Hannah Bethel grew up on country music and classic rock in Northern Michigan. At fourteen she picked up a guitar and soon after she was traveling and performing original music. Hannah self-released her first record at 17 and the following year she moved to Nashville. Since then she has released three more albums, including her most recent, Never Ending Sky. Recently named one of the CMA's 'Who New To Watch in 2014,' Hannah graciously took the time to talk with us about her roots, the album and more.
You are originally from Michigan, but now call Nashville home. When did you start singing and performing?
I have been singing pretty much since I could make noise! I always loved singing and putting on shows for people. I started playing the guitar and writing songs when I was fourteen. My parents bought my middle sister a guitar, I think a Squire acoustic, but she never played it, so I guess I sort of stole it from her and started learning to play. It was more like a toy, but it got the job done (laughing). Then I began touring around the northern Midwest and playing original music at fairs, festivals and bars-anywhere they’d have me!
So it seems that you always knew you would pursue music professionally?
In second grade I wanted to be an ice skater for a hot minute even though I am pretty sure I never actually ice skated (laughing)! Honestly, I cannot think of a time ever in my life when I didn’t want to do music.
Do you have any particular influences either on your singing, playing or songwriting?
Patty Griffin. I love her and think everything she does is brilliant. I have always been a fan, but I go through phases where I’ll listen to her non-stop. I’m in one of those phases right now!
I also listened to classic country growing up, especially the female artists, as well as classic rock, like the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty.
Your fourth record, Never Ending Sky, was released in October of 2014. Talk a little about the album.
I released the album independently and produced it with Brennin Hunt. This album is a bit different from the other three I released, which were more acoustic. In fact, my very first record was just me and a guitar. Never Ending Sky has more songs, and more pop sensibilities. There is electric guitar, we experimented with different guitar tones, and we included steel guitar-because you have to have steel guitar in country music! I wanted to create a totally different sound, but still have it feel organic, not over processed or produced.
What does the album title mean?
Thank you for asking that! Never Ending Sky is actually a lyric in the song “Tumbleweed.” My manager and I were going through the song lyrics to see if we could pull anything from them to use, and those lyrics just made sense. One of the great things about being an independent artist is that I can create exactly what I want. Everything is in my hands and I get to make all of the decisions. The sky was the limit for us with this record, which is why we titled it Never Ending Sky.
You co-wrote all of the tracks on the album. Is writing something you enjoy?
I started writing pretty much as soon as I started playing the guitar, but I wrote for myself. When I moved to Nashville and started co-writing, it was initially a weird experience for me because writing can be so personal. Having to open up to a stranger and pour your heart out was an intimate thing to do, but now it’s just commonplace for me. I do it several times a week and I love the collaboration.
There’s a song on the record, “Frigerator,” which has such a classic country story. Care to share the story behind that song?
"Frigerator" is a song I started about two years ago. I had been pitching the concept for months with different writers and no one was interested. The very first time I had written with Matt Vrba I told him about the idea and he loved it. We finished the song really fast and it became a favorite for both of us. That song made us great friends and we have written together quite a bit since then.
The year has just begun, so what’s in store for you for 2015?
We are going to promote the record, pitch it to labels and publishers. Also, we are just about to release the first single, “You Wanna Be My Man,” which is exciting!
Now I am back in Nashville, writing my butt off! I am also looking at shows for the summer. Last year I toured quite extensively all over country, which was super awesome! I am looking to return to the same places, perform at new ones and keep busy doing my thing!
I really love performing live for people, whether it be an acoustic or full band show. I love seeing the reactions songs bring out in people, whether they are excited or touched. I love talking with fans and meeting new people after shows too. In fact, a lot of people who started out as fans have now become good friends that I keep in touch with. They help spread the word about my music and shows. It’s really cool how music connects people!
Finally, besides Patty Griffin, is there any recent release you cannot stop listening to?
Girl! Taylor Swift’s new record. I am really enjoying it, the songs are so catchy….how can you not like it!?
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Girls Guns and Glory, Ward Hayden (vocals/guitar), Paul Dilley (electric and upright bass/piano), Josh Kiggans (drums/percussion), and Chris Hersch (lead guitar/banjo), found inspiration for their most recent release, Good Luck, from early 50’s rock and roll icons including Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry as well as country greats like Johnny Cash. The album earned them numerous accolades including a spot on Rolling Stone’s 10 New Artists You Need to Know. Front man Ward Hayden graciously took the time to talk about Good Luck, their soon to be released live tribute album to Hank Williams and much more.
You grew up in a household where classic country was predominantly played. But Girls Guns and Glory’s sound encompasses many different styles. Is that a result of what you listened to as you got older or the fact that all of you bring something different to the table?
Probably a bit of both. We all came from different backgrounds and grew up listening to some of the same music, and some different. From the time we started the band and then began this project, we refined our focus to include a classic country, early rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly style of music.
You have said that when you were young, you really didn’t have a taste for country music. What made you embrace the music?
Well, it’s funny because growing up, every now and then a country song would catch my ear and I would think it was cool, but it didn’t really resonate with me on any level beyond sort of being background music. When I was twenty and finally had some life experiences, the kind that kick your heart around a little bit, I listened to some of songs again and the lyrics and the stories they told just made sense. I connected with them on a deeper level and had one of those moments where I felt like I had found what I had been looking for. It was a eureka moment if I ever had one! (laughing)
Was that also a eureka moment to pursue music professionally?
Music was always a pipe dream, but never much of reality. When I started listening [to classic country], I was just a fan, I wasn’t performing or playing any instrument. I would try to get my friends into it, but truthfully no one was into what I was listening to. I always tell the story that no one would ride in my car because they hated the music I listened to; my friends wanted to listen to what was more popular at the time. Funny thing is, ten years later and a lot of them are fans of the music now; it just took them a little bit longer to get hip to the good stuff!
You were ahead of your time then!
I’m like an 80 year old man trapped in a young man’s body (laughing). I have always strictly been into the older stuff. I think it had more sincerity to it and the music came from a more legitimate background.
When did the four of you come together as a unit?
I started playing right at the tail end of 2005 and then all of the guys currently in the band came together right around 2010. In my opinion, that was when the band really came together, got serious and refined our focus. We wanted not to just have fun playing on the weekends, but make a profession. We planned out career goals, increased our touring and five years later we’ve turned it into full time job; making a living writing songs, playing shows and still having fun.
You guys are truly road warriors performing over 200 dates yearly.
In the last four years, we have toured all over in the states and made it to Europe a few times as well. This year the volume will not be as much, but the shows will be bigger. We cut our teeth in the bars, but we really prefer listening rooms where you have a crowd giving you their full attention, enjoying the music and appreciating what you are doing. So we have our sites set to play more listening rooms, theaters and places like that. We have had enough experience on the road and know our audience well enough to know where they like to see us perform and have a great time.
The sound on Good Luck incorporated more of an old school rock and roll vibe. Was that a conscious decision or something that happened naturally?
It was a little bit of both. We had a few rock and roll songs we had been playing live, but we never knew what to do with them. We always liked to incorporate that into our sound, but never really focused on it. Once we started working with Eric Ambel [who produced Good Luck] we explored that sound more. Eric had seen us play one of those songs, “Shake Like Jello,” live a few times so when it came time to whittle down songs for the album, he remembered that one as one that we had to record. Looking back we made the right call.
Do you think you will continue to incorporate this sound in your music going forward?
I feel like we will continue to push the parameters of what we do, but then I wouldn’t be surprised if we went back and re-explored the sound of classic country. That will always be a part of this band. Even as we continue to explore rock and roll, we’ll also return to the roots of what band has been built on.
The title of the album also refers to the state of the music industry and "making it." Do you think that as a band who doesn’t fit a mold, yet consistently puts out quality music, it’s a difficult business?
Certainly at times, it’s almost impossible to not feel frustrated. We just try to do the best we can, and give it all we have. Sometimes as you try to break through into the next level or get over a hump, those moments of doubt creep in, but they become fewer and far between. I think of the show in Sellersville [PA at the Sellersville Theatre]; it had been a goal of ours to get into that room, and to have played it with having just under 200 people come the first time we were there was a thrill. It was a little victory for us that encourages us to keep going. We hope to return, have more people come out and hopefully one day it will be a place for us that will sell out. We just keep setting little goals for ourselves and chipping away at them.
The band has always received critical praise and continues to build on a loyal fan base, but 2014 seems to have been a special year for you, do you agree?
I do. You know, I think it’s the best year, and a really encouraging year, that we’ve had as a band. Critical praise is always nice, but I feel like we finally made an album that made some places finally turn their head and pay attention to us. I hope from where we are standing now, that will continue as we put out music and more people listen to it.
Social media really helps us connect with people better and the fan base seems to be growing. The response at the shows has been largely positive and we get to see, and thank, a lot of familiar faces who help spread the word.
Last week it was announced that the band would release Girls Guns and Glory Presents: A Tribute to Hank Williams. The live album was recorded over two nights, New Year’s Eve 2013 and New Year’s Day 2014 in Cambridge, MA and will be released February 24th.
In terms of influences and idols, is Hank Williams “it” for you?
More or less. As a songwriter, he is someone I have always come back to for inspiration. If I feel stumped or can’t figure out where to take a song, I think about how Hank could capture a moment, not even to tell a story from point to point, but have the ability to capture one moment of that story. Even if we are working on a song that is more rock and roll, I keep going back to that and asking myself ‘how do I capture this moment?’ He was so skilled at capturing, not that year long experience, but that day long experience. We don’t necessarily imitate Hank, but he is definitely an influence and point of reference.
You have been performing your very popular Hank Williams Tribute shows for the past five years now. What was the impetus behind them?
It started with a desire to play some of his songs. We initially put a song or two of his into our set and realized that it was such a joy to play his songs that we wanted to do something else. The first idea was to do one night of shows which turned into two. We chose New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to honor Hank on the day of his passing and the day of final show he never got to perform. We felt it was a fitting tribute. This year we did seven tribute shows and hopefully each year we will try to expand it. After the shows, fans would come up and ask where they could get the recordings of the songs, so at the end of February we will put the album out.
Do you have a personal favorite Hank song or a favorite to cover?
Lately, my favorite is the one a lot of Hank scholars think was the last song he ever wrote, “The Old Log Train.” It is such a beautifully emotive song loosely based on Hank’s father, who he barely knew, but worked in AL as an engineer on log train. I think Hank captured that story so beautifully. The song makes me think of my own dad going to work, whatever the weather or season, just getting up and doing what you have to do to get by, for lack of a better way to say it. The final line just kills me because I find it so poetic, just to think of him reuniting with his Dad. It’s beautiful.
In addition to the album and touring, what else is in store for Girls Guns and Glory this year?
We are going to continue to write new songs and are excited for what year will have in store for us in regards to touring. We plan on going to Europe, probably two times, and will stay the course with US dates. We may actually have a little bit of down time which is good because you gotta do some living so you have something to write about. (laughing)
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Nashville’s newest female voice, Laura McCormick, brings a fierce set of pipes with her debut album Box Full of Trouble. McCormick mixes strong vocals with gut wrenching songwriting, blending her folk and country roots with a classic rock upbringing. Box Full of Trouble introduces a fresh face to join country’s female voices. Laura graciously took the time to talk about her roots, Box Full of Trouble, and what's ahead.
Over the past six years, you worked as an ICU nurse. You then decided to do something very brave and truly follow your dreams. Was there any specific event that spurred you to leave nursing and pursue music?
Well, it was one of those things where I had the feeling that I would just eventually end up doing it, or at least trying to do it. I wandered off of the music path for awhile, then met some people and we started co-writing. Eventually, we decided to go into the studio, which turned into ‘hey, maybe this could work, let’s try to work on an album,’ which we did and for which we received a lot of positive feedback. From there, I just decided to move forward, give it everything I have and here I am.
Was music a part of your life from a young age?
In the house, we listened to nothing but oldies, like Elvis, until I was twelve years old. Then I began listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, and the Eagles, which is where a lot of my influences come from. Later on, I got into Reba and Bonnie Raitt.
I wrote songs my whole life, but I really got interested in performing music when I was in middle school where I participated in a lot of choir and singing competitions.
How did you decide to focus on the country genre?
I actually thought that I was going to be a rock singer, but I love the stories and the different instrumentation you find in country music. I also had a book of songs that I had written from a young age and when I saw what came out of me in my writing, it was definitely more country than rock.
Do you write all of your own songs?
I co-wrote everything on the album with one other writer. I like co-writing because it brings a whole different perspective to a song and can give a song new life.
I write as therapy for myself. The songs are about me, someone I am close to, or my perspective on a topic, so writing with another person helps me to keep the songs broad enough so others can relate to them as well.
On Box Full of Trouble, McCormick mixes folk, country and rock. She sings songs of heartache and pain while highlighting her recognizable vocal tone. Tracks like “One” and “I’m Gonna Break Your Heart” showcase soft soulful vocals, while still keeping her signature spunk and sassy lyric style. Her classic rock roots are evident in “Feel the Fire” and “Tuff Chick,” with country elements prominent throughout.
Your most recent album, Box Full of Trouble, was released this past October. What does the title of the album refer to?
Actually that is a line out of one of songs, “I’m Gonna Break Your Heart.” My mom was listening to the record and thought it would be a cute title. The more I started thinking about it, I realized that the line encompasses all of the songs on the album as well as all of the different emotions involved with being a female. It’s a box of trouble literally and figuratively.
Being that the year has just started, what are your professional plans for 2015?
I actually kind of reset everything and am now starting to rebuild and move forward with my music. I would like to release a new album within the first six months of this year. I have a lot of songs ready to go and am excited to get the music out there and have people hear it.
I also have a new band, so my main focus this year is getting out and playing live. I really love meeting the fans one on one, getting to talk with them and learning what a song means to them.
Will your sound remain the same on the new record?
I think so. When I began working with the people I am working with now, the one thing that I was very sure of was that I wanted people who were on the same page. I know that I have one shot at this, so if I don’t succeed I’d rather it be because of me--doing things my way and not following trends. I am definitely open to opinion and growth, but it’s my music and my story. I want to be happy with my music and not feel like I am settling or changing.
Finally, I always love to know, is there one recent album that you cannot stop listening to?
I love all genres of music and what I listen to really depends on the mood I am in, but I am a huge fan of the Cadillac Three and Grace Potter. I am always listening to a lot of older stuff too, like Fleetwood Mac, their music is always on!
Purchase Box Full of Trouble here
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Watch the video for "Feel the Fire" below
With humble beginnings singing in church, Connecticut native April Kry has performed at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night, and appeared on national television as a background vocalist for new age singer Enya. Her new single, "Fireflies," can be heard on Sirius XM's The Highway. April took the time to talk about her beginnings, the single and what's ahead.
You have been honing your vocal skills from a very young age!
Yeah, it’s been awhile. (laughing). I have been singing since I was very young. It all started in church, as my Dad was the worship leader there. I remember my first time singing, at a Christmas show at church, when I was five years old. I sang "Silent Night" in German and from there I performed in theater in school, various fundraisers and other events.
Did you realize early on then that music was what you wanted to pursue professionally?
Yes. I knew music was what I wanted to do when I realized that I could not imagine doing anything else. Music is my passion and thankfully I had the support of my parents to get me where I am today.
A defining moment for me was when I was thirteen. I performed "God Bless America" at a gala event. I knew it was going to be special, so I prepared and prepared. It was the first big event where I sang and someone well known was there-Jermaine Jackson of the Jackson 5. After I sang, I went to get his autograph and he asked for our phone number! I remember him telling my mom that I had talent and he wanted to speak with us about my career! We were shocked! It was really amazing.
When did you start songwriting and playing the guitar?
I was writing in middle school and high school, but I didn’t pick up the guitar until I was fourteen. When I moved to Nashville a few years ago, I began co-writing, which I love. It’s amazing to get to meet people, work with them and write some cool songs.
The lyricism in country music is what drew me to the genre because when you listen to a country song, the story telling can transport you to that place. In my own songs, I like to write about experiences that we all go through and can relate to because it is important for me to be able to connect with the listener.
Do you have any particular influences either on your writing, performing or playing?
I listened to a lot of different genres growing up. I started with Contemporary Christian artists and from there fell into country. I really like Martina McBride, Shania Twain and Faith Hill.
Your new single is "Fireflies." What is the story behind that song?
“Fireflies” just brings you back to the time when you first fell in love, which is something everyone can remember. When you really listen to the lyrics in that song, they paint a picture, which I love.
The song was brought to me and when I heard it, I immediately connected with it, which is the true test of a song for me. I have to be able to identify with a song or it will just not work for me when I sing it. I knew with “Fireflies” if I could relate to it, the listener would too.
When I get to perform the song, people have such positive feedback! They love to sing along and I love seeing their reaction!
What’s ahead for 2015?
Well, we are writing and gathering songs for a new EP. But right now, my main focus is on promoting the single and preparing to shoot a video for the song, which I am really excited about!
Finally, I love to know, is there one recent release that you cannot stop listening to?
I am obsessed with Sam Hunt’s album, Montevallo. I have been listening to that non-stop. I really like John Mayer too and am always listening to his music, currently I’m playing Room for Squares.
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Over the past few years, The Bigsbys--Alex Smith (vocals&guitar), Russell McClendon (bass), Brad Hobson (guitar) and Nick Odom (drums)--have been building a reputation for soulful performances, tight sets and a unique sound. Their second album Good Will Suitcase was released in April of 2014 and their single "Keep You Waiting" is currently on the Texas charts. Alex Smith graciously took the time to talk about the record, touring, camaraderie and more.
How did The Bigsbys come together as a band?
Brad, Russell, who is also my brother in law, and I are all from Palestine, an itty bitty town in East Texas. The three of us started out in a band called Alex Smith and Two Car Garage. We did that for a year, then replaced our previous drummer with Nick and changed the name to The Bigsbys.
Three of you held jobs outside of the industry. When did you decide to make music the primary focus?
That happened when we began playing three shows a week as the Bigsbys. Prior to that, I had a career working at Anheuser-Busch, which I did for over six years. I reached a turning point where I realized that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t give music a real try. If you don’t pursue your talent and passion, it’s a wasted life, you know. We all still work part time, and luckily my current job is very flexible. I like to work and keep busy, keep moving. It’s the way I’ve always been.
The Bigsbys’ sound incorporates many styles, making for something really unique and diverse. Do all of you bring different influences to the table?
Yeah, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t like that at all. Individually, we enjoy different kinds of music, then there are the bands that we all agree on. Personally, I really enjoy folksy singer- songwriter types, like Jason Isbell, Neil Young and George Harrison’s solo stuff. Any guy that can pick up a guitar and write pretty words, I’m down.
We don’t try to make our tunes fall into any specific category. We are able to do a pretty wide variety of styles and cover anything we want to, from country to Elton John, which we do in our live show.
Your second album, Good Will Suitcase, was released in April of 2014 and really showcases that unique sound combining Roots Rock, Americana, Country, Soul and more. Do all of you take part in crafting the songs?
It’s a cooperative process. I will work out tunes at my house and Brad will work out tunes at his, then we’ll bring them to the group, and from there we build the songs. When we write, everyone jumps into it, which winds up being a cool mash up of styles. Normally, we’ll make a really bad recording of the songs (laughing), and then we’ll change pretty much all of it. With True Story [their first record], I wrote a lot of those tunes years before we made the record. With Good Will Suitcase, we had a really narrow window for recording. We got some money to go into the studio, and with it, the date to go in, and make the record. We had some songs written, but maybe five to seven songs on Good Will Suitcase we wrote in a month and a half. We were really adamant that the songs on the record would be as fresh as possible and when we got into a groove, everything stated clicking. Jonathon Tyler produced the record for us, and man, I was over the moon when he agreed. He’s such a rocker. He loves the Rolling Stones, so it was really cool to get in the studio with him and blend styles. We found a lot of compromises that made everyone happy. It was just a lot of fun.
Being that you wrote the songs in a short period of time, is there one in particular that you are most fond of?
Yeah, “Train City Blues.” I like that one because it’s about where we come from. People might not think there is much to that song, it’s real low production, there’s not a whole lot of guitar on there, but I love that tune and enjoy playing it live. It’s one of the songs from the heart, you know.
Is there a backstory for choosing Good Will Suitcase as the title of the album?
We were on a twenty-one day run, nineteen shows in twenty-one days; it was rough out there. A couple days in and, man, we were broke already. We only had enough money for like, bread and lunch meat. My pedal board case ripped, so I had to get something to put them in. We stopped in a Goodwill in Louisiana, and I bought a vintage suitcase for $3. Turns out, behind the tag inside the suitcase were two $5 bills, so I made, like, $7 at the Goodwill. I think we spent that money on cigarettes (laughing), but it was like a beacon in the dark. So the album title is a play on words.
The album was on many a “best of” list at the end of 2014.
I’m very proud we were mentioned on those lists. For a small release made in ten days by some guys who don’t really have any money, it was pretty cool to see our name ahead of the bands that spend a year and thousands of dollars in the studio, if you know what I mean. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Heck, if I had money I would love to be able to do that, but we’re just guys that are out here, and for us, every dollar on every weekend counts.
We’re from a small town in East Texas so it’s sometimes hard, because of our geographical location, to network and form relationships. It’s not like there are forty other musicians to go to the local watering hole and jam with. Whiskey Myers is from here also, and they have become good friends with us and help us out a lot. It’s a harder road for us sometimes; not in general, but in that aspect, I firmly believe it is.
It really seems that many of the Texas artists have a true camaraderie with one another?
It really is a brotherhood. Two bands we run with are Folk Family Revival and The New Offenders. We are always helping each other out the best we can. We will spread the word about one another by putting one another on a bill, and encouraging our fans to go and catch a show. It’s a professional courtesy, but we are also in the same place and understand the woes that the business has. It’s nice to not feel like you’re out there alone.
Sure there is competition, it’s the nature of the beast, but at the end of the day you can still be friends in competition. We want to sell tickets and draw people in, but if our friends in another band play for a huge crowd, I am going to be happy for them, not jealous. It’s cool to have that camaraderie in competition.
The majority of your touring has been in Texas. Do you have any plans to tour more out of state?
I love Texas, it’s one of my favorite places in the whole world. We cut our teeth in the East Texas honky tonks. We played the four hour marathon shows where we ran our own sound and didn’t get paid a lot, but we had a lot of fun with people who we didn’t think would dig our style of music.
Now, we mostly play in Texas, although we have had several dates outside of the state. There are a lot of venues here just in Dallas, Houston, and Austin alone. We play about 150 shows a year, about 2-3 shows a week, which works out pretty good for us.
Texans have been very supportive of us, but sometimes there seems to be a specific audience here, and I think that it would be cool to play our tunes in front of different people. We aspire to branch out more, as our music really isn’t Texas specific. We can fit in there, yet also do our own thing at the same time, which is pretty cool.
I read that you try to make every show different and put something unique on the stage. How do you do that live?
We will go into our jam shack and practice our tunes, but we’re really interested in playing something totally different live than what you hear on the record. I hate when guys get up there on stage and play 3:31 of the song they recorded. It’s fine for some people, but it bothers me. So when we play live we will blend songs into one another, have a musical interlude or just do something to try and keep it fresh.
What are your plans for 2015?
Hopefully, we will get to release another single from Good Will Suitcase. We’re also really excited because we started writing for a new album already. We don’t have a concrete title or theme yet; we’re just filing the songs.
Finally, I always like to know, is there one recent album that you just cannot stop listening to?
Let’s see, Tom Petty’s new record is badass, but Wildflowers is my favorite, so I have been busting back into that one as well as Fleetwood Mac. Recently though, I couldn’t tell ya. I’m a fan of the oldies. It’s weird because so much good music was made before I was born; I’m trying to catch up all of it! Maybe twenty years from now I’ll be able to tell you what was awesome in 2015! (laughing)
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