I had the opportunity to tour with my first band back in 2008 when I was an intern at Rolling Stone. It was not as glamorous as I had previously thought, but an experience nonetheless. The band was Army of Me and I was in a tiny van with four guys as they toured with The Used. While it was a rite of passage I’ll never forget, I’ve always wondered what life on a tour bus is really like and I finally got to find out this year when I spent 24 hours on the road with Hunter Hayes as he broke a Guinness World Record for the most shows in 24 hours in multiple cities.
I spent 24 hours en route on a media bus where I tested out the bunks, realized the awkwardness of using the bathroom and had a newfound appreciation for the road life that so many artists deal with every day. You can read my full recap on Radio.com.
While I may not jump at the chance to travel the country on a tour bus myself, I wouldn’t say no to the next band opportunity. What was even more exciting was that that experience presented me with my first ever music plaque. I have a few softball trophies under my belt, but a music plaque is definitely a first.
That Hunter Hayes experience was just one of several that exhilarated me so far this summer and made me stop and cherish this crazy journey of being a music journalist. Last month, I interviewed Jason Mraz who I had grown up listening to. He was pretty much my college roommate’s life soundtrack and whenever I hear “I’m Yours” I’m always reminded of her ringtone.
I have not been that nervous for an interview in a very long time. I usually still get butterflies, but this time it was a huge knot in my stomach. He turned out to be more than cool and just a super chill person. Basically, exactly what you’d think he’d be like in real life. Watch our chat below.
Another highlight was interviewing Miranda Lambert. She just released her new album Platinum and while I only got 15 minutes with her, I was taken aback by how down to earth she was. While she’s married to perhaps the most popular man in country, Blake Shelton, she was so incredibly nice and even gave me some hilarious, yet questionable advice about turning 30 in November. “There’s always Spanx and Botox, you’ll be fine.” Watch my interview with her below.
I’m a strong believer that if you want something bad enough you’ll make it happen. Of course hard work, persistence and luck are usually the ingredients to success but sometimes it’s also timing. Being at the right place at the right time, or just having faith that things will work out. This all pretty much sums up my career as a music journalist. When I started this blog nearly seven years ago I never dreamed it would take me all the places I’ve been. I especially never thought I’d be covering an awards show, but I certainly hoped I’d attend one at some point in my lifetime. Lucky for me, it was this year and the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas last weekend. Below are my Top 10 moments of that experience. For all the photos, you can follow me on Instagram.
1. Gondola Ride with Dustin Lynch
I have never been to Las Vegas and for the longest time, the only reason i wanted to go was to see The Venetian in person and pretend I was back in Italy. I got that wish, but it was even better than I could have imagined. I rode on a gondola while interviewing Dustin Lynch! If that was the only thing that I accomplished while there it would have been enough.
2. The Red Carpet
I’ve covered a few red carpets before in New York and they were nothing compared to an awards show red carpet. Everyone was dressed up (including myself!) and I had butterflies the hours leading up to it. I already planned my standard three questions, but my nerves were getting the best of me, until it started and I realized how many friendly faces there were. Half of the artists that came by I had already met and interviewed, which helped calm my nerves. When I told Will Hoge of my worries, his advice: just be yourself. Which I did and luckily, the artists all remembered me which made it even easier.
3. The ACM Awards
For as long as I can remember, my dream was to attend an awards show. To sit in the audience and take in everything that was happening firsthand. In reality, it was more like a concert event than awards show with all the performances. During the commercial breaks, we’d see artist EPK’s on each new single, album, tour and best of performance moments from previous ACM Awards. Witnessing Merle Haggard come onstage and accept the Crystal Milestone Award, seeing George Strait perform in person for the first time and accept the Entertainer of the Year Award, it can’t get any better than that!
4. Interviewing Kip Moore
Talk about butterflies. I know I shouldn’t have crushes on musicians, but this guy is special. I don’t think I’ve listened to any country album more than his debut, Up All Night. My alarm every morning is set to his song, “Hey Pretty Girl.” While I’d never admit I’m obsessed, I am pretty infatuated. He’s just an incredible songwriter and someone I admire. Interviewing him only further proved this because he was so humble and almost uncomfortable talking about his nomination for New Artist of the Year. He also gave me some insight into his next release, which I can’t wait to hear later this year!
5. Brett Eldredge
He’s another one of my favorites and a friendly face throughout the weekend — backstage and on the Red Carpet. He is always one of the most fun guys to interview. Maybe I’ll even go shark diving with him…
6. Merle Haggard and George Strait Performing Together
I can’t believe this even happened. On Monday, I attended the TV taping for a special to air on CBS called ACM Presents An All-Star Salute to the Troops. The first performance of the night was George Strait and Merle Haggard playing “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” Two legends I never even dreamed of seeing live in the same room as me. It was truly mind blowing.
7. Attending Big Machine’s ACM After Party
Of course I was hoping to run into Taylor Swift at some point during the weekend, but this never happened. (There’s always next year!) I did attend her record label’s ACM party though where I chatted with Rascal Flatts, Eli Young Band and The Cadillac 3. Believe me, I was pinching myself. Having interviewed Rascal Flatts a few months prior, it wasn’t difficult to go up to the band but for some reason I was super nervous to approach Eli Young Band. Their single, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” is one of my all-time favorite country songs and one of the songs that kept me motivated as a freelancer when I constantly questioned my ongoing struggles in making my dream career work out. When I told my colleague this, he told me to go tell them. And I’m very glad I did. So sweet and humble, when I told one of the guys this he thanked me profusely and confessed that he often feels like the band is country music’s underdog. I’m not quite sure why and I told him this because I always hear their songs on the radio. It’s interesting to learn band’s perceptions on themselves and to find out that even country stars can be insecure.
8. Interviewing Chris Janson
“I hear you’re a songwriter,” Chris Janson said as he approached me on the red carpet. I was speechless and didn’t know how to respond. I still have never written a complete song. “It’s a simple question. Yes or no,” he said. To which my colleague urged me to say yes. “Sure, I guess,” I responded note even able to convince myself. It’s my dream to write a song (and his publicist knew this) so when I landed in New York, I signed up for a songwriting class. At least the next time someone asks me I’ll be more certain in my answer.
9. Walking the Strip
I couldn’t help but feel like I was walking on a movie set while in Las Vegas. My last day there I was able to take in the sites, walk past Italy, France and pretty much every major city imaginable all on the same street. It was surreal.
10. Being a Kid at Heart
Sometimes you just need to ride a roller coaster that’s in your hotel. It was actually terrifying! I stayed at the New York New York, ironically, and there is a roller coaster that starts at the top of the hotel and ends inside the hotel. It was something I never imagined seeing before. I also took a 30-minute trip on the new 550 ft Ferris Wheel at the Linq Hotel where I got a view of the entire city. To me, these rides were better than gambling…at least I knew where my money was going!
I’ve been lucky to have interviewed Hunter Hayes several times last year. A fan of his music, I’ve been known to have his songs on repeat for hours (especially “Wanted” and “I Want Crazy”). So, when I sat down to interview him, I had to ask about the first time he heard his song on the radio and if he ever gets tired of it (he doesn’t.) For a guy who has been performing live since he was four-years-old, who could blame him?
“I had just come off a six-week radio tour so it was a bit of a time warp for me,” he told me. “I had never been on the road that long. I was leaving dinner with my publisher and we were parked on opposite ends of the parking lot and she pulled around to where I was parked and rolled down the window and there was ‘Storm Warning,’ rocking. So I turned my car off and went over to her car and we jammed a little bit. That was the first time I heard it on the radio out of the blue.”
He added: “That’s not something you get used to or get comfortable with necessarily. It still catches me off guard a little bit and I think it always will because there’s something magical about somebody else endorsing your music that way, believing in you like that. It was really cool.”
Last week, I saw Yuna perform at Highline Ballroom in New York after my roommate raved about her and said she’d be an artist I like. Well, she was right. At the show there was something so familiar about her music, and the next day I realized that a friend of mine pitched her to me nearly three years ago.
“I think the most interesting thing about her is that she doesn’t compromise her Muslim beliefs but doesn’t drown her lyrics in religion,” she told me.
I couldn’t agree more. Her songs are so uplifting and while she dresses elegant and conservatively for a pop star, the Malaysian singer-songwriter grabs the concertgoer’s attention right off the bat. One song in and I was an immediate fan.
Before the show, a friend sent me her latest single “Rescue” and it struck a chord. It’s funny how sometimes the right song finds you. Lately, I’ve been questioning a lot of things, career-wise. While it’s my dream to move to Nashville, is it really realistic? More than anything, I miss the freedom of writing what I want every day, discovering new bands I’m passionate about and writing about them. That’s why I’ve vowed to throw myself back into this blog in 2014. At the end of the day, this is my personal resume and I’ll look back in 10, 20 years and remember that concert I attended that changed my perspective on life, that chance star-sighting at a bar in Nashville, and of course all the band interviews along the way.
Yuna’s lyrics also helped put this all in perspective:
“She thinks she’s all alone and all her hopes are gone and so I wrote this song so she can move along. Things were bad. She was in despair. Things were bad and you were never there, but things were bad, she came up for air. She said a little prayer, she found herself. Yeah she’s got light in her face, she don’t need no rescuing she’s okay.”
There’s no denying my love for Darius Rucker. A huge reason I fell in love with country music, he was the first artist I ever interviewed in a press conference setting and an experience I’ll never forget. It was 2009 and my first trip to Nashville. At this point in time I was very much a country newbie and a fish out of water in the press room.
Being my first time in the press room, I kept raising my hand in hopes to get my question answered. When the last question was asked and the publicist started to usher him off the stage he pointed in my direction. “You’ve been so patient this whole time,” he said. “What’s your question?”
After looking around and realizing he was talking to me, I was shocked and thankful to be given a second of his time. So, I asked him how his Hootie fans have reacted to his leap into country music and he told me they’ve embraced and supported his career in country music. Still stunned he pointed me out in the crowd I instantly knew country would become my new favorite genre.
Since that moment, I fell deeply in love with country. I’ve been lucky to have interviewed Darius three times since that day in the press room and he’s always been such a nice, friendly guy and great interview. During my most recent interview, he told me the story behind his GRAMMY-nominated song “Wagon Wheel.”
“When I heard ‘Wagon Wheel’ at my daughter’s high school talent contest, I don’t know what it was about the song, because I had heard the song before,” he told me. “When I heard it there I just thought, ‘Man some day I’m going to cut the song for a record.’ It was really one of those lightning bolt things that I can’t even explain.”
I’ve been lucky to have interviewed Colbie Caillat four times over the years, both for my blog and other outlets I write for. Most recently, I met up with Colbie to learn about her forthcoming album, due out later this year.
Currently nominated for a GRAMMY with Gavin DeGraw for their song “We Both Know” from the soundtrack Safe Haven, I also talked with her about her road diet for a feature on Radio.com called GRAMMY Gourmet and the difficulties being a vegetarian on the road can bring.
“It can be challenging, you don’t get to eat the foods you normally eat at home,” she told me. “You can’t cook. You’re on a bus with tons of people and different cities every day living out of a suitcase. It’s a lot of wear on your mind and body.”
Last year, I began asking every artist that I interviewed about the first time they heard themselves on the radio. I’m not quite sure where exactly I came up with the question, but it was always one of those moments in an interview that each artist would light up as they told me about it. I mentioned it one day in a meeting and everyone seemed to like the idea. Somehow, it became a big initiative right before the GRAMMYs and ACM Awards and many of the artists I asked this wound up in a commercial for Radio.com. On TV!
Later in the year, we decided to make it a weekly feature so every Monday I assign and help select some of the best answers to that question. This week’s feature is T-Pain, the very first rapper I’ve ever interviewed. His answer was a rather unique one.
“The first song of mine that I heard on the radio was ‘Time To Make Love,’” he told me. “I don’t even think it was on my first album. It was part of a mixtape I did before it came out. I was in my dad’s house in my room asleep. I definitely heard it in my sleep and I woke up and was like, ‘Oh man, I totally missed it!’ I definitely heard it but I was dreaming. I was laying down in my dream, but when I woke up I was like, ‘Oh that was really on the radio just then!’ I wish I had woken up a little earlier.”
He went on to tell me about his next album, Stoicville: Rise of the Phoenix, due out later this year.
“It’s a crazy range of songs, from swing songs and songs from the 60s to reggae songs and R&B,” he said. “I’m putting a country song on my album. There’s a lot of range so it’s hard to say what we want the sound to be. Anything that we pick will be a lot of range.”
For my complete interview, visit Radio.com. Stay tuned for more of my chat with T-Pain!
It’s hard to believe 2013 is coming to a close. I’ve been so lucky to interview some incredible artists this year, some that I never would have dreamed of getting the chance and others I’ve been dreaming up meeting since the seventh grade. Here’s my Top 13 interviews of 2013.
Do I need to say more? He filled me in on how difficult life as a boy band can be when your fiance is receiving death threats on a daily basis. That made me throw away my lifelong dream of marrying fellow bandmate Brian Littrell. Yes, I truly grew up in 2013.
I interviewed Willie on his tour bus and yes, it did smell like pot. I’m not quite sure if I got a contact high, just because I was so high on life after interviewing him. And that’s the truth. A true legend, he opened up about why he can’t live without songwriting and how the first time he heard his voice played back to him he hated it.
The Gambler. He had the absolute best stories and a true passion and gratefulness for his long career.
4. Robin Thicke
I interviewed him the week “Blurred Lines” went to No. 1. Also, this was the first time I ever interviewed an artist who kept his sunglasses on throughout the entire interview which was a little awkward at first. And he gave me some great relationship advice.
The first song I ever learned on guitar was “Hey There Delilah” and Tim and Tom made me blush while I recounted the story of my friend teaching me. In all fairness, they did have some pretty interesting views on relationships.
After seeing Deana Carter perform at the CMA Songwriters Series, I was excited to talk with her on the phone and learn about her latest album. The conversation geared it’s way into talking about how much we both love the TV show Nashville where she filled me in that she in fact auditioned for the star role.
The most thoughtful interview, I was at first startled at how he would stop and really think about answering my every question. After a while, I just let the dead air stay until he told me what he wanted to say and truthfully, I think that’s the best way to conduct an interview. Leave space to let the artist really open up and tell you something they may not have otherwise if you just jump to ask them the next question.
I was so excited to see this band succeed this year as I’d been catching them perform over the years throughout New York. There’s something so refreshing about a band you saw perform at a tiny club in New York to sharing a stage with Christina Aguilera.
When I first learned about Girls Write Now I knew the program was perfect for me. I never had a mentor growing up and always wished I had someone to help guide my writing and make me feel like I wasn’t crazy for dreaming of a career in music journalism. Last year, I was lucky to mentor Priscilla. Our first pair session involved us talking about music, specifically Adele and her two albums 19 and 21, and how our age and generation defines us. This morphed into two pieces we wrote and read at a Chapters reading together. The first time I had ever read one of my articles aloud, it was nerve-wracking and exhilarating at the same time. Sharing the stage with Priscilla was a joy and I was so taken aback by the support of the entire community after our reading.
This year, my new mentee Angel has a passion for music that reminds me of myself in high school. During our first meeting, we talked about Ed Sheeran and One Direction and I told her the story of when I interviewed 1D. Learning she had never been to a concert before, it was my goal to take her to a show. When Amos Lee came to perform at the Beacon Theater, I knew this was the perfect moment. Just seeing how excited she was for the concert and the awe we both shared for the beauty of the venue and his performance was something I’ll never forget. I’m not quite sure if Angel wants to pursue a career in music journalism, but I’m happy that if she does I can guide her along the way and be an example of someone who made her love of writing into a career.
Girls Write Now has really shown me the impact having a mentor can have and reminded me of why I love writing so much. Sharing my passion for writing with high school girls is unlike any experience I’ve had volunteering before. This Thanksgiving and holiday season, I want to give back to Girls Write Now by raising money to support an organization I believe in.
Last month, I interviewed Gavin DeGraw. A long time coming, his was the first concert I reviewed back in college and part of me has always wanted to meet him and tell him this. Nearly 10 years ago, I still remember the moment so vividly. Notebook in one hand and camera in the other, I was able to get to the front row of the show at Rutgers and a thought flashed through my head, “I could do this for a living!”
Of course I had already seen the film Almost Famous, but for some reason it never occurred to me that being a music journalist could actually be a real job. That Gavin DeGraw show changed everything. I began writing for our entertainment section of the school newspaper, interned at MTV, Rolling Stone and JANE Magazine in hopes to somehow make a career out of it. Somehow, much blood, sweat and tears later, I made it happen.
When I sat down with DeGraw, we talked about the struggle of starting out in music can be, the state of today’s music, his new album Make A Move, and the story behind his smash hit, “I Don’t Want To Be.”
“When I wrote ‘I Don’t Want To Be’ I was hearing so many of the songs that were coming out at the time and so many of the new artists that were coming out in different genres. Essentially they would say, ‘My name is… I’m from some place, all my homies or all my people or all my friends are like such and such and I represent this.’ I thought, ‘It seems like such a simple way to approach it, but realistically it’s so smart to just write a song that is essentially stating your identity.’”
Watch the video below, and for more of my interview with Gavin visit Radio.com.