Singer-songwriter Shalo Lee recently released her debut album, Hometown Girl, which is an emotional collection that blends Americana, Folk, and Country through stories of personal, yet relatable, life experiences. Displaying a firm grasp on the ups and downs of road life, chasing dreams and relationships, the Minneapolis-based Lee graciously took the time to discuss the album, the stories behind the songs and more.
You started singing at a very early age. Was music something that you always wanted to pursue?
My sister started teaching me to sing around eighteen months old - before I could talk. I was reading early too and was always writing stories and poetry, but kept them to myself. I initially went to school for the visual arts, but the music was pulling me harder, so I ended up giving up the visual arts and pursuing music.
I was painfully shy as a kid, and still am, but I've gotten a lot better with time. I purposefully put myself in situations that were uncomfortable - kind of like a social boot camp - to get myself out of that shyness because I knew I would never do well unless I got over it. It was really hard to get up in front of people and sing at first, but I felt like a better version of myself on stage. I could express how I felt about things and release emotions, whether it was frustration or happiness or whatever I was feeling that day. Performing and songwriting became great outlets for me
You mentioned that you kept a lot of your writings to yourself. What finally spurred you to make the record?
I had always written poetry and stories, but I never really put them to music because I was scared. It was something I always wanted to do, but I was shy, afraid of criticism and didn’t really know how to attack the process. When I met Owen [Satori, writer/co-producer] and Ken [Valdez, singer/songwriter/guitarist], we immediately bonded. They recognized my abilities and helped me create the songs. They got that fear out of me which was an unlocking that needed to happen. And once that happened, all of the stories I had built up started coming and once I got started, I couldn’t stop. (laughing) I write all the time now with and without them.
The LA-based, southern-Louisiana native, singer-songwriter Rod Melancon recently released his deeply personal third EP, LA 14. Melancon teamed with producer Brian Whelan (former multi-instrumentalist for Dwight Yoakam) on the intriguing five song set of stories that have depth, humor, and heft. Shortly after its release and in advance of his May residency at the Silverlake Lounge, Melancon kindly took the time to chat about his roots, the EP and more.
Before we dive into the EP, how did it come about that you started pursuing music?
I moved to Los Angeles from Louisiana when I was almost 19. My mom is a theatre teacher so I came out here to pursue that. One Christmas, maybe around the same time, I got a guitar to sort of pass the time in between doing the acting stuff, but then the music began to take over. I realized that instead of doing other folk’s material I could write my own monologues. I never thought about songwriting, and didn’t know about the possibility of pursuing it, until I sat down and started messing around a bit and really enjoying it. I remember the first time I played a song for one of my buddies, he was like, “Hey man that’s not bad” and I thought ‘Yeah maybe it’s not that bad’ and maybe I should keep going at it. That’s how it started and then around twenty-one I began to play shows and before I knew it, music was all I was doing.
Did growing up in Louisiana shape you musically or was it more after you moved to LA?
When I grew up I wasn’t the type of kid who wasn’t fond of where he was. I would always tell myself one day I would get out of town and then eventually, when I moved to LA, I realized the beauty and importance of my upbringing in Louisiana. So I would try and write songs about that place because I was missing home. I think initially that fueled a lot of my writing, and it still does.
I grew up listening to a lot of different stuff in middle school - sh--y music that reminds you of your middle school girlfriend (laughing) - and then in high school I started listening to songwriters like Elliott Smith. I grew up not liking the music that was played in parking lots and I certainly didn’t like country music. I remember being in 9th grade and a girl asked me to dance and I was like, “Not for a country song.” That certainly came back to bite me in the ass though, because now I’m wearing cowboy boots and doing my thing. (laughing)
Is there anyone in the country realm that you look to as an influence?
I do love Hank Williams and his music is where I learned to play guitar. I’d look up his songs and see the chords and with each song I learned, I stored the chords in my head so I’d have them for my own songs. I also like Merle and I even love Conway Twitty who is on the fence for the country purist folks, but I think he is cool. In terms of modern country, I like Jamey Johnson a lot.
New York City's own Trailer Radio returns in fine form with their second full-length album, Country Girls Ain't Cheap. Their self-dubbed brand of 'Metro-Twang,' blends genuine country music with hilarious (and truthful) songs of “dysfunction, drama, and discount vacations,” to name a few. Front woman Shannon Brown graciously called to talk about the record, her roots and more.
As a group, Trailer Radio has been playing together for over five years now. How did you guys get together?
In 2008, I wrote a show called Moonshine Martinis, which was a country music show done cabaret style. I performed it in the city and was just bitten by the bug! I thought performing country music would be so novel in NYC, so I started hunting around to put a band together. I met David Weiss [guitar] at a club called Banjo Jims in the East Village. He already had a writing partner, Joel Shelton [bass] so the three of us got together. They had some material that was sitting around collecting dust that hit me square in the funny bone, so we grabbed Mike Dvorkin [guitar] and Kenny Soule [drums], and learned the material they’d written. That’s how the ball got started.
You are originally from West Virginia. Did you come to NYC to pursue music?
I have a background in musical theatre, but once I moved to New York I got into the tech world and sat around building websites all day. The day job came and stole my real life - which is what happens when you move to New York. You have all of these big dreams but then you suddenly get so tired….so after ten years of doing that I realized I wanted to sing again which is when I started the cabaret.
Cash'd Out is a San Diego-based band that channels Johnny Cash in about as close a manner to the real thing as you can get. Critics have anointed Cash'd Out the "next best thing to Johnny Cash," and the group has won six San Diego Music Awards for Best Tribute Band. In addition, they are the only tribute band endorsed by the official Johnny Cash web page, JohnnyCash.com. In advance of their show at Hill Country BBQ in NYC, frontman Doug Benson took some time to call in from the road to chat.
Cash’d Out has been together for eleven years, how did you get started as a band?
I put an ad in the San Diego Reader and the band came about through that. This is my first band, but everyone else - Kevin Manuel (guitar), George Bernardo (drums), and Stephen Rey (bass) - has been in other bands.
Doing this for over a decade, you must genuinely love and respect the man and his music.
I love Haggard, Willie, and Waylon, but I’m probably most like Johnny which is why I’m drawn to him. I love everything about him.
Do you play solely Johnny Cash songs?
We only do Johnny’s songs whether they’re ones he performed or he wrote. He has thousands of songs, all of which I love, so we have many to choose from on any given night.
Is there one song that the crowd always wants to hear?
They always want to hear “Ring of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues” or “Walk The Line.” So many people know his songs that it’s hard to get an obscure one in there, but every now and then we add a different one to the set.
Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Jessica Rotter began her musical career at the age of four when her talent was discovered during a solo at church. Since then, the songstress’ voice has been heard in movies (Frozen and Big Hero 6), TV shows and commercials as well as backing vocals and collaborations with other artists ....all in addition to her own original songs. The list of artists she has worked with reads like a who’s who of the music industry: Daft Punk, Carole King, Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Quincy Jones, Martina McBride and others. Now, Rotter is preparing to release her full-length album, Plains, on April 22nd. In advance of the release, she kindly took the time to answer a few questions via email.
Rotter’s family roots are steeped in music. Her grandfather was a multi-instrument artist who wrote tunes for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Her mother was a flutist and her father was a former composer. With that background as well as her classical training from Pepperdine University in opera, musical theatre, and filmmaking, Jessica—who describes herself as a “musical storyteller”—is able to transcend creative boundaries.
Music truly seems to be in your blood. With your classical training from Pepperdine, was your first love musical theater or opera or something else?
I have always loved everything, honestly. Disney music I guess would be my first! But I was a big fan of opera from a pretty young age.
Plains was over 100% funded via a Pledge campaign. Was that surprising to you as these campaigns truly speak to the fan base?
I think PledgeMusic does a good job of making sure you know what you’re in for so it was a fairly easy process and I was really honored by the support from my fans!
Originally from Germany, Alexander "Nezzo" Palmer has found success as a Grammy-award nominated songwriter, producer, and DJ. Having worked with such artists as Jason Derulo and Chris Brown, Palmer recently turned his attention to country as a co-writer of Dierks Bentley's fastest rising single to date, "Somewhere On A Beach." On April 3rd, that song, as well as his current Iggy Azalea track, "Team," made their national award show debuts when each artist performed live - Bentley during the ACM Awards and Azalea at the iHeartRadio Awards. Palmer kindly called to talk about his Hip-Hop roots, turning to country and what's ahead.
So before we dive into the current, what originally drew you to a career in music?
I’ve been making music forever. Both of my parents were songwriters in Germany and that is where I started out as a Hip-Hop producer. German Hip-Hop in the German language is huge. I came up in Germany at a time when German Hip-Hop was fresh and I was lucky enough to catch it in its beginning stages and help mold the sound. I moved to LA, where I now live, five years ago. My first big cut was for Jason Derulo ["Whatcha Say"] and since then I've worked with Chris Brown, Ciara, Iggy Azalea and Sia among others.
Growing up in a small Texas town, Ryan Beaver began writing songs early in life, and was performing his compositions in venues when he was just seventeen, playing drums, guitar, and piano. But it was through songwriting where he found a way to make sense of the world. With two albums already under his belt, the Nashville based Beaver is set to release his highly anticipated album, Rx, (called such because he says "the songs are like medicine to me") on May 5th. He graciously took the time to talk about the album, thinking outside the box and more.
Your music might be new to a lot of people, but you have been writing, recording, and performing for years. This time around, with Rx, there’s a huge buzz. So, first, are you surprised by that, and second, why do you think that is?
I’m definitely surprised by the positive feedback I’ve heard, but at the same time we’ve worked the better part of two years on the record - it’s actually been done since January of 2015 - so it’s taken a really long time to get this project off the ground. I think my patience was being tested (laughing). Also, this is the first time I’ve ever really had help with press for a record, so I think that’s probably a big part of why we’ve received much more attention. Before, it was simply a grass roots effort, doing the best we could. We’re still definitely fighting the big mountain and putting the album out on our own right now, but having help in the other departments changes everything. It helps me to not have to be doing every single thing so that I’m able to focus on the music. It’s been a blessing.
The sound of your previous album, Constant, was very roots based, while Rx seems to take a slightly different lean. Is that a fair assessment?
Absolutely. Every one of these projects that I’ve done has been different and on every one of them you can absolutely hear growth in my singing, and my playing, and my songwriting. I was twenty-one when I made Under The Neons, twenty-five or six when I made Constant, and then I started this project when I was twenty-nine, so there’s a journey in every album. With the other records, I felt very rushed, like I was just in to cut my songs and get out. With Rx, I definitely spent a little more time in the studio pushing the knobs, and tweaking, and talking about what out of the box stuff we could do more than I ever have. I had the opportunity to live with the songs longer. In fact, there were even a couple of songs that we cut that didn’t make the record because they just weren’t as strong; they didn’t hold up. So to have that time was a nice luxury.
The first female "indie" artist out of Nashville, Stella Parton has been paving her own way in the industry for decades. When she was twenty-four, she founded her own record label and since then has had thirty-one hit singles, thirty studio albums and has written numerous cookbooks as well as an inspirational memoir. In addition, she has starred in several Broadway touring musicals and on television with her latest appearance in 2015's Coat of Many Colors. Her latest album, Mountain Songbird, which is a tribute to her sister Dolly, was released this past January. Stella graciously took the time to call and talk about the album, doing things her way and much more.
How did you decide which songs you would record for the project?
Well you know, it was quite a daunting task. I worked on the album for about ten years just trying to figure out, out of my sister's catalog of over 3000 songs, which ones resonated with me the most and what type of concept I wanted to present. My sister has written so many different types of songs over the past forty years, so I honed in on the ones that resonated in my heart and the album formulated itself in the last couple of months of working on it.
I often visit Tom T. Hall and his wife, Miss Dixie, they’re like an aunt and uncle to me. I was talking with Miss Dixie, telling her how much trouble I had trying to get this album made. I went to different studios that wanted to make it their project instead of it being my project. In Nashville, a lot of males still think they know everything and a female should cow tow to their decisions whether you agree with them or not. Miss Dixie told me to come to the house and work with them, which I agreed to do. They nurtured my idea from a place of respect as family members would instead of making it about them.
She also had this idea for “Mountain Songbird” and asked me if I would be able to write something with her. We started working on the song, Tom came in on it, and then we finished it up. That song set the tone for the concept of the record because it was what I was going for the whole time, which is that my sister left home a songwriter with a pocketful of dreams and notebook full of songs. Dolly has an incredible gift for writing an epic novel in two and a half minutes, which most people don’t have. The album is me paying tribute to my sister’s awesome gift.
Prophets & Outlaws (Matt Boggs, Stevie G., James Guckenheimer, Jamie Ringholm and CJ Thompson) are a band who seamlessly blend country, soul and R&B into a sound they call "Texas Soul;" it's a sound which is on full display on their fifth EP, the aptly titled V. Filled with serious grooves, Bogg's rich and rugged vocals and the band's tight harmonies, the EP, released on March 25th, showcases their unique style which is expanding their fan base throughout the Lone Star state and beyond. Boggs, Ringholm and Stevie G all kindly hopped on the phone to talk about the album, working with producer Jason Burt and more.
Congratulations on the release of V! I heard you guys had to turn people away at the door at the House of Blues release show, which was a sellout.
It was definitely surprising. We were happy to sell it out, but were sad that people couldn’t get in. We had such a fun time at that show because we had so many fans that knew our older songs like “Country Music Gold” and “Texas Home," but many people hadn’t heard the new album, which has what we feel are some of our strongest songs. It was great to look out and see people bopping along and moving their bodies to the new songs, which is exactly what we want from them.
The EP debuted at a respectable #21 on the R&B/Soul charts. Is that where you would place it genre-wise?
To be honest, we are typically under country, but this album leaned a little more soul than country, so it just fell there. We get played on country radio, but we have this R&B and soul influence that we like to call "Texas Soul." We like to be all over the place with those genres.
You do blend those genres really successfully and Texas radio has definitely embraced it.
It’s pretty cool. It’s great they accept us as we are and don’t want us to sound like everyone else. They’re ready for something new and fresh and are excited to hear what we do next, which is very encouraging. We’re Texas born and bred through and through, so regardless of how you pigeonhole it, we make Texas music and I think they feel that. Above anything else, they want honesty and our music is just that. We write from the heart about what we know and I think our fans appreciate that.
After decades in the music business, Willie Nile defintiely seems to be hitting his stride. While other artists of a similar age might find themselves slowing down, Nile is still going strong - perhaps stronger than ever before. On April 1st, the rocker released his latest album, World War Willie, to accolades from critics and fans alike. Shortly after the album's release, Nile graciously took the time to talk about World War Willie, the support of his fans and living out his dreams come true.
World War Willie was successfully funded via a Pledge campaign. Using that platform to make a record really speaks to the fan base.
It really does you know. We did a Pledge campaign for this record and for American Ride and what’s amazing to me is how strong the support for the album was. Within the first twenty-four hours we reached our goal - actually, we reached our goal within the first eight hours, and at the end of the campaign, we raised 300%, which was very heartening. When I got the phone call that we had reached the goal in eight hours, I was very quiet. I was very touched because my friends and fans went above and beyond. You can make records all kinds of ways, but if you want to do it right, it does get expensive because you not only make it, but manufacture it, and then need press and radio promotion which all cost money. The fans stepped up and allowed me to do it. They’re the backbone of the record.
If the records weren’t any good, I’d expect support to soften, but support has never been stronger; people seem to be digging the records. The music is resonating with the audience and it’s resonating at the live shows because people know I mean what I do. They know I am not here to be the next American Idol. They know I write because it means something to me and I care about it. We did a show Saturday night at the Stone Pony and we packed the place. When I walked on stage the response people gave me, I almost had tears in my eyes it was so moving.