One of the first people I started chatting to in the online country music community is Vickye Fisher, and it was in fact thanks to her review of Same Trailer Different Park that I decided to listen to Kacey Musgraves. I’ll be seeing Kacey live for the 3rd time in July and that album is the one I have listened to the most on the past 12 months. In that time Vickye has gone from strength to strength as a country music journalist at For The Country Record, and just before she flies off to Nashville I caught up with her. Here’s what she had to say…
Tell me a bit about your background, when country music came into your life and why it resonates with you to the extent it does?
I grew up in a little middle class town called Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire – not exactly conducive to getting into country music! My parents had a lot of records – none of them country ones – but they never played them, so my musical knowledge started with the pop music of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I discovered country music through watching American Idol in early 2006 – that was the season that featured Kellie Pickler, and there was plenty of buzz about the previous year’s winner, Carrie Underwood. As a pop fan already, the country pop really appealed to me, with the sweeter, twangier sounds at times reminding me of long summers in the sun, playing as a child. As time went on, I used the internet to discover more and more artists, and began to love it for its stories (I have an active imagination!), focus on lyrics (I’ve been writing songs, specifically lyrics, since I was 10), and developed a love for country instruments.
So when did you decide you wanted be a journalist and what prompted you to launch For The Country Record?
I fell into journalism by accident. I wanted to work in music PR, and for my final year of university I needed to do a module called ‘work based learning’, where I would do a work placement in a music-related sector of my choice. When all of my PR options fell through, I decided to make use of the hobby blog I had started the previous March and written a few things for, and emailed various country blogs asking to guest post. I enjoyed it so much I decided to make it my career.
You live in the UK but cater to a US audience – is that hard, given the time and cultural differences?
It can be! It’s mostly the time differences that are hard – I have to schedule posts and promotional tweets for Americans and when award shows come on I have to stay up until crazy o’clock to watch them! Then there’s access to country videos online and also buying music that is only available in the US. Plus, so many events I can’t attend. It’s hard but I love the heart of country, and the basic fact of that is that it’s in the US.
You are known for writing with 100% honesty and pulling no punches, which is rare but admirable these days. Has this approach ever garnered adverse reactions from fans or artists?
Oh yes! I was overwhelmed by a reaction to a scathing article I wrote on Jason Aldean last year. It was the first time I’d had any real fan reaction to anything I’d written, and suddenly I was faced with a bunch of rednecks attacking me on social media! It died down in less than a day, but it was only a couple of months before my review of a Blake Shelton song garnered his own attention, and him tweeting about it led to another stream of teenage girls who weren’t too happy with me! Throughout the time since I have had a lot of new artists like Tyler Farr, Cole Swindell and Thomas Rhett who were pissed about my negative reviews, but nothing like the former two occasions. To be perfectly honest, I prefer when fans are getting annoyed by something! It helps my hits and I like that it’s riled people up – it means they’re reading it and taking it seriously.
In a short space of time you have become recognised by many people within the industry and have interviewed big artists, got media access to events and get sent countless pieces of music to review. Are things going as planned, and what’s next for you in your career?
I have to say that it’s hard to plan something like this. I never expected my career to steam so quickly into high gear! I’m very grateful, though. Basically what’s next is of course Nashville, making new contacts, continuing on up the ladder interviewing bigger artists and seeing where it takes me!
Last year you came up with the idea of going to Nashville, documenting your time there and releasing it as a DVD. This was a crowd funded venture – how did that funding go, and with just a few days until you depart, what do you have planned?
Well, you gave me the idea of making the documentary! The funding didn’t go as well as hoped, but we still made £250, so not bad! We have lots of interviews coming up, gigs, Tin Pan South festival as well as trips to Franklin, Memphis and Dollywood!
Will people be able to buy the DVD or download it the footage once it is complete, even if they didn’t fund the project initially and are there other ways people can become involved?
A few months after we distribute the crowdfunded DVDs, we’ll be selling it on Amazon. Plenty of clips will also make their way onto the site between now and then, so look out for those!
Will you be providing updates on the road or is that all to be revealed in the finished product?
Every day (or near enough) we’ll be posting vlogs with clips and talking about our experiences from the previous day. Plus, I’ll be tweeting and posting pictures on Instagram!
Like myself, you recently attended the Country 2 Country festival at The O2 in London – what did you think of the event, both the acts that were included and the organisation?
It’s a great event, it’s brilliant that UK fans can watch all those acts in one place, and I know even my friends in the US were jealous! I feel like the organisation could have been better with getting people in for the first of the main acts, and maybe there were some issues with where artists were placed on the bill, but overall it was a great event and I’m looking forward to the next one, even if the prices are extortionate!
What does Bro-Country mean to you and what do you think is its effect on country music?
To me, it is music that is lazy. Combining 80s rock, 90s gangsta hip hop and auto-tuned dance pop, the lyrics are sexist, banal and certainly not country. They’re not meaningful in any way and are decidedly cookie-cutter, with laundry list lyrics on trucks, tailgates, ice cold beer and generally country music clichés that don’t help anyone! It’s fine to have a few fun party songs, but bro-country takes it to a whole new ridiculous level that also results in the exclusion of women from country radio, and most notably represents them in a poor light. Bro-country promotes the exclusion of music with substance.
Eric Church recently said in an interview that he thinks in today’s music genres are redundant – something that is maybe evidenced in some US shops that no longer have country music sections, but display all albums together, regardless of style. What is your opinion on this?
I think, for the industry’s sake, genre is needed. It is useful as marketing tool aside from anything else, but on a fan level it is helpful for the spread and sharing of music. Take for example, somebody suggests you listen to a new band, and you ask what they sound like? You can’t listen to every recommendation, whether from people you know or the internet, so genre is a helpful tool. If you love soul and that person says they have a strong soul vibe, then you might try them out because you know you like the sound and style of soul. It may be hard to quantify country music, but equally it is hard to quantify any genre, and it doesn’t mean that they are redundant, merely as fluid as they have ever been. If we look back on history, it has always been as confusing as it is now, or nearly.
Which acts in country music today, if we are still allowed to call it that, represent most what you love about it?
That’s a very difficult question! I love country music’s spirit. I love Kacey Musgraves’ country instrumentation, because that sound alone keeps me coming back for more with the whole genre, but I also love her strong, intelligent lyrics. The same goes for Eric Church. He may sound more rock, but he pushes boundaries and has multiple layers of meaning in his songs. Dolly Parton too, she represents the various sounds and eras of both country and pop throughout the years, and has so much rich, meaningful material with real substance – these and many more show me that there are still artists you can create music that has a brain behind it, that has a creativity and true talent. My favorite country music is not so much the simple, standard love and heartbreak songs, but those that go the extra mile to push emotion, storyline and instrumentation.
Though your website caters for the US, do you personally pay much attention to the UK country music scene and has anyone caught your attention?
To be honest, I don’t really. Generally, the UK country scene doesn’t live up to the US side of things, although there are a few artists that I don’t mind, there are none that I honestly really love. That may change in the future, and it’s true that I’ve featured a fair few UK artists on my blog, and I do believe in their talent, but I am a hard one to please and I hope that somebody one day surprises
Lastly, and in one sentence, why should people read For The Country Record?
For The Country Record is honest without fear, but was founded with a true love of music and a warped sense of humor, which I hope is evident within the posts. They should read it because otherwise I’m just talking to myself, and I’ve spent far too long doing that!
Thank you Vickye, and bon voyage! Here’s how you can catch up with Vickye and her writing: