Tuesday
Oct042016

Interview with Elana James 

Hot Club of Cowtown return to Ireland for an eleven date tour kicking off at The Sugar Club Dublin on 25th October and finishing at The Black Box Belfast on November 6th. In between they will be appearing at Letterkenny, Newbridge, Drogheda, Cork, Clifden, Dun Laoire, Antrim, Bangor and Castlebar. The trio consisting of Elana James on fiddle, Whit Smith on guitar and Jake Erwin on bass have been enthralling audiences for two decades with their unique take on western swing, gypsy jazz with a little bit of country thrown in the mix. They are without doubt one of the most exciting and entertaining live acts around as punters that attended their shows at Kilkenny Roots Festival in 2010 will testify. Technically superb, stylish, humorous and genuinely delightful people their shows will no doubt brighten up those dark, gloomy autumn evenings!

Delighted to see you back touring Ireland in October and November. It’s been too long since your last visit in 2010.

Thank you! It has been too long!

What influenced you personally to switch from Classical music to more traditional and folk?

I pretty consistently played Classical music from age 4 up until I was 21, playing violin (and later viola) in orchestras, chamber music and stuff like that. Even so, I never had a traditional approach to Classical music in a way, though-like I wasn’t big on practicing or self-discipline. I was always behind, always wanted to do things besides practice (like run around on my horse in the countryside), even though I was passionate about playing. My mom was a professional Classical violinist (and still is) and I think that growing up watching her get dressed in her black velvet and go to gigs all the time and play shows in the Kansas City Symphony or pit orchestras and traveling shows and the ballet. I saw what it was like and the mystery or allure of it for me maybe was lessened. The idea of going off into the blue yonder of folk music started out really as a kind of compulsion: by the time I was in high school I had started taking my violin into the hip, bohemian part of Kansas City and playing fiddle tunes for tips on weekends, sometimes totally by myself or with my sister on flute or a friend on tambourine. I was also drawn to central Asian and North Indian Classical music in college, as well cowboy songs when I began playing in a band on a ranch in Colorado for a few summers around the same time. So in these ways, I started to creep away from Classical music without really realizing it.

One of the most influential things that happened to steer me toward American traditional music and stop considering whether or not I should go into Classical music was going to India right after college to study an esoteric style of North Indian Classical music called Dhrupad with my late, wonderful teacher, Vidur Malik. He would take his handful of students, maybe five of us, on these adventures in the rural countryside of North India and we would play at festivals, at a local temple, for Hindu renunicates living in the forest, or really just anywhere. And when we would go on these journeys, especially when we were floating down the Yamuna River every so often at sunset, he would be singing and playing his harmonium and I would be playing along on my viola and at some point he would always stop and say, “American Geet!!” (which means American music) with overwhelming enthusiasm, and would have me play a hoedown of some kind and he absolutely loved it. I think that that single experience of his enthusiasm was very powerful for me because it showed me that we think something is exotic when it comes from somewhere else, but the very thing we know and love and may take for granted that is truly and uniquely ours, is deeply thrilling and exotic to someone else. So his enthusiasm helped me see the legitimacy and honour in pursuing my own folk music, and I soon went back to the United States and found my way to fiddling and hot jazz and never looked back.

Did Hot Club of Cowtown target a particular audience for your music style when formed back in 1996?

I think the audience that we targeted was ourselves! When Whit and I started playing together at first it was just this thrilling way to learn songs together that we loved. I can be impatient about playing out--once we had a few songs together it was like, let’s go play these for people! But it’s really been the joy of just playing that led the way to playing in front of anyone, and then forming a trio, meeting up with Jake so many years ago and solidifying this trio as we three. If we had been aiming for commercial success I guess it’s unlikely that we would have formed a Western swing trio. And yet, the impossible has been possible in that we have continued to play together for almost 20 years and make a living doing it. Kind of insane.

How challenging has it been to continually record new material two decades later given that you have remained loyal to the musical genre you represent?

There is an endless trove of songs from the nineteen teens through the 1940s, folk music from the American west, jazz standards, traditional gypsy tunes--an endless source of material. It seems that if a vocalist records American Songbook standards it’s considered jazz, but when a band does it, it somehow becomes a retro or revival act. We approach these songs the way any artist today may be looking for new material--we pick songs that are utterly vital and relevant, in some cases more than ever, but they happen to have been written a little longer ago, and then we sing and play them as modern, living people for other living people who come out to our shows. So it is very contemporary in that way, and there is always something new each night even in just the improvisation and spontaneity of the set.

Your live performances always seem to be driven by a particular bond and chemistry with your audience. Is it difficult to maintain that level of enthusiasm and intensity given the constant touring?

I do sometimes feel like when I am home and rested I would sing and play twice as well as I do when we are on the road. But the truth is, touring, through its gruelling nature, instils a kind of grit and depth into any band that, to my mind, cannot be achieved by just staying in one place the whole time. It gives you that patina of wear, that bittersweet authenticity that’s hard-won and can’t be faked. Also our audience has taught us so much through its energy about songs, what works, what needs work. So even though I think sometimes I could do certain things better, I would rather play imperfectly in front of a live audience who is sharing something with us in real time, participating in something ephemeral with us, however raw it may be, than just at home playing in my living room.

It’s refreshing that you have steadfastly remained loyal to what you do so well. Has there been any temptation to conform to a more mainstream style given the surge in interest in Americana in more recent years?

I have said many times I am ready to sell out but no one has made an offer!

Despite a few brief periods when Hot Club took time out you seem to be constantly on the road or recording. Are the rewards worth the sacrifices?

The truth is, you have to do something in this life, devote yourself to something, and it may as well be music--you’re lucky to have a choice and to even be able to choose music, or to have music choose you, and if you are going to be a successful band, you have to tour. Isaac Stern has a great quote that sums it up, which was in his obituary in the New York Times from 2001: “I have been very fortunate in 60 years of performance,'' he said in 1995, ''to have learned what it means to be an eternal student, an eternal optimist ... because you hope the next time will always be a little better - and eternally in love with music. Also, as I said to a young player the other day, you have no idea of what you don't know. Now it's time that you begin to learn. And you should get up every morning and say thank God, thank the Lord, thank whomever you want, thank you, thank you, for making me a musician."

You played in Bob Dylan’s backing band for a period. Did that create any appetite to work as a backing musician rather than a leading role in your own combo?

Yes, I loved touring with Bob. The thing about working for someone else, though, is that, at least for me, what may be my own natural impulse in my own band may not be the thing that’s needed in someone else’s band, to get their songs across in the way that they intend. So there is this aspect of filtering what I would normally play and vetting it, is this appropriate? Is this what will get the song across best? When you have your own band you answer those questions yourself and play accordingly. Working with and for someone else, whether in a live show or on a session, it’s a responsibility to let your own ideas out but also shape them to what the artist you’re working with is going for, and I enjoy that collaboration and that challenge because it pushes me to try new things that I may not be used to doing. I do love doing session work and I love playing with other people when we are not on tour, it’s just that we’ve been a tad busy lately so not a lot of time for that right now.

Many thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Hot Club of Cowtown were voted not only the finest but also the happiest bunch of musicians at your appearances at Kilkenny Rhythm & Roots Festival in 2010. Lonesome Highway look forward to more of the same at your Dublin shows.

Thank you so much! We are thrilled to be embarking on a genuine tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland--it’s really the first time we have done this many shows in a row, to really settle in for a few weeks over on your beautiful island. We are very much looking forward to it.

Interview by Declan Culliton  -  Photograph courtesy of Hot Club of Cowtown by Valerie Fremin.

http://www.musicnetwork.ie/concerts/details/hot_club_of_cowtown_usa#.V_91XeArKUk

Tuesday
Aug092016

Luan Parle Interview

 

Not many artists at the age of 34 in the music industry can boast a career spanning over two decades. Even fewer musicians can lay claim to child prodigy status and continue a successful career in the industry as an adult artist. Luan Parle can boast (though I doubt that she would) to have managed both and is possibly in the third phase of her professional career at present.

Much has been documented over the years in respect of her career launch age of twelve, signing to Sony Music, supporting Elton John and James Blunt, Meteor Award for Best Irish Female Artist, Tatler Woman of The Year Award, Big Buzz Most Stylish Female Award and more.

Lonesome Highway had the pleasure of meeting the unpretentious and convivial young Wicklow woman while on tour in support of her excellent EP Roll The Dice.

I get the impression of Luan Parle as an artist totally reinvigorated at present. Lots of positive energy and focus?

Yes, absolutely. I took some time out after The Full Circle before the release of my last EP Roll The Dice. It was the best thing I ever did. I was very young when I started working in the music industry, so it gave me the time and space I needed to refocus and reflect on my musical career to date. Afterwards I felt completely re-energized, reinvigorated and had a completely different outlook on the "business" side. I do what I do because I love it and I love it more now than ever. I have a new appreciation for it and feel very lucky. I have a fantastic team around me who I trust with my life - which is key.

You certainly seem to have a busy 12 months, between your live shows and TV & Radio appearances?

Yes, I've been incredibly busy. I self-released 'Roll The Dice last year and released four singles from the EP in Ireland. Between promoting the releases and the live shows it has certainly kept me busy.

How did dates in Slovakia and Finland materialise?

I have been playing the FestDobréBohunice since 2009 and building up a fan base in Slovakia. Last year I headlined the festival to 1,500 people and completed a mini tour of Slovakia last November. I was asked this year to play the Irish Arts Centre in New York City as part of their Song Lives Series which was in May. After that I was contacted by Mal Fay the organiser of the Helsinki Irish Festival to headline September 30th with Clive Barnes. It will be my first time to play Finland so I'm extremely excited. 

Signing a record deal at the age of 12 reads like every teenage girl’s dream come true. How did your professional career impact on you as a teenager growing up?

To be honest not that much. My life has always revolved around music and it seemed all very normal. I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to record an album at 12 years of age, that kind of experience is priceless. I learned so much at such a young age which has helped me immensely.

To say the least, you have certainly experience the highs and lows of the music industry. From signing to Sony and Elton John’s Management Company to losing both deals.  Has the experience made you stronger personally?

That's the nature of the business. I feel very lucky to have had those opportunities. I don't look at it like I've lost anything, I've gained a huge amount of knowledge. I've written and recorded songs with Grammy winning songwriters and producers such as Bill Bottrell, Chris Kimsey and Billy Steinberg to name but a few. I toured extensively with James Blunt and opened Elton John’s London shows at the Apollo Theatre. I also recorded my album Free which featured my top hit single Ghost and won the Meteor Irish Music Award. I have grown up in the industry and will continue my musical journey taking all that I have been lucky enough to learn from all of those experiences.

You have spoken on the record many times of the trauma and even guilt you suffered as a result of losing your record deal and your father’s ill health. Is that chapter closed now?

I am so happy to be embarking on this next chapter. I feel excited and very blessed that my dad is still with us to share it.

Roll The Dice has deservedly enjoyed very enthusiastic reviews. Was the idea of recording an EP rather than a full album a case of ‘dipping your toe in the water’ and seeing the reaction?

Not really, I spent quite a considerable amount of money on the recordings as I wanted to have the best product I felt was possible at the time. I was lucky to work with amazing musicians on the recordings and mixes. As the product was self-funded I needed to keep some money aside for distribution and PR.

When can we expect the next release and is it ‘same again’ with or without any re-mixes?

I'm working on the next batch of recordings at the moment and hope to have something out very soon. Whether it will be a self-release this time or not I cannot say. The remix of Roll The Dice came about after the single release so I'd never rule anything out.

Are you enjoying the freedom of self-releasing music and managing yourself rather than under the control of a record company?

I have definitely enjoyed it but it's tough going and a lot of work. At this point now I would like to hand that side of things over so that I can concentrate on the music, writing and performing.

Most of your recent tour features the talented guitarist and artist in his own right Clive Barnes on stage with you performing as a duo. Is this a format that you enjoy rather than solo or with a full band?

Clive is an absolute joy to play with. He's an unbelievable talent and having toured with incredible artists such as Eric Bibb, Joe Cocker and Taj Mahal Clive is always in high demand. We've been touring together for almost two years and it just works. What Clive brings to my songs is very special and I feel incredibly lucky to get to play to him. During the shows Clive plays some of his own material, I've never seen anyone play like him, he's an exceptional talent. We've also been writing together recently which we're both really enjoying and seemed like a natural step. I also love playing with a full band but it can be costly.

Has working with Clive influenced the material you are presently working on in terms of style or direction?

Absolutely, Clive's songs are so beautiful, poetic, melodic and inspire me to want to write songs. He sets the bar high.

I expect there is some competition on the road trips to shows as to what CD ends up in the car stereo! Clive is a man of exceptionally varied music tastes from jazz to metal!

He sure is and I'm happy to be educated by him, so he's in control of the iPod.

You are heavily involved in the Irish Music Industry both through you work with IASCA and with the various Rock School Summer camps you subscribe to. How important is this to you?

Hugely important. Music wasn't an option in my school when I was doing my Leaving Certificate so I felt a bit cheated. My guidance counsellor would constantly ask me what I wanted to do when I finished school to which my response was always that I wanted to become a professional full time musician. I was looking for some sort of guidance or a nudge in the right direction which I never got and I felt hugely frustrated. I felt that there was nobody to help me with the path I had chosen. Most musicians starting out haven't a clue how to go about things so I try to pass on a little bit of what I've picked up along the way to up and coming musicians. They are our future.

Your Summer Camps must cater for many youngsters with ambitions and dreams of a career in the music industry. How optimistic are you that the industry can offer them a viable career going forward?

You know there's never any guarantees with any career path you chose in life. You've got to follow your dreams and never give up on that dream. It's not an easy road but then is anything?

Have you set yourself career targets going forward?

Always. For the moment I'm looking forward to releasing the next batch of material. Publishing is something that I'll be concentrating heavily on next year and touring outside of Ireland a lot more. As long as I can play music and people like what I'm doing I'm happy.

Interview by Declan Culliton - July 2016

Monday
Aug012016

Anne Mc Cue Interview - July 2016

Anne McCue is very much a vital part of the vibrant music scene in East Nashville at present. Together with recording her own material the Sydney born artist has been active producing other artists, video making and hosting a radio show on local radio. Very much acclaimed by her industry peers her phenomenal guitar playing has received plaudits from Lucinda Williams, David Olney and Dave Alvin to name just a few.

Roll (2004) and Koala Motel (2006), both classic Americana albums, should take pride of place in any music lovers record collection. Always prepared to experiment, her latest album Blue Sky Thinkin’ is influenced by her exposure to jazz as a child without discarding her distinctive guitar style.

McCue tours Ireland in August playing shows in Kilkenny, Clonakilty and Dublin and chatted with Lonesome Highway in advance of the visit.

Great to see you back playing a number of dates in Ireland in August. Your formal college training was in Film Production rather than music. At what stage did music take preference over film as the main career focus?

Music, novels and movies were always the most important things to me. When I was 5 I wanted to play piano like Liberace! I took Classical lessons for about 6 years before I switched to guitar in my teens. Bands like The Cure were emerging and the arrangements were simple enough to understand and work out.  But I was very shy, too shy to sing. So I thought maybe I could be a novelist or write screenplays – something more in the background. But the urge to play in a rock band was still very strong (ever since we pretended we were the Beatles with our tennis rackets.) So after I finished university I answered an ad in the paper to be a guitarist:

Wanted: Wild women for rock’n’roll band.

We recorded our first demos on a 4-track cassette player, they got played on the local radio station a week later, and all of a sudden we existed! I’ve been a professional musician ever since! I decided I’d better take some lessons and ended up studying with Australian jazz legend Bruce Clarke. He was a tough task master but he let me do the gardening to pay for my lessons. So I was in this raw rock band while studying music theory and jazz on the side. It was a rather schizophrenic time, musically!

East Nashville has been your home for quite a few years now. The music community there seems particularly vibrant and united at present. It seems like the perfect location for an artist like yourself that mixes production work together with song writing and recording together?

Yes, it’s really turned out to be a great place to be. When I first moved here it was a lot more ‘country’ and Music Row predominated. But since that time, with so many transplants from all over America and the world, many other styles of music have moved in and East Nashville is at the heart of that alternative, Americana, rock, jazz explosion. It’s a great place to have a home studio because it’s still relatively quiet and there is still a semi-rural vibe which I particularly like as opposed to the noise of big cities like Los Angeles and New York. I love producing other artists and Nashville is possibly the most affordable place you can record an album with some of the best musicians in the world. Also, it’s nice to live in a city where music is a respected occupation. You’re not an outsider for that reason.

East Nashville based artists normally associated with country music have released quite experimental albums this year. I’m thinking of Lera Lynn, Sturgill Simpson. Robert Ellis, Elizabeth Cook. As a musician and producer are you seeing a shift in musical direction around you in East Nashville?

Yes, and that’s as it should be. When people get stuck with a sound I get bored! When an artist continually makes the same album over and again it’s rather dull. Unfortunately, radio stations do tend to embrace the one trick ponies, more than the people who experiment – they invented all these genres and formats which never actually existed before. Why must an artist write in only one style? Why can’t it be about their art, not their record sales?

You also host a radio show on East Nashville Radio Songs on The Wire. What type of music does the show feature?

Well, when I started Songs On The Wire there was no radio show in Nashville talking to local East Side song writers or playing their music. Hard to believe, I know. With all those great bands and artists based in town, they weren’t getting any coverage on Lightning 100, the station that supposedly represents that group. So I thought I’d start a show that focussed on the local writers (who weren’t writing mainstream country) – the singer-songwriters. I was doing it as a podcast, and then I found a place for it on East Nashville Radio. I’ve done about 50 episodes so far and now you can hear it all over the world  as it is broadcast digitally on a couple of Australian Radio stations. I go for more alternative music – nothing too straight ahead, but from any historical era to the present.

Your personal career schedule includes production work, touring, recording, video work and your radio show. A busy calendar no doubt. How difficult is it to balance that workload?

Being a truly independent artist these days means you are working about 60 hours a week between tours just keeping everything going. Yes, I have a lot of different creative interests and a three minute song can take a long time to write and a long time to get to record. Then there are the hard facts of making sure gigs are being booked and publicised – so many facets now. I do envy the artists who have great managers and all they have to do (I imagine) is write songs and perform and hang out. I don’t have much down time but I know I’m lucky to have the life I do – it’s been a very interesting life. I just wish I had more days in the week because I never get done all the projects I want to work on and there is no such thing as a vacation!

Your latest album Blue Sky Thinkin’ was itself quite a diversion from your previous work with possibly a more New Orleans than Nashville feel to it. What was the motivation and inspiration for the album?

We had this box set of 8 vinyl records when I was kid and I just loved it! It was called the ‘Swing Years’ and it had artists like Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee etc  - jazz before it became cerebral, jazz when it was really actually rock’n’roll. Later on I got into Django Reinhardt and gypsy jazz and still later, Astor Piazzola and the Nuevo Tango.  I’ve always been attracted to those types of ‘expensive’ chords. I just love interesting harmonies and melodic turns and it was just time to start writing like that – it just happened really. But I think I managed to keep the edge on it – the musicans – Dave Raven, Dusty Wakeman, Carl Byron – are more rock musicians and that’s who I like to hear playing swing music. I don’t like it when it gets too smooth.

Are you working on the next album yet and what direction is it likely to take?

Yes, well I’ve got a lot of songs written, so I thought I’d just start recording them with guitar and vocals, then listen for a while and see what approach I should take. I will most likely record in Nashville. I want it to be rich and lush but still very organic. I just produced an album for Ellen Starski and I wrote some string arrangements for that. I imagine I will take a similar approach on my own record but it’s a little early to say for sure!

Your recent production of Emma Swift’s debut album was nominated for an ARIA Award (Australian Grammy). She is another indication of the strength of Australian artists in the Americana genre. Do Australian artists really need to relocate to the States to get recognition and an audience?

They need to at least tour the States if they want to make a living from playing their own music – and Europe, UK, Ireland etc. And believe me, it’s not that easy in the States any more but just the sheer size of the country – the amount of cities you can play in over a year without repeating is immense. Australia has the same population as Greater Los Angeles and not many cities so it’s difficult to sustain a music career there full-time. It’s just better to be swimming in a bigger pond – more opportunities will arise.

Given the way music is consumed at present how do you see artists outside the mainstream surviving career wise going forward?

This is something I face every day and I have no definitive answer because the ground is always shifting. Yes people are buying less actual CDs but on the other hand they are buying more digital copies. However, with being able to stream whatever music they want whenever they want, why would they buy music at all? I heard a girl declare recently, “I only listen to vinyl or streaming.” And that seems to be the way it’s going. But from streaming the songwriter makes almost nothing and regarding vinyl, it costs the same amount of money to print 100 vinyl records as it does to print a 1,000 CDs. So we’re not really making money from vinyl either! The worst thing about this scenario is that the working class may no longer be able to afford to be artists – only kids with rich parents who support them will be able to afford to be musicians. I suspect that’s what‘s going on.

Your guitar training included studying with Australian jazz guitarist Bruce Clarke yet much of your guitar work is closer to rock than jazz. Who were your guitar heroes that inspired you to play the instrument?

Neil Young – I always loved his acoustic playing but also his angular, totally original electric playing. Of course George Harrison – his simple melodic approach and his slide guitar. David Gilmour on the album Wish You Were Here. Jimi Hendrix of course – I’ve recorded a few of his songs… When I saw Tony Joe White play I realised it was all about the groove. There is a guitarist, Charlie Christian who played with Benny Goodman. He is about my favourite because he had the best electric guitar tone ever and the best phrasing ever along with Django Reinhardt – I love his acoustic playing. Django and Charlie are my two favourites.

Interview by Decaln Culliton  - with thanks to Anne.

 

Monday
Jul042016

Carter Sampson Interview

Sometimes you can only scratch your head and wonder what certain artists have to do to get the recognition they richly deserve. Carter Sampson is certainly in that category. Her 2011 album Mockingbird Song was surely one of the Americana albums of that year with a sound that landed somewhere between Lucinda Williams and Kathleen Edwards. Her recent album Wilder Side has deservedly been receiving glowing reviews in Europe and hopefully will introduce the Queen of Oklahoma to a wide audience in Europe.  Lonesome Highway caught up with Carter on her whistle stop tour of Europe and the UK which included two shows at The Maverick Music Festival

We are really loving your new album Wilder Side at Lonesome Highway. Are we likely to see you perform material from it in Ireland in the near future?

Yes! I am working with Continental Record Services in The Netherlands and our original plan was for me to do my first European tour in February 2017. The record (Wilder Side) was released in Europe last month and has taken off thanks to great reviews. My first shows in Holland and England have been really great and it looks like I will be performing in Italy, Ireland and Holland several times over the next six months 

How would you describe your progression as a singer songwriter from your 2009 debut album Fly Over The Moon to Wilder Side?

Well I hope I’ve grown a little. I’ve certainly grown up since then and written many songs in that time. I’m more comfortable as a songwriter now and it has been nice to receive recognition for my songs. I won first place in the Chris Austin Song Contest at Merlefest in North Carolina last summer and was a top 10 finalist in both the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s song contests (both in Colorado). Singing has always come naturally to me but I’ve worked very hard on songwriting and I love having that as a release for me. I’ve written plenty of songs that no one will ever hear, sometimes I just have to get thoughts out of my head!

How influential was Travis Linville in achieving the beautiful yet understated feel to the album?

I worked with Linville on Good For The Meantime and he was so easy to work with. He released two EP’s in the last few years and when I heard them I knew I wanted to work with him again. He really listens and has such a great tone and feel to every instrument he plays, which is all of them! We recorded Wilder Side in his little house in Norman Oklahoma. No fancy studio with vocal booths just the two of us in his living room and I think that helped with the ease and the overall sound of the record.

Your hectic schedule appears to suggest that you are constantly travelling and much of the album references this. Is this necessary evil an inspiration to you in terms of your song writing?

I have been travelling a ton the last few years. I tour the US in a twenty three foot caravan or RV as we call them. Music is my first love and travelling is right behind it so I’m lucky that both go hand in hand. I think one thing that has changed about my songwriting to be honest is that I’m more honest in what I write so it makes sense that a lot of the songs on the new album are on that topic. 

Some heartbreaks along the way also?

Of course! It’s tricky to have a relationship at all when you are never home. A musician’s life is not a ‘normal ‘ life and it’s hard to find a partner that understands what it’s like, although I’ve found one now so maybe more love songs in the future!

You also had your fellow Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland contribute. He has also been recording some excellent music in the past few years?

John is an incredible songwriter and one of the writers that taught me to be more honest in my writing. When we started working on the album he agreed to help co-produce it with Linville and myself and after a few months later he started getting a lot of attention and was on the road all the time. If anyone deserves that kind of attention it’s John Moreland and I’m so proud that he is from Oklahoma and a friend. 

Americana is certainly well represented at present in Oklahoma with artists like yourself, the aforementioned John Moreland, Parker Millsap and Wink Burcham. How do you explain the emergence of so many talented acts around the same time?

I don’t know how to explain it. For years I feel like Oklahoma music has been passed over for music coming out of Texas and it’s really cool how many ‘Okies’ are in the charts in Europe right now. There’s a fantastic music scene in Tulsa now where all the musicians are seriously touring but when they are home they all play together and support each other. I think anytime any of us gets attention it helps us all.

Tell me about the family connection to the legend Roy Orbison?

He was my great grandfather’s cousin. I never met him but I hope that maybe I have the same musical genes that he did. I think he was one of the best American singers ever.

Are there other musical legacies in your immediate family?

My mother has sang in the choir at her church for years, my grandfather was a pianist and my dad taught me how to play guitar and he was in rock and roll bands most of his life.

You appear to be an artist that puts her heart and soul passionately into any project you take on board. I’m intrigued with your work with Oklahoma City’s Rock’n’Roll Camp for Girls. How did this come about and what does it involve?

I had the opportunity to volunteer at both the Portland Oregon and Los Angeles Rock and Roll Camp for Girls and couldn’t stop thinking how my musical life might have been different if I was shown at a young age that girls and women can play any instrument and play it well, can run sound and set up gear. So in 2015 I teamed up with local female musicians and non-musicians to start a camp in Oklahoma. The response has been overwhelming! This July we will hold our second summer camp for 50 girls in the Oklahoma area. Most of the girls (aged 8-17) have never played an instrument until the first day of camp, they learn guitar, bass, drums, keys or vocals. Monday afternoon they form bands, we will have 10 brand new bands this year. The girls have band practice in the afternoon and collaborate with their tutors on writing a song that they will showcase on the Saturday after the camp is over. Last year we sold out two shows with about 800 people, not bad for your first gig! We also teach workshops that include self-defence, songwriting, positive self-image and screen printing your own band t-shirts. We aim to empower the girls showing that building each other up is so much more powerful than tearing each other down. 

You wear your heart on your sleeve in proclaiming how proud you are of your home state. What makes Oklahoma so special for you?

I am at least a sixth generation Oklahoman and a Native American, Oklahoma is in my blood. I’m fortunate to travel the world but Oklahoma will always be my home.

How important is exposure in Europe and the UK to an artist like yourself?

I think it’s really important. I’ve noticed that fans at home are far more impressed when I play in London than when I play Kansas, I’m more impressed too! I’ve also loved how Europeans love Americana music and music from Oklahoma. At every show I’ve played in Europe so far the audience is silently listening and really enjoying the music. I can’t wait to come back!

Interview by Declan Culliton

Thursday
Jun232016

Interview with Lera Lynn

 

Lera Lynn has a radiant smile that would light up any room and the Nashville based resident has plenty to smile about at these days. The past eighteen months has seen her career going into overdrive with an appearance on the David Letterman Show, writings songs for and appearing alongside Colin Farrell in the American anthology crime drama True Detective and a tour of the UK and Europe which also included two songs on Later..with Jools Holland.  In between all this activity Lynn also managed to record her forth studio album Resister to extremely enthusiastic reviews. The album, which was reviewed by Lonesome Highway last month, was a shift in direction from her previous work revealing a much darker, edgier and somewhat mysterious side to the talented singer-songwriter.

Lonesome Highway met with Lera Lynn prior to her first appearance in Dublin to discuss the album and her career to date.

It’s 2011 and you’ve recorded you debut album Have You Met Lera Lynn. Where did you see yourself in 2016 at that stage?

Oh God. I don’t think I even thought of 2016 back then. Its one thing that I’ve started to grasp as I get older is the permanence of music making , that is  not something I ever  thought about when I was younger. Back then it was, let’s make a record, it will be fun, lets record it and see what happens. It wasn’t necessarily as much of an organised diligent pursuit as it is now. I’ve always wanted to make play but did not understand when I was younger how much work is involved and all the background stuff. The music often is secondary to everything else. Making the record is the easy part (laughs) then you bust your ass trying to get people to listen to it. 

Your new album Resister got a great review in Uncut magazine, you have appeared recently on  Later … with Jools Holland giving you access to a wide audience in Europe. Commercially how important is Europe for you?

I really don’t know what commercial means to be honest. Radio with the way people consume music these days seems like a free for all. We’re lucky just to show up in a city in Europe and play that speaks volumes to me that our music is reaching new people. Actually last night in Berlin people were singing along to my old music which blew my mind, I have no idea how they came about it.

Resister is without doubt one of my favourite albums of this year. Would you have made that album had you not met and worked with T Bone Burnett?

Wow, thank you and the answer is yes! The challenge that I faced with this record was, having established fans through True Detective and that darker music, which is a part of me and why people invited me to do the show in the first place. It was a great opportunity and something I love doing, it’s so rare that you come across someone that says Yes but make it  darker and darker still and I’m thinking even darker Ok  I’d love to! To have gotten that opportunity with this type of music was extraordinary. That said there are other sides to my musical  personality as well, Shape Shifter and Drive (from the album) are a little more fun and flirtatious, it’s not all doom and gloom in my head and I wanted to make a record that will obviously appeal to the new fans, the darker stuff, but was true to me as well.

Sturgill Simpson, Daniel Romano, more recently Robert Ellis and yourself, artists that are mostly Nashville based, have all recorded albums this year that are particularly experimental. Very little ‘country’ on the albums. Is that a trend or a coincidence? 

I feel that in the past five years there has been a massive resurgence in Americana. Often an artist that is on the fringe and trying to do the same thing as others are trying to do, if you want to make art, if you want to be unique, you turn in a different direction, you try to avoid making the kind of music everyone else is making, that seems only natural to me. I actually haven’t heard Daniel Romano’s record yet by the way

It’s a super album, anything but country, often closer to Calexico than Hank Williams.

Oh great. I love Calexico!

With the success of True Detective is there now a temptation to sign for a record label or do you intend staying independent

I purposely avoid record labels, we had offers but you know these days the pickings are slim so to have a label involved, no thanks. It may help to build your profile but I have struggled for so long and continue to struggle but I feel I’ve done the hardest part of the struggling now and have turned the corner so why give that all up to a record label. I’ll continue to scrape by (laughs).   

On that subject, I’m impressed how professionally your profile is managed.  Your website, Facebook page, individual tour posters for each show. Have you a good manager or do you do it all yourself?

(Laughs) All done by me, I’m crazy but it’s not actually that hard 

I believe your training and studies were not music related

No, I have a degree in anthropology which I actually think has a lot to do with song writing. One of the most important lessons I learned in all of my studies in anthropology is to recognise a bias, which is also very helpful in personal and professional relationships, writing songs, writing anything in fact, to open your perspective you.

Tell me about your love of 70’s music? I know you did a complete set of Paul McCartney’s Ram album and references to Pink Floyd while recording Resister. Music from a completely different generation.

Maybe so but that music still holds true. For me music from the 50’s, 60’s and 0’s is the best music there is. I love music from most era’s but my heart and soul sails when I listen to old R’nB’, old Jazz, old pop music. It could be the production, it could be that it was music that was written before being completely commercialised. There’s so much disposable music these days with the internet

Had your parents a musical background?

Very much so, my mother was a part time singer she would do covers, full on 80’s rock though she’d do a little Patsy Cline and things like that too. They both had a great appreciation for music

After appearances on David Letterman and Jools Holland as well as writing with T Bone Burnett and Roseanne Cash plus the role in True Detective. What’s next on the horizon? Another series of True Detective?

I have no idea. You know I wasn’t an original artist in the script, only working on a few songs for it before I got the opportunity to act, so I am not in the loop. I’m sure they’re not too keen on me coming back (laughs) after the reviews for the second series.

You personally got some great reviews though. 

That’s kind of the bittersweet and probably why they won’t be saying ‘let’s get Lera back in here!’

Does the actual acting hold much appeal to you going forward 

I would love to do more of it, I’ve had a couple of enquiries but right now the record is the focus but I do hope to do more acting, it was really fun and challenging, I was completely confused most of the time! There’s no one there to say ‘this is how you do it’ or ‘this is what that means’. They would just shout ‘singer’ (that was my name on the show) then they mention a phrase like ‘eye line’ and I’m thinking "eye line/eye liner?,ok!."  Beside me is Colin Farrell dressed up as a junkie with oil in his hair and they’re looking at me and I’m thinking ‘do I make eye contact, smile or wave!’

How was he to work with?

Oh my God, so charming and I can see how the guy has had the success he has had, so kind to everyone, oozing charm and talent

Recording wise is there anything else in the pipeline or it is a case of totally promoting Resister?

We have recorded some other things, started dabbling but it’s difficult for me when I’m pushing this record, if I start working on another one right now, I just need to be fully committed spiritually to the album right now.

You’re living in Nashville but not originally from there?

No, I was born in Houston, Texas then we moved to Louisiana when I was a baby, I think we lived there for five years or so and then we moved to Atlanta where I spent most of my life.

Does that explain the neutral accent?

(Laughs) No, I can explain the accent!  I went to an intercity school in Atlanta which was ethnically diverse and coming from Louisiana I sounded like a hick! It was very clear to me that I would not fare well if I continued to speak like that so I dropped the accent very quickly.

East Nashville seems to have particularly vibrant musical scene at present, a hotbed for creative musicians. Are you part of that scene? 

I am yes, very much so, though I actually live right on Music Row which is an odd place for an independent artist. They have those big posters there ‘whoever sold 20 million copies of a record in one week and it’s called … I Love Bacon … or something like that. The East Nashville music community is great, we actually have Andrew Combs, who lives there, open for us on our upcoming tour, and I’m a big fan of his. Annie Clements has played bass with us but she’s really busy touring with Jennifer Nettles at the moment. I’m happy to have my long-time friend from Atlanta Robbie Handley play bass, we’ve known each other for fourteen years. I feel fortunate to have so many of the best musicians play with us, Jeremy Fetzers another. Josh Grange, who is playing with me tonight and co-produced Resister, he is a monster guitar player, I have never come across anyone who even matches his ability, beyond what his hands can do. He can see a song from a far perspective, in a linear fashion. I really love working with him and on stage with him, he’s soulful and also never overplays yet he’s confident and always there.

You’ve made it to Ireland at last.

Yes. We landed at 2.30pm. Straight to the hotel for a brief nap and drove here so this is all I’ve experienced of Ireland so far. The Guinness is delicious by the way, much better than at home. It’s like Heineken in Amsterdam, I think they send America the dregs! 

Interview by Declan Culliton   Photograph by Ronnie Norton

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