Caitlyn Smith has been writing for as long as she can remember. As a kid, she’d sit in her bedroom for hours coming up with stories and songs.
“I started writing when I was 8 years old,” she told me over coffee during a recent visit to New York. “And instead of doing the normal kid thing of sports, I would come home from school and go into my closet and push the dresser all the way to the side and sit in my closet and write. I would write poetry. I would write songs. I would just make stuff up for hours.”
All that practice came to fruition last year when the country singer-songwriter heard a song she had written on the radio for the first time. It was a song she’d written with her husband, Rollie Gaalswyk, over a bottle of red wine called “Wasting All These Tears,” which was recorded by Cassadee Pope.
“He [Gaalswyk] was in the garage and had the radio on, and the song came on and he runs in the house and he’s like, ‘Get out here!’ And so I run out into the garage and we turn it up all the way and dance around our garage. It was just a super magical moment. Really, really fun,” she recalls with a big smile.
To some, it might sound strange to write a breakup song like “Wasting All These Tears” with your husband, but for Smith it’s just another day at work.
“We’re both writers and we both have crazy ideas and crazy lines coming,” she admits. “I don’t always write from, ‘I have lived every word of this song.’ Sometimes when you write you put on an actor hat and you can play a different character, which makes writing breakup songs with your husband a little easier.”
She says that the two of them “keep doing it because we like writing with each other. Sometimes it ends in a fight,” she laughs, “and sometimes it’s awesome.”
“Wasting All These Tears” became a platinum-selling single for Pope. But it’s not the only song that has helped raise Smith’s profile as a writer. Her catalog also includes songs that have been cut by such high-profile artists as Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (the GRAMMY-nominated “You Can’t Make Old Friends”), Lady Antebellum (“747″), Rascal Flatts (“Let It Hurt”) and even Garth Brooks (“Tacoma”). More recently, Smith has her writing credit on Meghan Trainor’s new album Title where Trainor duets with John Legend on a song called “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.”
In addition to songwriting, Smith has been a performer as well for years. She’s recorded and released several albums on her own—her first at 15 years old—and just this past fall released a seven-song EP titled Everything To You. While “Tacoma” isn’t on the track list, the EP does include Smith’s own version of “Wasting All These Tears,” along with six more tracks that showcase her powerful storytelling.
For more of my interview with Caitlyn Smith, visit Radio.com.
For country fans, Sam Hunt is no new name. He’s the songwriter behind many hits you’ve heard on the radio including Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over,” Keith Urban’s “Cop Car” and Billy Currington’s “We Are Tonight.” But last week, his first song as an artist — “Leave the Night On” — went to No. 1 on the country charts. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it crosses over into the pop world. With slick beats, rapid fire lyrics and his blend of R&B and country it’s easy to picture hearing the country artist alongside the likes of Drake and Ed Sheeran on the radio.
Hunt is now part of these two worlds colliding, explaining that his first love is country music, but the “best way to represent me as an artist is that R&B side…the R&B thing is the strongest for me and I feel like I can do it the best.”
“I never listened to a lot of Drake but I imagine that Drake and I are influenced by a lot of the same people,” Sam told me. “There was definitely a sound that was heard throughout ’90s R&B. I think that influenced a lot of what I’m doing. I remember the first time I listened to Usher. I was blown away by that vibe and I think that stuck with me since then.”
It’s taken Sam a few years to pinpoint his own sound, but he’s finally found it with his first album, Montevallo, which dropped on Oct. 27. On his debut, Hunt blends country and R&B to make his own kind of music. For more of my interview with Sam, visit Radio.com or watch the video above. Catch Sam currently on tour with Kip Moore and Charlie Worsham.
I had the pleasure of talking with country singer-songwriter Angaleena Presley, known for her role in country girl band the Pistol Annies alongside Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe, over the summer while she was in New York promoting her debut solo album, American Middle Class, which was released today. While preparing for our interview, I had her album on repeat and was struck by her honesty in every song. She sang things many of us would never openly admit and in her bio she stated that she has trouble not being honest. I had a pretty good feeling she’d be open to sharing the stories behind her songs as she’s said they are her autobiography, but I never fathomed she would completely let her guard down.
Throughout our interview, Angaleena opened up about her previous marriage, her hometown which is dealing with a serious pain medication epidemic and described the most honest songs on her record in so much depth. I was struck by her honesty and walked away wanting to re-listen to all her songs since I now knew the stories behind so many of them. Below is an excerpt from my interview with Angaleena. For the complete article, visit Radio.com.
“I got introduced to the world as Holler Annie with these two blondes beside me,” she told me. “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.”
One song that strikes a chord on American Middle Class is “Pain Pills,” which Presley says is a protest song about the struggle coal mining communities face with prescription medication, specifically Oxycontin. It’s something that hits close to home for the singer.
“I started [that song] as I was on my way home from a funeral,” she says. “A friend of mine from high school OD’d [and] at the funeral the mom was walking in going, ‘Oh they had a heart problem. It was a heart issue.’ We knew what was going on. This is when I realized, this is starting to become a problem.”
Presley gets emotional when she talks of the song and the “hush-hush culture” that surrounds prescription drug addiction in her small hometown of Beauty, K.Y., where she says the problem is worse than most other places in the country. It took her four years to finish writing “Pain Pills” and once she did she learned of a family member who was suffering with the same pills she’s singing about.
“Addiction has really changed the face of my personal life and a lot of things in my family. That song just haunts me,” she says. “If there’s anything I would get up on a soapbox for, it’s prescription medication. I just think it’s a travesty how careless doctors are with that stuff. It still happens. You don’t hand a 16-year-old a bottle of heroin and say, ‘Here you go. Just quit taking these after 12.’ Let’s start talking about it, let’s get some resources, let’s get some help.”
Watch Angaleena Presley make her debut on the Late Show with David Letterman below playing the title track of her album, “American Middle Class.”
I can’t remember the first time I heard a song by Kip Moore but then again I can’t remember not being a fan of the country singer-songwriter. Maybe it was on the radio or perhaps it popped up at work while streaming country music videos on VEVO. I do know though, that last year his 2012 debut album Up All Night was my most listened to album of the year.
In a world where singles trump album purchases, Up All Night is one of those albums you have to listen to all the way through. From the more upbeat party songs like “Beer Money” and “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck” to the poignant “Hey Pretty Girl” and “Faith When I Fall,” the album has it all. As does his live show.
On Thursday (Sept. 25), Kip kicked off his first major headlining tour at New York’s Best Buy Theater which also included openers Sam Hunt and Charlie Worsham. Kip’s nearly two-hour performance during the first date of the CMT Up In Smoke Tour left a lasting impression as fans sang along for the hits as well as his deeper cuts. And, when it was time for his new material everyone paid attention.
“How many of you have been waiting for the record to come out?” Kip asked halfway through his set. “I want to give y’all the most amazing record I can possibly give. A new single is dropping the first of the year and a record to follow.”
In the meantime, he told the crowd he decided to release a new EP called Soundcheck. The five-track EP includes his No. 1 hit “Beer Money” as well as four other previously unreleased songs that were all recorded in Nashville. Prefacing “Heart’s Desire” off the EP, he said the song was the loneliest he has ever felt.
Singing of how he “let love slip through my fingertips,” he vividly got his point across with his slowed, raspy yearning vocals and stripped down instrumentals. Listen to the track, along with four others on his new EP below.
Additional highlights throughout the night included the acoustic “Hey Pretty Girl” and a lively performance of “Fly Again,” in which he walked the audience through the three stages of heartbreak before assuring us all that everything will be okay.
“It’s a damn good life hanging out with y’all. Thanks for giving us a life,” he said before segueing into gritty new track “Lipstick.”
Before he closed the night with an energetic performance of “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck” and then an encore of “Faith When I Fall” and “Free Fallin'” he once again thanked his fans for sticking with him over the years.
“We were traveling for many, many years before you heard us on the radio. It’s all about you guys. I don’t give a shit except making music for you guys.”
On a regular Tuesday night in New York City earlier this month, country music fans were seen two-stepping along to the Josh Abbott Band. It was almost as if the packed Bowery Ballroom in Lower Manhattan somehow became a honky-tonk in Texas. “I didn’t expect to see a ton of people dancing in New York,” Josh Abbott told me over the phone.
But, according to the frontman, no matter where they go they often see their fans busting a move. “When you come to a Josh Abbott concert you come to enjoy the music, drink a couple beers and do some two-stepping,” he says. “That’s part of what we do and we embrace that.”
Their major label debut is five-song release, the Tuesday Night EP, (out Sept. 23) and is just a taste of what’s to come on the band’s full length debut due out next year. But Abbott hopes their current single “Hangin’ Around,” which he wrote with country hit makers, Shane McAnally (“American Kids,” “Mama’s Broken Heart,” “Better Dig Two,”) and Josh Osborne (“Chainsaw,” “We Are Tonight,” “Merry Go Round”), will be their breakout song.
The EP, Abbott says, is all about having fun. “It’s a reflection back on my college years,” Abbott says. “I wanted it to be something that’s more nostalgic for me and people that have already graduated from college, that they can listen to this and remember that time. Maybe when their life related to some of these songs.”
For more from my interview with Josh Abbott, visit Radio.com.
Just around this time two years ago I was coming back from Canada’s Emerging Music Festival which I covered for Billboard. The festival was in a small town in the middle of nowhere about three hours north of Montreal and as the title explains, featured numerous emerging talent. While most of the artists spoke French and addressed the crowd in French I was grateful to stumble upon Hanni El Khatib’s set. A fellow American, at one point he joked that he doesn’t know any words in the language so he wasn’t even going to try. What a relief! I spent much of the festival wondering what exactly each artist was saying on stage as they introduced the next song.
One of the tracks I loved from El Khatib’s performance was “You Rascal You.” The gritty guitar and his raspy vocals really struck a chord and I’ve been following his music ever since. Listen below.
We recently started a new feature at CBS called New Music to Know and I pitched him as one of the artists to cover. Having just recently released his sophomore album, which was produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Hanni El Khatib filled me in on the recording process and how his job as an Art Director influences his music.
“Often times I’m thinking of the cover of the record before I’m even writing songs for the album,” he explained. “Just because I need to put it in some sort of visual context which is why I think music videos are so important. It helps further explain your overall concept for the music. I think of the song as a percentage of the overall vision of what I’m trying to do.”
Watch the interview below and for my complete writeup, visit Radio.com.
This past weekend I heard a familiar voice on the radio: Mike Rosenberg of UK-based band Passenger. I chatted with the singer-songwriter five years ago about the band’s upcoming album and U.S. tour dates and hadn’t heard much from them since until their current single, “Let Her Go” was being played on the radio.
Passenger’s music is catchy, but the stories within each song are much deeper and even more intriguing. Take “Night Vision Binoculars,” a song about a guy who has a stalker-like crush on his co-worker. “If you listen to the lyrics you realize it has quite a darker side to it. It’s quite tongue-in-cheek,” Mike said.
Below is my interview with Mike from 2008, right before Passenger released their debut EP, Night Vision Binoculars. For more on the band, visit their website and catch them on tour in the U.S. later this summer.
Tell me a little about Passenger. Did you grow up always wanting to be in a band?
Yeah. I’ve always played guitar since I was little really. It was just one of the things that I felt I was good at. Well, one of the only things I felt I was good at. It’s always been a dream really. I started writing songs when I was about 15 and they were really terrible and I hope they got a bit better. I met Andrew, my songwriting partner, about five years ago and we just hit it off and we started writing together and that’s about it. Then we recorded the album and got the band up and running.
I just got a chance to listen to your debut album, Wicked Man’s Rest and it deals a lot with heartbreak and unrequited love. Did you go into the studio having a certain concept for it or was there an overlying theme to the album?
I don’t know really. What I try to do in my songs is just to tell stories, stories from all sorts of different walks of life. Whether it’s an old man in a pub or a guy who can’t get a girl, or a stray dog or whoever it is. There wasn’t really a concept behind the album, it’s just trying to be as honest as possible about everyday situations and they can be really heartbreaking.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Oh, I hate them all now [laughs]. Favorite song, I like “For You” it’s the little quiet one. It just takes me back. I was in Mexico when I wrote it. It’s a really lovely time in my life. It takes me back there a little bit.
I wanted to ask you about the title track. There are clips of Allen Ginsberg talking throughout the song, how did you come up with that idea?
That song took a long time to write, and sort of get right. There were a couple of different versions; it’s such a complicated track. The other songs are much more natural really and they seem to just fall out. I don’t know really. I always explain it as, you know when you’re lying in bed and you can’t sleep, and you’ve got billions of things running around in your head and the later it gets the worse you feel? It kind of reminds me of that really. That part of you that grows with anxiety. I think Ginsberg, there’s just something about the tone of his voice and what he is saying it’s so massive, it’s so poetic and it works in the song.
I really liked “Things You’ve Never Done,” especially that one line “The only failure is never to try.” What inspired the song or what were you thinking when you wrote it?
From personal experience I guess. I think we’ve all made decisions in our lives that we regret, and I think most of those regrets comes from not doing things rather than trying something and failing. I think it’s a very simple concept and a very simple line but it seems to really affect people and really ring true of it. There’s something sad about growing old and not fulfilling everything you wanted to do. I think everyone can relate to that.
How would you explain your music to someone who has never heard it before?
That’s a difficult one. To be honest, I usually try and get the storytelling aspect of it across. It gets the hat of people like Neil Young and Bob Dylan, but also with the production and the band side of it, it’s kind of more elements of massive attack and that whole sort of thing. It’s a really difficult question and after five years I still haven’t gotten it figured out. Lots of local harmonies, lyrically-based kind of country-pop music I guess.
What can we expect from your EP being released in the U.S. later this month?
Our EP, the title is Night Vision Binoculars. You can expect a quirky song in “Night Vision Binoculars.” It’s quite tongue-in-cheek. It’s about a guy who falls in love with one of his co-workers and she doesn’t know he exists. He ends up hiding up in a tree outside of her house. The idea behind the song is people listen to it and sort of start singing along and only the third or fourth time of hearing it, if you listen to the lyrics you realize it has quite a darker side to it.
So how many songs are going to be on the EP?
I believe, I’m not actually sure exactly, but I think four. I think there’s an acoustic version of one of our songs and possibly some live ones as well. I think its a little taste of what’s to come really.
What do you feel makes your band different from other bands?
I think the subject matter of our songs is different. A lot of modern day pop music all revolves around the person’s girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever. I’ve tried to broaden that a bit. [Going] back to Bob Dylan and country and folk music when storytelling was a common thing and now it’s not so much. We just try and be slightly different, the production is slightly different and hopefully my voice is different.
What inspires your music? Do you have a certain writing process?
When I’m walking along, I don’t know if it’s the blood flow or whatever, I get a lot of ideas when I’m out and about. I use my mobile phone, which is a picture phone, when I get ideas. It can come at any point. You can go two months without writing a song and I wrote five last week. I don’t understand it at all, but I love the process.
Nearly three years ago my roommate introduced me to Brooklyn-based band Whale Belly. At the time I was planning a concert and she suggested they’d make an excellent addition to my lineup and she was right. I hosted a show at the now extinct Brooklyn venue Southpaw and the band won over the crowd and booking agents.
Last year I interviewed Whale Belly for CBS New York as they were promoting their debut album …the Smile at the End of the Slope. A year later, the band are back with their sophomore follow-up I Was Once A Bird which embodies 10 excellent tracks fueled with emotions we can all relate to: heartbreak, anxiety and the uncertainty life often brings.
Frontman Todd Bogin’s vocals exude a distinct urgency throughout I Was Once A Bird while spot-on string accompaniment, quirky guitar riffs and ear-grabbing percussion captivate.
I Was Once A Bird begins with memorable guitar and intriguing violin parts on “Bubbles In My Blood.” By the track’s end, foot-stomping rhythms, soaring music and Bogin’s catchy vocals beg all to keep listening. “Bubbles In My Blood” segues seamlessly into “Mette By the Canal” with soaring violin and delicately strummed acoustic guitar.
While the music accompaniment impresses on the LP, it’s the emotion-fueled tracks that show Whale Belly’s power. For example, the standout “Nervous Breakdown” was inspired by actual events Bogin faced while shopping at IKEA.
“I’m a very anxious person and I do really bad in crowded public spaces,” he explained. “I had a freak-out in IKEA because I went there on a Saturday before Christmas and it was so insane. I got lost, I couldn’t find who I was with, I couldn’t find the exit and I literally ran home. It’s a lighthearted song but if you listen to the lyrics and the music, it’s a very stressful song. It’s hard to listen to for me because it’s so intense.”
The listener can feel the angst with aggressive violin and guitar parts throughout the song.
Meanwhile, Bogin lays it all out on the line on heart-wrenching album closer “Long Drawn.”
“I’m getting used to being the lonely guy/Now that I don’t have you by my side/Enjoy my company and my own thoughts…You didn’t love me like I loved you,” Bogin sings.
“The next album will have the aesthetic of Whale Belly itself but make a point of transitions in life and change,” Bogin told me last year.
He wasn’t lying.
Download I Was Once A Birdhere and be sure to catch Whale Belly live in New York tonight at Mercury Lounge.
Writing about Top 40 on a daily basis for CBS Local sometimes makes me forget why I started this blog in the first place. When I witnessed Kiernan McMullan last Sunday I instantly remembered.
What I love most about live music is the unexpected. Going to shows of artists I’m not too familiar with and being blown away by their talent is something I haven’t done in a while. It also makes me wonder about the state of the music industry and what it is that allows certain artists to make it and others to continue struggling. The moment Kiernan took the stage I had a feeling I’d be witnessing something special.
He kicked off his set at Brooklyn’s The Rock Shop looping drum rhythms on his guitar. Soon after, his soulful vocals entered with emotional lyrics like, “What is your problem? Why won’t you speak to me?” His self-deprecating onstage banter in between songs made its way into his songs which were full of brutally honest lines that hit you in the gut. One track in particular, “Company” was a new song that Kiernan prefaced as a track that dealt with love.
“People seem incredibly enamored with love and it’s kind of an issue,” he told the crowd. “This song speaks for itself.”
With lyrics like “Never loved you, I just needed the company,” he got his point across as his voice reverberated throughout the room.
“If it’s cool with you, I’m going to do a subdued set tonight because I’m feeling subdued. No metal. There will be no Pantera songs tonight,” he joked after performing a cover of Ryan Adams’ “Oh My Sweet Caroline.” “I feel like I’m work shopping songs for you tonight. I’m going into the studio soon.”
Debuting a few new tracks the honesty continued. “We both know that I’m not gonna love you forever but I like the idea all the same,” he sang with finger picked guitar parts. “We both know we could do much better so let’s cut our losses and call it a day,” he continued.
Alternating between spoken word and a raspier singing style his performance hushed the crowd. Songs like set closer “Sick of You” continued to showcase his talent and left a mark. Having opened for acts including Sheryl Crow, Colbie Callait, Ed Sheeran and Mat Kearney, Kiernan is well on his way. Here’s to hoping he’ll make it onto our airwaves soon.
On Friday Seattle-based band Ivan & Alyosha performed to a packed crowd at Mercury Lounge. Their energetic set featured the folk-rock band at their finest and included tracks off their previous two EPs as well as a preview of what’s to come from their debut full-length All The Times We Had due for release in February.
Each track featured sweeping harmonies from the band while showcasing frontman Tim Wilson’s captivating vocals. Alternating from a deeper register to a high falsetto, songs like “Easy To Love” impressed with wavering guitar features and Wilson’s John Lennon-esque vocals. Complete with foot-stomping rhythms, the track embodied a distinct country vibe.
“This one’s called ‘Don’t Wanna Die Anymore.’ It’s a very happy song,” Wilson joked. With steady percussion, hand claps and maracas throughout the folk based song grabbed the audience’s attention wholeheartedly.
While their plugged in set satisfied it was last track of the night “Glorify” that best showcased the band’s talent. Completely acoustic, Ivan & Alyosha wowed with spot-on harmonies, delicate strums of the guitar and eyebrow raising lyrics.
Catch Ivan & Alyosha currently on tour and be sure to pick up a copy of their album All The Times We Had February 26.