Joshua Radin. Hotel Cafe Tour. 2008
YouSingiWrite
Featured Interviews Featured Interviews Interviews
Featured Photos
(Click on any photo to launch gallery)
Songwriting Session with The Wild Now
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

TheWildNow1

Courtesy: Noisy Ghost 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, Taylor Baker of The Wild Now shares what she has learned as a songwriter.

 

Taylor Baker and Drew Walker first met while watching Local Natives play a set at SXSW in 2013. Shortly after, the two musicians began writing songs together and formed a duo called Taylor & the Wild Now. In 2016, they changed their name to the Wild Now and charged full speed ahead playing shows and recording new music.

Their latest five-song EP Afterglow, released on Friday (May 19), showcases a new sound for the band as the duo have embraced the trumpet within their recordings. In an interview over the phone from her home in Austin, Texas, Taylor discussed the band’s evolution and shared some insight on songwriting and how she battles through the difficulties of writer’s block.

On Afterglow, Taylor says she and Drew made a conscious effort to transition to a newer sound. While it’s still the indie-pop music fans know and love, she says their songs have matured as they continue to push boundaries and themselves out of their comfort zone. One song in particular, “Tongue Tied,” shows this evolution. Drew wrote the instrumentals for the track and Taylor explains that it was this song in particular that prompted the decision to add trumpet features over the guitar parts and production.

“We really wanted it to be a song that people could listen to and escape,” Taylor explains. “It’s about letting go and living in the moment.”

While Drew writes the majority of the music first, Taylor will then add lyrics and melody to the song. She admits that lately she’s been having difficulty feeling inspired and her favorite songs are the ones that flow out of her. When she’s dealing with writer’s block she tries her best to sit down with her guitar and write, but not have too many expectations.

“I feel like when I put more pressure on myself then it’s stressful and nothing good really comes out of it,” she shares. “I’ll carry around a notebook, write down lyrics when they hit me and quotes that inspire me that I could maybe add to a song. Sometimes if I really feel stuck I’ll learn a cover of another song that I love, just to get ideas.”

Taylor says she always tries to write from an honest place. It’s advice another songwriter gave to her and something she has taken to heart, noting that the most popular songs are often the most relatable. Since she and bandmate Drew are currently dating she admits that this can sometimes be hard.

“I’m always in my head and [my] thoughts are all over the place. So, when I write, I discover the meaning after the fact and then I’m like, ‘OK this makes sense that I wrote this song,’ when at the time I wouldn’t really know exactly why,” she explains. “Me and Drew, my guitar player, we’re dating so I guess in some ways that does give me pause when writing because I don’t want to be too honest.”

The two songwriters never ask each other too much about the stories behind their songs and instead focus on writing the best song they can for listeners. Taylor describes Drew’s music as peaceful and beautiful, noting that some tracks have a more beachy vibe to them.

“It’s music you could listen to all the time,” she adds.

Their new single is “Afterglow” and Taylor says it’s the most unique track on the EP. Her airy vocals are accentuated by Drew’s musical production and she says the song hints at the direction their band is moving toward. Music fans will get a taste of this transition on the band’s current tour, which runs through June. The duo are set to play Austin City Limits in October and the Austin natives hope to connect with those in attendance.

“When I see somebody live, I get a connection more with the music than if I were to just listen to it [on a recording]. As a singer and being in a band myself, I love to watch their stage presence and get ideas of my own.”

Taylor says her favorite song to perform these days is “Run For Your Life.” Watch the music video for the song and stream their new EP below. For more on The Wild Now and upcoming tour dates, visit their website and follow them on Instagram.

The band is set to play Nashville on May 25 and May 26 at Cobra and The 5 Spot respectively. They head to New York on May 29 and May 30 to perform at Pianos and Rockwood Music Hall.

May 21, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Tommy Lee James
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Tommy-Lee-James

Credit: Olivia James

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, Tommy Lee James shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

It took Tommy Lee James 30 years to record his first album, The Wontons, which he released in March. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter moved to Music City in 1987 thinking he’d see fame and an artist career within six months but this was far from the case. After a failed record deal he found himself writing songs for others and would soon garner cuts from acts like Reba McEntire (“And Still”), Brooks & Dunn (“A Man This Lonely,” “If You See Him, If You See Her”), Gary Allan (“Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”), Tim McGraw (“She’s My Kind of Rain”) and Blake Shelton (“My Eyes”), among others.

While his day job may be writing songs for country, pop and EDM acts, James’ current project The Wontons shares his love of Brit pop. Some of his early influences include R.E.M., The Cure and Television and he channeled these acts when sitting down to write the record solo.

“In Nashville, except for a few times in 30 years, everything’s been a collaboration co-writing,” he tells me. “So this was 100-percent just sitting at my desk at my laptop working on the songs myself. I would work on them over the course of a few days in my head while I was doing other things, which is a nice luxury to have.”

Songs on the album include “Shoot Me Down,” which details James’ realization that there is often safety in numbers when co-writing. He lost that security blanket on the record and admits that writing by himself was daunting at first.

“It felt like, ‘Wow, I’m really putting myself out here, writing these songs by myself.’ Even after all these years it’s a little bit intimidating. ‘Shoot Me Down’ is about that, it’s about going out on a limb and just going for it, without fear.”

Other songs dig deeper. “Sometimes I Cry” has James’ grappling with the death of his father and the reality of our sometimes short life cycle.

“Some of those songs are about taking emotional inventory a little bit. It’s a luxury to write songs like that, it’s good therapy,” he reflects. “I don’t necessarily get that personal when I’m trying to write for the country market, or the pop market.”

James found success early on within the country genre. He recalls Nashville being a smaller town in the ’80s where he knocked on doors his first day in town with a backpack of cassettes and publishers let him in the door and listened to his songs. After two years, he signed his first deal with McEntire’s Starstruck Entertainment company and laughs as he remembers writing “a lot of really bad songs for them.”

His first cut was a song called “I Don’t Love You” that Conway Twitty recorded in 1993. McEntire would record another song called “And Still” two years later, which became James’ first No. 1. He’d soon find himself signed to an artist deal with RCA Records but was eventually dropped before he released an album.

Thanks to a tour with McEntire, he met Brooks & Dunn who soon needed an acoustic guitarist and singer in their band so James joined them on the road and began writing with Ronnie Dunn. The two penned “A Man This Lonely” together which would give James his second chart topper. His next hit would be “If You See Him/If You See Her,” which he co-wrote with Terry McBride and Jennifer Kimball. It became a duet between Brooks & Dunn and McEntire.

“We wrote it as a duet and we wrote it specifically for Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire,” James recalls. “We had the title, ‘If You See Him,’ and then we decided to make it ‘If You See Him, If You See Her,’ to make it a duet. We actually talked about what he would say, what she would say, and how they would say it. We were really focusing on that. I was so proud of that [song]. There was so much excitement around it because you had two major artists at the time on the record so I felt pretty good about that one.”

 

 

For more of my interview with Tommy Lee James, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

May 14, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Wendy Sweetlove
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Wendy Sweetlove


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, Wendy Sweetlove shares what she has learned as a songwriter.

California-based singer/songwriter Wendy Sweetlove grew up in the church and vividly recalls always having music around her home as a child. An avid reader, she was enamored with stories and did a lot of journaling and wrote poetry as she grew older. It wasn’t until after college, though, that she decided to place her poems to music after being prompted by a friend.

“There is something about music and good writing that moves you on a different level,” she says.

After college she began attending poetry readings. Transitioning through the aftermath of college is often difficult and she found herself often writing about her feelings. Soon after, she met a guitarist who she began co-writing with and realized that songwriting was something that she could do for a living. Now, Sweetlove is readying the release of her debut record. Ahead of her forthcoming album preview show on May 12 at Molly Malone’s in Los Angeles, we chatted with the singer about her songwriting process and music.

The lead single on the project is a sultry track called “Delilah” that tells the tale of temptation. When Sweetlove sits down to write she normally starts with lyrics and an idea of what she wants to say. This time around, however, her co-writers started the song by jamming on guitar. She took the music home and sat with it for a few weeks trying to figure out what the song was trying to say.

“I think because of my background in the church I’m fascinated by the concept of temptation, which is kind of who Delilah is — this symbol of temptation and yet, to think about the actual story from her perspective. That notion as a woman, I think temptation can be delicious. And, something that you can enjoy and savor and yet some things are better to save the temptation than to give into,” she explains.

Sweetlove said it was the guitar lick that first started the song and she began to ask herself what does temptation mean? What does it look like? And where’s the line? She said she was hoping to capture the back and forth of how life can be so joyful in one moment and painful in the next.

The intriguing rhythms and backing vocalists help to get the story across within the song and she says it is often the musicians that help her take the song to another place in the studio.

“I’m not a great instrumental player and I’ve just found that when I collaborate with people who really know their instrument, they just take the song to a better place for me,” she explains. “I’ve come to the place where I actually love the collaboration because it’s fun and I’ve had the good fortune to work with kind and talented and lovely people. But also, I feel like it makes the songs better. I feel like it just sharpens [them].”

Sweetlove wrote all the lyrics on her forthcoming project herself and says one piece of advice she has taken to heart on songwriting comes from a friend who told her not to be precious about her songs and to just write the song and let it be.

“I really think about that because what am I afraid of, really? Maybe, if I write a song that isn’t the best song in the world? I’m going to survive. I’m going to be okay. Now that I trust myself more and I trust my co-writers more it’s so much more fun for me,” she admits.

Sweetlove promises a personal release and says she makes a point to also incorporate playfulness into her writing. Her hope is that people who attend her live show will walk away feeling different experiences and emotions, but most importantly feel connected.

“Every single one of those songs has a story. A very personal story in some [situations]. I want them to come and feel like they’ve connected with something real, that I am really trying to share something of my experiences with the world [and] that it can get better. That you can find joy in places where you didn’t think you could and that we’re all so much more connected than we sometimes feel.”

For those in California, be sure to catch Wendy’s preview release show on May 12 at Molly Malone’s in Los Angeles. To hear a preview of her forthcoming album, visit her website.

May 7, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Read the Jon Pardi Cover Story
CATEGORIES: Features

Jon-Pardi

Jon Pardi’s star power continues to rise after a year of back-to-back No. 1 singles and a big win at the ACM Awards where he took home the trophy for Best New Male Vocalist. At his home in Dixon, Calif., though, he was always the star.

An adorable 1991 clip of a young Pardi posted to YouTube shows the singer performing Alan Jackson’s “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” with a toy rifle in hand that he strums like a guitar and a makeshift microphone stand where he belts the lyrics. A hint of what was to come 26 years later, a now 31-year-old Pardi is witnessing his lifelong dream come to fruition with the success of “Head Over Boots” and “Dirt On My Boots” from his sophomore album California Sunrise and his first-ever ACM Awards win in early April. It is fair to say that 2017 is unequivocally Pardi’s breakthrough year.

“It’s definitely like opening another chapter to where I’m going and what I’m doing and it’s exciting,” Pardi tells me over the phone recently from a tour stop in Canada. “I’ve been at the ACMs a lot so it was really awesome to go in there and win an award. It meant a lot to me. I was really sincere in my acceptance speech. The ACMs are great and there was the rush of playing on the awards show.”

The singer is currently on the road with Dierks Bentley and Cole Swindell as part of the What the Hell Tour and feels a different rush every night when he sees the seats filled as he takes the stage as the first opener each evening.

“There’s definitely a fan base out there that listens to all the music. California Sunrise is opening a new chapter to bigger things I would say. We’ve got a lot of great tours coming up next year that I can’t even talk about. You know how we’ve got to keep secrets,” he says with a laugh.

While he may be staying mum about what’s in store for the future, he is much more open about his past. Pardi moved to Nashville on February 23, 2008, a date forever etched in his memory. He nostalgically recalls dreaming of relocating to Music City since he was 18, but he says he had to grow up a bit first. He had a band in Chico, Calif., but the guys were graduating college and moving on to other jobs. After his drummer quit the band, Pardi knew he wanted to continue as a singer and songwriter even if he had to do it on his own. He saved money from working construction jobs, adamant that he had to at least try to chase a music career in Nashville.

After talking to several people in Nashville and learning more about Music Row and the songwriting community, he finally decided to made the leap from Northern California to Tennessee and hasn’t looked back since. While life as a musician is often a struggle, Pardi said it was songwriting that kept him going.

“Before Nashville, I was always writing melodies and songs. It’s like a piece of me that I kept recharged,” he admits.

Now it’s his fans that keep him going. He says he is thinking of them as he begins to work on his third record, just like he did when carving away at California Sunrise. Without a single on the radio for most of 2015 as he toured with Alan Jackson and played his own club shows, he says it was the fans that kept him inspired.

“If we didn’t have the fans, we’d be bummed out, but we’d show up to these clubs and sell them out and they’d be rowdy. We’d be having fun and they’d sing all the songs on the first record,” he marvels. “We’d play a new song and it’d be on YouTube the next day. That year connected the dots to California Sunrise, and kept you going. It’s really awesome to have die-hard fans. They keep the wheels going on the bus, and the request lines open.”

For more of my cover story on Jon Pardi, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

May 6, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Mary Bragg Releases New Album ‘Lucky Strike’
CATEGORIES: Features, Interviews

Mary Bragg

Credit:  Alex Berger

Mary Bragg grew up surrounded by music at her home in Georgia. Her father is a musician and choir director at her hometown church, so she and her family spent Sunday mornings singing together. While she credits church for her musical education, she also has vivid memories singing along to the radio and trying to harmonize Alabama songs as a youngster. It wasn’t until her first trip to Nashville following high school graduation that Mary was introduced to Americana music. A colleague at an internship handed her a Patty Griffin album and soon she delved into the works of other artists like Emmylou Harris, Townes Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams. After 10 years living in New York City and navigating the music scene there, Mary moved to Nashville and will release her latest project, Lucky Strike, on Friday, May 5. Her fourth full-length project, Lucky Strike, is her first album recorded in Music City.

Navigating Nashville

“When I first came to Nashville, I just wanted to write great songs. I did continue playing shows and toured, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make a career as an artist work. I’d go to shows all the time and it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the amount of talent here. What I’ve learned from writing every day was that writing is just as fulfilling to me as playing shows and so I let that temporarily dictate how I directed my time. I continued writing every day, not thinking about touring as much, and really not thinking about making records. It was Jim [Reilley], my co-producer [who said], ‘Stop it. It doesn’t have to be this or that. You are great and you need to make this record.’”

The Big Apple

“As much as I loved living in New York City for so long, I did feel like an afterthought to the city, because really everything is an afterthought to the city. [The song] ‘Lucky Strike’ is how I feel about my career and my struggle because it’s about believing in something despite not being dealt the hand that you wanted to have been dealt. Somehow you’re still believing that it is possible, that it can happen, that you can find some semblance of success as you go along. It’s not that you’re suddenly successful, it’s that your definition of success is changing. I feel like my current measure of success is unrelated to what the outward impression of success appears like.”

Honest Writing

“In pinpointing sadness, which can often feel isolating, we’re telling that listener out there, ‘Hey, you’re not alone. You’re not the only person who’s felt invisible in a sea of 8 million people in New York City. You’re not the only person who’s lost a parent.’ That’s the beauty of music—that people can feel comforted by hearing someone else’s pain, which might be much like their own. Every now and then, somebody’s listening close enough where they’re like, ‘Oh, man. That really got me just then,’ and that’s the moment that I’m always looking for.”

For more of my interview with Mary Bragg, visit Nash Country Daily.

May 5, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Meet Rick Brantley: the Springsteen of the South
CATEGORIES: Features

Rick Brantley performance

Credit: John Williams – HD Perfect Video & Photo

Rick Brantley released his new EP Hi-Fi today (April 14) and the six tracks from the project include some of the most descriptive and heartfelt lyrics you’ll hear coming out of Nashville. The South Georgia native recently sat down with The Shotgun Seat as part of their video series The Hang at George Dickel Distillery in Tennessee and You Sing I Write was on hand to ask a couple questions and learn the stories behind some of Brantley’s standout songs.

Brantley brought along frequent collaborators Tia Sillers and Mark Selby, both who co-wrote several of the songs featured on Hi-Fi and his previous release, Lo-Fi. The three songwriters sat together as the Shotgun Seat’s Annie Dineen hosted the livestream chat and performance. While Brantley is well known for his detailed characters and unique themes within his music, frequently drawing comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, both Sillers and Selby raved about writing with Brantley.

“I’ve never met anyone that’s such a method actor,” she says. “If we’re going to write a song about a person we have to go back to birth. We have to know what happened to him in fourth grade and we have to deliberate these things.”

Rick Brantley Tia Sillers, Mark Selby

Credit: John Williams

As Brantley explains, their collaboration often includes testing out what will work in his songs and what he feels comfortable singing. A fan favorite is “Claudette,” a song about Brantley’s childhood crush which appeared on his previous release Lo-Fi, and the singer/songwriter admits that he doesn’t remember writing the song.

“To be completely honest, I don’t really recall writing much of that song. That was a lot of Tia just talking to me writing shit down,” he says with a laugh. “Mark wasn’t there that day, he was on tour. It was incumbent on me to be the musical guy and I did that. I was thinking to myself, that’s all I have to do that day. That was a song we wrote and forgot about which is funny now because I can’t think of doing anything and not playing that song.”

Selby applauds the track, calling it “the perfect song.” Meanwhile, Sillers says Brantley’s “Hurt People,” featured on Hi-Fi, is a perfect song to her.

“I get this thing called song envy, incredible envy that I’m not a part of a song, and it’s gotta be ‘Hurt People.’ When he came in and played that I was so mad, I sulked for weeks. ‘Hurt People’ is a song that was so great and empowering to Rick . . . it raised the bar for him with all the other writing relationships too.”

Rick Brantley

Credit: John Williams

Brantley co-wrote “Hurt People” with Ashley Ray and the song details how often “hurt people, hurt people.” The first verse has Brantley recalling a childhood bully who frequently beat him up. One day he finally had enough and decided to confront him and when he rode his bicycle over to his house he found him, “sitting on his porch with his arm in a sling and a welt on his face in the shape of his daddy’s high-school ring.” As Brantley observes in the song, “Then it hit me. Hurt people, hurt people,” he sings on the haunting piano ballad.

A memorable track on his album, “Hurt People” is a profound one that the listener walks away replaying in his head long after hearing it. While Brantley says there’s a certain level of honesty to all his songs, he stresses there is also joy and hope.

 

 

“The thing I love about the new record is there is so much joy and so much hope. ‘Hurt People’ or ‘Enough Rope’ from Lo-Fi, they’re serious songs,” he notes. “I think one thing we’re good at is saying something that’s serious and to the point in a very joyful way. I would say ‘Fine So Fine’ is as honest a song as ‘Hurt People’ just in a different way.”

To watch Brantley’s livestream, visit Facebook. Listen to Brantley’s new EP Hi-Fi on Spotify below. For more, visit his website.

April 14, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Carrie Underwood Performs Aboard Carnival Cruise Ship
CATEGORIES: Concert Reviews

Last week I had the pleasure of escaping to the West Coast for a cruise to Catalina Island and Mexico to witness Carrie Underwood perform aboard the Carnival Imagination as part of the Carnival Live concert series. When I started You Sing I Write nearly 10 years ago I never imagined I’d be taking a cruise to cover a concert, I was simply hoping to write about some of my favorite bands. It was an experience I’ll never forget! Read my recap below and for an interview with Carrie, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

~

Passengers aboard the Carnival Imagination on Tuesday evening (April 4) were in for a very special treat when Carrie Underwood boarded the cruise ship in Catalina Island for an intimate concert. The singer played a nearly two-hour, 21-song set for a sold-out audience in the 900-seat Dynasty Lounge as part of the ongoing Carnival Live concert series.

Underwood’s performance culminated her year-long partnership with Carnival and Operation Homefront where the singer surprised several military families over the past year with meet and greet opportunities, tickets to her concert as well as a private show aboard the Carnival Vista in New York. Each audience member at Tuesday’s concert received a limited edition dog tag which benefits the Honor, Family, Fun initiative in support of Operation Homefront, an organization aimed at assisting military families.

The country singer was at ease in the intimate venue Tuesday night backed by her eight-piece band. Stories about her family’s whereabouts, her childhood hero Dolly Parton and frequently being told by her mother to “keep it down” when singing to her favorite artists as a child were peppered throughout her set as Underwood gave audience members a rare glimpse into her personal life.

“You guys seem like you’re having a great time,” she said two songs into her performance. “Of course you’re having a great time, you’re on vacation! We just ended a lot of travel. We were up in Toronto for a few days and then had the ACMs the night before last so we’re just going to pretend we’ve been on vacation with you all night long. It’s our night to cut loose and have some fun. Feel free to sing and dance and do whatever it is you want to do. There are no rules!”

Underwood segued effortlessly between the upbeat songs like “Good Girl” and “Cowboy Casanova” to poignant ballads including “Heartbeat” and “Jesus Take the Wheel,” a song she said she’ll sing a million more times and it will mean just as much, if not more, to her as the first time she heard it. Prefacing previous No. 1 “Heartbeat,” she dedicated the song to her husband before confessing that she wasn’t quite sure where he was.

“I see a lot of couples in the room. I don’t do too many love songs. When I was writing this one, it felt kind of nice,” she admitted. “I thought my husband could use it because I seem to write a lot of cheating songs and killing songs. He’s probably like, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ This one’s for my husband, wherever he is. Is he at home? Is there a home game tonight?”

After finishing “Heartbeat,” she told the audience that her husband, NHL Nashville Predators player Mike Fisher, had a home game that night.

“I know where my husband is. I feel like we’ve been away from home for a while so it’s nice to sing a little love song and think about him. He’s going to be gone when I get home,” she said as she received a collective “aw” from the audience. “I know! It’s all right. That’s our lives. My son will be there. He’s the one I really wanted to see.”

For more of my review, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

April 11, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Barry Dean
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Barry-Dean

Credit: Spencer Combs

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, Barry Dean shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Barry Dean was in his mid-30s when he started writing professionally. While he dabbled in songwriting throughout his teens and continued to make up songs while mowing the lawn as an adult in Kansas, it was never something he considered chasing after. In a candid hour-and-a-half interview in his writing room at his publisher, Creative Nation, Dean reflects on his long journey to Nashville. As he recalls, it all started one afternoon while having lunch with his wife.

“We were looking at what to do for a living, where I should go and she said, ‘Well, what’s your passion?’” Dean remembers with a smile while seated in his office surrounded by guitars, keyboards and inspiring quotes hanging from the ceiling light fixture. “I laughed about it. I said, ‘I don’t think mid-30s is the time to be chasing passions.’ I had kids.”

Dean then told his wife that he wanted to be a songwriter when he was a kid and often dreamed of being around record labels and musicians. When prompted by his wife about why he doesn’t write songs he admitted that he did, often while mowing the grass or in his journal. Surprised at her husband’s secret passion, songwriting was something she kept in mind when asking if he would take her on a cruise for their anniversary the following month. He obliged and as it turns out, Dean’s wife found a songwriting cruise hosted by Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI).

The cruise hosted discussions about songwriting in the morning and the remainder of the day would be a typical vacation setting. It was on this excursion that Dean wound up performing and was invited to Nashville for a song camp. Soon he’d find himself traveling back and forth from Kansas to Nashville throughout the year, booking co-writes and taking songwriting seminars.

While picking up a guitar, he describes his early songs as “weird because I was learning to play the guitar.” He then begins to play one of the first songs that garnered him attention from a publisher, “The Boots of Sunny Red.” A story song told from the perspective of a boot, the music could be featured in a Western movie. He says his future publisher knew the song wasn’t a hit, but he liked the way Dean was thinking.

One piece of advice that Dean has taken to heart came from Mike Reid, who often tells songwriters to ask, “what’s the next truest thing I can say?” Dean relates this to several of the songs he’s written including Little Big Town’s “Pontoon,” Martina McBride’s “God’s Will” and Tim McGraw’s “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” which garnered Dean his first Grammy nomination.

“It’s a pretty big deal to me to be allowed in this community at all. I really admire these writers. Getting nominated for a Grammy is really exciting,” he says, becoming reflective. “For a guy who never thought he’d get to do it at all, that is amazing that it’s possible that it can be done. I’ve been watching that show since I was a little boy and I got to go and we got to get dressed up and be with our friends and somebody liked the song, that’s pretty cool.”

“Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” was a co-write between Dean, Luke Laird and Jonathan Singleton and almost wasn’t recorded. The three friends spent most of the day working on something else but didn’t feel like they were getting anywhere so they switched gears. Dean remembers Laird playing a guitar riff first and the song was written 40 minutes later. He admits they didn’t think many artists would be interested.

“It’s really country. There was a discussion, ‘do we even demo it because it’s so country?’” he says. “We decided we would do it because we wanted to hear Jonathan Singleton sing. They played it for George Strait and thought he would cut it and then he didn’t and we thought, ‘Well, that’s probably about it.’ Then McGraw cut it. That guy, he’s a song connoisseur. McGraw has an understanding of his audience and himself and songs. It’s just amazing, really. To think of his catalog… to be a part of that catalog of songs is a big deal.”

 

 

For more of my interview with Barry Dean, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

April 9, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Tin Pan South 2017 Takes Over Nashville
CATEGORIES: Concert Reviews

The 25th Annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival was held last week in Nashville, Tenn. The world’s largest songwriters festival, the week included nightly showcases around Music City featuring some of the biggest talent in country music. I was on hand to cover the festival where I spent my nights catching sets by Old Dominion, Mickey Guyton, Kristian Bush, Craig Campbell and many more.

The combined talents of Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey and Trevor Rosen alongside frequent collaborators Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne amass countless No. 1 songs that include everyone from Kenny Chesney and Dierks Bentley to Miranda Lambert and Sam Hunt. The friends and co-writers kicked off night one of the 25th Annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival on Tuesday (March 28) at The Listening Room in Nashville where the evening served as part writers round and part comedy show.

Ramsey, Rosen, McAnally and Osborne have been writing together for years and that camaraderie was showcased throughout their 90-minute set as the good friends frequently finished each other’s sentences and poked fun at each other. “We’re going to play some songs for you guys,” he told the packed room. “Hopefully you’ll know some of these. We are not all collectively Old Dominion but half of us are.”

McAnally then jumped in, pointing to Ramsey and Rosen while telling the crowd they were Old Dominion and he and Osborne were Young Dominion as the audience laughed. After back-to-back No. 1 songs with McAnally’s “American Kids” which was a hit for Chesney and Rosen’s “Sangria” which topped the charts for Blake Shelton, it was Ramsey’s turn to play.

“I remember moving to Nashville and wanting to be a part of Tin Pan South and I couldn’t afford to even come into a show so this is nice to be here,” he reflected. “It’s even weirder that I’m about to play a song that’s a hit that I wrote that I also am in the band that performs it. It’s pretty mind blowing whenever that happens.”

He then segued into Old Dominion’s most recent No. 1 with “Song for Another Time” as fellow band member Rosen assisted on guitar and harmonies. For my complete recap on their showcase, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

The Late Late Night with Creative Nation showcase at Tin Pan South 2017 was one not to be missed and those attending the songwriters festival were well aware as the line to get into the show wrapped around the building and down the street of the Listening Room. For nearly two hours on Wednesday (March 29), those lucky enough to get in the door witnessed four of Nashville’s most respected songwriters perform up-close and tell the stories behind their hit songs.

Longtime friends and co-writers Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Luke Laird and Barry Dean, all writers with Creative Nation, played in the round and the evening tugged on the emotions. At one point, after several heavy-hitting songs were played, Dean joked that maybe Kleenex should be a sponsor while Laird advised the audience to take an Uber home.

“After a night of hearing some more of these songs you may want to call an Uber. There is going to be a lot of alcohol sold and a lot of picking yourself up off the ground,” Laird reasoned.

Fittingly, Hemby kicked off the round with her most recent No. 1 song, Justin Moore’s “You Look Like I Need a Drink.”

“If you live in Nashville you have to write a drinking song eventually,” she mused. “We’re a drinking town with a music problem.” Read my recap here.

Additional highlights of Tin Pan South included the CMA Songwriters Series showcase, Mickey Guyton, Rick Brantley, Victoria Banks and Tenille at The Station Inn and Kristian Bush and Craig Campbell’s set at 3rd & Lindsley.

April 8, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Mike Vial
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Mikevial_PressPhoto2small_PhotoCredit_AnneGlista

Credit: Anne Glista

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, Mike Vial shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Mike Vial has had a whirlwind six months. Days after the release of his new album, A World That’s Bigger, the Michigan-based singer/songwriter was hit by a car as he was walking to play a show. Vial soon found himself hobbling on crutches and lucky to be alive. He admits that, thankfully, his guitar has more cracks than him. Now fully healed, Vial chatted with me over the phone about his new album, his journey to becoming a full-time musician and some of the stories behind the songs on the record, which details the birth of his first daughter and the loss of a family member.

Vial has been a songwriter for as long as he can remember. The 35-year-old began writing poems and playing guitar in high school. He’d continue crafting songs as an adult in between his day job as a high school English teacher where he taught for eight years. In 2011, he decided to quit that job to focus more time on his artist career. Six years later, Vial continues full speed ahead with his songwriting and looks back on how it all began.

“I do remember the first song I wrote, and it was when I was a freshman,” he recalls. “I wrote a bunch of crappy songs that were more like the terrible poetry you would read in high school. I had a whole binder and I threw it away. I wish I still had it. The first song that I ever kept was when I was leaving for college. One classic breakup song. It was the first time I was singing.”

Vial admits that he had always pictured himself as a guitar player and not the frontman. During his senior year of high school, he and his friends were showcased as part of their school’s talent show where they performed three songs. Since no one could sing harmony in the band, Vial sang and he remembers it going pretty well.

“Finding my voice as a singer has been a very long journey. I think writing the song gave me another step in that direction that I was going to be the singer, and then I was going to be the artist in the front,” he admits.

While college mostly involved him reading books and teaching classes, he made some time for playing guitar and writing songs. He says that there were many little victories along the way that kept reminding him once he graduated that music wasn’t just a far off dream.

Years into his professional career, Vial often found himself playing bar gigs throughout Michigan after a long day of teaching. It was the steady money that eventually convinced him to finally leave his teaching job after eight years.

“I’m learning that there is no clear transition. It wasn’t like I had the perfect sign that it was right to quit my job. I just had to take the leap,” he explains. “It was the little victories along the way, and just in knowing I had to give it a shot. I think one thing is, and now that I’m a dad I definitely can relate to this whole thought I had. I needed to give myself time to figure out what music was going to look like before we started a family.”

As he approached his eighth year of teaching he realized it was “now or never,” explaining that the more comfortable one is in his lifestyle, the harder it is to leave. He describes music as a calling and says that when crafting a song, the music often comes first for him before the lyrics.

“There’s a moment in songwriting for me, where I feel like there’s enough development and there’s enough to go on, where the song is going to get finished, and it’s going to be pretty good,” he shares. “I know when I have the feeling, and I can’t explain what exactly it is. There’s enough structure there, there’s enough interesting parts. For the first set of lyrics, they usually come in the process when I’ve got a set structure of music and then I start humming and finding melodies. Then I find some lines, and the lines usually lead me to an idea. Then I’m off to the races.”

Vial adds that songwriting for him is “very chaotic.” He says the chaotic and messy process is the fun part for him.

 

 

“A World That’s Bigger” is the first song that Vial wrote as a father and is the title track to his latest release. He said it started with a Neil Young-esque riff that he jammed to before stumbling upon some melodies. He recalls humming as his daughter, Ginny, was sleeping in her bouncer.

“I was playing as quietly as possible. She’s just a baby, she can sleep through anything. I was lucky to catch that idea of the first verse, which is the first thing that I wrote lyrically for it during the processes of finding the chords that I was liking,” he recalls. “I was thinking about Ginny and I walking to this historic one-room schoolhouse down the street from our house and the baseball field and the church there. Then the theme of the weight of responsibility as a parent took over. Once I had the first verse and the chorus done, I knew that that was going to be a song.”

“Burning Bright,” meanwhile, was inspired by his late relative, David Plawecki, who started a pay-it-forward movement where he would give away $100 to everybody he knew for them to then give that money away to somebody else. Vial says he tries to write songs that are universal and this song embodies a universal theme of loss and death.

 

 

“I’ve learned I have to write about what I know,” he shares. “The way in which I approach is totally up to me because I’m writing the song and I’m not writing a memoir. That is another key balancing act of what’s going to do the song justice versus what’s going to do my ego justice. I have to be writing about what I know to get to the part where I don’t get stuck in a loop and I have enough to go on and I have enough interest to explore it.”

Vial admits that he’s been wanting to write a murder ballad but if he’s writing one, he needs to know that he’s relating to the speaker in the song.

“If they’re angry, I have to feel that anger. Fortunately, I’ve never hurt anybody but I’ve got to relate to that anger to get that song done,” he explains. “When it’s a relationship song, I’ve got to relate to them on a very personal level to get the seed of the song. It might grow in a different direction, but my seeds have to be really personal to get to the end. Otherwise, I just don’t feel like I have enough to go on.”

One song that has struck a chord with listeners is Vial’s “Girl On the Mountain, Boy On the Beach.” It’s a song for refugees that was entered into the Grassy Hill Songwriting Competition. While it didn’t win the prize, it did allow Vial to travel to Connecticut and play the song for the folk community there. He says it was a victory for him as a songwriter as so many people came up to him following his performance explaining how moved they were by it.

“It was the kind of song that gave myself permission to go in the folk direction,” he concedes. “Anytime we get to go to another city and play for a small or large audience is a win for the artist. That’s a part of the challenge. It’s a dream to just keep writing, let alone trying to play to people.”

 

For more on Mike Vial, visit his website or stream his latest album below.

March 26, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
  NEXT PAGE >>  
photo
White Lightning
The Cadillac Three
Listen to the Southern rock trio's new single, which is an ode to band member Jaren Johnston's wife.  More>>
YOU SING I WRITE
Music Reviews, Interviews, Concert & Album Reviews
facebookFacebook twitterTwitter rssRSS