Devin Dawson

First Published April 2021

A MAN OBSESSED

Last Friday singer/songwriter DEVIN DAWSON added a little edge and a lotta cool to the weekend’s new-releases by dropping the ‘Live’ edition of his EP, THE PINK SLIP, the studio version of which came our way earlier this year. Now if you’re any kind of a country music fan at all, then you’ll already be well aware of Dawson from Hardy’s 2019 hit One Beer, on which he featured with Lauren Alaina. And trust me, from the minute you first hit play on ThePink Slip’s opener Range Rover, you know you’re gonna be comin’ back to this collection again, and again, and again. 


Dawson, a native of California, is a man obsessed with music and its depths. Inspired by a magical triumvirate of Johns in the fearsome forms of Cash, Fogerty, and Mayer, he moved to Nashville to study songwriting in college. And yet…he also played bass in a deathcore band called Shadows of the Colossus. Not exactly the kinda guy you’d imagine going on to become someone The Tennessean newspaper would refer to as, “…one of country music’s most tenderand articulate wordsmiths.” And yet…Dawson, who had been on the road for up to three-hundred dates a year for five years prior to Covid, actually owes the ultimate queen of country/pop, Taylor Swift herself, for the break that really set his career in motion. 


I had the pleasure of catching up with Devin a few weeks back, not long after the studio version of The Pink Slip had first entered our sonic solar system. And from a songwriter’s point of view, what a pleasure this chat turned out to be. 


We began by focusing on one of the tracks from The Pink Slip, a song he’s called one of the most important he’s ever written. The song is He Loved Her, and it’s about Devin’s grandfather, Jerry. I’ve loved this song myself from the first time I heard it because it takes me right back to the kinds of songs that made me fall in love with country music, songs from artists like Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, and Vince Gill in the 90s. So I asked Devin to tell how He Loved Her came to life…


“Yeah, it was actually kind of an interesting day. I came into the writing-room that day and I wanted to write a song, and I don’t know if I was calling it ‘Tombstone’, but something about what I would write on my tombstone. And I tend to get a little, like, darker with my songs sometimes, and sometimes I need my co-writers to help me out and find the middle-ground a little bit [laughs]. They were like, man, we really like the idea, but it’s a little bit too morbid. Is there any way we can soften it up? I wrote it, by the way, with Jordan Reynolds and Nicolle Galyon. And Nicolle was like, ‘Well what if you had three words to put on your tombstone, what would they be?’ And the first thing I said was, he loved her. And I didn’t know why that was the first thing that came to my head. It was just really simple. And Nicolle was like, ‘Well that sounds a little bit more like a title.’ [Laughs]. So we started writing it, and we ended up writing a verse/chorus, and then scrapped the entire thing because it wasn’t quite right yet. We started writing it as a love-story about this guy who loves his wife so much that he wanted to do anything to make her happy, ya know. Like, she wanted him to paint the house, and as soon as he was done, she told him it was the wrong shade! Every morning she’d cook him breakfast and he still ate it even though she burned the eggs, stuff like that [laughs]. And it was funny, but it was almost like I started not to like her as much! And it’s important for me to like everybody in my songs, most of the time. So we went downstairs, had a bite, came back up to the studio and literally started over from scratch. I don’t know if I’ve ever really done that before in a writing session. It’s kinda hard to forget what you’ve [already] done and go forward, tryin’ to find the right thing again. But I said, ya know what? When I think about ‘he loved her’, I think about my grandfather, and I think about my father, I think about my grandma, so why don’t we just go ahead and tell that story.”

I love it when I get the chance to speak with songwriters like Devin. And one of the reasons I was so looking forward to speaking with Devin specifically, is because songwriting is almost literally at the core of who he is. Devin has often spoken about how he writes every day. I wondered if that process is one that happens ‘by the clock’, or more by feel, by the mood of the day? 


“I think it’s both. It helps to do it as if it’s exercising, as if it’s working-out, ya know. It helps to do it every day. You figure out how to instill inspiration, or make it happen sometimes. Obviously I would rather write a song only when I’m inspired, and only when it happens randomly. But I’m not just gonna sit around in a dark house and wait for inspiration to hit, know what I mean? It’s our job to get up and find the inspiration, and use tricks to get us into a place that might inspire us. But a lot of times, when you write every single day…think about how you’re supposed to write something different every single day? Thousands and thousands of times you’re supposed to write something different? It’s really hard, and it’s kind of daunting when you think about that. But, there’s just so many things to write about, and so many different ways to do it. And not every day is great. But I think just talking things out, and saying oh, that’s kind of a cool song, what if we wrote about that? That helps too. I’ve kind of toned it down a little bit, where rather than writing a song every single day, I still write every day, but I don’t want to be force-finishing a song in three hours or four hours. And this year has definitely gifted me a lot more time to focus more on songs that might be served better if I took a little bit longer to write ’em! [Laughs].” 

Devin mentioned using certain ‘tricks’ as part of his songwriting process. I asked him what kind of methods he might be referring to there, if he wouldn’t mind sharing a little about them. But also, because he has those ‘tricks’, would I be right in thinking that he wouldn’t be a believer in the notion of writer’s block? 


“Hmm. I mean, it’s really just about doing it, and then your muscles get used to it. Then you kind of forget that you’re writing a song. Literally, the best thing you can do is just talk to somebody. Just sit down with somebody else that writes – or maybe somebody else that doesn’t, whatever – but just start talking. That’s where the human interaction comes in. And that’s really what a song is anyway, people are listening to you talk to them in musical form. Some of the best ideas just come from talking. Then you kind of build up this sense of – like a radar – something that would be a good song, or at least a cool line, or a different thought. I almost call it like spidey-senses [laughs]. You know how sometimes somebody says something, and you’re like, ‘Whoah, whoah, whoah…that’s a song! Let’s talk that one out!’ So it’s more so just the reputation of it, and figuring out when it is there, I guess. And writer’s block, I’m not a huge believer in it. I’ve definitely been – maybe once in my life – in a place where I thought I had writer’s block. But it’s not writer’s block, it’s just a lack of inspiration really. In Nashville, we do a lot of co-writing where we get together with a couple of different people, and I think that can save us from writer’s block. Because when you’re off, somebody else is on, and that might cause you to be inspired. So that helps. I think if I sat down every day on my own and only wrote by myself, I think I would experience writer’s block more. But that one time where I did feel that I had something along those lines, maybe I was writing but I didn’t like any of it, and I couldn’t finish a song, and I was a little anxious, doubting my skills and things like that. I sat on the couch one day and I said, I don’t care what this is, or how good it is, I’m just gonna write what comes out! I’m not gonna second-guess, I’m not gonna wait for the perfect line, I’m not gonna think about if it’s the right hook, or if it’s right to the title, or whatever! I’m just gonna write a song and see what happens randomly. And I got through that song, and it’s actually a really cool song. It’s a little different because it’s a little more abstract, but what it did was allow me to find some inspiration and get through and still finish something, even if it wasn’t like what I normally deemed as perfect. So again, I think it just helps to be rudimentary and keep doing it over and over. Do it as if it’s an exercise that your body wants to get back into every day.” 

Some country fans here in Ireland will, of course, know Devin from his Pink Slip EP, and more from his Dark Horse album. Even more again might be aware of his talents from his role on Hardy’s hit One Beer, alongside Lauren Alaina, or for co-writing God’s Country for Blake Shelton. But maybe, and without even knowing it, probably half the country will have come across the Blank Space/ Style Taylor Swift mash-up he did with Louisa Wendorff back in 2014. I wondered how defining of a moment was it when Taylor herself ended up sharing that video? 


“I’m not so sure it was defining, it was more…affirmation, I guess. It gave me an opportunity. I feel like that was probably my first big break and the thing that allowed me to have a little bit more attention on me. It was my third year of college, and one of my friends, Louisa, did a bunch of mash-ups and she had a YouTube channel she was trying to build. She was really good at singing, but she didn’t necessarily know as much on the arrangement side, and how to mash-up a song with another song the right way. I was songwriting, and I was singing, and I was really good at arrangements and making things my own. So we kind of just teamed-up, because that’s what you do when you’re in college. You’re surrounded by all these other talented people that are trying to find their way as well. So her and I got together and worked out an arrangement of the two Taylor Swift songs, and I ended up just singing some harmonies. But she was like, well you should take a verse, and I was like, well ok [laughs]. We listened back on the iPhone we did it on, and we thought, well that’s really cool actually! So then we talked to our other friend if she’d do a video for us and she was like, yeah. And then I talked to my twin brother, Jakob, the producer, and I was like can you record this for us? It was just kids having fun, and thinking what we did was really cool, so we wanted to share it. That was really all we did it for. We made the video, put it out, and somehow…Taylor saw it…I still don’t know how, I think her dad might have shown her is the rumour, but I’m not really sure. She saw it, and tweeted it out, and put it on her Facebook and Instagram and everything. It absolutely blew up and went viral and all that stuff. And it gave me the opportunity to ask myself, ok, what do I want? Do I want to be an artist? Do I want to just write songs? I’ve been in bands since I was twelve, thirteen years old, so being on the stage was something that was really important to me. And having a chance to do it myself, not with a band, kinda selfishly saying this is what I wanna say. I think I would have done it without Taylor, but it would have looked a lot different. But I’m thankful for her for putting me up there and giving me the platform and the opportunity to skip some steps and be discovered like that. How that informed the rest of my career was definitely priceless. I’m very thankful for what she’s done.”

“I still haven’t met her”, revealed Devin, continuing, “but I’d love to give her a hug and say thanks one day [laughs]. Maybe write a song or something!” 

I’d heard that Devin had actually been gracious enough to write Taylor a thank-you letter…


“Yeah, you know we’re very close as far as our proximity, she lives in Nashville, and I know a lot of people who are really close with her. And I’ve talked with her parents. There were a couple of people in the industry that I know really well, who were really close with her, and I asked one of ’em, I said hey, if I just wrote a simple thank-you would you forward it to her? And this person said of course, and I just said thanks [in the letter]. I honestly had forgotten that I did that until you said that. I just wanted to say in it, hey, you just pretty much kick-started my career, whether you knew it or not, so I just wanted to say thanks. I owe you at least that! [Laughs].” 

It’s also worth noting that around the time all of that happened, Taylor – because the lady oozes class in every possible way – made sure Devin got tickets to the Nashville stop of her 1989 tour. And, not only that, she made sure that Devin and Louisa’s mash-up video was part of the evening’s pre-show entertainment, too. 

Getting back to Pink Slip, and Devin’s song, I Got A Truck, Devin has shared how it was written following a late-night chat with none other than Tim McGraw. Again, I love to hear about how moments like this end up sparking a song. I asked Devin would he mind talking us through that night and taking us into that kind of moment, and of course, to tell us about the song itself too…


“Essentially, I went on tour with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill for a couple of summers, and I just got to know them. The first night we were opening up, I finished my set, and we end with Dark Horse and I let my band play the outro out as I walk off stage as I give hugs and shake hands and stuff. I was walking to the back of the arena, and for whatever reason, Tim McGraw – I think he had a lot of family in town that night because it was in Louisiana which is his home state – but for whatever reason, his dressing room was right next to ours that night. Usually it’s on the other side of the arena! So it was the first night, I got off stage, went back to my dressing room, and Tim was just standing there in the hallway warming up his voice, singing with his guitar player. It was just a really good opportunity for an icebreaker so I walked up with my guitar and started singing and playing, and said thanks for having me out. He just kind of started going into a wisdom conversation, if you will. He started telling me about some advice that he’s held onto all these years, things that he thought it was important for me to hold onto. I think he just saw a lot of himself in me at that time, and he just wanted to share his story. He was telling me about how he got his start in Nashville from a guy named Brian Williams who was a banker. Tim pleaded his case, told him he’d trade him his truck and all this because he needed some money because no-one else would believe in him. I was just sitting there listening to this story and thinking, jeez, this IS a f*$king song! [Laughs]. Again, it’s like that spidey-sense of something telling me that this needs to be written. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about it after we talked, and how much I related to that story, and how much a lot of it was my story as well, my same experience. I just ran with it. I was inspired by it, it wasn’t like I was forcing it. I had been inspired by it. I stayed up to like two in the morning writing it that night, and ended up recording it with the band on the bus, and givin’ it to Tim at the end of the tour, ya know, as a thanks for inspiring us, and thanks for having us out. It was just a really cool moment.” 

I also loved reading about how Devin’s song All On Me came to be written, with him listing out everything that could be all on him, to trying three or four different grooves behind it. And then, fast forward to August 3rd 2018, and the moment comes when All On Me was certified platinum. Now that’s a kind of moment that a lot of songwriters will only ever be able to dream about. What was the significance of that moment for Devin, on both a personal and a professional level? 


“Man, I don’t know. I think at that time especially, I was just goin’ so fast. There were so many things goin’ on in my life. If you go back to when that was happening and you look at my Instagram, every single day there was stuff happening. That’s what you dream of, but you also don’t realise how fast and how blinded you are [by it]. You literally have to wake up every single day and from seven to midnight just go and run, run, run, run, run. At the time, I didn’t even quantify what that all meant to me as a platinum-selling song, a song I wrote with my friends (Jacob Durrett, Austin Smith). Even now, it’s hard for me to quantify that sometimes, just because I can’t get out on the road and see what it means! I think a lot of times we quantify our success by when we play a show. Are people singing it back? Is it sold-out? Are people having a good time? It’s just hard for me to quantify. Like you said, as big of a moment as that is, especially being the first time it had happened, I think it was really just a little bit of affirmation. Like, I knew what I was doing was good, I liked it [laughs], ya know what I mean? [Laughs]. But you never really know if anybody else is gonna like it. So it was really like a quick moment of ok, I’m on the right track…keep goin’! It wasn’t like, I’ve made it, I’m done! [Laughs].”

Staying with the craft of Devin’s songwriting, he once said in an interview with Rolling Stone – when talking about the level of detail he gives to his lyrics – that, “I always know the rhyme that feels right or the word that is the right one to express that sentiment that I’m trying to go for.” I asked Devin to talk about the nuts-and-bolts of his songwriting – aspects like rhyme, rewriting, syllables in a line – and other elements that are crucial to the detail of how he writes…


“I think the more that you write, you discover your own superpower within a song. A couple of mine are knowing what rhyme is right, regardless of if I don’t know what comes before it yet, I feel like most of the time I know. Either it’s not right and something else is hiding there, or this is the right word so we need to figure out how to say everything before it. Another thing that I feel is one of my superpowers is knowing where certain things go in a song. Like, sometimes before you start a song, you just start talking and you’re like, well what if the chorus started with this? And then someone else says something but I’m like no, that sounds like the second verse. Or that sounds like the bridge, or whatever. Knowing where a certain idea goes in a song is something that I’m really conscious of, especially in country music. A lot of time you don’t want to just give everything to them [the listeners] in the first verse. You want to give them a reason to listen to the second verse. And you want to make sure that when they get to the third chorus, they’re not just like, ‘Oh, we’re here again,’ ya know. You want it to be, ‘Oh, we’re here again!!’ There’s certain little things, like details like that, that I think the more you do it, the more you gravitate towards what you want. I think there’s a lot of power – not in rewriting, necessarily – but in editing. I think rewriting a song probably means that it wasn’t good enough. Or that the idea wasn’t good enough. Or for whatever reason you didn’t write it right that day. So I think it’s more about editing, and taking a good song to a great song by just changing the word ‘but’ to ‘and.’ Sometimes it’s just getting it all out and just expelling this creativity, and getting it to the best place you can, then putting it aside and waking up the next morning and listening to it. I bet ya you’ll hear a million more melodies and a couple more words, and you’ll be like why didn’t I just say that?! [Laughs]. Getting some space from a song is something that’s really, really important.” 

Going back to God’s Country, a hit so big that it’s almost become a living entity in itself. A Billboard Hot Country Songs #1, a platinum seller, Single of the Year at the 2019 CMA Awards, a Grammy nominee in 2020, and winner of the ACM Single of the Year prize that same year…but… does that kind of success bring any kind of negative pressure with it? The kind that, perhaps, might hinder or harm a writer less sure of themselves than Devin? In the sense that sometimes when someone has a hit with a certain type of song, everybody then wants that song’s ‘brother’, or the latest version of that song…


“Yeah [laughs]. Yeah, but I didn’t feel any pressure from it at all. I think because it was a song for somebody else, there was no pressure attached to it. Like, if I had released ‘God’s Country’ as an artist, and I had a huge hit on it, I think there would be pressure for me to come back with another hit as an artist. As a songwriter, I write every single day, and I write so many different things, ya know. But no, I didn’t really feel any pressure from that song. I think, if anything, it allowed me to feel less pressure, and opened my own mind to things that we could ‘get away with’ or whatever. Because when we wrote that, it was probably something that was more Hardy was gonna sing, than I was. It was a little bit more redneck, or country I guess [laughs], than I would normally go. Or at least that’s what I told myself [laughs]. But the cool thing about that song is that when Blake did it and made it a hit – and it would definitely not have been as big of a hit if Hardy or I cut it! – and we’re thankful to Blake for that, but when it became a hit I started putting it into my ‘live’ shows in my set, and doing my version of it. And I recorded a little acoustic version of it. And I started to realise that this was my own version of it, this is how I would do the song. And it made me realise that, no matter what it is, if I wrote it and I’m singing it, it’s a Devin Dawson song. It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘too this’ or ‘too that’, people don’t care about those intricacies. They just want to hear something you wrote. So rather than make pressure, I think it relieved pressure in my own mind as far as what I could sing as an artist. If that makes sense?” 


And indeed, it did make sense. And it might also have answered part of my last question for Devin, which might also take him back to that moment with Tim McGraw. What’s the best piece of advice that he’s ever been given as a songwriter? And to follow that up, what’s the biggest lesson Devin has ever learned as a songwriter? 


“Gosh, advice? Man! I don’t know, I think the best thing you can do is just do it a lot. I think we all suck at some point [laughs]. It’s about how obsessed you are with it. Like, I just love writing songs! I’ll literally be in the middle of a conversation with somebody and they’ll say something, and I’ll go into a trance and start thinking about songs because of what they said! And they’re completely talking still, and I have no idea what they’re saying anymore [laughs]. I can’t help that, ya know! That’s just something that I was born to be enthralled by. I think walking around with the mysticism of always looking around and opening your eyes and opening your ears, I think that will inform your songwriting. Be obsessed with it. Just like anything else, if you’re not obsessed with it, then you probably shouldn’t do it! I think that’s a huge thing. And then, as far as the lesson goes, yeah, what I said earlier. Even though that informs my artistry even more than my songwriting, I think.” 

THE PINK SLIP (LIVE), the brand NEW EP from DEVIN DAWSON, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms. The original PINK SLIP EP is also available on all platforms. 

ENDS 

Twinnie

First Published April 2021

REIMAGINING THE WORLD

There are some dreams shared by artists all around the world when it comes to certain moments in their career. Take the release of a debut album, for instance. British singer/songwriter TWINNIE waited her whole life for that moment to arrive. And when HOLLYWOOD GYPSY finally did officially come into the world on April 17th 2020…it was smack-bang in the early days of a pandemic. Not ideal, to say the least. 


In normal circumstances, there’d be a somewhat straight line between moments like hearing the mastered songs for the first time, holding the physical album in your hands for the first time, seeing the album advertised in print or online for the first time. Every moment, really, is a first of some kind. And each of those moments, of course, generally leads to the biggest moment of them all…performing the album ‘live’, in front of your fans, for the very first time. 


But…when all of the above happen, but that final – arguably most important, most exciting, most liberating and climactic moment of all – just can’t…that’s heartbreaking. And tough to deal with, too, because…well, what DO you do then? 


Well, that was the set of circumstances Twinnie (full name Twinnie Lee Moore) found herself in a year ago, and has been living with ever since. And while it was heartbreaking, and Twinnie doesn’t shy away from that truth, she’s nothing if not resilient. Yes, it was among the cruelest possible twists of fate for any artist launching their debut album, but the great thing about Twinnie – as anyone who knows her will testify to – is that the fire within her always finds a way to burn brighter than whatever dark moments may shade her life from time to time. Twinnie is a beacon of light in every aspect of her life, from her music to her personality, in large part because her instinctive sense of the real leaves her with no other option than for her music and personality to be ever-entwined. Even if, at times, that has meant taking to the battlefield of principles. But with Twinnie, if something needs to get done, it gets done. 


Unable to perform or promote Hollywood Gypsy after its release last year, Twinnie satisfied her innate need to remain creative and positive by first recording a beautiful acoustic version of the album which dropped in October 2020. And now, on April 17th, a year to the day since Hollywood Gypsy first announced Twinnie’s brilliance in long-form, she has reimagined five tracks for the album for a very special EP. 


I had the pleasure of spending some time in Twinnie’s company last weekend, and I began our chat by asking her to talk through her choice of songs for Hollywood Gypsy (Reimagined) …

“Well all of them on the album are my favourites [laughs]. But one we picked is Daddy Issues. The studio version is very uptempo, and I think a lot of stuff, when it is uptempo, people kind of miss the lyrics. So I really wanted to highlight those lyrics in a different way and show off a different kind of style and perspective. I really believe – and I think this is something that I struggle with within the music industry, is that everyone’s always trying to put you in a box, and in a day and age where we can’t even label people anymore – but I really believe that there’s just two types of music, it’s either good or it’s bad. So I wanted to highlight that a song – if it’s well written – can be heard in different ways. Imagine the song to be the girl and the production to be a dress, well you can dress it up in whatever [kind of] production, and someone will hear it differently. I wanted to give a new lease of life to these songs. I wasn’t ready to let them die yet, I guess! Releasing them in a pandemic wasn’t the most amazing thing for me [laughs]. but it did alright. But I still haven’t managed to play it ‘live’ yet. The album will have been out eighteen months before I get a chance to play this stuff ‘live.’ So I thought this would be a nice nod to the album, and to the long journey that I’ve had throughout music, just to kind of redirect people back towards the studio album too, and maybe they’ll have a different perspective on the songs. So we picked ‘Daddy Issues’ as one, and it’s very different.” 

Twinnie continued, “Feeling Of Falling, it’s quite uptempo anyway, but I wanted to do a few versions where they were straight pop, like Dua Lipa, something that you can dance to. ‘I Love You Now Change’ and ‘Feeling Of Falling’ are very much like that. ‘Better When I’m Drunk’ – which is an instant download when you pre-order – it’s making fun of myself in the original version, like in the video. But I thought, actually really, underneath the surface of that, there’s quite a lot of hurt and pain. I think this one just really suited being a ballad. Again, that was to encourage the listener to hear it in a different way, even though it’s a party song. So we wanted to completely reimagine it. Then we’ve got ‘Hollywood Gypsy’, which is one of my favourites, and I just wanted to dance to that! So I had an idea of well, what if it was a kind of a funk version, with the bass and the drums really being prominent, so kind of a bit more cool in that…I wouldn’t even know how to describe it [Laughs]. I guess I can play you a little bit, just to give you a little bit more of a reference. I’m just gonna try and play you this…I have so many Dropbox links! [Laughs]. Here we go, this is it…” 

At this point, Twinnie proceeded to share a few moments of the reimagined version of Hollywood Gypsy, and let me tell you, there is a serious vibe a-coming! 

“So it’s got that very 90s, hip-hop, r’n’b kinda vibe, I guess. On some of them, they’re completely new vocals. Obviously ‘Daddy Issues’ is, and I think all of them are apart from ‘Hollywood Gypsy’ where we used the original vocal, and just rearranged the track. It was really fun to go back and delve into these stories. And for me especially to go, ok, so how can I reimagine this? I’m really proud of ‘Daddy Issues’, I just love that song. It’s such a great sonic sound. And then ‘Hollywood Gypsy’ is just so fun to dance to…”

So going by what Twinnie was telling me about the title track, her Reimagined EP wasn’t simply going to be an acoustic affair, as such projects can often be…


“Well we did a whole acoustic version of the album, because I just needed something because, again, it’s just such an anti-climax moment when you release an album in a pandemic. Because I wasn’t able to promote it. So I sat there in my room, in my bedroom, and really I just cried my eyes out. I had been thinking that this was going to be a big massive moment for me, and then it wasn’t. I didn’t really that from my team either. It was like, ‘Oh congratulations’, and then ok, we’re onto the next thing now. And that was no fault of theirs, because we didn’t have anything to push to. But it was a real kind of…I guess I was humbled without needing to be humbled. Like, I need to let go of any expectations that my music will do well or that it will connect. I do music for me. If it connects with people, then great. I just really turned back to some of the great people that I’ve admired so much. Like Billy Joel tried to kill himself after the first album he released. And Queen and Freddie had their struggles. All of these amazing people that I grew up listening to, even Judy Garland. Art imitates life, I think, and vice-versa. So I was like, I can either be downtrodden about this situation, or I can use it as a catalyst to create more, And I think, honestly, it’s been one of my best years. I released a podcast called ‘Breaking Through’ to help inspire other people. I wrote my first screenplay. Worked with Alan Menken, Andy Garcia, Mary Steenburgen. So many things happened out of being bored, and everybody else stopping. I was just like I’m not gonna do that! I’m just gonna use this as a catalyst.”

Twinnie is in Nashville at the moment writing for a new project…


“Yeah, I’m working on some new music with my record label, BBR, which is owned by BMG, so we’re just working on a new EP to take to country radio. Obviously that won’t happen straight away. The label actually didn’t want to put these new reimagined versions out, even though I produced it last year, cos’ they wanted my next look to be all-hands-on-deck for the American stuff. But I felt that it was just such a waste not to have these songs heard, and to celebrate the album, so I just did it anyway [laughs]. I often do that [laughs].” 

While in Nashville – from where she was speaking to me via the magic of Zoom – Twinnie will also be getting a much welcomed and long-awaited chance to perform again during her time in Music City, when she plays a writers’-round at the Listening Room on April 20th. But that ’round’ is part of something far bigger, and something which Twinnie clearly feels deeply passionate about…


“So, during this pandemic, I wrote a song called ‘I Know A Woman’, and launching from that next year is a global initiative trying to create more opportunity and community for women. So we’re setting up these residencies called ‘I Know A Woman’ and raffling off merch and stuff to raise money for global women’s charities. And we’ve got our first writing-camp of ‘I Know A Woman’ this weekend, so I’m really busy. So I’m a founder of that, and we’re in meetings with the Grammys, MusicCares, Women In Music, CMA. People should follow our Instagram page. Basically we highlight different talents of different women from all sorts of industries. Launching on International Womens’ Day next year, we’ve got a project called Nominate, Collaborate, or Donate. We’re setting up an ‘I Know A Woman’ music fund for grants, and a wellness fund as well to help with therapy and all that kind of stuff. The collaboration is obviously writers’ camps, where we get established writers to come and write with unknowns or smaller artists who haven’t had their break yet. So it’s that pass-the-mic thing. On the nominate side of things, on International Womens’ Day we’re asking everybody to give up their socials to a woman in their field that can have access to their audience for the day. So you’re empowering another woman, which is in turn empowering other women to have this back of forth that says hey, we are stronger together. Women in the music industry, especially artist to artist, feel like they’re pitted up against each other, especially in country music where ‘the gatekeepers’ don’t play women enough. It’s even worse on Spotify. You look at those curated Spotify playlists, there’s like fifty songs and three of then are women. It’s disgraceful. So I’m creating a board of directors with all the heads of the PROs like BMI, ASCAP, PRS, there’ll be someone from Apple, someone from Spotify. Those are the most influential people in the music industry, so why is it not changing?

Tunecore did a massive global study of the last ten years, and we’re still massively under-represented. So I’ve been speaking to the Home Office about going in [to schools] and doing workshops called ‘I Know A Song’ for kids, to get to the root of the problem, so we can educate them on being a songwriter, being an artist, being in the music business, A & R, music publisher, any of those. So you create from the bottom up this ethos that we’re all in it together. The music industry is hard, it really is for everyone. I think it’s especially discriminatory against women. I was on Clubhouse yesterday where this music exec – female – asked this girl her age. Firstly, she didn’t ask any of the men. The girl said she was thirty-three. She has a stunning voice, amazing. But the music exec was like, ‘Lie about your age, honey, say you’re twenty-five, sex sells.’ This exec was like a fifty-five year old woman! This is such an unhealthy narrative to be feeding younger generations. We’ve got a responsibility to protect these children that are finding it more easy on Tik-Tok. Labels are just signing them for insurance purposes, in case they get big. They’re given deals but there’s no kind of mental health care, to say ok, this is what you’re stepping into, this is what you can expect, what you need to be careful of. There’s none of that. I really feel like now is the time for change. Nashville has a great community, and I’m trying to pick up that community and place it in other territories for ‘I Know A Woman’ writers’-rounds, like the UK, Sweden, Australia, Berlin, everywhere, to give women a safe place to come to to be supported. No age-limit, no genre, people can just come and play and listen. I’m really passionate about creating a much safer, encouraging environment within the music industry. We have to hold these people accountable; labels, publishers, managers, agents. These are lives that some people are destroying, and it needs to stop.

As an artist, and hopefully in a few years I’m gonna become a mum, I want to feel that if my kid wanted to be in music that they’d be safe and protected. I’ve been in so many situations that have been uncomfortable. I was once told to ‘shut the f*&k up in front of the head of my label, in front of three men. And nobody stuck up for me. If my mum was in there, she would have decked him! I don’t tell her this stuff because it would be so upsetting for her. But I have to deal with that sometimes on a daily basis. And I’m quite an alpha-female, I can handle myself, nobody really speaks to me like that. So I did say something. But I thought, what if you’ve got a sixteen year old girl that is timid and is meek, yet is so talented, but she gets her dreams crushed? I just want to take that experience and make sure no-one has to deal with that. There should be no assholes, but there are, there are ones that we have to deal with every day. But it’s nice to be nice! It really is. And I’m a full believer that the more you give, the more you receive. I’m not doing this for money. I’ve set up a label, but I have no interest in running a label! But I want to create an infrastructure that just runs itself. So up-and-coming A&Rs that actually want to do that, they have a place to come and work. Also, the label is giving songwriters points on the record, which is a massive point of difference to what’s going on at the minute. We’re even in chats with big fashion designers at the minute because we want to reach out to other creative sectors about them creating the merch, with 100% of the proceeds going to global womens’ charities.” 

“I’m sorry, I just went on a tirade about something else other than my EP [laughs]. This is happening tomorrow, that’s why it’s on my brain!”

Twinnie has tour dates back home in the UK in September…


“Yeah, and I keep getting asked to go to Ireland, but there are no plans yet. But I should go. But the UK dates going ahead, I mean, I hope so! That would be horrendous to have to cancel it for a THIRD time! I’m sure it will be fine. They’re on about no more restrictions by June 21st. I don’t think they’re going to be able to hold people down any longer.” 

Twinnie has mentioned her Breaking Through podcast a little earlier in our chat, something else that she’s clearly very passionate about…


“Yeah, and it all stems from just trying to inspire people in a pandemic, and this is where the ‘I Know A Woman’ idea came from, because we interviewed a lady called Heidi Rose Robbins that has an amazing TedX talk about amazing women that she knew. We interview people from all industries, from the top of their field. We’ve got people like Dave Stewart on it, and Mimi D who does nails for Beyonce. Music is music, and I’m a part of that world, but I understand the creative brain, and all these people – whether they’re poets or astrologers – they all use the same part of the brain. We’ve even interviewed a top scientist because I’m so intrigued by how the body works. I think it’s cool to have a podcast that’s not just the glamour-side of peoples’ jobs. Although peoples’ stories are uniquely different, they all have the same common thread of persistence beats resistance. And truly, doing it during the pandemic really gave me a lot of hope because I was in a pretty dark place when the album came out. I was super-sad about everything. You’re just like, ‘I spent the last ten years getting here…!’ And then…! So yeah, it helped me, it was like therapy for me, and I’m hoping a lot of other people will feel that it’s inspiring. We’ve had great feedback, even though it only launched a couple of weeks ago.”

Speaking of inspirational people, Twinnie was on a podcast with American country singer Mickey Guyton back in February. And Mickey, as one of the most visible black female artists in American country music, has emerged as a formidable voice and spirit of note this past year…


“We did it for the BBC, it was me, Mickey, Abby Anderson, and Jimmie Allen. It’s really interesting speaking to other artists because I find that most of the time, unless we’re like really good friends, we just kind of keep quiet about our struggles. I don’t know if that’s just ingrained in us. So I think opening up that conversation to the public and to fans, letting them know that it’s really f*&king hard guys! Like, the music bit is easy. The f*&king music industry is a sh*tshow to navigate, especially as a woman. I never want to be played just because I’m a woman. I want to be played because my music is undeniable. Unfortunately, in some rooms, it doesn’t matter how undeniable you are. They would just prefer to play men. It’s really sad. And Mickey, I don’t know if she’s even getting played on country radio, but I hope she is. And I think she’s inspiring regardless, just to those black women in country music who are up-and-coming. It doesn’t always have to be a white face, or a male, or a cowboy hat, ya know. That’s why I love country music, because it’s very diverse, it represents different layers of people. Mickey was just really inspiring to listen to, because we both have the same kinds of struggles, but in a different way. It’s funny to me how they sign you, you have to fit in their box, but even though they loved you in the first place for what you were – Twinnie – they try to make you fit into this market, when sometimes they don’t know where to place you. Especially for me, because I think my stuff is more pop than anything in the UK. Trying to put me in a country that doesn’t really celebrate country music was a really bad, poor decision. They didn’t really listen to me.

“It’s fine to be country/pop here [in Nashville] because there’s a market for it. So I had a very turbulent time of protesting who I was as an artist. I was like, hey, this is my music. You signed me as something you considered country, but you don’t even know what country is. Like, have you listened to the Spotify playlists? Dan and Shay and Justin Bieber are doing something together. It’s palatable pop. It’s storytelling pop. Look at Shania Twain and Taylor Swift. So that was so frustrating for me. Having somebody else who has been through those same struggles and for her to go, ‘Stick to being yourself, that’s why people love you, don’t change!’ And it’s so funny, they [record labels] say once you have a hit you can do anything, but no, that’s not true. I would rather die on the hill, die by the sword that says I’m Twinnie, this is what I do. If you like it, great. If you don’t, fine. It doesn’t matter. But I’m not gonna spend my first album, my first look to the world, being something that I’m not proud of, that I don’t think represents me.”

Saying do something else and if it’s a hit then we’ll go back to what you want to do, screw that. That doesn’t work anyway. We saw that multiple times with artists who wanted to be a bit left-field but were turned into mainstream. Look at James Bay. My best friend produced that record, it didn’t go down well in the charts but I think it’s a great album. Your fans evolve with you, and I just didn’t want to not be myself for the first one. I struggled with that. I struggled with that with management, I struggled with that with my label, with press, I struggled with that across the board. Again, going back to the music, the music is easy for me. But when you feel like you’re a part of something that doesn’t quite get it, the emotional effect that has, and the mental damage that can do to a person, is really s*&t. So to have another artist say, ‘Hey girl, I’ve been through the same thing…’ – and Abby was the same, and Jimmie was the same. I’m like, oh my gosh! WHY do they sign people and not let them just create?! It’s just boring to me otherwise. Do you want me to just sound the same as everybody else? No. You want people to be creative because once you are creative and out of your comfort-zone, that’s when you get magic. So that’s what I endeavour, all the time, to do. Because I’d rather be different and have people hate my sound, rather than just think yeah, that’s cool…it sounds like this…! So yeah, talking to Mickey was awesome. And I know that was very long-winded! [Laughs]. I’ve had a coffee! [Laughs].”

~ The HOLLYWOOD GYPSY (Reimagined) EP from TWINNIE, is now available to pre-order on BANDCAMP, and will be released on April 17th. 

ENDS

Lainey Wilson

First Published February 2021

FEELIN’ IT WITH HER WHOLE HEART

If you’re a country music fan who pays attention to what’s going on across the Atlantic, then you’ll already have been singing along to Things A Man Oughta Know by LAINEY WILSON for quite a while. The track was first released as part of her 2019 EP Redneck Hollywood, and to date has racked up in excess of thirty-five million streams, an achievement which earned it a place on Spotify’s Nashville Worldwide Hot 50. Things A Man Oughta Know was also featured in NPR’s (National Public Radio) Best Music of 2019, who referred in glowing terms to Lainey’s “honeyed, crystalline twang.” And as of last Friday, Things A Man Oughta Know and the gorgeous, warm, southern charm of Lainey’s vocals can be enjoyed on her brand new long-player, SAYIN’ WHAT I’M THINKIN’. 


Approaching the tenth anniversary of when she first rolled into Nashville in her camper, Lainey is a prolific songwriter and every song on this new collection has a piece of her heart running through it. Heralded as one of CMT’s (Country Music Television) Next Women of Country in 2019, and also featured on MusicRow’s Next Big Thing 2021 list, Lainey likes to call her sound ‘bell bottom country’, a style which blends traditional country with a funky but modern flair. In short, Lainey’s music, much like any encounter or experience with the lady herself, will leave you with a great big smile on your face, and with your world brightened immeasurably by the light she pours into life through everything she does. Am I a fan? Damn right, I am! And if you’re not one already as well, then you will be as soon as you hear Neon Diamonds – the opener on Sayin’ What I’mThinkin’ – kick in. Much like Lainey, it’s pure country bliss. 


Last week, I had the pleasure of spending some time in Lainey’s company when the release of Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ was just days away. With that personal and career milestone so close, and her schedule all kinds of crazy right now, I began our chat by asking Lainey what life was like as she counted down the hours until release day? 


“I am on cloud nine! I seriously cannot believe it that it’s about to be here, somethin’ that I’ve worked so hard for. My team have just worked their fingers to the bone for this, it feels good! I’m humbled and excited. This record is who I am, what I want to say, and how I want to say it. And it’s pretty damn cool that I can put something out to the world that is truly who I am.” 

I wondered how Lainey felt about her album coming into the world when the world itself is such a very strange place these days? 


“I think, more than ever, people need music. The power of music is really unbelievable, and the healing that it can really do. Music has always been that way. But clearly, it’s been a rough time for everybody around the entire world. And even though these songs specifically aren’t even talking about that, at least it’s a good place for people to kind of escape, or just kind of be in the moment.” 

As if an album release wasn’t enough for Lainey to be feeling excited about when we spoke, she was also getting ready to play the Grand Ole Opry again last Saturday night. The Opry not being somewhere that you can just rock up to on showday and wing it, I asked Lainey about how she was preparing for that big night…


“Oh absolutely it’s not! [laugh]. Honestly, when you just brought it up and reminded me, I got nervous all over again! [laughs]. It is so cool and I’m so excited that I’m being invited back, it really is an honour every single time. I dreamed about being up there when I was a little girl. I remember being nine years old, and I remember exactly where I was sitting in the crowd. We saw Bill Anderson, ‘Little’ Jimmy Dickens, Crystal Gayle, Phil Vassar…and I just knew, a crazy, crazy feeling came around me, that I was going to have the opportunity to do that. How do I prepare? [laughs] I don’t know if you can fully prepare, honestly [laughs]. It’s kinda one of those things where you just say a prayer, take a shot of whiskey, and do the thing! [laughs].” 

We’d only just gone past Valentine’s Weekend when Lainey and I spoke, and it was actually on St. Valentine’s Day last year that Lainey made her Grand Ole Opry debut. I asked her what was going through her mind just before she walked out on stage, and, after experiencing such a high, did she get any sleep at all when she got home that night? 


“[Laughs] It was truly unbelievable! And I was so nervous, and for weeks before it, leading up to my debut. But the crazy thing is that right when Terri Clark introduced me and I walked out there on that stage, I had this overwhelming feeling of peace and calmness all around me. It was a huge moment for me, but I felt like I was at home. That was just a reminder, ya know, that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. It makes me get emotional even talking about it, because it truly is one of the most magical places for country music. It IS THE most magical place for country music. To stand on that stage and be a part of it is…overwhelming!”

People often say that in some of the biggest moments of their lives everything seems to pass by almost in a flash and is over before they even know it. So I wondered if Lainey could actually recall being up on stage and in the middle of her performance that night? 


“Yes! As soon as I stepped foot inside that circle, it’s like the entire world just stopped turning, just for a second. And it was just like my dreams were seriously coming to fruition and that was just a huge step for me, and in my life. It made me feel like that nine year old little girl sittin’ out in the crowd wasn’t completely crazy [laughs]. It was just this weird, nostalgic feeling that this was what I was born to do. And damn it, I’m doin’ it! [Laughs].” 

Lainey has co-written every song on Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, and if anyone was to try and describe her in just one word, then I think ‘songwriter’ would have to be high on that list. Lainey has spoken before about how important a good hook is in her songwriting, and how that tends to be a starting-point for her more often than not. I asked Lainey how that songwriting process usually unfolds, and if she has a routine around her songwriting? 


“Ya know, the cool thing about songwriting for me is that it’s honestly different every single time I sit down in a writing room. Sometimes, the ideas fall out of the sky. Sometimes, the melodies fall out of the sky. Sometimes, you have to fight for it. I get a lot of my ideas just from listening to peoples’ conversations, just finding hools and words that draw me in and catch my attention. It’s so cool because I’ve been able to write with a lot of incredible songwriters here in Nashville who have just taught me so much. And I love being in the room with people who can teach me somethin.’ I want to learn somethin’ every single time I sit down. I’ve been able to learn how to put myself into the shoes of whatever it is that we’re writing. If we wanted to write about that tree outside or whatever, well, you put yourself into the shoes of that tree and write about how that tree is feelin.’ That’s so cool that you can do that with songwriting. It’s like acting for three or four hours or however long it is that it takes you to write the song. I will tell you the songs that end up sticking out for me, and the ones that I end up actually recording in the studio, are the ones that are the most real and true to me. The ones that I have gone through or experienced. It’s pretty cool. I mean, every single song on my record really is true to who I am, and down to my core tells my story.” 

Lainey had mentioned her nine year old self when we were talking about the Grand Ole Opry, and as it happens, there’s a particularly interesting line in her bio about how she also started writing songs at nine…about tequila and cigarettes! I reminded Lainey of that old writer’s adage, to write about what you know, and told her I hoped that wasn’t what she was doing back then! 


“[Laughs] That is so funny! Anthony, I’ve always been like an old soul, you could say. I sang that song when I was nine years old to my parents. And it definitely had tequila and cigarettes in and they were like, well first of all, we don’t have alcohol in the house and neither one of us smokes cigarettes, so we don’t know where this little girl picked this up! [Laughs]. But I’d been listening! I’m always super-aware. And I knew that I heard it in a few country songs, so I said hey, let’s put it in there! I don’t know what it means, but let’s put it in there [laughs].” 

What I, as a fan, love about Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, is that it clearly matches who Lainey is as a person. It’s country, inescapably and unapologetically. Honesty pours out of every lyric. A sense of fun runs through this whole collection of songs. And, you can tell that Lainey just wants fans to enjoy listening to it every bit as much as she enjoyed recording it. And I know this matches up with who Lainey is as a person because in every interview I’ve ever heard with her she manages to laugh, and have fun, while always staying true to the importance of the songs from a songwriter’s and a musician’s perspective. So what I wanted to know was how has Lainey managed to maintain the positive attitude and outlook on life that she so evidently has? As she closes in on her tenth year in Nashville, and is now becoming that proverbial ‘overnight success’, there must have been times along the way that were tough to navigate…


“There’s been times when I probably should have packed my bags and moved home. But I’ll tell you the truth, and tell you that that really has never crossed my mind. I’ve always known that this is what I was supposed to do. And I knew it was goin’ to take me a long time. In August, I’ll have been here for ten years. But it’s just one of those things, I’ve known it deep in my heart and in my gut, this is it. There’s no Plan B. I felt like if I had a Plan B, then Plan A wasn’t gonna work! [Laughs]. So, the things that have kept me goin’, first of all is prayer, for me. The second thing is little bitty steps in the right direction. Those are the things that would keep me going. When I see progress, I’m like, ‘Alright, one step closer! What’s next?’ Those are the things that seriously just keep me excited and happy. And also, ya know, just seein’ the reaction and the connection that people are makin’ to the music. THAT is a songwriter’s dream, to see people really gravitate towards what you poured your heart and soul into. It’s pretty magical. And it just keeps me on my toes and makes me want to continue doin’ it every day.” 

Speaking of songwriters and dreams, I had to ask Lainey about Ashley McBryde. I have always believed that every dreamer needs a believer in their corner, and Ashley has certainly been that for Lainey. I asked her about a particular conversation I knew the two had about this subject on Ashley’s tour bus one night, and also what having that kind of support of someone like Ashley means to Lainey for the kind of person she wants to be as well? 


“Ya know, I have looked up to Ashley McBryde for a long time. And I’ve also seen that it has taken her a really long time to kind of break through. It gives people like me the courage to just stick it out. More than anything, Ashley McBryde is extremely talented. And it’s very rare that you’ll find somebody who stands in your corner that’s just as kind as they are talented. And that is the definition of Ashley McBryde, I’m tellin’ you right now. She wants to see me win. It ain’t this competition thing, I mean, truly. With everything in her, she wants to see me win. Talkin’ about that story on her bus one night, I believe we were in..maybe…Texas? Shoot, i don’t even know. But we were on the road. And we were drinkin’ whiskey [laughs], cos’ you know, the truth comes out when the whiskey comes out! [Laughs]. We had been playin’ music on the bus and she grabbed my hand, and she said, ‘Lainey, I love you, and I believe in you, and I want to help pull you over this wall. But you gotta promise me that whenever you find somebody that you love and believe in as much as I love and believe in you, you’ll do the same exact thing.’ And that right there, is it. That’s really it! I plan on doin’ that when I can. It’s about supportin’ people, genuinely supportin’ people, and lovin’ ’em. I mean, at the end of the day, we all moved to Nashville with the same dream and the same goal. And we know just how bad each other truly does want it. There’s nobody like Ashley.” 

From a little town called Baskin, near Monroe in Louisiana, Lainey opened for the great American country star Tracy Lawrence in Monroe when she was just eighteen years old. Fast-forward to last year, and Lainey was on tour with Tracy and Justin Moore before Covid brought the world of ‘live’ music to a halt. I asked Lainey to tell me about being on the road with those guys, and especially about something which most people might not appreciate the significance of, the fact that both men would regularly stand side-stage and watch Lainey open each night’s show…


“It’s so crazy, ya know, like, the artists that I grew up listening to, having the opportunity to go on the road for people like them was a huge moment for me. But the cooler part about it all was becoming friends with these guys. I had a twenty-five minute set on stage, and every single time I played, they were there, side-stage, watchin’ me and cheerin’ me on. And when I’d walk off they’d give me a high-five. That also shows the same [kind of] character that Ashley has. It’s one of those things like, wow…never in a million years did I think Tracy Lawrence would be sharing his whiskey with me! [Laughs]. But it does make me feel like when I have the opportunity to stand side-stage for somebody and really help boost their confidence, then that’s what I’m gonna do. Because they [Tracy and Justin] will never understand how special those moments were for me.” 

That particular tour, of course, was cut short due to everything that’s been happening with Covid 19. But since Lainey has been off the road, she’s become a mama to a little fur-baby, a French bull-dog named Hippie! I asked Lainey how Hippie was getting on, and if, when everything gets back to normal, she’ll be getting back out there on the road with her? 


“Hippie is rotten! [Laughs]. Hippie is so rotten. That’s the word for her! But she’s so sweet, she’s my girl! And I’m hopin’ that if she can figure out this whole potty-training thing that she will be on the road with me! [Laughs].” 

When Lainey first went to meet her album producer, Jay Joyce, a gentleman who has also worked his magic with the likes of Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Brothers Osborne to name just a few, his two dogs were there to greet her that day. Just one of the stories I’d heard about Joyce was how he’d walk up to musicians literally while they were playing and slightly untune their guitars just to get a different sound. I asked Lainey to share a little bit about how her experience of working with the enigmatic producer had been…


“He really is a mad scientist! I knew, as soon as I went over there and hung out with him that first time, when he opened the door smokin’ a Marlboro Light in the middle of this sanctuary studio, I knew we were goin’ to be friends! He is just himself! And I feel like my best friends are the people who are unapologetically themselves. Those are the kind of people I gravitate towards. And we hit it off. It was one of those kind of kindred spirits moments. A lot of people told me, ‘Ya know, he’s scary! He wears a black trench-coat, lights his cigarette on a toaster!’ [Laughs]. I was like, oh gosh, I don’t know what to expect! [Laughs]. But truly, I just learned so much. I felt like I grew so much during that entire process. And I really did let Jay do his thing. It was just so cool seeing these songs come to life. He kinda like puts it all in a pot, puts a little fairy-dust on it, and voila!” 

Going back to Lainey’s songwriting and a link she has to a guy who has really been making a big name for himself amongst Irish country fans over these past few years, and that’s Luke Combs. Lainey was actually one of his first co-writers in Nashville, and Luke even cut a track they wrote, one called Sheriff You Want To. I asked her about her memories of those sessions with Luke…


“I knew from the get-go that Luke Combs has something special. I saw him play at Tin Roof Revival and he had not even moved to Nashville yet. But I knew that he had ‘it.’ At this point in time, I had absolutely nothin’ goin’ on. He had just started to get an underground following. We developed a friendship, and he would come over to my camper-trailer and we’d write songs. We were both really just learning how to write, and how to collaborate. And I’m a firm believer that two brains are better than one. I think it’s important to write by yourself every now and then, but it’s interesting to see all the different angles that come from two people being in a writing room. So like I said, we were just two kids in there tryin’ to figure it out. I’m so proud of how far he has come, and he truly is just also a great person. It’s so awesome to see him do so well.” 

In closing, I asked Lainey to share the best piece of advice she’s ever been given, or the biggest lesson that she’s ever learned when it comes to either songwriting or just life in the music business…


“The story that comes to my mind is this. I grew up riding horses. My daddy brought this horse home, and he was not ‘broke.’ Daddy was like, ‘Hey, Lainey, get on this horse.’ So I crawled up there, little Lainey! The horse started buckin’, and I was cryin’ to get down. I was like, ‘Let me off, let me off, I’m terrified.’ And he told me, hold on. And I held on. I’ve carried that with me into my adult life, and throughout this whole process. Because this really is a crazy ride! It’s got a lot of ups and downs, a lot of twists and turns. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. It’s about the ride. It’s about feelin’ it with your whole heart. And damn it, I’m holdin’ on! [Laughs].”

~ SAYIN’ WHAT I’M THINKIN’, the brand NEW album from LAINEY WILSON, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms. 

ENDS

Cassadee Pope

First Published December 2020

ALWAYS RISING HIGHER, SHINING BRIGHTER

It’s said – and more often than not it’s true – that you can tell a lot about a person by knowing who their friends are. Likewise, for an artist, you can tell a lot about someone by paying attention to who they’re often spoken about in the same breath as. 


Floridian singer/songwriter CASSADEE POPE has one heck of a crossover of folk who show up in both those two groups. There’s guitar wizard Lindsay Ell. There’s the runner-up from season ten of American Idol, Lauren Alaina. There’s RaeLynn, whose 2017 debut album Wildhorse introduced itself to the world by way of the Top Ten on Billboard’s All-Genre album chart, whilst also debuting in the top spot on Billboard’s Country album’s chart, which made RaeLynn the first female country artist to do so since Maren Morris with her major-label debut long-player, Hero, in 2016. And there’s Maren herself, one of the Highwomen, a Grammy winner, and thanks to collaborations with Niall Horan and Zedd and Grey, a name known worldwide as well as being one of modern country’s superstar names. 


If Cassadee happens to be a name new to you, then knowing such artists are both her friends and contemporaries should be your first clue to her greatness. And not just as an artist, by the way, but as a person, too. And let there be no doubt, that greatness runs deep, and exists independently of anyone she might know. 


Cassadee was the winner of The Voice US back in 2012, when she was coached by country mega-star Blake Shelton. That same year, her version of Over You from the show became an iTunes #1, knocking Gangnam Style back into the #2 spot. In 2017, Cassadee became the first ever contestant from the show to be nominated for a Grammy, thanks to her duet with Chris Young, Think Of You. She’s also toured with Chris, with her friend Maren, with Tim McGraw, and with Dierks Bentley, to name but a few of the marquee names who have invited her on the road. Funnily enough, though, Cassadee’s musical journey began in what might be described as a world away from country, in a pop/punk band called Hey Monday whose big break came when Pete Wenz – bass player with Fall Out Boy – discovered the group’s demo in his manager’s office. Hey Monday’s single, Candles, even featured on an episode of Glee. 


Quite apart from her list of achievements as an artist, however, what always stands out about Cassadee – certainly to this writer – is her authenticity. She is, to put it simply, real to the bone. That was always how she came across to me before I actually had the pleasure of spending some time in her company. And, wouldn’t you know it, a little time in conversation with Cassadee proved that hunch to be right on the money. 


There were so many reasons why I was looking forward to chatting with Cassadee, and when that opportunity came my way a few weeks back, there was nowhere better to start than with the remix to her single Rise And Shine, from her EP of the same name. Now, for those who may not know, remixes in country music are generally more the exception than the norm. So when I first heard about the Rise And Shine remix, what made me most curious was why Cassadee might have wanted to present that particular track in a different light. But then, I heard Cassadee talk somewhere about when she heard that Dave Audé wanted to do the remix, which made it sound more like the idea might have come from outside of her camp. So, I asked Cassadee how, in fact, it did all come to happen…


“Well, my manager, Daniel Miller, texted and said how would you feel about a remix of ‘Rise And Shine.’ And at first, I was like, this doesn’t sound like a song that would lend itself well to a remix [laughs]. I’m thinking, you know, of it being turned into a Calvin Harris kinda remix – uuugh! – and that doesn’t seem like it would make sense. And then they said that Dave wanted to do it. Obviously I know his work, but I looked into more, and I was like ah, ok, he’s got a different vibe and it’s not super-clubby all the time. So I said ok, let’s try that. Then I got sent a verse and chorus of what he was thinking for the song. And that was so exciting, because it really just added this whole other anthemic level to the song that I wanted the song to have. But it being acoustic obviously, it only could go so far. I really felt like he took it to the next level, with a lot of the kinda big 80s snare sounds, and it was very ambient. I just felt so excited about it, I said yeah, definitely, let’s go ahead. And he was really great to work with, he was open to some tweaks. I wasn’t sure because I’ve never done a remix with somebody, so I wasn’t sure how the process would go. But it was really collaborative and I’m super happy with how it turned out.”

As Cassadee mentioned there being some tweaks involved, I wondered if it was a case of Dave sending her along some different versions as he worked on them to see what she liked and make sure she was cool with the direction the track was taking? 


“Yeah, definitely. And like honestly, there weren’t that many things. There were two little notes that I had, and they were really minor changes. For instance, the beat was coming in a little later on the second verse, and I wanted it to come in a little earlier. He sent me what he had, kind of the first round of what he felt comfortable sending me, then I had a couple of tweaks, and he did it in like an hour! And that was that [laughs]. That was the extent of the back-and-forth as far as tweaking the song [went].” 

Cassadee has described her Rise And Shine EP as being, “emo-country, acoustic record”, a description I happen to really like. As an acoustic collection, it’s obviously going to be quite different to a full-band affair anyway. But coming so soon after her album Stages (February 2019), it seemed clear to me that Rise And Shine is also a record she values just as much as her Stages long-player, and creatively-speaking, is a side of herself that Cassadee thought important enough to share with her fans right now…was I right? 


“Yeah, definitely. This album was a product of the pandemic, it was me really wanting to release something – not just for the fans and hopefully helping them out – but for myself. It was a tough year, you know. I’ve felt a big jolt in my lifestyle in not travelling and meeting fans, playing shows. So I was thinking about what I could do that would be safe, but that I could still get new music to people. And I also felt like the world at that time [early in the pandemic] was in such an acoustic state, of there not being a lot of things to be able to distract us from our problems, with not being able to go to shows, and not being able to go to house-parties or to clubs or whatever. So, I felt like it was a kind of parallel to where we were in the world, and I was really happy to see that people were appreciative of some new music and were connecting with some of the lyrics, too.” 

I wanted to move on to ask Cassadee about her songwriting. In speaking about her song How I Feel Right Now, she described going into that writing session that day with no real ideas about what to write, but then telling her co-writers on that session about a relationship she was in, and in doing so saying something like, “…and that’s how I feel right now.” And in that moment, there was their song! How important is it for Cassadee – as a songwriter – to be able to allow herself to open up like that about her personal life? And also, and perhaps more importantly, the importance of having co-writers with whom she knows she can be so open? 


“I’ve definitely learned that unless you’re willing to completely open up and share things, you’re not gonna get the depth that you want to get in a song. When I first came to Nashville, that was a really weird thing for me. I wasn’t completely trusting in the process. Telling people about my personal life felt really odd. I mean, at that point, I hadn’t been to therapy ever, so I just wasn’t used to opening up to people to that extent. But once I started, and I started to get the songs that are still my favourites – some of the songs on my first record, ‘Frame By Frame’ – I realised, well, that’s what you have to do in a session. Now, going into the sessions – and this year I’ve been writing on Zoom a lot – I’ve really been super, super intentional with the direction. I’m definitely going more pop/rock for the next full-band record. I’ve been going into these sessions with a clear, focused idea of that sound. And then also, I’ve had so many ideas that have just come up for me, maybe like two seconds before a session! Then I’m like I want to bring this up in the session. So it really depends on the day, but I’ve definitely felt so inspired, especially with the year we’ve had. Socially inspired, but also with this new approach that’s pop/rock and heading in that direction. It’s opened my mind up to a lot more ideas. If I feel a certain way that day [of a session], but someone says something that makes me want to write a different idea, then I’m being open to doing that.” 

Something else Cassadee once said is that, “I will probably never stop writing about my first love and my first heartache.” As a songwriter, I wondered if what Cassadee meant by that is that she returns to old relationships a lot to almost mine those memories for songs, looking at things from slightly different perspectives, or focusing on a slightly different emotion each time? 


“Yeah. I mean, I think that first love and your first heartbreak will stick with you, it will be so vivid, and it will be the first time that you’ve felt that thing, that deep, deep pain or that deep, deep obsession with someone. I think the first time is always the most vivid in your memory. Obviously now, fast forward to being thirty-one, and I’m writing about all relationships I’ve been in, so I’m not discriminating against the other ones [laughs]. The first time of anything is so vivid in your mind. For me, it’s so easy to go back to that feeling and write from that place. I think that’s always going to be something that people can relate to as well. I don’t ever want to just write love-songs, or just write life-songs or whatever. I want all my projects to be pretty well-rounded as far as the lyrical content goes.” 

Cassadee had mentioned this year in the context of what’s been happening socially, so I wondered if she found herself taking on any of those subjects in her lyrics? Not necessarily in a protest song style, but still directly relating to what’s been happening in the world this year, on the socio-political side of things as well as with Covid…


“Yeah, I’ve basically got a song where I’m calling people out who are basically being judgemental about someone’s lifestyle as if it’s affecting them. The actual hook-line is, ‘If you were happy, you would mind your own business’, [laughs]. I just was so frustrated with seeing my friends who are gay, or who have a new baby and posted a picture only to have people commenting saying ‘you’re not holding it right!’, or whatever! I just got so fed-up with people that were so invested in someone else’s life, especially my friends. So I just wrote a song that day and it’s turned out to be one of my favourites actually! It’ll be something people hear, for sure.” 

On Cassadee’s song Distracted, she’s joined by Lindsay Ell, Lauren Alaina, and Raelynn, all of whom Cassadee said came in to record their parts during CMA Week in Nashville, which is, of course, one of the craziest times of the year for country artists. I had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsay a couple of months back and what I noticed about her – not just during our chat, but in other interviews I’ve seen with her too – is that she always takes every chance she gets to give a shout-out to her friends who are also artists. And I’ve noticed that same trait in Cassadee. I asked her to tell me about the importance of that community of friends who are also artists.


“Oh man! I mean, it’s really saved me in so many ways. I remember really not leaning into it until three, maybe three and a half years ago. I had gone through a really weird year of transitions, getting out of a long-term relationship, getting out of a record deal, really doing all of those things at the same time. And I needed friends to really help me through that. So I leaned on my friends because I just wanted to connect with them on a level I just hadn’t been able to yet, just because of my own mental capacity I wasn’t able to really lean into those friendships as much as I could have. And also, just having someone that I was with for so long, who was my person to go to for everything, and now all of a sudden I was single, so I had to lean on my friends. The friends that I felt like I had the most common ground with are my artist friends. And it’s really the best decision I’ve ever made because now there’s just this group of girls and women that are there for each other, even when I just need to vent. Or if I just need to have a drink with someone and have it be light and easy. It’s a group of women that are going to be whatever we need to be for each other in whatever moment they need us. Lindsay and Raelyn, and Lauren, and Maren [Morris], those are the friends that I’ve really connected with over the last few years that have helped me through some pretty tough times.” 

Speaking of character traits and personality traits, from her time on The Voice on Cassadee has had some amazing opportunities to work with some equally amazing artists; Blake [Shelton, her mentor on The Voice] obviously, Chris Young, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, Maren, and of course, Sam Palladio. In working with and being around those guys, what did Cassadee learn from watching how they do things that she’s been able to apply to her own career or take into her own life? 


“I think there’s a certain level of confidence that all of those guys that you mentioned have. There’s confidence, and there’s also humility. I’ve noticed that most of the people I’ve come into contact with – especially in the country world – are so humble, and so family orientated. They just want to be your mentor. Somebody that I’ve been really lucky to work with on a personal level, but also on a music level, is Karen Fairchild, from Little Big Town. She’s kind of been like a ghost-mentor for me [laughs]. It’s not like when we hang out there’s a slew of selfies and stuff. When I see her, I’m like a sponge. I’m like ok, tell me everything! [laughs]. When I had that year that I was talking about earlier, when I was really transitioning and not having a team around me, she was the one I called and I was like, can you meet with me and can I pick your brain about stuff? I asked her about a manager I was thinking of hiring, and she knew about him and was able to tell me things. And she has that humility. She has the confidence, but she has that humility. I think that’s something that is kind of a constant in the biggest country artists. There’s that relatability. And when you see them and meet them, and hang out with them, I think they all have that thing in common. And I’m lucky to have people like that that I can look up to and ask questions.” 

And speaking of Sam, with whom Cassadee is in a relationship – and who duets with her on the song California Dreaming on Rise And Shine – the pair had an actual show at the City Winery in Nashville just the week before we spoke. I asked Cassadee how it felt to be able to perform again.


“I haven’t had a full-band show since December [2019], so I was really excited to get a full-band show! [laughs]. I had done a couple of acoustic things this year, but yeah, nothing like that. We had a really good time! But it also made us realise, hey, we could do this! You know, if we want to do a co-headlining tour someday or something like that. It felt so good to be up there in general, but to be up there with him was really fun. He sang harmonies on my songs, I sang harmonies on his songs. It was just a really fun collaborative night, it was amazing.” 

Did Cassadee and Sam have an audience there with them to enjoy the show? 


“Yeah. So City Winery basically had a big outdoor tent with tables, two-tops, four-tops, and six-tops. So if a household had six people in it and they wanted to come to the show, they were taken care of. The crowd was set up…gosh…like a good twelve feet from the stage, so we were never exposed to anyone. The crowd had to wear masks, too. Sam and I, we’ve been pretty on the cautious side of things this year, and haven’t really gone anywhere or done anything. We went to a friend’s show, that was kind of a big deal for us, and we hopped up for a couple of songs at City Winery. And that’s when we realised that they were doing such a good job. So we actually said to them that if they had any open dates we’d really love to do a show because we thought they were doing such a good job. And then yeah, fast-forward to it happening and we sold it out, and it was awesome.” 

Cassadee is an independent artist now, coming from a pop/rock background from her time with her band Hey Monday, and she has the most magnificent arm tattoo that’s both beautiful and hard to miss. Plus, Cassadee and Sam live over on East Nashville, somewhere I learned all I know about from listening to the brilliant singer/songwriter Todd Snider. So it’s probably fair to say that Cassadee is far too free and independent a spirit to fit nicely into the kind of categories and products that country radio often seems to prefer. Only the actual music itself should ever matter, of course, but has Cassadee ever found that country radio can be a battle for an artist like her? 


“Oh yeah! I mean, I’m at the point in my career – and especially this year – where I’m just writing the stuff that makes me really happy. Like, my next full-band record, I’m going more pop/rock and I’m not focusing on making sure I tick all the boxes that country radio has. There has to be a country accent in the voice, you know, and there has to be a banjo, there has to be steel [guitar]. I’m really not focusing on any of that, because I know deep down that I’m a country artist and that my sensibilities lean country. But I also love pop/rock, and I don’t want to ever feel like I have to compromise who I am to fit in a box, or in a format. Just because I would love a country radio hit, that can’t be what drives my creative process, I know that now. I know that if it does, I’m not gonna get the song that stands out. Yeah, it’s definitely been a struggle over the years. I’ve had success, and I’m proud of that for the things I’ve accomplished. I definitely think if I were a little bit more what country radio is used to from a female, I would maybe get better attention and radio-play. But I also know there are women that are seemingly the perfect country-radio female specimen, and they still don’t get played. I think that’s all I really needed to realise this year. Like, wow, why am I really trying so hard and giving things that I think are perfect for country radio…and they still don’t play it? So why don’t I just do what I want, and just do the most authentic thing I can think of and just see what happens? It’s a lot more creatively rewarding that way, so it’s been nice to just do that this year.” 

Cassadee had a very special virtual Thanksgiving planned with her fans, so we wrapped up our chat by talking about that, and also her hopes for what 2021 might hold in store…


“The meet-and-greets have been so fun. I’ve been doing them through an App called Loop, and it’s basically I think twenty-five or thirty fans at each meet-and-greet. Everybody is in a line but they get to go into a chat-room and talk to each other, and I popped in there as well. It’s really kind of fun and casual. I did a Halloween one where I wore my Halloween costume, being a ghostbuster [laughs]. And I picked a few fans whose costumes I loved and I sent a little merch-bundle to them. You get a merch-bundle when you purchase a meet-and-greet anyway, but I threw in a couple of extra little things that I thought people would like. Then for the Thanksgiving one, it’s just gonna be more of a conversation, with the theme of what we are grateful for, trying to take the positive from all of the heaviness that’s been going on. Talking about the silver lining of this year and what we’ve learned. That’ll be nice. I’ll probably do a Christmas one [laughs]. I’ve just really loved being able to connect with the fans, even though I haven’t been able to in person. Then the rest of the year, I mean, I’m going to continue to write but I have a pretty solid group of songs to start recording a record, getting into a studio that’s big enough so that we can do it safely, all socially-distanced and with temperature-checks. It’ll definitely be a different recording process than what it’s been in the past, but I want to get started and also keep everybody safe. So that’s on the horizon, for sure. Then just enjoying the holidays. My mom and sister are in Nashville, so I’ve been able to see them. I want to lean into the fact that there’s a new year looming and we can all exhale after this past weekend [of the US Presidential election], and just take comfort in next year being a different year!” 

RISE AND SHINE, the brand new EP from CASSADEE POPE, is out now on all platforms. 

ENDS

A Christmas Catch-Up…

A Christmas Catch-Up…

First Published December 2020

As much as we’d love to, there isn’t always the time or the space to cover everything we’d like to in this column sometimes. But every now and then, along comes a week like this one, where a little gap in the normal schedule of things appears and presents us with the perfect chance to have a little catch-up…! 

Given the time of the year it is, we couldn’t but cast an eye in the direction of some festive favourites to begin with. And in doing so, we need look no further than one of Irish country’s greatest servants of song, the gentleman that is singer/songwriter JOHN HOGAN. John has just released his version of the old Christmas carol, the Little Drummer Boya  superb reworking of the Bing Crosby and David Bowieclassic. This festive number has been a big favourite of John’s since he was a young lad. And whatever age you might be yourself, dear reader, hearing John perform this classic – in the way that only John can – will leave your heart all a-swirl in the spirit of the season. What a gift, indeed. 

Following his recent appearance on the Today Show with Daithi and Maura on RTE 1,John is now looking forward to joining a host of artists on the HOT COUNTRY TV Christmas Special – An Irish Country Christmas – which will be aired worldwide on December 24th. John has also been busy writing new material and laying down tracks for this forthcoming new album, with part of that process including the shooting a video for his recent self-penned recent hit, The Old Dance Hall.

Speaking recently about that very release, John said, “I wrote this song some time ago, and looking at a non-existent entertainment scene over the last number of months, I felt the time was now right to release it. The song is all about the good old days when people flocked in huge numbers to the dances from far and wide. Being a lively number, I hope it lifts people’s spirit during these uncertain times and brings back great memories.”

Like many entertainers over the last number of months, John has missed the live entertainment scene. But to keep in touch with his many fans and followers, the Offalyman regularly uploads (to his Facebook page John Hogan Singer/Songwriter) acoustic videos of himself singing songs from his large catalogue of recordings, with the count of such performances standing at wellover 70 to date. And  needless to say, they’re going down a treat with his many fans all over the world, from places such as St. Lucia, UK, Canada, Australia, and Sri Lanka.

Staying with the Christmas theme, here’s another lady who we’ll be bringing to the OTRT pages for a proper introduction sometime in 2021, the brilliant GRACE FOLEY from Kerry. As well as writing one of the best – and I think by far and away the funniest – letters of introduction that I’ve ever had the pleasure of receiving, Grace is also a classical crossover singer with what is perhaps the rarest female voice type; a contralto. According to the lady herself, “This basically means I have a classical style of singing… but a dark edge!” Grace said she’s made her way through this challenging year with music as her guiding light, and I have a feeling that her presence in the lives of those who know her has been every bit as much of a guiding light, too. 

With luck on her side, Grace confessed to being, “Blessed to get my music videos for the year recorded the day they announced the school closures back in March. I quickly turned to online platforms like Facebook and Instagram for performances, and this really was so important as it allowed me to continue to reach my audience to keep singing.” She wrote the song Together Apart about the lockdown back in the spring, recording it in her wardrobe, which, not surprisingly, she described as being,“… a new experience!” One of Grace’s favourite experiences of the year was when she performed Songs of Hope and Healing in an empty St. Mary’s Cathedral Killarney, a performance which was broadcast via Parish-Cam and which was, according to Grace, “…the most beautiful experience.” Like John, Grace also performed on RTE’s Today Show with Daithi and Maura, live from her living room with her little dog for company! 

Grace was also granted Arts Council funding to write and record her own music earlier this year, heading for Balbriggan to record two songs in back in September, just before Dublin went into lockdown. One of those songs – Goodbye To Dublin – was a Christmas one, so Grace decided she would release a Christmas EP. That collection, A Time For Christmas, Volume 1 – which features her own song and four festive favourites – met the world for the first time on November 27th, with the video, which was funded by the Arts Council, recorded literally on the day the Dublin lockdown was announced. As Grace remarked,“Basically, I’ve been creating a lot and narrowly avoiding lockdowns all year!”

We can’t wait to catch up with her in 2021, but in the meantime, add some Kerry flavoured cheer to your Christmas by adding Grace’s EP, A Time For Christmas, Volume 1, to your collection. 

Next up is HUBERT MURRAY is a Galway-born, Tullamore based folk and roots musician, best known as front man of two genre bending old time bluegrass bands: the Hot Rock Pilgrims – who have mostly seen action in the UK – and Lands End, who will be a name well-known on the ‘live’ circuit here in Ireland. He has toured the length and breath of Ireland, the UK and Europe, playing some of the most prestigious venues and festivals out there along the way, such as the Cambridge Folk Festival, Isle of Wight Festival, The Royal Southbank Centre in London, and the Wilderness Festival, to name a few. His discography to date includes three EPs and one album. Hubert’s newest musical adventure saw him departing the familiar territory of old-time and bluegrass sounds, choosing instead to further develop his voice as a singer-songwriter. 

That adventure, entitled Heaven Cried and released back in mid-November,is a song for those who sway on the balance of life, lost, as Hubert points out, “…in a never ending search for meaning.” Heaven Cried is a metaphorical idea about a person trying to help those who are having a hard time, who perhaps feel lost, or whose heads are not in the right place. It’s a caring soul reaching out to someone in need, to someone being held captive by the infamous ‘black dog’. The song asks the listener to slow down their thoughts and remember a time when they felt peaceful, and to grasp that positive memory. “Peace of mind”, declares Hubert, “will happen, there is someone out there who will help, unconditionally. You must not lose hope.”

Interestingly, Heaven Cried was recorded on digital-tape at Hellfire Studios in the Dublin mountains, and featured some of Ireland’s crème-de- la-crème when it comes to musicians, including; Pat Daly on Violin (has also worked with Ham Sandwich, Fionn Regan), Robbie Walsh on bodhran (Daoiri Farrell Eleanor Shanley), folk musicians Paddy Kiernan on banjo and Niall Hughes on double bass (both of Navá). The song was produced by Tony Byrne (Julie Fowlis, Danú) and mastered by Josh Clark (Kate Rusby), with artwork created by Tullamore native Claire Guinan.

Meanwhile, HALLE KEARNS is an emerging artist quickly making a name for herself in country music over stateside. As a songwriter, Halle differentiates herself through her controversial storytelling, melodic sensibilities, and authenticity. As a performer, she has over three-hundred shows under her belt resulting in an undeniable ability to captivate her audiences, instantly connecting them to her passion for music. Despite only being in Nashville for a year so far, Halle has already had the opportunity to open up for legendary country acts such as Trace Adkins, David Nail, Eli Young Band, William Michael Morgan, Tracy Lawrence, and The Oak Ridge Boys, to name but a few.

By all accounts, Nashville has been a-buzz with this young ladies name since her debut release, Pick Me Up, back in July. That track was featured as Song of the Week on a number of stations, including Radio Disney Country and Country Hits Radio UK. Follow-up singles I Drink Whiskey and Shoes To Fill have certainly kept that buzz going, leading to a huge – and justified – sense of anticipation around her debut EP, Finally, the five-track collection which dropped on December 11th. We’re looking forward to catching up with Halle and introducing the lady herself to OTRT readers in the new year.

Also back in November UK pop-country duo, EMMA & JOLIE, announced the release of their sophomore single, Cry For You, on, of all days, Friday 13th! November 2020. But given the huge few months for the new duo had just had – with a performance at the C2C Festival’s Country Music Week under their belts, along with the release of their debut single – I Don’t Need A Man – that shot to the number one spot on the iTunes country chart, and number thirty-two all genre charts, plus a feature on Apple Music’s Today’s Country and Country Wide playlists – a little matter like superstition was hardly likely to slow their groove. This second single again saw the duo partner with long-time collaborator and producer Johnny Douglas, and was a Nashville co-write with Lena Stone, during the duo’s first trip to Music City, one that has proved to be a formative part of Emma and Jolie’s journey. 

The tune was one of the girls’ quickest writing sessions, taking only about an hour to get out this raw, emotional ballad that speaks universally to the healing process post-breakup. Of the track, Emma said “Everything we write about has always stemmed from personal situations we’ve both been in. This song comes from a place of pain we have both experienced. The two of us, and a lot of people we know have felt this way after breaking up with somebody, and so we just want to say that if this is you we see you and you’re not alone, you can’t always shut it off because it’s so difficult.” Jolie continued, “There’s also an element of frustration in the song, when you see your ex seemingly moving on no problem but you’re still finding it difficult to keep going. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that things can take a bit longer when you have a big heart and you love deeply. It’s okay to still cry for them.”

Cry For You very much shifts gears in production when compared to the anthemic, fun summer track that was their I Don’t Need A Man debut hit. This go -round producer Douglas has created an emotional, yearning sound complete with a strings section that puts the duo’s stunning harmonies at the forefront of the song. The duo – whose full-names are Emma Walker and Jolie Harvey – met back in 2015 at music college and have been singing together ever since. Influenced by the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift, the pair bring together a mix of storytelling and modern country with sensational harmonies. A universally heart-breaking track, Cry For You will quickly become a song you return to again and again. Expect even more and bigger things from Emma and Jolie in 2021! 

After recently receiving international acclaim with a number one on the Ignition Country Charts for previous single, Thinking About Last Night back in April, UK country star HAYLEY McKAY returned with another uptempo country-pop banger, Breathe, in November.

Written in lockdown in May, and co-written and produced with Newcastle based Hattie Murdoch over Zoom, the song features pulsating rhythmic guitar, flowing drums and big melody with slick production, and deep backing-vocals. Inspired as it was by the lockdown, Breathe is about being able to enjoy the smaller things in life and taking that all-important breather that we all need sometimes, and something that was very much needed in 2020.

Hayley is an accomplished and insightful songwriter with an incredible vocal range. Blessed with a distinctive all-round style, she can effortlessly leap from earthy and soulful raw emotion, to soaring and ethereal angelic tones, which, not surprisingly, have seen her likened to Eva Cassidy, Joni Mitchel, LeAnn Rimes and Kate Bush. Over the last few years Hayley has been co-writing songs with award winning songwriters such as Nashville’s twice Grammy-nominated Jan Buckingham who has written for Whitney Houston amongst others, and Bill DiLuigi and Claire Hamill, who have written for Eva Cassidy and Wishbone Ash.

Hayley decided to release Breathe after the great international response to her previous single, the aforementioned Thinking About Last Night, which garnered radio support in Ireland and the UK, and was voted in the Top 10 Valley FM Indie charts in Australia. That track also earned support via BBC Introducing, and saw Hayley named artist of the week on various international radio stations in the US and the UK, earning features with Country Line TV, BMCA and the ISSA (International Songwriters Association). 

With the big day itself now only hours away, there’s another few Offaly artists with releases that should be on everyone’s holiday playlists. For the traditionalists out there – for all of us really, given the kind of year that it’s been – the news that Clara woman NOREEN RABBETTE had recorded a very special version of one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time, O Holy Night, brought not only excitement and expectation, but immeasurable levels of comfort as well. The Glór Tire finalist from 2019 – who hopefully has an album on its way to us next year – has what is unquestionably one of the most beautiful voices Ireland has ever produced. Whether her name eventually graces billboards around the world, or whether Noreen remains one of our best kept secrets just doesn’t matter. None of that changes the fact that her voice is golden, and will forever be so. And be assured if you haven’t already heard it for yourself, it makes her version of O Holy Night an epic moment. You could leave aside presents, trees, movies, turkey, nights-out…anything else that you might normally associate with the Yuletide season, and as long as you could hear Noreen – who, I should point out, is joined in a beautiful video for the song (filmed in Clara Church) by her brother Joe and her sister Claire – sing O Holy Night…you would still have Christmas in your heart, and all the Christmas feels. 

Another Offaly family who you need to check out at some stage over this festive season are the fabulous ROSNEYS! Headed up by my good friend Stephen Rosney – who also fronts the Irish/Americana outfit The Back Axles – the Rosneys have released an original from Stephen himself, entitled Come On Santa. And whereas Noreen’s wonderful rendition of O Holy Night slows the world to a standstill and is deeply reflective, Come On Santa really lets the reins off Santa’s reindeers and cranks the Christmas cheer right the way up to eleven in the most joyously playful expression of the kind of fun that Christmas should always be. Stephen is majestically assisted on this track – as indeed he is on his current single, Something We Can Work On – by his wonderful wife Helen, and the couple’s three children, Mark, Luke, and Jade. Rosneys…take a bow, one and all, and may there be many encores like this in the years to come! 

And last, by no means least, a long-player that should be on every music fan’s Christmas wish-list, This Kinda Love, from the brilliant SIMON CASEY. It’s not a Christmas album, but it’s clearly been a labour of love for Simon, and it’s definitely a collection that is – as the title suggests – full of heart. Featuring a title-track written by Simon himself, and which was recently play-listed by RTE Radio 1 and has been receiving extensive air-time all around the country, This Kinda Love sees Simon turn in what might well be his most accomplished vocal performances ever. At this stage in his career, Simon, with nothing to prove to anyone when it comes to his talent, and fast approaching the horizon beyond which lies the title of ‘national treasure’, is simply a joy to listen to, no matter what he’s singing. But as it happens, this collection is filled with songs you’ll simply adore him singing. From the magic of the Extreme chart-topper More Than Words, where Simon is joined by his Take It To The Limit bandmate, Johnny Brady, to the Lady A crossover-classic, Need You Now, where a delicately stripped back version of the song sees Simon and Irish country star Cliona Hagan ramp things up to an emotional high that even the American super-group couldn’t match, to the achingly beautiful Elliott Park and Walt Aldridge penned, I Loved Her First…every song is a gift in itself. Perfect for right about now really! 

ENDS