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Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 8 Little Big Town
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

I was fortunate to interview Little Big Town back in 2012 for Billboard when their single “Pontoon” was about to hit No. 1. They were as delightful to speak with as you’d imagine and this year I got the chance to sit down with Little Big Town again in our studio in New York as well as attend their album release show for their latest album, Pain Killer. With their first single off the release being called “Day Drinking,” I had to ask them what alcoholic beverage best describes their latest release.

Kimberly Schlapman doesn’t miss a beat. “Fireball!” she asserts, as her three bandmates nod their heads in approval.

Karen Fairchild then asks Kimberly if she has ever tasted the cinnamon-flavored whiskey. “No, but maybe I will,” she jokes.

Meanwhile, Phillip Sweet, who began the interview by singing Taylor Swift‘s “Out of the Woods,” says that Fireball “packs a punch and it’s sweet,” just like Pain Killer.

Karen, on the other hand, likens the new album to an Old Fashioned because “it has a bit of a vintage throwback to it, but it’s strong.”

One of the standout tracks on the album is “Girl Crush,” where Karen takes the lead and sings of how she has a crush of sorts on the object of an ex’s affection.

“I want to taste her lips, yeah ’cause they taste like you/ I want to drown myself in a bottle of her perfume/ I want her long blonde hair/ I want her magic touch/ Yeah, ’cause maybe then you’d want me just as much,” she sings.

“It’s written like a good old country jealousy story,” she explains. “I think we’ve all felt that, where we’ve lost a relationship and been rejected and we look at, ‘What did he want that I didn’t have?’ I think it’s a really easy thing to relate to, and yet you’ve never heard it said in that way.”

Other highlights on the album include “Save Your Sin,” which Phillip likens to a garage band rocking out. For this track Kimberly is on lead vocals, and as Phillip explains, “her voice went to a new place that we’ve not heard her do much of in the past.”

Her secret to getting that guttural growl on the song? Fireball whiskey.

While Kimberly admitted during our interview that she’d never tasted Fireball, that all changed the following night during their album release show. After the band notices a fan holding Fireball in the front row, she remarks, “I get crazy when we talk about Fireball,” confessing that she has never actually tried it. At first, despite prompts from fans to take a swig of it, she refuses. “I can’t do that in public! My mama might see.”

Not wanting to upset fans, though, her defense soon changes. “As far as I know, my mama’s not here tonight,” she says, then she takes a swig. “I feel it. This is kinda like moonshine. Don’t y’all tell my mama, now. I will deny it. I will lie to my mama.”

Catching up with her backstage after the show, I had to ask: Now that she just tried Fireball, does she still liken Pain Killer to the whiskey?

“Yes,” she says as she grabs my hand with a big grin. “It burned all the way down.”

Read more of my interview with Little Big Town at Radio.com.

December 18, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 9 Jake Owen
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

Jake Owen was one of the very first country artists I interviewed. In 2009, I headed to Nashville for the first time with two friends for CMA Fest and I instantly fell in love with country music. We wound up chatting with Jake on his bus shortly before his debut performance on the main stage at LP Field. He was super honest about the songs he wrote and why he loves living in Nashville. Little did I know, after that trip I’d be dreaming of moving to Nashville.

This time around, I talked with Jake about why it’s so important to cut outside songs and how it changed his career. We also discussed why he chose to mirror his first major headlining tour this year to where he began performing at The Riverside Cafe in Florida, complete with palm trees and Tiki bars.

“There’s a lot of people out there that didn’t live a life like I did growing up. I realized that’s what separates me from other people,” he explained. “You have to embrace the things that make you different but also embrace the things that make you unique to who you truly are. That’s why I was really adamant of making our show on the road look and feel like you’re back home in Florida with me when you come see my show. A show should be something that takes you somewhere in a place.”

His new single is “What We Ain’t Got,” a song written by Travis Meadows and Travis Jerome Goff. Jake explained that when he picks an outside song it has to do something to him.

“It has to live in my ear and continually tickle it. What I mean by that is continually make me want to listen to it again. Or, it has to have some sort of deep meaning on it and it’s easier for me to sing songs like that,” he said. “A great career comes from great songs. That’s why guys like George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn, they all recorded outside songs. Once I started recording the outside songs it really helped change my life. Whether I wrote it or didn’t write it, the best song should be the song that makes the album.”

Read more of my interview with Jake Owen at Radio.com. Watch my very first interview with Jake from 2009 below.

December 17, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 10 Miranda Lambert
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

Interviewing Miranda Lambert was truly an incredible experience. While I’ll admit I was a bit nervous as she has this “don’t mess with me persona” onstage when performing hits like “Kerosene,”  “Gunpowder & Lead” and “Somethin’ Bad,” she was such an inspiring interview and incredibly down to earth.

Miranda released her latest album, Platinum, this year when she was 30-years-old and since I was about to turn 30 myself, I had to ask her advice.

“There’s Spanx and Botox, you’re fine,” she joked, before getting serious. “When I say aging, I’m only 30. I’m just not 20 anymore. In the last 10 years, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’m so excited to head into my 30s. It’s like an adventure. It’s something to look forward to and hopefully get smarter and learn lessons from the mistakes you’ve made and hopefully not make as many mistakes as you did in your 20s.”

She added: “It’s not a scary thing. It’s exciting. With age you gain knowledge and knowledge is beautiful in my opinion. I just am really glad to be where I am. I’ve worked really hard and I have a lot of work ahead of me.”

The more we chatted, the more I could see how humble Miranda is and how being in the spotlight hasn’t changed her one bit. She chose 16 songs that spoke to her and where she is at in her life for her album Platinum. The 30-year-old Texas native said everything on the record is “a picture of who I am right now.”

“I know just being a girl, I’m just like everybody else and I know some of the things I’m going through, good or bad, surely there are other people out there that can relate to something on this record because it covers the gamut,” she said. “There’s all kinds of different songs on this record and there’s some humor too, more than I’ve ever had before on any other album.”

“I’ve been so blessed in my career to be able to sing the songs and write the songs that I really believe in,” she added. “A lot of people have struggled to keep going. I feel so lucky to always write songs like ‘Bathroom Sink’ and for people to come up and go, ‘Hey, I really relate to that.’ It’s not an easy thing to do, to lay your heart out there.”

Read more of my interview with Miranda Lambert at Radio.com.

December 16, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 11 Angaleena Presley
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

angaleenapresley

I walked away from my interview with Angaleena Presley speechless. By far the most honest interview I’ve ever had, Angaleena opened up to me so much about her life, her past and what many of the stories behind her songs on her debut solo album American Middle Class dealt with. I’m always grateful when an artist opens up so freely because talking about some of these songs is like giving me her diary to read. Like music, sometimes and interview can be therapy, and I can only hope I helped her get some of these thoughts off her chest and out into the world. Read some of our chat below.

“I got introduced to the world as Holler Annie with these two blondes beside me,” Angaleena told me of her bandmates Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe of the Pistol Annies. “I feel like I had to get in a band, make history and kick down a door so I could walk through it as a solo artist…I’m an older artist and I could sit there and be like, ‘Oh this should have happened.’ No. If it didn’t happen like this, you wouldn’t have had this story to write or this song that so many people connect with. I feel like everything happened the way it was supposed to happen for me.”

Angaleena has no trouble speaking her mind and American Middle Class makes that clear. On each of the 12 tracks, she gives an honest portrayal of her life covering the moments that others may want to forget. On “Drunk,” which Presley wrote with Sarah Siskind (who has written for Alison Krauss), she details the hurdles she faced during the “most horrific, tumultuous, part of my marriage,”

“I had gotten pregnant three months after knowing my ex-husband,” she recalls. “We were both wild, living the artist lifestyle and I got pregnant and I grew up and he really struggled with it. He just couldn’t do it. I went to write that day and I just started venting to [Siskind] because a lot of times writing appointments that’s like our therapy. We can’t really afford therapy at that stage in our career so we are literally each others’ therapists.”

While it felt good to get these things off her chest, Presley admits that she’s worried to play the song for her seven-year-old son being that it’s a “laundry list of how my marriage ended.”

“It’s so scary to think about the day that he puts two and two together and he’s like, ‘Oh, daddy did that?’” she says. “I’ve always tried to be really honest with him.”

While sitting with Presley at a French bakery in the heart of Midtown, she even tells a “TMI” story about how she had to explain menstruation to her son after he found a tampon in her car. “He’s like, ‘What is this?’ and I explained to him a woman’s cycle,” she says. “So I feel like that’s how I’m going to handle it. ‘Mommy and Daddy were young and wild and you were in Mommy’s tummy and Daddy didn’t have a baby in his tummy and it took him longer to be a grownup.’ I think I just figured it out in this interview. That sounded pretty good to me.”

Read our complete chat on Radio.com.

December 15, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 12 Cole Swindell
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

Cole Swindell has had an amazing year. Not only has he had back-to-back No. 1 singles as an artist, but songs he has penned for Thomas Rhett and Luke Bryan have also gone to No. 1. Not to mention, he released his debut album in February and is currently on his first major headlining tour.

I’ve been lucky to talk to Cole twice this year, back in February right before the release of his first album, and just last month the day before he performed at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Stay tuned for that interview later this week on Radio.com.) It was incredible to see his career transform over the year, from hearing how he made his way from Luke Bryan’s merch guy to his opener to now headlining his own shows. Cole remains as down to earth today as he did the first time I met him and you can see how grateful he is for his success as he is all smiles when talking about where his career has taken him. Below is an excerpt of our chat from earlier this year.

Cole Swindell first met Luke Bryan as a college student at Georgia Southern University, the same school the Crash My Party singer attended a few years earlier. “When I was in college he had already moved to Nashville,” Cole told me. “He came into town to do a show [and] me and my buddies were sitting on the front porch of the fraternity house waiting on his show that night. He came up needing to change his strings and played something he had written and I was like, ‘Man, that’s what I have to do.’”

The two kept in touch and when Cole moved to Nashville nearly six years ago, Luke happened to need a merch guy. While on the road, Cole focused on songwriting and began writing with the “Drink A Beer” singer and Florida Georgia Line, who were Luke’s opening act at the time.

“Just getting to write songs out on the road like that, that’s what got me started,” he said. “Everybody has their own path and mine started through songwriting.”

In fact, one of his favorite songs–not just on the album, but that he’s ever written–is the album’s closer, “The Back Roads And the Back Row,” a song that he says tells the story of his life.

“I grew up playing sports before I started singing,” he recalled. “Friday nights we were on that football field, Saturday we might be riding some back roads, chasing girls. But Sunday morning we had our butts in church.”

For more of my interview with Cole Swindell, visit Radio.com.

December 14, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 13 Dierks Bentley
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

There is no denying that Dierks Bentley’s GRAMMY-nominated album is his most personal. The country singer went through a lot while recording Riser, including the death of his father and the birth of his son. This hardship and joy can be heard within every track on the album. I sat down with Dierks in February for a very honest chat after the New York premiere of his film Dierks Bentley: Riser, which followed his journey during his recording process.

“It’s crazy with touring and family and your dad passing away and at the same time your son is born,” he told me. “As a songwriter, [you have to] keep that honesty and somehow put life into a three-minute-and-30-second song in different snippets throughout the whole album. That was the main challenge, and I feel like I was able to do that.”

His album Riser is a roller coaster of emotions, something Dierks is very aware of.

“Every album I make I try to make a snapshot of where I am at that point in my life,” Dierks said. “That’s the goal, to be able to capture that and put it on a record. And it’s really no different on this record– same process. It’s just that life is a lot fuller.”

Interestingly, the song that’s perhaps the most personal on the album, “Damn These Dreams,” almost didn’t make the cut. He explained that it wasn’t until he sent the song to his band that convinced him otherwise.

“Almost all of them wrote back and said, ‘That’s the best song of the whole deal. That song is so personal and you have to put it on the record.’ I’m so thankful we did. I’ve found the more personal that I write, the more universal the song tends to be for some reason. That song is strictly about me being on the road and being a musician and having a family. I had a lot of guys came up to me that travel for a living and said, ‘I sat down and played this song for my daughter who’s 14, and I had to travel a lot in her early years to explain what that push and pull is like.’ A song can really take a life of its own after you put it out there.”

For more of my interview with Dierks Bentley, visit Radio.com.

December 13, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 14 Vince Gill
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

I’ve been lucky to have interviewed Vince Gill twice in my career. Each time, I am constantly in awe of how down to earth and humble he is. He is one of the most successful artists in the country genre and one of the most gracious. This year, I sat down with Vince and Paul Franklin (an incredible pedal steel player) who released their album Bakersfield last year. The album pays tribute to the Bakersfield sound, specifically Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.

In addition to interviewing Vince and Paul, the very next week I was headed to Nashville so they invited me to see their western swing band the Time Jumpers when I was there at 3rd and Lindsley. It was a concert I’ll never forget. I truly felt like I was being transported back in time. Below is an excerpt of our interview from earlier this year.

During our chat, Vince and Paul discussed the impact the Bakersfield Sound has had on their careers, and why it’s important to put the spotlight back on the music today.

For starters, they were finding that the music of Owens and Haggard still resonated strongly with their Time Jumpers audience.

“We were sitting there together every Monday night, playing all of the great songs that we love to play,” Vince explained to me, “and every now and then I get my belly full of swing music and I’d say, ‘Hey, let’s play ‘Together Again’ or let’s play ‘Holding Things Together,’ both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard songs, and the crowd would go crazy. I told Paul, ‘There’s something here. Maybe we can find a way to do something to honor those guys.’”

After Vince and Paul got together to work on the Bakersfield project, they agreed it was “ridiculously easy” to select which Owens or Haggard song to record.

“You couldn’t make a bad decision truthfully,” Vince said. “That’s why those men are iconic, and that’s why they’re arguably two of the greatest that ever came down the pike for country music. It’s because that legacy of songs is just off the charts. You couldn’t pick a bad Merle Haggard song. You couldn’t pick a bad Buck Owens song.”

Ultimately, Bakersfield was a passion project for each musician.

“It’s just important to me to play music from the heart,” Paul explains. “That includes all the pop stuff. We both love pop as much as we do the traditional. Everything has its place, but it’s important for me at this point in my life to play music that I really love playing, and this goes to the core of where I started.”

Read more of my interview at Radio.com.

December 12, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 15 Jason Aldean
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

I sat down and spoke with Jason Aldean for nearly an hour earlier this year. While we talked at great lengths about his latest Platinum selling album Old Boots, New Dirt and career, we also discussed why he wants music fans to either love or hate his music and his honesty about it really struck me.

“I started playing clubs at 14, and by the time I was 21, I moved to Nashville. I didn’t think about a plan B,” he told me, before getting reflective. “That never really crossed my mind. Once you’re a musician it’s not something that you just one day go, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do that anymore.’ You can always play in a bar somewhere. You can always find an outlet to play music, whatever it is. I always knew I was going to do it some way. I didn’t necessarily know it was going to be on this level. The ultimate goal was I wanted to make a living doing it.”

Of his music career, he said it was important for him to do something he enjoyed and not have to get up every morning and dread going to work. And with that said, it is equally important to him that his music hits listeners at their core — whether they love what he does or hate it.

“I don’t want there to be any in-between,” he said. “I think one of the worst things somebody can say is, ‘Yeah, it’s OK.’ That means it has done absolutely nothing for you. I want it to hit a nerve one way or another. If you hate it, you’ll be talking about it, and that’s all I want.”

Aldean says that the worst thing would be if his music was just background noise.

“At that point it has done absolutely nothing for you, and it has done absolutely nothing for my career, and it’s a waste of time.”

For more of my interview with Jason Aldean, visit Radio.com.

December 11, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 16 Eric Church
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

Eric Church

I’ll never forget the first time I interviewed Eric Church. It was in 2010 at Joe’s Pub after his performance at the CMA Songwriters Series. We were in a tiny dressing room backstage and it was a different side of the singer than I had expected. A few months earlier I saw him live for the first time opening for Miranda Lambert and he put on a high energy show that packed a punch. At the CMA Songwriters Series, he was stripped down with just a guitar telling the stories behind his songs. The entire interview, he’d answer each question with a “Yes, ma’am” and I was pleasantly confused. While I understand that’s a Southern way to show respect I was confused because I was quite a bit younger than him.

This past February, I was in Nashville for work and my colleague Kurt and I headed to a record studio on Music Row to sit down with Eric once again. Maybe because it was two of us, he never said “Yes, ma’am” but the interview was nothing short of insightful. Below is an excerpt of the Q&A. Read the rest at Radio.com.

You’ve said that the process of making an album is tough and takes a lot out of you. Do you still feel that way?

It’s brutal. It’s why I won’t make a lot of them. I think you have to put yourself there artistically, first of all as a songwriter [Church cowrote every song on The Outsiders not to mention nearly every song on his three previous studio albums, too] . That’s the most important thing, is you have to … go get em and write em. It’s hard. And the worst part for me, is after you know you got the songs, then you got to record them that way, you have to capture them. So what you wrote then has to turn into something that stands up to the lyrical content on the record.

And I’ve lost more songs that way, where you got the best song in the world, but for whatever reason you didn’t capture that magic. So that’s the maddening part. You lose that, song’s gone, and you’ve wasted it. And when you’ve written 121 and [edited them down] to 12, you don’t want to lose those 12. So that part’s maddening to me, and it’s the hardest part of what I do.

You really wrote 121 songs for this project?

I was shocked to learn that myself. We wrote about 60 for Chief, so we wrote twice as many. I don’t know why … it wasn’t something like, ‘let’s write twice as many.’ It just ended up being that way.

What were the ideas behind the cryptic video teasers you created leading up to the release of The Outsiders?

I wish I could take more credit, [but] my manager actually came up with that and shot those. I love a good mystery anyway, I love having fun. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, never have been, and never will be [laughs]. So it’s a way to interact with the fans without that. It’s a way to have some fun [and] add some intrigue.

There’s a lot of mysteries and a lot of hidden messages that are in those cryptic things that talk about a lot of stuff that’s coming down the line, that [fans] don’t know yet. Maybe a single choice, maybe another video, maybe another character. And we put that in there just to see how many of them could pick it apart and find out. So that’s what it was, just a different way of interacting.

Is that also true of the story and characters that appear in your video for “Give Me Back My Hometown”?

Same thing. And we actually talked about that in the cryptic messages, we alluded to what was coming in the video. All the characters that are in that — light will be shed on them, as we go through this single process and video process. So throughout this entire album, that story line will continue to play out. And the ending is quite remarkable. So, we’ll get to that one day.

Are you planning to create a longer film treatment for any of the songs, the way you did with “Springsteen”?

Yes [smiles]. We are.

December 10, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 17 Kristian Bush
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

Kristian Bush was such a delight to talk to. The writer behind many of my favorite Sugarland songs, I was excited to sit down with him and hear how being a solo artist is different than being in a duo and where his song ideas come from.

“You’ll notice that it’s me singing and that will really tie it together,” he said with a laugh.

The first single off of his debut solo album Southern Gravity is “Trailer Hitch,” which came to be after a writer friend of his walked out the door and said, “I’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch.” Kristian knew immediately they had to work on a song that discussed that exact sentiment.

“As we went through it, it was very easy to walk into the shoes of, ‘Let’s write a song that’s fun that has a message that also matters. Let’s just not bang over anybody’s head with it.’ We probably have one too many things in our life. All of us. We can probably give at least one of them back or away,” he said. “You can’t take it with you when you go. It is a question and it isn’t an answer of a song. It’s just a question, why do we all want to die rich? Isn’t there something we can do with that?”

In addition to making the listener ask questions, Kristian hopes to cast a spell on his listeners.

“I would say the spell that I’m casting is love the life that you’re in. Stop wishing for it to be something else. Be comfortable with who you are and then watch dreams explode on you,” he said. “Anything is possible.”

Read more on Radio.com.

December 9, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
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