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Willie Shaw & Friends Raise Hundreds for Cancer Awareness in Nashville
CATEGORIES: Concert Reviews

Rascal Flatts

Photos by Rachel Deeb

Willie Shaw kicked off the first of a new monthly pop series at The Country on Friday (Jan. 13) in Nashville. Each month, Shaw and other local musicians on the lineup will dedicate the money made from performance tips to a new cancer charity.

January’s charity of choice is Vincible, a film project that aims to raise awareness for the faceless young adult cancer demographic. More than 70,000 people between the ages of 15 and 39 are diagnosed with cancer each year. The film will follow 27-year-old cancer survivor, Kayla Redig, as she creates a voice for those suffering with cancer.

“As musicians, we’ve been given a gift to bring people together and to do good,” Shaw said in between sets, urging those in attendance to donate money to the cause. His persuading worked as the evening raised over $500.

Performances throughout the night included Shaw, Pocket Change, Kate Puckett, Jackson Dreyer and Dakota Bradley. A versatile mix of pop music, the first installment of The Country Goes Pop was a success as each band captivated the packed bar.

Shaw kicked off the evening with a soulful set where his impressive falsetto often brought to mind Justin Timberlake. In fact, Shaw said that one song called “Falling In Love” was inspired by JT. It was easy to see the resemblance with Shaw’s sultry vocals alongside a backing band that infused jazz and soul music.

Meanwhile, the funky “Down Low Lover” switched gears with a grooving bass line that highlighted his voice and kept the crowd dancing along.

Pocket Change followed suit and brought their blend of soul, rock, pop and hip-hop to the venue. The Season 1 contestants of televised music competition American Supergroup energized with several originals as well as covers including Jay Z and Justin Timberlake’s “Holy Grail” and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.” Alternating lead vocalist, at times their set brought to mind the Black Eyed Peas with pulsating beats, rap features and powerhouse singing from female lead Kendra Chantelle.

P_Change1

 

While Pocket Change’s intensity made them a tough act to follow, Kate Puckett welcomed the challenge as she strapped on a keytar for her first song. Her ethereal vocals captivated her audience as she performed several songs off her forthcoming EP Break due out later this month. Puckett’s sing-along cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” had her jumping around the stage and the audience doing the same from the floor.

Kate Puckett

For more information on the monthly pop concert, keep up-to-date with Willie Shaw. The next two installments will be held on Feb. 17 and March 4 at The Country.

January 17, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Read the Rascal Flatts Cover Story
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week

rascal flatts

Courtesy: Big Machine Label Group

I was recently given a major assignment — to write the inaugural cover story for Sounds Like Nashville on Rascal Flatts. When I first started this blog in 2007, my dream was to write cover stories and to travel with bands for a living and somehow I’ve managed to make that work over the past decade. I’ve previously written a cover story for Country Weekly so I was well aware of the task at hand of interviewing an artist and writing 2,000+ words. But, that doesn’t mean the nerves weren’t there to write it well. I thought I’d share my article with you. Love to know your thoughts! You can find me on Twitter.

~

For many, 2016 was a year of significant loss. Music legends including Merle Haggard, Prince, George Michael, Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, among others, died last year. Many of these artists directly influenced country music’s biggest entertainers, Rascal Flatts included.

Personal loss hit close to home for Rascal Flatts, too. In a candid interview with Sounds Like Nashville, Rascal Flatts’ bassist Jay DeMarcus details a tough personal loss and collaborative loss. Their new single, “Yours If You Want It,” was written by Jonathan Singleton and the late Andrew Dorff. It is also the first song written by and released since Dorff’s unexpected death in December at the age of 40. Upon learning the news, DeMarcus said the life was sucked out of him.

“It’s been such a hard year. I lost my father-in-law right before Thanksgiving. We’ve lost so many wonderful artists in 2016, so it was just like the final straw,” he says quietly of Dorff’s passing over the phone. “Andrew was such a wonderful soul and such a gifted songwriter.”

DeMarcus says Dorff’s death was heartbreaking, but he immediately found comfort in the fact that the band had recorded his song and had already decided it would be their new single.

“I had gotten to talk with Andrew right before his passing about how much he loved our version of the track and loved what we had done with the arrangement. So, at least I knew that he was proud of what we brought to the table, as far as his song goes,” DeMarcus explains. “I was comforted and proud of the fact that, at the very least, we could be a part of, in some small way, ensuring that his legacy continues to live on.”

The song itself has received a welcomed reception from the industry as it was the most-added song to country radio just three days after its release according to Mediabase.

DeMarcus produced “Yours If You Want It” with his bandmates and said there was little to change from the demo. He envisioned a musical hook to the intro and outro of the song in the form of a guitar riff and added those ever catchy “whoa, whoa’s” to the chorus.

“It was such a great demo and Jonathan Singleton is such a great singer and he sang the demo,” DeMarcus notes. “The bones were there. We just put our Flatts stamp on it musically.”

“Yours If You Want It” includes a soaring melody and big chorus the band is known for and continues to push their sound forward. A song about a man who has been beaten up by life, he soon finds himself opening up to a woman explaining how he might be rough around the edges, but what he has left he will give wholeheartedly to her. It’s a triumphant return for Rascal Flatts and a much needed positive anthem to ring in 2017.

For more of my cover story on Rascal Flatts, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

January 16, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Corey Crowder
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Corey-Crowder

 

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Corey Crowder shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Corey Crowder never dreamed of being in a band or on the stage. Music was simply a hobby until he started playing guitar and singing in church as a teenager. Soon after, all he cared about was music and in college he frequently played open mic nights where listeners loved his original songs. This prompted him into forming several bands, thinking he wanted to be Dashboard Confessional and Death Cab for Cutie until he discovered Bob Dylan.

“Bob Dylan sent me down a spiral and I got really into Southern rock and I started playing,” he recalls nostalgically from his writers studio at Liz Rose Music in Nashville.

He eventually acquired a record deal with Christian label Tooth & Nail Records where he released one album, Gold and the Sand, but it was far from a success. Soon he found himself dropped from his label as he and his wife moved from Tennessee back home to Georgia.

“I felt like there was my shot, I bombed, and I might as well just play bars,” he admits. “I went home and worked for a t-shirt company. I sold t-shirts to bands that I had toured with.”

This was far from Crowder’s last foray in the music industry. Back in Georgia, his wife decided to submit one of his songs to country station 94.9 The Bull for their locals only Saturday night radio program. Liking what they heard, the station played Crowder’s song “Love” and EMI executive Bruce Burch was flipping through stations when he heard the track.

The two knew each other from his t-shirt selling days so Burch called Crowder and convinced him to meet in Athens, Ga. the next day where he was running a music business program. Another music executive, Duane Hobson, joined them and suggested Crowder give Nashville one more shot and to play for the head of Sony. Still uncertain about Music City, he decided to give it a try and got a developmental deal with Sony during his first meeting in 2009. So, he and his wife packed back up and moved to Nashville and he began writing another album.

“I signed a publishing deal with Universal and just started writing like crazy. Every day. Once, twice a day. Sometimes three times,” he recalls. “They had paired me with a producer and we were writing for my record. I didn’t get to pick my songs. It was the first time I had ever been in that process. What I loved most was writing and not necessarily the performing aspect.”

Soon after, there was a regime change at Sony and his deal got dropped. He says it was the best thing that’s ever happened to him, though, as he quickly realized he didn’t want an artist career. Instead, he wanted to be a songwriter, something he didn’t think was an option until he began getting holds and cuts with his songs.

“You start going, ‘Maybe I can make a living doing this.’ I started over. Once I left my deal at Universal, I made that decision the moment that I said, ‘Forever, here on out, no more artist. Writer/producer only,’” he says. “That’s been the last four years. There’s a million ways to get here, but that was my way that I ended up here.”

Over the past four years as a full-time songwriter, Crowder has accomplished more than most achieve in a lifetime. He was recently nominated for a GRAMMY for Chris Young and Cassadee Pope’s “Think of You” in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category where he is both a songwriter and producer on the track. It’s recognition he never thought he’d see and a bucket list moment.

Crowder wrote “Think of You” with Young and Josh Hoge and says the song was inspired in part by a friend who had recently gotten divorced. While Crowder has known his wife since he was 16, he said he began thinking about how terrible it would be for their friends if they split up.

“Our identity is in each other because we’ve been with each other over half our lives,” he explains. “I knew that one was something special when we wrote it. That rarely happens. Usually when I think a song’s a hit, it’s not. That one I was like, ‘That song’s a smash.’ I just knew it. It felt different. Maybe it was because it came from a real place that I felt that way.”

 

For more on my interview with Corey Crowder, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

January 15, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Dan Couch
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

dan-couch

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Dan Couch shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Dan Couch moved to Nashville in 1995 with the dream of being the next Garth Brooks. When things didn’t happen exactly how he envisioned, he found a new passion: songwriting.

The Indiana native spent years attending writers rounds and open mic nights in the late ’90s, meeting hopeful artists like himself including Kenny Alphin of Big & Rich, Ira Dean of Trick Pony and James Otto. Meanwhile, he continued to hone his craft as a songwriter. After being in Music City for three years, he soon realized that what he loved most was not being on the stage but writing songs.

“I was in love with the idea of being a star, but I’m thankful that I was because it got me here and I found songwriting,” Couch says over the phone. “I started doing more songwriting and really became passionate and fell in love with songwriting. Then I was determined to get a writing deal and become a songwriter and let that dream go about being the next Garth Brooks.”

In 1999, nearly four years to the day of moving to town, Couch signed his first publishing deal with BMG and continued attending writers rounds and setting up co-writes. Chart success would not come to Couch for a while. In fact, it was 13 years later in 2012 when he would see his first No. 1 with Kip Moore’s “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck.” The two-week No. 1 is what he calls “a dream being realized.”

It was a long journey to his first No. 1 hit and Couch pauses when asked what kept him going all those years. He says it was blind faith and support from his parents, friends and especially his wife, who is a labor and delivery nurse.

“We all had the mindset that if you wanted it bad enough, if you worked your butt off, that you can get there. I never doubted that I was going to be able to do it,” he shares. “Obviously, it took a lot longer than I thought it was going to, but that ended up being our journey. We’re on this journey and I wouldn’t change any of it.”

Couch adds that being hard-headed and holding the belief that success can happen is what often kept him going. Following his first No. 1 with “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck,” he’s had several hit songs including Moore’s second No. 1 “Hey Pretty Girl” as well as “Young Love” which went to No. 22 on the country charts and Canaan Smith’s “Hole In a Bottle” which went to No. 23 this past summer.

He credits his wife, who he calls the breadwinner, for allowing him to have a normal life and the livelihood to pursue songwriting full-time. “I couldn’t have done it without her,” he says. Couch’s wife is also his muse and was the inspiration behind his second chart topper, “Hey Pretty Girl,” off Moore’s debut album Up All Night.

“I remember wanting to write a song in honor of my wife, in appreciation. To tell a real story,” Couch recalls of the day he wrote the song with Moore. “I remember mostly throwing out a line that said, ‘Hey pretty girl, you did so good. Our baby’s got your eyes, and she got your nose like I hoped she would. Hey pretty girl, you did so good.’ Kip said, ‘No, man, and a fighter’s heart like I knew she would.’ That just absolutely floored me when that line came out of Kip’s mouth. I do very much remember that moment.”

 

 

For more of my interview with Dan Couch, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

December 25, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Davis Mallory Brings the Holidays to Life in ‘Box It Up’ Video
CATEGORIES: Videos


Nashville-based singer/songwriter and former MTV’s The Real World cast member Davis Mallory is offering holiday cheer this year in the form of his original song, “Box It Up.” In the beat heavy track he sings of how he wishes Christmas could stay all year long and we couldn’t agree more.

“Christmas is here, why won’t it stay. I wish that we could put it on replay,” he sings.

The music video for “Box It Up” stars real-life newlyweds Kelly and Tyler Laney and was filmed in Tennessee by cinematographer Blake Guidry and director Zachary Layman. The four-minute clip shows the couple enjoying all that the holiday season has to offer throughout the year instead of boxing up all their Christmas ornaments at the end of January.

“My goal in writing ‘Box It Up’ was to spread a message of keeping the holiday spirit and the love you have for friends and family alive all year round,” Mallory says.

He does exactly this in the song with his emotional singing style as the video brings the song to life as the Laneys paint the picture of the perfect holiday season. Watch the video for “Box It Up” above. For more on Mallory, visit his website.

“Box it Up” Lyrics

​Christmas is here why won’t it stay?
I wish that we could put it on replay
We’re so busy yeah all the year long,
You better not blink cause it’ll be gone

The smell of pine the golden star
My angel lies inside my arms
Feeling that fire warming our skin
Here in this moment hope it don’t end

Don’t wanna box it up, put it up on a shelf somewhere
Don’t wanna wrap it up, put an end to the spirit in the air
Don’t wanna lose the touch or watch the magic disappear
I wish the lights stayed bright forever, all through the year

Your eyes a pair of ornaments
Your hair a glistening Garland
Leaning in for our 25th kiss
Love and euphoria, absolute bliss

Don’t wanna box it up, put it up on a shelf somewhere
Don’t wanna wrap it up, put an end to the spirit in the air
Don’t wanna lose the touch or watch the magic disappear
I wish the lights stayed bright forever, all through the year
I wish it last forever

My love you complete it
From season to season
There’s no rhyme or reason
To hide it and keep it
Away somewhere
Somewhere we’re not there

Don’t wanna box it up, put it up on a shelf somewhere
Don’t wanna wrap it up, put an end to the spirit in the air
Don’t wanna lose the touch or watch the magic disappear
I wish the lights stayed bright forever, all through the year
All through the year!

December 23, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Paul Compton
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session
Paul Compton / Facebook

Paul Compton / Facebook

 

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Paul Compton shares what he has learned from working with Nashville songwriters as a song plugger.

 

Paul Compton was drawn to music from an early age. He played in his first band shortly after high school and eventually received a performance scholarship at Calhoun Community College in Alabama. In 1990, he moved to Nashville and completed his degree in Recording Industry Management at Middle Tennessee State University.

A fan of music and songwriting, Compton found himself interning at a publishing company called Murrah Music Corporation for two semesters. It just so happened that once his second semester ended, his boss exited which left a position open at the company. So, prompted by another employee, he applied and got the job. Compton would find himself at the same company for the next 17 years where he helped the early careers of many up-and-coming singer/songwriters including superstar in the making, Luke Bryan.

Compton recalls meeting Bryan around 2002 and while he says he never predicted the remarkable success that the “Move” singer would eventually have, he knew Bryan had the drive and determination to make it in the industry having come from a family of hard workers.

“When he walked in a room, before anybody even know who Luke Bryan was going to be, he could captivate a room,” Compton recalls. “This big southern voice, good looking guy, looks like a young Elvis, walks in a room and just lights up the party. You knew that if he could capture that in some artistic way on the stage with his songs, that people were going to respond because they did that before they even knew he could sing.”

Compton says Bryan was like a sponge when it came to learning about songwriting. He often borrowed what he could from people who had years of experience on him and soon went from someone they signed as an artist who wrote a little bit to becoming a “really respectable writer.”

Bryan’s early cuts included the title track off Travis Tritt’s 2004 album, Honky Tonk History and Billy Currington’s No. 1 song “Good Directions.”

“Luke started getting attention as a writer before his artistry was brought to fruition. He came at ideas from a different angle, wrote with writers who taught him how to craft a song. He was a good student and he worked hard. That was the deal with Luke,” Compton adds.

Compton says his job started out as a professional manager, what a lot of people in the industry call a song plugger. In addition to pitching songs to artists, he acted as a manager by setting up co-writes as well as demo production. He learned a lot from the publisher’s owner Roger Murrah, who is a Hall of Fame songwriter, and recalls Murrah having the perfect career attributes of being both creative and business savvy, which he says is often rare to find.

“I worked with him for 17 years, mentoring off of him, and slowly was promoted inside the company all the way up to Senior Vice President, which is the position I held for the last ten years that I worked there. We helped mentor young, aspiring professional writers to get to their first level and second level of success. Some of those writers, a great majority of them, went on to have No. 1 songs. I was a part of helping a lot of those writers get established, and get their songs cut. ”

For 17 years the company grew and was recognized by Billboard as Independent Publisher of the Year. Some of Compton’s personal successes included pitching what would become career songs for Kenny Chesney and Rascal Flatts. While he says there isn’t a direct science to getting a song in the hands of a popular artist, Compton would always pitch songs he believed in.

“I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of great firsts. Great songs that were a big part of not only the writer’s career but may have been a big part of the artist’s career,” he says with a smile. “I remember a young Kenny Chesney coming in, who had just gotten signed to RCA and they had cut most of his record, and they were looking for a few more songs. He was really desperate to find an uptempo song. I was back and forth playing him song after song of these uptempo songs, and towards the end of the meeting I kept asking, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to hear a ballad?’ He kept shooting me down, ‘No, I need uptempo.'”

Eventually Barry Beckett, Chesney’s producer at the time, urged him to try a ballad. So, Compton played him “When I Close My Eyes” written by Nettie Musick and Mark Alan Springer.

“He literally jumped off the couch, ran around the room, and it was almost like he had just scored a touchdown, he was so excited,” Compton recalls.

 

The song would be featured on Chesney’s 1996 album Me And You and make it all the way to No. 1 on the R&R chart (Radio and Records). It would also be his first No. 1 hit as an artist. Compton would have similar success with a brand new trio in 1999 — Rascal Flatts. Once again he was told by the band’s producer, Mark Bright, that ballads just weren’t probable at country radio. He recalls him saying, “A ballad right now is impossible. A midtempo is next to impossible. We just need uptempo songs to finish the record.”

Compton had only brought a midtempo and a ballad with him to the meeting, where 10 other song pluggers went around in a circle and pitched their songs. So, he started with the midtempo. He was the last one at the table and was getting increasingly more nervous as his turn came to play the ballad.

“I’m sitting there the whole time sweating bullets and thinking, ‘I’m holding a ballad and that’s all I’ve got.’ It’s like playing poker when you know you have nothing, and you’ve got all the chips on the table,” he reasons. “I believe in this song, I know it’s a hit song, I know it’s great. It kills me. It’s brand new, maybe I’m just too in love with it. I start trying to talk myself out of it. It gets all the way back around to me and I had no choice. I’m like, ‘Here’s the moment of truth. Either they’re going to laugh me out of the room, kick me out of the room, or think I’m a complete idiot, but I’m totally committed to this song, I believed in the song.'”

So, he plays the song and the room remains silent as the track comes to a close.

“It’s like that awkward thing where you tell a joke and nobody laughs right away. It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ Then it’s almost like everybody exhaled, and Mark Bright said, ‘They can like it now or they can like it later, but we’re cutting this song.'”

That song — “I’m Movin’ On” written by Phillip White and D. Vincent Williams — would become the last single released off the band’s self-titled debut album in 2000 and garner them an ACM Song of the Year win.

 

“It was a good moment for them and a great moment for us,” Compton adds. “I love songs that go past the entertainment value, that actually change people’s lives. I remember seeing emails and reading stories about how there were people contemplating suicide, going through a drug addiction, who were in prison. There were people going through the lowest point in their life and they heard that song, and it gave them hope that they could move on. When you’re a small part of something like that and you put it out into this world that went way past just entertainment, that’s a pretty special feeling. I hope Nashville can continue to celebrate those kind of talents and that kind of creativity that can foster those kind of songs.”

Murrah Music was bought out in 2009 and the company has since dissolved. Compton, however, has far from stopped helping up-and-coming songwriters. He has started a management company called Music Highway Writers Services that is strictly focused on writers. While he works on a daily basis with artists and singer/songwriters, he prides himself in helping the unsigned writer who hasn’t gotten their break yet. His goal is to help each writer get to the next level. Additionally, he helps the older, more established writers stay connected and plugged into the Nashville songwriting scene and acts as a consultant for those hoping to build their own publishing companies. Compton aims to help Nashville newcomers to navigate the waters easily and with nearly 30 years in the business, he is offering his talents to many Music City transplants.

“There’s a saying I used to have in my office, ‘You become successful by helping others become successful.’ That has been the motto of my career. I’m only successful if my writers and my artists that I work with can find success, and I’m happy with them getting all of the spotlight, because that’s not what I came to town to do. When they have their moment, there’s no better feeling in the world than to watch them revel in their moment.”

December 11, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Willie Shaw
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

willie-shaw

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Willie Shaw shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Willie Shaw grew up in a musical family where holidays were spent playing obscure songs on the record player while each family member guessed the musician who sang on the track. He says it was an unwritten rule in his family that each child picked up and learned an instrument at a certain age and his calling was the guitar. While he didn’t learn chords until he was a senior in high school, Willie recalls playing the guitar as a sophomore and writing songs in class.

“I grew up around music. I would always steal my mom’s CDs. I found her Beatles CDs and I would play them over and over and over again,” he recalls of his upbringing in Orange County, Calif. “I was the best shower singer in the world. My shower head knows all about my vocals. At that time, I didn’t even realize I was good at singing. I just did it in my shower, in my car.”

Even though music was part of his life from an early age, he didn’t fully realize he could sing until freshman year of high school when he learned he was getting a B in choir class. Willie and his football buddies sat in the back of the classroom and talked throughout each lecture and he soon learned that the only way to receive an A was to sing in front of 250 of his peers.

“I went up with my iPod and I put Stevie Wonder, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” in my ear and sang along to it. Everybody went from joking and making fun of me to really quiet,” he says. “I thought I messed up the words or something, so I started freaking out. After class the choir directors, they came up to me and said, ‘How do you feel about singing in our next concert? Have you ever sung in front of a large audience before?’ I was like, ‘No, but why not?’ So I sang two songs in that final concert of the year.”

Soon after he began writing songs, admitting that his first songs were “so bad.” Not knowing how to transition from verse to chorus his early songs were often seven minutes long. The more he wrote, though, the better he got. By junior year, he wrote what he calls his first real song, “Eskimo Kisses,” in geometry class. Writing songs was an outlet for Willie where he learned who he was and who he wanted to be.

Now, he immerses himself in songwriting and compares it to a job that he shows up for every day. “Some days you write a cool song you really like and some days you write a song that you give to somebody else,” he says.

Willie moved to Nashville last August after being discovered singing on a street corner in Williamsburg, Va. while studying at the College of William and Mary. A woman who had connections in Nashville walked up to him and asked what his plans for music were. An ego boost, he set up meetings with some of her contacts last June and two months later moved to Music City.

Currently, Willie works as an accountant for NASA part-time and once he finishes his shift each day he spends time honing his songwriting skills. He says his transition into Nashville living was slow at first, but now the people he has met feel like family.

“Before we even talked music, it’s like, ‘Who are you? Where are you from? Are you a good person? What church do you go to?’ Stuff like that where it’s very humanitarian based,” he says of the Nashville songwriting community. “In California, my experiences with the music industry, it’s very product driven first. Then, who are you second, if at all.”

Willie is a pop artist who cites acts like Andy Grammer, Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars as inspiration as well as Motown, doo-wop and jazz.

“I grew up by the beach in California, so I have that sound. I love 40s Big Band, swing music. As I’m cooking dinner, I’m listening to Glenn Miller and the Dorsey Brothers and Frank Sinatra. I love Motown, Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy. I also love the early rock and roll with Elvis, like everybody does,” he explains.

These influences can be heard throughout his music. Songs like “Good Feeling” and “Move,” available on his Soundcloud, were written when he was in high school and while he’s changed musically since then, they’re a good indication of where he came from.

Willie notes that an important songwriting lesson he’s learned since moving to Nashville is in being as honest as possible.

“People connect to things that are honest,” he explains. “I think that’s why you see a little bit of push back right now, especially in pop music. You listen to the radio and everybody’s talking about sex, drugs, alcohol. Not that that’s a new trend, but people can’t always connect. You look at people like J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar in the hip-hop realm, they are so brutally honest that people will follow them anywhere. It’s the same with country. Country’s a little more holistic because it’s so faith, family and values driven. Just being honest, whether that means you’re struggling with an addiction of some kind or you’re struggling with love.”

Willie also advises new songwriters and artists moving to Nashville of the importance of having a business plan and career goals.

“As much as it’s heroic and poetic to say ‘I’m chasing my dream,’ you have to have a goal with it too. If you’re just running around like a chicken with its head cut off, what’s the point? Where are you going to end up? You’re going to look back after a certain amount of time and be like, ‘I wasted X amount of money, X amount of time that I can’t get back.'”

He also urges those songwriters and artists to study people in the room when they’re out at writer’s rounds.

“Since I don’t sing country music, I have a five to ten second window when I first start singing to grab whoever’s there. That’s why often you’ll hear me sing something really jazzy, or I’ll start beat boxing, or I’ll play my mouth trumpet or something,” he explains. “That’s the hook, that’s the trailer to the rest of the movie.”

For more on Willie Shaw, visit his SoundCloud and Facebook.

November 27, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Erik Dylan
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

erik-dylan-promo

Photo courtesy Lonestar PR

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Erik Dylan shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Guitars were always present in Erik Dylan’s home as a young boy. The Kansas native vividly remembers listening to his father’s record collection which included artists like Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, Lynyrd Skynyrd, James Taylor and Guy Clark. Once he was older, he recalls his hour-long bus rides to and from school with the radio dialed in on mainstream contemporary country.

“That’s where the musical journey started for me,” Dylan shares over coffee at East Nashville’s Sip Cafe. “I’ve always loved music but I moved to Tennessee to go to MTSU for recording and production technology.”

While attending Middle Tennessee State University, Dylan got the songwriting bug and attempted to transfer into the songwriting program unsuccessfully. As he recalls, the professor of the program told him he wasn’t qualified to be a songwriter because he didn’t know enough music theory. Though this news sidelined him for a while, it wasn’t before long that he picked back up his guitar and began to write songs more seriously.

In 2011, Dylan hit a wall. Miserable at his job, he realized he wasn’t happy doing anything but music so he began playing open mic nights around Nashville every chance he got. As he recalls, he played close to 200 shows that year.

“I’ve always had a philosophy that you must be present to win with whatever you do and I thought at least being off of the couch and playing in front of people would give me a chance to find out how to get plugged in,” Dylan reasons. “I really didn’t know anybody in the music industry and wasn’t related to anybody in the music industry so I just kept doing that. One night I was playing at Belcourt Taps in the Village and luckily a guy named Kip Moore walked by and heard me and got me in touch with his publisher and producer, Brett James. That was the only publisher I ever met with and that’s who I signed with and I’ve been there for the last five years.”

While Dylan is the first to admit there are many highs and “tons of lows” when it comes to life as a songwriter, he says it’s his family who constantly keep him grounded.

“There are days where I wonder if I had the sort of normal 9-to-5 job, would I be making more money? Would I be making the same money? Would I be able to provide better for the family? I think what it comes down to is that I’m a better person when I’m writing songs,” he says. “I think I’m a happier person, I’m more grounded and I think it’ll be cool that my son knows he can do anything he wants to do, to chase a dream.”

Since he signed on as a songwriter with Cornman Music and Warner/Chappell, Dylan has been able to write with some of his heroes including Guy Clark and Steve Earle. He recently performed at the Ryman Auditorium as part of a memorial concert for Clark, citing it as the coolest moment he’s had in Nashville.

Another rewarding moment is having his first major label single with Eric Paslay’s “Angels In This Town.” Written with Paslay and Corey Crowder during a writers retreat in Alabama, “Angels In This Town” was finished quickly. Dylan remembers Crowder initially playing a track he had started while Paslay began strumming his guitar and humming a melody.

“Melody just falls out of Eric. He’s amazing when he sings. He has melodies for days, you never have to worry about a melody,” Dylan shares. “It sounded like he was saying ‘Angels In This Town’ at one point and we all looked at each other and I said, ‘I think that’s our song.’”

 

For more of my interview with Erik Dylan, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

November 20, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Jerry Vandiver
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

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Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Jerry Vandiver shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Seven years into his teaching career in Missouri, Jerry Vandiver visited Nashville during Spring Break and dove into the music scene playing his songs in writers rounds. He had visited Music City many times over the past few years during spring and summer breaks but this trip was different and a fellow teacher at school noticed the change. As Vandiver recalls, while the two were chatting about their vacation there was a lull in the conversation. While he had no immediate plan to move to Nashville, she saw things differently.

“You’re going to do it, aren’t you?” she asked. “You’re going to move to Nashville.”

“I thought about it and I said, ‘Yeah!’” Vandiver recalls of that fateful day in 1984. “I don’t know if she hadn’t said that if I’d be here today, because it’s a scary thing. I got everything in order, I told my Principal, told my Superintendent I’m not coming back. I came here in the fall and I remember driving from Kansas City to Nashville. I was halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis and I had the trailer behind me. I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing?’”

While he admits he almost turned back, ultimately he knew Nashville was the right decision. And, the thought of turning around and facing some of his biggest supporters after all those going away parties kept him driving. Vandiver cites that conversation with his colleague and his move to Nashville as his first defining moment. The second would come four months after his move when he would play the Bluebird Cafe for the very first time.

“Like everybody else that was really serious about it, I had my blinders on. I was like, ‘Damn the rejection! Full speed ahead.’ I pitched my songs like crazy, but none of them were ready at all,” he admits. “Up until that moment I had been naively calling publishers trying to get my songs heard. I say naively because at that time my songs were not ready. At that time though publishers were a little more receptive and a lot of them — not all of them but a lot of them — would offer critiques and feedback especially if they saw that you were serious.”

There was one publisher in particular called The Reese Company who Vandiver called only to learn that they weren’t taking any material. After his successful performance at the Bluebird, however, another songwriter approached him who had recently played some songs for the company’s owner, Jan Reese. That songwriter, Sandy Ramos, asked if he’d like to co-write sometime and for Vandiver it was a no brainer. He says it was all part of the networking process and after four years of co-writing with Ramos he signed his first single-song contract with The Reese Company. While the song he was signed for never got cut, it was a foot in the door that led to more single-song contracts for the songwriter. Vandiver calls his first single-song contract a “momentous moment” and he and Ramos continued to get better writing together.

One weekend, he was writing a new song while trying to get over a heartbreak. When he and Ramos met later that week she loved what she heard and said that she could make it a hit. Ramos put a new melody on the song and it became their first major label cut together for Gene Watson. The song was called “Don’t Waste It On the Blues” and went to No. 5 on the country charts in 1990 and won Vandiver an ASCAP Award. Vandiver notes that had he not gone to the Bluebird that one Sunday night and met Ramos and had he not had that heartbreak, the song would have never come together.

“Those are the stories that are all over Nashville. I find them fascinating, from anybody’s perspective,” he adds.

Before the song was put on hold Vandiver thought about giving up his career as a songwriter. At the moment his song was being pitched to Watson’s team, Vandiver was considering returning to school to get his Master’s Degree in Secondary Education and was at a local campus taking a tour. Vandiver says going back to school just didn’t feel right and went to his publisher’s office at Little Big Town Music afterward when he learned he had his first hold with Watson.

“I think that most songwriters can make a little bit of encouragement go a long way and so you get a little encouragement like that, a hold or sign a single-song contract or something, and you go, ‘Okay. I can make this last a few more days,’” he explains.

 

 

For more of my interview with Jerry Vandiver, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

October 2, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Richard Casper of CreatiVets
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

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(Pictured L-R) Richard Casper, Johnny Bulford, unnamed veteran, Stephen Salyers; Photo via @creativets on Instagram

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Richard Casper shares his journey to founding non-prfit CreatiVets.

 

For many veterans, returning home after war is a challenging ordeal. Numerous men and women who have served our country suffer from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and struggle to get reintroduced into society, some even commit suicide.

In a 2013 study, the Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 22 veterans each day commit suicide. CreatiVets, a non-profit organization that aims to offer relief and healing to veterans through songwriting, visual arts, music and creative writing, hopes to combat depression, PTS and suicide.

Richard Casper is the co-founder of CreatiVets and learned the struggles firsthand when he returned home after one tour in the Marine Corps Infantry in Iraq where his humvee was blown up four different times and his best friend died beside him. Casper himself suffered through three concussions, tore cartilage in his chest and after returning home learned he had brain damage from a traumatic brain injury.

“I had a lot of stuff inside me that I couldn’t get out after the war about my buddy who died,” Casper tells Sounds Like Nashville. “I started writing a lot about it. Not a song yet, but I was in a creative writing class so I was writing about it.”

When Casper returned from Iraq, he enrolled at a community college in Illinois and a friend suggested he try his hand at songwriting. Soon after, he got accepted to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and to make money while studying, Casper worked at Joe’s Bar. It was there that he was introduced to several songwriters through the venue’s songwriter series, all the while, he continued to write on the side. As he explains, his anxieties and depression minimized through songwriting and one night after a writer’s round at the venue he approached songwriter Mark Irwin (Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw) and shared his story and asked if he traveled to Nashville if Irwin would write with him. Irwin agreed and soon after Casper took a trip to Music City and wrote a song about his experience in Iraq called “One Night In Iraq.”

After his first writing session, Casper knew he wanted to find a way to help other veterans. He invited his friend who lost a leg and was severely burned from a vehicle borne Improvised Explosive Device (IED) to Nashville and they wrote a song in May of 2013 with Blackjack Billy. It was during this co-write that CreatiVets was born and was founded as a nonprofit that July.

Since 2013, nearly 30 veterans have come to Nashville to write with songwriters like Darryl Worley, Johnny Bulford, Lance Carpenter and Erik Dylan. Casper serves as the nonprofit’s co-writer and tour guide as he spends three days with each veteran. The day before the veteran sits down to write his or her story, Casper takes them to a writer’s round and tells them to listen to why the songwriters created their songs.

“Days prior, I’m on the phone with them prepping them about what the song’s going to be about so when we go into the writing room they know exactly what the song’s going to be. We’re not trying to write a hit song,” he stresses. “We’re trying to write their story and turn it into a song. If it becomes a hit that’s awesome, but that’s not what we’re doing it for. When we’re done, the guitar that we wrote the song with I give to the veteran so that we can get them to hopefully keep learning how to play guitar on their own and to write more music about what they went through and give them a new tool to help with the PTSD.”

 

For more on CreatiVets, read my article on Sounds Like Nashville and visit creativets.org.

 

September 11, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
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