Category Archives: Interviews

Josh Turner Talks Live Across America

The following is a syndicated article that first appeared on

The experience of putting on a live show is something that many a country singer cherishes, and Josh Turner is certainly no exception.  His new Cracker Barrel release Live Across America – which drops today – attempts to encapsulate for his fans the experience of attending a Josh Turner live show.  The platinum selling country music star, whose current single “Time Is Love” just became his sixth Top 10 hit, recently sat down with a small group of media journalists (including yours truly), to talk about his experiences in touring across the country, and in making this live record.

On the live show experience and his connection to the fans:  My show has grown over the years.  We started out just playing some really small venues, playing bars.  We didn’t have a lot of technology and a lot of equipment that we could carry along with us.  We were all traveling on one bus.  It was just humble times.  As I’ve had hits, as I’ve sold records, as I’ve continued to make somewhat of a profit, we’ve been able to take more stuff out on the road to improve our show – to try to make it better not only musically, but visually for the fans.  Luckily I’m to a place now where we’re carrying lights out; we’re carrying video; we’re carrying as much equipment as we need to put on the show that we put on now.  As traditional as I am, I feel like my show is pretty high energy.  We have a lot of wireless units that we use to where not only me but my band guys can move around onstage – They’re not tied to a cable somewhere.  We have three big video walls going on behind us that’s showing video footage and video content.  I feel like it’s pretty high energy.

For the connection that we have with the fans, I’m excited that I get to share it with them because they come out, and they pay a certain price for the ticket, and I want to give them their money’s worth so that when they come to a Josh Turner show, they’re not just coming for the songs.  They’re coming for an experience.  I’m excited to be at a level of my career where I can give them that, and where they can go away just in awe, and wanting to come back the next time I come around.

On the challenges of recording live:  Well, it’s your typical challenges, technical difficulties.  It depends on what kind of production companies you end up with on the road, the kind of venue we’re at, if it was an outdoor thing, depending on the weather.  There was a lot of variables.  The good thing is technology has come to a place where it’s a little easier to get a recording.  These performances that we chose are just kind of from those nights and those venues were the crowd was really into it, but they weren’t so wild and rambunctious to where you couldn’t hear the music like you should.  It was from good-sounding venues, depending on what kind of song it was.  We just really kind of chose the ones where we were all feeling good and playing good, and the magic was happening, and we didn’t have any technical difficulties and all that.  Probably these were the nights where we tried not to think about the fact that we were being recorded.  It’s a little different recording a live show because when you’re in a studio, you know when the tape is rolling, or when the machine is rolling, and so there’s always that feeling of “All right, I gotta do it the best that I can do it – I can’t mess this up” kind of thing.  But with a live show, you know it’s not gonna be perfect, but you still try to do your best that you can do.  You’re not only singing, and not only playing, but you’re also entertaining, so that kind of gives it a different flair.  There was a lot of challenges to this, but the good thing was we didn’t have to go out of our way, or schedule extra days to make a record.  We were recording live as it was happening, and as we know it out on the road.

On the experience of touring with keyboardist wife Jennifer, who appears on the album:  I’m excited for her because she gets to hear her work and her talent on a recorded piece of material.  It’s tangible now.  I’m excited not only for her but for my whole band because I feel like I have a really good band.  They got to show off their talents on this record, and they get something to show for it now, my wife included.  I can sit here and talk about how great I think she is or they are, but now we have that proof right here on that record.

It’s great for me to go and do a show, and to be playing to a crowd, and then turn right around and see my soul mate back there playing piano and singing harmonies with me.  We go to the stage together; we leave the stage together; we meet three little monkeys at the bus door, so there’s nothing better for us right now.  It’s something that I realize is fleeting, and that probably won’t last forever, so we’re just cherishing it while it lasts.  There’s nothing better than being able to play music, especially at this level, with your spouse.

On memories associated with touring in different cities:  There are some stories with some of these cities, but we play so much on the road that it’s hard to remember everything.  If I go to a city one time, I pretty much remember it.  I think it’s part of my photographic memory.  The one interesting thing about this record, for the “Why Don’t We Just Dance” track, we recorded that in a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and needless to say, that was one of the more energetic crowds we had.  We were out there doing our show, and I think it was right before this song or somewhere within this show, little comments and little things that the fans would scream out between songs or even during songs was pretty entertaining, pretty comical.  There was this one fan in New Jersey at some point during the show that was yelling out for me to take my shirt off or something like that!  It was just crazy.  Little stuff like that we kind of had to edit out – obviously wouldn’t want that to be on a Cracker Barrel record! [Laughs] It’s just funny for me because I know that it was there, and we had to take it out.  Little things like that just kind of make me laugh, and all of these places that we play were pretty special, and I think that’s why the performances from these towns ended up on this record because the fans were just into it one way or the other!

On his favorite live albums:  I guess one of the first live albums I ever heard was Johnny Cash, Live at San Quentin.  That really inspired me to kind of delve into more of Johnny Cash’s repertoire and his catalog – what he had done prior to that and even beyond that.  When I came across that record, it was many years after it had been made.  I found it on vinyl at an antique store somewhere back home.  It was cool because you got to hear a show that happened a long time ago.  You got to hear the bantering between the songs, and you got to hear all the imperfections within the songs, and you got to hear the energy from the crowd, and you knew that they were inmates and that this was a special time for them.  It was an experience to able to sit and listen to something like that.  Obviously the technology has come a long way since 1968, and obviously none of these songs were recorded in a prison, but Johnny Cash, Live at San Quentin was probably one of my favorite ones.  Another one that I always liked was Lyle Lovett’s Live in Texas.  That was another one of my favorites too.  I love Lyle Lovett, and I think he’s a great artist.

On the influence of his musical heroes:  Johnny Cash, obviously, and Randy Travis, Hank Williams, Vern Gosdin, and John Anderson are my five big heroes in my musical life.  Not only have I learned from their success, but I’ve learned from their mistakes.  I don’t think it’s right to look at somebody and say ‘I want to be just like them,’ because you’ll never be just like them.  For me, the biggest thing my heroes taught me was how to be Josh Turner – the good and the bad of it.  That’s what I’ve strived to do from day one.  When I get up onstage, that’s exactly what I’m doing.  I’m not trying to be Johnny Cash.  I’m not trying to be Randy Travis.  There’s already a Johnny Cash, and already a Randy Travis.  I’m trying to be the best Josh Turner that I can be, musically and personally.  I think this record really kind of shows a lot of that, because this record, as opposed to the last live record that I did for Cracker Barrel (Live at the Ryman, 2007) has more of the hits throughout my career in it, and it really was cool to be able to have a recorded live version of these songs, and hear how the crowds react to it, so I’m excited about it.

On covering Waylon Jennings’ “America”:  The name of the record obviously is Live Across America, and basically that’s what this record is.  It’s twelve tracks.  Each one of them was recorded in a different city, so it really gives the fans kind of a little taste of what it’s like to travel from city to city to city, and sing these songs.  It’s an interesting record because it’s a little bit of a journey for the fans because it gives them a taste of what it’s like for us.  It’s not really a patriotic record, but it’s definitely an American record.  Each one of these scenes is very different.  The crowds are very different.  The energy that I get off these different crowds is very different.  The venues are very different, but it’s all under that American umbrella.  When I was trying to think of a song that kind of summed all that up, I didn’t want to choose your standard straight-up patriotic kind of song.  I was looking for something else – something that kind of told the American story in a cool kind of way.  That would still fit in with what we’re doing, so the first song that came to mind was this Waylon song “America.”  We kind of created our own arrangement of this song, and obviously it’s more broken-down than Waylon’s version.  I wanted it to be a little more intimate.  I wanted it to be as if I was telling this story, and I was really pleased with the way it turned out.

On the inclusion of “So Not My Baby” (an unreleased album track from Everything Is Fine)“So Not My Baby” just has kind of an interesting story to it, because I heard that song years ago, and I fell in love with it.  I felt like it was a hip way to say that.  I felt like it had the potential to be a single, and at being a hit – I still feel like it should have been.  It was on my Everything Is Fine album.  I actually tried to record it twice on the Your Man album.  For whatever reason – Either we ran out of time, or it just was not coming together – It just didn’t stick for whatever reason.  It just kind of haunted me.  I knew that it was a good song, and I knew we had everything we needed to create a track on it.  For whatever reason, it just wasn’t working.  I guess the time just wasn’t right.  So when the Everything Is Fine album rolled around, on the very first session, very first day, my producer Frank Rogers and I said, “You know what?  We need to go in there right now and just start on this song, because if it takes three hours, it takes three hours.  That’s exactly what we did.  We went in and we really just wrestled this thing to the ground, and it turned out great.  We put harmonica on it, and it just turned out to be a great dancing songs.  We played it live out on the road for a long time, and it always got a great reaction.  Then when it came time to make this record, they were letting me choose three more acoustic tracks.  “America” was one of them.  “Me and God” was the other.  I wanted to bring back “So Not My Baby” because it shows off my vocal range.  It’s a good dancing song, and it’s a cool way to tell that message.

On what he considers his signature song:  “Long Black Train.”  It’s not a commercial song.  I was surprised when they even decided to release it.  It was actually my second single.  A lot of people think it was my first, but it was actually my second single.  The first single died at #45.  So when they came to look at the possibility of the next single, they were looking at “Long Black Train,” and I thought they were crazy.  But I really am proud of them for choosing that song, because they were like “We need to choose the song that really sums up who Josh Turner is,” and they chose “Long Black Train.”  I was still kind of thinking in the back of my mind that ‘This is not gonna be good!’  Because even when I wrote it, I didn’t’ think anybody would want to hear it.  I thought it was too old-fashioned and too old-timey, and it is.  It’s not a song that you would automatically say ‘Oh, that’s a radio-friendly song.’  I was just really surprised at how well the song did.  I was surprised at the impact that it had on people, the impact it had on my career.  I wrote it by myself, and when I think of signature songs, I think of “Hello Darlin’.”  I think of “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”  I think of “I Told You So.”  I think of “Folsom Prison Blues.”  I could go on and on with artists who wrote a song by themselves, and it became their signature song, and “Long Black Train” is that song for me.  I can’t do a show, and not sing it.  Fans still love it, and thank goodness!

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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Interviews


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Working Two Jobs – The 1-to-10 Interview with Emmylou Harris

Few names in country and folk music are met with such deep reverence as that of Emmylou Harris.  Over the course of her over forty-year career, Harris placed 45 singles in the Billboard Country Top 40, sold over 15 million albums worldwide, took home twelve Grammy trophies and three CMAs, and was enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Along with her substantial accomplishments in music, every bit as worthy of recognition is what a big-hearted, giving person Harris constantly proves herself to be in supporting causes that are important to her.  These include animal rescue and adoption – something Harris has often shown to be near and dear to her heart.  A passionate animal lover, Harris will participate in the first annual Woofstock at the Fontanel Mansion in Nashville, Tennessee – a two-day charity event to be held on August 17-18

I was able to catch up with the lovely Miss Emmylou right between her getting back from playing festivals in Montana, and having to jet off to Norway the next day.  We spoke with her about her recent and upcoming pursuits during my fan-struck telephone conversation with her.

Ben Foster:  I think it’s such a great thing what you’re doing for all these dogs at Woofstock, and I can tell you’re someone who really genuinely and passionately cares about animals.  To begin with, I’d like to hear you describe your connection to animals, and what has caused you to be the passionate animal lover that we all know you to be.

Emmylou Harris:  I guess it goes to my childhood.  My father and my mother and my grandparents, aunts, uncles, pretty much everyone in my family were animal people.  My father was actually studying veterinary medicine at the University of Virginia when World War II broke out, and he signed up for the Marine Corps.  But all of my family kind of instilled a love and respect for animals, and we always had companion animals when I was growing up.

But then I became an adult, and I went on the road, and really didn’t think about having animals.  It just didn’t seem like it was a practical thing to do.  But then when I moved to Nashville I had a couple of cats, but it still seemed like a dog would be traveling a lot, which would not work out.  Little did I know how great it is to have a dog on the road with you.  I think it was 1992 I adopted a dog named Bonaparte from Nashville Humane.  We already had a small dog that was my daughter’s.  But I had gotten Bonaparte as sort of companion for her dog, and he just turned out to be this great traveling dog, so for ten years, whenever it was convenient, or whenever I was on a bus tour (which was a lot), he would travel with me.  Even when I was away doing an album, like when I was in New Orleans or when I went off to San Francisco, and I was going to be someplace I long time, I would bring him with me.  When he died very suddenly in 2002, he was only 11.  Even though we had other animals in our home, I was very close to this dog, and didn’t really think about getting another dog for myself.

But somehow I felt like I wanted to get more involved in animal rescue since he had been a rescue, so it was as a memorial to Bonaparte that I started Bonaparte’s Retreat.  I thought I could connect with Nashville Humane because I had a big backyard, that I could build a small rescue which runs as a common area.  Initially we were going to take three dogs.  I think we went up to six, but because I’m so limited by space I can only have so many dogs on the property.  But we’ve been going eight years now.  We’ve developed a relationship with some foster homes, foster parents in the community, so we probably deal with about twenty dogs at a time.  We pretty much put our effort into rescuing from Metro Animal Control because these dogs have such a short window of time before they’re put down, whereas Nashville Humane, although we still have a good relationship with them, they’re pretty much a low-kill shelter, and we know that those dogs are probably safe until we find a home, whereas the dogs at Metro by law only have a certain window of time.  If nobody adopts them, then a perfectly healthy dog that can give so much joy to a family somewhere gets put down.  It’s really quite heartbreaking.

Yeah, it’s very sad to see a dog’s life cut short like that.

Well, there’s no reason for it.  If we could extend the foster programs, if we could get more people to spay and neuter their pets, Nashville could become a no-kill city.  There are several around the country, and it’s just going to take a lot of effort and communication, and people coming together to decide they’re going to do that.  The people and communities that are involved in dog rescue are really trying to make that happen.

So what do animal lovers have to look forward to at this year’s Woofstock?

Well, this is our first year.  It’s going to be a daytime event.  The doors will open at ten.  It’s at Fontanel, which is Barbara Mandrell’s old home place, and they have concerts there at night.  We’re going to be at the front of the property, and we we’re going to have music starting at eleven.  I’m going to be playing, Buddy Miller, Shawn Camp, Ella Mae Bowen, and the Whites – I’m real excited about that – Mike Farris and I2 South.  Sam Bush is going to make an appearance.  Obviously there will be food and drink on the property.  I’m going to have Emmylou’s Closet, which are a lot of clothes that I don’t wear anymore for sale.  We’re going to have auction items.  We’re going to have lots of little kiddie pools around for the dogs to get cooled off.  There are walking trails; There’s a creek.  There are going to be a lot of different booths up of different animal products, and things that people can purchase.

We’re just hoping it’s going to be a really nice time for families to come to bring their dogs, and to just have a good time outside, and they’ll listen to some music.  Nashville Humane will be there, and Metro Animal Control will be there with dogs for adoption, as well as obviously Bonaparte’s Retreat.  We’re testing the waters.  We want to make this an annual event – something that people can say “Oh, when is Woofstock this year?”  We’ll always have music, and try to keep it local because we’ve got enough great musicians and great communities where we can showcase, and strut our stuff as well as our mutts!

Do you have any other upcoming projects that you would like to give your fans a little teaser for?

Oh yeah!  Actually Rodney Crowell and I just finished a duet record, and it’s going to be coming out sometime early next year.  It’s a duet record that we talked about probably since the first day we met, and sat down and sang old George Jones songs together.  That’s going to be coming out, and I guess that’s the only thing I have definite.  I know that there’s talk about re-releasing Wrecking Ball with extra tracks, and I will say that on October 24 at Marathon Music Works in Nashville, Daniel Lanois, Brian Blade, and Malcolm Burn and myself – the original musicians on Wrecking Ball, we’re actually going to perform Wrecking Ball, along with some other music.

How exciting!  That was quite a landmark album for you back in ’95.

Yeah, it sure was.

And we sure do love Rodney Crowell, so that duet record sure is something for us to look forward to.  Speaking of Rodney, you recently got to participate in his KIN project with Mary Karr.

I love that record!  I love that record.

Oh yes, he’s an amazing songwriter.  Lots of great songs and great artists.

Yeah, it really is.  I’m excited about the record, but also the idea of us going out and doing shows together. We actually just did a benefit in Montana.  He sat in on my set at the Red Ants Pants Festival – it’s in White Sulfur Springs, Montana.  So we just did that.  I just got home from that on Sunday, and I’m leaving for Norway tomorrow.

It sounds like you sure are keeping busy.

Well, I am keeping busy, and I feel like I kind of have two jobs now, you know with the dog rescue, and the music which I still love, and being able to put my time and effort and energy into something else that I’m really passionate about.  I feel really really blessed to be able to do it, but it does keep me busy!

Speaking of your music, earlier this year you celebrated your 20th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.  What does that milestone mean to you?

Well you know, when you look on those milestones, you say “Twenty years?  Was it really twenty years?”  When you keep busy, it can seem like just yesterday.  But that was wonderful because I had all pals there.  Rodney was there, and the Whites, and I got Shawn Colvin.  I’ve been wanting to get her on the Grand Ole Opry because she does just about the best version ever of Lefty Frizzell’s “That’s the Way Love Goes,” and I said “Girl, you have got to come sing that on the Grand Ole Opry!”  It was a really wonderful night, and I do love to perform at the Opry, especially when it’s at the Ryman.  There’s something so special about that venue.

In March of this year, how did it feel to be given the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award for being a pioneer in the country music genre?

Well, it’s always good to be a pioneer!  As long I don’t have to be in the covered wagon!  So that was a really great honor.  It was.

In looking back on all that you’ve accomplished over the course of your career – having hits on the charts, winning awards, being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, what moments stand out as being most meaningful to you?

You know, I don’t really know if you could pick one.  Obviously, everything kind of started with meeting Gram Parsons, and going out on that first tour, and being sort of thrown in the water – or being out in the water with no paddle, learning about country music, playing in a country band.  It really set me on the path that I’m still on today, and I’ve just been able to work with so many great musicians, all of the band members I’ve had, and you know Rodney’s one of them.  Then being able to actually get to work with heroes like Bob Dylan and Neil Young and Mark Knopfler and Roy Orbison.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself.  But really I’m just grateful that I still love music, that I still have the opportunity to go out there and work, and that the fans are still coming to see me.  You know, I must be doing something right.  I don’t know how, but I just want to keep doing it until I can’t do it anymore.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the music scene today.  What artists do you enjoy listening to, mainstream or otherwise?

Well you know, I just kind of listen to my buddies that are around town.  I’m a huge fan of Buddy Miller obviously, somebody that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with.  We go out with Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin,and do the three girls with their Buddy, so I’m always up on what they’re doing.  They’re just really a lot of good music happening right now that’s maybe a little outside the mainstream, but that’s okay because I think everybody’s able to hear all this stuff now.  You don’t just have to listen to what’s on Top 40 radio to really hear some great music.

Absolutely, and it’s so great to see talented artists finding ways to succeed without the support of radio even.

Oh, and I did want to say that in September I’m going to do a TV show with Mumford & Sons that I’m really looking forward to because I love their stuff.

Oh wow!  That’s so exciting

It’s called Crossroads.  I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re doing to do something!

They did a great version of “The Boxer” on Jerry Douglas’s new record, didn’t they?

Oh yeah, I was talking to Marcus and he told me about that.  I can’t wait to hear it.

Well, we’ll look forward to seeing that!  That must be a very exciting thing you’ve got coming up.

Yeah, its’ always good to collaborate with people.  Keeps you fresh!

And you sure do have some talented buddies!

Yeah, I do.  I’m a lucky girl!

For more information on Emmylou Harris, visit

For more information on Woofstock, visit


Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Interviews


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This Time It’s Personal – A Conversation with Kellie Pickler

The following is a syndicated interview that originally appeared on

Kellie Pickler first got her start in the music business when she finished in sixth place on the fifth season of American Idol.  Since then, she’s carved out a respectable country music career that’s yielded five Top 20 hits, including “Red High Heels,” “I Wonder,” and the Top 10 “Best Days of Your Life.”  Her new album 100 Proof, which features a more traditional country sound than her previous efforts, drops today.

I had the chance to speak with Kellie Pickler in Nashville recently.  In the interview that follows, she shares how her new musical direction came about while discussing how she’s grown as an artist in the years since her debut, and how music helps her find healing from painful childhood experiences.

Ben Foster:  You’ve got your first new album coming out since 2008, and you’ve said that you made this album as country as you were allowed to make it.  What made you want to steer your music in a more traditional direction?

Kellie Pickler:  My grandparents had a big part in raising me, so the first style of music that I was ever introduced to as a kid was traditional country music.  My Grandpa Pickler taught me my first song, and that was Hank Senior, “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It.”  I love the classics.  That’s where my heart is.  You know, I think country music is so wide right now, which is good.  There’s so many different styles of country music, and I think there’s room for all of it, including that traditional sound, which is where I’ve always wanted to be.  I’ve always wanted to make the kind of record that I made with this one.  When I first started out, I was nineteen and green when I first moved to Nashville.  I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t have any friends or any family here.  You’re scared to take risks.  I was scared to take risks ‘cause I didn’t want to piss anybody off and get sent back home.  I definitely feel like I’ve paid somewhat certain dues where I’m in a place where I’m willing to jump, and if my parachute opens, it opens.  If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t!

Ben:  So basically you’ve reached the point where you’re taking control of your career and saying “This is the kind of music I want to make.”

Kellie:  Yeah, absolutely.  I think this is the best record I’ve made as far as being consistent from the first song to the last song.  I’m so proud of it.  I’ve never ever been more proud of anything I’ve ever worked on like I am this project.

Ben:  Which artists would you say have had the most influence over the sound and styles of this album?

Kellie:  Definitely Tammy.  I love Tammy Wynette.  She is one of the biggest reasons why I fell in love with country music, along with Kitty Wells and Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.  I think it’s important for me, when I went into the studio this time, to really just put all of myself in this record as possible, and really shine a light on the people that even influenced me to even do this in the first place, and this is where I’m the most comfortable.  You know, it’s easier to be yourself than to try to be something you’re not.  I’m very much a people pleaser.  I want everybody to be happy; I want everybody to like me; I want to like everybody.  I’ve tended in the past to kind of compensate a little bit of who I am in order to get people to like me, to be honest.  It’s scary because I know for every artist – I think I speak for most every artist – when you go in the studio, it’s hard to go in the studio and not think first off “What is radio gonna play?  Is this gonna be something that we can get on the radio?  Are they gonna like this?”  Because radio is our biggest voice in country music.  It’s how people hear our songs.  It’s how people know about our shows.  It’s how people know that we’re still making music.  The only place I’ve ever wanted to be is on the radio – on country radio.  I don’t care about being on any other station except country radio.  I don’t wanna be on any other station except country radio, ‘cause this is my home.  This is where I wanna be, and this is where I belong.  I just went in the studio and I didn’t make a record for anyone else but myself.  It’s the first time I went in the studio and made my record.  I did it for me, and sometimes it’s okay to be a little selfish and put yourself first.

Ben:  Absolutely.  That makes some of the best albums.

Kellie:  I think so too!  I look at people like Dolly, and I look at people like Loretta, and I look at people like Tammy and Kitty Wells.  Had they played it safe, they wouldn’t be the icons that they are today.  I think that it was important for me to do the same thing they did, and that was just jump.  Jump out of the plane.  You never know – That parachute might open, and you might have a soft landing, or it could be rocky.  But either way, you’re gonna know that you took the risk to jump, and you’re not gonna have ‘what if’s.

Ben:  Since you’ve been talking about some of the artists who shaped your sound, that makes me curious to ask you what is your personal favorite country albums of all time, if you have one, and why?

Kellie:  Oh gosh.  Goodness gracious, that’s hard to say.  My grandma passed away several years ago, but she and my grandpa had this old record player, and my grandpa gave it to me about a year and a half, two years back, and I got all their vinyls, and so that’s what I listen to.  I still collect vinyl records, so it’s hard to go through and say what my favorite record is.  I do have a Hank Senior record that is pretty old, and it’s more of a live sound record that I listen to all the time when I’m getting ready, and it has some of his older hits that I love.  But there again, there’s so many Tammy records… one of my favorite Tammy records is of course the one where it has “Bedtime Story” and “The Divorce,” and there’s “I Don’t Wanna Play House.”  That is one of my favorite songs.  That might be my favorite Tammy song.  It’s one of my favorite Tammy songs, “’Til I Get It Right”…  I mean, there’s just so many great ones, you can’t pick one.

Ben:  In what ways is 100 Proof a truer reflection of yourself than your past two albums?

Kellie:  I’d say that, of course this record is gonna be more me than the last one because this record is exactly where I am in my life right now.  A lot’s happened.  It’s been three years and four months since the last record came out, and I’m married.  I married my best friend, and he’s so good to me.  I’m so happy.  I think when people hear the songs on this record – the people that know me, not just acquainted, and I have played this record for a couple of my very close friends – they all said ‘There you are!  There’s Kellie.  That’s the Kellie we know.  That’s the Kellie that’s sitting in front of me.’  So I know, not because I just feel that way, but because the people that know me have stated that.  And my Grandpa Pickler, he knows me better than about anybody, ‘cause he had a big part raising me, and the songs are about my life.  There’s no song on this record that I sat down and thought ‘I gotta write a song for this album!’  No song was written for the intentions of being record, like “Mother’s Day” that my husband [Kyle Jacobs] and I wrote.  We didn’t write that song for anybody to hear; in fact I didn’t want anybody to hear it in the first place.  We just happened to write that song on Mother’s Day, and it was written for me to find closure, to heal.  It just, some way or another, it made its way on the record.  But for me, it’s never a premeditated plan of what this song’s gonna be about, and that it’s gonna be recorded, that it’s gonna be on the album.  There’s no thought except this moment right now I need to write this song and get what’s in my heart down on paper so that I can heal – start that healing process.  For me, music is so therapeutic, and there’s so much closure found in writing, and that’s why I write.  I don’t write for any other reason but to find closure, and it just happened to make the record.

Ben:  That personal touch really shines through on “Mother’s Day,” to me as a listener.  In the songwriting, and I also thought that was one of your most compelling vocal performances that I’d heard.

Kellie:  Thank you, thank you for saying that.  It was important for me to make sure that songs like “The Letter,” which is just an acoustic guitar and me, and “Mother’s Day” it was important for me to make sure that these songs were not over-produced.  I didn’t want any of these songs to be over-produced.  I want to sell this song by the power of the lyrics, and the power of the realness behind the lyrics – that they’re true stories about my life, and it doesn’t need to be overdone.

Ben:  I’d love to hear you talk about the people you got to work with for the album, such as the qualities Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten brought as producers, as well as some of the awesome songwriter’s you got to work with like Dean Dillon and Leslie Satcher.

Kellie:  Frank and Luke – it really started with them, as far as they were the ones that convince me ‘You’re not just a singer; you’re an artist, and that’s what we want to capture on this record.’

Ben:  There is a difference.

Kellie:  Yeah, there is, and I never really thought of it that way until Luke and Frank said that.  For them, the most important thing, like I said, was capturing the artist Kellie Pickler, not the singer, but the artist, and I think they captured my soul on this record.  I really do believe that.  And the fact that I got to write with Dean Dillon – He is to me like country music royalty.  He wrote one of my favorite songs.  He’s written so many of my favorite songs… “Set ‘Em Up Joe”!

Ben:  He’s one of the reasons George Strait is country music royalty.

Kellie:  Yeah!  I was so shocked that he even took the time to write with me, because I reached out to him.  I reached out to him, and asked for him if he would write with me because I’m a fan.  And Leslie Satcher, I reached out to her, and they were willing to take the time to work with me on my record, and they didn’t have to.  They don’t need me, Leslie and Dean.  They don’t need me.  I needed them.  I really did, and I still need them because I’ve learned so much from them, and I know the longer I’m around them, the more I’m gonna learn.  I value their opinion and their guidance.

Ben:  It’s great to see you moving yourself forward in your career.  That’s really awesome to see.

Kellie:  Thank you so much.  I feel too like I was so nineteen and green when I started.  Nobody knows themselves at nineteen.  You think you do, but you don’t, because you’re not supposed to.  But yeah, I’m excited, and that means a lot to me that you say that, ‘cause that’s what you wanna do as an artist.  You wanna touch people through your music, and have an impact on people’s lives.  I think music has so much more power than it’s given credit for.

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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Interviews


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Talking with Jeremy Abshire of The Grascals

This six-piece band from Nashville known as The Grascals, since its founding in 2004, has quickly become one of the most revered and successful acts in modern bluegrass music, performing on the Grand Ole Opry and at bluegrass festivals across the country.  They have won several major awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association, including the 2007 award for Entertainer of the Year.

Prior to joining The Grascals, fiddler Jeremy Abshire played as a member of Billie Renee and Cumberland Gap, and as a member of Dale Ann Bradley’s backing band.  He is known for his fluid and energetic fiddling style.

Earlier this year, the Grascals released their Cracker Barrel album The Grascals and Friends – Country Classics with a Bluegrass Spin, which featured collaborations with the likes of Dolly Parton, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels, and others.  The band’s latest release is the 7-song EP – Dance ‘Til Your Stockings Are Hot And Ravelin’ – A Tribute to the Music of the Andy Griffith Show.  The EP was released digitally on March 29, and was released in physical CD form earlier this month.  In this interview with The 1-to-10 Country Music Review, fiddler Jeremy Abshire discusses both of these recent projects, along with overseas touring experiences, and the one ‘award’ that means the most to him.
Ben Foster:  I’d love to hear some about your latest project, the EP Dance ‘Til Your Stockings Are Hot And Ravelin’ – A Tribute to the Music of The Andy Griffith Show.  How did that project come about?

Jeremy Abshire:  Well, actually it had been talked about for a while.  Mayberry’s Finest was actually doing a food product package where this CD was going to be included as a bonus to the packaging that they were offering Cracker Barrel, and we had worked with them before, so they thought it would be a great fit, and so did we.

Ben:  What do you love most about the Andy Griffith Show?  I’m guessing you’re probably a fan of it.

Jeremy:  Oh yeah, I’m a huge fan.  I think shows like that have just kind of gone by the wayside.  Even with kids growing up today, a lot of them don’t even know about The Andy Griffith Show.  I think it’s shows like that that shaped my youth, and people of my age demographic.  I think some shows like these could really help out our youth today – just simple shows with simple messages.  The Andy Griffith Show has always had a great message.  I’m glad to be supporting that.

Ben:  That’s true.  You don’t see that kind of stuff on TV much anymore.  These days it’s mostly just fluff.

Jeremy:  Pretty much.

Ben:  I understand the EP also includes one bonus track – “Boy, Giraffes are Selfish.”  What can you tell us about that song?

Jeremy:  Well, that’s actually a tune that was done on the show, and that’s something that the guys wanted to re-work, and add as a bonus track, so we worked that up in the studio and gave it our own feel.  So that’s pretty much how that came about.  We just worked it out, and did it the way we would do it.  That was done by the Dillards originally, and it was on the music soundtrack for The Andy Griffith Show

Ben:  I’d also like to talk about another recent Grascals project – your Cracker Barrel album The Grascals and Friends – Country Classics with a Bluegrass Spin.  Would you like to tell about the creative process the band goes through in covering classic songs, and putting your own personal spin on them?

Jeremy:  I think it’s hard any time you sit down to pick out material to try to figure out what might reach an audience, so we just tried to keep it simple.  We just picked out first who we wanted to work with, people who we’d worked with in the past obviously – Dolly, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels.  We’d worked with the Oak Ridge Boys before.  So we had known all those guys, and we were friends with every one.  Basically, once we decided who we wanted on the project, we started looking at what songs would best fit them, best fit us collectively together, how that would sound, and we just came up with what we thought were songs that more people would enjoy, and also songs that we thought would sound great with the artists that we wanted to make a part of it.

Ben:  That must have been such a fun record to make.

Jeremy:  It was great.  Any time we get to work with Dolly or Dierks or Charlie – They’re such great people anyway – to have them be a part of a project, and to work with them closely, is tremendous for us.  We always love to work with anybody like that.

Ben:  I understand Dolly also added her special touch to your recent single and video for “I Am Strong.”  What can you tell us about that?
Jeremy:  We would have loved to have Dolly there when we originally shot the video.  She wanted to be a part of it, but unfortunately she had other commitments.  What she did, which was so kind of her, was to kind of re-shoot her part, and she did an amazing job.  I think all of us pointedly agree that she really made the song.  When she comes in, it’s just such an uplifting feel to the song.  The song is amazing anyway.  It just celebrates all the children at St. Jude.  She cares so much about the kids at St. Jude, and she’s such an amazing person that having her be a part of that song just couldn’t be a better feeling for us.

Ben:  Would you like to tell about some of your experiences in visiting with the kids at St. Jude?

Jeremy:  It’s a bittersweet place.  There’s a lot of children there with a lot of horrible cancers, and it’s very hard if you’ve never been there before to just walk in there and take the tour, and take it all in.  But you know the people at St. Jude have made that place a positive place for children in just their daily activities, the way the hospital is set up.  When you walk in there, it’s not like you’re walking into a hospital or a ward of a hospital.  Every room and every place you go is like a Chuck E. Cheese.  It’s such a positive environment for children.  As much stuff as they’re battling with the cancers and the chemo, and everything they have to go through on a daily basis, and it being a kid, amazingly they are so positive about it because of the environment that St. Jude has provided them.  They just exude that positive attitude.  It’s hard to see children in pain, but it’s also uplifting to see a place that takes care of them so well.  The kids are so positive about it that it actually makes you positive.  When we go there, we just like to have fun with the kids and play with them, and it’s just a fun day.  But for anyone that just comes off the street and walks in there for the first time, it is a hard thing to take in, because the realization is there that there are kids there with some horrible cancers.  But they’re fighting them, and St. Jude has come up with so many revelations in different cancers that no one else has been able to do, and they’re just steadily working on trying to find cures for a lot of them.  They’re doing wonderful things there, and we’re just glad to be a part of their loving team.

Ben:  That’s great that they’re helping the kids to keep a positive spirit when they’re going through something so difficult.

Jeremy:  Yes, they absolutely do.

Ben:  Since you’ve had the opportunity to take bluegrass music overseas with a couple trips to Europe last year, would you like to tell some about those experiences?

Jeremy:  We had a great trip to France.  Anytime you get to go out of the country and play the music you love for people who love it, it’s an awesome experience and opportunity.  I myself had actually never been out of the country.  I really enjoyed the trip to Greece especially.  It’s surprising when you go to a completely different place and you play the music that you play, and people really love it.  They love bluegrass in Europe.  They don’t get it nearly enough, and there’s very few radio stations that play country and bluegrass.  They were so receptive and so warm to us and to all the other bands that played.  But if I had to pick a favorite, I would have to say that Greece was my personal favorite.  It’s such a beautiful place.  France was gorgeous too, but we spent less time there, and it was so cold when we went.  Greece was warm and great, and actually Nikos Garavelas, he actually has his own radio show that plays bluegrass in Greece near where we played, and is very successful doing that.  He’s very successful with promoting the music in Greece and in Europe in general.  He’s written a book on the history of country music, and he’s really done a great job of promoting the music over there, and informing the public on the history of country.  He’s a great friend of the band as well.

Ben:  That must have been such a fun experience.

Jeremy:  Yeah, it was.  It was amazing.  One day we had some downtime and went to his parents’ house, which was right by the ocean.  It was absolutely beautiful, and his mom was cooking all day, and laid out this huge spread of Greek food which was absolutely amazing.  His whole family was there, and everyone was just so receptive.  It was just like a Friday night grilling out with your neighbors.  Everybody came over and they grilled chicken and different meats and had all the sides to go with it.  We spent the day swimming in the ocean and eating good food and enjoying good company, so I think we all had a great time in Greece.

Ben:  In closing, I’d like to ask you, when you look back on the accolades your band has received, what would you say have been your proudest moments as a member of the Grascals.

Jeremy:  I would have to say, for me personally, we’ve been a part of so many different things.  I personally have been so many places, and met so many people, and been a part of four projects now.  I’ve enjoyed each of them in different ways, but I would have to say going to St. Jude and really learning about St. Jude and the children there, that’s really been a big part of this lately.  Recently we took a trip to St. Jude in January.  It was for the Country Cares seminar, which was basically where a bunch of artists in country get together and talk about how to raise money for the kids, how to better everything.  We met a lot of different children, and talked to a lot of different parents.  We took pictures with some kids, and we had a nice time there.  I’ve had the opportunity to play for president Bush, so I’ve got some amazing moments that are framed and hung on my wall.  When we got back from that seminar, there are some kids who actually made a crayon drawing for each of us, and they had those framed and sent to us, thanking us for supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  As far as an award or something that hangs on the wall that I remember, there’s nothing that I hold dearer to my heart than that because it came from St. Jude.
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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Interviews


Getting to Know Melanie Denard

Melanie Denard is an independent artist on a small label who is already making a name for herself through her powerful personality-infused vocal performances and her distinct country-soul musical style. Her first album Dare to Live was released just last year. In the time since the release, Melanie has continued performing and working toward her goal of achieving household-name recognition as a country artist. This talented artist recently took the time to have a chat with me about her musical style and the career she hopes to create.

Ben: Would you like to start by telling a little bit about your background, and your early experiences in singing?

Melanie: Oh gosh, how much time do we have?

Ben: We have time!

Melanie: Well, let’s see. I’ve always known from an early age that I wanted to sing. It’s something that was definitely a God-given talent. There’s a lot of musical talent in my family. I have an uncle that’s in a gospel quartet. My grandmother sang and played guitar. My brother writes. So I get it honest. I started out singing in church, and then from there in high school I was in a national touring company and toured the world pretty much, doing performances. Once out of high school, I was in an opera company for a few years, and then after that I joined some bands. You know, just club bands, played in a Southern rock band and a country band, and then got a job working at a Fortune 500 company, kept the band thing going, and then met my manager, which is why I’m sitting here today in Nashville! It’s been a wonderful musical journey my whole life.

Ben: I understand you’re known for putting your own signature style on a song, or “Melanizing” it as they say?

Melanie: Oh, that’s right! You did your homework!

Ben: So how do you do that?

Melanie: Well, that’s a hard question to answer. I’ve spent much of my life doing a lot of cover tunes. I just try to take the song and make it my own, and just put a little soul in it, and I guess that’s what they call “Melanize.” My manager came up with that word. It actually fits. Yeah, I do that. I just make songs my own.

Ben: I understand your style draws on a mix of influences. How would you describe your style?

Melanie: Country-soul! A lot of soul influence, a lot of blues. I grew up lovin’ Wynonna Judd. I think our voices are really similar. She’s a big influence of mine. Elvis Presley – I’ve always loved him. It’s just a style I sort of developed. When I moved here to Nashville, I tried to sort of lose some of that to be more commercial, but then I realized that I can’t. That’s why I really love the producer I met up with, Dan Frizsell, because he let me be me, but he kind of kept me commercial for country.

Ben: When I was listening to your song “All I Ever Did Was Love You,” I got a bit of a “No One Else On Earth” vibe from it.

Melanie: Oh yeah? Well, good! That’s a compliment! Thank you!

Ben: It absolutely is. I love that song.

Melanie: Well, thank you. That’s one of the songs on the album that most describes me and my singing style.

Ben: Since you’re known for being an energetic live performer, what would you say makes for a good live show?

Melanie: You just have to keep the audience interested. I go see artists perform, and there’s milling around the room and people are talking and not really paying attention. A lot of times I notice that when I step onstage and I start singing that all eyes are on me, and that’s what I try to do – just enthrall people and feed off of their energy. It gives me more energy and allows me to bring more passion and excitement to the music. I do that – I get people’s attention.

Ben: Any artists in particular who serve as role models or influences for you both in style and in performance?

Melanie: Well, Wynonna of course. I grew up loving her. Bonnie Raitt – huge influence on me as far as the blues aspect goes. I like all music. I grew up listening to all music. My daddy liked country music, and that’s how I was introduced to country music at a very young age, and I’ve listened to it ever since.

Ben: I understand you’ve also covered the Dusty Springfield hit “Son of a Preacher Man.” Would you like to tell a little bit about your connection to that song, and how you put your own spin on it?

Melanie: That’s a song that I’ve always sang in bands and whatnot, and when I moved to Nashville in my first year of living here, there was a competition that GAC announced for the next video star. They had a video contest. That’s one of the songs that was on the list of songs to do, so I picked it because I knew it already and knew it well. That’s actually the first song that I recorded with my producer, before I ever started the Dare to Live album. We did “Son of a Preacher Man,” and I told him I wanted it to be a country version of it, so we put some fiddle on there and a little bit of steel. It turned out really, really well. Nothing happened with the video contest, but once I finished the album, I decided since “Son of a Preacher Man” turned out so well, I’d like to throw it on the album, and I’m so glad I did. It has proven to be a great idea because on the radio tours and everything I’ve gotten so much great response from that song. Everybody just loves that song.

Ben: It’s definitely very well-suited to that country-soul kind of style.

Melanie: Oh yeah!

Ben: And it’s like the country elements don’t seem slapped-on. It seems more natural than on some cross-genre covers.

Melanie: Right. It’s a great song. I’m glad I put it on the album.

Ben: So do you have any favorites among the songs you’ve recorded for your album?

Melanie: Well, I didn’t write any of the songs on the album. I’d like to take credit for the songs, but I was pitched so many great songs by wonderful well-known songwriters here in Nashville, I just couldn’t pass a lot of them up. I do write. Hopefully on the next album I put out I’ll have some co-writes and writes on it. But it was very important to me to be able to relate to the songs as if I had written them so I could bring more passion to it, and I think I did a really good job of doing that.

Ben: Definitely. Are there any songs you wish you had had a part in writing?

Melanie: Gosh, all of ‘em! [Laughs] “Dare to Live,” I’d have to say, the title track from the album, because I picked that song mainly for what it talks about and what it says. Because it’s my story. I risked everything, moved here, and quit my job and sold my house in Georgia just trying to do this thing. I’d have to say “Dare to Live” if I had to pick one, but I wish I had written them all!

Ben: Do you have any career goals that you hope to accomplish as a country artist?

Melanie: Well, I hope to have a sold-out show at the Bridgestone Arena this time next year! [Laughs]

Ben: I’ll buy a ticket!

Melanie: I’m just blessed to able to follow my dream. I live my dream every day. I’m just gonna do what I do. Hopefully the major goal is to get a major label deal. I have a label showcase coming up this year in April, and I’m very excited about that. I’m gonna start touring with the band. We’ll try to do the casino circuit and try to get out there and perform! I just hope I get a major label deal and one day be a household name.

Ben: One more question – What is country music to Melanie Denard?

Melanie: Oh gosh, it’s my life! I grew up listening to it. I can relate to it, as a lot of people can. When I hear country music, it reminds me of growing up with my dad and riding in his truck and listening to country music when he’d pick me up from school. It’s my life. It’s what I do, and I hope that one day the world will know who Melanie Denard is, and love my music as much as I love singing it to people.


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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Interviews


"It Was a Fun Journey" – Interview with Brett Eldredge

Brett Eldredge made an immediate impression on fans and critics with his touching debut single “Raymond,” which told the story of a young man’s friendship with an elderly woman who suffered from Alzheimer’s, and who thought he was the son she had lost in death decades earlier. “Raymond” continues to climb the country singles chart, having just reached Top 30 status. In addition, Brett Eldredge has had the opportunity to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, and has extended the invitation for his fans to share their own experiences with Alzheimer’s on his official web site, and to share how his song has affected them. In a recent interview, Brett discussed the inspiration behind his special song, as well as his connection to country fans and to the hallowed Grand Ole Opry.

Ben: Would you like to tell a little bit about your background, and what led to you making the decision to move to Nashville and to pursue a career in country music?

Brett: Yeah, I’m from Paris, Illinois, which is a tiny little town of about 9,000 people, about 4 ½ hours from Nashville. I lived there until I was about 18, and then I moved to Elmhurst, Illinois, to go to my first two years of college. I found myself in love with Nashville one time when I came to visit to see my cousin [Terry Eldredge] play – He’s a bluegrass musician in the Grascals. So I came down to see him down at the Station Inn, which is now my favorite venue still to this day. I got up there, and I sang a song with him. I was hooked. I’ve done a lot of different genres, and sung a lot of different stuff. My love was already country music, but when I got down here and saw that in the flesh, and got to hear the actual instrumentation and the fiddle and all that stuff, I was like ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’ So I transferred schools down to MTSU, and I was like ‘I’m gonna go make this happen. I’m gonna figure out how to make this happen. I didn’t know what I was doing really; I just kind of showed up! I didn’t really know anybody. I got to Nashville and went to MTSU for college, and I’d go back and forth every day after class. I just started writing songs with people, and playing those songwriter night when there would be like two people there. It was a crazy, crazy experience. There was actually one time when my buddy’s dad came to visit, and it was just his dad in the crowd, and I was just playing these songs that I wrote, and I was just starting to figure out how to write songs. So I started to develop songs, and eventually signed a publishing deal. I just kept writing and eventually developing myself as an artist, and figuring out who I was. I was eventually showcased, and found myself a record deal. It was a fun journey so far.

Ben: So would you like to describe your songwriting process?

Brett: There’s no certain exact process that I do. Sometimes I’ll have a title or something that I’ll just write on this paper sitting here, like from the newspaper, or something I might hear in some kind of conversation that somebody had at the McDonald’s. There’s never an exact form that I follow. If I have a title, I might go and say “This is something I heard. This could be a cool title for a song.” I might write that, or I’ll just show up and start singing something, especially if it’s a co-write. You know, somebody’s sitting there playing something, and I’ll just start singing. I don’t even know what I’m singing. A lot of times people would laugh because it’s actually gibberish, and most of the time it is gibberish and I’ll start to put words with it. With some of it, it’s not like we’re going to record any of that gibberish. But sometimes on some of the work tapes and recordings, you can hear some of those random lyrics come out. But eventually we put real words to it, but it’s a fun thing. I love to write songs, and I still write songs all the time. I’ve got at least two hundred unfinished songs. On my phone, I’ve got a recorder, and I’ll just record something, and I’ve got a million of those that I’ll probably never ever listen to again, but maybe one day I’ll have a bored day on the airplane. I’ll hit PLAY on something and then all of a sudden I’ll have it back in my head, and I’ll start writing it. So it’s cool. I love songwriting.

Ben: Would you say that you’re a singer first, or a songwriter first?

Brett: I moved to town as a singer first. I still always want to be a singer first for sure. That’s how I grew up, and that’s how I started. That’s why I moved here. Then I discovered songwriting, and I discovered a whole other part – singing songs that you wrote, and being able to tell a story even more if you lived it, or had a part in making that song. Singing has always definitely been my passion, but now songwriting is too – a little bit of a combination of both, if that’s a fair answer.

Ben: Yeah, kind of like “Which wing does the bird like better?”

Brett: Yep!

Ben: So would you like to tell about the artists that have influenced your style the most?

Brett: Yeah, there’s a wide range of artists that I love. I love Ronnie Dunn, Brooks & Dunn. Ronnie Dunn’s voice – I just was captured by it. One of my favorite singers of all time. Frank Sinatra – huge fan of him and that whole generation. The way he phrased words and sang songs, you could believe everything he said. I’m a scholar for singers – I love those crooner kinds of guys. I love Ray Charles and Vince Gill. They’ve got this naturally God-given gift to feel, and sing their butts off. I love those kinds of singers.

Ben: Would you like to tell about the inspiration behind your current Top 30 hit “Raymond”?

Brett: It’s inspired by my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s. She still has Alzheimer’s now and has had it for several years. She was getting worse with it about three and a half years ago. That’s when I wrote this song. It was a call from my dad that sparked this idea to write this song. My dad called and said “Your grandmother’s starting to forget people in the family. She’s starting to slip up a little bit.” So I was torn up. She means the world to me. She’s the lady who cooked me fried chicken every Sunday, and just did everything for me. To hear that she was starting to lose some of who she was – It was killing me. I had to find some way to find comfort in the situation. A lot of times I go to songwriting. So I went and told a friend who I’d never met actually – He wasn’t even a friend at this point, Brad Crisler. I showed up, didn’t even know him, and I started telling him about the issue that was going on with my grandmother, which I never do. I’m not that kind of guy. I keep my family issues to myself. But I had to tell him, and he was taken in by the story. He had relatives in nursing homes growing up, and so did I, so it was just something that was so real to us. The song pretty much wrote itself at that point. We had both experienced it. We’d been there. All of a sudden it would just take off, and stuff would really start flowing out. We didn’t have an idea called “Raymond” anything. It just came. It was weird. It just came from some special place I guess. It only happens every once in a while as a songwriter, but when it does, you know it.

Ben: I understand you’ve also opened up the opportunity for your fans to share their own experiences with Alzheimer’s.

Brett: Yeah, on, my web site, there’s a little box where you can call. People can share their stories, and there will be a recording on my web site. People share their stories of how the song’s affected them or how Alzheimer’s affected them. It’s incredible how the song has touched certain people. A lot of times they’ve just got done listening to the song, and it’s crazy. They’re like already crying at the beginning. People are so passionate about it. They see it every day. A lot of people have Alzheimer’s, and live with it for a long time. You got to see that. So you hear the message of people that have the same struggles, and everybody’s in it together. It’s a big deal – 5.5 million people have Alzheimer’s. It’s like an epidemic now. So it’s crazy to see what kinds of people are getting affected by it. It’s a cool deal to hear their stories, and I enjoy that part of it, though I hate to hear it.

Ben: Would you like to also describe the creative process behind your music video for “Raymond”?

 Brett: The music video is a crazy concept. This is my first major video. I roll up in a parking lot, and there’s two huge trucks with forty people of a crew, and I was like ‘Is this for me? Is this how this works? Am I at the right place?’ But it was a really cool process making the video for “Raymond.” Shaun Silva shot it, and he’s an unbelievable director. He’s done a lot of Chesney videos and all that stuff, but he’s just a really talented guy at making it real. For making a music video, a lot of people have different ideas of how the video could go. He was the one that I felt really brought it home in capturing the kind of relationship we’re trying to capture with this song. In a lot of the video, you’re seeing me and the lady, Katherine Davis, talking. Shaun said “Talk about something from your childhood – some really emotionally special point in your life.” She started telling me about when she was a kid around Christmas and all that stuff. She got teary-eyed and crying, and I was getting teary-eyed. It was an emotional kind of moment, and so in a lot of the video that’s the kind of stuff we’re talking about. That’s how he made it feel real, and I felt a good relationship with her, so it was a cool thing.

Ben: Yeah, it really brings the song to life. Seeing as you made your Grand Ole Opry debut last year, would you like to tell about that experience, and about your connection to the Opry?

Brett: The Opry is country music. It’s a special place – a place that I had been trying to get to play for a long time. When I signed with the agency, I had no reason to be on the Opry yet, but I kept telling them I wanted to be on it. They were like ‘We’re working on it. We’ve got to get there at the right point.’ I finally heard that I got to do it, and I was just pumped. There’s nothing like it. It’s a special place, and there’s so much history behind it. I’m gonna go stand on the same circle that Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Elvis stood on – Elvis only one time, but he was there. So many people have been up there. To know that I was gonna do that was a special thing. So I got to bring my family, and Bill Anderson introduced me. He was a mentor of mine. The cool thing was I got to play a song that Bill and I wrote together. So all of it kind of came full circle. Literally, I walked out into the circle, and I saw my parents and grandfather and grandmother and brother and everybody. It was a special feeling. Though I was kind of nervous walking up – The closer I got to that circle, my heart beat a little faster. But once I got out in that circle and looked out in the crowd, I felt the warmth of the country music fans. They’re just so accepting, and I was home. I’ve played four times since, and I hope I get to play it for a long, long time.

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Posted by on March 9, 2011 in Interviews


Interview with Steve Rice of No Justice

Steve Rice is the lead vocalist and guitarist of the popular Okahoma-based band known as No Justice.  Guitarist Jerry Payne, bassist Joey Trevino, drummer Armando Lopez, and lead guitarist Cody Patton round out the the rest of the No Justice lineup.  The band has gained a large fan following in the Lone Star State, having charted seven Top 10 singles and four number ones on Texas country charts in only a four-year span.  I recently had a chat with Steve over the phone about the latest No Justice projects, including their most recent album 2nd Avenue, released last July on Carved Records

Ben:  The first thing I wanted to hear your thoughts on is how would you say the Red dirt music scene is different from the mainstream Nashville country scene?

Steve:  Well, we’re all broke!  That’s the first one.  A lot of these bands, we all work together for the same cause.  There’s no real competition or anything like that.  It’s just a real laid-back environment.  The fans are really loyal and dedicated.  You’re starting to see it less and less in the Nashville music scene, but there’s a lot of originality down here for the most part.  Then again, you have your cookie-cutter stuff just like you do anywhere else.  But then you start to see a lot less of that cookie-cutter type stuff.  In Nashville, people like Jamey Johnson are coming along and doing stuff that’s a little different.  But yeah, that’s pretty much it, and the big one is that we’re all broke.

Ben:  Do you have any favorite Texas or Oklahoma artists?

Steve:  I like some new artists that are coming out.  He’s not from down here, but he plays down here.  He’s a Nashville boy – Sean McConnell.  There’s the Turnpike Troubadours that are just getting started and making some waves.  There’s a lot of them, man.  If you asked me who I don’t like, I could probably give you a lot better of an example… No, I’m just joking!  I’ll keep my mouth shut on that.

Ben:  Tell as about your experiences in touring with artists such as Willie Nelson, Jack Ingram, and Dierks Bentley.

Steve:  I’d say they were pretty pleasurable.  We’ve toured around with Jack and Dierks.  We only played a couple shows with Willie Nelson.  Dierks is like a buddy you’d have in high school – just a really nice guy.  He goes out of his way to make sure everybody’s taken care of, which is cool, you know.  A lot of people don’t do that.

Ben:  How does your current album 2nd Avenue fit in with the previous No Justice albums?  In what ways is it similar or different?

Steve:  A lot of the similarities would be just style-wise.  We definitely push the boundaries with the rock and blues genres on the new record.  We still have kind of the same melodic exploration that we’ve always had. 

Ben:  Do you have a favorite song on 2nd Avenue?

Steve:  Oh man, they’re kind of all favorites, and it’s kind of refreshing to be able to play something new after a little hiatus since the last record.  I like the roller coaster melody with “5 More Minutes,” and I like the inspiration with “Coming Up the River,” and I like the rock side with songs like “2nd Avenue.”  We want to take somebody on a one-time ride with this record instead of the same thing ten times in a row.

Ben:  Do you feel like being able to take a hiatus for a few years made for a better album?

Steve:  I’d say yes.  Three years ago we wouldn’t have made the same record that we made recently.  I don’t think it was “our time” to record any earlier than we did.  I’m a believer that you shouldn’t rush a record.

Ben:  Have changes in membership had a significant effect on the band’s sound and group dynamics?

Steve:  Since Cody has added a third harmony vocal and his signature lead guitar to the mix, it has definitely changed our sound a bit. It’s hard not to with such a dominant instrument.

Ben:  Johnny Cooper and Rebecca Lynn Howard contribute vocals on a couple of tracks.  Could you tell us how they came to be a part of the project?

Steve:  Johnny was there quite a bit during our recording process, and I thought it would be cool to have him on a few tracks, just to throw a wrench into the gears and switch things up a bit.  Rebecca and our producer, Dex [Dexter Green], were friends and we thought her voice would really compliment the song.  We were very happy with the outcome on both performers.

Ben:  Would you like to tell about your next new single and video “Gone Ain’t Far Enough”?

Steve:  “Gone Ain’t Far Enough” is my first attempt at writing a waltz.  It is also one of the more country tracks on the record.  It will be interesting to see how we do with a more country song on the radio since the first two singles off the record that went to radio were definitely more rocking.

Ben:  Final question – What is country music to Steve Rice and to No Justice?

Steve:  In a nutshell, I think its based on simplicity and honesty.  It stretches from the good people that we meet to the great musicians we work and share the highways with.  Country is one of the few genres in today’s music scene that actually still has some good values.


Posted by on February 5, 2011 in Interviews


Getting to Know Danielle Car

This big-voiced Detroit native has yet to commit to a record deal, but she’s already been able to get some attention for her single “Walk of Shame” and her EP The Danielle Car EP, which can be heard on her MySpace page.  This talented lady recently took a few minutes to chat with me over the phone about her music, influences, and career goals.

Ben:  Would you like to start by telling a little bit about your background, and where you come from?

Danielle:  Sure, sure!  Well, I’m a first generation Italian-American on my dad’s side.  I was born and raised in the Detroit area.  Music was always a part of the household.  I’m from a family of six, and food and music were like our seventh and eighth members of the family.  We always had musical instruments laying around.  We were always playing, whether it’s my older sister playing “Fur Elise” on the piano, or my brother rocking out to “Crazy Train” in his room.  We always had music goin’ on around the house.  Dad was more into Pavarotti and ABBA, Air Supply – Europeans love Air Supply.  My mom was more into the country stuff.  She loved her Kenny Rogers, and she loved her Glen Campbell and Elvis.  Even some of the Neil Diamond stuff – if you go back and listen t o it now, a lot of it really has sort of what would now be considered country.  Ultimately, that’s what I sort of gravitated toward and ultimately identified with was sort of the country stuff.

Ben:  There aren’t very many country singers from Detroit, so do you feel like having kind of a unique background for a country singer lends any special qualities to your music?

Danielle:  I think more than location country music is more about the feelings – the sort of accessibility of the lyrics – the identifiability of country.  I don’t necessarily think that you need to be from Nashville to express those universal themes that country music usually has.  We have one country music station.  I’ve done a lot of work with them, but other than them there’s not a whole heck of a lot going on country music-wise.  We’ve got a great local country music scene, but there’s not a whole lot of outlet for it.  So I’m trying to take it big time then.  I’m trying to take it out, spread my wings around the United States, and it’s working well so far.  People really have embraced country music from Detroit.  I think people are sort of curious – “What does country music from Detroit sound like?”  And then when they hear it, they’re pleasantly surprised.  They like the attitude, and they like the sound, and they embrace it.

Ben:  What drew you to country music, and made you realize that was the kind of music you wanted to make?

Danielle:  Well, my mom she put on a record when I was about seven years old – this old record she had, and I just started crying when I heard it.  It just dominated my little seven-year-old mind for the rest of the day.  It was Glen Campbell’s version of “It’s Only Make Believe,” and I just felt his aching voice and these soaring strings.  I was just amazed that this song could make me feel something so deep.  Even to this day, if you get me in the right mood, that song still makes me cry.  But it was then that I sort of knew that I wanted to embrace the tunes, and sort of write tunes that made people feel something the way that song made me feel.  So I always had an appreciation for country music, but I had a friend who was crazy about Dwight Yoakam, and sort of turned me on to him when I was in my teens.  It was all over from there.  Dwight Yoakam, ‘Turn Me On, Turn Me Up, Turn Me Loose’!  Dwight Yoakam!

Ben:  Who are your main musical influences?

Danielle:  My main musical influences – I would say Dwight Yoakam for sure.  Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison, Queen.  I was very popular in grade school because I was a member of the Queen fan club. (That’s sarcasm – I was a big fat nerd!) But I was in the Queen fan club, so I love Queen, Johnny Cash – those were probably the biggies.  But Dwight for sure.  Dwight was like my country music deity.  He officially has deity status in my mind.

Ben:  So I understand you do quite a bit of songwriting.

Danielle:  I do!  I do a lot of songwriting.  Some days it’s very cerebral.  I’ll have to sit down and force myself to write something and see what happens.  Most often it’s sort of an exercise in randomness.  Sometimes the music comes first; sometimes the lyrics come first.  But the randomness is something that’s always fun.

Ben:  What’s a song that you wish you had had a part in writing?

Danielle:  I would say if I could have been in on the songwriting process maybe with Loretta Lynn and Jack White.  That “Portland, Oregon” song – It’s such a simple tune, but they added so much to it, so it’s got this really funky intro to it.  I really really love that song.  “It’s Only Make Believe” – I know Conway Twitty made it famous, but if I could have been in on the Glen Campbell arrangement, that would really float my boat.

Ben:  I bet songwriting with Loretta would be fun.

Danielle:  Oh my God, I’d probably just get cotton-mouthed and start sweating, say stupid things, and embarrass myself if I ever even met Loretta, let alone writing with her.

Ben:  Of the songs that you’ve written and recorded, do you have any favorites?

Danielle:  My favorite is probably “Walk of Shame.”  It’s probably a tie with “Walk of Shame” and “Pretty Please.”  With “Walk of Shame,” I’m merely the narrator of a story I saw literally night after night in the club.  The steps were sort of like clockwork.  The hot chicks would come into the bar.  The dudes would provide Jager rounds and applejacks.  Then the inevitable requests for “Redneck Woman,” “Before He Cheats,” and “Friends In Low Places.”  Then, you know, a little dirty dancing later, and they leave with their hands in each other’s back pockets.  No harm, no foul, so I wrote a song about it.  It’s sort of an everyday part of life.  No big deal.  Millions of Americans do it – red-blooded American country music fans know what the “Walk of Shame” is!  So that one always got a great response in the clubs. 

“Pretty Please” I think just rocks.  It’s not necessarily an anthem of any kind.  It’s a relatable topic about a dude cheating, and the other woman not having it, putting her foot down and saying “Go on home and see your family, ’cause I ain’t gonna plead or beg down on my knees, pretty please.”  So I sort of like that one.  It’s just a woman recognizing her self-worth, and she’s not gonna give it up to somebody who’s already chosen someone else.

Ben:  Kind of like “Stay,” by Sugarland?

Danielle:  No!  “Stay,” oh my God, is the most depressing video.  It’s the saddest song.  It’ll put you in a funk!  “Pretty Please” is a little more you’re in a good mood after it.  I guess thematically speaking, they’re similar, but I guess style-wise, they’re more different.

Ben:  Like similar themes, but a different mood to it?

Danielle:  Definitely a different mood.  I feel like “Stay” is a ridiculously unbelievably perfectly-written song.  It has a somber edge to it, even though at the end the main character, the woman, supposedly Jennifer Nettles – Who knows? – is sort of gettin’ her groove back and realizing “Hey, stay with your wife, and I’ll be over here with my self-esteem.  I guess thematically “Pretty Please” is the same thing, but it’s just more of a fist-pumper.

Ben:  I understand the amount of attention you’re receiving is pretty big for an unsigned artist.  Are there any of your career accomplishments thus far that you’re especially proud of?

Danielle:  Yes!  I’m really excited to be on the Promo Only releases.  Promo Only is an industry promotional outlet where they take the hottest singles, whoever’s releasing a single that month, and they put it all on one disc for promotional outlets, be it radio stations, clubs, line dance classes.  Nationwide they give out the best of the best for that month for country radio, and “Walk of Shame” is going to be on January’s compilation along with, oh gosh, Alan Jackson, Darius Rucker, Sugarland, and I’m just so stoked that I’m the only unsigned artist on the entire disc!  Everybody’s got a record deal but me, so I’m actively searching for one – don’t get me wrong – but I think it’s really fun that if you have good tunes and a good attitude and you’ve got all your ducks in a row, if you first spread the word, the word gets spread!  People have been taking notice, so I’m really excited about that.

Ben:  Well, that’s awesome!  Congrats on that.  One question that I pretty much always ask when I interview somebody is who would be your dream duet partner?

Danielle:  Why don’t you take a guess? [Laughs] I’m making you do the work now!  Judging from my answers, who do you think it is?  I know who it is.  Who do you think it is?

Ben:  Glen Campbell?

Danielle:  No, Dwight Yoakam!  Glen Campbell would be great, but it’s Dwight Yoakam.  Dwight Yoakam to me is, oh my gosh, he oozes cool.  His cool quotient is exponentially above mine, so that might be difficult for collaboration purposes.  But he sweats cool; he breathes cool.  I’m convinced all of his lyrics are just the word cool, cool over again, ’cause that’s all I hear.  And he’s true to his sound.  He doesn’t try to do anything but be himself, and just make great music, and the tightness of his jeans just makes me feel like I already know him, so I would absolutely love to collaborate with Dwight Yoakam.

Ben:  Awesome.  Yeah, Dwight was gonna be my second guess!  So are there any projects that you’re working on right now?

Danielle:  I’m really excited for the EP to start sort of taking wing in January, so now I’m really promoting my song “Save Your Cookies for Me,” which actually made it to Promo Only’s hot list this week.  It’s not gonna come out on the monthly disc, but it’s on their hot list this week along with Brad Paisley and Katy Perry and Rihanna, ’cause it’s like an all-genre hot list.  So I’m really promoting my Christmas song “Save Your Cookies for Me.”  Pretty cool!

Ben:  Yeah, that’s pretty big.  So do you have any career goals that you’re hoping to attain sometime in the future?

Danielle:  Career goals?  I think it’s just to be embraced enough to keep doing what I’m doing.  I want to get my music out to as many willing ears as possible, and really bring attention to the country music scene in Detroit.  I’d like to be the first female Detroit country-rock artist from the area.  There’s a lot of country artists that are coming out.  Uncle Kracker is sort of trying to do the country thing.  Frankie Ballard from Battle Creek.  Josh Gracin went to my rival high school.  So there are a lot of country artists that are out here, but they’re all dudes!  So I wanna add some estrogen into the mix.  That’s the goal!



Posted by on December 7, 2010 in Interviews


Getting to Know Amber Hayes

This small town girl from Weleetka, Oklahoma, is currently making inroads on the country charts with her debut single “C’mon” – a fun and upbeat two-stepper in which she invites country radio listeners to get up and dance.  Her EP of the same title was released on August 31, and is available on iTunes.  I recently had a chance to interview this talented young woman, and learn more about the artist behind those great tunes.

Ben:  I understand you’ve been singing since you were very young.  Would you like to describe some of your early experiences in singing?

Amber:  Sure!  I started singing when I was five.  My grandma took me to dance lessons.  I kind of figured out that I more of a singer than I was dancer, so I just started singing.  Doing like some singing and dancing numbers, you know together.  Stuff like “Rocky Top.”  I was performing at the fairs and festivals in Oklahoma around where I’m from, and Oprys and different stuff like that.  So that’s kind of probably where I first started was actually you know with the fairs and the festivals.  I also did some pagaents, so I was doing some singing at that stuff too.  But mainly just the fairs and festivals.

Ben:  At what point was it that you decided you wanted to make a career out of music?

Amber:  I think that was something very early on that I think was just in me – that I knew that I was always gonna be doing this.  That this was something I was going to be doing when I was older, and that it was gonna be a career for me.  When I was even in school (grade school, junior high, high school), I just never really wanted to go to school.  I always wanted to be off singin’ somewhere, so it was just always in me, I think.

Ben:  What artists do you think have influenced your sound and style the most?

Amber:  I have three that I always go to, and that’s Barbara Mandrell – I grew up listening to her, jumping on the bed, and singin’ “Sleeping Single In a Double Bed” – Reba, you know, being from Oklahoma – It was cool to see such a small town girl from Oklahoma be able to reach such big dreams, the same kind of dreams that you want, so she was a big influence – and Dolly, of course.  I’m a songwriter, and I just think she’s amazing, of course, everything that she’s done.  So those are probably my top three.  I love Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood as vocalists as well.

Ben:  Those are some of my favorites.  So I understand that one who’s had a lot of positive things to say about you and your singing is Jeannie Seely.

Amber:  Yeah!

Ben:  So how does it feel having that stamp of approval from Miss Country Soul?

Amber:  Oh man, she’s amazing!  I’ve had the opportunity to be able to work with her several times.  It means a lot to me.  I’ve learned a lot from her as a performer.  She always, when she walks onstage, has ‘em right there in her hand.  She is just so great, and I love what she’s done for country music.  I think it’s so cool that she’s in her sixties, and she’s up there singin’ on the Grand Ole Opry every weekend.  I wish I could do that when I get to be her age.

Ben:  I understand that in addition to being a recording artist, you also have experience as a theater performer.  Would you like to tell about your experience playing Kathy Twitty in The Conway Twitty Musical?

Amber:  Sure, yeah, you know that was a big deal for me, and it was actually kind of like what took my career to the next level.  I tried out for The Conway Twitty Musical to be Kathy or Joni Twitty in the musical.  I just got an e-mail, and one of my friends said “You should go and try this out, you know, because you love theater, and it’s country music.”  I love the traditional country music, and Conway – he’s amazing.  So just to be a part of that was so awesome, and it was a great learning experience for me.  Theater is totally different than just going out and doing a regular show every night.  It’s something that is very structured, and it’s just, you know, a different level of performance.  The acting part of it was something that I was able to really work on and it taught me a lot.  So it was amazing.  We got to tour with George Jones, and you know, the Twitty family was involved, and I got to meet them, and I went to Twitty City, and got to hear great stories about Conway and his legacy.  It was really just something very special to be a part of.

Ben:  Do you feel like your experience in stage musicals has brought anything to your live shows?

Amber:  Definitely!  When you’re doing acting, acting is just basically like singing.  You’re telling a story, and even though you’re not singing it, you’re talking in your expressions and everything, and I definitely think it’s brought more of a story feel to my songs, and even if it’s a ballad that maybe just about love and emotions, I think there’s something that you can take from the theater part of it to make it better.  As a performer, it really did help me grow.

Ben:  Do you see yourself returning to the theater anytime in the future?

Amber:  I would love to.  I’m really focused right now on my career, as far as my country music career, but you know it’s something that I definitely love and hope that at some point I can go back and do.

Ben:  So how’s the album coming along?

Amber:  It’s going great!  Things are awesome.  We just got finished doing a 70-station radio tour, and 15 states, and we’re really excited.  The single “C’mon” is at #44 Music Row, and so that’s an achievement for us, and we’re just moving foward.  The EP came out August 31, and it’s called C’mon.  We got to debut that on WSM and that was a big honor for me, because like I said, I love traditional country music, and to be involved with them, and for them to want to be involved in the release was pretty awesome, so things are going really really well.

Ben:  I’ve noticed that your sound has a lot more traditional country flavor to it than a lot of the music that we hear on country radio nowadays.  Do you consider yourself a traditionalist?

Amber:  I definitely think that what I like to sing about, my lyrics, are more traditional.  My sound’s a little bit more traditional, but I think I have a new version of traditional.  I wouldn’t say I’m a traditionalist, but I definitely lean more to the traditional side.

Ben:  Kind of like a progressive traditionalist?

Amber:  There you go.  That’s great.

Ben:  So would you like to tell about what kinds of songs you have on your album?

Amber:  Sure!  You know, I was just saying that most of them, the lyrics are very country.  I grew up in a small town, and I think a lot of my lyrics come from that.  A lot of the values and the morals and the stories that are on the EP definitely come from being from a small town.  Songs like “Right As Rain” and “Home” – those are both songs that I think definitely came from calling my mom or calling my grandma and finding out what’s going on in my small town.  Then also, you know, “Right As Rain” talks about cellars and talks about, you know, faith a lot, and those are things that are important to me, ’cause I grew up in Oklahoma where we had a lot of tornadoes, and spent a lot of time in cellars.  So I think I’ve brough a lot of Oklahoma into my music, and definitely my influences – people like Reba.  I think the song “Wait” on the EP definitely has a Reba type of feel to it, and with my own little twist of how it should be, you know – who I am.  So I think that kind of sums up what the album is, and then of course “C’mon” is very fun and very Juddsy-like.  I love the acoustic feel that they bring to their music, and that’s kind of where I was going with that, so you know, it’s a fun party “Girls’ Night Out” type song, so it was a fun one to do live.

Ben:  Yeah, kind of like “Turn it Loose” or one of those Judds kind of songs.

Amber:  Yeah!  Or “Girls’ Night Out.”

Ben:  Are there any songs in particular that you enjoyed writing most, that you’re most proud of, or closest to?

Amber:  You know, I think “Home” probably is my favorite off of the EP just because anytime you start talking about home, it gets very personal.  Being from a small town and moving to Nashville, it was really hard for me to be away from my family because all my family lives there.  I think it’s very real of who I am, and that my family is very important to me, and that home means a lot to me, and I hope that one day I can go back and give back to my community.  Most of the small towns in America right now, they’re suffering, so I’d love to get to a point where I can go back and give back and help, so I think that “Home” probably is the one I’m really proud of.

Ben:  Is there anything else you’d like to tell about your single “C’mon”?

Amber:  I wrote “C’mon” with a couple of my friends.  We were on a writer’s retreat.  Like I said, I love the Judds, so we were kind of looking for that kind of feel for the song.  We were actually going to the beach, and we weren’t gonna write that day, but I was like ‘Hey, you know, let’s write!  We might as well on the way,’ and that just kind of came to us.  I think “C’mon” is just very different than what you’re hearing on the radio right now, I feel like, and I think it’s real fun and fresh.  I think almost everybody, girl or guy, can relate to just wanting to lay back and have a good time.  So that’s kind of what “C’mon” is about, I think.

Ben:  Would you like to tell a little bit about how you go about writing your songs?

Amber:  Sure, you know, I don’t play during my live show.  I play a little bit of piano.  Most of the time, if I come up with a melody that’s in my head, or I’m singin’ it as I’m walking through my house or something like that, and then I go with the melody idea sometimes.  But mainly I go with a lyric idea or a hook or an idea of how I kind of want it to go.  I go have a co-write, and then they bring in something that’s different, so that’s kind of how I write.  A lot of times I just go, and we don’t have an idea at all, and we just sit there and talk and find something to write about, you know, just something that we’re talking about, coffee or whatever.  I don’t really think that I have a set way each time, but you know, I’m open to everybody’s opinion when we come in and do a co-write.

Ben:  One kind of random question that I wanted to ask is who would be your dream duet partner?

Amber:  Oh, that’s a good one.  Gosh! 

Ben:  Living or dead.

Amber:  Living or dead?  Guy or girl – does it matter?

Ben:  Either one, or both.

Amber:  Girl probably would be Dolly or Reba.  Those would be my top ones.  I think it would be very cool to do a duet with Reba, being from Oklahoma – two Oklahoma girls.  But Dolly, I mean, shoot, who wouldn’t wanna do a duet with her?  As far as guys go, gosh it would be awesome to go back to somebody that’s not alive.  It’d be Conway, you know, I’d love to do something with him.  He has that whole sexy thing to him, and like the whole Loretta and Conway thing.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Ben:  Oh yeah.

Amber:  But you know, I think Luke Bryan would be somebody I’d want to do something with that’s very current right now.

Ben:  Yeah, he’s a good one.  So, one last question:  Do you have any goals that you’re working towards in your career?

Amber:  You know, I’m taking it one day at a time.  Just working hard every day, and putting one foot in front of the other.  My biggest goal is to sing on the Grand Ole Opry.  That’s something that I want to do.  I think that’s something that my whole team knows, and is working towards.  And then of course just any way to take it to the next level as far as a tour.  I would love to be on a big tour with Brad Paisley or Luke Bryan.  That’d be amazing, so I think those are the next steps, and just to be able to go out and capitalize on what we’ve done and how hard we’ve all worked with this single, and to be able just to take it and do a bunch of live shows.  It’d be amazing.


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Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Interviews


Getting to Know DJ Miller

DJ Miller is a young Hoosier country singer signed to Evergreen Records.  He released his debut single, “A Little Naughty Is Nice,” earlier this summer, and is currently working on his debut album.  Recently, I had a chance to sit down for a chat with this talented young newcomer about his music, influences, career goals, and of course, Taylor Swift.

Ben:  Would you like to start by telling us a little bit about the place you come from – where you grew up?

DJ:  Yeah, I was actually raised way out in the country, a little bit north of a small town called Idaville, Indiana.  It’s literally a three-blink town – If you drive through it and blink three times, you’ve passed it.  I was raised out in the country, and that’s what I love.  It’s where I’m still living at, and it’s really just kind of been a great experience living out in the country, and growing up there.  I’ve been in country music pretty much all my life.  My dad kind of got me started in it.  My dad Darryl had a country band for about thirty years, so when I was real young, even about two years old, I’d always go with him to a bunch of shows that I could go to, and be up onstage with him, so it’s really kind of where I got my start in country music.

Ben:  How would you describe your musical style?  Would you say it’s more traditional or contemporary?

DJ:  Well, I’m not really sure.  I really kind of expand when it comes to country music, you know.  I really see myself kind of going in towards kind of like a Jason Aldean-type kind of rockin’-type country, and then also I really like to fall back more on your traditional laid-back type country, kind of like George Strait-style.  I’ve never really had a certain style that I’ve really stuck to, so I’m really just kind of all over the place.

Ben:  Kind of a mix of influences?

DJ:  Yeah, really.  A big influence that I’ve really kind of stuck with is kind of like a Garth Brooks-type style – Garth Brooks and Brad Paisley.  They’re big influences in my career, growing up, and as my career built.  Mostly with Garth Brooks, because of his entertainment.  I mean obviously even when I was two years old going with my dad to shows, I would videotape Garth Brooks’ live TV concerts, and I would memorize them basically, and study his moves as an entertainer, and apply that even to the stage I was on being two years old.  You know, I’d take my hat off and wave it to the girls, and whatnot, and you know basically try to be Garth Brooks.  And then Brad Paisley came along, and his instrumental techniques really shocked me, and got me interested in that, and his interaction with the crowd also, like Garth Brooks, so huge influences in my career.

Ben:  Would you like to tell about any mentors you’ve had in your career as a recording artist?

DJ:  My dad’s been a real huge mentor.  He’s really been kind of like somebody I can vent to, or ask questions, and he always gives me some good advice.  And definitely also my manager Johnny Morris has been a huge mentor in this career, kind of telling me what’s coming up next, and what I can do.  And actually you know if you think about it, there’s so many people that have been mentors to me in this career. [AristoMedia Group President] Jeff Walker and [Senior Publicist] Christy [Walker-Watkins] and the whole AristoMedia basically have been huge mentors helping me out with these media interviews and whatnot, and Jack Pride has been a huge mentor.  I mean there’s really a lot of people actually you could consider mentors in this career!

Ben:  Which artists would you most like to collaborate with?

DJ:  Well, it really kind of depends, you know, male or female.  Female, it would definitely have to be probably Taylor Swift, and not just ’cause she’s a cutie.  But you know, me and Taylor we’re around the same age, and I feel like we could really connect better with a song and whatnot.  But as for male vocalists, definitely with my influences, Garth Brooks or Brad Paisley.  Those are some huge dreams of mine.

Ben:  Since you’re known for being an energetic live performer, I want to ask what would you say makes for a good live show?

DJ:  Actually, the best energetic live show is putting your crowd into it.  Your crowd really responds a lot better when you have them involved, and you interact with them.  It’s one thing that Garth Brooks and Brad Paisley are really big on is interaction with your crowd.  Part of my live shows is me going out into the crowd and running through ‘em, and that’s a huge influence on a crowd, you know, not being afraid of your crowd, shaking their hands, putting in your arm around them, and talking to them, even in the middle of a song if you have to, so that’s a huge thing for the crowd for a live concert.

Ben:  Yeah, that’s really cool, and I understand you had a hand in writing some of the songs on your album?

DJ:  Yeah, that’s right.  I’m a co-writer on quite a few songs on the album.  I always try to write every chance I get when I come down to Nashville with my writers, Don Goodman and Brad Wolf and Charlie Black – some great writers.  And there’s actually a song on my album called “The Little Things.”  I’m actually pretty proud to say that I wrote the majority of that song, and it’s really overwhelming for me, because we’ve been getting nothing but great feedback from that song, so I’m pretty proud of that one.

Ben:  Would you be able to describe the creative process you go through in writing songs, or how the ideas come to you?

DJ:  It really is a process.  You first get influenced by an idea, and that idea could be anything – everyday life, hearing a phrase in a conversation – and then you really just kind of expand that idea into a whole song, and you put lyrics to it.  You can rhyme them or not rhyme them, and then you gotta come up with that right melody.  Songs can have different melodies put to them, but I mean it’s important to find that right melody for that song, the right feeling for it, and coming up with a way for the crowd to feel that same way – to relate to it.  And then when you get into the recording studio, it’s amazing to watch that song build up into something so much better.  You start with just a hard copy of just playing guitar on a melody, and singing raw lyrics, and in a few hours you watch it build with drums and bass and guitar and then you throw in special things like fiddle and banjo and backup vocals, and then you just watch it build and build and build.  You just can’t stop smiling in the studio, ’cause it just gets better and better.

Ben:  Were any of your songs inspired by real-life experiences that you’ve had?

DJ:  Yeah, actually quite a few of them that we’ve co-writed.  I’ve came up with some ideas that are personal experiences in my life, especially “The Little Things.”  My experiences as a high school kid with girlfriends and whatnot, you know a lot of experiences came into that song, and influenced it.

Ben:  What are your favorite songs that you’ve written or recorded?

DJ:  My favorite songs that we’ve written would probably have to be… “The Little Things” is probably my favorite.  It could be because it’s the one that I mostly wrote myself, and that I feel so proud about.  But I really have to thank the musicians for putting all that positive energy into it, they really just turned it into something totally different than I even expected it to be, and it’s so much more, so it would probably have to be “The Little Things.”

Ben:  Do you have more of a connection with the songs that you’ve helped to write?

DJ:  Yeah, you do.  You’ve got that more personal feeling with it, and you know exactly what that song’s talking about, and you know exactly where it’s coming from, and that’s important with music.  It’s important to get in and try to write your own stuff, or be a co-writer at least, and that really just kind of gives you that more personal feel of knowing exactly what it’s about and where it comes from.

Ben:  Have there been any other country songs that you wish you had a part in writing?

DJ:  Oh yeah, there’s been quite a few of them actually.  Some songs that we’re gonna be releasing I wish I had had a hand in writing, like “Snowman in Birmingham.”  We’re in the process of releasing that now actually.  It just got released on iTunes.  It’s a great story song for the season.  It’s not directed exactly towards Christmas, but it’s definitely a whole season song.  It’s just really a song that a lot of people can relate to.  It deals with the loss of a father, even for some people a mother, but there’s a positive ending with it, you know – believing in something or dreaming of something, and it coming true.  So I definitely wish I had had a hand in writing that, but there’s also so many other songs.  Dickie Lee wrote “She Thinks I Still Care,” and that was a huge hit, so that was a great song to be in on, so there’s quite a few of ‘em.

Ben:  Would you like to tell a little bit about the experiences you’ve had in touring?

DJ:  We’ve had some pretty great experiences actually with radio tours.  You know, meeting so many of these new people is a huge experience for me, me being the backwoods kid that I was.  It was pretty exciting just to leave my county, you know, let alone going all over the country!  So meeting all these different people and their different styles, and seeing all these radio stations, and how they talk and whatnot.  Their normal conversation is totally different than my normal conversation, so it’s been a great experience kind of adapting to those types of surroundings. 

Ben:  Would you like to tell a little about your single, “A Little Naughty Is Nice”?

DJ:  Yeah, actually it was written by Don Goodman and Charlie Black and Bobby Resnick.  It’s really a fun song.  It’s an upbeat up-tempo kind of rockin’ flavor type song.  It’s really kind of about boys and girls just kind of lettin’ their hair down and relaxing and having a good time, especially in this world today everything is so tight, and we’re just up and goin’ and up and goin’, and just trying to get stuff done, but you know it’s still important to lean back and relax and have a good time now and then on Saturday night.

Ben:  So do you have any other projects you’re working on right now?

DJ:  Well, we’re finishing up the album right now.  We’re having to do the album in sessions because I’m still living in Indiana, and we’re real busy with these radio tours and whatnot, so we’re having to do the album in sessions.  We’ve got one more session to do for the album, and we’re gonna record about two, three, maybe four more songs.  We’re jugglin’ songs right now.  It’s always great to have too many songs for an album, so we’re kind of picking and choosing what songs we want to put on this last session, so that’s our biggest project right now.  We’re planning on releasing that by the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

Ben:  Is it hard to narrow it down?

DJ:  It is, actually!  It’s real tough to narrow it down, and you have to always remember you’ve got another album coming out after this one, so I mean you can always hold it off and save it for the next one.

Ben:  Would you like to tell a little bit about the kind of music you have on your album?  Is there a particular direction it’s taken?

DJ:  Actually, it’s all kind of a mix, and I think that’s important because your audience isn’t normally directed toward one direction, and we’ve got all kinds.  We’ve got up-tempo, we’ve got low-tempo, and all different types of styles.  We’ve got some that are kind of a rockin’ flavor type song, and we’ve got some that are more of a mellow kind of traditional type style that, you know, George Strait might sing.  So we haven’t really gone into one single direction.  It’s all kind of a mix.

Ben:  Do you have any goals you’re working towards in your career?

DJ:  Entertainer of the Year.

Ben:  That’s a good one!

DJ:  I’m just gonna go for it!  It’s always been a big dream of mine.  It always came across as the big honcho award for me, so I definitely wanna get up there and join Kenny Chesney and Garth Brooks in there, so it’s a big goal of mine.


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Posted by on October 12, 2010 in Interviews


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