Chantelle Padden

First Published, March 2021

DREAMCHASER

Part 2

This year’s series of The Voice UK came to an end last weekend, with the Scot Craig Eddie confirmed as the winner. Last year’s victor, Blessing Chipata, also returned to the show to perform her new single. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not, and have never been, a huge fan of shows like TheVoice anyway, and this is one more reason why. While the show would never be on my must-watch list, I do tend to have a fairly good idea of what’s happening in the music world. And yet, I have no idea who Blessing Chipata is. No offence to her personally, of course, but nothing about anything she’s done before or since winning has ever registered with me. And, sad to say, I think the same thing will happen with Craig Eddie. 


His debut single will do well, and maybe the follow-up if the song choice is right. Chances are, though, by the time a debut album is ready to hit the streets, the shine on the title of The Voice UK Winner 2021 will be starting to dim. And that’s not necessarily a reflection of Craig Eddie’s talent in any way at all. The problem is that The Voice as a brand, as a TV show, will need to redirect the spotlight to its 2022 series. With very rare exceptions, a career built on being the last one standing on a show like The Voice almost always limits the winner to that fabled fifteen minutes of fame. And as if that wasn’t bad enough in itself, that clock starts counting-down as soon as your name is announced as the winner. The one thing that being this year’s ‘next big star’ guarantees, is that you have less than a year before you’re officially out of date. And good luck to you after that. 


From that perspective, CHANTELLE PADDEN – in the long run – has probably had a lucky escape. The Mayo woman, who first came to national attention here in Ireland when her golden, lucious voice saw Irish country star Johnny Brady choose her as his contestant on the TG4 show Glór Tíre, wowed judges Olly Murs and Will.I.Am earlier in the series. With both men wanting Chantelle on their team, she opted for Olly, who went on to describe her as a “superstar.” A few weeks later, however, when the ridiculous ‘battle’ stages arrived, Olly’s enthusiasm had waned and Chantelle’s journey was at an end. But only as far as The Voice was concerned. For Chantelle, bigger things, moments and achievements – ones that won’t come with a best-before date on them – are on the way. Her journey, the real journey, the one with music and not a TV show at its heart, goes on. And central to the next chapters of that story will be her manager Jeremy Medcalf, and her label, Legacy Records.


In fact, it’s a pretty amazing story as to how Chantelle first came to Jeremy’s attention. And not only that, but also about how the pair turned out to be living only twenty minutes away from each other after she moved to Cambridge, even though at the time, Jeremy wasn’t even aware that she had moved to the UK. As we begin Part 2 of our chat, Chantelle picks up the story…


“Well, the kind of frame of mind I was in, I wasn’t expecting anything to come of music. I was just like right, I need to get a day-job now, I need to start making some money. I can’t live on fresh air! [laughs]. I applied for a job in Boots, went through the whole rigmarole that we all have to do with interviews, and I got it anyway. I remember going in on my first day, it was a Monday, and I went in at 8am or something like that. I was sitting at the computer screen where we had to log in all our details, and I was like, uuugh…what am I doing?! I’m working here in Boots, when all I’ve ever wanted to do was sing. How did I get to this point? It was coming near the time of my break, so I remember getting up, grabbing my handbag, went down the street, saw H&M, and I said I’m gonna go shopping! Whatever money was in my purse, I said I was going to go shopping with, and it would cheer me up. Typical girl! Shopping solves everything [Laughs]. Went in, did a load of shopping, came out, and my partner – who was working in Cambridge – came to collect me when he finished. I’d have stayed shopping the whole day otherwise! I had to go down to Boots because that was where he was collecting me from, and I got into the jeep with a load of bags. And he just looks at me and goes, ‘Emmm….how was work?!’ He was looking at me as if I had two heads! I just said, ‘Don’t even talk to me!’ [Laughs]. I just said then, ‘Ah, it’s not for me’, and he burst out laughing and said, ‘I told ya so!'”


Chantelle continued, “But while all of this was happening, me having my little meltdown and wondering what was I going to do, a video of me singing at my going-away party was going viral. There were people from Egypt messaging, from Australia, it was very surreal. I’m not sure if it’s still online, it was on my local pub’s page, so I’d have to go back and look, but I think the song was about a hundred years old! A random song that someone had asked me to sing. But yeah, didn’t it start to go viral. And at the start of the video I was like oh please don’t go ‘live’, just because I was in such bad form, ya know, I didn’t want to be online. And you can actually see it, I wouldn’t look at the camera because I was thinking she’s goin’ ‘live’! [Laughs]. I was just down in the dumps that day, but it’s the reason why the song grabbed everybody’s attention, because it was a very sad, Irish folk song that I was singing. And that’s how Jeremy saw me. There’s no other way he could have seen that video [other than it going viral], because we had no mutual friends, he had no connection to Belmullet whatsoever. That video came up on his timeline, and he ended up reaching out to me online. There were messages over and back with him explaining who he was, and I was asking questions too, just to make sure that it wasn’t some randomer that was raving who was messaging me! [Laughs]. He asked me was I represented by anyone or did I have management because he would be really interested in arranging a meeting to talk over some ideas. I was like management, representation? What are you raving about! I’m currently working in Boots at the minute! [Laughs]. It was so crazy the way it happened.”

While Chantelle was by now almost resigned to the fact that a career in music may have slipped away, Jeremy, thankfully, had other plans in mind…


“He was talking about arranging a flight over and we’d meet at a place of my choosing and all the rest of it. But I had to tell him, sorry, I’m not actually in Ireland anymore, I’m over in the UK, and I’m not really doing anything music-wise, but thank you for reaching out. But he was persistent, he was like what do you mean you’re not doing anything music-wise, I think you’re phenomenal. But then he said, well actually Legacy Records is based in the UK, that’s where I’m living as well, and he asked me what part I was in. I said I’m actually in Cambridge and he was just like…what? I think one of his messages was just, ‘Are you having a laugh?’, he thought I was messing with him [laughs]. He happened to be living in Willingham, and I was in Harleston, literally twenty minutes away from each other. Absolutely crazy.” 


When she and Jeremy met, Chantelle wasn’t actively doing anything anymore as far as music was concerned, with no real contacts to speak of, and no idea about how she might even record anything. Having grown convinced that she didn’t have a chance of making it as an Irish country artist, she had been hesitant to even think about going near a recording studio. But by reassuring her that commercial country was the lane Chantelle should actually be in, Jeremy helped to change that. And, as Chantelle was about to reveal, Jeremy actually had very close personal links to the Irish country music scene himself…


“Now a lot of people don’t know this, but Jeremy’s mother worked on the Irish country scene, she toured with Foster and Allen, Daniel O’ Donnell, Philomena Begley. Michelle Calaz was her stage name. She even performed on Live At 3, a show I’m sure some people will still remember fondly. So he has some idea of how the Irish country scene used to work back then. And he was very surprised to see that it’s still working that way, with a lot of the same people who were heading the shows back then are still the main headliners. His idea was well, ‘Why don’t you try to bring something different to the table?’ Now obviously, I respect anyone I grew up listening to. Philomena Begley rang me the other week, and I was starstruck! The only time in my life I’ve ever been starstruck! [Laughs]. I wasn’t even starstruck meeting Sir Tom Jones, but when Philly rang me I was like WHAT is goin’ on?! [Laughs]. But I still got what he [Jeremy] was saying, and I explained that they were all still pulling in the crowds. But Jeremy suggested that maybe it was because no-one has tried to actually do something really different. That got me thinking. And I asked him if he thought that where I fit in the scene, would that work in Ireland? He was like, well, there’s only one way to find out! Lo and behold, the first album we released with Legacy was called Let’s Begin, and it went to #1 on the Irish charts on iTunes. So that was a sign that ok, I have some hope. My only problem is getting my name out there. I knew that I needed to be seen on certain platforms, be it a talk-show, or performing somewhere on stage. I went on tour with Nathan, which was amazing. He brought me on his 2018 summer tour. Phenomenal experience for me. A few things started happening when I got with Legacy, because I had the right kind of input, and they offered me great advice on how to approach things. I still have a lot to learn, and I’m always trying to improve and stuff. Legacy helped me to realise that if I don’t take the risk, I’m just going to be like everybody else. And I’ll keep slipping through the cracks, ya know.” 


Moving slightly away from the music side of things for a moment, one of the things I really love, and admire, and respect about Chantelle, is that she’s so open about having the same kinds of insecurities as everybody else. She acknowledges that what people generally see online – from most people – is usually made for online, it isn’t real-life, so it’s not always going to reflect real-life. One of the reasons why I think all of that is so important about Chantelle is because – certainly on the outside – her, and her life, seem pretty much perfect. Now, she could just let that perception be the only thing that anyone knows, but she doesn’t. I asked her why she felt it was the right thing to do, to say, as she has done, “Hey, I love my coffee, I love my chocolate, I love my filters, and I sometimes don’t love myself as much as I should…”


“I think back to my younger self, and if there had been more public figures who had been more open and more real, I don’t think I would have felt so self-conscious. Even though it [social media] wasn’t really a big thing when I was in my teens – it’s only after exploding now in the last while – but I’m well aware that I have a lot of younger followers. And they message me a lot of the time to tell me if they’re insecure about something, or if there’s something bothering them. And I always would keep that kind of connection with…I don’t even like calling them just fans, to be honest with ya. I’d be nothing without the people that follow me. Fans is kind of a basic word used by everyone. But I want them to feel like I can be a friend as well. An awful lot of younger people, and even people older than me, reach out. Everything we see online can be very…[pause]…edited! [Laughs]. It’s made to look perfect, and we only post the good parts of our lives. But ya know what? That’s not the way life works! Oh Jesus, when I say I went through an awkward phase, I mean I went through an awkward phase! [Laughs]. And I’m still insecure. But I’m open about it. Yes, I wear make-up, and I put on big lashes to try and make myself feel good, to feel ‘pretty’, whatever that is. I’ll never be perfect, and I don’t try to be. I can be the world’s worst! I’ve done shoots working with The Voice and I’ll be like, make sure you get a good angle on me now! [Laughs]. Part of me is making a joke, but a part of me is saying, oh Jesus, do I have to suck in now when I’m speaking here! [Laughs]. But that’s real-life, though. No matter whether you’re a size-zero, or a size thirty, whatever, you’ll always have different insecurities. It might be that you don’t like your figure, or you don’t like your hair, or your skin. I’ve always been open about the fact that my weight fluctuates. If I want to be good, and tone-up, and lose weight, I’ll just cut out the crap and try and be strict on myself. But then there’s another part of me that sees my skin flare up all the time from wearing make-up, your typical first-world problems [Laughs]. But I don’t see the problem in making those things known. We’re only human. And it might help someone else feel normal by doing that.” 

Chantelle has described her musical journey as feeling like “a never-ending road of potholes” sometimes! Apart from her love of music itself, and of performing, what else has given her the strength to keep going on that road? 


“Do you know how some people can work in a job that they may not necessarily like, but they still do it because they need to? Well, it’s kind of like I need to keep doing what I love because I know I won’t like doing anything else. My journey has been literally like a never-ending road of potholes [laughs], there’s always set-backs, there’s always knocks. But do you know what? I can honestly say that any knock or set-back – and there’s been a few – I’ve grown from them. Sometimes, if you’re not good enough, you need to take it on the chin, and you need to work on it. I’ve always had that mentality. Whatever is not going my way, I figure out where it’s going wrong, try and resolve the issue, and then crack on again! And if it keeps happening…well, your luck has to change some day! [Laughs]. Anyone who’s ever had longevity out of their careers has to do that. Look at Sir Tom Jones, for instance, he once had to work on a building site for years before he had his first number-one hit at the age of twenty-four. I’m only twenty-four, so hopefully I have some hits coming [Laughs]. But people like him, like Dolly Parton, they grew up in hard times, they’ve definitely had set-backs. Shania Twain has had set-backs. Even our own Margo. I actually had a conversation with that lady recently too, lovely woman. And she said to me, ‘Don’t let it hold you back, that you come from a small town, I’m the same. I come from the middle of nowhere too!’ [Laughs]. If I give up, then it will all have been for nothing. And someone that never gives up, will never fail. If you keep on tryin’, you’ll never be a failure!” 


CHURCH BELLS, the latest single from CHANTELLE PADDEN, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. 

ENDS

Chantelle Padden

First Published March 2021

DREAMCHASER

Part 1

You only need to hear CHANTELLE PADDEN sing once to know that she has the voice of a superstar. And truth be told, Chantelle has a voice miles better than many artists who have forged hugely successful careers and have had bestowed upon them that title of ‘superstar.’ More than even just that, though, you only need to see or hear Chantelle interviewed once to know the lady from Belmullet has the personality and charisma to match her vocal talent. And in the same way her voice is both authentic and unique, so too is Chantelle herself. 


So, given that shows like The Voice are based upon the whole premise of finding the world’s next vocal superstar, you’d imagine that once Chantelle had made it through to the ‘live’ shows, it would be impossible for a panel of four of music’s biggest names to leave her behind. Chantelle, after all, is EXACTLY what they were looking for. The voice, but also the looks, and then the personality as well, not to mention the work-ethic…everything was there. Everything was ready. Chantelle was ready. Her time, surely, had come…


Ah…but the problem, of course, with TV shows like The Voice, is that they are – and always will be – TV shows first. And that, by definition, means that the performers must come second. The idea that the judges must first choose their teams based only on hearing performers sing is great. What happens next, pitting performers against each other in ‘battles’ where one must be told they’re not good enough – for whatever reason – is actually disgraceful. That is not the way to showcase, encourage or support talent. It might make for good television from time to time, but those kinds of moments – certainly in my opinion anyway – are not worth treating people that way. Simple.


Anyway, if you tuned into the latest series of the show to watch Chantelle’s ‘battle’ a few weeks back, you were probably as flabbergasted as I was that Olly Murs decided her time on the show was going to end that night. A choice as bizarre as it was ridiculous. Well, as the saying goes, and it surely suits such a moment…their loss! Olly’s and the show’s. Chantelle’s talent, and indeed, Chantelle herself, are bigger than The Voice. And time, I’m sure, will prove it. Chantelle, to be fair, would never even think that way, let alone say something like that. But she doesn’t have to, because I will. And I’m not alone in thinking that way, either. 


Chantelle Padden is a born dreamchaser. And souls like that have an inner-fight that drives them on and on, and on again, until their dreams are in their hands. 


We’d been planning on chatting to Chantelle for OTRT for quite a while, before it was even announced that she was going to be performing on The Voice this year. And thankfully, that news gave us the perfect opportunity to finally put a date in the diary to do just that. 


So with Chantelle’s battle only days away when we sat down to talk the other week, I began our chat by asking her how she was feeling about it, what the past week had been like for her, and…what did she think the Saturday night ahead of her would be like? 


“I’m really excited! It’s another chance to showcase a little bit more about myself, and what I’d like to bring to the show, I guess. It’s the battle stages, and unfortunately only one can go through as there’s no ‘steals’ left. So the pressure is on to hopefully try and win Olly over. Hopefully he’ll see that the industry needs more female country artists in the UK and Ireland. At the end of the day, the prize is a record deal with Universal Records, so I’m hoping that I’m showing that I can be commercial and would be worth putting in a position to potentially grab that prize! We all go into this competition with that dream, everyone wants to do well. But I’m the only country artist on the show this year, I’m the only one flying the flag for country music. And of course I’m the only Irish contestant as well, so the pressure is on, I’m not gonna lie! [laughs]. It’s nerve-wracking, but at the same time, do you know, it’s exposure and experience that money can’t buy. So I’ll just be trying to do the song justice and get across the story of it. It’s a song that really resonates with me, being from such a small town, always longing for more, always wishing to grab a hold of that dream. I’ll do my best, and hopefully come out the champion of the battle. All I can do is hope. There’s millions of people watching this show, so it’s going to be of benefit regardless, so I’m definitely excited!” 

Chantelle’s breath-taking blind audition really threw her into the limelight on a massive scale, something she seems to have been handling brilliantly. Having worked so hard – and in some ways, waited so long – to get a break like this, I asked her to describe how it now feels to be at the centre of so much attention? 


“Well, for a very, very long time, I felt like I was slipping through the net. I wasn’t getting any opportunities when I was at home because I was just so far away from everything. The kind of country artist I am, I don’t exactly fit into the kind of country that we all love here in the west coast of Ireland. That’s a quite bluegrassy sound, with a jiving and waltzing feel to it. So I felt if I was to have any chance of getting signed to a label, that’s not the country they go for. So I felt like I had to try and break out from that, break the mold a bit, and bring something new to the Irish country scene, to try and make a name for myself in both the UK and Ireland. Everyone thinks that if you’re into country, it’s just ‘Ah sure go to Nashville, you’ll be grand there’, but I don’t think that should be the way. I think we should be able to make a stand at home, in our own country, on our own soil, and of course, in the UK too, where I have an amazing and a growing fanbase. And they’re all loving the fact that there’s something different on the show this year. And no matter what part of Ireland someone comes from, if you get on a show like this we’ve very proud of them and we always get behind them. But you never, ever see anyone on shows like this from where I come from. I come from ‘the sticks’, as they call it, literally! [Laughs]. I live on a peninsula, we’re only connected to Belmullet by a bridge! I had The Voice team Googling where I’m from! And after my blind audition, I had Mayo County Council reach out to me to tell me that Belmullet was trending on Google, but for good reasons! [Laughs]. People were actually looking it up to see where it is. And they [The Voice team] were gobsmacked to see that I come from a place that doesn’t even have traffic-lights, we’ve only one roundabout, and it’s the only roundabout in Europe that you can park on! [Laughs].

 “So it’s a very different angle”, continued Chantelle, “the fact that I’ve made it onto the show this year. You often hear about someone who comes from the middle of nowhere and they have a dream to be a superstar, but yeah, I kinda moved to the UK to start recording in the style I’m doing. It’s kind of the only avenue I could have gone down for 2020. I was very hesitant in the beginning to even go for the show, because, you know yourself, we don’t see a lot of country on these shows. So I thought maybe they wouldn’t get who I would like to be as an artist. Looking back on it now, I’m delighted I did obviously, because I made the televised shows. And to be fair, the feedback has been amazing so far, and hopefully it will continue…fingers crossed! [Laughs]. People know my name now, whereas for years, I just wasn’t getting any opportunities. I felt like I wasn’t able to just get up and go see a band in Ireland, regardless of what genre, because we’re so far away from everyone. There’s an awful lot of hidden talent around here, where I’m from, but we just don’t get the opportunity. I have an awful lot of younger followers who look up to me, and they message me on a daily basis for advice, and to just ask, well how did you do it, that kind of thing! And I tell them to just go for it. I love the fact that people around here aspire to be musicians. If you come from a small town, or if you’re stuck in a city even, where you’re kind of outnumbered by people taking the limelight, just try your best and get out there. Scream so loud that they can’t ignore ya! [Laughs].” 

Chantelle’s talent – and indeed, the lady herself – will transcend genres anyway, but her heart is undoubtedly in country music. And her latest single, a version of Carrie Underwood’s Church Bells from her Storyteller album, follows on from her recordings of songs by artists like Maren Morris, Lady A, Dolly, Cam, and Little Big Town. 


“Well! Do ya know what! It was actually just meant to be a little cover to upload on social media! And as soon as I announced that I had a new cover coming, I had loads of radio stations messaging me wanting a version of it to play. So that’s how it came about. I’m hoping to start releasing my own originals now soon, which is the same vibe as the covers that I’m doing my versions of. So yeah, people were requesting it, and I didn’t want to say no! [Laughs]. Even though it’s a cover. So I said there would be no harm in sending them on my little version. But there’s only one Carrie Underwood! Hers would be tough shoes to fill! But I’m glad that people are appreciating that I’m trying to bring that kind of vibe over here and make it a bit more current, and get it out there a bit more. I believe that that more commercial country – Maren Morris, Carrie Underwood, Lauren Alaina – I wish that was more popular over here. To a lot of country fans, it sounds quite pop, and that’s what I used to get on the show. They kept saying to me, ‘Are you sure you’re country?!’ [Laughs]. They all thought country was banjos, fiddles, diddly-aye, and I was like, no! Country is progressing so much. It can sound really rocky, or it can sound really poppy. I just have the benefit of dibbling and dabbling in the more rockier or more poppier sounds. But I’ll always pay respect to what I grew up on, which was actually Irish country. There’s always going to be that little bit of a mixture going through me. You’ll always hear little sean-nós vibes when I do a ballad. I’ve been told loads of times that I have what’s called a sean-nós curl. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a type of technique that sean-nós singers in Ireland use. I’ve just picked up so many different traits from listening to so many artists over the years. I’ve listened to anyone from Nan Tom Taimín, who is a phenomenal Irish folk singer, right up to Dolly Parton, Celine Dion, Whitney! Bon Jovi! Guns ‘n’ Roses! [Laughs]. I listen to such a mixture. That’s why I’ve always been a bit muddled up! [Laughs].”

Chantelle had mentioned that Mayo County Council reached out to her recently, but – and no offence to Mayo County Council – someone else a little more glamorous did just that, too! None other than American country giants Dan + Shay, after Chantelle posted a cover of their huge hit, Tequila…


“Well, like the ‘Church Bells’ scenario, I just popped ‘Tequila’ up as a cover on my socials and I just tagged them in it. Because if I’m doing a cover of someone’s song I’ll always credit them and mention who it’s originally by. So that’s what I did. And the next thing, they liked it! And they commented on it, and they sent me a lovely message! And I was like, is this really happening?! Because this was before The Voice was even aired. So yeah, that was just really exciting. Because the likes of those people, who are just so busy – even during these crazy times, because I’m sure they’re flat-out recording or writing – the fact that they took the time to sit and watch some randomer’s cover of their song, and then felt the need to message and reach-out, I thought that was so…I don’t know, just very genuine of them. They really appreciate their fans. And that’s what I am, I’m a massive Dan + Shay fan. Maybe they appreciated the fact that I’m a country singer, from rural Ireland, over and back to the UK a lot, because you can see by looking at my page that I’ve been trying to build my name and get out there, and trying to popularise the same style of country that they sing. Yeah, that was definitely a, ‘WHAT is goin’ on?!, moment! [Laughs].” 

As a country fan, and as someone who is involved in the country music business, it actually breaks my heart to think that someone with Chantelle’s talent, her work-ethic, and her personality as well, felt like she had to leave Ireland to pursue a career in country music. But, at the same time, I unfortunately understand it too. Chantelle has spoken about being told that she didn’t “fit in” on the Irish country scene, and how she felt like she had no “pull” on that scene. I asked Chantelle to tell me more about that, and I wondered if there was ever a certain moment when she knew it wasn’t going to happen for her in Ireland? 


“When I began releasing little self-released albums which were done in local studios, nothing big-budget, it was my parents who funded them, and they happened to have got played on the local radio like Midwest and stuff, I was ten years old. So my name has been floating about for a while as a child singer. I was only young. Then, as I went through my teens, I focused on school, ya know, as much as I could, my heart belonged in music! [Laughs]. But I had to make it work and juggle the two of them! I always carried on gigging at the weekend, and we got the chance to perform over in the UK in the Irish centres, there were lots of gigs, nothing too crazy. But I was always hoping that an opportunity would come along if someone heard me. You’re classed as a brand in the music industry, so someone is not going to buy into you unless you can make them money. As I grew up, I became more serious about music. I knew it was the only career I wanted to do. And to be quite honest with ya, it’s the only real job I’ve ever had! I don’t think it would have been in me to walk away from it. But I did go through spells where I actually did hang up the microphone, and that was out of sheer disappointment. I remember going for different kinds of competitions over the years and no-one got why I did country. And I didn’t really know anyone on the Irish country scene to reach out to, to bring me up singing with them, or to get my name out there in that way. Then in 2018, going into the third year after I’d left secondary school, I was still gigging with one of my best friends, Sean Fahy. He carried on gigging with me after my grandad retired when I was sixteen. He was a major help to keep me going. Obviously as a friend, but he was a fan as well, and he loved supporting me as well, and to this day he does. And he was the main reason I kept gigging when grandad retired. I genuinely didn’t think I’d have the courage to do it on my own. I was a very self-conscious teenager, so I definitely needed grandad as that safety behind me to give me that pep-talk if I ever got nervous.”

“So having Sean there to fill that place when grandad retired”, explained Chantelle, “that was amazing for me. We were gigging near my hometown, at an annual festival called the Inver Festival, where Johnny Brady and his band were down headlining. Me and my friend Sean were the warm-up act, so we were doing a little slot beforehand, just using backing-tracks and a guitar and a drum-machine and that was it. Johnny heard me singing for the first time and he was like, “What?! Where?!”, he was very taken aback that he’d never heard of me at all! And I was just like, well, I don’t really play much outside of Belmullet, I wouldn’t really be known. That’s when he asked me onto a country music show on TG4, called Glór Tíre. That’s actually about three years ago now since I was on it. We clicked, he was right up my street, his was really the kinda vibe that I’d love to see in country. And to this day, he’s one of my best friends in the music industry. So Glór Tíre was kind of the moment where I realised, oh…do I fit into the Irish country scene? Now, I got amazing comments from Caitriona, Jo, and John, the three judges on the show, it was always amazing feedback. But it was always, well, you’re more so r ‘n’b, or maybe rock? That, to me, was like, ok, I obviously don’t fit in on the Irish scene. But to this day, I’d still be good friends with the judges. Caitriona and Jo, we’ve always stayed in contact after the show. I’ve done interviews with Jo and everything, and she’s always saying to me, “But sure we were right, you’re very American country.” [Laughs]. See, they were afraid that I’d try to fit into the Irish country scene, and neglect the kind of passion I have for the American scene.

 

And as it turned out, Chantelle’s time on Glór Tíre left her well prepared for her time on The Voice when it arrived…


I learned so much from the show. Sure I had never been on TV, with cameras and everything. As an adult singer, I had lacked all that experience, because I’d never had a chance to do it until Glór Tíre came about. So I got used to cameras, and interviews, and to how everything ran, I guess. And without that, I would have struggled with The Voice. I think I needed that bit of experience. I think I came fourth on Glór Tíre [laughs]. But do you know what, it was an amazing experience. And it’s a voting show, and to be fair, sure no-one knew me [laughs]. So I wasn’t expecting to get far on the show. In order to win by votes, you need to be popular and well-known! But I knew that going into it. So I said, do you know what, it’s exposure, and nothing but good can come from it! After that, it wasn’t how Glór Tíre panned out, it was more so the fact of what do I do now? If I don’t fit into the Irish country scene, what am I going to do? Because that was the only country that would get you gigs over here. I was so kind of over-thinking the whole situation, and I was so disheartened about what opportunities I might get at all, so I left Ireland to go to the UK. I moved over to Cambridge, and yeah, I gave up music. I stopped gigging, cancelled any gigs I had in the diary for Ireland. It was a crazy time!”

 
CHURCH BELLS, the brand NEW single from CHANTELLE PADDEN, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. Stay tuned for PART 2 of our chat with Chantelle coming your way very, very soon! 

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