Joshua Radin. Hotel Cafe Tour. 2008
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Toby Keith Covers Nash Country Weekly
CATEGORIES: Features, First Person

 

Since the very first time I watched Almost Famous, I’ve dreamed about traveling with bands, stepping inside a tour bus and writing a cover story. I can now officially announce that my first cover story is coming out this Friday!

I recently caught up with Toby Keith on tour for Nash Country Weekly to discuss his recent induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. During our chat, the singer opened up about his 20+ years as a professional songwriter, explained why the Songwriters Hall of Fame is the only award he has ever wanted and even shared some tips on writing songs.

Sitting inside his bus with him was longtime collaborator, songwriter Bobby Pinson, who has written many of Keith’s famous hits with him including “She Never Cried in Front of Me,” “Made in America,” “I Like Girls That Drink Beer,” “Shut Up and Hold On” as well as Keith’s current single “35 MPH Town.” Earlier that day, the two had been writing together and Keith said it’s writing every day that has allowed him to release an album every year. For my complete interview, be sure to pick up a copy of Nash Country Weekly on stands this Friday.

July 27, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
You Sing I Write Says Goodbye To NYC
CATEGORIES: First Person

A Thousand Horses

(Posing with A Thousand Horses after an interview at New York’s Bryant Park)

I vividly remember my first time visiting Nashville. It was the summer of 2009 and my two friends, Deana and Wendy, convinced me to join them on a trip to Music City for the annual CMA Music Festival. I must admit, I had little knowledge of country music back then besides Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban. Midway through the festival, though, I was sold on country music. So much so, I remember telling one freelance writer I met that I wanted to move to Nashville ASAP. Her advice to me: build your career and reputation in New York first. In Nashville everyone covers country music and it’s much harder to break into the field but in New York, I’d be the big fish in a small pond.

Looking back on a blog post from 2009, that initial spark and desire to move to Nashville is apparent:

Being in Nashville for CMA week really opened up my eyes into the country music realm and I was so glad to be a part of it. Somewhat of a newbie to the genre, what I saw this week were some of the most down-to-earth, appreciative and welcoming people in the business and it’s so refreshing to see the stars so receptive and engaging with their fans. I just may have to make a yearly trip to Nashville from now on!

Little did I know that yearly trip would turn into a desire to pack up all my things and move to Tennessee! When asked how I, a Jersey girl, first got into country music I always tell the story of this first trip to Nashville and my first experience attending a press conference at CMA Fest. Definitely a fish out of water, I had little knowledge of the country community and press conferences. I had never attended a press conference before and I didn’t realize you had to shout at the artist to get your question answered. Darius Rucker was the first artist to come through the room and as all the journalists yelled to get their questions answered I simply sat there with my hand raised. In that moment I felt so out of place and questioned my even being there. The last question was asked and Darius was being ushered off the stage by his publicist. But then he stopped and looked right at me.

“You have been so patient this whole time. What is your question?” he asked, pointing to me.

Darius Rucker

(Darius Rucker after he answered press questions in Nashville during CMA Fest)

I didn’t even realize he was talking to me so I turned to look behind me but sure enough he was addressing me. In that moment I was sold on country music. Having covered pop music for years, I really don’t think Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber would have even noticed me, let alone asked what my question was as sincerely as Darius did.

Since 2009, I have covered the country genre for Marie Claire, AOL, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Country Weekly and CBS and have gained some of my favorite New York memories thanks to the genre. Meeting Lady Antebellum at a Miranda Lambert concert at Terminal 5, then my first interview with Lady A a week later at City Winery. Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown Band being my first concert review for Rolling Stone. Spending the day with Keith Urban. The list goes on and on.

With all that said, I think it’s safe to say I built up my country music cred in New York and now it’s time for my next adventure — moving to Nashville. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Every morning I wake up at 4 a.m. with a minor freakout. Is this the right decision? Am I going to get work? All I know is in New York and New Jersey! While all my family is up here, I won’t grow as a writer and as a person unless I jump out of my comfort zone every once in a while. So, I am moving out of Brooklyn July 31st. I’ll head down to Nashville mid-September after spending some time with friends and family in New Jersey. It’s a huge leap for me, having grown up and gone to college in New Jersey and not knowing many people in Nashville but it’s something I have to do. I know I’ll always regret it if I don’t.

To celebrate, and say proper goodbyes, I’ll be doing it the only way I know how: by hosting a concert! Next Thursday, my roommate Leah Taylor and I will be putting together a show at Arlene’s Grocery in the Lower East Side from 7-9pm including performances by Hide & Seek, Eugene Tyler Band and Leah Taylor. Come by early for happy hour and stay and enjoy some free live music. The night will be bittersweet for sure, but I have good reason to believe Nashville is the best decision for me career-wise at this moment. In the meantime, I aim to update this blog more often on my adventures, bands to watch and interviews. Stay tuned for another exciting chapter for You Sing, I Write!

July 24, 2015 | | (2) comment comment
Interview: Sugar & the Hi-Lows Channel the Classics On New Album ‘High Roller’
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week, Features, Interviews

“The first writing session that we had was the easiest and most comfortable co-write you could ask for,” Trent Dabbs told me on a warm day in February in Nashville sitting inside his publicist’s office on Music Row. He, of course, was talking about his Sugar & the Hi-Lows bandmate Amy Stroup.

Dabbs, a well-known solo artist and producer, formed Sugar and the Hi-Lows with Stroup in 2012 after several productive co-writes where he recalls the songs were practically writing themselves.

“The more that Amy and I would write, the more inspired we felt, the more the songs were taking shape and getting better,” he adds. “I personally never felt like we plateaued as writers. We were only gaining momentum.”

Meanwhile, Stroup remembers her first co-write with Dabbs as being one of her favorite co-writes ever. One of the songs they wrote, “This Can’t Be the Last Time” appeared on their self-titled debut in 2012 after both artists decided it was time to start a band together.

While they’ve been together for a few years now, Sugar & the Hi-Lows’s sophomore album High Roller marks a new journey. The duo have further cemented their reputation as a must-see live act and dates opening for Kacey Musgraves continue to get their music out to a much bigger audience. The title track they wrote with Barry Dean, who Dabbs previously wrote Ingrid Michaelson’s “Girls Chase Boys” with, which also happened to be the first co-write for the duo.

 

“When he wrote with us, I could just feel that he was bringing out any shamelessness or quirks or anything that we had that we were hesitant to bring,” Dabbs admits. “I think that’s what makes a cool writer. We wanted to do a song that’s a straight up dance move that you can’t help but move around to. We played it at the Grand Ole Opry and no one was in their seat. There were people in the aisles. I felt like I was in The Blues Brothers.”

Stroup is quick to add that while writing “High Roller” she wanted to create a specific dance for the song inspired by her bandmates’ fancy footwork which is often highlighted at their live shows.

“I remember thinking, there are dances in the ‘60s, there are all these titles of songs, the shimmy and some of the ones we use in the second verse that we call out. ‘The Macarena’ was a huge song in the ‘90s. We were like, ‘Let’s try a modern day one that fits Sugar and the Hi-Lows.’”

So what exactly does that dance look like? The band show off some of their moves in the music video for the song above.

Highlights on the album include “Bees Love the Trees,” a title that Dabbs says was all Stroup’s idea. “I don’t know where in the world it came from,” he laughs, adding that it was a certain feeling they were chasing in their co-write.

“We were playfully calling out Music Row,” Stroup admits. “If you think about Johnny Cash style, if you remember, he released the Billboard article flicking off Music Row. There’s this badass sentiment, ‘We don’t need Music Row. Let’s be ourselves and see what happens,’” she says of the song.

While Stroup admits that they’re not flicking off Music Row per say, the song instead gives a nod to the rebels and artists who have forged their own path like Elvis Presley, Emmylou Harris, Jack White and Johnny Cash.

“There’s still something to offer when people seemingly don’t have all the attention of the corporate world looking on them. There’s still room for greatness coming out of these people time and time again,” she adds.

The album also includes “I Don’t Get High,” a song Dabbs says was an original way to tackle a love song, as well as “Right Time to Tell You” which is based around indecision. “If you listen to it, it feels like it has no finality but in the very last line it does,” Dabbs says. “It is about not wanting someone to leave, not letting them go. It’s a conversation I got from others.”

While Stroup admits that it’s scary to be so honest in co-writes, she says that writing with Dabbs allows her to say what she’s really feeling.

“There is some form of overcoming that, ‘Alright, this is how I feel and I’m just going to say it.’ Those are the songs that get me. I hope we can do that.”

Having frequently been compared to Carla Thomas and Otis Redding, it is this compliment that the duo don’t take lightly. In fact, Dabbs grew up listening to these classic singers and credits Redding and his father for influencing the band’s music.

“Listening to the classics like we did growing up and having a father say music isn’t good unless you can dance to it, helped us try to write songs that were more upbeat,” Dabbs said.

As for the comparisons to Redding and Thomas?

“You realize that you’re a ripple on a wave in an ocean and you’re just lucky to be in the ocean. I am thankful to be in the ocean and have influence on anyone,” he concludes.

Sugar & the Hi-Lows sophomore album High Roller is available now.

June 23, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Ten Out of Tenn Celebrates 10 Years
CATEGORIES: Features, Interviews

Ten Out of Tenn

I first learned about 10 Out of Tenn seven years ago while researching for an interview with Matthew Perryman Jones, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. Part of a collective of songwriters based in Tennessee, he told me of his decision to move from Atlanta to Nashville and how close-knit the songwriting community was in Nashville. I’d come to realize that years later after countless trips to Music City for work and fun, convincing myself more and more each time that it’s a city I need to live in.

During my recent trip there for Country Radio Seminar, I spent some time with singer-songwriter-producer Trent Dabbs, the founder of the 10 Out of Tenn tour concept and compilation albums and Amy Stroup, also a songwriter and one-half of the duo with Dabbs, Sugar & the Hi-Lows. They told me all about how 10 Out of Tenn formed and this Friday, April 24 the songwriter’s collective celebrates 10 years together with a performance at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. You can purchase tickets here.

“It came about really when my wife and I were driving back from a road trip in Jackson, Mississippi and I was listening to all these different local albums and realized that all these people were so good and some of my favorites,” Trent explains. “They were all local so it morphed into the idea, ‘What if we put them all on a compilation and let everyone know that it’s not just gospel and country music here?’ I like to rate things out of 10 so I came up with the quirky name.”

He explains that during the first tour the idea of having everyone play on each other’s songs wasn’t completely dialed in and the tour included two bands and four solo artists. The next tour consisted of more solo artists and everyone played on one another’s songs. Trent admits that he didn’t have high expectations the first year and never imagined that 10 years later they’d be celebrating such a big milestone.

“I think what made the beauty of the whole concept work was not having high expectations,” he says with a laugh. “We were just excited to tour with people that we love. The camaraderie of those people in the community that was present the whole tour just made it that much more special.”

Amy Stroup is the newest member of the collective and recalls first seeing a Ten Out of Tenn show while she was in college.

“I remember seeing it and thinking, ‘Oh, wow there’s a different possibility in Nashville of how you can do music. It’s not just country or gospel. There’s a really unique independent movement,'” she recalls. “I was 100% inspired by it. Trent and I were co-writing, we started co-writing a couple years before I was a part of 10 out of Tenn so I was very familiar with Trent and Kristen and the work that they were doing for artists and trying to create a different genre for Nashville to be known for, a collective idea.”

Amy says Ten Out of Tenn gave many musicians, including herself, the ability to stay in Nashville and make music as well as collaborate and work on each other’s records.

“We were lucky that it was all natural relationships. I don’t think if you just cherry picked a bunch of artists that it would work, if at all,” Trent adds. “I think the sincerity of it made it what it was.”

Amy explains that there isn’t a Ten Out of Tenn tryout, and instead the artists collaborate rather organically, many having written together in the past or sang on each other’s records. “We’re already working with these people, we already love them. Why don’t we tour together? There’s enough of us already naturally working together and cheering each other on,” she says.

Matthew Perryman Jones shared the same beliefs seven years ago when I asked him how the Nashville music scene stands out from the rest of the country.

“You think of Nashville and you think of Music City. Most people just think of country music. When I first moved here, there was this really cool, underground group of artists and songwriters that were amazing and inspiring. This town, even in the last three years, has just beefed up its artist roster.

“People are moving here from other cities, even from New York and L.A. because the music scene definitely has more of a communal sense to it, people really support each other. In a way, I guess it’s different from other cities in that there’s definitely more of a concentration of artists here and the community is definitely really big and supportive. Not to say it doesn’t exist in other cities, I’m sure it does, but I think it’s a little more prevalent here. I think it’s helped me too, in a sense, because it’s a really inspiring city to live in.”

The Ten Out of Tenn show on April 24 will feature music from Andrew Belle, Butterfly Boucher, Trent Dabbs, Andy Davis, Katie Herzig, Tyler James, Matthew Perryman Jones, Jeremy Lister, Erin McCarley, K.S. Rhoads and Amy Stroup.

April 23, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Song of the Week: Darius Rucker’s “Homegrown Honey”
CATEGORIES: Song of the Week

dariuspingo-770

Darius Rucker’s song “Homegrown Honey” went to No. 1 this week and it’s easy to see why. The song is as country as they come. Rucker wrote the song, the first single off his new album Southern Style, with Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Nathan Chapman. He told me last year that Kelley initially came up with the idea for the song.

“I was playing golf with Charles Kelley one day,” Rucker explained. “Charles is probably my best friend in the business. He said, ‘Man, we’ve been in Nashville seven years and have never written a song.’ I hadn’t really thought about it, but he was right. We had never written a song together. When I got to the session he had this great idea he had started with the opening line, ‘Sitting in a bar in New York City everyone here looking New York pretty.’”

“Homegrown Honey” is the introduction to Rucker’s excellent new album, which he says is the “countriest” album he’s ever released. “We’re going more into the countrier side of music than trying to go the other way,” he says.

Rucker says the success of his 2013 hit “Wagon Wheel” had some influence on the makings of the fun and countrified album Southern Style. While he didn’t sit down and consciously decide to do a song like “Wagon Wheel” again, he said it did open his eyes to the fact that he could do a “real country song” and have a hit with it.

“‘Wagon Wheel’ was the most country thing on country radio that year. It definitely opened our eyes to the fact that I can go make those country records and maybe have a hit or two and make another one,” he admits. “It definitely influenced this record.”

For my complete interview with Darius Rucker, visit Radio.com

April 2, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Artist of the Week: Kristian Bush
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week

Kristian Bush

Not many people have heard Kristian Bush‘s upcoming solo album Southern Gravity, which is due for release April 7. So, when I sit down with the country singer in Nashville for an interview and tell him I love what I’ve heard, he jumps out of his seat, a smile beaming across his face, and gives me a big hug.

“So very people have heard it, and I’m freaking out because fans are pre-ordering now, and it hit me two days ago,” he says excitedly. His voice is softer now, like he’s sharing a secret between friends. He’s genuinely excited about getting his new music out into the world, but also, understandably, a little anxious. This is, after all, his first solo album since his band Sugarland went on hiatus.

Fans, apparently, are excited to hear the music, too. As Bush relates, “When all those orders came in, they called me and said, ‘We’re out of the pre-orders. We need to reorder again.’ And I was like, ‘OK! That’s good news.’ And 20 minutes later I was like, ‘Oh no, they’re all going to hear it!’ It’s all starting to sink in.”

While country fans know Bush very well as one-half of Sugarland, many aren’t too familiar with his voice (his Sugarland partner Jennifer Nettles handles lead vocals). This fact is not lost on him. And the excitement for an album release isn’t, either.

“In a weird way, this is my third first record,” he says with a laugh. “I remember the first record with Billy Pilgrim, and I remember the first record with Sugarland, and this has the same energy. Most people who hear the music now, they don’t know it’s me because they’re not very familiar with it, because I didn’t sing very much in Sugarland. So it truly is, ‘Hello, my name is Kristian.’”

Bush says his new music will be a discovery process of sorts for people, as they’re now just figuring out what part of the DNA of the band he is.

“If you’re just a complete stranger and you’re like, ‘I love that song. Who’s that?’ That’s fun for me,” he admits. “It’s nerve-wracking and kind of fantastic.”

Interestingly enough, Bush said not even his closest friends have put his voice and his current single “Trailer Hitch” together.

“They don’t connect the dots yet,” he says. “That’s the piece I think that’s interesting about that song. As soon as they start to go, ‘Oh!’ Then it’s the fun and the stories and the grooves you expect from Sugarland, except it’s me singing.”

 

 

Read my complete interview with Kristian Bush on Radio.com. His debut solo album, Southern Gravity, will be released on April 7.

March 31, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Photo of the Week: Front Row with Cole Swindell
CATEGORIES: Photo of the Week

cole swindell

I’ve been to many shows over the years, enjoying them as a fan and a reporter. Last week was a bit of both when I attended my first concert at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for New York radio station 94.7 NashFM’s NashBash.

When I got to the venue with my friend, we were both given photo passes so I hung out near the photo pit at the very front of the stage for most of the night while she took photos. It was the closest I’ve been during a major show at such a big venue and I enjoyed every second of it. I never imagined my job would take me up close and backstage at a radio station’s concert but I often dreamed about it as a kid. Here’s headliner Cole Swindell performing at the beginning of his set.

March 30, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Song of the Week: Old Dominion’s “Break Up With Him”
CATEGORIES: Song of the Week

old dominion

The music industry, I’ve come to find, is very very small. At most concerts I attend it’s easy to run into at least one person I know, whether it’s a country show, a rock concert or a songwriter showcase. As I was catching up on Country Weekly this weekend I saw a very familiar face in the above photo. The magazine was featuring bands to watch in 2015 and Old Dominion was one. Once reading the names of the guys in the band, I realized I had already interviewed their guitarist years ago when he was in Army of Me. The first band I ever toured with, I spent a few days on the road with Army of Me and they couldn’t be nicer guys.

Looking back, it all makes so much sense. While I hadn’t started covering country music yet, I remember guitarist Brad  Tursi sitting backstage and playing country music on his guitar. The tour they were on was a pretty heavy rock show so I was surprised. He mentioned in passing that he loved writing country songs and while I was intrigued, I didn’t put too much thought into it. Nearly seven years later, he’s now living in Nashville writing country music on his own and with his band, who are about to hit the road with Kenny Chesney.

I had listened to Old Dominion’s EP in the past, but now I was really interested. I’ll admit, when I like a song I tend to play it on repeat almost all day and that’s exactly what happened when I heard their new single “Break Up With Him.” Listen to it below. I’d love to know your thoughts!

March 27, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Interview: Eli Young Band
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

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I was fortunate to interview Eli Young Band on their tour bus while I was in Nashville last month. The band that made “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” one of my all-time favorite songs a huge hit, it was great to meet the group who have been the soundtrack of my struggling freelance days. During our chat, the guys filled me in on their new EP, songwriting and how their wives continue to inspire their music. Read an excerpt below and the full interview on Radio.com.

The Eli Young Band originally had no intention to release any new material this month. But the four members of the Texas-based group were recently in the studio working on music to follow up their 2014 release 10,000 Towns, and their label Republic Nashville immediately loved what they heard.

Now four of those brand-new songs are included on the group’s new EP Turn It On, which dropped on March 10.

“We felt like we were onto something as far as the next step as the Eli Young Band,” frontman Mike Eli tells me, sitting in his tour bus with his bandmates during a stop in Nashville, Tenn. for the 2015 Country Radio Seminar.

“We just recorded these songs in January, so it’s a fast turnaround,” Eli continued. “The label came in and heard what we were doing and really liked it and wanted to release the single and get it out as quick as possible. They really fast-tracked it, faster than anything we’ve ever done.”

While the four Eli Young Band bandmates are all happily married, Eli says they often draw from their past, “Your Place or Mine” being no exception.

“It’s fun to channel the old days in some songs,” Eli says. “We’ve all been in that relationship.”

Eli says that song in particular was “really fun to write, and there are some really cool lyrical moments that we were really happy with as we were writing it. The song draws from the old school music of the Eli Young Band, which is neat to incorporate into the evolution of where we’re going.”

Eli wrote the song with bandmate Jon Jones and songwriters Ross Copperman and Jeremy Stover. Of the track, he says he and Jones each ended up marrying a woman like the one in the song, and Jones agrees.

“My wife and I are married 14 years now,” Jones adds. “We dated through college, and then we took a break. Then there was a point before we got back together that we went through a ‘Your Place Or Mine’ kind of thing, where maybe we were getting back together because it was familiar. Even though it is a really sad song, maybe it does have a happy ending.”

March 26, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Interview: Shania Twain
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

shaniatwain7701

If you were to tell me back in 1999 when I was sitting down with my family watching Shania Twain’s CBS television special (with an appearance from the Backstreet Boys!) that one day I would interview her, I would not believe it. But that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago.

Earlier this month, I chatted with the country singer over the phone right before she announced the news about her final tour. During our chat, she told me it will be a “dynamic, kick-ass show.” As the title of the tour, Rock This Country, suggests, she promises exactly that.

“It really is a rock meets country show. It’s going to have a lot of punch and edge. I just feel like I want to go out there with a bang,” she adds.

She’s also working on new music and while she wouldn’t divulge too much, I did get a little hint as to the direction she’s going in.

“The songs are going great,” she says enthusiastically. “I’ve been putting them together for a really long time now. They’ve been whirling around in my head, so I’ve got a pile of things, way too much for one album.”

While Twain says she’s in the studio and the “record is on its way,” she explains that it’s difficult to vividly describe and categorize the sound of the new material.

“It’s hard for me to put my finger on it; I don’t know how to explain it,” she confesses. “One of the producers involved, we were talking about how to describe it in words and he said, ‘This is soul. This is soul music.’”

Twain wouldn’t reveal the producer she’s working with, but she did agree with his ‘soulful’ explanation.

“It’s not like my music was ever traditional anyway. I don’t think anybody expects that from me. Nothing that I’m doing is traditional,” she says. “Certainly, as I reflect back on listening to this stuff, it reminds me a lot of the influences that I had growing up. There’s influences from my childhood in the music that I’m writing now.”

The country singer says she hears hints of artists like Emmylou Harris, Gladys Knight, Roy Orbison and Glen Campbell in the music she has been writing more recently.

“It is a more soulful approach to my songwriting then I’ve probably ever allowed myself to have before,” she admits. “It’s fun music, too. I like to stay positive. I’ll make sure that I do some things on there that make you feel good and happy as well. I’m having a lot of fun.”

For more of my interview with Shania Twain, visit Radio.com. And for a flashback to the ’90s, watch Shania perform “From This Moment” with the Backstreet Boys.

 

March 23, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
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Homegrown Honey
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