Interviews

Interview: Angaleena Presley – Her Beginnings, Career, Solo Album and UK Tour

Angaleena Presley is a name you’ll know as one third of the Pistol Annies with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe, and most recently as a solo artist. Late last year she released her debut solo album, American Middle Class, a record full of emotion, stories and beautifully soulful vocals. Lucky for us in the UK, Angaleeena is coming over here on tour this summer, and I caught up with her to chat about that and everything leading up to it.

Angaleena Presley

What role did music play for you growing up, and when did you realise it’s what you wanted to do with your life?

Music was my first love. My Mom sang Scotch Irish folk songs that had been passed down through generations of women in my family and my Dad could play a few songs on the guitar. Haggard, Credence and the Carter Family were his favorites. I had a suitcase record player and a collection of 45’s that I would take everywhere. I also listened to Loretta Lynn every night when I helped my Mom wash dishes..

You started your career in Nashville as a songwriter – was that always the plan, rather than pursuing a singing career yourself?

Yes… I moved here to be a writer and quickly realized that my songs were of the raw, edgy and honest variety and no one lined up to sing them. After my first time in the studio, I fell in love with the recording process and that was the tipping point of my metamorphosis.

How did you meet Ashley and Miranda, and how did the formation of Pistol Annies come about?

I met Ashley through our publishers in Nashville and it was love at first “write”. Ashley and Miranda were friends because they were on the same label. They were camping and writing songs one weekend and Ashley decided to play some of my music and she flipped out. They called me in the middle of the night and told me they were starting a girl band and I was in it. The next week we hung out and were writing songs within an hour. It was magical, artistic chemistry and the rest is history.

During your time in the group, when did thoughts of your solo record start to emerge and were song ideas already in your mind before you went your separate ways?

My solo record had been melting on the back burner for 2 years before we even got started. I made a record that never found a home. Major labels were afraid of it and indies didn’t really exist in the way they do now. Plus, I was in the middle of a divorce and home foreclosure, which you can learn all about in Annie’s record and my solo record… After we decided to take some much needed time for our solo careers, I got serious and made a new record because I felt I had outgrown the original one.

Are all the songs on American Middle Class autobiographical, because they tell stories of some pretty bleak times?

Yes… They’re either about me or folks who are close to me. I’ve lived or held someone’s hand who’s lived every second on it.

I’m particularly fond of Grocery Store and I have to ask, is there a particular significance with Tuesday nights?

Not really… We just wanted it to sound random and real and thought Tuesday was just as good a night as any.

Country music is an ever broadening genre these days, with the boundaries being stretched all the time. Your album, while sounding very fresh, has a traditional country sound. Was it a conscious decision to go in that direction or is that just naturally where your music lies?

Like I said earlier, I love the recording process. I had some trouble when I first got to Nashville because no one could figure out how to produce a demo on me. They were either too slick or too this or too that. So, I bought some gear and started recording myself. I would use iron skillets, cigarette lighters, and cowgirl boots as percussion instruments. I’d create weird guitar sounds and harmony parts. The first song I finished “demoing” was Ain’t No Man. When I turned it in to my publisher he looked at me like I had lost my mind. What he didn’t realize was that I had actually found my sound. The influences are all over the map from the Beatles to Bill Monroe.. That’s why I decided to produce American Middle Class with my husband. I had all these little maps to guide the way and he had the ability to reel me in if I got too far out.

How did you choose the musicians to work on your album, because they compliment great songwriting and singing perfectly?

I knew I wanted Fred Eltringham on drums because he “gets” me. He played on my record that wasn’t released and also on the Annie’s records. I also knew that I wanted Keith Gattis because his guitar playing knocks me out. He has better tone than any player I’ve heard. And, he has a style all his own that conveniently fits perfect with my style. My husband rallied the troops and hired Glen Worff, Audley Freed, Aden Bubeck, josh Grange, David Henry, and John Henry Trinko. The band was absolutely badass.

Although you’ve had previous success, both as a songwriter and as an artist, did you feel pressure with this being your first solo release?

Yes. There’s always pressure involved when you’ve decided to share part of your soul with the world. I wasn’t concerned as much with sales as I was with critic. I just really wanted people to like it. And they did 😉

Reviews have been superb for your a – how does that make you feel and is there a sense of relief when you see how well received it has been?

It feels amazing. And yes, it is a relief. It’s like giving birth. People laugh, but it is.

Angaleena Presley

You are over here touring in July – why the UK?

I am SO excited. I feel like there’s a real acceptance of what I do in the UK. Not that there isn’t one here, but how great the response has been already in the UK with advance sales of tickets and press, not to mention projects like Gretchen Peters and Kacey Musgraves and Striking Matches, just proves that real music can be heard.

Will your approach to gigs in the UK be different to those that you put on back in America, and what can we expect from an Angaleena Presley show?

I feel really confident to come over there because of what I’ve heard from other artists. I’ll play several of the shows solo, and then I’ll have a band for the shows in London and Cambridge. I love both setups. I did my first 150-200 shows solo and love to tell stories, but I also love to get up and rock faces off with a band.

For three years Country To Country has been bringing some of Nashville’s biggest names to London in March – is this UK festival known widely amongst country music artists in America and is it something you’d like to be a part of?

YES AND YES!!! I started hearing about it last year and this year just missed the window I think. I truly hope to get on it next year, it’s such a great opportunity for country to come to town!

It’s been 5 months since the release of American Middle Class – is your mind on a second album yet or does that come much further down the line, and what’s next for you?

I had my second record’s songs in my head before I even recorded the first. “American Middle Class” was the first biographical look into my life up through the birth of my son and my divorce. I feel like the next record will probably deal with a lot of content that has happened since that point. I’m excited to make it.

Angaleena Presley Tour Dates:

25th July – Broadcast, Glasgow – Tickets
27th July – Night and Day, Manchester – Tickets
28th July – The Tunnels, Bristol – Tickets
29th July – The Bullington, Oxford – Tickets
30th July – The Borderline, London – Tickets
31st July – Cambridge Folk Festival – Tickets

I have tickets for the London show, but after hearing that Angaleena be doing some solo shows I’m going to have to book tickets to one of the earlier shows too, and as the 29th is my birthday, that seems ideal. I’ll be catching up with Angaleena while she’s over, to see what she’s been up to and to talk about how her UK tour is going.

Website: angaleenapresley.com
Facebook: angaleenapresley
Twitter: @guitarleena
American Middle Class: iTunes | Amazon

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Video of the Week: Katie Nicholas – Sweet Talk

Video of the Week

For this very first Video of the Week I’ve chosen someone who not only makes great music, but also makes fantastic videos too, all by herself. If that is not a fitting first video to be showcased in this feature then I don’t know what is. So without further ado, I bring you Katie Nicholas, and her song Sweet Talk.

Sitting firmly on the pop side of country Sweet talk is as charming lyrically and vocally as the video that accompanies it. A song about being strung along is something I’m sure lots can identify with, and as quirky and fun as the video is, the message is a serious one to many people. As if writing a song, playing the instruments and putting it all together wasn’t enough, the video for Sweet Talk is a masterpiece of creativity too.

In a very busy week that culminates in her album Dizzy being released this Saturday, we caught up for a quick interview, and here’s what Katie had to say:

Tell us a bit about your music and how you started.

I’ve always been singing since I was a kid, mostly musicals (always been quite dramatic!) but then became inspired by my Dad’s musicial ability with the guitar. I also took a shine to Dolly Parton and her charming presence on stage and saw myself chattering away with my big – oversized at the time – guitar and singing sweet songs.

But in terms of when I started making my own music, it was a gradual process as I found my style. I always took an interest in telling stories, in a quirky and crafted way. I guess my music started properly once I released my track Chemistry online as a Valentine’s present for my boyfriend. It was a simple video I made in my bedroom, but it ended up circulating virally and ended up with over 110,000 views!

Your videos are quite spectacular, and I understand they are all your own work. How long does it take to film and edit?

Thank you! Yeah, I do all my filming (unless stated otherwise), directing, editing and animation! It does take longer than I’d like – mainly at the moment because I’m a 9-5 designer working in Advertising… but I make time! Chemistry took 3 days, Boots (my first animation) took 3 months and Sweet Talk was a project that I worked with on and off. I aim to really plan my time though to make sure I can keep up a consistent presence on my channel this year!

You played Country 2 Country this past weekend – what was that like?

I was truly so happy to have been picked to play at such a brilliant event, especially as I’ve not been on the circuit for too long – I met so many lovely people, other artists I love and supporters of my music! It was great fun and meant a lot to me that day.

You have an album coming out this weekend – what can expect from it and how has the process leading up to its release been? The schedule of things to do on your website looks mind boggling!

Yes my album Dizzy is out this weekend and I can’t quite tell you how I feel. The process leading up to it? Well it’s been a long one. As I do this all independently, once getting all the manufacturers out the way, sorting the barcodes, tunecodes and admin… the designing, the actual process of getting to a place where I felt it was “ready” to release was mental. I’m quite the perfectionist and it took me a great deal of time (well over a year) to appreciate and choose what tracks I felt best represent me, or at least the first stage of my songwriting. I feel truly that this album is a collection of my earliest songs, memories, and pretty much a teenage girl figuring out what love is and what it isn’t – and I know that’s such a cliche thing to base it on, but I truly write my feelings and each song is a personal experience. I also found themes developing between my songs, especially between Dizzy, Sweet Talk and Carousel – all linking to fairgrounds, whirling rides and the feelings of infatuation. Not to mention Sweet Things (someone asked me why I have so many food references in a LOT of my songs…)

What’s next for Katie Nicholas?

My aim is to try presenting music that is where I’m at now… I’ve wrote so much more material with more complex chord progressions, thoughtful lyrics and I think I might try explore a new development of my music. Not to mention I aim to support other creative unsigned and self-sufficient artists like myself create a “buzz” around their music with my next big project, Busy Bee. I have SO many things in store for that – it will bee the bees knees! 😉

Thanks Katie!

As an added extra I’m throwing in a second video, that being Katie’s album teaser – I know, I’m just too good to you all.

From that teaser we can hear that she shows her softer side on the album too, in what promises to be a very accomplished debut. As the sun shines more every day, we could have an early contender for album of the summer.

Website: itskatiecreative.co.uk
Facebook: /KatieNicholasMusic
TWITTER: @KatieCreative_
Instagram: @itskatienicholas

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Interview: Hannah Jane Lewis is Back with A New Single – First Time Feeling

Interview: Hannah Jane Lewis is Back with A New Single - First Time Feeling

It was back in February that I first wrote about Hannah Jane Lewis, when I reviewed her debut EP, and after a year that saw gigs and tours of various kinds, Hannah is back with her new single: First Time Feeling. With this new single we get those glorious vocals that we have become used to with Hannah, that ooze emotion as she bares her soul. It’s a song, that with the help especially of the guitars, builds perfectly to an upbeat chorus, and proves once again that Hannah’s ability to produce well written and catchy songs is as strong as ever.

Ahead of the song’s launch I caught up with Hannah, and here’s what she had to say:

So tell us what you have been up to since we last chatted in June, and particularly the schools tour you embarked on.

Hello! Well since June I guess I’ve been working behind the scenes on everything that is about to kick off in January. So I focused on writing and eventually took my best songs into the studio and recorded my new EP ‘Run With Me’.

I’ve also been concentrating on building my fan base. As you mentioned above I embarked on a schools tour. I’ve always been into public speaking and can be pretty hot headed with the subjects I believe in so this seemed like a perfect fit for me. I’ve basically been travelling to lots of different secondary schools talking about either drugs/alcohol abuse or cyber bullying and online safety. I pair this with performing my music, which I’ve found makes these lovely kids want to listen to the speech more. It has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life and has inspired me more than I can say.

In the latter half of the year I’ve focused on cyber bullying which is something that I strongly believe in. I spend a lot of my life (probably way too much) on social media and have seen people be brutal to each other over social media. I myself have been a victim of it, and people really close to me have been too so it’s something that

I am becoming increasingly passionate about. The response I have had from these kids since I’ve been to their schools has been so eye opening, this is something that is happening to so many of them and often their parents and teachers are unaware. Now that I’ve become involved in this I feel like I can’t back away now, so in 2015 I am going to continue these tours and get more involved with helping these kids out!

Back in June when you played at The Borderline, supporting Jill & Kate, you debuted a song which is now to be released as your next single. First Time Feeling – what’s the story behind this song?

Ah well this is a song that is really personal to me. I wrote ‘First Time Feeling’ about my experience with first love. I’d wanted to write a song about that subject for so long, it’s something that I think is so significant – at least to me. So if you listen to the lyrics it’s basically a story about looking back on the way that first love felt. Its probably one of my most autobiographical songs (which is a little scary!) but it’s something that I think a lot of people can relate to. It’s the idea that no matter where you are in life, even if you are married or have
moved on, you always have a special place for your first love.

The video for First Time Feeling is released on Thursday – what can we expect from that and are you feeling nervous, excited, both!?

Oh god I am literally SO excited! Definitely a bit nervous too though, as I mentioned before it’s a really personal song so that makes it a bit scarier but still very exciting. I had the best experience filming this video; it has turned out exactly how I had imagined when I was writing this song. I asked my friend Shaun Reynolds (songwriter/producer who I did the ‘Shake It Off’ cover with) if he could help me out and he decided to get involved and bring in his friend Tommy Reynolds who is an amazing videographer/photographer. Tommy filmed it with the help of Shaun and then Shaun edited it. I wanted to recreate all of those ‘first time feelings’ when you meet someone new, so the video is focused around that. Dino Fetscher (he’s about to be in the new E4 TV show ‘Banana’ so look out for that) plays my love interest and my lovely band feature in it too. It was filmed in Brighton, the weather was UNREAL and we basically just did fun things all day. So I can’t wait for everyone to see!

This is the first song of an upcoming second EP – how do you feel you and your music have changed between EP releases?

I have learnt so much in the space of the year between these two releases, so I would say that is the biggest change. When I released my first EP I really didn’t know much about the music industry at all and hadn’t been living back in the UK for long. I was very wide eyed and bushy tailed (which I think I will always be to a degree) but now I feel a lot more prepared and in control. This year has had its ups and downs and I’ve learnt a lot of lessons that I feel all contributed to a more mature sound in this new EP. I also co-wrote with Leo Clarke and Jamie Jarvis on three out of the five songs, that is something I hadn’t done before. I still write the lyrics by myself but I’ve loved collaborating on the music side of things. With that I’ve become very much open to a lot of different musical styles which I think shows here.

Is your new music made with the same band you were with at The Borderline and also at Country 2 Country 2013?

Yes it is! I get asked the question all the time of how I found my band and I literally feel so lucky that that all fell into place. As most people know my sister is my backing singer, we’ve been singing together since we were little so it’s amazing to have her in the band and on the new EP. The rest of the boys in the band are all my best friends, play on the EP and at all of my gigs. So it is a family affair 🙂

Speaking of The Borderline, that’s the location of your EP launch on January 17th, where you are headlining. How does that feel, and how will it compare supporting to headlining?

I’m really excited about that too. The Borderline is one of my favourite venues and I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to launch my EP. I can’t wait to headline it, which was always a goal of mine so it feels great to be doing it. I loved supporting Jill and Kate there and can’t wait to go back.

You have Dexeter and Jess Roberts supporting you that night – why those two acts?

Well I’m friends with both of them and I think they’re great. I love Dexeter’s sound, Deeanne has the dreamiest voice and they are so supportive I thought they’d be perfect. Sadly Jess Roberts can’t support anymore for personal reasons but I’m in the process of sorting someone else out to take that spot. Never fear though, Jess and I may or may not do a duet so she’ll still be there.

We’ve seen indication that you may have a tour in your plans for the future – is there anything more you can tell us about that now?

That is something I am working on right now! Lots of my fans live outside of London in the Home Counties and are quite young so I’m hoping to do some all ages shows that I will announce soon! I want to play out this new music as much as I can though so keep your eyes peeled 🙂

Is Country 2 Country 2015 something you have applied for and when do you find out if you have been successful?

Yes I have applied for it! I’m not entirely sure when everyone will find out but fingers crossed!

Single, video, EP, tour – what else is on the horizon for Hannah Jane Lewis?

Hmmm well! So yes the video comes out, then the EP and then I will be doing a little tour and playing gigs as much as I can. I’ve already started writing new music for my next EP so that’s something I’m always thinking about. I’m collaborating more as well which I really enjoy. As I mentioned above it’s a goal of mine to become more involved with anti cyber- bullying this year, so I’ll continue to do school tours and other things concerning that. And if you haven’t seen I put up my first vlog on YouTube a couple of weeks ago, that’s something I am going to do more of! You will see a lot more of my face on YouTube this year!

Is there anything you would like to say to your fans before the release of your new music?

Absolutely! I literally can’t thank them enough for being so supportive. As some of you may know, every single thing you see posted on my Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram etc is entirely run by me. I’ve got no label, PR Company, agency or management – it is purely DIY music. It would mean so much to me if everyone could get behind my music and see where we can take it. And for those of you who want to be singer/songwriters and don’t see how you can do it by yourself, I promise you that you can! That is probably the most important lesson I have learnt in 2014!

Hannah’s EP launch is on January 17th at The Borderline and you buy tickets here for just £5. That’s not a typo – tickets are just five pounds! See you there.

Website: hannahjanelewis.co.uk
Facebook: /HannahJaneLewisMusic
Instagram: hannahjane001
Twitter: @hannahjane001
Soundcloud: hannah-jane-lewis
YouTube: hannahlewis001

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Big Country, Big Album, Big Plans – An Interview With Dexeter

After a very hectic few months for the band, I caught up with Gareth from Dexeter, and he told me all about what they’ve been up to and what exciting things have coming up.

The big news at the moment is your second album, but before we get to that, what have you been up to since Country 2 Country, which served as an introduction of Dexeter to the masses?

Well Steve, we have been so busy since Country 2 Country which feels like a million years ago now! We launched Brighter Skies the day we played at the O2 which has since been on New Country UK’s Top 15 albums of 2014 on Chris Country Radio – that was a massive boost of confidence as there were some BIG names on that list! We have played a lovely summer full of festivals, played with Jeannine Barry, Gary Quinn and Laura Oakes and opened a sold out show at Camden Barfly with Coco and the Butterfields. We’ve released the first single from our second album and we are playing at YeeHaw UK alongside Chase Allan, Raintown, Ward Thomas and The Shires among others, and of course have been busy writing the new album too! Busy busy!

You recently recorded a video for your latest single Slow It Down, what was that experience like and what has been the reception to the song?

LOVED making that video – and the final result has gone down a storm opening up a different kind of audience for us which is great. It was a long hot night when we made the video – but we were so happy with it, we can’t wait for our second video which will coincide with the album release in March – at the moment it looks like it could be for a really stompy anthem we are working on called ‘Meet Me There’. It’s an exciting time – feeling so creative at the moment!

So onto your Pledgemusic campaign for your new album – what made you decide to go down this route and what can we expect from it?

So, we used pledgemusic when we hit some funding issues with our first album. It worked so well that we thought we would do it again. It allows people to get involved and really tests the active and passive nature of music fandom. Thankfully our fans have got behind it well and it is working out okay so far! Basically it is a pre-ordering system, and we have a very modest target so we are hoping to hit 100% well before the 71 days are up! There should be a few extra little bits for pledgers along the way too, and it’s been a great way to test the reception of the new album.

As I write this, you are at 66%, after just 3 days and with 71 days of the campaign left. How does that make you feel and what happens if you go over the target amount?

We are always completely overwhelmed, and very grateful when people get involved. If we go over the target amount 10% of the difference goes straight to Amnesty International. Anything that we receive over the target will go towards our next video too to support the album launch. Basically we understand that any fans pre-ordering based on one single is amazing, and especially in a time of economic uncertainty. We don’t take anything for granted.

On the same night as you launched the Pledgemusic campaign you also announced that you will be supporting Big Country for their Corby leg of their 30th Anniversary Tour later this year. How did that come about?

A really lovely bloke at The Core Theatre follows us on twitter, and we got chatting one day online – he passed our details to the programmer at the the theatre and one lovely meeting later we had the opening slot for Big Country, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their Steel Town album, a record written about Corby itself – the original steel town. There are one or two other announcements coming in the near future as a result of the meeting, and supporting nationally touring bands is really where we want to be at the moment, we feel like its the next step for us, and can’t wait to get out there and play to new audiences.

You have some festival appearances coming up, including FSA Fest and Midwinterfest – how do these performances differ, if at all, from normal gigs?

I guess the main difference is the diversity of the acts involved, we love getting out and making new friends, but lately there have also been some familiar faces at the shows and that’s really lovely too. We’ve made some good mates along the way. We love how different the festivals are too, some are really intimate and audiences are really close, and some are much bigger – we played to 4500 at Rugby Music Festival and that was great. The smaller festivals make us more nervous to be honest! It is much more obvious if you make a mistake! haha! We can’t wait for FSA Fest which will be a reunion of sorts from Country 2 Country, and Midwinterfest is set to be something very different and should be very special indeed.

Boasting 6 members already, I hear your numbers may be growing soon – what will you be adding and how will that affect your sound?

Yes! We are always looking for ways to improve our sound, so we have gone out and found ourselves a few additions – pedal steel guitar for that authentic country sound, and we’ve been looking for a second backing singer too, as the harmonies have become integral to the Dexeter sound. We are becoming an Americana orchestra!

Dexeter at Leicester City Festival - August 24th 2014

Dexeter at Leicester City Festival – August 24th 2014

By contrast you also do some gigs just yourself and Dee, so Dexeter really is the band for all occasions?

Absolutely! We’ve done that on purpose as there is a really different feel to stripping back the songs for an acoustic duo and we would love to do a few more shows like that. Nothing beats having a big band behind you, but when there are only two of you the songs really have to stand up for themselves and that’s a great way of testing if they work.

If you had the opportunity to perform at Country 2 Country again next year, what would be different from the performance you put on on this past March?

Oh man, we would love to do that again – would be even better if we could get on to one of the shows somewhere like the Bowl – we went small last year, and it worked out well – if we could take our big sound down there in its full range we could really make a lot of noise! Our new album is timed to coincide with the festival too, so there would be a whole bunch of new songs to choose from. I think we would love to get around more and meet a lot more people too – that’s really important to us, we like making new friends and that helps get the band’s name out there too.

What’s the big plan for Dexeter?

I guess that depends on how people take the new album – would be great to get out to a wider audience, not just country, but mainstream audiences too. We are currently looking for management and label support as we have got this far on a wing and a prayer, but feel like we would benefit from mentoring and guidance in that way. We would like to carry on playing out to awesome audiences, making great music and enjoying being creative. We are looking for more support slots in 2015 and hope to put together a small tour working with some of the people we have got to know along the way. Who knows? Watch this space…. 🙂

Dexeter Pledgemusic Album Campaign: link
Dexeter Live Shows: link

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Interview: Midwinterfest Organiser Alan West

It’s the middle of January – the memory of Christmas has all but gone and it’s cold. It’s a pretty dreary time of year, or at least it used to be. That was before country music stallwart Alan West came up with Midwinterfest – a country music festival that debuts on the south coast of England from January 16th-18th 2015. I caught up with Alan a few days ago and asked him all about his music, and of course, Midwinterfest.

Before we get to Midwinterfest, tell us a bit about your career in music, which includes you as a solo artist and as part of a duo with Steve Black.

I have always loved country music, ever since I was a kid. When I was 6, I saw an English country music singer called Kelvin Henderson playing with his band and I was hooked!! I played a bit whilst I was at school and around 1985 I met a bass player called Steve Elliott. We worked together as West & Elliott until early 2007. Later that year I released my first solo, Nashville recorded album, “Songs from a neophyte”. That lead to a tour with Hal Ketchum and pretty soon after that I got together with Blacky. We have a great working relationship that is based on mutual respect and a very clear understanding that we always do things, whether together or not, for the greater good. It seems to work!!

You’ve been over to Nashville a few times to both record and play – what have those experiences been like?

I LOVE Nashville, it would have to be my second favourite place on earth, and every time I go, it gets better. It’s the finest place on the planet to learn, (assuming you want to!!) very quickly, every aspect, good and bad, of the music industry. Oh, and there’s some great live music there too!!!

How have you seen the country music scene change in the UK over the years, and has it changed for the better?

Of course I’ve seen it change…whether it was for the better or not is all about perception and that is different for everyone. I don’t believe however that the past can affect the future and I am very optimistic about that (the future). Country to Country (C2C), the Nashville TV series, Bob Harris’s love of the music and constant championing of the genre, along with recent significant national radio play for the likes of The Shires and Ward Thomas have really helped country music’s profile and respectability here in the UK. Long may it continue!!

So, Midwinterfest, a country music festival whose inaugural outing will be January 2015 in Torquay. What made you want to embark on such a project?

From 1989 until 2004 I ran a weekender called The Seaton Party at a Holiday Village in Devon. I did about 16 in total, and thoroughly enjoyed every one of them but all good things come to an end. It was on the Sunday of C2C this year when I arrived early and was sat in the green room thinking about some of the acts I’d seen the day before and the buzz that was clearly around the whole event and thought it might be the right time to put something on again.

Midwinterfest

Midwinterfest

Midwinterfest is different to other festivals in that it is held in a hotel in Torquay, where guests stay for the weekend, and even eat together. Why did you go down this route rather than hiring a venue just for the music?

I wanted to keep the basic format of The Seaton Party, because it worked!! The schedule for the weekend is:

Fri 16th January
4pm Check in
6 – 7.15pm Dinner
8pm Alan West & Steve Black with Adam Sweet and Dean Barnes
9.15pm Winter Mountain
10.30pm The Swing Commanders

Sat 17th January
9.30 – 11am Brunch
Midday – 1.30pm Songwriters in the round Steve Black, Raintown, Adam Sweet, John Taylor
2pm Alan West & Steve Black with Adam Sweet and Dean Barnes
3 – 4pm The Gary Quinn Band
6 – 7.15pm Dinner
8pm John Taylor Band
9.15pm Ward Thomas
10.30pm Raintown
12.30am Late Bar Jam

Sun 18th January
8.30 – 9.30pm Breakfast
11.30am Sunday morning finale
1pm lunch

There’s a lot going on and having the event in a hotel means that everyone can relax and enjoy the whole weekend very easily….No taxis, trains or buses to separate accommodation. No designated driver required.No last orders.And, if you can find the time, you can make use of the rather splendid leisure facilities too.

When you started to think about Midwinterfest, did you have the bands you have announced in mind and why have you chosen them specifically?

Yes, pretty much. There was one band I wanted and haven’t got, but I think there may be a chance of adding them to the bill at a later date. Time will tell!!

I chose them first and foremost because I think they are all good at what they do. I also think that between them, they cover a good slice of the very diverse country music genre and will make for a balanced and very enjoyable show.

You’ve just announced a “Songwriters in the Round” show on the Saturday morning – what does that entail and who will be involved?

It entails a bunch of songwriters (Steve Black, Paul & Claire (Raintown), Adam Sweet, John Taylor & maybe others) sitting on the stage together with acoustic guitars and trading songs whilst sharing the finer details of the creation of those songs with the audience. It seems this format is becoming more & more popular here. I love it!!

There is also going to be a late night jam on the Saturday – tell us more

Not so much to tell really.The late night jam was always a very popular segment of The Seaton Party.It’s an opportunity for the bands that have played on Sat night and are staying over to make some music together in the late bar.At Seaton it wasn’t uncommon for it to finish at breakfast.Those were the days!!

Being both the organiser and also playing yourself over the weekend, that’s a lot of pressure. How are you coping with it all so far and what has the response been?

I’ve found a great little hotel (The Derwent) with an operations manager who totally gets want I’m doing and is happy to help with anything I need, the line-up is the one I wanted, my buddy John Taylor is taking care of the sound and I love playing music. If you work with people you trust and respect there needn’t be any pressure. I see it more as a challenge and the biggest part of that for me, was, and will be, spreading the word about a new festival. However something is working because the response really has been exceptional with nearly 50% of the rooms booked already.

If it goes well can we expect to see this return as an annual event?

Yes

If anyone is still making their mind up, what can you say to persuade them to book up for Midwinterfest?
I’m not sure if I’m being honest.I’d like to hope though, that if they were a serious country music fan, they could do a lot worse than join us in January.

You can find out more about Midnterfest on the website and via the Twitter account: @Midwinterfest

I for one will be making the trip down to Torquay for the very first Midwinterfest. I love the idea of parking up Friday afternoon, and not getting back in my car until Sunday afternoon, having enjoyed a few days of great music and like minded people. See you there!

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4000 Miles to Nashville Presents: Hannah Jane Lewis at The Borderline

Rising UK country / pop singer songwriter Hannah Jane Lewis recently supported Nashville duo Jill & Kate at their gig in the prestigious Borderline in London on Wednesday June 4th 2014.

I had the great opportunity to both watch the gig and interview Hannah, all about her preparation, her gigs, her plans, her upcoming schools tour and much more. In this feature you can see that interview, with footage from the performances at The Borderline too.

You can read a review of that gig here.

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Interview: The Jess Roberts Story So Far

Interview: The Jess Roberts  Story So Far

After being bowled over by her debut EP There’s An Old Saying, I recently caught up with Jess Roberts and found out a bit more behind this exciting young singer/songwriter.

Could you tell us a bit about your beginnings with music and when it became something you pursue full time?

I have always sang ever since I can remember, I used to sit with a Dolly Parton tape and a tape player when I was about 6 years old and would keep pausing the songs every couple of seconds so that I could write out the lyrics and learn them. I always knew this is what I wanted to do as a career but for a long time never thought it would be possible and kind of gave up on it and just saw it as a dream. It wasn’t until I was 18 and started studying music at college, learning about the industry that I realised I could do it.

What led to you going down the route of a country/roots/blues style?

My Dad is a huge lover of Western swing and Rockabilly music so I’ve grown up listening to the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline etc. so that influenced me a lot and I still love it. I never really thought about genre too much when I started to write, I just let it happen and that’s what came out.

While a lot of country music seems to be heading in the more contemporary direction, it’s clear from your music that you have a big appreciation of the classic artists. Which artists, past and present, do you feel have influenced your own work?

Yeah.. I love contemporary country too, but there’s still a huge fanbase for roots music and I want to be a part not letting that style grow old, it would be a shame if that happened because it’s so beautiful. I wouldn’t really say there is one particular artist that influences me, it’s more a sound in general.. I love the feel of bluegrass and the instruments such as banjo, mandolin, double bass and fiddle and I love the simplicity of the melodies in roots music. I think the likes of Ashley Monroe, Lindi Ortega, Andrew Combs & Della Mae use this style particularly well within modern country music.

You’ve just put out your debut EP, There’s An Old Saying, but how long did the whole process take from conception to release?

It took quite a while to bring this EP out. When we first started recording the EP I was writing a lot and still trying to find my ‘Sound’ and so I was changing my mind every week on what songs should go on it, right up until a couple of weeks before the launch when I realised I had to come to a final decision otherwise it wasn’t going to get finished in time.

You wrote all the songs on your EP yourself – how is the writing process for you?

Yeah I did, What You Never Had was the first real song I wrote and I co-wrote this with a friend Sadie Burgin on piano as I didn’t play an instrument at that point in 2012 and then I didn’t really write for a while after that. I started playing guitar at the end of last year and since then I pick it up and write every single day. A lot of it is really rubbish and will never be heard by anyone but it’s become a really helpful way of getting my emotions out. I’d like to start co-writing more though, I have a lot of ideas that I’m unable to get out because I’m not that great at playing guitar and it can become quite frustrating.

There are some pretty deep issues covered, especially in songs such as What You Never Had. Are they inspired by events in your own life?

Yeah, all of my songs are really personal. Sometimes I really worry about letting people hear them because they are so personal and I get scared of what people are going to think and if anyone is going to be able to relate to them. It’s always really nice to hear that people do like them and have been in similar situations.

The EP has live / acoustic feel to it, which suits your music perfectly – was that always the plan?

Yeah I always wanted my first EP to be quite stripped back so that it gives me room to grow and for people to see me grow not only in songwriting and performance but in production too. I think my next EP is going to be really quite different, but I’m not giving anything away just yet!

What’s the story behind your Dad being on the front cover of the EP?

The photos were taken at Hemsby Rock n Roll weekender which is a festival I have gone to with him since I was little and I really liked it. I wanted to keep my first EP really personal and it really mean something and he has been a huge influence to me musically that it was a way of saying thankyou for that I guess.

You had a launch party at The Castle in Manchester – how did that go and what has been the response since?

The Castle is one of my favourite venues to play, it’s a really tiny chapel like looking room and it’s dark and the audience is always so quiet, I love it! I have never headlined a show before, that was the first, I was so surprised at how many people were there and was so grateful for that. I also had Alex Johnson & Seamus Mcloughlin opening the show for me and I am a huge fan of both of their music so it was perfect.

The response to the EP has been incredible, I’ve had such lovely comments. I was very nervous about releasing it as most of those songs hadn’t been heard before so I didn’t know how people were going to react to them.

You are about to embark on a summer tour supporting Ward Thomas – how did that come about, and is recording in Nashville like they are now something you’d like to do?

I am so excited for this! I met Catherine & Lizzy when we played a show in Manchester together in January, at the castle actually! And we became great friends. We toured together throughout February so this will be our second tour together, its so much fun! We travel in a little red van and use our iPhones as a sat nav which never fails to take us to the wrong location. As for Nashville, I’d absolutely love to record there. The musicians they have there are just incredible, it’s definitely something I’m going to look into doing in the near future.

What about the whole experience do you enjoy the most, and do you get nervous before you go on stage?

I get SO nervous before going on stage, but I think I’d be worried if I didn’t. I enjoy the writing process and being on stage performing the most. Any moments where i can just get lost in the music are perfect.

You have recently been announced as playing at the inaugural Yee Haw Festival in September – how does it feel to be performing in a venue like Rockingham Castle?

I actually didn’t know it was in a castle, I have just looked it up.. It’s incredible! I’m looking forward to it even more now, I bet the acoustics are great!

Tell us a bit about the San Antone Festival that takes place in October, and your involvement in that?

The Fort San Antone Country Music Festival is run by myself and the company director Wayne Hadlow. My involvement is booking the bands, designing the posters, putting tickets on sale, social media.. Basically putting the festival together. I wanted to create a festival that gives UK Country artists the exposure they deserve. Fingers crossed it will be a success!

The UK country music scene appears from the outside to be a very friendly and supportive community – is this the case and how does that help?

The UK country music scene is so friendly and supportive, some of my best friends are within this scene and I would never have met them if it wasn’t for us all coming together to play shows and put on events and write together. There’s a lot of jealousy that goes on with a lot of music scenes but that just doesn’t seem to be the case with us, it’s great.

What’s next for Jess Roberts and what can we expect in the future?

Well, I’m touring with Ward Thomas in the Summer. I’m moving to London at the moment too so hopefully some more shows in the city, I’ve only ever played there once! The rest is a bit of a secret right now, hopefully I can share it with you soon!

You can see more of Jess Roberts here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessrobertsmusic
Twitter: @jessrobmusic
Buy There’s An Old Saying: Bandcamp | iTunes | Amazon

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Interview: Paul Carella

Paul Carella is a name you might not know, but it’s one you should definitely look out for, and his music is a must listen collection of skilfully crafted country songs. I was lucky enough to catch up with Paul just recently, and this is what he had to say.

So tell us about how you started with music, and as someone desperately trying to learn guitar, I’m very interested in your experience as a self taught musician?

I’ve always been interested in music since a young age, maybe 4 or 5, but I was more interested in singing and moving around to the rhythm of the songs, which probably explains my fascination with Elvis Presley, my first idol. It wasn’t till my very early teens that I picked up the guitar for the first time, only because my brother played. He was very protective of his guitars, so I had to sneak into his room when he wasn’t there and play them. He was right handed though and I was a lefty, so I had to teach myself to play right handed. I didn’t really take guitar seriously until I got my own when I was about 18 or 19. I just played around studying chord shapes, practising them over and over. I kept things simple and I think that really helped me develop in my early guitar playing days. For anyone teaching themselves, keep it simple practice hard and stick at it.

Have you always been a songwriter or did that come later, and how do you find the song writing process?

Songwriting came shortly after picking up the guitar but I certainly consider myself a songwriter before anything else. It’s a process that I find comes naturally to me and I’m very grateful for that. Sometimes it can be frustrating, because you just cant find that certain something your looking for, that makes the song come alive. Again, for me it’s about keeping the process simple, it’s easy as a songwriter to try and sound philosophical, to over complicate what your trying to get across in your song but when it’s simple it just seems to pour onto the paper.

You moved from Glasgow to London in 2009 – what motivated that move and how did things change for you once you were based in London?

I was actually offered a job in London and I hesitated to take it because I was just starting to find my feet on Glasgow’s music scene. I decided to take it though as I thought it would be a good adventure and a test at a young age. I didn’t know anyone or anything about the place really, but I had my guitar and I played the open mic circuits religiously, then onto the covers scene then eventually onto playing my own music at my own shows. So, I don’t think things changed for me that much when I moved to London, but it definitely made me get out there more and play because I didn’t have home comforts.

These days a lot of young artists have more of a contemporary sound, with Bro-country being a term we’ve seen banded around in the last 12 months. You have a more classic / timeless sound to a lot of your songs – is that how you see your music continuing, because in contrast to your classic sound, Red Soul Woman is a grittier almost dirtier sound, not too different from the direction Eric Church has taken with The Outsiders?

I’ve never tried to have that classic sound or to go in a direction, intentionally anyway, it’s just what it is, you know, I play and write and it just kind of comes out like that. Naturally, in my opinion, the more people you meet, the more music you hear and the more people you work with in the industry and life for that matter, influence the sound and direction of your music. Red Sole Woman was great fun and I do love the grittier sound of it, but I wouldn’t say that that is something I’m going for. There is actually an alternate version of , Red Sole Woman, on my current album, Carella, which has a more classic sound.

Paul Carella

Paul Carella

You’d been fortunate enough to take your music to Nashville on tour – how was that experience and what did you learn over there?

Nashville was an incredible experience for me, the people were amazing and it’s just such a cool place to be. It was really to test the water because although my music has been played on a Texan radio station for the past few years, it was the first time I was actually going there to play. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be taken, you know, a Scotsman singing Country music in Nashville, but it was a very successful tour where I was met with nothing but amity. I’m looking forward to going back at some point.

Your Damage is Done, seems to come from a place of pain – did it come from personal experience or it a song that you wrote inspired by something else?

Yes, Damage Is Done, for the most part, comes from personal experience. I really tried to capture those feelings we all feel in those moments of turmoil and hopefully people can relate to that.

How hard is it to get your music out there as an independent artist and how do you do just that?

It does take a lot of hard work and commitment, because there is a lot of talented musicians out there, all vying for the same thing. You just have to play when and where you can as often as you can. The more you play, the more people get to see you and get know you and the more chance they’ll grow to like you and become fans. That’s what’s worked for me!

Country 2 Country (C2C) this year gave a lot of exposure to many UK acts this year – is securing a pop up stage spot on your agenda for 2015?

Yes, definitely. It’s a great opportunity and it would be a pleasure to play at C2C.

Since C2C 2014 , and with the success of duos like The Shires and Ward Thomas, there seems to be a lot of momentum for country music in the UK, helped in no small part by the Nashville TV series I’m sure. Have you personally felt the effects of this surge of interest?

I’ve always felt that it’s always had a strong following in the UK, just under the radar. I’ve always played Country, even when I was playing the covers scene when I was just starting out. I would play songs by Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Charlie Rich etc. in bars and clubs that were not places that played that kind of music and they would always go down really well, from kids in their late teens to people of the older generations. I think the difference is, a lot of cool, young country singers are coming through that the younger generations can relate to. Things like the Nashville series and movies such as Crazy Heart and Walk The Line, have all definitely helped though.

You are going to be recording your 3rd album this year – what can we expect from that and when will it be out?

I’ve recently decided to release an E.P this year instead and release the album next year. All the songs are written and ready to go. I haven’t decided yet on whether or not I’m going to do it with my full band or not, but it will have an acoustic feel to it. The E.P will be released in October, with shows to follow.

Who in country music do you admire, past and present and why?

That’s a good one! Past, i have to go with Johnny Cash. He was the reason I started playing country music. For the most part, because we had a similar tone of voice, but the more I got to know his music, the way it was written, the freedom in his lyrics and his voice, a man who did it his way, it really hit home with me. Present, it’s definitely Zac Brown. I saw him play live and the way the crowd reacted was unbelievable. Together with his band, they create a great sound, that really clicks with me, hopefully our paths cross one day on the stage!

Now that people know a little more about you, when and where can they see you play live?

I’m concentrating on recording at the moment, but I’ll be playing in London at The Islington, a solo acoustic set on June 5th , 229 The Venue, with my band on 12th July and then again on the 9th of August. There will be shows throughout the rest of the year yet to be confirmed, you can keep up to date with my latest news on my social network pages: facebook.com/paulcarellamusic and @paulcarella

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Interview: Rising UK Country Singer Hannah Jane Lewis

I became a fan of Hannah when I saw her music video for 17 Again, and then quickly bought her self-titled EP which I loved, and reviewed here. Fast forward a few weeks and I saw her play twice at Country 2 Country, with full band on the Saturday and smaller acoustic set up on the Sunday. So she sounded great on CD and live, but I wanted to know more. This is what Hannah had to say when I caught up with her.

Tell us a bit about how you got started in music?

Well music has always been a constant throughout my life. I started to sing before I could even talk, and haven’t stopped since…much to my families dismay sometimes! I started to take piano and singing lessons when I was 8, and kind of ran with it since then. I grew up in a music filled household, and have never thought about doing anything else but music. I started to take it really seriously about two years ago now, and since then have done whatever I can to keep pushing forward.

I’ve read elsewhere that you spent several years in America – how did that come about and how did your music develop or change over there?

We’d been going to Florida every Easter, summer and Christmas since I was really little, so when I turned fifteen my parents just decided to move there. It was a second home to us already and we were up for an adventure so we went for it. By living in America and particularly the south, I was surrounded by country music most of the time. So when I started to make my own music, it just naturally came out that way. I think from living in the states I picked up a lot of ambition and drive, because they don’t do anything half heartedly out there- that is probably one of the biggest things that has shaped me and my music.

You describe yourself as modern pop/country – what made you decide on that direction for your sound?

It wasn’t really a conscious decision that I made. When I started to write, it naturally started to move that way. Vocally, I found a couple years ago that country music suited my voice the best too. I have also always been drawn to music that tells stories which is the basis of country music, so If I was going to write it myself I knew it would be in that vein.

Last year you released your self titled first EP – how did the recording process go and how did you feel when it was finished?

Ah that was amazing! The stars kind of aligned for that process, as the boys (who I had never met before) who recorded the instruments on that EP became my band. That was my first time in the studio too, so I was definitely nervous but really excited about what the outcome would be. I had been playing those four songs for so long in my bedroom with just me on the guitar, so when they started to take shape in the studio it was like a dream come true. I learnt that I am a major perfectionist, which meant that I was a lot more hands on than I thought I would be.

When it was finished I was obviously so excited, but also really scared about releasing it. That was the first representation of me, so it was quite a scary moment.

Hannah Jane Lewis on Stage at Country 2 Country 2014

Hannah Jane Lewis on Stage at Country 2 Country 2014


What has the response been to your EP and will you look to record a second EP or is an album next?

The response has been great! Everyone has been so lovely and supportive about it. I am definitely looking to record another EP which will be happening SOON. Potentially a single in the very near future.

You were part of the Country 2 Country festival at The O2 in London and played both days. Can you remember when you found out and how long did it take to sink in?

Yes I do remember, I had literally never been so excited! I had a smile on my face all day. I went to Country 2 Country the year before and hadn’t even really started putting myself out there as an artist yet, but set myself a goal of being on that pop up stage in a years time.So that was a big moment when it happened, I can’t really believe how much has changed in a year! I don’t think it really sank in until we had to send all our final information over for it to be confirmed.

You looked nervous when you were about to go on stage on the Saturday, but once on stage the nerves seemed to disappear and you sung with great confidence. How does it feel to be on stage, signing your own songs?

Haha I was a bit manic on that first day when you saw me! I am a procrastinator so it tends to be like that right before I go on stage….I make life so hard! Performing is honestly my favourite thing in the world though, I am in my element when I am up there. It is amazing to be singing my own songs too, and absolutely crazy when I see people in the audience singing them back. That just blows my mind..

You played a full band set on the Saturday and an acoustic set on the Sunday – how did they differ and what was it like playing those gigs to such big crowds?

Full band was loads of fun, I love the boys and my sis who play with me so its always a really good time. It also amplifies the energy, and I love to dance which I get to do more on full band gigs. The audience for that gig was the biggest I have played to so I was on a high from that. For both shows it was really cool to play to an audience that all love country music, that was special.

I did also really enjoy the acoustic gig though. It some ways that one was even better, maybe as it was the second day and I was a little bit more comfortable. I love the intimacy of acoustic gigs, and the audience of that one was really responsive and had lots of energy!

What’s it like playing these gigs and then having fans ask for photos and autographs?

Absolutely mad! haha something I definitely haven’t gotten used to. My sister and my friends find it the weirdest. I love meeting fans though. They are the ones who give me the confidence to push for things like Country 2 Country, so they mean a lot!

Your sister Grace was on backing vocals, how does it feel having her up there singing with you?

I love having her there! She is an actress in her own right so I will be really sad when she gets too busy to sing with me. We have sang together ever since we were really little, so its natural and comforting to have her up there. Plus I am the biggest airhead and forget to thank my band and say when my next show is etc, and she always reminds me!

As well as looking happy to be signing with your sister, your whole band plays really well together, and most importantly you all seem to be having a good time. How did you all get together?

We do all get along really well, they are the dream. I met Richard Clarke my guitarist a couple years ago, when we both used to randomly sing with this soul band. I had just moved back to England and didn’t know anyone in music, so I always went to him when I had questions about things. I asked his advice on recording and he basically took it in his hands to organise it for me. He got some of his friends to come and record the EP with me and we played really well together, so they became my band. It was really lucky actually!

Going back a few years – what was the Open Mic UK experience like?

That was definitely an interesting one! I had absolutely no idea what I was doing at that point. It was a good experience- performance and feedback wise, but I wasn’t sure of who I was as an artist or on the track that I am now so it wasn’t as beneficial as it could have been.

Back to the present and you just recently released a music video for 17 Again. What made you decide to make the video and why for 17 Again? Was the process fun?

After releasing the EP, it was clear that that song was the favourite. Lots of people tweeted/facebooked me saying that it was the one they loved, so it was a no brainer to have it be the lead track. It is hard for me to pick favourites as they all mean something different to me, but I love the message of 17 Again and have a lot of fun singing it.

Shooting the video was awesome. I was really nervous and thought I would be awkward but I ended up having the best time. I wanted it to be really personable, relatable and a true representation of me, so I basically just hung out with my band for a couple days and filmed the process!

All the songs on your EP, and your new song Worth The Wait, are written by you – what’s the writing process like for you – is it something that comes easy and do you enjoy it?

The process changes a lot! Sometimes it starts with a melody that is going around my head, or a line that I have heard somewhere that sparks something. Other times (the best times) I pick up the guitar/piano and just unload into the song exactly how I am feeling at that moment. They are all written from personal experiences and relationships, I find it near impossible to write about something that I haven’t been really close to. I love writing though, I find it really therapeutic. Luckily most of the time it comes easy, but there have been times when something is in the way and it is a little harder.

You have a few gigs in London over the next month or so but you’ve also just been announced as supporting fellow Country 2 Country performers Jill & Kate – how did that happen?

That came off the back of performing at Country 2 Country! I am so excited for that gig, should be really fun!

How important is social media in getting your music out to people?

Ah so important! It is crucial now. I was never really much of a facebook/twitter user until I realized that nowadays you can’t be a singer/songwriter trying to get your music out there without it. I think it is really important to build a fan base and keep in constant conversation with them too. Most of my opportunities have come from people stumbling across me on twitter/facebook/youtube etc, so I couldn’t be without it.

Hannah Jane Lewis Acoustic Set at Country 2 Country 2014

Hannah Jane Lewis Acoustic Set at Country 2 Country 2014

It’s unfair to ask who you most like to be like as you want to be Hannah Jane Lewis, but whose career(s) do you admire and think that’s the kind of route I’d like to take.

Hmm, well I have a lot of different inspirations. I am a huge fan of John Mayer and think it is really interesting how much he re invents himself. I like how every album has a different sound, keeping people guessing so thats something I’d like to emulate. I’ve always been a big fan of Taylor Swift, I love how she focuses on writing her own material and being really honest in songs making them universal. She’s also really good at making her fans feel appreciated.

Big fan of Kacey Musgraves too, she has really taken off in the last year and I really admire how she did it. The focus being on her as a songwriter makes her really credible, and I love her frankness. That is really refreshing to see, she’s paving the way for others with a similar mindset.

What’s next for Hannah Jane Lewis?

Well I am making plans to record another EP that I hope will be out at some point in the summer. A single that will come before that is on the cards too! I’ll also be playing as much as I can, and doing some more touring. I am potentially planning a northern tour for the end of May and am really excited at the idea of getting a southern one set up too! So basically as much as I possibly can 🙂

A huge thank you to Hannah for letting us in and I look forward to catching up again for a progress report. I’ll be seeing Hannah play live again soon, so I’ll be back with a gig review.

You can catch up with Hannah Jane Lewis in the following places:

Website: hannahjanelewis.co.uk
Facebook: /HannahJaneLewisMusic
Twitter: @hannahjane001
Soundcloud: hannah-jane-lewis
YouTube: hannahlewis001

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Interview with Vickye Fisher from For The Country Record

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…

For The Country Record

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!

Vickye with Kacey Musgraves

Vickye with Kacey Musgraves

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:

Website: For The Country Record
Website Twitter: @FTCountryRecord
Vickye Twitter: @planmymistake
Facebook: /ForTheCountryRecord

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