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

Wednesday
May182016

Interview with Daniel Meade

Daniel Meade released his self-recorded debut solo album in 2013 to critical acclaim. Since then he has travelled far and wide, working with and opening for acts such as Old Crow Medicine Show, The Proclaimers, Pokey Lafarge, Willie Watson, Diana Jones, Vikesh Kapoor and Sturgill Simpson. 

In February 2014 he was invited to Nashville by Morgan Jahnig of Old Crow Medicine Show who offered to engineer and produce a new album with a band comprising some of Meade’s favourite musicians, including Cory Younts, Chance Mccoy, Joshua Hedley, Chris Scruggs and Morgan himself. Guest spots were filled by Diana Jones, Shelly Colvin and Critter From Old Crow. The result was Keep Right Away, an exciting, diverse and self assured album that draws on the ghosts of all of his influences, from Hank Williams, Big Bill Broonzy, Kris Kristofferson and Jerry Lee Lewis through to the more contemporary throes of Old Crow Medicine Show and Justin Townes Earle. 

Meade’s new album Let Me Off At The Bottom features 11 new meade originals. It is the first record he has made with The Flying Mules (Lloyd Reid - guitar, Mark Ferrie - double bass, Thomas Sutherland - drums). It was recorded live (for the most part) at the legendary Cava Studios in Glasgow and mixed by Morgan Jahnig in Tennessee.

Can you give me some idea of how music became such a big part of your life growing up in Glasgow?

I'd say there were a few factors involved. My big brother Raymond has always been music mad, he started playing guitar around the age of 7 so growing up I'd say he was the main influence on me. He got me into the likes of Guns 'n' Roses and what have you at an early age and although I didn't show an interest in playing until I was about 12, his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I also have a couple of uncles who fed my earliest interests. Ian is a great guitarist who was right into his blues and would always indulge our young ears when we visited. He actually took me to my first gig, which was to see BB King in Edinburgh and at 11 years old that blew my mind. My other uncle Vincent was mad on The Beatles and used to make me tapes of all their albums and I'd listen to them until they wore out. So I'd probably have to blame them! It really wasn't until my early teens that it became a big part of my life but when it did that was it, and thankfully it's never left.

What music originally made you decide to pursue making it as a full time artist? 

That would have to be the old rock 'n' roll stuff, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. I was lucky enough to see the three of them on the same bill in London when I was around 14 or 15 and after that I wasn't interested in doing or being anything else. I loved the Blues and The Beatles before then but it was those guys that made me want to pursue it.

At what point did the music that inspires you now become a part of your conscious listening?

I'm not entirely certain. One thing always just bleeds into another and I'm never really aware of shifts in my own taste, or indeed inspiration. I think any writer should be influenced and inspired by everything and anything they hear, whether it's their cup of tea or not. Take the parts that are useful to you and throw the rest away.

Your new album was recorded locally in Glasgow as opposed to the previous album being tracked in Nashville. What were the differences in the two experiences?

To be honest, for me the only difference was the location. Both times I had the songs I wanted ready and the musicians that I wanted in place to perform them, and that's all you need. Both were cut for the most part live in great studios, both were a lot of work and fun, and both came out sounding better than I'd imagined going in. Obviously it was a dream come true going over to Nashville and having that experience with Morgan and all those guys who's records I love, but finally getting to make this album in Glasgow, with the band who I've played with for years was just as exciting for me. I'm equally proud of both. 

How much do the economics of the situation effect the way you produce your music?

Money is always going to be a problem at any level but you can't let it get in the way of what you ultimately want to produce. We initially tried to cut a couple of corners financially with this record and just weren't happy so ended up digging deeper and doing it right, and it's a much better record for it. I'll always look into cost beforehand so I can try to plan accordingly. If I need to take on some extra shifts a week that I don't particularly enjoy then so be it, or if I need to sell some stuff to get the money then I will, and I have done many times. If you really believe in what you're making there is always a way. It might not be your first choice or even your second, but if it needs done you'll do it.

How long have you and Lloyd worked together? He seems a perfect foil for what you do?

Around 7 or 8 years now. He's my favourite person to play with by a long way and anyone who's heard him won't need telling why. He is without doubt the most natural guitarist I've ever met and still constantly surprises me with what he hits out with on stage. He has a wonderful ear and always plays for the song, never to show off, and that for me is the difference between the good and the great, and he's definitely great. His harmony singing is spot on as well which appeals to me no end. We both have the same love for the music we play and approach it with the same mentality, which is why I think we go so well together, it's never in all these years felt like work. I think there's definitely a mutual respect between us, we've been through a lot together and, where other relationships have suffered and fallen apart, we're still tight. Plus his beard is lovely

Are you a prolific writer or is the process a slower one?

I've been called prolific but I don't really see it that way, it's just what I do and the way I work. If you call yourself a writer then boy you'd better write! I always write something down every day, be it a song, a line or even just an unusual word, anything at all. You can never have enough words or ideas and, even if they come to nothing, it had you thinking for a while so that can't be a bad thing.

Live you cover some classic and some obscure songs. How do you choose these? 

No rhyme or reason to be honest, if we hear something we like enough to learn then we will and throw it in the set from time to time, keeps us on our toes.

Another thing about your live show that sometimes doesn’t come across on record his how good a piano player you are. Do you have a preference for the piano over guitar or vice versa?

Why thank you. I would have to say piano is my first love. I can sit playing nothing in particular and be lost for hours. The guitar I also love but in a different way. I mainly write on the guitar, I play it more, certainly live, but it doesn't come as naturally to me. I have to really work at guitar whereas piano is always play. I'm definitely more at home in front of a piano. 

There has long been a predjuice against “country” music from these Isles even though a large part of there music originated here. Have you found that? 

I wouldn't call it a prejudice against country music, I just don't think people over here have ever been particularly arsed with it. It never seems to have properly taken off here for one reason or the other, maybe that's why it left in the first place! I do think there's a level of ignorance involved, a willingness to believe that it's all rhinestones, line dancing and Garth Brooks or whatever, which couldn't be further from the truth. But these kind of attitudes are slowly shifting but I think it'll always be a bit of a niche market over here.

In that light how does location effect perception?

I don't really know in all honesty, I think that changes from person to person. I've come across people that are more willing to appreciate homegrown talent and others who would rather their country singers to be American, some find that to be more genuine or something. It's never been an issue with me ... a good song, singer or band is always going to be a good song, singer or band, wherever it originates. It shouldn't matter.

You will be doubtless touring Let Me Off At The Bottom for awhile. What are your plans in that respect?

We have several shows and festivals lined up for the next few months already, you can see them at the website www.danielmeademusic.com. And then we're working on a more substantial tour in support of the album come September, more news on that soon.

How difficult is it for an independent musician to sustain a career these days?

As difficult as any other profession it seems, it's a hard time for a lot of people now. I'm fortunate enough to be doing what I love, a lot of people aren't. I don't make a lot of money and what I do make goes back into the next record or tour but I wouldn't change it for anything. I think to make it work you have to be flexible with what you will and won't do, I never turn anything down out of hand. Everyone has to make ends meet somehow and if you think your above doing certain things then you'll not last long.

The subject matter of many of the songs deals with the downside of relationships and a drift toward anaesthetising the pain. Have you done a lot of research in that area?

Ha ha, 'research', that's exactly how I like to look at it now. I have yes, a little too much truth be told but I can't grumble, everyone goes through their own shit, it's all part of growing up and becoming who you are. I didn't so much drift toward it as jump head first into it so I do know I'm lucky to be out the other end relatively unscathed, some people aren't so lucky. It's certainly given me a lot to consider, ponder and write about the last few years so I guess it wasn't all bad. The quiet life suits me now though.

What are your aspirations for the future? 

To keep breathing, moving and playing, keep it simple.

Interview by Stephen Rapid

Wednesday
May112016

Interview with Dave Insley

Dave Insley grew up in Chapman, Kansas until the age of 12 when his family relocated to Arizona. There he spent most of his spare time playing guitar and writing songs as well as hiking and climbing. During his high school and college years he played in country and rock bands, and in 1983 his cowpunk group, Chaingang, debuted in Tempe. Chaingang played country music for punks. Insley’s next project was the Nitpickers, a Tempe-based bluegrass band. Another Insley group, Trophy Husbands, released two country records and, for a few years, toured nationally. In 2005 his solo debut, Call Me Lonesome was released. Relocating to Austin, Texas in 2006 he released Here With You Tonight. Then in 2008, Insley released his next album, West Texas Wine. Just The Way That I Am, his latest album showcases the most mature writing and nuanced performance to date. Dave Insley’s Careless Smokers. began a weekly residency at a new Austin club, the White Horse Saloon in 2013 and unless on tour, play to a packed house every Saturday

You and your brother both released a series of country/roots albums individually. In that light was that music you grew up with at home or where did the inspiration come from?

Our parents were into country music and big band music, so Mark and I grew up with long players by Buck, Merle, George Jones, Johnny Cash on the turntable daily, along with stuff like Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Of course we learned about rock music (for us Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and Iron Butterfly) from our school chums, so those LPs made it into the pile too.

When did that inspiration turn into the motivation that made you want to write and sing and how did you go about doing that?

Our folks used to trot us out to sing for their friends when they were entertaining, and Mark and I both had some songs worked up for these occasions.  I was 11 when I got my first guitar, but I'd been messing with Mark's before that. Ever since those days I've never felt anything else called to me in the way that music did.  Simply put, I've always wanted to do this, it's been my dream for as long as I can remember. I had a lot to learn to become a writer, but it came fairly naturally and once I found my voice, and learned to trust my instincts, then I learned how to catch songs, when inspirations or ideas came knocking. Sometimes overhearing a snippet of a conversation or accidentally coining some minor phrase would be enough to get into the flow of songwriting.

How much was the Austin country scene an influence on the direction your music took?

It's an ongoing inspiration to live in a town where, not only can I see some of the greatest musicians in the world, but I can work with them, and be friends with them. When I was growing up in Arizona, and before I became a touring artist, Austin was always a fantasy to me. But now, it's come true!

Did you ever have the ambition to go to Nashville to see how that might help or hinder your career?

I have spent a fair amount of time in Nashville, been there for music conferences, and to perform numerous times. I like Nashville, as a place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there; Austin appeals to me more because the lifestyle, the liberal culture and the music scene all fit my style better.  

At this point do you feel that you are largely making music for yourself and those people who have discovered your music rather that it being a good career move?

Ha, music is NEVER a good career move! haha. I've always made the music first for myself, and secondarily with an audience in mind (sometimes the audience a song is intended for is single person, sometimes the audience intended is more of a general audience). Ultimately, I don't feel like my work is complete if I don't perform the music for someone, nonetheless, I write for myself; the process is cathartic and therapeutic, lord knows what would have become of me without my music

How important, in terms of continuing your music, has been the opportunity to play at the White Horse on a regular basis?

It's the greatest gig I've ever had, frankly. We've been playing there every Saturday night for 3 years. We've built a great audience, the club loves us, and for me it is nice to have a reliable, hip place to play every week, without having to worry about booking, promoting, traveling, etc. My guys always have fun and the dance floor always stays full, the White Horse has been a godsend to me!

You have always created interesting visual packages, with Beth Middleworth, for your CD. Is the visual part of being an music artist an important factor for you?

I grew up in an era when artists put out albums, and everything about the album was significant: the sequence, the pacing (time between tracks), the packaging, all working together to create an effect. I have always felt that the visual aspect plays a role in how people hear the music, the packaging and music combine to create the overall effect. One of the greatest blessings in my life was finding Beth!  She is a genius, and she gets me, and what I do. We've been friends now for nearly 15 years, and she is one of my very best friends indeed.  Collaborating with her to create the packages is one of the funnest and most joyful parts of the production 

How has the country music scene changed in Austin (and indeed throughout the industry) over the last decade and has that affected your own world view?

Well, for one thing, who was it that thought "bro country" was a good idea? Seriously! I've always been a traditionalist (even when I was young and playing in punk rock bands). Scenes come and go, and music always strays this way and that, but without fail it always returns to its traditional form eventually, and that's where I come in. In terms of my world view, hmm, I would say that it is particularly easy for a performing artist or a songwriter to become cynical, but that's a trap worth avoiding. I've met the kindest and sweetest people through my music, and my "world view" when I'm playing my gigs and meeting people is profound gratitude that people are listening and are interested in what I'm doing, and sheer joy at being in front of an audience.

Where do you think roots music in general is heading these days. There seems to be a lot of bands and artist on the fringes making traditionally styled music?

It's just careening down the road like always! In my view there have always been a lot of bands and artists on the fringe, making traditional music. But what we have a lot more of now is electronic media for getting the word out about these artists, that accounts for the seemingly endless supply bands, etc.

Does the care you put into your releases act as something of an antidote to the rather faceless option provided by the download?

The download has its place, and in fact is vitally important when you put out a record, however the physical copy is always going to be much more impressive.  I've always liked being able to hold the music with my hand. Looking at the artwork the artist has chosen on a CD package, while listening to a new album is more visceral than holding a download card. Of course, holding a vinyl LP is the best of all! 

Has the recording process been made easier now with technology. There seems to be a lot of small studios out there?

Oh yeah, there are tons of studios, and quality can be done more easily and less expensively than in the old days. Still, there are various points during the production when you have to pony up real money because the old fashioned way of doing something might sound better, but cost more money. There are a lot of little steps where a producer can drop the ball, but its not wise to try to skip some steps to save money. 

You are a family man now, does that change the nature of the music you make or can you put yourself in to the role required to tell the story in song?

Well, I write more "family love" type songs now than I used to, but I try not to overdo that sort of thing when picking a setlist for a live show. I'm perfectly at ease taking whatever role I need to, in order for my story songs to make sense, and let's face it they are generally written from either my point of view, or at least a point of view that resonates with me.

Your band Careless Smokers has been with you for some time. Is it hard to keep committed, like-minded players onside or they as committed to the music as you?

My guys are great, great people, and we've all been together so long that we all love each other, and are "family." And they can really play, oh my!  They're every bit as committed to what I'm doing, and to this style of music as I am.  They work hard to always be available to do my records and shows, and I'm fortunate to have developed deep and lasting friendships with all of them. 

What is the future likely to hold for you and what would you like the future to be in the best of possible worlds?

I don't sit around thinking up lofty goals for myself, I just hope to continue to get satisfaction from doing it, and satisfaction from bringing joy to my friends, family and fans with it. I know that I'm totally blessed to have the opportunities that come with making music, and I'm super grateful.

Interview by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Valerie Fremin
Wednesday
Mar162016

Interview with Eric Church

Eric Church was born in the year that punk exploded. Church has largely ploughed his own furrow with his edgy take on songwriting and performance. By his own admission he is not a traditional country artist, though he is marketed in the contemporary country genre.

Signed toCapitol Records since 2005, he has released five studio album and one live album. Church is a very successful artist and several of his albums and singles have reached number 1 on the Billboard Country charts. His most recent album, Mr Misunderstood, saw him confirm his ‘outside” status when it was initially released to  fans without even his label’s knowledge.

Eric Church has the status now to do things his way and that is a positive direction for the artist. Lonesome Highway interviewed him prior to his performance at the 3 Arena, the Dublin leg of the 2016 Country 2 Country festival.

Mr Misunderstood was released with no titles and no credits on the artwork, Was there a specific reason for that?

That was because of inspiration actually, as I didn’t expect to have an album out. I’d sat down one day and wrote for the first time in a long time and wrote Mr Misunderstood. That was the first song and the next day I wrote Mistress Named Music (with Casey Beathard) and on the third day I wrote by myself. So all of a sudden this window opened for me, with creativity and inspiration. I’d never had that happen, as normally I have to write about 100 songs to find what it is I’m searching for, but not this time. I knew they were all exactly on the same album. The interesting thing was what to do with that, as we just came of from the Outsiders album and we weren’t supposed to schedule another album until this coming summer. But to me it’s a crime against the in aspiration of the writer to have to put it on a shelf and get back to it. It’s the worst thing you could ever do as an artist,  so we looked for ways to put it out and, it was my idea, I said ‘let’s put it out’, and as I’m a vinyl guy I wanted to send it to the fans first. The label did not know about it and we ended up having to purchase a record plant in Germany to get it done without the label knowing. When we went to Walmart and the big distributors, we said that it was a Christmas album. So we kept it secret at every level and it arrived the morning of the CMAs and it was there for our fans. All of a sudden they became the mouthpiece. The interesting thing there is, usually the label gets it first, then radio followed by the critics and the media. That’s all to tell the fans about it and that’s backwards. You’re always trying to get it in their (the fan’s) hands. So you should go to them first and let them tell people about it. So that’s the one thing we tried to flip. 

I love vinyl, to me it’s the closest thing to what I hear in the studio. It’s not exactly there but it’s the closest thing. When you get into CDs and MP3 and that stuff it’s just so different. I think that’s what the resurgence is, as people are getting back in to that escapism of what music is. 

How important is the role of your producer Jay Joyce in shaping the sound for recording?

I think he’s critical and the one thing about Jay is that we understand each other. There’s many times in the studio where you can have a bunch of musicians that you may have to explain thins to, but with Jay I never have to do that because we understand what were thinking. That’s special when you find that. I can say “hey man, this is this or that” and everyone is looking at me in the studio confused but Jay gets it. So when you speak ‘music’ fluently with someone like that, that is rare. Jay and I have always had that connection, even early on. We have the two most different backgrounds that you could ever have, as we are two totally different people, but we really agree on what should happen musically.

On the album you mention a number of musical names such as Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jeff Tweedy. Where they big musical influences for you?

Everybody finds muses, and when it came to Mr Misunderstood they were artists that I love that I don’t know that everybody knows. They are people that I look to,  to get inspiration; people like Elvis Costello and Ray Wylie, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. I think it was important to put that in there to show that this record had a little more depth. I wanted the country fan who knew me as a quote ‘Superstar Artist’ that they hear all the time, may dig deeper than just what they hear on the radio. It is what makes us up, just look at the DNA and those guys are an integral part of my DNA. 

There are elements of soul, blues, reggae …

Yes, there is.

Your duet partner Susan Tedeschi on Mixed Drinks about Feelings is not a usual choice to sing with.

She amazing. Her and Derek Trucks, and he’s one of the greatest guitar players on the planet. Again, they are people that I’m a fan of and I try to expose some different voices to country music. 

Does what you’re doing now and the success you have had take away from your songwriting time?

No, the songwriting for me has always been about being committed to the craft. I can say when it’s all said and done, as it was in the beginning, that I’ll be a songwriter. All the other stuff I can’t control, but I would still write songs. That would be the most important thing for people to know about me; that I’m A, B and C a songwriter. Everything else, I  hope, takes care of itself. If it all ended tomorrow as a recording artist I’d still be writing songs. It wouldn’t matter if I made money at it as it’s what I do.

In that light do you keep notebooks of lines or ideas as they might arrive?

I do, a lot I put on my iPhone. There are windows that open inspiration wise and when they happen, you have to pay attention. There’s no rhyme or reason and I wish I knew what it was. Some people write to a deadline, which is an interesting thing, as when you have one some people write better that way. But I don’t think I’m that way. I’m more into when it starts to happen I know to pay attention to that. I can go a long time without a song then I can write 30 in two weeks. 

When that happens to you, do you feel an overall theme is emerging?

That’s interesting; sometimes and sometimes not. This time I realised about three songs in that I had the beginnings of an album and what surprised me was that every day after that I started to second guess myself. I was thinking ‘they can’t all be good’ and that I was losing my edge; because, as I said, I normally write a lot to get good ones. But this time four or five songs in I thought they could be on the same record. I started to go to people saying ‘Am I nuts, or is this good?’ That’s when it started to formulate and something was happening that had never happened to me. For this album I probably wrote 18 songs and there’s 10 on the record. That has never happen before from a quality standpoint. Normally I’d be a one-in-five guy. I think that this was a different thing. 

You have been using your own band on this album. Is that something that you prefer?

As we were trying to keep it from anybody knowing, it was just us. The difference is that The Outsiders was more bombastic. It was restless creativity. I had had a hard time with the Chief album, as that was where we want from nobody knowing us to everybody knowing us. I had felt a little bit constrained as were in a format, and it had won (both CMA & ACM) album of the year, and we were the focal point of what was happening then and that bothered me. I’ve always been good on the fringe and not in the middle. I’ve never liked being that guy. The Outsiders was a little bit of rebellion against that. It was us going ‘let’s go nuts’. With Mr Misunderstood there was a lot of space. It was just the songs and a lot of them are just one-takes.

Do you feel misunderstood?

Well, I felt that as a younger person. So that song is less about me now. The younger person, male or female, who marches to the beat of their own drummer; as music lovers we’ve all felt that we may like something that not everybody else does - but that’s ok. Equally you may do something different and that’s ok too. For me it’s more about that.

The Mistress Named Music?  

Well, that’s my favourite song. 

What do you think of traditional country music?

I love it personally, but I’ve never done it better than other people. Really early on I realised that that is not my strength. I’d rather hear Alan Jackson or one of those guys rather than me trying to do them. They’re better at it. I’m a fan of it and it’s great to see it coming back. I love the singer/songwriter troubadour element of it. For me the harder country beat is in Americana. That’s where the true spirit of country is. What’s happening at radio is because of commercialism. It’s pop music. The biggest problem that all formats have is that when something begins to work then everybody then does that. Especially in Nashville where one thing worked, then everything begins to sound like that. That’s because it’s basically pop music. It becomes popular culture and becomes commercialized, then it loses the heart. It will work for a little bit but then it’s going to recycle. But now some of that realness is coming back. It’ll make the music better. 

You toured on The Outsiders Tour with Dwight Yoakum as an opening act. How did your fans take to that?

It worked good. If you look at the kind of career that we’ve tried to carve out, that’s the career that he carved out 20 years ago. Some people wonder how it would go when it started, but I thought it worked great. I watched almost every night and he’s so good. He can still do it to the nines.

On the album you play both acoustic and also electric guitar. Do you like letting go with the latter?

I’m an insecure guitar player. I ended up playing a lot of parts on the record and that’s where Jay’s great as he tells me just to play and that “we’ll never use this.” So I’ll take a pass and it ends up being the one on the record. Because I think he is going to replace it I don’t feel that pressure. It’s the best when you’re not thinking too hard about what you’re playing. You’re playing from your heart and not from your head. One of my favourite things right now is playing the Mr Misunderstood album, as we haven’t had the chance to play it anywhere and we don’t know it that well yet. We recorded it and it’s been three months, so now playing it every night’s a little different. It’s at that stage where we don’t know it well enough to know what we should be playing. That’s fun. In the studio I know the feeling that if you chase a song too long and something starts to buck on you and it’s not happening. I believe that if it starts to get difficult to get a track then there’s something wrong. It’s time to move on. I do like to play acoustic and we are going to be doing two acoustic shows in Red Rocks. It’s not something I’d want to do all the time but I do love it. It is something that shows a different element of the songs.

Is Europe a place where you want to succeed?

A lot of artists come over and play Country 2 Country and then think that they’re big, but that’s not Europe. You have to commit to all of Europe. For us it’s been great. I happen to believe, and it could be naive, but I don’t think so, that music translates culture, it translates language. It’s a universal language. If you commit to it and play it, it works. This is a little bit of an exception as it is a kind of “soft ticket” as if I came to Dublin without this event, I wouldn’t be playing the 3 Arena. I’d be playing a theatre, which is what I’d rather do. The thing I can say is that I love the day that we’re on (with Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves) as I had turned this down a couple of times. I said I would if it was cohesive with who we are. You have people who are songwriters and troubadours who would go anywhere in Europe and road-dog it. For me it was important to get that right or I’d rather come and do my own show.

Interview by Stephen Rapid, assisted by Ronnie Norton. 

 

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