The Last Word
As the hazy fug dissipates, and the mountain of empty bottles and cans are swept from the myriad venues of Next Big Nashville 2009, an indelible mark has been left on Music City.
Championing a diverse range of artists – from punk powered performances on the Vans Warped Tour to the dulcet tones of Jessica Lee Mayfield – criss-crossing the city was a relatively pain-free experience. Of course, a good spit will take you from Exit/In to The End but the dinky shuttle buses were a great way to get to venues while meeting like-minded individuals along the way.
Those who made a plan of action for each day undoubtedly made the most of the 140 acts on display, and I couldn’t help feeling Next Big Nashville slightly missed out on creating that festival atmosphere. However, the event truly was all about the music and perhaps it’s unfair to expect an idyllic urban field, with comedy, art and bizarre performances in every corner.
The music conference provided invaluable information for artists in an increasingly competitive and fast paced marketplace, with panelists representing every facet of the industry. Criminally under attended, the music conference’s importance to Next Big Nashville will undoubtedly flourish along with new technologies and every musician’s need to stay apace with promotion of their craft.
Whether Next Big Nashville has similar ambitions to South by Southwest – 1,400 performers in four days – remains to be seen, but in four short years this showcase for emerging talent has become a firmly established, respected and beautifully run event. Here’s to next year and four more days of fervent fans and musical mayhem.
Lucero at Cannery Ballroom
Before a packed crowd at the Cannery this past Friday, Memphis’ Lucero paid tribute to its hometown in dramatic fashion before a backdrop of the Tennessee flag. Supporting their major label debut, 1372 Overton Park, the band flexed their Memphis-soul muscle a bit by adding horns to their established Southern rock-infused brand of punk.
While the addition of the saxophone to any rock band might make even the most open-minded fan shudder, think more along the lines of Springsteen & the E Street Band than the meandering solos of Dave Matthews Band. Owing much of their sound to a city that helped birth R&B, modern blues, and rock and roll, it is not surprising that Lucero would eventually incorporate soul elements into their music. The band was in good spirits as they plugged through an up-tempo set with equal measures of new and older material. Despite the Cannery’s ability to muffle even the strongest vocals, Ben Nichol’s Southern growl generally came through loud and clear.
Songs like “Cant’ Feel a Thing,” “Last Night in Town,” and “Sweet Little Thing” nearly turned into barroom sing-a-longs with the level of audience support. There were moments of respite amidst the intensity, however, with signature ballads: “Nobody’s Darling,” “The War,” and fresh additions: “Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble?” Nichols even performed the title track off of his recent Cormac McCarthy-influenced solo album, The Last Pale Light in the West, which featured brilliant pedal steel flourishes.
As the headlining act of the weekend, Lucero certainly did not disappoint, and were a welcomed addition to this year’s Next Big Nashville.
Jessica Lee Mayfield at the Exit/In
Busy making her mark on the music scene at the tender age of 20, Jessica Lee Mayfield’s appearance at Exit/In drew a decent crowd on what was a decidedly quiet night out in Music City. As transfixing as Miss Mayfield may be, I have to admit my attention was drawn elsewhere on stage…
“Wow. Nick Cave on guitar!” I was of course wrong but a few more pale ales and you’d have had a job stopping me shouting for “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow” from the amiable Antipodean’s young clone. The man in question was in fact Richie Kirkpatrick, from Ghostfinger fame, and his sojourns into the audience brought a raucous element to Mayfield’s dreamy vocals and polished arrangements.
Reminiscent of Cat Power – another seemingly troubled soul with ballads of great depth and resonance – Jessica Lee Mayfield is no delicate flower who merely makes pretty songs, and upcoming tour dates in support of The Avett Brothers should provide the perfect platform for her to reach the wider audience she deserves.
David Vandervelde at the Exit/In
Taking to the stage with an undeniable presence, David Vandervelde and band seemed ready to tornado the speakers but what transpired was more of a summer zephyr with the negligible threat of a storm.
An interesting band to look at – think the mythical Clearwater from the movie Almost Famous, complete with a keys player who would make a good Franciscan monk as a day job – their classic rock bravado seems plucked from selected decades of the past, as if Bill and Ted had been on another Bogus Journey.
With a powerful voice evoking memories of Mark Bolan from T-Rex, Vandervelde is a commanding front man, even when staying largely hidden under a natty hat. I came away from their performance feeling sure Vandervelde had more to offer, and if aided by a bigger crowd – in what was an inexplicably deserted Exit/In – the multi-faceted front man and his band might have had the impetus to put on a great show.
Here’s hoping he makes the most of his star talent and is not left with a mere glimpse of greatness, akin to that of David’s namesake: Jean Vandervelde, a forgotten French golfer who had his hands on the biggest prize in the sport, only to see it slip through his fingers by getting distracted by the future, before taking care of the present. David Vandervelde has the potential to produce classic rock but that’s for history to decide.
As it was, I shuffled outside before the end of the set to have a snoop on the Gibson tour bus. In what was an overriding theme for the evening, it looked interesting from the outside but once inside, there was the faint whiff of what might have been.
Ten Out Of Tenn at Cannery Ballroom
The opening salvos of Next Big Nashville came Wednesday night at Cannery Ballroom, as a huge crowd gathered for local favorites Ten Out Of Tenn. The basic concept of their show is that ten performers from Tennessee – Ten Out of Tenn… Get it? And you thought they were being egomaniacs – tour and record music, with each member getting their moment to bask in the spotlight.
Being uninitiated to the experience amongst an adoring throng, I found the whole spectacle rather beguiling, as the constant backslapping and mutual appreciation of Ten Out Of Tenn dripped with enough saccharine to put a swarm of robotic bees out of business. Before long, acts only became distinguishable by their attire. “Orange Hat”, “Trilby Hat”, “Blue Dress”, “Smart Blazer”, and “Words Painted on Jacket” all received glowing introductions, enjoyed varying amounts of adulation, and then did their party piece. It was all a bit Coldplay, a bit Keane, a tiny bit Arcade Fire and rather monotonous.
Ten Out of Tenn are unquestionably gifted individuals, and pooling local talent to put on a showcase is a great idea but I’ll put it to you like this: Eat ten scoops of vanilla ice cream and you might feel sick.
The Kingston Springs and The JeanMarie at The End
The Kingston Springs brought a mix of classic rock hooks and youthful exuberance to the stage at The End for their Next Big Nashville performance. These local lads were the first band I caught of the evening and their enthusiasm set the mood for a fine night of music in Music City. Made up of four students from Harpeth High School, the band takes its cues from the staples of classic rock radio (the Beatles, Hendrix, etc.).
Their songs came off like the earnest high school kids they are – lots of energy, but a bit hesitant. They lean on a few too many clichés, but that’s understandable for a band still developing its own voice and style. To their credit, the band did inspire a few to dance – always a good thing.
The Kingston Springs aim for a certain type of classic rock polish that may be possible to reach given some hard work. They aren’t quite there yet, but if the band keeps showing the type of conviction they had on stage at The End, they’ll get there one day.
Next up was the JeanMarie, a five-piece band from Miami, Florida. They faced tough sledding, as the crowd for the Kingston Springs dissipated after the band’s show leaving the room sparsely populated. However, the meager crowd didn’t seem to dent the JeanMarie’s resolve, and they soldiered on.
The band’s funk-meets-garage rock had some nice moments, but struggled to draw on the underwhelming energy of the crowd. This band clearly depends on having people to dance. Sometimes it’s tough being the band from out of town. They certainly gave it their all given the circumstances.
A female percussionist added a welcome dimension to their sound in spots, but seemed unnecessary in others. She did sport some excellent red spandex pants though – a nod that they don’t take themselves too seriously. The band closed their set with a cover of “Making Flippy Floppy” by Talking Heads – a fine choice if I do say so myself. –Craig Carson
The Black Angels at The Exit/In
An amped-up crowd greeted the Black Angels when they hit the stage at The Exit/In for their Next Big Nashville set. The Austin, Texas group has garnered increased attention over the last few years – a fact made apparent by the strong turnout to see them.
Taking their name from a song by the Velvet Underground, the Black Angels wear their influences on their sleeves with a slow-burn drone of their songs. However, the Velvet Underground had a variety of styles that set them apart – they could drone and stretch out or they could write concise pop arrangements. The Black Angels choose to focus on the drone segment of the band’s discography while tossing in influences from the 13th Floor Elevators and contemporaries the Ravonettes.
Going on stage a little later than originally planned, the crowd had become slightly antsy while the band went through their sound check. Once the music started however, the crowd locked into the drone and held on tight.
Drummer Stephanie Bailey pounded out minimal, tom-heavy beats augmented by the steadiness of the bass and guitars. The vocals from Alex Mass were low in mix and muddy – even more than in person than on record. The band came off as a bit aloof and distant, but I suppose that’s their shtick.
Overall, the music of the Black Angels is a bit featureless and monolithic to make much of an impact on these ears. If they were committed to drone or committed to rock riffage I’d like it more – they seem to straddle the line between both in a way that leaves me a bit flat. Many of the people in the audience seemed genuinely engaged with the music, and perhaps I’m missing the point.
I just couldn’t help but think of those bands that influenced the Black Angels – VU, the Stooges, and Joy Division – bands I like much more. It may be unfair to compare this band to their heroes, but with increased attention also brings increased pressure to do something original and great. For me, the Black Angels haven’t done that yet. –Craig Carson
So here is what you need to know about Anna Worstell, lead singer for The Worsties: she is not Gwen Stefani or Hayley Williams from Paramore or Courtney Love. She is the frontwoman with the badass swagger, the chick with the sky-high heels and holy crap, can she sing.
The Worsties are Nashville’s answer to the ska/punk-pop revival and at the band’s performance for Next Big Nashville Thursday night at 12th and Porter, Worstell– along with guitarist Jesse Worstell, bassist Jairo Ruiz and drummer Nathan Shelton– had the mostly-female crowd eating out the palm of Anna’s perfectly manicured hand.
Here is why The Worsties rule: they are not an indie rock band, though all signs might point to the contrary. It’s evident the band members have their individual musical interests; Anna obviously has some ska in her and Ruiz some heavy metal. The band itself describes their music as “hot, party drenched rock” influenced by indie gods The Pixies and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and quite honestly, I can’t find a better way to describe it.
Any way you slice it, The Worsties are light, poppy, unadultered fun. “I’ll tell you a secret if you promise not tell,” Anna coquettishly cooed before letting her vocal chords pummel our ear drums on “Don’t Mind Me.” I was sure she was either going to make out with someone or kick their ass.
“That was a good song,” the man to my left said stoically as the track ended. I think he might have been in awe — as the majority of the men present were — though it has to be said it could have had something to do with the sequined hot pants worn by the leggy lead singer.
Find out the next time The Worsties hit the stage ’round town. Come ready to dance and shout along with one of this region’s most engaging, high energy acts on the stage. “L-E-T-S-G-O! Let’s go! Let’s go!” might be stuck in your head for days after. You’ve been warned.
— Samantha Spector
Phosphorescent at The End
There was a packed crowd ready to welcome Phosphorescent’s long overdue entrance onto a Nashville stage on Wednesday night. Matthew Houck and his band — an ever-changing mish-mash of the scruffy singer-songwriter’s backing musicians — looked almost bewildered, as if they couldn’t believe the warm reception their appearance garnered from the overflowing crowd at The End.
Before hitting the stage, Houck was overheard telling a fan that if he made them cry “You owe me a shot of whiskey.” The bet was full of confidence — Houck’s gorgeous lyrics and aching, beer-soaked alto could bring even the burliest cowboy to the brink of tears.
“Tell me where you’ve been and I will tell you where I’ve been/ It will be all OK” sang Houck as he and the band gently eased the crowd in with “A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise.” But the band, the crowd, and even the surly bartenders stuck behind the taps, were there to have fun. While Houck stalked the stage (in an inside-out-and-backwards t-shirt bearing his band’s name, no less), bantering lightly with the audience, evoking yet another comparison to Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the rest of his band ensured the rollicking, indie-rock, country-tinged tunes brought the crowd to it’s feet.
The band seemed to enjoy the performance, and a feeling of spontaneity never left the set. Ant though he wasn’t nonchalant with his voice, nor his actions, it sometimes felt like Houck got on that stage and just happened to feel like singing. On “I Am A Full Grown Man (i Will Lay In The Grass All Day), he sang: “I can sing through my fingers/ Though the worth of a singer/ Is nothing I’m told.” An excellent analogy for Phosphorescent’s stage presence if I ever heard one; Houck may not always be on key, guitarist Jesse Anderson Ainslie might not be completely on tempo, but boy, did they mean it. They mean it in the rollicking, joyful interludes, in the whispered conversations with the crowd, and with the final song, a rushed “Too Sick To Pray,” that led to their exit from the stage.
What is “it?” Who knows; I’d suggest going to see Phosphorescent live to find out. Oh and by the way: Matthew Houck, there’s a shot of Jameson waiting with your name on it the next time you head back to Nashville.
— Samantha Spector
Moderator John Turner (Thirty Tigers/Oh Wow Dang) kicked off the discussion by comparing indie music to the Wild West – a place where people made up the rules as they went, hard work was the norm, and free beer was always welcome. The members of the panel today whole-heartedly advocated all three strategies for indie musicians today: be as creative as possible in connecting with your audience, work hard, and give people free beer whenever possible. Just like the Old West…without the cholera.
Ben Swank (Third Man Records), Larry Little (Future Sounds), Gary Paczosa (Sugar Hill/Vanguard), Sean O’Connell (Music Allies), and William Hein (Bigger Picture) joined Turner on this afternoon’s panel.
In addition to the advice above, the panel found some other common ground. They reached a consensus on the importance of a strong work ethic for an artist looking to prosper in an indie landscape that seems to shift with every step. Swank and Little expressed a preference for working with artists that make music even if nobody’s listening. Talent is of course necessary, but an artist willing to work hard at his or her craft will prosper much faster than a talented, but unmotivated person.
Paczosa and Hein stressed the willingness of the artist to establish a solid touring base -100 dates a year at least, according to Paczosa. Musicians not willing to get in that stinky, broken-down van need not apply.
That van might as well be a covered wagon. This is the Old West: Put your nose to the grindstone, hit the road, and make your own rules. –Craig Carson
Manage Your Fans
What do you address first: The question that comes in by text, or the person with their hand up in the audience?
As it turns out, this small issue in the “Manage Your Fans” conference aptly surmised a rapidly changing music industry.
Norm Parenteau (Slipshod Management) also summed up the changes with a succinct anecdote: “When Old Crow Medicine Show released in 2004, EMI had eight people on staff for the album with print ads running everywhere. Five years later and there was not one single print ad. Everything was digital. The manager now has to take on multiple roles and within that, you have to realize your strengths and weaknesses.”
Kevin Kookogey (Teleprompt) took a new approach with “Mobile listening parties,” which were organized to spread the word of Mute Math. Kookogey’s past experience working on evangelical campaigns for Billy Graham – visiting venue cities months ahead of performance – was a catalyst for delivering a “transaction at a personal level,” with a $50 VIP package offering fans tickets, B-sides, exclusive content and a unique listening experience.
“It was about creating a buzz….introduce the record and then the fans suddenly became platoons, spreading the word,” he said.
Holland Nix (Slipshod Mgmt) was pragmatic about new technologies thrust at artists. “Twitter and Myspace works for some new bands, but a band like The Black Keys were distant from that,” he said. “Human connection after the show can have more of an impact but both ways can be successful.”
Nick Stern (7-10 Music) made a sage point about the music industry’s digital desires: “I wouldn’t have wanted to read Led Zeppelin’s Twitter. There’s something to me just awful about that. There should be a mystique about these artists. I want people to come to shows not knowing what’s going to happen.”
General consensus came with an old-fashioned message: “Go out and play shows. Money shouldn’t be a roadblock to success.” So despite society’s lust for a bigger glimpse in artist’s lives through ‘Tweet ups,’ blogs and vlogs, it’s all about the music. Now, isn’t that a relief. —Ray Kane
Direct to Consumer: Buy Direct?
Glenn Peoples from Billboard moderated this fascinating discussion on the state of buying and selling music in the ever-changing Digital Age. The panelists were Brian Peterson of Bandbox, Kami Knake of TopSpin, Michael King of Berklee College, and Patrick Faucher of Nimbit.
The panelists offered practical advice with an overall emphasis on, as Knake puts it, “owning the fan relationship.” This concept includes several facets – selling through multiple retail and social networking platforms, collecting relevant fan data, and allowing customers to buy music with a minimum of clicks. King stated that, “every time your fan has to click somewhere else you lose 70% of your customers.” It seems that if musicians are to be competitive in the digital marketplace they must cater to a culture where people are accustomed to doing things themselves. Peterson pointed to self-checkout at the grocery store as an example of this tendency, an analogy that makes a lot of sense to me.
Peterson offered the most succinct breakdown of an effective marketing strategy with the use of a tried-and-true teaching tool: the acronym. His was LIVE, where “L” stands for a limited time or quantity. It’s important to instill a sense of urgency in the potential customer. “I” stands for interaction and involvement. An artist must care about the product for the fan to care about it. “V” represents value. Offer several different levels of bundled packages for the fan to choose from – Faucher suggested something free, something premium, and a couple of things in between. Finally, “E” stands for exclusives. Drive customers to buy through special offers unavailable elsewhere.
Of course, no current industry panel would be complete without a discussion on the transformative power of Twitter and Facebook. The basic equation seems to be “Twitter + Facebook = Rad.” Learn it. Love it. Live it. –Craig Carson
Writer Robert Oermann expounds on history of Music City
Opening up this year’s Next Big Nashville conference, Nashville native and acclaimed author Robert Oermann delivered a crash course on the city’s long and storied relationship with the music industry.
What began as humble radio programs showcasing local “hillbilly” music eventually gave way to the birth of country music with the arrivals of stars such as Roy Acuff and Hank Williams. When the Grand Ole Opry opened at the historic Ryman Auditorium in the 1940s, country music had its first big stage, which can still be heard nationally every Saturday night.
With the growing success of country music, Oermann explained, record company executives began to see the city as the logical site for recording and music publishing as well. Eventually, a community of musicians and industry folk settled in an area of town dubbed Music Row, which continues to serve as the hub for Nashville’s music community today.
Oermann believes that it remains one of the most vibrant musical communities in the world. While Nashville is most notably acknowledged as the mecca of country music, Oermann said the city has a lengthy history with R&B, gospel, and rock & roll as well.
Ultimately, Oermann said the city has undergone many changes through the years, but continues to live up to its nickname: Music City, USA. –Grant Lawrence
Our picks for NBN: Lucero, Phosphorescent and more!
Next Big Nashville is here and with over 140 bands to choose from – not to mention the creative conference, film events and after show parties – it’s going to be a hectic four days. But never fear, here at American Songwriter, we’ve selected a few gems sure to make your week sparkles.
Phosphorescent is the brainchild of one-man indie folk/alt country band and Athens, Georgia native Matthew Houck. A must-see show for fans of Iron and Wine, Will Oldham, and Neil Young, Phosphorescent currently tour as a five-piece band and the intimate atmosphere at The End provides a perfect setting for their sound (Wednesday, October 7, 10:30).
Indie-pop songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist David Vandervelde is famed for making sun-drenched folk-rock, as well as his studio collaborations with Wilco‘s Jay Bennett. His 2008 release Waiting for the Sunrise was met with critical acclaim and evoked a sound “reminiscent of the classic, sentimental pop of the 70’s.” Catch him on Thursday, October 8, 11 p.m. at Exit/Inn.
What better way to spend a Friday night than with Lucero: “A tried ‘n’ true American rock ‘n’ roll band who live to rock and rock to live.” This Southern rock foursome have spent a lifetime on the road, acquiring a legion of diehard fans along the way, while writing plenty of songs about drinking, girls, guitars, love and life. Be they alt-country or punk country, they’re sure to put on a great show at Cannery Ballroom, Friday, October 9 at 10.30 p.m.
Our Hot Panel Pick: Martha Rivers Ingram Center is a must for any artist looking for an insight into the future of the music industry. A panel of experts from Third Man Records, Future Sounds, Thirty Tigers and Sugar Hill/Vanguard will be getting their teeth into “Indie Evolution – independent labels evolving identity and roles in the digital age,” revealing how the industry and new technology has changed them. They’ll also examine the future role of record labels, as physical product becomes less a driving force of the industry. Thursday, Oct. 8, 1:45 p.m. –Ray Kane
Conditions to play as part of the Vans Warped Tour
The Vans Warped tour roars into Nashville on October 10, celebrating its 15th anniversary in true punk style with a stellar line up of emerging and established bands, skaters and street sports performers. Alex Howard, guitarist and vocalist from the band Conditions, took time out to answer a few questions.–Ray Kane
How do you think your music sits against the country tradition of Music City?
I think we’re a pretty big 180 from “country” music, because we’re definitely a huge rock influenced band. However, rock and roll and country do have some similarities, so hopefully country fans can find something they like about our brand of rock.
Are you fans of the other bands (Therefore I Am/ VersaEmerge) on the tour?
Definitely. There have been very few instances that we didn’t like the bands we were out with. We always make an effort to jam their CD in our van to become more familiar with their songs, that way we enjoy their set every night.
How many days in a van before you can’t stand the sight/sound/smell of each other?
Ha ha. Well, some of us live together off the road too so we have to get very used to being in each other’s faces 24/7. We normally make a good effort of staying clean so the smell is never a problem. We definitely have our moments of wanting to get away from each other, but I think we do a pretty good job of staying positive and having a good time since we’re all best friends.
Blacklist Royals, Pull Start Rockets, Lenny, Civil Twilight, Born Empty, Conditions, Therefore I Am and VersaEmerge will be performing from 5pm, October 10 on the Next Warped Nashville stage, as part of Next Big Nashville.
Guy Clark to discuss life and career at Country Music Hall of Fame
Guy Clark, one of Nashville’s most influential and respected singer-songwriters, will talk about his life and career at the Country Music Hall of Fame on October 9. Clark has just released the album Somedays the Song Writes You.
The West Texas native came to Nashville in 1971 and soon was part of a “Paris in the ’20s” songwriting community that included Mickey Newbury, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, and Steve Earle.
Click here to read American Songwriter’s recent profile of Clark.
The event, which will be held at the museum’s Ford Theater at 1:30 p.m., is presented in partnership with Next BIG Nashville. The session is included with museum admission, and is free to museum members, NBN badge holders, and conference attendees with wristbands.
Raised in Memphis on a steady diet of Americana greatness, Drew Holcomb and his band The Neighbors have been darting around the US for six years. Equal parts Springsteen, Petty and Costello (his words, not ours), Holcomb has earned a reputation for stellar live performances.
Holcomb and his band will hit Music City on October 7 as part of Next Big Nashville. American Songwriter spoke to Holcomb while he was on a brief pit stop somewhere between Shreveport, Louisiana and Houston. (Be sure to check out the singer’s profile on American SongSpace.)–Samantha Spector
Your touring schedule is intense. What’s it like to be a real-life road dog?
We manage to make it work. I’m on the road 150 to 200 days a year. We’re independent [of a major music label] by choice which doubles the need for that many shows. We’ll be gone eight days and then come home for three, or gone a few weeks and home for two.
How does your wife, Ellie, feel about that?
She used to be an eighth-grade teacher and only could join us on the weekends but now she is one of our best songwriting partners and is a full-time member of the band. We sometimes tour together as a duo when the band can’t make it out.
You said you remain independent by choice. Why is that?
Surprisingly, it’s really never a game I’ve played. Whenever we’ve done recording I’ve never sent them to labels. We’ve definitely had the interest but you had to make a decision and people offer the advice but they want us to try different things that weren’t necessary where we wanted to go. We are able to make a living doing it the way we want to do it. I’m not against labels and if the right one came along and it made sense, we’d explore it. But so far it just hasn’t been the right route for us.
Your music is highly influenced by the best of Americana pop. Who are some of your favorite artists?
My favorite musicians are Springsteen, Tom Petty –all the classic American male songwriters. Johnny Cash. You know, my generation stuff. My tastes vary. I grew up on a variety of music: Wilco, Radiohead –stuff that’s not necessarily what we sound like but, being in the digital age, we’re pretty much exposed to everything anyway.
But I am totally a Springsteen nerd. We’ll be at the show here in November. I guess if I could meet someone it’d be him –but just for a beer and a burger, you know?
Are you excited to be a part of Next Big Nashville?
The last two years we’ve been on tour during the conference and festival. I’m really excited to play it this year. We’ve heard nothing but good things from the people that have gone in the past.
Nashville has been so good to me. I’ve lived over in East Nashville for three and a half years now and we try to play in town three to five times a year. We have this great community and friends that support us and, besides all that, I really like the sound guys and venues here. I think the audiences are amazing; really there is so much talent here that you can literally always work with the best. I have so much love for Nashville. If you are good to Nashville, Nashville will return the love. That’s how I feel about it anyway.
Like many musicians, Jemina Pearl has gravitated to New York City to pursue her career. Pearl, however, is a hometown girl at heart. A native of Nashville, Pearl and her band are looking forward to blasting through a punk-heavy set for friends, family and fans. The band is set to rock the Exit/In on October 10 as part of the Next Big Nashville showcase. American Songwriter was able to chat with the busy chanteuse as she and her band bought new gear for their upcoming US tour. —Samantha Spector
You grew up in Nashville and seem to still maintain close ties down here. What made you leave?
I have always wanted to live in New York and when my other band broke up last year, there was just no reason to stay. We all live in Green Point, Brooklyn now. I love it there.
Jemina Pearl, the band, has garnered a following with some fairly intense touring. Tell me about your live show –what’s happening when you are on stage?
I think a live show should be entertaining. You know, what’s the point of playing a live show if you are not going to play to the audience? I think it’s like these two separate groups coming together; the audience is just as important [as the band]. It’s kind of this mutual thing, like let’s have a good time together, you know? When I’m on stage I’m concentrating on what I’m doing and trying to put on a really good show and keep myself in the moment.
Have you ever been to Next Big Nashville before?
I have. We have never played it but I used to go and support the bands I knew while I still lived in Nashville. I’m really excited about this tour and about playing everywhere. Playing for family and friends, and just the familiar, is always a really awesome thing.
You wouldn’t know it from speaking with him but Matthew Houck is one of the most progressive singer/songwriters making music today. He is quiet, soft spoken –the term “gentle” immediately comes to mind.
But then he gets on stage, where he is known as Phosphorescent. His live performances feature gut-wrenching wails, punctuated shouts and moments of beautiful ambience. His albums have set both critics and fans in a frenzy, and he has recently found a friend in Willie Nelson, whom he pays tribute to on his most recent release, To Willie.
Currently, Houck and his band are recording new material in his Brooklyn studio. He took a break to chat with American Songwriter as he prepares to hit the road. Phosphorescent will perform as part of Next Big Nashville on October 7 at The End.—Samantha Spector
Obviously Willie Nelson has influenced the latest album. How did that project come about?
It was years ago. I thought that I wanted to record some of those songs but it wasn’t until about a year ago that I ran across To Lefty From Willie, Willie’s tribute album to Lefty Frizzell. I was recording ten of his songs and it clicked that that was a good form to record these songs. When it was established it would be a full-length album it immediately clicked. I had always wanted to record his songs but never made sense as to how. It really was like a light bulb going off [when the project got started].
You are performing on the same bill as Willie for Farm Aid (in St. Louis on October 4). Have you and he ever met?
He got in touch because of To Willie, which was just really flattering. He also invited us to come do Farm Aid, which is exciting given who is on that bill.
Can you tell us anything about the project you are working on right now?
If all goes well I might finish it before we leave [for the tour in two days]. This new record is real exciting. We’ve been doing it for a little bit now. I really don’t know what to say about it…it’s a big sounding record. I’m really excited about it. It has this really great sound and I’m producing and engineering it as well. We’re in the same studio we made To Willie in, which is really sort of this rehearsal space warehouse thing that we built. We’ve just been taking our time and gotten comfortable with the environment and it has ended up with some great music.
When does it come out?
Probably early next year. Unfortunately, it takes a few months in between the completion of an album and its release. I hope it’s sooner than later. I don’t have a lot of patience for anything once it is finished.
We’re very excited about your set for Next Big Nashville. Is this tour any different, now that you have a six piece band backing you?
This band I have right now is really really good. Its why we’ve kept it pretty interesting every night for ourselves. I can play any old song from the back catalog even if they haven’t played on it before. We like to change it up every night. This is the first tour that we are going to actually write out a set list. We usually wing it but everybody has been getting excited about certain songs so we’re going to try something new.
Anything you’d like to add before we let you get back to work?
I’m pretty stoked about getting to play in Nashville. We’ve played Murfreesboro but haven’t been to Nashville in years. I think we might even have the day off down there. I’m looking forward to a great show and getting to meet some fans and see some music.
Jake Kennedy, New Frontier Touring
In addition to the 140 bands set to perform during the Next Big Nashville showcase and conference, organizers have put together 13 panels consisting of experts from both the music and business sides of the industry.
The VIP Badge, which gives priority access to all music showcases and VIP events, is required for admittance to the panels. Click here to purchase.
One panel called “I Have the Power!!!” will focus on the power-shift within the music industry to the live side, and its potential effect on the future of music.
Jake Kennedy, an agent with New Frontier Touring, will appear on the panel, alongside Shannin Porter of Billions, Erik Seiz of Red Ryder and Matthew Morgan of Creative Artists Agency.
“We [the music industry] haven’t quite figured out where music is going,” said Kennedy, who has worked at New Frontier for five years.
“We’re stuck in the middle. So many things in the old [business] model are carrying over to where we are at now,” Kennedy said, referring to digital downloading. “Unless radio shapes up and starts playing what more and more people want to hear, music will continue to be a singles-driven source –not full albums.”
Kennedy added: “I’m not going to buy an entire Justin Timberlake album, but I have a couple of his songs. And that’s no offense to Justin Timberlake, but I am just not interested in the entire album.”
The NBN panels will focus on issues for the musician, fan and industry person alike. From charity enterprises (“How Can I Help?”) to the role of independent labels in the digital age (“Indie Evolution”), there will be much for music lovers across the spectrum.
There’s even something for the cynic.
“The people that say that music is dead, go see Springsteen, go see the Avett Brothers,” Kennedy said. “I genuinely believe that nothing can ever replace the experience of seeing a live show.” –Samantha Spector
The “I Have the Power!!!” panel will take place October 8 at 11:15 a.m. at The Martha Rivers Ingram Center.
The Young Republic
The Young Republic toured the world before breaking up. Left without a drummer and keyboard player, the band pressed on with new members and heavy spirits. But the experience, while somewhat traumatic, left the band with a wealth of material that gives this young group its old soul.
On its latest release, Balletesque (pronounced “ballot-esk”), the band dots its songs with characters that range from a preacher and salesman to depression-era New England citizens, to modern day artists and poets. It’s here that the group’s fusion of old-world folk influence shines through in jazzy alt-riffs, taken from its respective members’ (lead singer Julian Saporiti, violinst Kristin Weber, guitarist Bob Merkl, pianist Nate Underkuffler, bassist Chris Miller and drummer Logan Linning) classical education.
The Young Republic will make its first appearance at Next Big Nashville on October 8 at The End, at 10 p.m. American Songwriter caught up with Saporiti to discuss the new disc, old-school style and the difference a tour bus makes.—Samantha Spector
The new album is a bit of a departure from the folk-heavy melodies of your earlier material. What influenced the dark undertones of Balletesque?
The band broke apart in early 2008, which was just really awful timing because here we were, on our first tour of the UK and we were left without a drummer or keyboard player. We ended up getting some people we knew from school [The YR’s members all attended Berklee School of Music in Boston] and spent the rest of summer trying to pick up the pieces. It was very dark to have these friends who you’ve traveled around the world with leave sort of out of nowhere.
What does the title of the album mean? I have never heard the term Balletesque before.
Balletesque means…well, it’s just some sounds that fit really well together, like “boogie woogie” and “tootie fruity.” It’s just kind of a combination of what the songs meant to me.
You are doing a string of dates in Nashville in support of the new album. Since you grew up here, I thought I’d ask what your thoughts are on the local music scene here?
I love Nashville, just the history and culture. It’s really hard to break [into the mainstream] if you are a rock and roll band here though and I appreciate that Next Big Nashville is at least attempting to unify the scene somewhat. There’s just so many bands out there and to make it in Nashville it seems you have to put in the effort outside of Nashville. Most rock and roll musicians are too lazy to do that.
I hear you on that one. So it goes for rock journalists as well.
(laughs) Exactly! I was on that side of it, too. When I was in high school, I used to write for The Tennessean.
After Next Big Nashville you are heading overseas, where The Young Republic has had a lot of success. What’s the difference between a tour in the US and one in, say, the UK?
Besides accents and dental hygiene? It’s more of a rock and roll thing over there. We got the press, the booking agent, we play festivals for thousands of people, we get a nice bus. It’s like what people romanticize about [being a musician]. Stay in hotels over there, stay at friends’ places over here. There are a few pockets where we are doing really well in the US but there are just way more people over in Europe. I guess it comes down to money and what people think is cool. Someone needs to tell people we’re cool over here.
I’m on it. And what do you think is cool?
I think you can’t beat a good suit. I like a man in a good suit and a girl in a nice dress. If I’m doing yard work or playing sports I’ll put on the old athletic gear. But I really like a nice, well-cut suit.
The Stage Is Set
In four short years, Next Big Nashville has evolved from a mere seedling to an internationally-recognized festival. And this year promises to be the best yet.
A music junkie’s Big Rock Candy Mountain, NBN boasts four days of concerts featuring more than 150 crack bands, from Memphis rockers Lucero to emerging local acts like Madi Diaz and Space Capone. Older hats like Willie Heath Neal, with his Waylon-meets-Ramones sound, will also be on hand.
Making its debut at this year’s festival is the Next Warped Nashville stage, which will feature several acts on the Vans Warped Tour (Therefore I Am, VersaEmerge, Conditions), the skateboarding-meets-punk music circus.
American Songwriter.com is the place to be for coverage of the four-day marathon. We’ll take you into the heart of the festival, amid the dim lights, thick smoke and loud music. We’ll interview some of the top songwriters in town, and get their take on the bonanza.
We’ll also report on the conference panels, where the industry’s top professionals will discuss the many facets of the ever-evolving music business. Writer Robert K. Oermann will kick things off October 7, when he discusses how a mid-size Southern town like Nashville became Music City USA.
Among the many panel discussions, one will educate artists on how to optimize their Web presence. Another will delve into the complex relationship between musicians and commercial brands. And Future Sounds CEO Larry Little and Ben Swank of Third Man Records will lead a panel on the future of indie record labels in the digital world.
Be sure to check out American Songwriter.com for all of your pre-festival coverage. We’ll let you know the hottest acts to catch, and interview several songwriters taking part in the festival. –Caine O’Rear
For more information on NBN, or to purchase tickets, go to the NBN Web site.