Wednesday
Mar082017

Israel Nash Interview

 

Israel Nash Gripka appeared on the music scene back in 2009 and caused quite a stir with his first 2 releases; New York Town and Barn Doors & Concrete Floors. His latest releases have seen the music evolve into new directions and explore the sonic possibilities of what some are calling Psychedelia-Americana. He is an innovative artist who deserves all the plaudits that are coming his way.

On tour with the Band of Horses and now using a shortened name of Israel Nash, he is joined by trusty band member Eric Swanson on pedal steel and vocals. Both musicians grant Lonesome Highway an interview at short notice just before they are due to take the stage and share some insights into the life of a developing artist. 

You grew up in the Ozark mountains. What were your earliest musical influences?

My earliest musical influences were with my Dad and we would listen to a lot of classic rock n’ roll. Just great Credence Clearwater Revival stuff, rockin’ down the highway kind of stuff, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles. All that got me wanting to play and do that stuff at a young age. I started playing guitar from age 11 after doing piano lessons before that, but once I found the guitar - that really felt natural. I started writing songs by the time I was 12 or 13 also. It was that process of starting and the idea of knowing I could just write a song.

Can you tell us about your name and the origins of the family background?

The Grypka part is Polish, and my Dad was a southern Baptist minister, so it was their spiritually - led aim to call me Israel.

Moving to NYC was the catalyst for career momentum. What do you remember about your debut release (New York Town) in 2009?

It was the first time I had gone away from Missouri where there is not really an industry or a bunch of studios. I played in bands all over but I knew I wanted to be in New York; in a city for the first time that had some action. It changed my life and started growing things; it was the first time I went to a real classic studio, The Magic Shop, which has since closed down.

Did you have a lot of the songs in place already or did you write more after this move?

About half and half. There were songs already written as there was a lot of excitement about the move to New York and it was about that time that I met Eric and the rest of the band and Ted Young, our engineer on all the records. Just to be around people like that, at that level, New York was a big catalyst.

The second release (Barn Doors & Concrete Floors) followed in 2011 - was this very different in construct from the debut?

Yes, that was the first one with the band and we rented this barn in upstate New York, brought a bunch of gear and everyone stayed. That started the process of how we track; find a place where we can stay and make music and be in the moment. That is where we are at now as I have a studio and it’s kinda the same.

The release of Rain Plains (2013), sees you now located in Dripping Springs, Texas. What brought about this move in location and how did it influence the new songs?

I wanted to get out of New York at some point and my wife and I wanted to buy a house and have a kid. It just felt like a really good time to go. I had been in Austin and loved the vibe and the weather and I loved the idea that we could get some place that is a lot more affordable than New York. We bought some space and it is the old country and just a beautiful place to live and it was a big change in my life to be out in the middle of nowhere and a lot of growth for me, which continues to affect the songs.

In 2015 your last release, Silver Season, is critically well received but was also seen as a move away from the traditional country and folk influences of the earlier records. Do you agree with this and if so, has the shift been a natural progression for you?

Yea, it was definitely natural and I guess that, for me, I like the idea of always progressing and moving forward and seeing where it goes. I think that in the Americana genre there are a lot of artists who do very similar things on each record and that’s fine completely but I wanted to be able to progress and try different things. The thought of making the same record every time would be kinda boring for me. It’s nice to see what happens in the studio and to see where we can go. That’s what is cool about being an artist and making music; who knows what in 10 years might happen? It’s not like saying you know exactly what’s going to happen or how it’s going to sound; it just kind of evolves and there are always new ideas or some other reference, feels and vibes from other albums and other productions that swirl in peoples’ heads.

Your live band also perform as your studio band. Is there a danger of burn-out in having the same musicians playing the same songs repeatedly?

ERIC: There is that risk. We always talk about working in the studio and the difference in playing live on tour, how they are totally different things. Some bands try to capture the studio onstage but we don’t necessarily do that – not that we throw it out the window, but we look at it like it is a living breathing thing that develops and parts change every time, so that is one way to keep it fresh. We have a great time on stage.

Do you enjoy the touring process?

I do. There are these dualities like a have a wife and a child and a home but touring has changed my life too and it has made the World small and opened my eyes. I was always a liberal kind of progressive guy. There is something about Europe that over time has solidified things for me in a different way. Seeing people having lives so far away really helps those ideals that people are the same and there is a spiritual journey on tour that I enjoy. But I enjoy being home too.

Has technology helped bring your music to new audiences?

I think it is still necessary to tour and to give something to your fans. That is great but I think It’s all those things that allow me to be sitting by myself and writing a song. My true love will always be that process of writing a song and I like to have my space at home and be locked away and working. Melodies and ideas will come and you try to jot ‘em down.

Is it still possible to get paid with the streaming royalties from the likes of Spotify being so small these days?

It’s definitely easier today than it was five years ago. But you realise that being a musician is really just continuous work and that’s why people are now 75 years old and still onstage. There is just something about it that you just have to keep making things happen. We have a studio now and we have been producing some artists there which is part of the growth of the whole thing.

What informs your song-writing process? Is it melody first before the lyrical content or vice versa?

Somewhere in-between, generally a melody or a lyric will hit and it will be like a chorus or something. Then I’ll start playing it and work the music and get a verse structure. Now with the studio I can play it back 100 times and start feeling it, so really the studio has brought about new opportunities and resources to make music.

What are the biggest constraints with touring these days?

I think it’s a bit strange to be always moving around. I don’t know in anyone’s life if we are designed to be daily nomads, but at the same time, there is something to look forward to every day and we humans need that too. At the end of the day we have a great time on tour playing shows and tomorrow we have another show to look forward to… 

Do you like to take much time off when it comes to refuelling the creative muse?

Usually I spend time with my family and if I can circuit into my zone and if I’m there for two months, I will probably have 3 or 4 songs a month to show. That is the most enriching time for me to write.

So, is the glass half full or half empty?

I think that it is half full – it’s overflowing…!! 

I was very impressed with the calm and generous nature of Israel when we met. Both he and Eric, his band mate, were very welcoming and at very short notice. The conversation was relaxed and the answers given were spoken with honesty and an easy openness. Lonesome Highway thank both Israel and Eric for their excellent insights and reflections into life as musicians on the road to greater things.

Live review of the gig – 15th February 2017

Israel Nash takes the stage with his band mate Eric Swanson, who plays pedal steel and sings harmony vocals. The duo play 6 numbers and by the end of their 30-minute set they have won over many of the arriving crowd for the main act. The pedal steel is a very atmospheric sounding instrument and fills the space with a plaintive tone that perfectly suits the guitar progressions of Israel. He can take a song into new areas when playing in this stripped-down format ad it is a credit to both musicians that they carry it off with some room to spare. Parlour Song, a reflective lyric about gun violence, is particularly good and is followed by superb versions of Rexanimarum, LA Lately, Rain Plains and a cover of I Shall Be Released by Bob Dylan. Stirring stuff and a real statement of the talent on show here.  

I wish that I could say the same for the main act as Band of Horses come across as overly loud and the songs get drowned out by booming Bass guitar and a muddy sound. The vocals are hard to hear from my place on the balcony (perhaps it was better downstairs?). I have most of their records but tonight the band just fail to inspire and the long set list of 20+ songs seems to drag along from one to the next with little colour in-between. Most of the back catalogue is featured, with the notable exception of Mirage Rock, and in fairness and the capacity crowd seem well into the show. I was left feeling that ‘less is more’ and by the end of the night I was more taken by the honest performance of Israel Nash and Eric Swanson.

Interview, review and photographs of Israel Nash and Eric Swanson (above) by Paul McGee

Thursday
Mar022017

Interview with Cody Braun

Few households in the music industry can boast the pedigree of the Braun brothers.  Originally from Idaho, siblings Cody and Willy’s band Reckless Kelly have been at the forefront of the roots scene in Austin Texas for two decades, long before the genre became christened with the Americana tag. Younger brothers Micky and Gary also front their own band Micky & The Motorcars. The brothers learned their trade at a very young age as part of their father’s travelling band Muzzie Braun and The Boys. Their grandfather Musty Braun was also a working musician, playing anything from country to jazz as a professional performer. With music flowing through their veins it’s no wonder the Braun brothers have survived and continue to survive in an industry that offers ongoing challenges and obstacles. They understand the meaning of hard work, reinvention, survival and the importance of offering a quality product to their listeners both in the studio and at their renowned live shows. Reckless Kelly and their entourage arrive in the West of Ireland next month for dates in Galway, Clifden and Lahinch. Lonesome Highway caught up with Cody Braun to discover how the tour came about and what exactly can we expect from the Texas invasion. 

How did the idea of the Seven Days in Ireland tour come about?

In 2005 my brother Willy and I along with a song writing friend from Nashville took a 7-day trip over to Ireland for the first time. We flew into Shannon rented a car and had plans to see the entire country stopping in a different town each night. To make a long story short Clifden was as far as we made it. Our song seven nights in Ireland tells the whole story. We met some great folks who we immediately became friends with and spent half of our trip in Clifden and the other half in Galway. We fell in love with the western country side and this will be our fourth trip back. 

We have since been to other parts of the country but are always drawn to the area we first visited because of the beauty and the friends we made.

Since the first trip we have been telling family and friends about how wonderful Ireland is and our song Seven Nights in Ireland has become one of our most popular tunes over here in the US.

We have talked for years about putting a trip together of family, friends and fans and coming over as a group to see what kind of racket we can make. After a failed attempt a few years ago we were finally able to pull it off and are all very excited to make the trip together in April.  

Did you deliberately target the West of Ireland rather than booking the larger cities?

Yes, this is the part of Ireland we know the best and our friend David Griffin " Griffins Pub" has helped us find other gigs in the area. After visiting the larger cities Dublin and Cork we found that we were more comfortable in the smaller towns where it was easier to connect with people and the pace is a bit slower. 

Is the intention essentially to bring your audience on the tour or to also get the local punters out to the shows?

A bit of both really. We hope that the locals will come out and enjoy the music and the folks we have brought along with us. Most of the people coming on the trip are close family friends so we are looking forward to showing them a good time and hopefully building a local following at the same time.  

You have most certainly lined up a talented bunch of artists to accompany you. Tell me about the selection of other musicians on the tour with you?

We picked friends that we love to jam with. Jason, Courtney and Matt are incredible writers and musicians but also have a deep love and knowledge of where country music came from. When we get together we usually end up playing old country songs all night like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. My brothers and our father Muzzie and I all love to sing songs of our own and songs by our heroes like Guy Clark and John Prine. 

We picked artists and friends that we love to hang out with and who share the same love for music. Also, friends who can keep up with us at the bar!

How will the three shows be formatted with the number of artists on the tour bus. Precision scheduling or organised chaos? 

It will change every night. Most of the shows will be acoustic with one honky tonk/country rock show in Clifden. We have a bit of a plan but hope to keep it casual and fun. Lots of jamming together with some of our original tunes mixed in with our favourite covers. 

Your posts suggest that this trip may become an annual event. Is this your intention?

We will see how it goes. This trip is mostly family and friends so they are a bit easier to please than paying customers can tend to be. We are going to do our best to keep coming back and if we can bring a group of good people along with us from time to time we are pretty sure we wont have trouble filling the spots available. We want to keep it fun and manageable for the band and our goal is to come back at least once a year with or without a crowd. 

Interview by Declan Culliton

 

                  

Tuesday
Feb282017

James McMurtry Interview

 

James McMurtry is a much-respected artist who has largely existed below the commercial radar of commercial media since his debut release back in 1989. With 11 releases to his name this singer-songwriter has continued to endure where many have failed. McMurtry comes across as a deep thinker and someone who chooses his words carefully. He appears as a shy man with natural humility but also possessing a healthy sense of irony. His music is a testament to the sharp mind that surveys all before it and is well attuned to the ways of the world. He spoke to Lonesome Highway prior to his show in Whelan's in Dublin (January 2017).

Is live touring something that you enjoy?

Yea, it’s most of my job really. We don’t get any money from record sales anymore, it’s all road.

When you getting ready to start an album, do you first look for a record deal or do you record and then look for a label?

I’ve done it all different ways. I usually decide to make a record and look for financing to get it done.  To find a label that can licence the record in different territories but I haven’t done enough of that in Europe in the past 20 years. It is always scary coming to Europe because of the overhead. We are at the age where we don’t share hotel rooms anymore or sleep on the floor; each of us has to have his own room nowadays. But on this tour we got some beer sponsorship which helps to not lose money. 

So, is touring really profitable anymore?

We get most of our profit in the States. Used to be where we toured to promote record sales and expected to lose money on the tour; now it’s the other way around where we put out a record so that you guys will write about us and we can get people in the clubs to come out and support the tour.

You have been touring you last album Complicated Games and are now bringing it to Europe.

I’m over here because I’ve run out of territory in the States. You can only go back to a market very 12 or 18 months and we have been around twice on this last record so we can’t really tour as a sole headline there again until 2018. All the work we are doing there right now is package or solo fly-out stuff or co-bills with other acts that are in the same State and the same situation. So, between the two of us we can draw a bigger crowd or play a bigger venue. We just did some dates on the West Coast with Anders Osborne and that turned out really well. Sometimes those tours can be pretty disastrous but this time we were pretty lucky.

I was noticing your comments regarding Napster and Spotify and touring to promote the sales of your records. Can the artist even get paid anymore?

If it is even downloaded of your label’s site the royalty is still a lot less than it was with the hard product. Fortunately, our crowd are about the same age so our people want to buy hard products.

It is always better to get the physical product from the point of view of information about the release. Our website works on the basis of physical product only. Is life becoming more complicated as a result?

I don’t know. We just keep going down the road and this is the only thing we know. My son is just releasing his second record and people ask if I give him advice. We get together and try to figure out where this thing is going. He knows about as much as I do.

When you write in character do you have to imagine that character?

I try to imagine the character and follow the words in rhyme and metre ‘cause that is how it starts – with a couple of lines and then you try to imagine the character who said those lines. And you get a story – it might take awhile but you get a verse and chorus structure going and the song builds itself. The template is carved. Several songs just started out as jams as putting lyrics to existing music can be really hard. St Mary of the Woods started out like that.

Does the song-writing get easier as you get older?

No. But it doesn’t get any harder either. You can leave a lot to the listener because it is verse, it doesn’t have to be that detailed.

Is what is happening worldwide an influence on the characters that you are writing?

A lot of my characters are dated and the songs are dated. I put a song out on the website (Remembrance), just before the election and it’ s not about Trump per se; but about demagoguery in general, mostly focused on Franco as I was in Spain just after Franco passed and I lived with a family where they wanted Franco back out of the grave and didn’t want this Democracy stuff that required thought...

And yet when you recall the songs ‘We can’t make it here’ and Cheney’s Toy’ which dealt with the Bush administration, you could almost cut & paste them onto the situation that we are now facing

It never seems to change. I sang that song (Cheney’s Toy), during the first Obama administration too and I finally just got tired of it and quit playing it.

The critical reaction to Complicated Game was very positive. Were you happy with the media response as it had been some time since the previous release?

We did not have to make another record for economic purposes as the previous one held up for so long. It was really unusual. Already this latest one has fallen off so we need to get back in the studio and make another one.

Do you play with the same guys all the time?

Pretty much so. Tim (Holt) and Daren (Hess) have been in the band for 18 years while Cornbread has been with me for about the last 5 years.

Do you still have the residency in the Continental Club?

We have been doing that since 2002 and we do it whenever we are home. It starts at midnight and goes until 2.00am.

The Outlaw Country stance against the traditional sound of Nashville. Is that something that impacts on you living in Texas?

When I hear outlaw country I think of Waylon Jennings. That started so long ago and they are still calling it that but I no idea what they are talkin’ about. They have this thing called Americana which is a catchall for all of us who were having a hard time getting on rock radio and we couldn’t get on mainstream country radio.

Do genres annoy you?

Not really. If I can squeeze into something then people can find my records and buy them. It’s becoming what AAA became, which was what AOR was. Now we are getting the Bonnie Raitt’s and Robert Plant as Americana artists.

Does You Tube open up avenues to your music?

I don’t know because I don’t really go to You Tube very often. I dread to think what some of my clips may be like...!

Perhaps it opens up some traffic to your website?

I don’t know as I don’t monitor the demographics. If we have money in the accounts, then we can do stuff and that is ok with me.

Do you plan to go back in the studio soon?

If I have enough songs. I was going to go to California for the next record and have Ross Hogarth produce as he seems interested. He recorded my first two records and mixed the first one that I produced; St Mary of the Woods.

Do you enjoy the studio experience?

It can be tedious. I have done records where the producer wanted an insane number of takes- like on ‘Lost in the Back-yard’ where we did maybe 20 takes and the drummer nearly lost his mind – funnily, it was the “drummer loses his mind” take that made the song...!! You don’t know how you’re gonna get it but usually I like to get it done quickly...

Can we expect a broadside against Trump?

I don’t think he deserves that much attention. He is just another of many dime-store demagogues who happened to come along at the right time and sell it to Americans. 30 years ago, there was a guy called Lyndon LaRouche who ran as an independent in the Mondale/Reagan race and was saying the same thing - but back then, the world was different and there was no NAFTA and there were no manufacturing job losses. Ideas that Trump is spouting now could find no purchase. 9/11 happened and all this paranoia – suspicion of anything other... It is real easy to get people to focus their fear and hatred against an ethnic or racial/ religious group.

The message into Europe from other American artists seems to be one of community and looking to bring people together

My cousins all live out in the country and they live in a different reality. I was turkey hunting with them one time; during the Florida recount when Bush was losing the election to Gore and they were perturbed that Gore was trying to steal the election from Bush. The same with Reagan was running, the academics and the people I hung out with, did not think he had a chance whereas you talked to a country person they were all solid Reagan lovers.

Do you find the creative process one of isolation?

I don’t mess with it much. If I get a line out of somewhere, I put it on my cell phone. The creative process is very brief. I don’t spend a lot of time creating.

Do you do a lot of reading or research?

I read one or two books a year usually. I’m not a big reader.

You have been quoted  as saying that you ‘write with a poet’s pen and a painter’s precision’. While another quote is that you don’t really make a conscious decision what you write about. Is the reality somewhere between?

Well you can write a song that completely expresses another opinion than your own. A lot of my songs do because my characters do not necessarily agree with me. If you listen to Carlisle’s Hall that guy is complaining about Government regulation of fisheries. Of course he is, because he is a commercial fisherman and that is how he makes his living. I don’t think that way; I think that we have to regulate fisheries or we are not going to have them. But I’m not trying to haul my living out of a bay.

Is the glass half full of half empty?

Townes Van Zandt said that some folks look at a glass and think it’s half empty; some folks look at a glass and think it’s half full; I look at a glass and wonder if its water or vodka.

Interview by Paul McGee and Stephen Rapid    Photographs by Stephen Rapid and Kaethe Burt O'Dea

Tuesday
Feb212017

Aaron Watson Interview

As an independent country music artist, Aaron Watson has released 13 albums and in February 2015, he made history when he released The Underdog, making him the first independent male artist to debut at number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. The record sold more than 26,000 units in the first week.

As part of his European Tour Aaron Watson plays a gig in Ireland for the first time and gives Lonesome Highway an interview to share his philosophy and thoughts about the music business and his career.

Your first time in Ireland and you have brought the full band with you. Does this work financially when you are trying to break into new territories and does it not make sense to come over initially on a solo basis?

My band are on salary so apart from a couple of extra plane tickets it makes sense. Our show in London sold 500 seats, so we have grown that market relatively quick and Manchester was 300, Glasgow about the same… So, we have had a successful run and although the show in Dublin is in a small room, it is sold out. I love doing acoustic shows as well and you have to make the most of every night. I have been doing this for 17 years now, 13 albums, 2500 shows and we are still up and coming. We have played all sorts of venues. There is nothing better than a small venue packed full of people who love music. It’s going to be so much fun and I want the crowd to hear the full band.

Being an independent artist you have a lot of responsibility in taking care of the business. Do you have a large staff back home that helps with the running of it all?

I’ve got a couple of dozen people in what has developed into a pretty solid business. I love music, I love writing songs and playing live but If you don’t have a solid sense of business about things, then you cannot continue doing what you love. I wait until the time is right to hire the right people. People ask me why I have not signed to a major label and I say that I have now become the major label.

You have achieved everything without compromising at all; rather than have the major labels dictate to you what direction you should take

Yea, that feels so good and I love music, so I can’t imagine having to sing songs that I don’t like. How can you sell people a bunch of crap? My new album is coming out in a month and I wrote all sixteen songs and I’m passionate about all of them. I can get up on stage and share the story behind each song, where it came from and what it means to me. It’s soulful and personal and not really about the genre. It’s about whether it is original and unique.

Technically I do have a record deal because I’m married and my wife is the CEO and I’m more like the custodian! On a serious note, music is not an Industry, it’s the family business … We’ve always put the fans first. How has a West Texas boy from some small town outsold so many major artists.

Over the years, we have stayed true to our brand of country music. We haven’t shifted and chased after the different phases and stages and flavours of the month. We stay true to ourselves and we work hard. I always say we ride a horse named hustle and we always put our fans first and like to hang out with them after each show. The people who turn up tonight, tell their friends and it starts to grow. It only takes a spark.

I play a little of everything and there will be a couple of new songs. I am a fan first and know when you go to a show, you want to hear the artist play your favourite songs. So you slowly and gradually incorporate the new songs in due time.

You have spoken in the past about getting up early to write songs. Do you still do that?

I love that. We live on a farm with a lake behind the house and as the sun comes up I make coffee and I write with my guitar before breakfast and before my kids start to wake up. I may take ‘em to school and then come back and write some more; or maybe go on the ranch and do some work there. There is nothing more satisfying, in my opinion, than writing a well-crafted song. That feeling you get inside after you’re finished, when you say ‘this is a good song’...

When you are writing a song do you go back and redraft until you get a perfect version of it?

Absolutely. More so than ever lately with the new record (Vaquero). After the success of the last album, The Underdog, which debuted at number 1 in the Billboard Country Charts, a lot of people said that if we wanted to continue our success then we would have to break out of the Texas outlaw thing. Because, they said, that made us a regional act. Well, I just laughed and said we played 38 states and 8 countries last year so that’s not a regional act. It’s a wrong opinion and perspective.

I’m from Texas and this is where I was born and raised so it is an integral part of who I am. It’s like food; you don’t have to be from Mexico to like Mexican food or from Italy to like Italian food – to think that me being me, is going to keep me from crossing over borders? That is just narrow minded. I remember Chris LeDoux when I was growing up and he was singing about Wyoming and it made me want to go to Wyoming. It’s like U2, when I study some of the lyrics and realise he is writing about home; his home. We all like history and geography and music has that in it too. When people said we had to get away from that Texas thing, I didn’t pay much heed to it; what we did for the new record was to paint a Texas flag on an old building outside a town where I live and I held up a guitar in a very revolutionary pose; just to let ‘em know we are from Texas.

Is the new release, Vaquero, a concept record?

The vaquero is the original cowboy. There is a lot of tradition with the vaquero and I wanted the album to be rooted, rebellious and traditional. I wanted to make music that you have never heard before. When the band are playing, we can open for any rock band and hold our own. It’s about energy and passion and we thrive on our live show. We have the energy of a punk band but we just use a telecaster and a fiddle. The new record has 16 songs and I wrote all of them so If the record is terrible then it’s my fault. There is a common theme of believing in who you are, sticking to your values; don’t let people push you around. I focus on Faith, family and my brand of country music for my fans.

Are the studio musicians the same as the touring band?

I change them around so that they don’t get tired, having played on the album for so long. I ask them who they want to play with on the records, who are their musical heroes and this pushes them to be better musicians.  They have a lot of say in how the songs turn out as they spend time in pre-production with me also. It is a big group record. I produced all my records, some are co-productions and I write the songs and know what they should sound like in my head.

I notice that you sang with Willie Nelson on your 4th release. How did that come about?

What that does is give me bragging rights for the rest of my life. I think it helped me a lot and helped validate me as an artist. Ray Benson from Asleep At The Wheel produced that record and he was playing pool with Willie over at this house and he was playing a rough copy of my new record in the background. Willie said "I really like this stuff" so Ray said if he really liked it all that much he should go and sing on the record. The rest is history. My Dad is a huge Willie Nelson fan so when I got to tell him at home in Amarillo, he was so excited. Willie is not a genre; he is the genre – he is the icon.

Willie, Waylon, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, they are my heroes. My heart belongs with the songwriter; Guy Clark, Townes van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earl and the rest of ‘em.

There still seems to be a Nashville vs Texas territorial divide. Do you see that still happening?

Maybe Willie or Waylon started that? Some say it was Bob Wills who played at the Oprey years back and when they wouldn’t let him have an amp onstage, he just packed up and went home. George Strait was not included as a member for many years. Even when our record went to no.1, it caused quite a stir there. The Country Music Hall of Fame and The Opry have been good to us in recent years but I don’t do this to win awards and my career doesn’t revolve around radio or charts. My career revolves around my fans because these are the things that matter. The mainstream artists, my heart goes out to a lot of ‘em, because their days are numbered. You gotta work hard and get on the road. The rest of the World is working hard so every artist should do that as a basic.

All your kids names start with the letter ‘J’, Any particular reason for that?

My wife said that their names would all start with the letter J. Therefore, they did …

Jack, Jack and Jolie Kate - my kids love music and are growing up playing the right stuff, Waylon, Willie, the Beatles. Then recently, my baby girl asked for a Taylor Swift guitar and songbook for Christmas and she wanted me to teach her how to play some of her songs. I said she needed to lock the door as her mamma will video us and put it up on Instagram and Facebook…!!

Music is so subjective, I always stay very open-minded and I don’t dismiss anything. If you are at the top of the mountain, then people say you sold out. You have to be political. If you are small and independent and making the same records, then everybody loves you. It’s a fine line, a fickle game. It’s about the music and the fans and continuing to spread our brand of country music wherever we go.

Ireland is important to us and we will come back because we are committed to Ireland and want to earn the love and respect. You have to be able to start at the bottom and work your way up. New markets are exciting; unchartered territory. It’s an honour to be here.

My Mother has Irish roots and wants me to get some dirt from Ireland for her garden. I wish every woman was as easy to please!!

Postscript:

Aaron Watson gets his wish when Lonesome Highway presents him with a small jar of Irish soil during the show for his Mamma back in Texas. He is thankful and comes across as a genuinely enthusiastic and very likeable person who is fully committed to his craft. He speaks with a refreshing candour and is generous with his time and energy. We look forward to welcoming Aaron Watson back to Ireland and to watching his career continue to blossom in these territories. Aaron Watson's new album Vaquero is out now.

Interview by Paul McGee and Stephen Rapid  Photograph by Stephen Rapid

Sunday
Feb192017

Erin Rae Interview

We are not normally in the habit of reviewing an album on two separate occasions at Lonesome Highway. There are exceptions however, as was the case with Soon Enough by Erin Rae. A promotional copy of her album was reviewed by myself in June followed by a further review of the album in October by my colleague Paul Mc Gee. Whether this was an editorial master stroke or an oversight is neither here nor there! More to the point is the impact the album had on both of us with references to ‘one of the finest songs of the year (Clean Slate)’ and ‘one of the highlights of the year and a must buy’ being included in the reviews. Lonesome Highway caught up with Erin Rae after she returned to Nashville following a whistle stop tour of the UK supporting Cale Tyson.  

Your recent tour of the UK with the Meanwhiles received hugely positive feedback. How important is it for you to create a market in the UK/Europe?

We had a really great time. I felt and feel very fortunate to have such a warm welcome our first time to the UK ... I'd say it's just as important to me to develop the market and relationships over there as it is to do so in the States. It has been at the forefront of my dream of being a musician. Ever since loving the Spice Girls as a little girl. (I was Posh). 

You’ve moved to centre stage with your album Soon Enough having performed as a backing vocalist for many artists in Nashville. What prompted the move? 

I've been working on my own music from the beginning. It's a fun part of being in the community and being a singer and getting to sing harmonies to share and support in friends music! We all help each other. Molly Parden has been singing with me for a few years, and she's got some exciting things coming her way! It's neat to see us all grow at different times. We each have our own paths, and it’s such an amazing thing to witness and help each other with. 

Soon Enough was recorded in two days, basically a live recording, over what period were the songs on the album written?

2012-2015. So a lot of the songs had been played for a couple years as a band, making the live recording fun and easy. And special!

On repeated listens the album reveals itself as possibly a commentary on a life’s experiences to date. Should we consider it autobiographical?

Yes, every song (excluding Pretty Thing) is autobiographical. However the sentiment of that song still is true to me. 

The album, for me, benefits from not being over produced and its quality is not in any way compromised by being recorded in such a short time frame. Had you and your band been performing the material live over a period of time?

Most of it we had! At least half of the songs, maybe more. There were some that were saved to release on the record, but we did already have the band template in place, so we used a similar format for those songs, taking away or adding elements where that was needed.  

The quality of female singer songwriters in Nashville operating under the Americana banner seems endless at present. I’m thinking of yourself, Lilly Hiatt, Molly Parden, Kelsey Waldon and Margo Price to name a few. Has Margo Price’s breakthrough acted as a confidence booster in terms of possible career progression for an artist like yourself?

Love all of those women, and the list goes on! Tristen, Caitlin Rose, Kristina Murray, Liz Cooper, Emily Nenni, Becca Mancari, and more and more! I think it acted as an affirmation of the path we are all on. That big things can still happen, that the reach can still be far for real music! That turn around has been happening. But, it has been such a cool time for music. So many incredible records were released in 2016, with more to come in 2017, and I think it's just a really good time for music. Also, the community here is such a supportive one, so it's changed a lot of the motivation in my mind from mainstream success being the focus, to creating a true path for myself. It's cool that those things might realign again for more of us, as we see with Chris Stapleton, Sturgill, and Margo, Aaron Lee Tasjan, to name a few. Margo has been so generous with me, inviting me to be part of really neat things as they come up, like her panel at AMA fest in Nashville last fall. I think a lot of people heard about me through that, and came out to my show, and its things like that which serve as the real confidence boosters. Feeling like the friends that you look up to and admire are also fans of your work is so invaluable. Thank you, Margo!

Your writing and delivery, for me, is as much West Coast influenced as Nashville. I detect certain parallels with artists such as Judee Sill and early Joni Mitchell for instance. Was this a sound that was influential to you when you were developing a musical direction? 

 I love Judee Sill. I think I discovered her on the Elizabethtown soundtrack, and the song Jesus Was A Crossmaker has become one of my recent favourites to try and cover. Those two voices weren't primary influences, but I do love them! I'd say my parents music and voices were the most directly inspiring/ taste-making for me, followed by Kate Campbell's voice, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings, Slaid Cleaves, Greg Brown, John Prine, Feist, etc. I love great voices with strong songwriting. I definitely love the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Neil Young, etc., so I'm sure that has helped to create the laurel-y sound!

What’s next in terms of a career move for Erin Rae. Do you intend returning to Europe to further promote the album and is there a follow up album under consideration?

We are actually going into the studio on Sunday at Cory Chisel + Adriel Denae's place in Appleton, Wisconsin, which is called Refuge Foundation for the Arts. It’s a monastery, turned creative space, right on the Fox River. Dom Billett, Jerry Bernhardt and I will be the main players, with Dan Knobler engineering/producing. That will come out later this year. We will be returning to the UK in June!

Can we expect some dates in Ireland on your return to Europe? 

Yes! I believe those are in the works now, official announcement should be out soon via Clubhouse Records UK. Thank you so much for having me!

Interview by Declan Culliton – Friday 10th February 2017

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