take. That was one of the only songs we played on the piano and our life change was involved in the song along with the fact that the piano we wrote it on had been given to us by a family member that subsequently died. It is the last song that we wrote for the album and is a special song for us.

The song Passport speaks of a negative experience that you had as part of being in this career?

It’s about how not everyone has your best interests at heart. It’s not about a specific relationship and it was somebody we didn’t know. We were opening our hearts up to a lot of wonderful things but unfortunately when you do that a certain amount of darkness can also come your way.

It is all part of the odyssey you have embarked on. It must be very rewarding to see the attention that is now coming your way?

It feels like the tables are turning a little bit after all the hard work that we put in. It can be funny however because anything that brings you right up the next day you can be brought back down again! It keeps you on your feet. Playing the Cambridge Folk Festival was the most incredible experience and to hear people singing your songs back to you in the middle of the day was special. Country 2 Country was another highlight, along with London Fashion week appearance; Jessie Weston is this incredible western-style designer with native American stuff which is so our vibe! We played the catwalk and it was amazing to see the models in real life; the way they can just switch on that look.

Do you write from a personal perspective?

I think that the songs will always be written from a personal angle. If you don’t write something from personal experience then people are not necessarily going to connect with it. From co-writing you get less precious, in that words you would never use can be given new meaning. For example, the song Someday Soon has a refence to ‘my last cigarette’ and I never would have used this as a non-smoker. However, as a metaphor for being down on your luck it works really well … I would like for the two of us to just write the next record and to each take the lead more on certain songs in this direction. This will not be taking us away from the personal!

So, this nomadic life is suiting you at the moment. You haven’t started getting tired of the travelling yet?

In the time we had off we were moving house but luckily our base is very happy, so wherever we are, we are never going to feel alone. Meeting people after the shows is important and we love to hang out at the end of our performance getting feedback.  

Both Rosie and Zoe are charming in conversation and totally open in their honest assessment of their career trajectory to date. They contribute equally to the answers and often talk with great enthusiasm so that the answers recorded here are a composite, without singling out who exactly said what and when. We look forward to following their continued success into the future! 

Interview by Paul McGee


Jess Klein with Mike June Interview


With a very impressive back-catalogue of nine releases to her name, Jess Klein comes highly recommended as an artist and singer-songwriter bearing great gifts and insight. This highly accomplished musician and wordsmith, recently sat down with Lonesome Highway to share her thoughts on life, the universe and everything after. She was joined by her husband and fellow musician Mike June who is currently accompanying her on their European tour.

LH: Life on the road versus recording – how do you split your time?

JK: I really love to be in the studio because you feel like the sky is the limit. I am working on an album right now and you go in thinking that it will be really stripped down, just me and my guitar mostly; then as soon as I got in we started bouncing ideas around and suddenly it becomes a much bigger soundscape. It is like a cool fantasy world to live in but then I also get very antsy if I am not playing for people. It’s like I can’t get my fix of a real live spontaneous experience. When we are in Europe I really love being on the road whereas at home the drives can be longer and it doesn’t feel as special.

LH: Do you have your own studio?

JK: Mike is currently building a studio…

MJ: When we lived in Texas we had a one room apartment so when we moved to North Carolina our first priority was to get some walls…! I have a love/hate relationship with recording. I love the end product but it can be so tedious, almost like anti-music. I have all these great ideas running around in my head but putting them down shows up all you’re your limitations. It can be very hard being in the studio and keeping it spontaneous. Playing live gives me that chance to be spontaneous and to have that feeling that pretty much anything can happen. That is why we play music I guess.

LH: So, it comes down to balancing the recording process with the need to tour again?

JK: We both decided to take a few months off this year but then I start to forget who I am and what my purpose on the planet is… Especially when I look at social media and watching everyone else’s experiences and it starts to feel like, ‘I could be doing that’ – so I don’t have a good sense of what is coming in two months; it’s whatever I’m doing now that is my experience. 

LH: You haven’t got exhausted with the whole touring thing yet?

JK: A couple of years ago I really got burned out and we had to make a couple of changes as to how we did it. We had to let our agent go because he wasn’t doing a great job and it can be really hard to make it work.

MJ: It’s hard when you have to ask people for money and I would prefer to have someone else doing that part for me. Last night was my first gig for a while and it felt a little strange. I had lost a whole tour because of the problem with our booking agent but it was kind of good in that I had previously been playing almost 200 gigs a year in the States and don’t know if I really gained anything career wise.

JK: You have grown a lot as an artist…and as a performer and a player. However, career wise you can drive 600 miles to play to a handful of people.

LH: I suppose it depends what you define as success? The fact that you can both keep doing this career as professional musicians can be seen as a success in itself

MJ: I tour a lot with Jon Dee Graham and he’ll complain that he is ‘barely makin’ it; what you makin’? For me, I get to travel around the world playing music with my wife, so it is a great experience. For example, we got engaged in Paris which was very special…

LH: It’s a real bohemian lifestyle and people would be envious of that.

JK: I find that when I’m at home I am a real homebody but I actually find it really freeing when we are moving on the road to keep things lean and we only have so many things with us. I don’t like packing but when we’re moving it is great to keep things simple.

MJ: If we didn’t tour then I might never leave the house. I’m just at that age when I’m not much into the social life!

LH: Speaking of not leaving the house, how does the writing process work for you?

JK: I’ve learned that the writing process can change. The last few records were all done in Austin Texas with this same group of people so you always had a sounding board. But then we moved to North Carolina and I went to a town I had never been to and didn’t know too many people so I didn’t have the structure with me. My initial response was that I would sit and try to write everyday but it doesn’t work like that. It has to flow and you have to trust that if I go live my life then the songs are gonna come. I sometimes use my phone to capture ideas at the time they appear.

MJ: Living with Jess makes me ashamed to call myself a songwriter as she is up first thing in the morning working on stuff whereas I am waiting for the inspiration to come…My last record, Poor Man’s Bible, I poured over every part of that for almost a year before we went to the studio. This new stuff, I had just an EP come out on Friday, Election Day and I decided to not think too much about what I was writing but just go back to having fun and keeping it simple. I think this is a progression for every artist who starts out wanting to prove that you can do something really big and I think that doing that with Poor Man’s Bible made me comfortable with myself.

LH: What comes first when you write, the lyrics or the melody?

MJ: Usually it’s always words for me first but it can be a guitar riff, sometimes the song just goes in my head and I have an idea how I want it to be but when you sit down and start pounding it out, it can sound totally different.     

JK: Early this year I had a repetitive strain injury in my arms and hands which was really terrifying. For me it had almost always been melody first but I couldn’t play the guitar as much as I normally would so I had to compose just in my head and sing it into the phone and wait until my hands were able to play. It was interesting in that my first thought was ‘oh my God, I can’t play the guitar the way that I want to…’ but then I had to roll with it and it just works its way through you. I don’t think my guitar style has changed but I was so nervous when I returned to doing shows after taking the time off. I changed my guitar (a Martin J-21) and found that when I played, it was the one time I was not thinking about my hands, so it all worked out fine!

LH: Getting paid as a professional duo; can you make money anymore from the recorded product or is it live performance?

JK: Honestly it is a combination. I think that I make half of my money on the road from merchandise sales. If I’m not on the road then it is harder.

MJ: I signed my record deal last year and the budget that my record label gave me was only quarter what I had spent on my previous record by myself. They send me statements every month about how much I owe them or how much they have lost on me! They’re sweethearts but what can you do? Even a band like Los Lobos who have been around for almost 40 years and have made so many great records were chatting amongst themselves as to whether it was even still worthwhile continuing to make records. The cost of making them is so high and then services like Spotify don’t pay the artist anything. As a listener, you can have all the music in the World for just $10 a month but that doesn’t pay the artist. Any other business would revolt against that... Even using Kickstarter to fund your record ends up with 15% of the money raised going to them.

LH: Looking at the arc of your career and that first album that received great media acclaim, you had the experience of being on a big label before doing it all for yourself

JK: I would have to look at my files to see who now owns Rykodisc, maybe Warner Bros., but I was not with that label for very long. I made two albums with UFO also but I found myself feeling that I can do this better on my own and hiring the people I wanted for myself. If I’m failing, then it’s because of decisions I am making on my own now.

MJ: Having been on both sides of the fence, previously as a booking agent, at our level then to be doing it for yourself is the best option. A lot of the people working I the industry are just not very good and can let you down. Do they have your best interests at heart?

JK: I feel like we have both been through enough now to just do it yourself. I feel like I know what questions to ask before getting anyone involved now.

LH: You must have built up a decent network of people over the years that you can trust?

JK: I think it is important to be able to ask for help – no man is an island!

LH: You are quoted as saying ‘my motivation in making music is to connect with people and in doing so, to connect with myself, which is the hardest and the scariest part…’ How vulnerable do you feel on stage?

JK: It’s not that playing in front of people has ever really been hard. I feel that there is a difference between putting on a show and giving yourself over to the performance and connecting. I feel like the thing that I have been working on over the last 4 or 5 years is going a little on faith and being completely open. When I am on stage, you have to have a purpose and I put all the love I could into these songs and I really want for people to be able to act off that. I can’t control how they receive it but the intention I go in with is to share the love in my heart as I have crafted it.

LH: You are a very giving performer and the audience just believe it. This is what makes it special

MJ: You have to play to the people that are there and not the people who aren’t. I remember playing a gig in Clarksdale, Mississippi to zero people. I am just rockin’ it, by myself, thinking this is good practice, just get into it, when 2 guys come in at the end and one turns out to be Danny Boyle, the movie director, who liked my stuff and wanted to buy some CDs. I didn’t know who he was right then and I’m saying just keep your money, you are on vacation so just have a CD… Then in North Carolina I was playing to 8 people on a Sunday afternoon and decided not to let it be one of those ‘I don’t want to be here’ moments; I do a strong set and it led to me getting my record deal out of that…! Play to the people that are there.

JK: I don’t want to overblow the importance of art but I feel because this is what I do, I look to art and music to give me permission to open up and feel my feeling. I believe that there is good in this world and it is like a sacred transaction when I go onstage and it can’t just fit in a box. It means something to me to be able to give to other people.

LH: Do you write from the personal or the observed experience, or is it a mix of both?

JK: Some of the songs are very personal. When I was younger it could be pretty scary to try and figure out the answer to something by the end of the song and present it in this neat package. Now I’ve grown up!

MJ: I made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to stop writing songs about things that everyone else writes about. I started to turn my attention to the outside and look at religious and political issues. It’s what I think about, it’s just who I am… I want people to get along and to see that this world is so much better than we give it credit for. If I am angry and I want to write songs against the establishment then that is what I do. The Folk Alliance and the American Music Association used to say they don’t want any political issues here. However, It is really personal for me…

JK: The other night he was dreaming and shouted out in his sleep ‘you can’t lie to the American people’…!!

LH: When you travel do you find differences in the audiences you play for?

JK: I think the difference is that there seems to be a more embedded cultural appreciation of the arts in Europe. In the States people come to see us feel that way but it seems more of an uphill climb.

MJ: A couple of years ago I did a tour and was playing house concerts in Texas and in San Francisco where the political views were different and the culture and perspective was so varied. You meet people in small towns that give you a different view of why people feel isolated and on the outside of things in America.

Travelling then to Europe is a real education. Taking in refugees is so much talked about in the States but people have never seen it. Then we are here and on the day we got engaged, what is in my head is; ‘I’m going to ask this woman I love to marry me today’ and the first thing we see when we get off the highway is a refugee camp on the outskirts of Paris and you see people living on the street dividers. And you see that this is the reality of it. Getting that perspective is a whole new education.

Being on a small level lets you be able to sit down with people and really listen with real communication. A big change with music now is that a lot of house concerts end up with your fans becoming your friends.  


Jess Klein talks of her career as a twisting journey and says that she is tired of all the anger and cynicism she can sometimes encounter; ‘I say, get out there and do something’.

This is a good note on which to bring our conversation to a close. There is so much to recommend in the sublime talents of Jess Klein and her body of music is waiting to be discovered by those of you who like to visit the realm of accomplished writing and sensitive soul-searching.

Her husband, Mike June, is a very engaging person who was really interesting to spend time with. Together they make a great team and in trying to bring light into the lives of those that they meet, both Jess and Mike lift the collective spirit to an elevated place where our awareness and appreciation of the arts can be heightened.

Interview by Paul McGee