Festivals Interviews

Taylor Swift

Photo Credit: Wendy Hu

Her music is embraced by country and pop fans alike, but she never fails to display her country roots — always wearing a cute sundress and cowboy boots. Having recently recorded with Def Leppard and showing the world her impeccable rap skills (who knew?) with T-Pain at the CMT Awards on cleverly titled, “Thug Story,” Taylor Swift is the only artist I know who has five-year-old girls and 25-year-old women equally excited about her music.

At the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, even Reba McEntire was singing her praises. Of Swift, Reba said, “I’m thrilled to be in the same business as she’s in because I’ve learned from Taylor. She’s a very smart, old soul and she’s very in tune with what’s supposed to be going on. She knows how to think. She has a very great business sense so I like to eavesdrop in on what Taylor’s doing. I always learn something.”

Did I mention she’s only 19? Taylor Swift is known for wearing her heart on her sleeve, whether it be in her lyrics about ex-boyfriends or simply her interaction with her fans — hundreds, of which, camped out to meet Taylor at her autograph signing. And, by the look of it, Taylor Swift won’t be going anywhere anytime soon if her fans have anything to say about it. Read on to learn more about collaborating with T-Pain and John Mayer, her writing process and how she feels about her fast-paced lifestyle.

Earlier this week, Reba McEntire talked about the music industry and people in country music she looks to for inspiration and she mentioned you.
Wow. That’s the coolest thing I’ve heard in a really long time! It better be true! Reba is absolutely one of my favorite people on this planet. I think that when you’re making your way up in the music industry you have all these heroes and the reasons why they are your heroes are one thing. As soon as you get into the industry your guidelines change a little bit. For me, my heroes now are great people first and great artists second. People on that list for me are Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire and Faith Hill — people that I just feel strive to be great people and kind people first before anything else gets factored in. To hear something so wonderful from one of those people on that giant, huge, amazing list, that’s awesome. I love Reba!

It seems like you’re going 100 miles an hour right now. Is this too fast or just right for you?

This is just right for me. I’m loving it. I played Atlanta last night and got in at 3 a.m. this morning and then went straight to the Convention Center to sign autographs for five-and-a-half hours and that’s the way I want to live my life. This is absolutely my favorite time of year. I remember when I was 14-years-old and was holding a clipboard interning at the CMA Music Fest, just feeling like if there was ever a chance that one day people would line up to have me sign something of theirs, then that would be a really, really good day for me. I’m really happy to say that today was that day and it’s so wonderful to get the chance to do this.

What role does faith play in your life and your career?

I definitely know that there is someone looking out for me. And, for me it’s just wonderful to know that all of this has happened. There has to be someone up there holding all the cards because I could have never done this on my own.

Thanks to Twitter we know that you may be doing something with John Mayer and T-Pain. Could you talk about working with those artists, the freedom, and what’s that like for you creatively?

I love making new friends and I respect people for a lot of different reasons. For me, great music doesn’t just have to fall into one category or one genre and I love appreciating all kinds of music. Country music is obviously my favorite and that just goes without saying. But, I’ve always loved John Mayer and I think T-Pain is brilliant. Getting to work with people like that has been really, really fun for me. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and the fact that country radio has been so wonderful to me and has remained so true to me despite the fact that I’ve gotten to go and do all these things that I’ve dreamed about doing. It’s just been a really, really cool thing.

Your music is so personal; it’s almost like writing in a diary. Do you remember the first time you performed and were you nervous that the person you were singing about was in the audience?

For me, writing a song, I sit down and the process doesn’t really involve me thinking about the demographic of people I’m trying to hit or who I want to be able to relate to the song or what genre of music it falls under. When I sit down and write a song the only person that I’m thinking about in that room is the person that I’m writing the song about and what I want them to know and what I wish I could tell them to their face, but I’m going to say it in a song instead. So, for me, music is really more about a diary and a confession. I love it. I love getting to say things to people that I wouldn’t say to them if I was standing face to face with them. Music is a way of verbalizing those things that I feel that I can’t say.

What country song do you relate to most?

I have favorites. My top favorite country songs are “Run” by George Strait or “You Were Mine” by the Dixie Chicks or Faith Hill “Breathe.”

What was the craziest thing you’ve had to sign?

I’ve had a lot of interesting things like a turtle shell with my face painted on it. That was the winning touch. But today, my fans know me so well and they get me awesome presents. This girl brought me this bracelet [that I’m wearing] and I really like it. A lot of the jewelry that I wear and that you see me wear are fan gifts because they’re so awesome and they give me great presents.

Thousands of girls are running around in sundresses and cowboy boots. Is this a fashion phenomenon for you?

Yes! That’s awesome. I wasn’t trying to start anything. I wasn’t trying to make people dress a certain way, but seeing girls coming to my shows wearing sundresses and cowboy boots and curling their hair is one of my favorite experiences ever because I remember when I was weird for dressing the way that I dressed and I was weird for having curly hair. It’s really fun to see that I’m
not that weird anymore.

What do you do to keep from burning out?

As far as burning out, I get tired a lot, but I never get tired of it. Because for me, I remember when I was a little kid and I used to sit there and think about how lucky I would be one day where people cared about the words that I wrote or how lucky I would be if someday I was just walking through the mall and saw some little girl walking by with my face on her t-shirt.

When you spend so much time daydreaming about things like that, when that actually happens you don’t ever complain about it. When I go to a restaurant, yeah I know that a line is probably going to form in front of the table, but didn’t I always wish for that? Yeah, I did. So it’s like, I never want to be the girl who wanted something so bad her whole life, she just wanted one thing, and then gets it and complains about it. I’m not going to be that girl.

You can also read this interview on here.

Features Festivals

Hundreds of Fans Camp Out to Meet Taylor Swift

Photo Credit: Wendy Hu

The highlight of CMA week for many fans was Taylor Swift signing at the Nashville Convention Center Sunday morning. While hundreds camped out 18 hours for a chance to meet her in person, Swift showed her appreciation to each and every fan in line. Introducing herself with a welcoming hug and talking one-on-one before signing everything from a photograph to a fan’s guitar, Swift demonstrated just why fans are so receptive to her, signing for well over five hours. 

Pictured above is one such fan, Shannon Calley from Birmingham, Alabama who drove three hours and slept outside since 8 p.m. Saturday night to meet Swift. “It was crazy. There were so many people, but I’m so glad I got to meet her,” Shannon said. “She is one of the nicest people ever. I’m so happy she got to sign my guitar because I started playing because of her. The fact that she got to sign it is awesome.”

Having been writing songs since she was 13, Shannon’s excitement after meeting Swift was so contagious that I wished I had met her myself! When asked if there was anything else she had to say about her experience, all she had to say was, “Taylor rocks!” And, after listening to Swift in the press conference Sunday night and watching her perform an energetic live set on LP Field, I couldn’t agree more. Stay tuned for the full interview. 

Festivals Song of the Week

My Top Five Favorite CMA Week Songs

CMA week has definitely turned me into a country music fan. I know there are so many stereotypes, but give these songs a listen and maybe they’ll change your opinion on country music. If they do, and you want to catch a show sometime be sure to let me know! 

“I Run To You” by Lady Antebellum
I absolutely love this song. After hearing them play it live at their fan party as well as the nightly concert at LP Field I was hooked. I was lucky enough to visit the spot where they filmed the music video for the song — Dunn Bros Coffee — where one of the baristas filled me in on the story behind the video. You can watch it below. If you like it, check out “Lookin’ For A Good Time” (another one of my favorites) here.


“All I Want To Do” by Sugarland

The chorus just won’t leave my head. “All I want to do-o-o-o-o-o.” Give it a listen on YouTube, I think you’ll agree.

“Chicken Fried” by Zac Brown Band

Zac Brown Band blew me away during their performance Friday night at LP Field. I haven’t seen a band with that much energy and diversity in a while. (See about 4:15 minutes in). Love the lines “You know I like my chicken fried/Cold beer on a Friday night/A pair of jeans that fit just right/And the radio up.” Come on, don’t you?


“Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” by Darius Rucker

Hootie & the Blowfish fans have followed frontman Darius Rucker embrace a solo country career and his debut album was praised by critics and fans alike. I took a personal liking to Rucker the first night of the press conference. Still new the the press conference setup, I kept raising my hand and trying to ask him a question when everyone else talked over one another jumping in over me. 

When the publicist in charge told the crowd “last question” I was bummed that I didn’t get my question in. Darius must have noticed though, because he pointed at me after and said, “You’ve been so patient this whole time. What’s your question?” Extremely surprised that he called on me, it gave me the confidence I needed to be more aggressive the rest of the week, seeing that the artists really do notice and acknowledge you if you’re patient. Watch the music video for “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” here.

What do you think? Do you like any of the songs? I’ll be introducing you to some musicians with my upcoming interviews and I’d love to hear of your favorite country musicians.


CMA Music Festival Recap – CMA Music Fest June 11-14, 2009 in Nashville, TN

This past week’s annual CMA Music Festival reminded me of why I’m so passionate about music. The energy, the excitement, and the thrill of meeting your favorite musician is an experience everyone can relate to. Despite a few technical snafus (including a five hour flight delay due to a failed electrical generator and my laptop crashing while attempting to live blog the festival), the behind-the-scenes access to CMA week and determination to bring you the most intriguing interviews and festival coverage is what kept me going.

Growing up, I was a huge music fan, always researching the latest news on my favorite band, in constant hope to one day meet them. CMA makes this dream come true for country music fans. Whether it was waiting in line for an autograph (in Taylor Swift’s case hundreds of fans camped out over night) or attending an exclusive fan party where a band debuts new tracks off their upcoming album and takes questions from those in attendance, the CMA Music Festival is unlike any other music festival out there. The entire week is solely dedicated to the fans and thanking them for their continued support. After all, a musician wouldn’t be anyone without his fans.

Over the course of four days I interviewed some amazingly talented up-and-coming musicians (David Nail, Jake Owen, Holly Williams) as well as some of country’s legends (Martina McBride). Additionally, I learned how to be more aggressive in the nightly press conferences and ask your question recommendations suggested in last week’s poll. While I’m more a fan of one-on-one interviews, the first night was a learning experience as press conferences are often a free for all with everyone jumping in and talking over each other. While Thursday was an adjustment, by Friday I was a pro and able to get in many questions to some of country’s hottest talent. Thanks for submitting them!

I traveled to Nashville with two friends, Wendy and Deana who helped me out with photos and video footage during the festival, so I’m psyched to include their coverage as well within the next few days. Be on the lookout for tons of interviews, photos and trip highlights, including a stop at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Studio B as well as Memphis to visit Elvis Presley’s infamous Graceland estate.

Being in Nashville for CMA week really opened up my eyes into the country music realm and I was so glad to be a part of it. Somewhat of a newbie to the genre, what I saw this week were some of the most down-to-earth, appreciative and welcoming people in the business and it’s so refreshing to see the stars so receptive and engaging with their fans. I just may have to make a yearly trip to Nashville from now on!

I’ll be working hard to get all my coverage up for you asap, but in the meantime feel free to visit my Twitter account for my daily festival footage.


Mat Kearney

Photo Credit: Wendy Hu

With hit single “Closer To Love” climbing the charts from latest album release, City of Black & White and a headlining tour on the way, Mat Kearney will be spending the next few months on the road. Not that being on tour is anything new to him. Having played with the likes of John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, The Fray, and most recently Keane, Kearney has been perfecting his stage show and acquiring many fans along the way.

When recently interviewing Kearney, I learned of some intriguing tales, which he suggested to describe as “the thrill of songwriting.” Surprisingly enough, Kearney doesn’t own a piano but instead, finds ways to utilize one when late night writing sessions deem it necessary. “I found that institutions had the best pianos sitting around and would find ways to get into them. I don’t think the University of Oregon figured it out. I had to use a credit card and scale a wall. There was a balcony involved.”

Kearney, your secret is out. Although, I don’t think the University of Oregon would mind too much as long as they receive some writing credit. City of Black & White is sure to follow in the footsteps of previous hit album, Nothing Left to Lose. Read on to learn more about Kearney’s writing process, struggles of being an opening act and the album, which he describes as having a visceral quality, something he hopes “hits you in the chest like a fist.”

You can read the full transcript of my interview below, as well as listen to the audio. To hear Mat talk about the new album, his writing process and stories behind his songs, click here. For his view on writing about personal relationships, being an opening act and advice to aspiring musicians, click here

You’ve been on tour non-stop the past few years. Do you feel that experience helped out with writing the new album?
Yeah. I got to take last year off, so I got a little break. Nothing Left to Lose was an album that I wrote just in my bedroom and you don’t know who is listening or who cares. This record is 500 shows later so there’s definitely the live thing that helps inform what you’re doing. You just get better playing live. You find what kind of players you want around you. You end up writing songs that are a little more tense and you picture how they’re going to interact with people. The live thing just totally influences how you make the record.

You collaborated with Nashville artists on City of Black & White. How was collaborating different from writing a record by yourself in your bedroom?
I think some people have a lot of success and they want to do it all themselves. For me, I just wanted to do the opposite thing. I think the history of Nashville, the songwriting community, and all of the people that are my heroes – Johnny Cash, Elvis, and Bob Dylan even came through town – they invited all their friends. It wasn’t that I got the industry; I just really got my friends involved in the record. Some solo artists that probably nobody’s ever heard of that I just really respect, we sit on the front porch and drink coffee together or people that I know really well, I just invited them. We’d be sitting around the living room and someone would be writing a song and we’d join in and then I’d actually record those songs. A lot of it I still wrote, but I just opened it up to a little broader group of people.

Do you have a typical writing process?
No. It’s always different. You never know what’s going to happen. Sometimes there are songs, sometimes it’s a movie, sometimes it’s your friends, sometimes it’s a book, sometimes you’re laying in the bed in the middle of the night and you hear this idea going through your head and so you have to get up and write it down. It’s very different. Sometimes I’m breaking into schools and writing on a piano because I really wanted to write on a piano. It’s very varied. It’s elusive the writing process.

Do you have a certain track that sticks out most for you?
I think “City of Black and White,” the album title, is a good one. I was writing it with a friend and we were far away. We were in the city of Istanbul of all places. We wanted to get away and I wanted to go where my cell phone didn’t work. We were sitting overlooking the river in this really hectic city and we were just messing with this idea, this black and white idea of these colors exploding into this black and white world. It just seemed like a good song to anchor the record on.

Did you feel pressure recording the album since your last album was so successful?
Yes and no. I wasn’t that nervous because I had all these other bands like The Fray and John Mayer and people who had these massive successes to compare myself to. I was like, “Well, I’m not dealing what they’re dealing with” so that’s nice. Nothing Left to Lose was literally 12 of the first songs I had ever written. I was so excited to keep creating. Even now, I’m really looking forward to recording again at some point because I haven’t been doing it my whole life and I’m so excited about it. From that process, it was really fun.

So, I tried not to think too much about it and just keep my head down and write songs that I really loved and believed in. I think that somehow got me through any pressure I would feel. But, it definitely is different knowing there are people that care and are waiting for something. Its different then you and your buddy making a record in your living room. As much as you try to pretend you don’t know that, you still know that and you care about what they think and whether they want to buy it or not. At the end of the day, music is about self expression but it’s also a communal thing for me. I write songs to be shared with other people and for other people and I have other people in mind when I write them.

Writing, at times, is very much like a diary entry. Do you ever hold back because you don’t want to share too much?
You find your ways to say what you need to say. But no, I think there are those things where if you feel like you’re supposed to talk about them and they’re really freaky a little bit, I think those are the things you really need to talk about if they’re scary.

It’s m
ore the people that are close to you that freak you out. Like
the people that know you’re writing about them. Something like, my asshole brother, you know? Even though my brother isn’t an asshole, but if he was those kind of moments when you’re like, “Well, Johnny’s gonna hear this and he’s not going to like this.” Mrs. Bower in the third grade, she was terrible. That kind of thing. Just joking.

Did they find out that you broke into your college?
It wasn’t my college. I made a habit of that. I never owned a piano, so all the songs I write on the piano, I never owned one and I always wanted to write them at odd hours of the night. So, I found ways to find pianos. I found that institutions had the best pianos sitting around and I [would] find ways to get into them. But, I don’t think the University of Oregon figured it out. I had to use a credit card and scale a wall. Not really scale a wall, there was a balcony involved. Maybe add it to the thrill of the songwriting.

Tell me about “Lifeline.” I love that song, the lyrics behind it.
I wrote it with some friends, Trent [Dabbs] and Matt [Matthew Perryman Jones]. We were just exploring this idea of losing something and finding the end of yourself. It’s pretty simple in its desperation. It’s one of the more desperate pleas for something. It’s like someone at the end of their rope, looking for some help and some guidance. It’s a desire to fit in or maybe they’ve tried their best and there’s this foiling of all their plans that they’ve created. Sometimes it’s a good place to be, being completely humbled in a sense that your plans are frustrated in a good way.

Of course I have to ask about “Annie” because it’s my name also.
“Annie” was a song I actually wrote about this girl. She used to work for my label and she worked in Indianapolis. She told me her story about her family and having to leave. So I was driving home on the way back from this really smoky, dirty venue called Birdies. We were in the back of the van on the way to the hotel. I think we were listening to some weird ambient music, and I just remember writing the whole song, word for word almost. Just trying to think about that idea of those difficult moments where leaving is really hard, especially when it’s people you love, but you know it’s what you need to do.

Do you feel a song comes out better when it’s based on a real relationship vs. writing from fantasy?
Well, I don’t think that anything is entirely real or anything is entirely fantasy when you write it. It’s like “Schindler’s List.” The movie is incredibly real, but it’s not real on one level. Those dialogues, no one recorded them. That’s a really bad example. But yeah, it’s bits and pieces from real life. Some of it is stories or characters interacting together in your head. Sometimes it’s the movies, sometimes it’s the books, sometimes it’s a friends life, sometimes it’s so painfully specifics of my life that I wouldn’t even want anybody to know that they’re that specifically honest.

When was the moment you realized you want to be a musician for the rest of your life? Do you want to be a musician the rest of your life?
I don’t know. I just feel lucky to be able to do what I’m doing now and keep doing it. I was in high school and I was this kid that didn’t know my place and got terrible grades, but everyone was like, “This kid is creative. He’s smart.” I wrote this poem and I remember the teacher read it and she sat me down. I thought I was going to get in trouble. She told me, “You’re really, really good at this. You need to write.”

So I had that little nugget that I was carrying with me in my heart and I went to college and became a literature major. Just writing and reading and being super moved by stuff. I remember sitting down with a guitar and I started writing songs and I felt like the whole world fit. This thing this teacher told me that I could write, and this world of music I grew up completely moved by, it just came together. And I was like, “Okay, this makes sense and I want to do this.” It wasn’t like I want to do this the rest of my life, it was like, “I want to do this now.” Then I want to do it tomorrow and the next day and every day I would wake up and I still want to do this. This is still something I’m really passionate about. The rest of my life is a scary term anyway.

As an opening artist, do you feel it’s still hard to win over the crowd?

It’s the fun challenge of opening. I feel like it makes you better, opening for people. It’s like, if you’re telling a joke to your mom everything is funny, but if you tell a joke to someone who doesn’t care about you, you learn where you stand and if it’s funny. Opening, I love it, but it’s challenging. The Keane fans have been amazing, but I think we’ve brought our own share of fans out. I think we’ve held our own.

On “Undeniable” you freestyle for a bit at each show and add a line or two about the city you’re in. Do you actually visit the places you mention in the song? Do you research the lines?
No, it’s whatever comes to my mind. There’s definitely no researching those moments. I think we had gone there the night before, hung out, got some food down on Queen Street. I’ve traveled a little bit so I have a little love for each town, a plethora of experiences to draw from. A little stock pile of every city I go to. So no, I don’t research. I do research, yeah, but it’s me getting off the bus and walking around towns and I’ve been doing that for four years.

Earlier tracks you had more of a Hip-Hop spoken word feel, and this record not as much. Are you going to go back to that?
I don’t know. For this record, I met with this producer named Rick Rubin, and we talked about that and I said, “I’m struggling writing this way.” And he said, “Just write all the songs you’re supposed to write and the songs that are supposed to be together will and they’ll make sense.” And that’s what I did. I wrote almost 30 songs for this album and the songs that I felt strongest about were these 12 on City of Black & White. As far as a particular style, I have to keep moving for me and I have to be excited about what I do. I don’t want any part of what I do to become a shtick for someone for what I have to do.

It’s like a joke that’s really funny that everybody wants you to tell every night and you don’t want to tell it, you want to tell a new one. I’m just on a journey. I don’t think I’m done with any certain particular style. For this record, I’m really excited about. I wanted it to be more refined and more to the point and more classic pop record and not as much Jack Kerouac stream of consciousness. It’s a little more heavy, more up-tempo. That’s 500 shows later too, me just wanting to connect with the audience. You play every night and realize, “Man we can turn this up a few notches” and then you start writing that way and it’s cool.

How do you feel the Nashville scene is different than other parts of the country?
It’s a city that’s built around community and it’s a city that’s very much about the collective. Creatively, fashion comes a distant second to the song. The song is God in Nashville music. It’s a city that doesn’t put up with a lot of fluff. It values humility. In the history, you feel like you’re walking around in the shadow of these humble giants. These people that were great, but were hard working people from rough farming families. The Woodie Guthrie’s and the Johnny Cash’s and those kinds of people. It’s just not very
fashion driven. Nothing’s wrong with that. It’s just very substance driven. Production and the fashion side comes second to the heart and the song. It’s very much written driven around the traditional song based music.

What’s your advice to upcoming musicians?
I always go back to my uncle’s statement and it’s maybe why I love Nashville. He said, “If your vibe outweighs your substance, you are destined to be a novelty.” I’ve always sought to get after something that’s foundational in people. That comes through my faith, through my belief in life, through trying to hit something that’s true every time. I think that’s really where you move people, when you touch on something that’s true, that’s not based on fluff or based on a moment or a movement. It’s based on something that’s real that you acknowledge people.

You can also read this interview on For more on Mat, be sure to visit his MySpace to listen to some tracks off the new album and catch a show when he’s in town!

Artist of the Week Festivals

Artist of the Week: Veronica Ballestrini

With her warm pop-country vocals, 17-year-0ld Veronica Ballestrini is bound to lighten the mood of any listener’s worst day. While comparisons to Taylor Swift abound, Ballestrini’s easygoing style and MySpace success bring reference to that of Colbie Caillat. Most recently, her single “Amazing,” has been climbing the Country Music Television countdown. Did I mention she’s only 17?

Songs like “This Girl” are upbeat and fun, the kind you have the windows and sunroof open while driving to the beach. In fact, most of her MySpace tracks have that same quality. Ballestrini’s music is fitting for her age. She never tries to be someone she isn’t, whether she’s singing about boys, not knowing what she wants or unrequited love.

Current hit “Amazing,” is blowing up the Country music charts and debuted No. 6 on CMT’s fan-voted “12 Pack Countdown,” above Taylor Swift’s new video “You Belong With Me.” A pretty impressive feat for an up-and-coming artist.

It’s remarkable that just a few months ago, Ballestrini introduced her new music to fans on MySpace and Facebook. Since then, she’s met with an overwhelming welcome, her MySpace page views soaring to more than 8 million.

You can listen to her song, “Amazing” and watch behind the scenes of her music video shoot below.


For more on Ballestrini, be sure to visit her on MySpace and, if you’re headed to Nashville for the CMA Music Festival check out her appearances listed. I’ll be interviewing Veronica this Thursday, so if there’s anything you want to know about her, leave your responses in the comments.


Poll of the Week: What CMA Coverage Do You Want To Read? – CMA Music Fest June 11-14, 2009 in Nashville, TN

I’ve been listening to country music all day in preparation for the CMA Music Festival next week in Nashville! It’s always been a dream of mine to visit Nashville and I’ve already gotten a list of places to visit from some musicians who live there. So psyched!

Currently, I’m in the process of setting up interviews with country artists at the festival as well as some Nashville-based musicians, but I wanted to know what you’re most interested in reading throughout the week. I’m sure it will be similar to SXSW, but I want to make sure I write about what’s most intriguing to you!

Concert Reviews
Daily Updates
Flip Cam Footage

Which artists are you most excited to read about? And, if you could ask them one question, what would it be? Check out the full lineup here and let me know!

Academy of Country Music Awards On Now!

I just realized the Academy of Country Music Awards are on tonight! Tons of appearances by Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and more! Tune into CBS to watch or follow me on Twitter as I update you on the show. You can also vote for Entertainer of the Year on Who is your choice?

I’ll be heading to Nashville in June for the CMA Music Festival so I’m making a list of what country bands I need to brush up on. Suggestions? Leave them in the comments!


Matthew Perryman Jones

A few weeks before his New York performance at the Living Room, I spoke at length with Matthew Perryman Jones about his latest album, Swallow the Sea. Jones filled me in on his writing process, which he describes as “a stream of consciousness exercise,” as well as the current Nashville music scene and the inspiration behind many of his songs on the album.

Be sure to check out his MySpace, and if you like what you hear, find the widget on his page for a free download of his last album, Punches In the Dark. Read below for the in-depth interview and check back in a few days for the full MP3 of my interview with Matthew.

Swallow the Sea is your third full-length album. Did you go into the studio having a certain concept for the album?
About six months prior to the full recording of this record, me and the producer Neilson Hubbard had gone into the studio and recorded some stuff. We don’t really do demos anymore, it’s more do a recording of how you want it to sound. We did some recordings a while ago, like “Save You,” “Without a Clue” and “Don’t Fall in Love” that are on the record that we actually recorded a while before we started the full-on record. I think those were just recordings that started the idea to do a record.

Eventually, in March this year, we came back in and we did a live recording. What made it different for the rest of the record is that we came in and we recorded live. We got the whole band together and rented out a different studio where we could do a live recording. Our vision was to make a bigger sounding record, so the studio we used and doing it live gave it that bigger sound and also gave it a little more energy in the performance. That was kind of the vision in terms of finishing the record, which was really to go with something that has a bigger sound and a little more energetic than what we have done before.

“Without a Clue” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I was just curious to the inspiration behind it.
I wrote that song with Kate York. I had the song idea coming in, I just wanted to have her come in and hash out some lyrics with me. We just came onto this theme of a nostalgic love song. Something that was good at a certain point in time and ended at some point. We fell on that theme as we were writing; it kept coming up a lot. A lot of times when I write, I don’t really come with an idea; usually the melody and there are words that start coming out with that melody. That one in particular ended up having that nostalgic feel to it. We just hashed out these lyrics and the idea of this old love story that was good when it was there. That’s the general idea of the song and we just worked it out.

This album you’ve co-written a lot. How is writing a song vs. co-writing a song different for you?
I used to always write on my own and after a while, especially when I moved to Nashville, I started doing some co-writing with people. At first I didn’t like it a whole lot, it felt too invasive. Then, I started getting to know certain people that became friends of mine that weren’t just songwriting partners; we knew each other, we had similar perspectives. I started writing with folks that I knew and I trusted and it actually became enjoyable to me because I’d have ideas; I’d come with a melody idea or song structure and lyrical fragments. It’s been really cool to bounce back ideas creatively and to see how other people approach an idea or a song. So, in a lot of ways it’s been a real growth experience for me, writing with other people and being able to be challenged creatively.

The way I do it, especially when Neilson and I write, I’ll come in with . . . I usually keep recordings of melodies and song ideas, structures, with little lyric ideas. I’ll come in and start singing these melodies and he’ll have a pad and pen and just start writing down everything. I’ll just start singing and I won’t think about what I’m singing at all, even if it’s complete nonsense. Kind of a stream of consciousness exercise. I just start singing and my main goal is not to think about it, just go and start singing out words even if they make no sense. He’ll write down things that he’s hearing; certain words that come out a lot or themes. Then we find the theme of the song, which is exploring it through the stream of consciousness way and he’s just transcribing words. And then we come on to the feelings of a song, or what I like to call it, the guts of the song. At a certain point, we have to start giving it some shape and really start putting some meat on it.

The process is mostly to try and find the guts and the feeling of the song so the song has an emotion to it; something from a deeper level. I used to think, is that writing approach less honest because you’re just not thinking about it? I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s more honest to do it that way because you’re not thinking about it, you’re not imposing any ideals or any ideas on a song that don’t need to be there. You just let the song do what it’s supposed to do. It’s just been a fun way to discover a new way to write songs.

On the surface you’re just aware of your daily life and the stuff you have to do here and there. But, on a deeper level and a subconscious level, there’s way more going on. It’s funny because after I’ve finished a song, even after I’ve recorded it and put out a record, I’ll listen to a song months afterward and go, “Oh, that song makes perfect sense now. I know what that’s about now because I’ve processed certain things and I’m more into my conscious life.”

Tell me about working with Neilson Hubbard. I know you worked with him on your last album, so obviously things have to be going well.
Yeah. I love working with Neilson. I knew some of his work before the first time we worked together and I really, really liked it. I loved his approach. As I got to know him, we’re both about the same age so we come from the same school of music which is the late 80s. Bands like Pixies, old U2, Echo and the Bunnymen, all those late 80’s mod-rock bands. It’s where both of us developed our musical tastes so we connect really well there. We both love the in motive, moody, vibey, yet edgy rock kind of stuff that’s really reminiscent of that era. We just connected really well. He’s definitely more of a minimalist in his production; he likes to be really sparse. I like that about him, but I tend to lean more towards the grandiose and a little overboard, so I think when we work together there’s a balance that happens and I think it’s a really cool balance of how we both approach stuff.

Your song “Save You” has been getting a lot of play on television shows like “Private Practice” and “Kyle XY.” How did that come about? Do you feel it’s helped your career in getting your name out there?
It came about a while ago. A guy in Birmingham who works at a radio show, Scott Register has a show called “Reg’s Coffee H
.” Wh
en [last record] Throwing Punches came out, he really championed that record and really pushed my stuff to a lot of people. We recorded “Save You” because some people had heard it live and they were interested in the song, so we decided to record it a while ago. Actually, the version on the CD is the first recording we did. He gave it to a licensing agent in L.A., who heard it. According to what she told me, she said it wasn’t even done with the first verse and she wanted to work with me and work that song. Literally, within two weeks she had the placement on “Kyle XY.” It was really cool to see how that had an immediate connection with people. It’s gotten my music into a different audience because my music has never really found a way into a younger audience; the later teens, early 20s mind span. Mostly college-aged to mid-30s tend to be the typical audience. It’s gotten to a younger audience and it’s been cool to see how it’s connected with people of that age group and it’s definitely helped get my music out into a lot more people, so it’s been a great thing.

How do you feel the Nashville music scene is different from other parts of the country?
I guess, in a way it’s [just] different from other cities. I was in Atlanta before I moved to Nashville, and there was actually a really good music scene going on in Atlanta. But, it’s a much bigger city, and the music scene was not really part of the city as much as it is in Nashville. You think of Nashville and you think of Music City. Most people just think of country music. When I first moved here, there was this really cool, underground group of artists and songwriters that were amazing and inspiring. This town, even in the last three years, has just beefed up its artist roster.

People are moving here from other cities, even from New York and L.A. because the music scene definitely has more of a communal sense to it, people really support each other. In a way, I guess it’s different from other cities in that there’s definitely more of a concentration of artists here and the community is definitely really big and supportive. Not to say it doesn’t exist in other cities, I’m sure it does, but I think it’s a little more prevalent here. I think it’s helped me too, in a sense, because it’s a really inspiring city to live in. Especially right now, we just had a festival last week called “Next Big Nashville.” It’s just all Nashville artists — hundreds of bands and singer-songwriters and artists from Nashville. It’s amazing. I went to a bunch of shows and every show I went to I was blown away. I was just blown away by living in Nashville. This is just a great city to live in right now because there’s so much great music coming out of Nashville. It’s just inspiring I think.

Tell me about your “10 out of Tenn” showcase.
Trent Dabbs, a singer-songwriter in town, he and his wife went on vacation together, just to give you a bit of the story. They put their travel compilation disc together and as they were driving down, Trent turns to his wife and goes, “This is amazing, because our compilation disc is all our friends. We just put all our friends on this compilation disc.” So he got the idea, “Why don’t we put an official compilation recording together of all these artists and do a tour and bring it around the country?” Really, in a sense, bring a part of what’s happening in Nashville around the country in different parts and different cities. We did a tour about a month ago, went up to the north and southeast, played with Butterfly Boucher, Griffin House, Katie Herzig and Tyler James and a bunch of folks from the neighborhood here. We’re all friends and we all see each other and we just kind of hopped on the bus and did a show together, which was pretty awesome. We took Willie Nelson’s old touring bus from the 80s. It was pretty amazing, actually. It was really cool, but really bumpy and really hard to sleep in, but it was still really cool.

You’re an independent artist and a huge help is MySpace and the Internet on getting your music out. Do you feel it’s easier to be an independent artist nowadays or are you eventually looking for that record contract?
It’s definitely easier to be an independent artist today. One, with MySpace and a lot of mediums that exist out there for people to get their music in front of people and be heard and also collect a fan base and know where people are and know how to find people and play in certain towns. Its way easier now, because even 10 years ago when I was playing, we were doing hard mail outs to people to addresses. To put shows together we were literally physically mailing stuff to people and snail mail. That’s unheard of now. It was lot harder to get word out to people back in the day, especially before the Internet really developed a lot of these sites. Yes, it’s way easier to be independent now.

It’s actually more desirable. Even with TV placements these supervisors are looking specifically for independent artists, artists that don’t have the red tape of a big record deal and publishing. It’s a lot easier for them to work with independent artists so they’re looking for independent artists specifically. It works out best for both worlds, because they don’t have to deal with as much read tape and the independent artist is able to have this medium to get their music out to a broader audience. It’s a really great time to be independent. It’s not to say I wouldn’t sign a record label deal because there are definitely advantages to what they can do to sustain your career in a lot of ways. There’s another side to where they can completely ruin your career, so there is no hard way to go about it, it depends what’s right. I’m not apposed to it, if it ever happens, if it’s the right deal.

You’ve been getting amazing reviews, being compared to John Lennon and Leonard Cohen. How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
It’s funny, because I’ve read those reviews with those comparisons which blow me away. Because, if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think I’m anywhere . . . the whole, it just doesn’t even compare to me. Leonard Cohen and John Lennon are these freaking icons. I think what they’re saying by citing those artists is that there is more of a poetic element to my writing. I think that’s why they get the Leonard Cohen comparison, because a lot of his writing was more poetic. Even John Lennon had that element to his writing, more impressionistic, more poetic. Lyrically, I think I lean more that way; more impressionistic, more poetic. All music to some extent is poetry, but in the sense of singing it as poetry, if that makes any sense.

I would describe my music as mood-rock. It’s got a little rock in it, but it’s got more mood to it. If I were to sum it up in a way to describe it, it would be mood-rock. Because it’s not emo by any means, but it does have an emotional element to it, it’s driven by that. I know that sounds weird, because all music has an emotional element to some extent, but I think some music has more of an achy, mood to it, that I think I go for in my music.

Your song, “Motherless Child” is strikingly different then the rest of the album. You definitely feel the mood with that. What’s the story behind that song?
That song is an, old, old spiritual, from hundreds of years ago, so I can’t take the credit for writing that song. I improved a couple lines in the song. I reinterpreted that song. I did it live a few times and it had this real achy mood thing to it, but it also had this aggression to it, which is how I interpreted the song a little bit. And I wanted it to have some aggression to it. We created that song in a way that
it had both elements, where it had this haunted feeling to it and at the same time, this anger to it. That’s one of my favorite tracks on the record. A lot of people say it’s so different from the rest of the record, and I know that it is and that’s why we put it in the middle because it sort of peaks the record a little bit. I was able to sing out more of an emotional, what was going on in me emotionally at the time. In the record, I feel like that really captured at least me, where I was at, at the time. I really liked how it turned out.

You can watch a live performance of “Motherless Child” below. Be sure to check back in a few days for the full audio of this interview.


For more on Matthew, visit his MySpace.

Concert Reviews

Matthew Perryman Jones’ Intimate Performance at New York’s Living Room

With his deep voice and welcoming stage presence, Matthew Perryman Jones entertained all in attendance during an intimate, candle-lit performance Thursday night at the Living Room. The singer-songwriter performed a 50-minute set showcasing songs from his most recent release, Swallow the Sea, as well as older fan favorites.

While some may recognize Jones from his song, “Save You,” featured on popular television shows “Private Practice” and “Kyle XY,” his set Thursday night proved that he is a versatile performer and one that is sure to be around for some time. Not quite a newcomer, Jones’ third full-length album has been receiving much praise and from the audience’s response, he has been leaving a lasting impression on concertgoers.

Thursday’s set opened with Jones alone on guitar for “Feels Like Letting Go” before the rest of his band joined in. At times, his vocals vaguely reminded me of a mellow version of Dave Grohl, maybe what the Foo Fighters would sound like if their music was made up entirely of acoustic ballads.

Singer-songwriter Kate York joined Jones onstage for a few numbers throughout the night, including “Without a Clue” – a song York and Jones co-wrote together. A bit faster than “Feels Like Letting Go,” their voices blended well together. “Sinking Wishes,” from his last album, Throwing Punches In the Dark, Jones explained as, “A song about chasing after somebody.” With lyrics like, “I’m taking a chance to find what’s real inside/I’m taking a chance this time on you/I’ve got nothing to lose” he got his point across.

“When It Falls Apart,” a catchy song co-written with musician Katie Herzig who performed later that night, showcased Jones’ deeper vocals. The keyboard accompaniment and light drumming only strengthened the performance. Watch a performance of “When It Falls Apart” below.


Possibly the most diverse song of the night was “Motherless Child,” a spiritual song from hundreds of years ago, reinterpreted by Jones. “This is a really old song that I fell in love with and it found a place within me,” he told the crowd. Definitely an edgier song than his previous within the set, “Motherless Child” is a song that has the power to change the temperature in the room. One of his favorite tracks on his latest record, Jones has described the song as having a certain “haunted feeling and anger” to it. Extremely well structured, the song showcases a perfect blend between the dark instrumental interludes and Jones’ somber lyrics. Check out a video for “Motherless Child” below to see for yourself.


“Refuge” was another song that resonated with the crowd. From his last record, Jones said the song was written about a time in his life “when I felt like I was going crazy.” Alternating from acoustic to electric guitar, you could feel the confusion in Jones U2-esque vocals and musical makeup. Closing the night with infamous song, “Save You,” Jones informed fans that while he had to leave for Nashville right after the show, he’ll be back to New York in December. From the response of the audience, I think they’ll be back to see him too.

Be sure to check back next Tuesday for my Q&A; with Matthew Perryman Jones!