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Exclusive Q&A: Blitzen Trapper Talk Americana

Though they were blessed with an enormous amount of hype from online tastemakers after their first few albums, Portland-based Blitzen Trapper haven’t succumbed to the “Best New Music” curse that often haunts buzz bands that fall off the musical map. After the release of their critically-praised 2007 album Wild Mountain Nation, Blitzen Trapper continued to write and record quality new material for 2008′s Furr and 2010′s Destroyer of the Void. This fall, their latest album American Goldwing takes the band even further into classic rock territory, combining their country influence with a modern take on ’70s rock. We caught up with bandleader Eric Early to talk about his lyrical imagery, what he’s been listening to recently and the band’s favorite spots to play in their native Portland, Oregon.

OS: You’ve said the new album started as a solo album. What made you decide to bring the other guys in?

EE: I think I just started writing songs that were more personal in nature and were closer to me.  I just get excited about making records and then say, “Well, let’s make it a Blitzen Trapper record.”

OS: Your music career seems to be punctuated by life-changing revelations and events. Do you think that if you didn’t have these experiences to draw from, your music would be different?

EE: Oh yeah, definitely. Whatever you’re writing is influenced by all these things that you’ve experienced, people that you know and places that you’ve lived.


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Your Country’s Right Here: Gill Landry of Old Crow Medicine Show Sheds Musical Light on the Darkness

It’s almost too simple to say that Gill Landry‘s new album Piety & Desire is something akin to him going home.

The New Orleans native who is a multi-instrumentalist with the Old Crow Medicine Show has clearly traveled a long way since his days as a busker in the Crescent City. This sonic ode to the city and the tour he’s taken to support it shows that despite his success, his musical heart is still there.

“I wanted it to be dirty,” said Landry of his hopes for the album that is named after two streets that run parallel through the city’s ninth ward. “I wanted to have the grit of the old records I love and to fit the language of the writing that is pretty in its own way.”

The way of which he speaks is to find beauty in some of what many might consider the darker sides of New Orleans such as the barmaids, merchants and thieves that inhabit the city’s famed French Quarter.

To make the musical vision come alive, Landry worked with the Felice Brothers as his musical accompanists and co-producers. He also enlisted a cast of folk, pop and country artists including Jolie Holland, Brandi Carlile, Ketch Secor, and Samantha Parton to guest on the album. Basically, Landry credits something akin to stars aligning for the good fortune in bringing such an array of talent together, starting with the famed Felice Brothers.

“When they asked if I wanted to come up to New York State, I said sure right away,” said Landry. “That just lined up perfectly. I didn’t even think twice about it. Once they [invited me to come work in their studio] I knew how the record would be made.”

Since the famed Old Crow Medicine Show was on a break, the timing was perfect for Landry to dig into his songs and create the album.

Continue reading ‘Your Country’s Right Here: Gill Landry of Old Crow Medicine Show Sheds Musical Light on the Darkness’

Your Country’s Right Here: Mary Chapin Carpenter Casts a Musical Spell

Go to any Nashville songwriters’ circle and just wait—you’ll hear the name Mary Chapin Carpenter mentioned at least once and the speaker’s tone will undoubtedly be reverential. Go to a show on her recent tour in support of her last album The Age of Miracles and you’ll likely find the venue sold out or close to capacity even if it’s a rainy, cold weekday night.

In a world full of music that many contend is generally devalued, Carpenter’s work is specifically prized by many country and folk music  fans for its genuine beauty and authenticity. How else to explain the standing-room-only shows in this age of economic despair when Carpenter’s twelfth studio album is almost a year old? Or why the country-folk singer-songwriter has had her songs covered by everyone from Joan Baez (“Stones in the Road”) to Wynonna Judd (“Girls With Guitars”) to Trisha Yearwood (“Where Are You Now”).

Mary Chapin Carpenter

“I have always needed the songwriter part,” said Carpenter before the last leg of her current tour in explaining why she constantly juggles a heavy tour schedule and songwriting. “As a kid I always loved music and I loved to scream and shout. When I started to seriously write, though, that’s when it came together.”

And it came together fast. After she graduated from Brown University, Carpenter returned to the Washington, DC-area where she spent much of her childhood. She re-entered the area’s music scene, which she had joined before she went to Brown, and soon had a recording contract with Columbia Records. She spent nearly twenty years at the company and sold over 13 million albums before moving onto Rounder Records where she continues to release much-loved, critically-acclaimed albums. A multi-GRAMMY-winning singer-songwriter, Carpenter also recently joined the ranks of Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Judy Collins and Joan Baez as a recipient of the “Spirit of Americana Free Speech in Music Award” from the Americana Music Association. Continue reading ‘Your Country’s Right Here: Mary Chapin Carpenter Casts a Musical Spell’

Exclusive Q&A: Stephen Kellogg Shows Thanks For ‘Gift Horse’

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsStephen Kellogg and The Sixers are one wild animal that won’t be tamed. Passing through a multitude of record labels as varied as the folk-based country/alternative rock sound the band generates, SK6ERS have taken their humble Massachusetts roots to new heights with the recently released Gift Horse. While a lively celebration of freedom and life are at the forefront of the album, there are underlying themes within each song that might be missed by the unassuming listener. To help us sift through the lyrical goldmine that The Sixers have to offer this time around, the frontman Stephen Kellogg himself took some time to talk with OurStage about the album, how his own past ties itself into the songwriting, the fans and how his solo work compares to his work with The Sixers.

OS: Thematically, I know the new album touches on the idea of being grateful for what you have. What are you feeling grateful for lately that you channeled into the album?

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers Interview

SK: Well, I’m feeling grateful for a few things. The obvious ones are just a great family. I’ve been blessed with great siblings and parents and kids and good friends and I feel real lucky. And anytime you put out a new record, you’re reminded of all the time you spent with the guys in the band, who I think the world of and we still laugh just as much as when we did when we met eight years ago. So, that’s something I’m really grateful for. I feel hopeful and grateful that our country is going to get out of this war in the Middle East that it’s been in for the past decade. And hopefully out in a way that most people can support. And just that I’m in America. Everytime you see what’s going on in the rest of the world, it’s such a reminder of how great and how lucky that it feels to be here in America.

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Your Country’s Right Here: Indigo Girls Introduce ‘Beauty Queen Sister’

The Indigo Girls just released their fourteenth album, which truly makes them something of an anomaly in the music business.

As other artists come in with great splashes and seemingly fade away, the folk-rock duo just keeps moving along, releasing their own brand of music and playing before thousands of devoted fans. No drama. No tabloids. Just great music. Now the Indigo Girls, known individually as Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, released Beauty Queen Sister that came out last week (Tuesday, Oct. 4).

“We spend a period of time arranging and practicing and trying out ideas,” said Saliers in response to questions about how they create their own brand of folk music that spans formats from bluegrass to rock. “That’s one thing that has kept us together for so long.”

Although Ray favors more punk sounds as evidenced in her solo work, and Saliers leans toward pop, the two have a chemistry that allows them to mix and match their influencesinto the distinctive Indigo Girls’ folk  sound. Perhaps that’s because the two have a decades-long history that began in elementary school over their love for music.

“Many of our players are top-notch Nashville talent—you just don’t get any better than that,” Saliers said noting the well-known country folk players who joined them on the album.

And the duo grabbed some of the best of the best for this album—including drummer Brady Blade and bassists Frank Swart and Viktor Krauss (brother of Alison)—which Saliers said helped carry out the “organic approach we wanted on this album.”

There are also a host of other guests on the album. “War Rugs,” a song about the 2011 Egyptian revolution, features guest vocals from singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche (daughter of Loudon Wainwright III and Suzzy Roche). The Shadowboxers, an Atlanta-based band, contributed back-up vocals to “We Get To Feel It All.” On the subdued yet sultry “Share The Moon,” Jim Brock provides rumbling percussion. Listeners will also hear Carol Issacs’ delicate piano sounds on “Birthday Song.”

Arguably some of the most exciting tracks, though, might be the Celtic-influenced songs. Consider “Damo” that features Eamonn de Barra’s whistles and flute and to the full-throated backing vocals of Irish singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey.

“We really work hard to not lean on any tried-and-true path in making our albums,” said Ray. “So when it comes to writing new songs and working with different musicians, every record feels like a completely different adventure for us.”

Clearly, the Indigo Girls’ are ready to make great music for years to come.

Find out more about the Indigo Girls, the new album, and the tour on the duo’s Web site.

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Exclusive Q&A: Rodney Atkins Scores Success with ‘Take a Back Road’

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsRodney Atkins may be on more music fans’ personal play lists now that the title track of his fourth studio album “Take a Back Road,” has become his sixth No. 1 hit, but don’t think of him as anything like an overnight success.

The East Tennessee native signed with Curb Records in 1997 but didn’t really catch listeners’ ears until his 2006 album If You’re Going Through Hell. Atkins said what helped him turn the musical corner was taking a long look at his beliefs and defining exactly what songs he could write and sing from the heart.

Wonder if that worked? Consider that the album’s title track and the song “Watching You” both zoomed to the top of the charts. As he prepares for the October 4 release of his album and a supporting tour, Atkins took time to talk with OurStage about the title track, the album and just what he hopes his fans take away from his music.

OS: Congratulations on your new single “Take a Back Road” hitting No. 1! You must be so thrilled.

RA: To be honest, you get so caught up in the grind and the business and then suddenly it just hits you and you’re on your knees, so humble. I’m so humbled that I’m here and have a chance to do this. I’m just so very grateful. I don’t know why I’m doing this interview because I’m honestly speechless. Thank you for wanting to talk to me!

OS: When you approached writing and recording this album, what did you hope to achieve?

RA: When we started working on the If You’re Going Through Hell album [that was released in 2006], I lived about 100 miles from Music Row so I was constantly going back and forth. So I wouldn’t have to do the commute, I got [basic recording equipment] on eBay and set it up in the pantry, a little closet at our house.

I was working one day and my wife [Tammy Jo Atkins] and some of her friends were out on the front porch…and I had them come in and sing [a background vocal] “It is what I love about the south, about the south, about the south.” It was recording those songs in that way that got me and really affected me and lifted me. They actually say more than you realize.

So my answer is that when we made the If You’re Going Through Hell album, we were not trying to fit in and follow a trend. We were basically following our hearts. That’s what made me want to go back to that place, to sing songs and write songs that really, really touch people. [I wanted] songs that would stick with you and lift people up.”

Continue reading ‘Exclusive Q&A: Rodney Atkins Scores Success with ‘Take a Back Road’’

Honky Tonks Where Country Learned To Stomp

Take a look at this alley right here.

Unassuming, a little grimy and out of the way, it looks like any other alley in any city on the planet. Really, based on the surface features, what more can you say?

It’s an alley.

But looks can be deceiving. This alley, as pedestrian as it looks, holds a bit of importance, at least in the history of country music. This particular stretch of concrete, found in Nashville, TN, runs alongside the famous Ryman Auditorium, perhaps better known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the most famous institution of country and western musical performance. The alley storied history comes from it’s use as a designated safe haven for country music fans. Coming from the Ryman or one of the bars  along 4th and 5th avenue in Nashville, the alley was a place for folks to “whoop and holler”. Revelers, intoxicated by the music and the libations they may have just consumed, could come out to this alley and make all the noise they wanted without really bothering anyone. And this alley, recognized as a historic location, is getting a facelift.

Continue reading ‘Honky Tonks Where Country Learned To Stomp’

Your Country’s Right Here: Caitlin Rose Talks about her Music, her Mother, and Calming Pre-Show Jitters

Caitlin Rose doesn’t shy away from talking about her famous mother, as some second-generation music insiders do.

Rose’s mother Liz Rose is legendary in Nashville songwriter circles for penning many hits including “You Belong to Me,” which won Taylor Swift a GRAMMY in 2010, Swift’s break out single “Tim McGraw” and plenty of hits for everyone from Tim McGraw to Bonnie Raitt and Trisha Yearwood. Twenty-four-year-old Caitlin makes no effort to hide her admiration for her mother but also makes it clear she’s carving her own path.

“If I was in the family business I’d be making a lot more money,” said Rose, whose father also works on Nashville’s legendary Music Row. “My mother is wonderful but it is so funny when people kind of compare our careers. She works in a very big world. She’s in a place where people win GRAMMY’s and that’s great. I am on a much lower tier as a traveling musician writing and playing my own songs.”

Although she may not be a Grammy Award contender—yet, anyway—Rose’s songs have caught the attention of plenty of music critics including those at such prestigious outlets as Q, NoDepression and NPR. The songs on her debut album Own Side Now, which was released September 27 by her label ATO Records, has drawn comparisons to everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Stevie Nicks.

Continue reading ‘Your Country’s Right Here: Caitlin Rose Talks about her Music, her Mother, and Calming Pre-Show Jitters’

Your Country’s Right Here: Cody Canada Arrives with The Departed

Cody Canada makes it a point to say that he doesn’t make country music.

We know what he means. After all, Canada’s former band, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and his new band, Cody Canada & The Departed, have more in common with Zac Brown, the Marshall Tucker Band and Kid Rock than they do with most classic country artists. Perhaps the country vibe some folks pick up from Canada can be followed back to his idols that include Steve Earle, who himself is often classified as alt country, and the legendary George Strait.

“George Strait is the reason I wanted to be a musician,” said Canada whose father was a big fan of that artist. “I saw him in ’81 before his album (Strait Country) hit. We had front row seats, and that was it for me. That is what got me. That’s when I said ‘This is what I want to do.’”

Before he was sixteen, Canada was on his way to a career in music. He formed Ragweed with three good friends when they were still in high school. Their music added to the Red Dirt music that was born in Texas and Oklahoma.  Thanks to the relentless touring of the band, the group burst into national prominence when it released its 2001 debut album Highway 377.

When drummer Randy Ragsdale decided to take a hiatus from the band to spend more time with his family, Canada and bassist Jeremy Plato began plans for a new band.They didn’t replace Ragsdale and tour as Ragweed, said Canada, because the members vowed if one left they would not continue under that name. Although Ragsdale prodded them to tour and record as Ragweed, the other members demurred.

The band mates also kept other vows they’d made early in their careers including not to be caught up in the mania surrounding their Yukon, Oklahoma hometown hero Garth Brooks.

Continue reading ‘Your Country’s Right Here: Cody Canada Arrives with The Departed’

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Hank Williams III’s Hankering For Metal

Things could have been much easier for Shelton Hank Williams, better known as Hank Williams III, if only he was willing to play ball and give Nashville what it wanted from him. Just imagine the extent to which Hank III—who is the spitting image of his iconic grandfather —could have cleaned up in the country market if he had offered up some polite, modern variation on grandpa’s pioneering honky-tonk sound, or even a contemporary recasting of his father’s ‘70s outlaw stylings, as Shooter Jennings has done with Waylon’s legacy. But it was probably that very same maverick spirit Hank III inherited that kept him from pursuing the easy path to Cadillacs and caviar in Music City.

You see, while Hank III does indeed have a deep love of—and aptitude for—country music, and a healthy respect for his family tradition, he’s just as heavily inspired by metal and punk, and he’s never stopped trying to honor all of his inspirations, sometimes simultaneously. That’s what has now led him to release no less than four different album projects simultaneously, each one representing a different side of his fearlessly fragmented musical personality.

According to the thirty-eight-year-old singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, rock & roll grabbed him at an early age. “I got my first drum kit when I was seven or eightyears old,” he remembers, “and I would get excited when I would hear Heart or Ted Nugent or ZZ Top or Elvis, and run around the room. I always felt connected to that kind of music because of being a drummer and feeling the beat.” As he got older, he went on to develop a passion for hardcore punk and heavy metal, and Hank eventually wound up playing bass with Superjoint Ritual, Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo’s punk-metal side project. “When you’re on stage with Anselmo, there’s wild stuff happening,” he says. “I was working with one of my heroes, man. That’s always an honor and a trip. But every time I would take the stage with Superjoint my job was to bang my neck as hard as I could every show and take it to the next level, and that’s what I tried to do for them.”

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