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Your Country’s Right Here: Madi Diaz Shows off ‘Plastic Moon’

Madi Diaz sure doesn’t act like a musical prodigy when you chat with her about her music. Aren’t those who attend the famed School of Rock in Philadelphia and Boston’s Berklee College of Music supposed to be a bit, uh, pretentious? That sure doesn’t fit the personality of this polished and pleasant twenty-something woman with an infectious laugh whose self-depracating humor reflects some of the bubbly, uptempo songs on her brand-new album release Plastic Moon.

The only problem with the songs on the album—full of all kinds of bang-on-the-dashboard beats and thoughtful lyrics—is that they are so compelling that stalwarts of every format wants to claim it as their own. No matter. Let the pop and rock and alt-country folks battle it out—Diaz is really all about getting the music to the listeners no matter how they find her.

“It’s pop I think, and indie I think. And then [a business associate] mentioned CMT and I said ‘Sure that’s great. We’ll take it!’”said Diaz with a laugh. “It’s like the first time I’m sure people heard Led Zeppelin or Frank Zappa—and of course I’m not comparing myself to them—–but I am sure people didn’t know where they fit [in terms of musical format] either!”

And it’s clear that she cut her musical teeth on an array of songs that she just loved, no matter the format.

“When I was a teenager,” Madi Diaz recalled, “my dad and I would hang out in the living room and learn songs by bands like the Eagles and Alice in Chains. We’d pick parts to harmonize and sing our way through them, over and over. My dad would get so excited when he figured out something by Yes or the Mamas and the Papas, then he’d let me pick my favorite Silverchair song or whatever I was obsessing over at the moment and we’d learn it together, too. It was the best.”

She was well schooled to embrace it, too. At what one might call her father’s insistence, Diaz began to study piano at age five. Although she grew up amidst the Amish of Lancaster, PA, her parents kept feeding her a steady diet of music that ranged from Metallica to Sheryl Crow and The Beatles. It was that background, combined with her formal studies, that guided her toward her musical passion (songwriting) and her musical partner Kyle Ryan, a fellow Berklee student from Lincoln, NE.

“When I started writing for myself, I realized  that I was gravitating toward painfully yearning David Rawlings, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris [music],” she said. “I really thought Americana was where I wanted to be. It still is in some ways. It resonates with a rawness that I love.”

But for now, Diaz’s musical journey is tied up in the indie rock pop sounds of Paper Moon, and that’s just where she wants to be at least for now.

“It’s funny, especially the way things are right now. You never know where or what it is going to take you, where it catches,” said Diaz. “Sometimes you stumble to find the pace. The entire process has literally been that. Moving to Nashville, writing with a million people and then [Kyle and I] writing by ourselves, and then all the rushing, stumbling and then really finding your gait.”

Don’t miss Diaz’s new album and be sure to check out her upcoming video, especially filmed for Valentine’s Day (and featuring her brother’s metal band! Really!). Find out all about it and more on her Web site.

Watch Diaz’s video for “Let’s Go” below:

Your Country’s Right Here: Phil Vassar Goes Home for Charity

Just when you think Phil Vassar has filled his tour schedule to the brim, he adds even more appearances including several for charity.

The Lynchburg, VA native who cut his music biz teeth as a songwriter—penning such beloved tunes as “Right on the Money” by Alan Jackson, “For a Little While” by Tim McGraw and “I’m Alright” by Jo Dee Messina— has been recording his own songs for more than a decade with such Billboard hits as “Carlene,” “In a Real Love” and “Just Another Day in Paradise.”  But Vassar—who’s currently on the Girls with Guitars and a Piano Man Tour with Sara Evans, LeAnn Womack, Sunny Sweeney and Joanna Smith—also makes plenty of time for charity.

“We’ve done more shows [in the past year] than I think we’ve ever done,” said Vassar who last year released Noel, a holiday CD and has several more projects in the works.

If his recent schedule is any indication, this year may well be even busier. Consider that, despite his regular tour schedule, Vassar has just announced his fourth annual Phil Vassar Benefit Concert for Miller Home for Girls on April 4th and 5th in Lynchburg. The home, as the name indicates, is for four to twenty-one-year-old girls who are not able to live with their families.

“Miller Home has been near and dear to my heart for many years, because they do so many great things to help young women,” said Vassar who is donating 100 % of the proceeds from both concerts to the Miller Home.  ”I can’t wait to get home to play some music and support this wonderful organization.”

Many of the charity shows by Vassar are in support of the military and for its members. When asked about the time and effort such concerts take, Vassar is quick to point out how much the shows mean to him.

“I moved offices recently and [found] some of the emails I received and some of the letters,” he said. “I sat down in my garage and read them and realized some of this stuff I had never seen before, which is something I hate. A lot of them were from military guys, writing me after they’d seen [a show]. Some were by guys who wrote ‘I’m sitting in a fox hole and listening to one of your songs and it is so great to hear your stories. Those songs mean a lot to us.’ Reading those letter really gets to you. They mean a lot to me.”

Tickets are currently on sale for the April 5th show, and tickets for the April 4th Acoustic Show go on sale February 6, 2012.  All tickets can be purchased at Miller Home of Lynchburg, 2134 Westerly Drive or by calling 434-845-0241 during regular business hours.

Find out more about Vassar and his upcoming performance on his Web site.

National Q&A: Aaron Lewis

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsAaron Lewis’ iconic career with Staind made him an alt rock idol but he’s proven he’s the “Country Boy” behind the hit song. Town Line, Lewis’ five-song country debut, is slated for release this spring. Lewis has been on an acoustic tour during which he plays several of his country tunes such as “Forever” and “Grand Daddy’s Son,” plus some of his Staind hits including “Outside” and “It’s Been Awhile.” As Lewis and Staind start the countdown to the band’s massive tour, which begins next month, and look ahead to a new album release this summer, Lewis took time to talk to OurStage about his career, his music, and just what he see ahead.

OS:  What do you plan to play on your next solo dates?

AL: I’m just going to play my normal set that includes the five songs on my country release. The whole rest of the evening is the [Staind music]. We’ll see how that goes and we’ll see what the [audience] enjoys. There will likely be a lot of Staind fans.

OS: What song from the new album do you most remember writing?

AL: “The Story Never Ends”— the first song off the record. It came to me in a beer stand in Paducah, Kentucky [when I was on a hunting trip]. I looked up at my [friend] and asked him if he had a pen and paper. I got back to the camp and sat down with the guitar and went to the studio that day and was bouncing back and forth between the hunting camp and recording.

OS: How did it come together?

AL: I kind of played a cord progression and half figured it out. The rest of the guys were sitting there and I was just thinking about what we were doing. Within an hour, I had it recorded.

OS: That’s amazing that it came together so quickly.

AL: The problem is that I don’t have any control over it! It can happen that easily or not at all!

OS: A lot of fans are surprised that you have recorded a country album. What brought you to that?

AL: I grew up with country. I spent a lot of time with [my] grandfather, especially a lot in the summertime. He lived twenty-five minutes from our house. I stayed there all summer [when I was young] and he was a country music fanatic. It was always on, always, always, always.

[Not long ago when] I heard Kid Rock playing old country music, it  brought back all sort of memories. It kind of is the soundtrack of my childhood and I haven’t really been able to escape it since. Now I’m always listening to country. I love “Willie’s Place” [on satellite radio].

OS: So what was the first country song you wrote?

AL: “Country Boy” was my first attempt at writing a country song. It’s heavily laden with stereotypical country lines about whiskey and granddad, don’t tread on me. A lot of that was very cliche, but a lot of it was [written in a] very tongue-in-cheek manner. I was trying to write a country song that when it was finished and people started hearing it, they could [relate]. It really got me to thinking about country [music] more. It’s really in my brain now.

OS: What has the reaction been from your band mates and fans who enjoy your rock?

AL: Everybody is very supportive of me doing this. It has affected things a little bit [for Staind] especially in the recording process. I wanted to record a Staind album when my solo was released. This was the first time in my career that I ever had a deadline [as I did to finish the Staind album for a release this summer]. I never had this kind of stress where it had to be finished by this date or we will be severely financially punished. That caused some inner turmoil.

OS: What does your country debut mean for Staind?

AL: By contract I will tour behind the new record I put out and at the end of that I probably will have found time within the touring schedule go back into the studio in Nashville. When we are done with [tours for] Staind, I will take time off and be with the family and start into the solo cycle and a new record and tour.

I have never been opposed to making music with Staind but as I get older and life goes on, I am missing things—I never can rewind and get them back. There will come a point that I never want to do it like this anymore.

Find out more about Aaron Lewis’ music and tours on his Web site.

Don’t miss Lewis’ “Country Boy” video below that includes Charlie Daniels, Chris Young and George Jones.

Your Country’s Right Here: Kip Moore Trucks into the Big Time

Kip Moore may have had a hard time getting the girl, but she left him with an idea that has him positioned to skyrocket into country’s elite.

“Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck,” the first single off Moore’s upcoming April release Drive Me Crazy, is all about the elusive girl in high school that finally agreed to date Moore and was overly thrilled when he came calling in his father’s Chevrolet Silverado truck. Talking about that experience with his his songwriting buddy Dan Couch and the two quickly came up with the song that’s won him critical and popular acclaim.

“I have all those memories in my head. I grew up in a town where you had to make your own fun,” said Moore of his Tifton, Georgia upbringing. “I have so many memories, they’re actually like country songs playing, about fishing and singing and sitting on the tailgate [of a truck] drinking beer. In small town America, that’s what you did.”

As much as he loved those laid back times and ones that followed when he lived in a Hawaii, he couldn’t shake the muse that chased him toward a life as a songwriter and performer.

“When I was in college I was playing, doing the the whole cover band thing. That was my livelihood,” he said. “But where I’m from, you never hear about people making a living making music. I really never thought it would happen. That’s when I said ‘Screw it,’ bought a one way ticket to the Big Island [of Hawaii] and winged it….But I had my guitar and I just started writing a whole bunch.

“I think I am capable of doing a lot of things, but [creating music] is the only thing makes my heart happy.”

Moore landed in Nashville about the same time as Chris Young and Keifer Thompson of Thompson Square and spent a good portion of his early time there making the rounds to Nashville songwriting circles, going to shows, and absorbing as much of the art of songwriting and performing as he could.

“From a very young age my dad would take me trout fishing and through my dad I was fortunate enough to be raised on really good singer songwriters like Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne,” said Moore, noting his piano-playing mother also exposed him to a host of artists including those in the country format. “I loved the melodies of the songs but when I was listening to lyrics when I was seven, eight, nine years old, hadn’t lived enough to really grasp [their meaning].

“I started writing a whole lot when I got older. I got started when I was able to understand the life behind those those lyrics, because I’d lived more and gone through situations and hard times.”

As he looks ahead to the spring release of his debut album, Moore talks about some of those hard times including working his way up in Nashville with the support of friends including Young and Thompson.

“You make friends with people who are hungry like you, and having something to prove like you,” he said. “Those are the people who help you figure it all out because you’re very, very poor. We all kind of talked each other off the ledge.”

Now as he prepares to begin a tour with Billy Currington, Moore can see the gold ring within reach. Perhaps that’s what makes him even more demanding of himself, his writing, his performing and his style. He talks about what he calls his perfectionism in the studio and his relentless studying of his own shows as well as those of other performers.

“This is kind of bad to say but I know I will not be as happy doing anything else,” he said of the diligence he brings to his work at a time when many artists might feel they’d earned some time to step back. “This is hard for me to say, but it’s this or nothing for me.”

Find out about Kip Moore, including his tour dates, on his Web site.

Don’t miss Kip Moore’s video for “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck”:

Vs: Best Of The Best

For our last installment of Vs, we’re doing something a little different. Instead of comparing an OurStage artist to an artist in the mainstream, we’ll be taking a look at OurStage’s Best Of The Best Charts. Specifically, we’re taking a look at the Number 1 artist in four categories, Pop, Rock, Urban and Country, and examining what makes them great along with what makes them standout from their peers on OurStage.

 

Pop – Austin Renfroe

Austin Renfroe seems to have become a fan favorite here at OurStage. Between winning competitions left and right, he was also a finalist in The OurStage Panel Finale. While most modern pop music is becoming more electronic and Autotuned, Renfroe stands out by making music that is natural and organic sounding yet incredibly catchy. The multitalented singer-songwriter plays both the guitar and piano, but his biggest strength is his voice. His distinctive soulful style also possesses an incredible range—Renfroe often switches between a low register and a silky sweet falsetto in the same song. His song “Taking Me Under” showcases all of his vocal skills, using falsetto and vocal embellishments to create a killer hook in the chorus. Renfroe is also a gifted songwriter, blending elements of pop, folk, soul and rock into his songs. Between “Honesty,” a more upbeat pop/rock track, and “Can’t Bring Us Down,” a stripped down acoustic song, it’s clear that he has the versatility and talent to stick around for awhile.

Rock – Chasing Eden

Chasing Eden have been making waves for awhile, having been on OurStage’s Best Of The Best Chart for over seventy-five weeks and racking up a whopping fifteen Top 10s and ten Top 40s. This hard rock band forms the basis of their sound around heavy, chugging guitar riffs. However, unlike most other bands in their genre, Chasing Eden utilize a female lead singer. Andrea Brink’s voice is smooth and sweet, which contrasts with the rest of the band’s heavy riffing. However, if you listen to songs like “All I’m Asking” or “Remember Me,” you can hear that this contrast actually works really well, and it is one of the main reasons that Chasing Eden have remained a mainstay at the top of our charts.

Urban – Greg Banks

We covered Greg Banks, one of the many talented young artists who are revitalizing R&B, on Vs. before. Banks is not only a supremely talented singer, but also a gifted songwriter who writes all of his own music. Banks creates his unique sound by using real instruments in his compositions to create a warm sound in a genre that, ironically, can sometimes lack soul. His song “Selfish” shows off his songwriting skills as well as his vocal prowess. This song begins with a riff that is finger picked on an acoustic guitar, which becomes the focal point of the song. Other instruments like violin and keyboard are added to the mix to flesh out the song. Banks’ voice is also impressive here, using his range to hit high notes that most other singers wouldn’t be able to hit.

Country – Allen Layman

Allen Layman is a journeyman, the perfect archetype for country music. He’s played in various bands in all parts of the country, which gives him plenty of lyrical inspiration. Layman plays a more traditional brand of country, eschewing the pop-infused sound of most modern country. Layman sings in a smooth, deep baritone, recounting tales of heartbreak and homesickness. It’s the kind of voice that sounds like it’s been through years of hardship, spending late nights in smoke-filled bars. Songs like “Reason To Live” and “If I Can Make You Love Me” not only showcase Layman’s fantastic voice, but also his great twangy guitar skills.

But what do YOU think of these artists? Do you think another artist should be at the top of the charts? Let us know in the comments!

Music Sales Were Up In 2011?! Thanks Adele!

The music industry just got one more late Christmas present last week when Reuters reported that US total music sales were actually up compared to the previous year. While combined physical and digital sales were only up 1% over 2010′s numbers, that still much rosier than 2010′s 13% decline in album sales. In fact, there hasn’t been a year over year increase in music sales since 2004.

So, why the the reversal of fortunes? Innovative new marketing strategies? The success of direct-to-fan online music distribution initiatives? The continuing vinyl comeback?

Sorry, the correct answer is Adele.

Yes, the British singer-songwriter certainly had a good year. Billboard reported that, unsurprisingly, Adele had the best selling album along with the best selling single of the year with “Rolling In The Deep”. The singer’s sophomore effort, 21, moved a staggering 5.82 million units last year. Records haven’t sold this well since Usher’s Confessions—with tracks “Yeah!“, “Burn“, “Caught Up“—in 2004. The next best selling record of 2011, Michael Bublé’s appropriately titled Christmas album Christmas, which didn’t sell half as many copies, only going double platinum by years end.

It’s not fair to say that Adele is the only reason why it looks like the music industry is turning a corner this year. CD sales may have dropped another 6.5% this year but digital sales increased by nearly 20% and now make up around a third of all music sales. The vinyl market, which still make up only a small segment of all music sold, ticked up again in ’11, with about 3.9 million vinyl LPs sold compared to 2.8 million in 2010. This year also wasn’t short on other big, high profile releases from the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West, Lady Gaga and Jason Aldean, amongst others.

But it’s time for a reality check. Let’s look at the numbers: There were 330.57 million units sold in 2011, compared to 326.15 million in 2010. In a world where, God forbid, 21 never came out, the sales reports for 2011 would read a lot more like what they have in the past.

Based on this, would it be safe to say that the industry is turning a corner? Not quite. While it was fantastic to have a big budget release like Adele’s, hers wasn’t the only big sales story of the year. Katy Perry’s historic chart dominance continued in 2011 and whether she’ll be able to overtake Michael Jackson’s record for most consecutive #1 singles still remains to be seen. Folk rockers Mumford & Sons had their debut record go platinum stateside, proving that an indie record could be a true sales juggernaut. Finally, the streaming music revolution that players like Spotify and Pandora are propagating don’t appear to have taken a big chunk out of album sales just yet.

Only so much can be gleaned from a single year’s worth of sales data. We’ll have to wait until 2013 to see if 2012′s sales figures are indicative of a comeback or an aberration. Until then, thank you Adele for continuing to save the music industry as we know it. Keep up the good work!

Your Country’s Right Here: Randy Houser Changes His Tune

Randy Houser wants to set the record straight about a few things including his new bride Jessa Lee Yantz.

Although the two have been quite open about their personal lives, including sharing details about the September nuptials in the Dominican Republic, there’s one factual error that is consistently repeated much to Houser’s surprise.

“She doesn’t really write a lot of songs. I don’t know how that all got started,” said Houser with a laugh when asked if he was planning to co-write any songs with his bride who is constantly referred to in the media as a singer/songwriter. “She is a terrific singer. We haven’t made any plans to [write or perform together]. I tend to want to keep that separate. I don’t see that in the future.”

What he does see in the future, though, is a more mature sound, stronger tours and additional chances to work with a host of other performers. One of those many upcoming events will be the “Blake Shelton & Friends Cruise” to the Caribbean in October.  But there will most assuredly be plenty of chances to see Houser perform long before that including at charity events.

Although House recently signed with independent label Stoney Creek Records and is in the process of writing his debut album and planning an upcoming tour, he is takinga bit of time to slow down and savor different opportunities. Take his recent acoustic performance just before Thanksgiving at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Corporate Citizenship Awards at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Not only did Houser play about half a dozen songs, talk about his charitable work and bring awareness to companies that uphold social responsibility and meet-and-greet fans, but he took time for a bit of sightseeing, too.

“When CMT asked me, we just decided to do it,” he said. “My wife and I had wanted to go to DC and just go play and meet people and hang out and it was just a great thing to do. It was a ball!”

Although Houser generally performs in major venues, he said he welcomed the chance to just play his songs acoustically. And why not? After all, even though he’s performed since he was a child, he is incredibly well know for penning a host of songs for others including everyone from Trace Adkins (“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”) to Justin Moore (“Back That Thing Up”).

“I am very comfortable just with my guitar,” he said. “I like bare songs, baring yourself out there. When I am playing like that, I get to drive the boat and get to do it all. I get to play whatever the crowd is looking for, and you can’t do that when you’re playing with a band.”

Now that the New Year is unfolding, keep an ear out for new Houser music in the not too distant future.

“It’s really early in the process,” he said. “I’m writing a bunch of new songs and have a lot of stuff down on paper, and am just [starting to record] a few things. I have got a couple of songs that I am pretty sure will be on there.”

Houser said that while the songs will certainly have the tone and feel of his past work, he said fans will hear a bit more “grown up” sound on this record.

“I’m not saying it’s just for adults, but I think it’s probably a little smarter,” he said of his work crediting much of his newfound inspiration to his wife who he calls his life’s greatest blessing. “There are things I don’t want to sing about and write about anymore. The other thing is, I want to be respectful of my wife. I don’t wants to record songs and have anyone think my old life style is still part of me.”

As much success as Houser found with his part work, including “Boots On” and “They Call Me Cadillac,” it seems as if his best songs are yet to come.

Find out more about Randy Houser, his music, and upcoming concert dates on his Web site.

Your Country’s Right Here: Brantley Gilbert’s Star Shines ‘Country Wide’

Brantley Gilbert is truly one of those forces of nature, a shooting star come to life.

It’s not that the twenty-six-year-old country singer-songwriter—who has written many hits including Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party” that he penned when he was just seventeen years old— is a brilliant songwriter, engaging performer, classic wordsmith or contender for nicest guy on the planet. It’s that he’s all of those things and more.

His music is as multi-faceted as his personality, bringing comparisons to everyone from Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp to Willie Nelson.

“You know what? I never really targeted a market. I just wrote songs,” he said. “I guess my upbringing led me to country and placed me in that market.”

Some of the wild times he lived when he was growing up in Jefferson, Georgia, also places him in the Johnny
Cash, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings country lifestyle category.

“When I wrote ['My Kinda Party' ] I just wrote about what we were doing,” he said of the No. 1 song. “And, yes, I was drinking at seventeen and yes, I did get a butt whooping from my mama.”

Like many country performers, especially those branded “outlaw,” Gilbert had a life changing incident that brought him closer to music. For him, that happened in 2004 when he was in a one-car accident, which almost took his life. That’s when he was in college—studying to be a relationship counselor—and was thrown out a window after crashing his car.

Continue reading ‘Your Country’s Right Here: Brantley Gilbert’s Star Shines ‘Country Wide’’

Vocal Points: A Gift From Us To You

Christmas comes once a year, and this year we’d like to give you free downloads of songs by some of the best and most distinct voices on OurStage. The seemingly bottomless pool of talented vocalists on the site made it hard to narrow down our list. But, we’re sure our picks will satisfy your musical cravings. Enjoy!

“Colorado Rain” by Fiske and Herrera is a beautiful folk tune that combines Amy Herrera‘s sweet vocals with Jared Fiske‘s soft tones to create perfect harmony.

If you’re looking for a spunky, hard-hitting song which flat out rocks, look no further. “The Other Side Of You” by June Divided proves once again that a woman can rock just as hard as any man. And front-woman Melissa Menago‘s strong voice never fails to impress.

On the complete other end of the spectrum is “I’d Rather Not Know” by country singer Adam Sanders, whose deep, hearty vocals make you melt. Sanders exemplifies how great country can tug on your heart strings.

Continue reading ‘Vocal Points: A Gift From Us To You’

Your Country’s Right Here: Scotty McCreery, Ricky Skaggs, Lauren Alaina and Others Add Country to Your Holidays

Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Ricky Skaggs and Phil Vassar are just some of the country stars that are ready to brighten your holidays with their down-home music. Sure, you’re overwhelmed with all kinds of lists—shopping and otherwise—during this season but take a look at the stellar line up of artists offering you holiday-themed country music and enjoy.

Think of American Idol alums Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina as melodic bookends of the holidays. McCreery, who performed in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, is also featured in the Disney Christmas Day parade that will be televised on ABC. Find out when it will be aired in your area by going to the Disney Web site. Lauren Alaina will join other artists on American Country New Year’s Eve at 11 p.m. on December 31 on FOX. Find out more about the show on this Web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading ‘Your Country’s Right Here: Scotty McCreery, Ricky Skaggs, Lauren Alaina and Others Add Country to Your Holidays’

 


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