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Band of the Week: Elenowen
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week, Interviews, Q&A

View More: http://blythethomas.pass.us/elenowen

Elenowen throw logic out the window on their sophomore album, For the Taking, released earlier this year. The husband and wife duo, made up of singer/songwriters Josh and Nicole Johnson, gained exposure on the first season of NBC’s The Voice and have continued to develop that recognition with their music being featured on TV shows like Nashville, Pretty Little Liars and Army Wives.

That’s not to say there weren’t struggles along the way. Josh and Nicole recall early hurdles as they were getting national attention on The Voice. During that time, they were still living in Nicole’s parent’s basement, something they say inspired much of the autobiographical record.

“After the exposure from The Voice, touring and getting more buzz around us than we ever had, that aspect of our career was great but at the same time we were still living in her parent’s basement and we had lived there for five-and-a-half years,” Josh recalls while sitting in the basement of his publicist’s office on Music Row beside Nicole and their son Nolan. “We were at the stage of our marriage where we were married almost six years at the time and Nicole’s biggest piece of her identity was to be a mom and she was missing it.”

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Nicole and Josh Johnson with their son, Nolan, in Nashville

He adds that For the Taking captures the struggle of the couple trying to figure out how to keep their career momentum going but also the desire of starting a family. Much of the album was written in that basement apartment as they looked out the basement window dreaming of getting out.

“I would say there’s a decent amount of desperation and hope in the record. We landed on the title For the Taking near the end of that season where we did actually get pregnant and we did find ourselves a house,” he says with a smile. “It was a massive step of faith of, ‘This is where we feel we need to be going so let’s start and take it in our own hands.'”

Nicole chimes in, explaining that previously they had spent so much time waiting to make decisions on what felt logical instead of what made them happy.

“We finally tossed that [logic] to the wind and started making decisions based on what we wanted out of life,” she says. “It still makes things extremely difficult because logic is there for a reason. Logic makes things sometimes easier.”

 

 

But, as heard on For the Taking, logic isn’t always the best route. Josh and Nicole agree that “One By One,” a song of theirs featured on Nashville, is one of the most honest songs on the album. With Nicole singing, “Don’t walk away/Don’t walk away from me baby/Even though I’m going to treat you so badly sometimes,” Josh says they don’t sugarcoat the struggles they’re going through. Other songs, like “Desert Days,” bring about comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, a welcomed compliment for the duo.

“If we remind people of Fleetwood Mac when they listen to us, alright! I don’t know what more I want as far as people to get out of it,” Josh says, beaming. “For me, doing music, that was the only thing I was really passionate about when I first started. It was the first thing I grabbed onto. When we started doing it as a duo it had a little more momentum than anything I had done alone. It got me really excited about it. This was the best thing we’ve got going for us, let’s chase after it. It was the most viable option to keep pursuing. I was steering the ship.”

While Nicole admits some days were tougher than others, helping fulfill Josh’s dream was something she never hesitated to do until it started to threaten her own dream.

“Even in the hardest days that I wanted to quit, there was always that thing in the back of my mind where I didn’t want to wonder my whole life, ‘What if?’ That’s what kept me going,” she says. “Doing music is Josh’s biggest dream and I wanted to help him in that. Because we’re a duo it’s not like I can just be like, ‘All right, I’m going to check out and do it on your own.’ In a way I was stuck in it, but not in a resentful way.”

She adds: “When it was a matter of me not being able to have kids because of it, that’s when I was starting to be like, ‘OK, I’m giving up all of my dreams for this thing that I don’t even know what’s happening.’ But now that we’re trying to figure out how to do both it’s more challenging but it’s also more rewarding at the same time. Just seeing it through, taking it a day at a time. That’s all you can do.”

Now they’re out of the basement and continue their musical journey by touring to support their latest release For the Taking and raising their one-year-old son.

“We’re in a little house that’s not much but it feels like the Taj Mahal compared to the basement,” Josh laughs. “We got this little guy chewing on everything, crawling on everything.”

“It changes everything,” Nicole concludes.

And for Elenowen, change is a very good thing.

Elenowen’s album For the Taking is available now.

September 10, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Westin Davis
CATEGORIES: Features, Interviews, Q&A, Songwriting Session

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Songwriting Session is a new weekly 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, songwriter Westin Davis shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Last week, I kicked off my songwriting column with Kip Moore. During our chat about songwriting he raved about his frequent collaborator, Westin Davis, who shares four co-writes on Kip’s new album Wild Ones including current single “I’m To Blame.”

“Me and Westin are thick as thieves, and he keeps my sanity a lot of times,” Kip asserts. “There’s nobody I’d rather have a hit with than Westin.”

He adds: “Westin and I, we’ve been scratching and clawing for a long time. We met when we both first moved to town 10 or 11 years ago, and we were writing together from sun up to sun down. He’d crash at my house, and then we’d get up and do it all over again, and we’d go to work and come back and meet that night.”

All that hard work is now paying off as Kip and Westin’s song “I’m To Blame” is now in the Top 20 on the country charts. “We had dreams of having songs on the radio together, and now we have them. To be able to have a big hit with him would mean more to me than having a hit by myself, that’s for sure.”

Westin moved from Florida to Nashville to pursue a career in songwriting but the journey wasn’t easy. He moved back to Florida after a short time in Nashville, but Music City called him back. He now has a publishing deal with Magic Mustang Music and in addition to cuts by Kip Moore, he has written tracks for Thompson Square, A Thousand Horses, Hinder and many others.

In a candid chat, Westin opens up about his songwriting journey (it started in the 4th grade), why he doesn’t hold back in his songwriting and much more.

“I carry all of my yesterdays into my co-writes,” Westin asserts. “I carry my hometown, I carry everything bad that ever happened to me. So when I’m writing, I’m giving everything I have just like an entertainer would if he was performing for an audience.”

He adds: “You never know where writing will take you. The beautiful thing about writing is it gives you freedom and a sense of pride.”

 

Take me back to the beginning. Do you remember the first song you wrote?

I kind of stumbled into writing. I lived in a pretty rough area when I was a younger kid. In 4th grade they gave all the 4th grade and 5th grade students something to do: go home and write a song to stop the violence in the area and the drugs being sold at the school and the killings. Before they even finished giving us that task, the song was already wrote. I ended up winning. I would like to say it started there. I always had a knack for it I guess. I didn’t think about it till years later.

I left writing and focused on sports. Played basketball in college. It wasn’t until I was going through more things in life and putting a pen to paper and words to melody that I remembered the first song I wrote. “Oh my gosh. Am I supposed to be doing this?” One thing led to another. I started writing more and more only to find out that the songs I were writing were terrible. I did have something. I had that natural way with melody and words that I would say an inner city black dude would have. But I didn’t start learning the craft until I rolled my sleeves up. I said, “You know what? I’m going to put as much work into this as anything else. I’m going to learn how to write, the proper way to write. I’m going to learn, not only songwriters but people who write books, Hemingway, Robert Frost. People like that.” That’s when it became almost an addiction. I was about 23.

Why did you decide to move to Nashville?

I moved to Nashville and luckily became friends with a guy who was very successful in the business. He took me under his wing and told me the do’s and the don’ts. I never would want to get the cart before the horse. I didn’t want to start knocking on doors on Music Row until I was absolutely ready. I’m my toughest critic. I’m glad I had people open those for me or I’d probably be still sitting on the sideline.

I moved back home to Florida because I missed the beach and after about a year I flew back to Nashville and said, “Look, I’ve been writing these songs by myself.” And he said, “Shit. You’ve been writing by yourself?” And I said yeah. I started writing with my buddy Kip [Moore] and we just had this crazy dream that we were going to write songs and he would sing them but we knew we could make it a reality as well.

Do you prefer co-writes or writing by yourself?

I like writing alone but I also like co-writing as well. I’ve done it long enough now to know my circle who I mesh really well with and vibe with. It’s fun to go into a room with another person who you trust and they trust you and you walk out with the best finished product.

What’s your songwriting process like? Do the lyrics or melody come first for you?

It’s different every time. I’ve written so many songs. There’s a number that started with just me picking up the guitar, there’s been a number of them with me driving down the road and thinking about my life. For example, “I Killed a Man” and thinking how I killed that person. And then thinking, how would that go? The only way that I know is to be totally honest. I draw inspiration from everything. Billboard signs, somebody saying something to you. I draw inspiration from so many things. You may say something on the phone and I may go, “Oh what was that?”

I’ve sat in place–back home especially–looked at somebody and not know anything about them, their name, whatever, but could tell a lot about them by the clothes they had on. I created a character and wrote a story about them not even knowing anything about them.

Do you have to be in a certain mindset to write a song?

I refuse to fail. I’m very, very…I don’t know. I wrote with a guy the other day and my publisher called me and said, “You killed it. The guy was a little intimidated by you. He said you were pretty intense.” And I said, “I’m not fuckin’ around. This is business to me. I’m not going to write just a bunch of cliché stuff.”

I carry all of my yesterdays into my co-writes. I carry my hometown, I carry everything bad that ever happened to me. So when I’m writing, I’m giving everything I have just like an entertainer would if he was performing for an audience. It used to be, before I quit doing things, even if I was writing a good song, a happy song whatever, I needed to get up, I’d take a little sip of cough syrup, do other extracurricular activities and light up cigarettes. I had to be that guy. Now I learned how to not do that. There still is that thing deep within me where the only motivation I need is my past. I take what I do very seriously. Kip is a prime example of he takes what he does very seriously and that connects with people and my writing is the same way. It’s not fabricated.

Songwriting is often described as therapy. Is it difficult to open up in a co-write?

I think writing in general is therapy. Somebody told me recently, they said, “Man, I can hear you in every song that someone else sings or every song that I hear you play. I can hear your life story in it.” I’ve been very fortunate to have very rainy days and sunny days. I’ve been very fortunate to live in black neighborhoods, to be poor, to be around crack dealers and drug dealers. To drive to a family member who lives 30 miles down the road and has more money than he knows what to deal with and to see that side of life. And also be in love and out of love and heartbroke and losing somebody.

I know that might sound crazy. It wasn’t until I started writing, that I looked back and actually thanked God for hard times because I can draw from a deeper well than most people. It’s cool to write about, “I’ve had a hard life, I’ve done this” when most people’s yesterdays are a walk through Candyland compared to mine. You can tell it’s all fabricated bullshit which comes with them but with me it’s real.

What’s the most honest song you’ve written?

I have no idea. They are all pretty honest. Even in songs I haven’t had cut yet I have lyrics that are pretty honest to me that I have tattooed on my body. I wrote a song called “I Killed a Man.” Killing the old Westin. There’s so many.

The big man has blessed me. I can’t complain. There’s always somebody way worse than me. I have put several buddies in the ground and seen them laid to rest from a community that is constantly going through uphill battles. I’m just thankful to still be alive and still be here and doing what I do. I know at any minute it can be all over.  I’m just very thankful.

 

Are you ever afraid to reveal too much in a song?

No. I’ve learned with anything…I’m a very, very vocal person. What you see is what you get. I’m never trying to impress everybody. I’ve always respected the people that who they are is who they are. I can smell out a poser from a mile away. I respect people who are not gonna be nobody else but them. I’m not trying to be nobody but me. Even later in life, I’ve battled demons with addiction and drugs. Most people, they try to hide from that. To me, it’s therapeutic to get it out there. This is who I am. I’m a long way from perfect but I’m trying.

I’m not trying to knock anybody and I would never do that. When you take somebody from my side of the tracks it’s comical when someone is pretending to be a character that they’re not. We can tell right away. It’s the people that have been through the rain that I respect. They learn more, they look at life differently. I just love those people.

One of the songs you wrote with Kip Moore is “Lipstick,” which is so catchy. Do you have any tips on writing catchy choruses?

To be honest, I don’t even know. Whatever melody hits and it feels natural to go with I go with. I’m not one to think too much about melodies because they come so easily at times. I don’t know if that is because of my black past where I can rap and flow, I don’t know. When a melody does hit and it seems to stick the verses just write. Obviously, married to the right words you’ve got a good song and a hit song.

 

Do you need to play an instrument in order to write songs?

No. I told a guy one time, [he asked] “How’d you come up with that line?” and I said, “Dude to be honest with you I’ve considered myself to do the ebb and flow, had the words and melody in me.” To come up with those lines that stop you and make you feel something it proves you’re on top of your craft or your art. It’s just like if you went to the gym everyday and worked out your biceps every day, they’re gonna grow. If you exercise your brain it’s going to grow. If you want to be the best writer, read books. Find out words. Follow the people you look up to. See how they said something and, “Oh my gosh, they said that in a different way. How could I do that?” It’s like anything.

Guys in prison who are on a death sentence, when they went in they didn’t know they were artists. Then all of a sudden they find out they can paint or draw. They’re locked in a jail cell, they’re locked in their own mind and talent. You discover that and you work on that and get better and better and better.

Is there a song that means more to you now then when you first wrote it?

There’s a few. I have the ability to tap in. I wrote with somebody recently who I asked them straight up, “What are you going through right now?” He said, “Man, I just ran into an ex two days ago and I was just stopped in my tracks. She didn’t see me.” I could see his pain and I know that pain. Luckily I had been in his shoes before, even though I’m happier now than I have ever been, I’m more in love, I knew what it was like to feel that heartbreak and to see that somebody.

I think that’s maybe a gift as well. To be able to get that low. I thrive on misery anyway. To get that low and to feel that pain. I wrote the first line of the chorus and he looked at me. A lot of that is from working on my craft but also being addicted to being sad. I would say that sometimes I’m the happiest when I’m sad.

Is that because you know you’re going to write a song from that?

I’ve pulled all night therapy sessions on myself asking that same question.

How do you know when a song is done?

When I write alone I’m really, really hard on myself where I’ll go back and make changes and make changes that I’ll make it so damn good that it will be horrible and I should have just kept it the way it was. If I’m co-writing with someone I’m not hard on myself at all. I’m really hard on the other person. I’ve been doing this professionally now for 5-6 years. Writing every day you find your circle of people that you connect really well with. And then also they’re seasoned as well. I still have days when I go into a room with a newbie that comes into town and I remember being that newbie and thank God for people like Dan Couch when I first got to town, he showed me right from wrong. He’ll tell you that I was great. But me, knowing my own limitations, I was good at making things rhyme but he showed me the correct way to write a song.

What’s the best advice on songwriting you’ve ever received?

I’ve gotten some great advice from some old-timers. If I’m gonna do something I’ve gotta be the best at it. I can’t fake my way through it. If I’m going to go into a write with another writer, say someone who has 10 No. 1’s, I want them to know that I’m there pulling my weight, too. And hell, I have. I’ve proved it several times. If I ever came across somebody and I have, who ask what can I do to be a good writer, the best writer, I would say, “Look, man. Study writing. Don’t just study songwriting. Study writing period. Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, go all over the place.” Study lyrical geniuses too.

One guy said, “Florida Georgia Line aren’t saying that.” I get it, but you can do that. When somebody sits down with you and they want to be able to write a song you wouldn’t be able to deliver. Study the writing. I’m not chasing the radio. Yeah, I need a little bit of money to put food on the table but I’m not going to sellout either. I take what I do very seriously. Take yourself seriously, don’t give a shit what everybody else is doing. Run your road, study your craft. Work on your craft and your art. Study the best writers. Read. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

You never know where writing will take you. The beautiful thing about writing is it gives you freedom and a sense of pride. A lot of people can’t do what you do. It’s a cool thing. When you can be on top of your craft where it just comes naturally and you can connect with people, then you’ve done it.

August 23, 2015 | | (1) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Kip Moore
CATEGORIES: Features, First Person, Interviews, Q&A, Songwriting Session

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(Kip Moore at New Jersey’s Starland Ballroom)

Songwriting Session is a new weekly 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, country singer-songwriter Kip Moore shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Songwriting is a serious trade. It’s not for the faint of heart. In fact, as Kip Moore once told me, he doesn’t encourage people to take the path of songwriting as a career.

I have to preface this by saying that Kip Moore is my all-time favorite country songwriter. While I’ve interviewed him four times now, my most vivid chat happened last November backstage at New Jersey’s Starland Ballroom, a venue I grew up seeing shows at. It also consisted of him telling me that songwriting isn’t for everyone. It’s all or nothing he basically told me. It was a bit of a slap in the face, but something I’ve come to realize I desperately needed to hear.

You see, before that interview I had dabbled in songwriting. I took an online class over the summer that taught me the basics of songwriting and wrote my first song. But nothing quite prepared me for his honesty. As he told me, though, songwriting isn’t something you necessarily can learn but something you have to pursue with every ounce inside of you.

“I always tell people to chase their passion,” he tells me. “My advice to songwriters is, unless you’re truly serious about it, and it’s all you can think about doing, it’s all that’s in your heart, leave it alone. Trying to do it for a career, it has to be all or nothing. It’s gotta drive everything in you.”

Kip is a passionate guy. If you’ve been to one of his shows you can see that unyielding energy he leaves on the stage every single night. In person, he’s quite serious and even a bit intense. When I mention this to him he laughs and says he can be playful, too.

In an interview with Kip, you have to know your stuff. He can read right through you if you don’t. He says he’s a no BS type of guy and that couldn’t be a truer statement. Lucky for me, I have lived with his excellent debut album Up All Night for three years now so I’m pretty well researched before our big chat on songwriting. Possibly a little nervous too.

 
At first, he admits that he truly doesn’t know where to start when I ask him how to write a song. And then there’s a long pause. Right away I’m thinking maybe this wasn’t a good topic to discuss. But before I have a chance to ask another question he begins to tell me about his journey as a songwriter. He explains that he used to sit down for years and years and make himself write two songs every day.

“I would force myself to write, write, write,” he admits. “Now it’s more of an organic process where I almost always come up with the guitar groove or melody in my head and then I sing it into a recorder and then I live with it for days in my bunk and let it soak into my brain and what I feel like it’s supposed to be saying.”

Like many songwriters, he said the process varies every time. Sometimes he has an idea for a song, sometimes he has a title and other times he has a groove. While he says that you can teach the craft of songwriting, ultimately songwriting has to be in your soul to succeed.

I explain to him that what’s most difficult for me is writing a catchy chorus. I want to create something people want to sing along to–like a big Kelly Clarkson chorus–but often struggle getting there. Then he gets honest, simply saying, “You gotta fuckin’ study.”

He elaborates on that point. “You’ve got to sit down and you have to listen over and over for hours and hours of laying there at night and trying, understanding who your greats are, who your favorites are and paying attention to how they did it. It will soak in your mind and teach you how it’s done. That’s what I did. I studied the greats and the guys that I loved, and that’s how I learned how to write songs.”

Some writers are lucky enough to find mentors the moment they step foot in Nashville, but Kip is quick to admit that was not the case for him. In fact, he couldn’t get in the door to save his life. So, instead he had to teach himself. He did this by listening to the people he loved. By the time he got into the room with guys like his producer and songwriter Brett James, he was ready to go and just paid attention.

So why is he hesitant to urge others to follow his path into a songwriting career? He admits that things are even more difficult today than when he first started and often he doesn’t know what to say to songwriters.

“I don’t encourage people to take this path. It’s fucking hard and the window is getting smaller and smaller and the publishing companies are going away every day. I don’t know if I want to encourage someone to chase something that seems so out of reach all the time.”

But if songwriting is truly the career path you want to pursue? He says to study your butt off like he did.

“I can remember how discouraging the whole process was for me and how much it beat me up to where I just don’t know how to tell people. It was such a tough road. It was all I wanted to do, that’s what kept me going.”

 

Kip Moore’s sophomore album ‘Wild Ones’ will be released August 21. Pre-order it on his Website. His single, “I’m To Blame” is out now.

My hommie Annie..always a pro A photo posted by kipmooremusic (@kipmooremusic) on

August 16, 2015 | | (1) comment comment
Interview: Eli Young Band
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

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I was fortunate to interview Eli Young Band on their tour bus while I was in Nashville last month. The band that made “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” one of my all-time favorite songs a huge hit, it was great to meet the group who have been the soundtrack of my struggling freelance days. During our chat, the guys filled me in on their new EP, songwriting and how their wives continue to inspire their music. Read an excerpt below and the full interview on Radio.com.

The Eli Young Band originally had no intention to release any new material this month. But the four members of the Texas-based group were recently in the studio working on music to follow up their 2014 release 10,000 Towns, and their label Republic Nashville immediately loved what they heard.

Now four of those brand-new songs are included on the group’s new EP Turn It On, which dropped on March 10.

“We felt like we were onto something as far as the next step as the Eli Young Band,” frontman Mike Eli tells me, sitting in his tour bus with his bandmates during a stop in Nashville, Tenn. for the 2015 Country Radio Seminar.

“We just recorded these songs in January, so it’s a fast turnaround,” Eli continued. “The label came in and heard what we were doing and really liked it and wanted to release the single and get it out as quick as possible. They really fast-tracked it, faster than anything we’ve ever done.”

While the four Eli Young Band bandmates are all happily married, Eli says they often draw from their past, “Your Place or Mine” being no exception.

“It’s fun to channel the old days in some songs,” Eli says. “We’ve all been in that relationship.”

Eli says that song in particular was “really fun to write, and there are some really cool lyrical moments that we were really happy with as we were writing it. The song draws from the old school music of the Eli Young Band, which is neat to incorporate into the evolution of where we’re going.”

Eli wrote the song with bandmate Jon Jones and songwriters Ross Copperman and Jeremy Stover. Of the track, he says he and Jones each ended up marrying a woman like the one in the song, and Jones agrees.

“My wife and I are married 14 years now,” Jones adds. “We dated through college, and then we took a break. Then there was a point before we got back together that we went through a ‘Your Place Or Mine’ kind of thing, where maybe we were getting back together because it was familiar. Even though it is a really sad song, maybe it does have a happy ending.”

March 26, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Interview: Shania Twain
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

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If you were to tell me back in 1999 when I was sitting down with my family watching Shania Twain’s CBS television special (with an appearance from the Backstreet Boys!) that one day I would interview her, I would not believe it. But that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago.

Earlier this month, I chatted with the country singer over the phone right before she announced the news about her final tour. During our chat, she told me it will be a “dynamic, kick-ass show.” As the title of the tour, Rock This Country, suggests, she promises exactly that.

“It really is a rock meets country show. It’s going to have a lot of punch and edge. I just feel like I want to go out there with a bang,” she adds.

She’s also working on new music and while she wouldn’t divulge too much, I did get a little hint as to the direction she’s going in.

“The songs are going great,” she says enthusiastically. “I’ve been putting them together for a really long time now. They’ve been whirling around in my head, so I’ve got a pile of things, way too much for one album.”

While Twain says she’s in the studio and the “record is on its way,” she explains that it’s difficult to vividly describe and categorize the sound of the new material.

“It’s hard for me to put my finger on it; I don’t know how to explain it,” she confesses. “One of the producers involved, we were talking about how to describe it in words and he said, ‘This is soul. This is soul music.’”

Twain wouldn’t reveal the producer she’s working with, but she did agree with his ‘soulful’ explanation.

“It’s not like my music was ever traditional anyway. I don’t think anybody expects that from me. Nothing that I’m doing is traditional,” she says. “Certainly, as I reflect back on listening to this stuff, it reminds me a lot of the influences that I had growing up. There’s influences from my childhood in the music that I’m writing now.”

The country singer says she hears hints of artists like Emmylou Harris, Gladys Knight, Roy Orbison and Glen Campbell in the music she has been writing more recently.

“It is a more soulful approach to my songwriting then I’ve probably ever allowed myself to have before,” she admits. “It’s fun music, too. I like to stay positive. I’ll make sure that I do some things on there that make you feel good and happy as well. I’m having a lot of fun.”

For more of my interview with Shania Twain, visit Radio.com. And for a flashback to the ’90s, watch Shania perform “From This Moment” with the Backstreet Boys.

 

March 23, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Interview: Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

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(Courtesy: New Rounder Records)

As soon as Blackberry Smoke start playing, it’s like the air gets thick and swampy. For well over a decade now, the Southern rock quintet have made a name for themselves with their gritty country and blues guitar riffs, vivid storytelling and frontman Charlie Starr’s distinct vocals, delivered with a hint of his Southern drawl.

While ‘Southern rock’ is a good catch-all generalization, it’s often hard to place Blackberry Smoke into just one genre, and they’re OK with that. In fact, a number of rock legends from the South are fans, including Gregg Allman—who sings the group’s praises as being “the band that will put Southern Rock back on the map”—and ZZ Top‘s Billy Gibbons, who frequently jams onstage with them.

“We never sat down and thought, ‘We’re a Southern rock band,’” frontman Charlie Starr tells me over the phone. “We’re just a rock & roll band from Georgia. So are R.E.M. They play the kind of music that makes them feel comfortable and so do we. Plus, I have a pretty Southern accent and Michael Stipe doesn’t, so the singing comes across in a different way.”

 

 

“I’ve always appreciated albums that have a lot to offer lyrically and musically,” Starr says, a few days before the release of Blackberry Smoke’s fourth album, Holding All the Roses. “Nobody wants to buy an album and listen to it and all the songs sound the same, that’s a bummer. We’ve always tried to approach an album like an album. Have it be a bit of a roller coaster ride where you have songs with different feel, different subject matter.”

While the album takes the listener on a journey, it also shows Blackberry Smoke’s evolution as a band. This time around, they’re using more textures, haunting string features and keyboard interludes unheard of on the band’s previous releases. Throughout its 12 tracks, Holding All the Roses has songs about women, the devil, loneliness and seeing a woman in the moon on the fittingly titled,”Woman In the Moon.”

“It feels good to me to continue to evolve and not be stuck in a rut,” he says. “There’s something to be said about allowing yourself freedom musically. We’re lucky, we don’t really have to answer to anyone. We don’t have a major label breathing down our necks that says, ‘This is not working.’ We appreciate that freedom.”

Read my complete interview on Radio.com.

February 24, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Band of the Week: The Bros. Landreth
CATEGORIES: Artist of the Week, Band of the Week, Interviews, Q&A

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(Courtesy: Shore Fire Media)

On a cold Friday night in January, silence came over a packed crowd at New York’s famed rock club Mercury Lounge. Not the norm for the often sweaty and loud venue, the Bros. Landreth were halfway into their soulful set when lead singer Joey Landreth began to sing “Let It Lie,” the poignant title track off their debut album released earlier that week (Jan. 27).

While the character in the song tells his lover that it’s time to move on, his voice tells a different story. Quiet, full of regret and endless questioning, Joey urges her to let things go while standing alone at the edge of the stage. Soon after, the band joined in. They lessened the quiet, but the crowd remained mesmerized.

Who are these people who can instill such quiet reverence among a normally rowdy audience at an NYC rock club? What is their secret?

The Bros. Landreth hail from Canada, made up of brothers Joey and Dave Landreth and longtime friends Ryan Voth and Ariel Posen. Taking influences from Americana, country, blues and rock, the Bros. Landreth feel like a combination of the Allman Brothers Band and the Eagles, with their blues-inspired guitar licks and memorable harmonies working alongside the pop sensibility and guitar virtuosity of a singer-songwriter like John Mayer.

 

 

“Those bands and artists are people who we have definitely spent a lot of time listening to and appreciating,” Joey Landreth says of the comparisons to the Allmans and the Eagles. “When someone picks out your influences like that, it’s pretty touching and very encouraging.”

As far as John Mayer’s influence, guitarist Ariel Posen said the singer changed his outlook on guitar music. “He opened my palette to a whole new style of music I wasn’t really listening to,” Posen confesses.

Bandmate Dave agrees, recalling his former band having played many Mayer covers. But what he most respects about the singer-songwriter is that he stuck to his guns and did his own thing musically.

“He put out a very pop record, and then he built on it, and then he abandoned it to chase down another thing, and then he put out Continuum, which was incredible,” Dave says. “Then he put out that blues record, which was so much fun and he got to shred all over it. And then his last two records are totally beautiful, grown up mature records. I respect the music, respect the man, respect the arc of his career and commitment to his integrity.”

Not unlike Mayer, the Bros. Landreth blend all these influences and passions on their debut album Let It Lie. While Joey admits it is a breakup album, he said it wasn’t intended as such.

“I think it’s served a purpose for some listeners to hopefully be catharsis for them as well. I think it has been,” Joey reflects. He adds, “We met a really drunk, brokenhearted dude one night, and he pulled me aside and was like, ‘Man, number 7.’ He was talking about the seventh song on the record. It was all he could muster.”

Dave Landreth explains that while the writing and recording process is an emotional catharsis for them, it is also a way to connect with music fans.

“When you hit those real poignant moments and connect with someone and their story, and you know that you’ve struck a chord, and for just a second that makes them feel better or pause to think, that’s really cool,” he says. “It’s a neat way to connect with complete strangers.”

For my complete interview with the Bros. Landreth, visit Radio.com.

February 22, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Melissa Etheridge On Brandy Clark
CATEGORIES: Features, Interviews, Q&A

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Before the holidays, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Etheridge. This wasn’t your typical artist interview, though. I’d be chatting with Melissa about Brandy Clark, who was recently nominated as Best New Artist at the GRAMMYs, and why Brandy deserves to win the award.

Melissa is a huge fan of Brandy’s, and when I asked her what she thought it meant for country music that Brandy was openly gay she confessed that she had no clue that she was and from the sound of her voice on the phone, it was evident that she was ecstatic. She even told me that she’d love to collaborate with Brandy in the future. Read an excerpt of my piece, an As Told To with Melissa Etheridge below. For the full chat, visit Radio.com.

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“I’m a big fan of really classic country music. When I hear Brandy Clark, she reminds me of what I loved about Tammy Wynette, what I loved about Loretta Lynn. They were singing about the real woman’s experience.

There’s nothing slick about [Clark]. She is genuine. She’s a great writer. She knows how to write a great song from beginning to end, each verse, each line. I love that type of writing and singing and that kind of country music.

Oh my God, I did not know that she is gay. Lord have mercy, I’m jumping up and down here. Do you know what I love? I love that I read everything about her and it did not say that. It wasn’t like my bio 20 years ago. That was the first thing, that I was gay. Wow, well that makes me very happy.

I know that a couple artists have come out in country music. I feel like the boundaries that have kept people apart and kept people out of certain areas of music are coming down. I really wish the best for her. I’ve always stood by the thought: “If you are talented and honest about who you are and can deliver the goods and you don’t blame any failures because you are gay. If you just make it part of your life, people will accept it and you can succeed.” I think I’m starting to see that, and that’s really beautiful.

I just wish her the best, it just makes me so happy, her nomination. I will be watching for her. I hope she gets to perform something at the GRAMMYs, you never know.

Maybe they will invite me down there [to Nashville] someday now. Call me, Brandy! I’m available.”

January 19, 2015 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 1 Nick Carter
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

This just happened. My life is complete. Jordan Knight and Nick Carter! #ktbspa #nickandknight #dreamscometrue

A photo posted by Annie Reuter (@yousingiwrite) on

 

This year, I sat down and interviewed a Backstreet Boy. What a dream come true. You see, I’ve obsessed over the Backstreet Boys since the seventh grade. My childhood bedroom was covered from floor to ceiling in posters of BSB, I attended all their concerts when they came to New Jersey and I was pretty convinced I’d marry one. Unfortunately, that never happened but hey–a girl can dream, right?

Much to the chagrin of my parents, every single year since the seventh grade my birthday or Christmas present request was a Backstreet Boy. Fully aware that this was a nearly impossible task, I continued to ask year after year. Well, it seems that my birthday and Christmas present came early this year when I got a chance to sit down with Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys when he teamed up with Jordan Knight of New Kids On the Block to form the duo Nick & Knight. I’m not sure how I didn’t faint, turn bright red or stutter my words but I guess the professional journalist in me remains despite the greatest odds. I mean, come on I was sitting down and talking to a Backstreet Boy not even five feet away!

Gushing aside, the interview went smoothly and the guys opened up about what it’s like living life in the spotlight and some of their questionable fashion choices over the years. Watch the video from my interview below as well as an excerpt from our chat. I guess now I need to create a new bucket list of interviews for 2015. Any suggestions?

“I never, ever have thought that I actually was very good at style and dressing myself,” Nick Carter admits when he’s given some photos of his earliest looks. “Now more than ever I let my wife help me out a lot. Some things like this, I have no idea what that is. I look like the guy from Puddle of Mudd.”

He’s talking about an outfit he wore to the Festivalbar Music Festival in Turin, Italy back in 2005. During his performance, the Backstreet Boy showed his dark side with a skull woven onto his button-down dress shirt.

“Woah! Beeper,” Jordan exclaims.

He is of course referring to a beeper clipped on an all-leather ensemble he wore back in 1999, when he showed up at a Virgin Megastore in California to promote his debut solo album Jordan Knight.

It had us, and Nick, wondering who was beeping Jordan back then?

“You know,” Jordan smirks, not naming any names. “You know how I roll.”

And by far the favorite of all the photos we found is one of Jordan from 1985. In the promo photo shot in New York, he’s wearing denim overalls sans a shirt.

“This was just terrible. People in my neighborhood wore this for some reason,” he recalls. “If I was on an episode of Cops this is what I’d be wearing. Running from the police.”

He smiles. “We all have those photos. You look back in your yearbook and you go, ‘Oh my God. What was I thinking?’ We take this stuff lightly. It’s pretty funny to look at.”

Read more of my interview with Nick & Knight at Radio.com.

December 25, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
Top 25 Interviews of 2014: No. 2 Kip Moore
CATEGORIES: Interviews, Q&A

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I was incredibly lucky to interview Kip Moore twice this year, first at the ACM Awards in Las Vegas back in April and again last month at Starland Ballroom in New Jersey. To fully understand my excitement (and nerves) to sit down with Kip for a lengthy interview, I have to tell you that his debut album Up All Night is by far my most listened to country album ever. He released it back in 2012 and for the past two years it has been the soundtrack of my life. Whether at home, at work or traveling around the country, it’s one of those timeless albums that I put on no matter the mood I’m in and it always makes me feel better. So to interview him twice this year truly was a dream come true.

What struck me most about our interview was how serious Kip was. While answering some of my questions he at times seemed intense, especially when talking about songwriting and his last single “Dirt Road.” A complete departure from his fun and flirty stage persona, it was interesting to witness the two sides of the singer-songwriter in one night. Below is an excerpt from our chat.

It’s no secret Kip looks up to The Boss. He even covered his song “Atlantic City” twice that day at the Starland Ballroom, once during soundcheck and again when opening his show later that night.

Kip closed his soundcheck set raving about Bruce Springsteen, attributing him as “the guy that really saved my life and the life I was living.”

“You know, Springsteen gave me hope,” he says. “Gave me hope that I could get to where I was trying to get and also gave me comfort. It’s a scary thing to face yourself when you’re feeling like you’re irrelevant. That vulnerable feeling. His music gave me comfort to feel that way, but he also gave me hope into a better life.”

Much like Kip looks up to Springsteen, his fans look to him for inspiration—something that is difficult for him to believe. But it is knowing this that makes him work harder and has him choosing his lyrics more carefully.

“It’s awesome and it’s scary at the same time, because you realize how much weight your words hold. And when you realize your words hold that much weight, you actually think about what you’re saying a lot more,” Kip says. “It means a lot to me because that’s why I do what I do. I always wanted people to hear my music and I wanted it to impact them in a profound way, so now that it’s actually doing that it means a whole lot to me.”

When asked what the hold-up with his sophomore album is, Kip explains his record label isn’t to blame—in fact as he describes it, they’re “protecting” him.

“People need to understand this is not my record label’s fault,” he asserts. “To be honest, it all comes back on me. I wrote a song, ‘Dirt Road,’ that I thought was going to get further up on the charts and high enough to release a record around, but my label is protecting me in a lot of ways. In my own stubbornness, I just want to put the record out. They know what they’re doing, and it’s hard to release a record around a song that didn’t get past number 40 [Moore’s first three singles all reached No. 1]. And that’s just the fact of the matter.”

So, adds Kip, “hopefully we can come with something next time with some more traction and we can put a record out around it.”

For my complete interview with Kip, visit Radio.com.

December 24, 2014 | | (0) comment comment
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