Friday
Mar092018

Peter Mulvey Interview

Singer-songwriters never tread an easy path and the demands of the journey are filled with unseen twists and turns. One such travelling troubadour, Peter Mulvey, has navigated this chosen path with great élan and joie de vivre as his career has developed. Take his prodigious energy for continuous touring and his ever- impressive recorded output and you are close to the perfect example of the creative drive involved in turning dreams into reality. Lonesome Highway asked Peter to give us a peek into his current state of mind and also, reflect on the past, as he prepares for his Irish tour. 

Your next Dublin concert is coming up on 21st April next at the Workman’s Club in the city centre. Is this to highlight your latest release, Are You Listening?, which came out in March last year?

I’ve been on the road all my life. Every show is just about the audience, and myself, and the room. A moment that comes and then goes. Sure, I’ll play stuff from Are You Listening? but I’ll play very old stuff and brand new songs. I imagine I’ll play a song or two that get written between now, when I’m typing these words, and that day at the Workman’s Club.

The record was produced by Ani Di Franco, and released on her record label, Righteous Babe Records. Was it your song in 2015, Take Down Your Flag, that led to your initial meeting?

We’d met long before then and been peripherally aware of each other. But in 2014 I did a show with her in Anchorage, Alaska, and we had supper and bonded a bit, and she brought me on a few little runs here and there. It was during one of those that the murders at Mother Emanuel happened, and we sat together with her bandmates Terence and Todd just mulling it all over. I went in the dressing room, wrote Flag, went onstage, sang it, and when I came off Ani said “teach me that tune” and that’s where it started. So, it was natural that she would shepherd my next batch of songs out into the world.

That song was written as a result of a mass shooting at the AME Emanuel Church in Charleston and there was also an online benefit concert which you organised in support of the victims and their community. Were you pleased with the support of the music fraternity and the results, which generated quite a lot of media attention.

I was pleased to be of some small help, and to be some tiny drop in the river of our ongoing American awakening. We have a long road. We are a country awash in racism. Our current president is clearly racist, and an awful human being. I hope that this whole era is a wound being lanced.

As a musician, Ani Di Franco has always displayed a very eclectic vision, delivering a mix of folk, punk, rap and more recently, jazz leanings, across her records. How did she impact on your song-craft and the overall production?

She’s a born leader and a tremendous listener (those are the same thing, now that I say them out loud.) All of this ran through her lens. My favourite part was when she was overdubbing all the subtle vocal flourishes and piano and glockenspiel. 

Her guitar style is very percussive and rhythmic, something that you share in common; is there anything you learned from collaborating with her that has changed your approach to playing? 

Everything, though most of that is probably so deep in the past that it’s unavailable to me consciously. It’s just in the DNA now, Michael Hedges and Ani DiFranco and David Hidalgo...

You have been influenced by Chris Smither in your formative years as a musician and collaborate regularly with David Goodrich. What do these artists bring to you in terms of your musical development?

They’re my mentors, and still my dear friends. Smither brought me along into the world and taught me everything, and Goody and I grew up together.

You are looking back at 25 years of playing, recording and touring, averaging 100 gigs a year. What drives you to keep up the unrelenting pace over so many years?

Actually it’s 130 gigs a year over that span. But I’d go with “brisk” rather than “unrelenting”. I just love my work. I love a room, I love listeners, I love songs. At my age, I do have to engage in better self-care than I used to. More walking. Less drinking. More sleeping. I hope to keep a brisk pace into my seventies. Smither sure does.

Has the dynamic of touring changed much over this time?

Not at all. It’s a familiar thing and I wouldn’t really want it to change.

Does the relentless travel take its toll on your performance levels?

The opposite is true: I really feel I get into the swing of things as a run goes on.

Is getting paid from performing live the main source of income?

Yes, and it always has been. I probably just break even on records. I usually only sell three or four thousand records over the release, and that’s not a huge amount.

The lack of royalties on downloads and streaming has driven many talented artists out of the music business. How do you survive in an environment with the many constraints on income generation from all sources these days? 

I never depended on it in the first place. I was lucky enough to find the part of the job that I love, and that hasn’t dried up.

You have been a frequent visitor to Ireland over the years but we have not seen you for a while (three years?) – did you decide to finally take a time-out from your demanding touring schedule to take stock?

Not at all. I just didn’t have someone booking me tours over here. Now I’ve found, strangely, an American agency that does a decent job.

When did you first visit Ireland and how do your experiences of that time compare with the Ireland of today?

I was an exchange student in 1989 at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth. Mostly I just cut classes and hung out on Grafton Street with all the young buskers who were doing songs from Fisherman’s Blues and This Is The Sea. Peter Gabriel tunes, and Violent Femmes tunes. I made money in Irish coins and spent it on a used army jacket in Temple Bar ... I’d take the money and go hitchhiking and stay in youth hostels. And then I didn’t come back until 1997, Celtic Tiger and all that. Things change. Things don’t change. People are people. We’re all just primates with cell phones. 

You display a real lust for life and draw your influences from a number of creative sources - including poetry/ literature/narrative/daily encounters. Does your writing tend towards the personal perspective as a preference?

I tend to veer pretty widely. I have two records written right now, and just put the personal one down. I’ll follow with the universal one after. I will say, over the years, that those two antipodes have merged.

In 1995, your release, Rapture, included a hidden track and spoken word song, Aurora Borealis. Is there a factual story behind this track?

Yes indeed. A friend of mine was the kid. Hitchhiking in the South, taken in and given a place to stay by a racist, sexist jack wagon. The whole story is true. I stole it. What an unmerry band of thieves are we writers.

Your release, Letters From A Flying Machine (2009), was a departure in that it was a concept of sorts; letters from you to your nephews and nieces, read as spoken word pieces. What was the motivation behind the recording?

It all just arose from real life. I was setting down artefacts in my relationship with my brothers’ and sisters’ kids, things for them to dredge up when they become adults. And it seemed vibrant enough to make a record out of it.

You have also written a book, Vlad The Astrophysicist. It is dedicated to Children, Adults and other Old Souls. What was the original idea behind this?

It was one of the letters. And it’s a true story: I met an astrophysicist from the Czech Republic, and I asked him “Why haven’t we heard from another civilization” and he gave me an honest answer. It blew my mind, and so I really, really needed to find a way to get it into the world. So, it became one of the spoken word pieces on Letter... and then it became a TEDx Talk. And then a book. 

Was this the key factor that lead to your appearance on the Ted Talk programme?

The curator of the TED event got dragged to one of my shows and immediately asked me to participate in TEDx. It’s invite-only and it doesn’t pay. Which normally, as a working artist, I’d be a little wary of. But it’s a pretty beautiful idea.

In 2014, Silver Ladder was your 16th official release and was funded by a kick starter campaign. Have you happy memories of that experience?

Indeed I do. It’s a great feeling when you realize that you have the stalwart support of an audience that goes back decades.

Chuck Prophet produced this record. What did he bring to the project?

He is an instigator, a born antagonist, a court jester and a devil’s advocate. He made me walk the plank at every moment. The opposite of Ani. Both of them got good results.

You embark on a yearly bicycle tour in America. Apart from promoting fitness levels beyond most musician’s comprehension, have you encountered many close shaves on the American highways and byways?

Occasionally, yes. Cars are suspect. They isolate us in our glass bubbles and make us aggressive and careless. It’s part of why I do the bike tours in the first place: to find yet another way to stay human.

The latest release, Are You Listening?  suggests a growing frustration at the creeping indifference to hardship, inequality and suffering in the USA over recent times. Is the title a reflection of this?

The lynchpin of the whole record is an Anton Chekov quote: “Art should prepare us for tenderness.” It appears as an epigraph in the poem that made it onto the record, Winter Poem. I’m actually very hopeful about my country: Trump is clearly one of the worst people ever to hold the office, but, significantly, he is the oldest to hold that office, too. He’s the past. Frankly, my generation is kinder and softer and more creative and more nurturing than his was — the evidence bears that out. And the kids, don’t get me started. The kids are great. I’m very hopeful. I can’t help but notice that Sinn Fein’s new president is my age, and that she quoted Maya Angelou in her acceptance speech. I don’t know much else about her, but those two things seem promising from this distance. I think the future’s promising everywhere.

Your high energy performance levels have been captured on your live records (Glencree/Ten Thousand Mornings), collaborations (Redbird/The Knuckleball Suite), instrumental projects (David Goodrich), recorded standards (The Good Stuff) and indeed your entire body of work. How important is it to challenge yourself and step outside of your comfort zone when it comes to taking on different projects?

Picasso said that art shakes the dust from ordinary life. My experience is that you’d better be growing, always growing, if you want to be of any use to an audience. I’m just looking for ordinary magic.

You often include cover songs in your live shows and recorded output. What motivates your choices when it comes to selecting specific songs?

Oh, it’s just like trying on a jacket in a thrift store. Does it fit? Does it feel good? Sold.

Is the glass half full or half empty right now?

The glass is twice as large as it needs to be.

So, looking forward to seeing your return to Ireland in April. Is there a full tour this time around and what can we expect?

Oh yes. Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Ballymore, Dundalk, Leap, Limavady...

Peter Mulvey plays Dublin Workman’s Club on Saturday 21st April next. There will be other Irish dates announced shortly.

Make sure you catch this superb musician on his upcoming Irish tour. His live performance is always one that stays in the memory and Peter Mulvey gives everything he has got in communicating, entertaining, motivating and inspiring an audience to go out there and live life to the full. 

Interview by Paul McGee

Friday
Mar022018

Peter Oren Interview 

Indiana born Peter Oren’s dramatic baritone voice combined with his visionary song writing places him among the most talented young artist currently representing the lo-fi music genre. His concerns at the continuing interferences by humans in atmospheric and geologic issues is the subject of his recent album Anthropocene. Depressing as the subject matter may be, the album is dreamlike and immensely enjoyable, enriched by Oren’s calming and restful vocal delivery. Due to perform in both Dublin and Kilkenny next May Lonesome Highway spoke with Oren about the motivation for his writing, his frustrations and the artists that he currently admires. 

I believe your initial writings came by way of poetry. What motivated you to add music to the words?

Right. I had an English teacher my senior year of high school that had us read and analyse a poem as a class. The year prior, I stopped hanging out with a group of old friends because I was tired of the way they made fun of each other in a group setting. I started hanging out with a couple of new friends not long thereafter, and one of them I knew a little bit better than the other. The friend I knew better graduated a year early our senior year and went to Spain to work on a farm. The friend I didn’t know so well also knew a bit of guitar, so we ended up trying to write songs together for fun and joke about being famous indie musicians.

Had you studied music growing up?

There was always a piano in the house so far as I remember. I was made to take piano lessons at a young age, but I hardly practiced and didn’t really enjoy it. Later at 12 or 13 I asked for a guitar after learning more about music, particularly classic rock such as Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd. I didn’t take guitar lessons more than a year or two as I recall. I played in the middle school church band at my catholic school. I stopped playing so much when I left the private middle school for high school. All this is to say that my musical training is limited and that I mostly just took the chords I learned and figured out which ones go next to the others.

Your work appears often inspired by travel and observation. Is the material written on the spot or ideas stored and fleshed out when you sit down to complete an album?

It depends. My workflow is far from streamlined. I think Living By the Light was mostly written while traveling. Lake Crescent was written a month or two after having visited Washington state. Songs mostly happen independently, but I guess that some of the songs for my current album Anthropocene were written with the album in mind.

Your lyrics are as much about questioning as voicing an opinion?

I feel like I have a hundred songs that start with “I don’t know.” It’s my accidental-go-to opening line. I have plenty of opinions, but even more questions. I’d rather have understandings than opinions, but sometimes opinions are all you can have. An opinion is like an untested hypothesis. For example, in my opinion, a shift to an economy that prioritizes meeting people’s needs, protecting the ecological health of the planet, and maximizing autonomy via direct democratic control would be significantly better than capitalism, but this hypothesis has scarcely had the opportunity to be tested, with the exception of the anarchists in Spain back in the 30’s, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, MX, and recently the Kurds who formed the PKK. What I’ve read about these groups has been limited, but favourable.

Many established artists and bands dip in and out of environmental issues, often genuinely, sometimes a more cynical marketing exercise. Your song writing predominately addresses ecological issues.  Do you feel like a lone voice by times and have you considered forming a movement with other like-minded artists?

I definitely don’t feel alone in being tuned in to the ecological catastrophes of the day. I think there were a number of albums called Anthropocene when I looked it up, but not many in my genre if any. It was mostly metal I think. But there are definitely songwriters who are concerned and putting it in writing. It’s not always front-and-centre, and the artists aren’t as big as, say, Drake, but they exist. I’m definitely interested in seeing more people not only deeply concerned about the state of things but also taking action.

I don’t know what a movement of artists addressing the pervasive environmental problems would look like, but I hope that it would involve a look in the mirror that it would not just scratch the surface of the problem but also find the systemic causes.

Artists travel a lot in order to make a living, which makes our footprints much larger than most. I don’t blame them, mostly. I for one am just trying to survive capitalism in a way that might contribute to change, but I’m not sure it will. I fly and drive a lot more than I would otherwise. Sometimes I wonder what the “music industry” would look like in an ecologically-sound economy. High-speed rails to shows powered by wind and solar? Shows via the web and less travel? Collective ownership of the labels they are on?

Does much of the subject matter of your work depress you and is your writing a means of dealing with the inherent despondency contained within the material?

Yes, often I write to relieve depression brought on by the big issues we face collectively but have so little power over individually. In the case of “Anthropocene” I was writing from my own perspective and frustration, but I was spurred by a friend who was feeling depressed about the state of things and wondered out loud where all the songs about climate change are.

Your latest album Anthropocene, one that I’ve been treasuring since its release, appeared only one year after your debut recording Living By The Light.  Was all the material for the album written in that twelve-month period?

I’m glad to hear you dig it. I think most of the material was, yes. The song New Gardens was written way back in 2011 and brought into the mix when my ex said I should consider it because the line “save the fences for the rabbits” sounded timely, given Trump’s border policy. Oh, also, River and Stone was written in 2014. And Canary in a Mine was tumbling around my box of songs for a couple years I think. I don’t remember exactly when I wrote it. Had to look through the list of songs to answer that question...

 How challenging is the material from Anthropocene to deliver live while playing solo and do you prefer performing with a band or unaccompanied?

I rarely play with a band, unfortunately. I wish I could afford it, but it’s difficult to pay people at this stage to be quite honest. I wrote the songs without a band, usually on guitar first, so they’re built to be played solo. It’s not a big deal. I think they sound good stripped back. When I’m really raking it in, though, I’ll surely play with other people. It’s lonesome playing alone!

Tell me about how your relationship was formed with producer Ken Coomer?

I played a show opening for Gill Landry. He was accompanied by a band, including Jacob Edwards on drums. I kept in touch with Jacob and passed him Living By the Light. He passed it to Ken, then put us in touch when Ken indicated interest. Eventually I met with him at his studio while I was in Nashville and played him some new tunes, and we decided to work on a record.

Are you working on a third album at present?

I have a bunch of half-written songs and ideas for songs that I’m trying to work through and figure out which things are good, which are not worth the groove on a record, and which I can get placed in beer commercials so I don’t have to pay rent anymore. I’ll be free to do so until late March, so I’m hoping I come up with significant progress towards an album (or at least a song for a beer commercial) in that time.

The most obvious comparisons with yourself is Bill Callahan, an analogy that you may be tired of at this stage!  I understand you’re on record as an admirer of his work.  What other current artists or music moves you?

Yeah, I heard that almost every night on my recent tour with Jens Lekman. Bill’s great, so I can’t complain.

I really dig Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief. She’s an amazing writer. So outstanding. Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff is also great. Her song “Pa’lante” put me in tears. Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station is a favourite. All Of It Was Mine is my favourite of hers. Joan Shelley’s great. I listen to Sleeping Bag a lot--a buddy from Bloomington, IN. I really dig Ka. His lyricism is so good it’s ridiculous. I wish AA Bondy would put out a new record. I play his three records more than anything else I listen to, probably. Blake Mills would be my first pick if I were building a band. He’s an absurdly talented guitarist, a standout songwriter, and a great producer. Also, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Duran Jones and the Indications, Angelo de Augustine, Elvis Perkins, Jessica Pratt, Kevin Krauter, and Lean Year all ought to make my list. Why not, this is an internet publication, right? 

Interview by Declan Culliton

Peter Oren plays upstairs at Whelans on Saturday 5th May. Tickets €12 are on sale now from Ticketmaster.

 

Wednesday
Feb282018

Midland Interview

Midland are a trio who play country music that has an allegiance to the traditional side of things while maintaining a strong contemporary edge to their music. The latter is a result of working with the production and successful mainstream writing team of Dann Huff, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. The former by their commitment to delivering songs in the spirit of 70’s and 80’s heroes like Gary Stewart and Dwight Yoakum. Mark Wystrach, Jeff Carson and Cameron Duddy had all played music in the past and with each other but never as the trio Midland until they met at a wedding, realised a common bond and began writing and playing together. They also come from different working backgrounds and experiences with Wystrach gaining employment as an underwear model and Cameron Duddy as a video director (for Bruno Mars). This background, in certain quarters, fostered some controversy about the band’s background and history but there was no discounting the success the band had with the song Drinkin’ Problem. It was featured on their 2016 EP and was released as a single in July the following year and was a Top 5 hit at radio. Later that year they released their album On The Rocks which also featured the 5 tracks on the EP along with 8 additional tracks. Both were released by the influential Big Machine a label who undoubtedly had the where-with-all to help the band get noticed.

They have been touring since the album’s release and are playing the C2C Festival in Dublin, Glasgow and London where they should make a lot of new friends with their looks, “Nudie” styled suits and strong country sound. Lonesome Highway spoke to the band in Nashville prior to their departure to Europe.

The band’s name was take from the song Fair to Midland which featured on Dwight Yoakum’s Population Me album. So I asked them what the song and the title meant to them and by choosing it from Yoakum’s work was he a hero of the bands. Jeff responded that Midland has “multiple meanings in that each of us has our own philosophical appreciation of that but it began with Dwight Yoakam’s Fair To Midland song”. He further explained that “We were all living in different places when we started the band and we kind of met in the middle, which was El Paso, Texas. We meet in the middle as what we do is the combination of the three of us. So it has those multiple meanings for us. But in the simplest form the Dwight Yoakum song is the source” He acknowledged that the singer/actor was a big influence at the beginning with his “brand of balls to the wall honky tonk”.

As Yoakum did in the 80’s and 90’s and as Marty Stuart and Jim Lauderdale do today, did they feel that wearing the embroidered suits on the album cover was a statement in itself. Jeff again was affirmative in his response “Yeah, if you take someone like Dwight and going back to people like Roy Rogers in the ‘40s and Gene Autry and others it was important to be seen or as Roy Rogers said “from the nosebleed seats.” He further reasoned “there has always been a certain pageantry in country music all the way up to Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakum and people like that. So we’re just wearing that influence literally.” 

Asked about the creation of the songs and their sound and how it developed Wystrach considered that the album came from “three years of us being on the road and playing live for three or four and sometimes five night a week. So that comes straight from our blood, sweat and tears. There is a persona in the album that’s a little bit of Jess and Cameron and of me. That came from where we had been and where we were living - which is what On The Rocks is all about, which was our journey.” 

So I wondered were they going to stick with the same team for their next recordings. Again Wystrach answered that “nothing stays the exact same.” Elaborating that with the band “there is always going to be evolutions but the elements of who and what we are in Midland are evolving, so I don’t think the next album will sound just like On The Rocks as we progress and something changes.” But did they as band members felt that they were working well as a team and that they were going to continue to work with the team we have. “Cameron, Jess and I are very involved with every single aspect from the songwriting to the production through the creative direction etc. Everything is done through the three of us. We have amazing collaborators in Dan Huff, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne so we’re looking forward to working with them again.”

In that light I asked if there was pressure for them to move in any way to a more pop-oriented direction to gain more exposure on radio. Wystrach considered this but felt that “Midland - me, Jess and Cam just focus on what we’re doing. I think that’s what has been cutting through. I think you can attribute a lot of the success to the fact that it has something that is fresh and something very musical. It’s not pop.” Midland he emphaised were aiming for something less throwaway that some of the music currently riding high in the country radio charts. The band were not trying to do follow that more obvious route and that in terms of their song writing “what we do has some density to it as we’re not writing disposable, mechanical pop songs. We are writing from the heart and that’s where it’s got to start and finish.”

Was that a difficult position to maintain in that light I wondered. This time Carson responded “We didn’t have pressure from radio as when we started we didn’t think that we would be getting radio play or that radio would be interested in the music. I think that Drinkin’ Problem shocked everyone by showing that there are people who want to hear that on mainstream country radio. So we didn’t record those songs for radio we recorded them for ourselves.” 

Like most bands there is a democracy of sorts at play but did the trio divide tasks among themselves to a role that they felt best suited. Duddy answered “Well it depends on the task but we are definitely more productive when we divide and conquer. We each have a strong suit in something and it’s also a better use of our time. Everything goes through Midland so it’s actually easier for us on an emotional level as I couldn’t imagine doing this myself.” There is obviously a close bond that they have together and they had evolved a way of working that suited them and helped with the stress that is part and parcel of being in a band in these times. Duddy felt that there was a lot of pressure involved in making music including touring and he noted “I feel that every week there is some new bar that you have to raise up to, some new obstacle, and to be able to do that together and bear the weight of the pressure is made durable by the three of us doing that together” Also in terms of creativity that “you have a bouncing board and it has therefore to pass through at least two filters. If you’re Luke Bryan you don’t have that.”  Therefore if you were an individual that “you are always thinking, in the back of your mind, where is this opinion coming from? Whereas when you’re in the band the three involved can give an honest opinion, a straight “do you like this or not?” 

With a time constraint I asked the final question as to how they like to play live “We travel with additional players, they are close friends. Robbie Crowell is our drummer Luke Cutchen is our guitar player. He was basically working on our guitars in Austin and so we offered him the job.” All are looking forward to bringing their show to Europe “We haven’t been across the pond yet to play a show.” Duddy ended the interview by exclaiming “Speaking for myself I’m really excited to be coming over.”

Interview by Stephen Rapid

Tuesday
Feb202018

Rachel Baiman Interview

27 year old Nashville based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Baiman released her debut solo album Shame in June of 2017. Baiman is also a member of 10 String Symphony, a duo with Christian Sedelmyer, both five string banjo players, whose 2015 album Weight Of The World featured on NPR’s listings of newest and most promising voices in Americana on it’s release.  She is scheduled to play dates next May at JJ Harlow’s in Roscommon and Cleere’s in Kilkenny on the final day of The Kilkenny Roots Festival. Both dates will feature her sharing the stage with Molly Tuttle who was voted Guitar Player of The Year at The IBMA Awards last October. Lonesome Highway caught up with Rachel to learn more about the album and the motivation for much of the material featured on it.

Your excellent album Shame featured in our Best of 2017, having reviewed it last year. It’s perfectly balanced by being most listenable while challenging thorny political and social issues head on. You must be particularly pleased with it? 

 I'm really proud of it- it was definitely a big step for me artistically, and thanks for your kind words!  

The title track is particularly powerful tackling subject matter that is currently the focus of a referendum to be conducted in Ireland in the coming months. Was this the first song written for the album?

I don't think it was the first song written chronologically - but it was the song that first shaped the whole idea for the album. I think I actually wrote I could have been your lover too first. But after I wrote Shame I think the thematic tone was set and I felt more sure that this was an album I needed to make. 

The album mixes present social and political issues rather than harping back to older times as other artists do. Is this an indication of someone who lives very much in the present?

Ha-ha I wish! I always admire people who are Zen and do lots of yoga (my band mates in particular). I think I live mostly in the future - I'm usually on to the next thing so fast that I can't fully enjoy the present. 

How did the song writing and formation for the material compare with your compositions for your other project 10 String Symphony?

I think it's a difference between a personal voice and a band voice. When 10 String Symphony began we were working a lot with traditional music and how we could innovate on that - deconstructing traditional forms and incorporating a lot of original elements. Now that we do mostly original material the writing and arranging is really collaborative and has to reflect the mutual voice that we've created. With Shame I kind of went the opposite direction- I wanted to uncomplicate things. I was purposefully honest and straightforward to a vulnerable extent. 

The album includes two covers, one being Never Tire Of The Road by Andy Irvine, an artist who’s writing continually tackles issues of social injustice. Were you introduced to his music at an early age?

Actually, no- I'm a more recent fan. My fiancé George introduced me to that song because he thought I would like it and I became obsessed. 

Rather than the expected rebellion against your parent’s principals as a teenager you actually embraced their ideals and continue to do so in your musical career. You obviously had an interest in global politics from an early age?

I wasn't necessarily interested so much as inundated with global politics, but I was definitely always interested in social justice issues. It took me a while to figure out how to make that something I can tap into emotionally, through songs. I was living to two spheres for a while, studying anthropology and playing music at night. Now I feel like those interests are very much one and the same. 

The motivation for founding Folk Fights Back hardly needs explaining given the political upheaval in The States over the past couple of years. How has the movement been growing and what are your realistic goals going forward?

We've seen a lot of amazing support this year, I think the movement grew really fast, more quickly than the three (myself, Lily Henley and Kaitlyn Raitz) of us really had time to do properly. So moving forward, we are going to aim to do fewer shows and have them be more synced up so that we can get back the national/international community feel of having them happen surrounding the same issue on the same day. We are also working this year to support voter registration and voter engagement for the mid-term election. A lack of voter participation is a huge problem over here.  

The lack of support for female artists whether it be by radio play or record labels must be a source of infuriation, particularly with the endless stream of talent presently residing in Nashville and the quality of the material being produced. How do you deal with this frustration and do you see any light at the end of the tunnel?

 I'm lucky to have worked with an amazing label, Free Dirt Records, for the release of Shame. Free Dirt has released a number of albums by great female artists, which is part of the reason that I wanted to work with them. They don't make a big deal out of their feminist business practices, they just treat it as business as usual, and I really like that. I think it's the way it should be because it normalizes things that should be normal. 

There is so much horror going on in the United States, and it's hard to find a group of people that isn't being attacked or disadvantaged further by this presidency.  It's hard for me to focus specifically on sexism in the music industry when I see it as a part of this huge societal issue. My way of dealing with the patriarchy in general is just to constantly push myself out of my comfort zone. I push myself to make the best music I can make, to be a better instrumentalist, to know about sound engineering, to work harder and dig deeper and exceed people's expectations of a "female artist" so that nobody can argue with my abilities and my professionalism.  I was inspired by some amazing female artists, Caroline Spence, Lilly Hiatt, Courtney Barnett, Dori Freeman, among many others, to believe in myself. So I hope that females in the music business can continue to inspire one another, lift each other up, and become those record label executives and radio programmers and producers so that we aren't depending on an unrepresentative population to "support female artists".

Did you train formally as a musician? 

Yes and no - I had a lot of lessons with fiddle players and violinists growing up. In college, I studied anthropology but I also spent a lot of time at the music school taking theory, ear training, music history, etc. 

You are due to perform at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in May with Molly Tuttle, another musical virtuoso. How did the relationship with Molly develop? 

Molly is a good friend of mine, we started hanging out when she moved to Nashville a couple years ago. Since she also recently released her first solo album, I thought it would be amazing for us to be able to co-promote our projects while simultaneously having a total blast.  As you know, Molly is a phenomenal instrumentalist and I'm really looking forward to learning from and playing with her. 

The pairing of you both on tour is inspired. Do you intend performing selections from both your recent albums on stage together or playing individual slots?

We will be doing a lot of collaboration, mainly backing one another up on our respective original material (me on fiddle and banjo for her songs, her on lead guitar for mine), but we are also working on some special new material that will be more duo oriented. 

I have no doubt you’ll get a tremendous reception and welcome when you play your dates in Ireland and very look forward to your shows

Thanks so much, we are really looking forward to it as well! 

Interview by Declan Culliton

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jan172018

Michaela Anne Interview

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plans for 2018?

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

Interview by Declan Culliton  Photograph by Kristine Potter