When you watch the video for “Badlands,” the first single from Cristina Vane’s forthcoming debut LP Nowhere Sounds Lovely, the first thing that catches your eye is the bottleneck on her finger.
Like a young Bonnie Raitt, Vane sings from both her voice and her supple, bluesy guitar playing almost simultaneously–her sound as earthen as the South Dakota landscape with which she sings about on “Badlands.”
“This song was an exercise in trying to capture the energy of a place,” Vane tells American Songwriter about the song. “Until this record, I seldom wrote about anything besides human emotion and relationships. My first cross-country tour lasted five months, and opened up my experiences to visions and sensations I had never seen or felt. Contemplating a place like the Badlands of South Dakota for the first time inspired me to write a song to do it justice.
“Out of the flat, wind-strewn setting of the prairie, the Badlands emanate and draw your attention to them immediately, much like the swallows that seemed drawn to my car as I drove through long stretches of the Dakotas (hence, ‘dead birds’),” she continued. “You are constantly seen, for there is nowhere to hide on the plains. The toughness of the weather and soil year around, paired with the menacing, jutting, mineral rocks are what give the Badlands their name, and they are what birthed this song.”
Yet Nowhere Sounds Lovely was recorded in Tennessee, where Vane and an A Team of studio pros–including bassist Dow Tomlin, Tommy Hannum on pedal steel and fiddle man Nate Leath among others–convened inside The Embassy in Leipers Fork with acclaimed producer Cactus Moser to create an album that chronicles her first cross-country trip in the United States.
“I had hit a wall in Los Angeles trying to pursue music and decided it might be worth seeing if other people around the country respond to it,” she tells American Songwriter. “Having been born and raised in Europe, it was a way for me to get closer to understanding my American side as well as to reconnect with my musical purpose- to connect with and inspire people through performance. I recorded Nowhere Sounds Lovely pretty soon after ending the tour and deciding to move to Nashville, and I think it reflects elements I gleaned from my travels and discovering country and bluegrass music so late in my life.”
Vane also attributes the dexterity of her musical counterparts in the studio as a key element in the slipstream between modern blues and classic country for which she was aiming.
“Nate Leath layed down some really impressive fiddle, and I would never have thought to include that on my previous records,” she proclaims. “Similarly, Tommy Hannum plays pedal steel and dobro on the record- two sounds that definitely were not in my repertoire until I traveled through and eventually moved to the south. ‘Dreaming of Utah’ and ‘Satisfied Souls’ are both waltzes which nod to the classic country I was starting to listen to that summer (Hank Williams and The Carter Family). I chose to work with Cactus Moser because I felt he married these traditional folk stylings and influences with contemporary rock on the last record he produced for Wynonna, and I wanted the same thing for mine.”
Born in Italy to a Sicilian-American father and a Guatemalan mother, Cristina Vane has always had a tenuous relationship with geography. She grew up between England, France and Italy, and was fluent in four languages by the time she moved to her fathers’ native United States for university at the age of 18. And when you listen to “Badlands” and watch its accompanying video–which American Songwriter is honored to premiere today–Cristina Vane extols a generosity in sharing her first experiences traveling across this great country through such a vivid lens.
“The prairie left such an impression on me; it was, in my opinion, no less stunning than the red rocks of Utah and Colorado, or the mountains in Wyoming,” she tells American Songwriter. “The flatness of the plain, the never-ceasing wind, the cave swallows, buffalo, prairie dogs, and the connectedness to both indigenous and immigrant history, they all struck me deeply. I remember being so excited to see my first tumbleweed, which Beau and his family had a good laugh at. I have been back twice since and intend to continue going back.”
Nowhere Sounds Lovely comes out on April 2nd.