2012 was quite the year. In February, I started a new job at CBS full-time where I interview bands, cover concerts and write music news stories every day. Pretty much my dream job that I was starting to doubt existed. In addition to many memorable interviews I finally met John Mayer (!!!), attended my very first music video shoot (Gaslight Anthem!), album listening party (Justin Bieber) and album release/film screening (Rascal Flatts).
Throughout the year I’ve interviewed so many artists and while it was hard to narrow down my favorite interview I’ve compiled a list of my 12 most memorable interviews from 2012. While some allowed me to bring my mom along (Josh Turner), others were over the phone (Gaslight Anthem) but none were any short of interesting. I’m sure 2013 will bring even more excitement. Happy New Year!
12. Rascal Flatts
Rascal Flatts have been making music together for over a decade. With eight albums under their belts, it’s nearly inconceivable that the popular country trio almost called it quits. But they did and I learned this all at a red carpet film premiere in New York where I chatted with the band.
“We’ve been more excited about this one then we’ve been in a long time,” Jay DeMarcus told me of their new album Changed. “We feel like we’ve got renewed energy and a resurgence of the spirit of what Rascal Flatts was about to begin with.”
11. Jerrod Niemann
I know I’m not supposed to be friends with rock stars (at least according to Almost Famous) but country artists make this so difficult! The moment I met Jerrod Niemann I knew it would be a great interview. I started off gushing about my love for Nashville and by the end of the interview we were discussing cowboy boots (he had on a pair of alligator skin boots!). A bit self-conscious about wearing mine in NYC, and finding it a cliche to wear them while interviewing a country artist at that, Jerrod put me at ease. “Hey, everybody thinks I’m crazy most of the time,” he told me. The next week I wore my pair of boots to work twice.
10 and 9. Benny Horowitz and Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem
If you’ve been reading this blog over the years then you know of my obsession with Jersey band The Gaslight Anthem. This interview was also a long time coming. I used to work with drummer Benny Horowitz in college. While attending Rutgers University I was Features Editor for the college paper, The Daily Targum. As editor, one night a week I had to proofread the whole paper before it was sent to the printer. Benny was the Night Pro editor and always talked about the bands he was in. Little did I know a few years later he’d be sharing the stage with Bruce Springsteen and touring the world.
In 2008 during my internship at Rolling Stone I was flipping through the magazine and was in shock when I saw Benny’s band featured as a Breaking Artist. At first I didn’t think it was him, but sure enough once I read the photo caption and contacted all my former co-workers I realized it 100% was him. For four years I tried interviewing the band for various publications but for some reason it just never worked out. My friends would always joke with me that I could interview Taylor Swift and Pat Benatar but not Benny, who I actually knew.
Well, 2012 was finally the year. I interviewed Benny and frontman Brian Fallon after their music video shoot and found out some facts no magazine feature could ever reveal. Truthfully, personally knowing someone who followed his dreams even in the midst of countless obstacles and witnessed success is one of the reasons that has kept me perusing my own passion. When you actually know someone who has succeeded in the industry, you can’t help but think, “I can do that too.” And that’s exactly what Benny has done for me. Knowing that his band could make it into the pages of Rolling Stone made me realize that I too, could make it writing for Rolling Stone. Why not? The sky’s the limit.
The day after I was on the set with the guys for their music video shoot I spoke with Benny on the phone and he informed me that Gaslight’s debut album Sink or Swim was full of desperation because in his mind that was his last shot at music. He had been in bands since he was a kid and in his head if Gaslight didn’t work out he was going to give it all up and get a boring 9 to 5 job. Luckily for him (and the rest of us) that never happened.
8. Gari Lamar Askew II aka John Mayer’s photographer
John Mayer has been an infatuation of mine for quite some time. My former co-workers at WebMD and colleagues at JANE Magazine, heck all my friends, family and acquaintances know of my love for John Mayer. He’s one of those artists who has been such a major part of my life that the idea of meeting and interviewing him was so full of anticipation and high expectations. My dream interview, I’ve been trying for years to get a shot at interviewing him. I even got the okay from RollingStone.com but unfortunately he hasn’t been doing many interviews as of late.
So, when I got the email that he’d be signing autographs for fans in New York at a pop-up store I just knew I had to cover it. When I got to the pop-up store location and realized I wasn’t on the press list I instantly felt defeated because with nearly 3,000 fans lined up to meet Mayer too, there was little chance I’d get inside. Luckily, some co-workers started talking to one of the men by the door and it turned out he was John Mayer’s photographer (Gari) who had traveled with him and had photos on display at the exhibit. This guy not only traveled with John, but considers him a friend and only had the nicest things to say about him. After I interviewed him about his experience working with Mayer he was able to get us inside. Gari asked if I was going to talk to John and I suddenly became so shy. This singer who I’ve grown up listening to was standing 10 feet in front of me!
Of course I had to at least say hi, right? After purchasing an album for him to sign for a friend along with something for myself my friend Wendy and I approached the table where he was signing. “Hi, I’m Annie” I said reaching out my hand for him to shake. He looked at me inquisitively and I couldn’t help but wonder if no other fans in line shook his hand. After much coaxing from Wendy for John to take a photo with me he apologized that he wasn’t able to take photos with fans since the line was so long. As the manager clearly wouldn’t let a photo opp happen I assured Mayer that I understood and it was no big deal (although of course I wanted a photo!) As we were ushered to the door he turned to me and said, “Thank you for being so understanding, Annie.”
That was it. I didn’t ask him any burning questions about his music I’ve wondered for years or say anything witty. I simply introduced myself and got something autographed and was ushered out of the store like every other fan in line. No fireworks, nothing remarkable to report. I walked out of the store indifferent and realized — here’s the shocker — John Mayer is just a person like the rest of us. He’s not some musician who should be worshiped or idolized. He’s just another human being working at making a living doing what he loves.
7. One Direction
Having grown up a boy band fan, I can recognize when the next big sensation is coming. Early in the year I received a press release on One Direction, revealing that their first U.S. fan signing brought over 5,000 fans to a local mall in Boston. I mentioned it to my boss and we learned the guys would be in town in a few weeks so we set up an interview.
I had a flashback to the 90s when Backstreet Boys, N’ Sync and 98 Degrees ruled the charts when I saw girls line up hours before their concert at Radio City Music Hall (and heard their screams from the 44th floor of my building!). When I interviewed the boys of One Direction I got a behind-the-scenes look at what life is like for the current music sensation and it wasn’t pretty. With back-to-back interviews lined up on their day off with little but a second break in between, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guys. A few of them kept remarking how they just wanted to go home while the publicist assured them they just had one more interview (which they didn’t). Just a glimpse into their daily life made me thankful I never became a rock star.
6. Little Big Town
There is no concert I look forward to more than the CMA Songwriters Series held at Joe’s Pub. It’s here that the songwriters and singers from Nashville come and share the story behind their songs and perform in a round. I attended the show Little Big Town were performing at and afterwards interviewed the band for Billboard. The day I sat down with them their ever popular single “Pontoon” just hit No. 1 on the country chart. It became the group’s very first No. 1 hit. Incredibly down to earth, I confessed to the band that I never knew what a pontoon was before their song.
They shared with me the story behind the song and how it was important to showcase their live sound on the new album. In order to channel their live performance, the band came into the studio at 6 p.m. to record as if they were rehearsing for a performance later that night.
“We just wanted to do something different. That was our producer’s idea, Jay Joyce,” Kimberly Schlapman said. “He wanted us to come in like we were playing a show and to have the energy and a little bit pressure like it is to put on a show. He wanted us to sing it live and put us on the spot a little bit. That was his idea and it worked like a charm.”
“I think it’s just a bolder, bigger, more confident sound from us,” Phillip Sweet said. “It’s unapologetic and just honest.”
To be honest, I was very fearful this might be my worst interview ever. The guys of OneRepublic were coming to CBS at 8 a.m. for an interview. I only had 15 minutes with them so I know I had to make it quick. From the moment they sat down though I thought it was a bust. When I asked my first question I was greeted by silence.
“You know that part in the car where I said, ‘Can you guys answer some questions today?’ Cue,” frontman Ryan Tedder said to the band.
Man, could I feel my nerves heat up, but he quickly apologized and the interview went on without a hitch.
“Can you ask the question again? I’m going on four hours of sleep here.”
4. Darius Rucker
Back in May I got word that I’d be interviewing Darius Rucker for CBS. In order to understand my complete excitement I have to take you way back to the summer of 2009 when my love for country music began. My best friends Wendy and Deana had been talking about visiting Nashville for quite some time. It just so happened that every June the city of Nashville is transformed into country music heaven as thousands of fans and artists descend on the city for the CMA Music Fest, what used to be known as Fan Fair.
For four days country music fans are treated to live performances and exclusive meet-and-greets with their favorite country artists. The three of us booked our flight and festival package and I wound up covering the nightly press conference and days events for Marie Claire. An outsider to country music, it was also my first time attending a press conference. While I knew the major artists like Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and Reba, each night I was introduced to new acts. My first night in the press conference was intimidating to say the least. Not an exceptionally outgoing person, I soon learned that in order to get your question in you usually had to yell out to the artist onstage. The first artist in the room was Darius Rucker. The Hootie & the Blowfish frontman recently released his debut country album and would be performing on the main concert stage later that night.
Being my first time in the press room I kept raising my hand in hopes to get my question answered. When the last question was asked and the publicist started to usher him off the stage he pointed in my direction. “You’ve been so patient this whole time,” he said. “What’s your question?” After looking around and realizing he was talking to me I was shocked and thankful to be given a second of his time. So, I asked him how his Hootie fans have reacted to his leap into country music and he told me they’ve embraced and supported his career in country music. Still stunned he pointed me out in the crowd I instantly knew country would become my new favorite genre.
So, early this yeah I finally interviewed Darius one-on-one about his career, writing process, transition into country music and what it’s like working with Lionel Richie. I also filled him in on the fact that he’s pretty much the reason I decided to start covering country music and he actually remembered that time in the press room nearly three years ago!
3. Tristan Prettyman
In June, I chatted with singer-songwriter Tristan Prettyman whose new album Cedar and Gold dropped in September. Formerly engaged to fellow singer Jason Mraz, the album was deemed a breakup album. Reading over all the press material, I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d bring up the elephant in the room, but everything was stated pretty clearly in the press release so I wouldn’t be a good journalist if I didn’t.
The more we talked about the album and her relationship, the closer I came to having to bring up his name. So, I asked if she was nervous to have Jason listen to the album and she revealed that she sent him a few tracks and he responded, remarking at the fact that she didn’t hold anything back.
As Tristan continued to talk about the songs and her relationship she started to tear up and while I wasn’t quite sure whether to keep asking questions, I figured if she felt that uncomfortable she’d let me know. We continued the interview and I was so grateful for her honesty. Writing songs is often like writing in one’s diary and she shared so much of her process and the stories behind her songs with me. After our interview, I have no doubt her release will help a lot of people deal with their own heartbreaks. And that in itself is often the goal for a songwriter.
As far as my future interview goals, while I definitely don’t strive to make anyone cry from the questions I ask them, I hope I do allow them to feel comfortable enough to let their guard down for a moment. I know it’s not always the best idea to be friends with rock stars, but building a 30 minute friendship during our interview can’t hurt, can it?
2. James Valentine
When I found out that I’d be interviewing Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine I joked with my co-workers about the last time we used a payphone. After listening to their hit single “Payphone” on repeat I knew I had to ask him the same question.
Still trying to implement the idea of making my interviews more like a conversation with a friend, I was a bit nervous but determined to make it work. Having seen Maroon 5 perform the night before I at least had a few good conversation starters. As the interview went on I found my questions fitting seamlessly into the interview with no internal dialogue of “what am I going to ask next?”
By far my favorite interview to date, James Valentine took me behind-the-scenes of his writing process with Adam Levine, how he came to join the band, and of course the last time he used a payphone. This was the first interview I’ve had in a long time that really felt like a conversation with distinct connection.
1. Josh Turner
In September I learned that Josh Turner would be coming in for an interview. My mom’s a huge fan so I HAD to bring her along. I’ve never seen my mom speechless or star struck before so it was a treat to have her sit in on my interview and even ask Josh a few questions of her own. It was during this interview that my mom finally realized what all my hard work, unpaid internships and years of freelance work amounted to and I could tell she was proud. It hasn’t been the easiest journey convincing my family that I would make a career out of music journalism but in 2012 I finally proved it was possible. I have no doubts that 2013 will bring even more fun and a lot more stories to add to that future music memoir! Thanks for joining me for the ride.