Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Katie Armiger Aims for Stardom

Friday, February 27th, 2009

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Katie Armiger served as GAC’s Artist of the Month in February, and she recently released “Trail of Lies,” the third single from her album, Believe. The Texas-born 17-year-old called Country Universe recently to discuss her burgeoning career.

The youth movement on Music Row continues to pick up steam. Artistically, how do you stand out from the crowd of young women who are trying to establish their careers?

I think there are a lot of differentiations in our styles. There are a lot of younger artists now for sure, but we have different vocals and different influences. I come from a more empowered standpoint and want the songs to have that view.

What singers most influenced you during your childhood? Is there someone that served as a model for the career you would like to create?

I would say that Martina McBride would be the big one. I’m also a huge fan of Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt, but Martina is my favorite.

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An Interview with Marty Stuart

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

collin_raye1Widely acclaimed as one of country music’s greatest warriors, Marty Stuart turned a childhood obsession into a lifelong career filled with hit records and collaborations with numerous Nashville legends.  A member of the Country Music Foundation and the Grand Ole Opry, he’s preserved the traditions of the genre by assembling a collection of country-related artifacts that has no rival. His most recent project is The Marty Stuart Show, a weekly television program airing Saturday nights on RFD-TV. Stuart discusses the development of the show, his thoughts on the future of country music and his role in honoring its past.

What was the single driving force behind creating The Marty Stuart Show? What are your hopes for the future of the program?

The most important thing was the right setting, the channel, RFD (a Nashville-based television station focused on rural America programming). I’m a big fan of the network and I’ve watched it grow. As a country music fan, I loved those old syndicated shows—The Porter Wagoner Show, The Johnny Cash Show, The Flatt & Scruggs Show, The Wilburn Brothers Show. I loved the spirit of those shows and started talking to Patrick (Carr, Stuart’s biographer) and really wanted to develop this idea. There was nothing like it on television at the time. Traditional country has so few outlets now. I wanted to give it a voice and show the integrity and entertainment value. You know, you have your Kenny Chesneys and Taylor Swifts, and they’re great for the genre, but this is the absolute other end of the country universe, the real traditional stuff. I’m just trying to present country music as a part of American culture, our heritage.

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Interview: Randy Houser

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Tomorrow marks the release of Randy Houser’s debut disc, Anything Goes, a contemporary country album in a traditional vein.  Houser has gained fame through his performance on The Late Show with David Letterman and his songwriting skills on Trace Adkin’s “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” and the title track to his first album is firmly entrenched in the top 20 of the country singles chart.  The newcomer called Country Universe recently to discuss his first foray into the spotlight and his thoughts on the music that inspired his chosen path.

“Anything Goes” is a rarity on country radio, a story of solitary drinking followed by a one-night stand. What first attracted you to the song?

Definitely, for country fans and country listeners, I think the song breaks down what our format is about.  It’s a theme that country music was built on, going through tough emotions.  A lot of people have lived through this or something like this.  It may not be to that extreme, but it still hurts.  And we all find our redemption in different places.   It talks about doing something you normally wouldn’t do and how you mask your true feelings instead of facing your real problems.  It’s something that hadn’t been addressed in a song in a while.  It’s just a guy telling the truth, and the listeners wanna know what you went through.

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5 Questions with Adam Gregory

Friday, November 7th, 2008

At only twenty-three years old, Adam Gregory has been performing for ten years in his native Canada. After arriving in Nashville in 2007, he signed a recording contract with Midas Records, who then reformed last year under indie powerhouse Big Machine Records. Earlier this year, Gregory reached the Top 40 with his first single, “Crazy Days,” and last month he released his second single, “What It Takes.” His yet-untitled debut album in the United States is slated for release in Spring 2009. Gregory called Country Universe earlier this week to provide a glimpse into the life and career of the Nashville newcomer.

Who is Adam Gregory as an artist? And which artists have inspired this direction?

I consider myself as just a guy who sticks to his roots and follows his own path and tries to find meaning in every song. I’ve co-written a lot of songs on the album, so I hope to put my own imprint and give it that extra attention because it’s coming from me and who I am. We think it’s a refreshing sound. We have something new to offer. It’s not a country twang. It’s more of a modern-day sounding music. But I grew up listening to Vince Gill. He’s such a great singer, and so humble. And of course, Garth Brooks and George Strait. He (Strait) has maintained a personal life and family and still had a great career. That’s what I aspire to do.

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Inside Johnny Cash’s America: A Conversation with Morgan Neville

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

There are artists, and then there are people who use their particular craft to speak directly to the core of the human condition, who buck what is familiar and comfortable in pursuit of what is true. If you don’t yet happen to think Johnny Cash falls into the latter category, or have trouble understanding the worldwide veneration of the Man in Black, congratulations; there’s no better time to start your education. Tonight at 9 pm Eastern Standard Time (10 pm Pacific), The Bio Channel will air a two-hour documentary special entitled Johnny Cash’s America – and I’m here to tell you, it’s pretty sweet. Don’t believe me? Well, how about this to whet your appetite:

The documentary explores the prominent themes of Cash’s life including love of the land, freedom, justice, family, faith and redemption through exclusive interviews, photos and unreleased music and footage. Interviews include Cash’s sister Joanne, son John Carter Cash and daughters Cindy Cash and Rosanne Cash, childhood friends and fellow band mates as well as Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, Sheryl Crow, Al Gore, Tim Robbins, Loretta Lynn, Snoop Dogg, Vince Gill, Ozzy Osborne, Steve Earle, Merle Haggard and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) all of whom are connected to Cash in surprising ways.

And that’s all to say nothing of the snappy, colorful direction, courtesy of Award-winning filmmaking duo Morgan Neville (Hank Williams: Honky Tonk Blues) and Robert Gordon (Muddy Waters Can’t Be Satisfied, alongside Neville). Between the two, there’s quite a pedigree of music history, with Neville alone having also directed pieces on Sam Phillips, Ray Charles, and The Highwaymen, among others – so it’s no surprise that Johnny Cash’s America lands a cut above your average biographical documentary. With the film’s primetime debut inching ever closer, Neville waxes philosophical with Country Universe about Johnny Cash’s far-reaching impact, unique views, and the example his life provides for the very nation he loved so dearly.

If I may start a bit personally, how did you first become interested in Johnny Cash, and what compelled you to tell his story in this form?

I mean, I’ve always been a Johnny Cash fan, like I feel like…everybody’s always been a Johnny Cash fan (laughs). He’s just been around my whole life. And I’ve always liked him, and I’ve done a bunch of documentaries related to him, but I’d never done anything specifically about him.

Then at the beginning of this year, Robert Gordon and I were having some beers and a philosophical conversation about Johnny Cash (laughs), and talking about this political season, and just saying, you know, we can’t agree about much as Americans, but we can agree about Johnny Cash, and – why is that? I mean, that sounds like just a trite statement, but it’s really true; it’s really profound, the more you look into it. How is it that we can agree about these fundamental principles that Cash stood for? And in a way, Cash becomes something to remind us as Americans what we have in common. And that became sort of the mission statement for this documentary.

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A Conversation with Little Big Town

Monday, October 13th, 2008

This spring, Little Big Town made the leap from independent label Equity Music Group to continue their careers at one of Nashville’s remaining majors, Capitol Records. As the first order of business, Capitol is re-releasing the band’s release from last fall, A Place to Land on Tuesday. Although the album received rave reviews from national music critics, it barely squeaked into the top ten of Billboard’s country albums chart, and the first single, “I’m with the Band,” failed to make an impact at radio. The new version of A Place to Land is buoyed by a new single, “Fine Line,” and four new tracks, including the quartet’s collaboration with Sugarland and Jake Owen, “Life in a Northern Town.” Phillip Sweet of Little Big Town speaks to Country Universe about their topsy-turvy year and what fans can expect from the band as they re-join the ranks of major-label acts.

Re-releasing an album has become in vogue recently. What do the three new tracks add to the overall theme of A Place to Land

When we first turned in A Place to Land, it was a solid, complete picture. Making the record was like a window in time. When we had this opportunity to put out some new songs, it was really a cool thing.

We were hearing the lyrics in a whole new way. It adds even more depth. We’ve lived a full life. Capitol Records (Little Big Town’s new record label) bought out the first two albums and gave us a chance to make some new music, and we were excited about that. We added a new song, “Love Profound,” that we wanted to record for a long time. It’s actually a song Wayne (Kirkpatrick, Little Big Town’s producer and songwriting collaborator) had written. It’s just a beautiful song. But all the new songs fit into what we do as a group.

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A Conversation with Craig Morgan

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

The country music carousel has taken Craig Morgan on an unpredictable ride since the United States Army veteran began his career in late 1999 on Atlantic Records.  After a five-year stint at Broken Bow Records, he left the label earlier this year to pursue an opportunity at BNA Records, a division of superpower conglomerate Sony BMG.  His first single with the label, “Love Remembers,” has landed firmly in the Top 20.  This month is arguably the most important in Morgan’s career, with his first album release with BNA, That’s Why, bowing on October 21, followed on October 25 by his formal induction into the Grand Ole Opry.  In a conversation with Country Universe, Morgan explains his move to BNA Records, the making of his new album and his feelings on the Opry invitation.

This spring, it was announced that you’d be leaving independent label Broken Bow Records to join Joe Galante and his staff at Sony BMG on the BNA Records imprint. What are the benefits of operating with a major label as opposed to your recent relationship with Broken Bow?

Two things: They (BNA) have additional tools, and I don’t mean just money. The tools are available in terms of staff, the sales and marketing team, the publicity. It’s a big change. We’re used to 2-3 people handling the marketing, and now there’s a staff of 200-300 people.  So there’s just more people getting the music out there. And the unexpected thing is there’s more creative control, and most people wouldn’t expect that from a major label.

At Broken Bow, the label heads wanted to have a little more control. On the album before the last one (2005’s My Kind of Livin’), I went in and produced it alone with Phil O’Donnell. On the last album, they felt that we needed to have a new producer, someone with name value, and you know, we’d been successful in the past and didn’t feel that we needed to do that.  (Morgan’s 2006 release Little Bit of Life was co-produced by Morgan and renowned producer Keith Stegall.) But now there’s more freedom. With this new staff, we’re looking at the ability to market and staple and image to me.

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A Conversation with Patty Loveless

Friday, September 12th, 2008

After a three year absence from the country music scene, a revived Patty Loveless has arrived with a brand new album featuring her versions of country classics called Sleepless Nights. An appropriate title, considering Loveless has endured the death of her mother, mother-in-law and the illness of her brother during that stretch of inactivity.

But these hard times have moved Loveless to give some of the most heart-rending performances of her career, and in a phone interview from her home in Cartersville, Georgia, she tells Country Universe about her doubts of returning to the music business, her dreams for the next phase of her career and her desire to spread the gospel of traditional country music.

Since 2005’s Dreaming My Dreams, you’ve kept a rather low profile except for a few guest appearances. Give us a glimpse of your life in the last three years and why this was the right time for an album of classics.

I was mostly trying to get used to being a resident of Georgia. Since I first came to Nashville when I was 14, we’d drive back and forth to Nashville all the time for a few years. And of course, when I was 19, I moved to North Carolina. And then I came back to do a country record, that was in ’85. And now it’s been over twenty years. So I’ve been driving a lot. And I like to drive. I do. But now I’m settled in Georgia, and I was just getting used to being in Georgia and living there.  Plus, with everything with my family, I believed it was time for a break.  It was necessary to take a sabbatical, but I’m happy to be back in front of the fans, and I hope this album really influences people.

Of course, during the time I was also singing on other artist’s records. I did the Bob Seger record, and we sang “The Answer’s in the Question.”  I really enjoyed it. And of course, I believe it was last December we cut the George Strait one, “House of Cash,” and I sang on the new Kathy Mattea album…

And with Vince Gill on These Days.

Yes. I loved going in the studio with him.

This new album, Sleepless Nights, is drinking and cheating, loss and loneliness—is part of you simply drawn to these deep songs? And how do they resonate with you differently now?

I wear my feelings on my sleeve. I put a lot of pain into my songs. Music is my healing.

In the last couple years, I didn’t have the energy or the heart (to record). I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to make another record. I knew I would always somehow continue to sing in some way, but I didn’t know when. I just needed time. After everything that happened with my mother, and my mother-in-law’s passing as well, I felt like I was burned out.  Of course, I was there for the last week of my mother’s life, and she was surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and of course her children.

Fortunate considering you were on the road so often.  A blessing.

Yes, a real blessing. I was still trying to help, you know, women tend to be the caregivers. I had brothers who were having a hard time of it. I have two sisters as well, and for some reason we held strong. And Roger, who was really the one who encouraged and pushed me into the country music limelight, having a stroke, it was tough. I was afraid that something would go wrong due to all the stress.

Also, your career was in a holding pattern.

I felt like my heart had broken. The problems with the recall on the record didn’t help.  And then of course, I parted ways with Sony Epic, so I just needed time to heal. (Editor’s note: A number of copies of Loveless’  last Epic release Dreamin’ My Dreams, released in 2005, were created with anti-theft software installed that prevented consumers from downloading the album to their personal playing devices.)

You must have been frustrated that you were trying to stay relevant in your career by allowing for this technology only for it to fail, at least in your case.

Yes, it was just one last thing that caused me to question everything.  It was disappointing.

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A Conversation With Suzy Bogguss

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to talk with award-winning singer-songwriter Suzy Bogguss, who has a new album being released on September 4. Sweet Danger is a jazz-flavored project that showcases her trademark vocals in a brand new setting. As with my earlier interview with Pam Tillis, what starts off as a formal interview becomes more of a conversation about her music, in addition to some fantastic anecdotes along the way about everything from working with Chet Atkins to a special favor done by Kathy Mattea on her behalf…on the South Lawn of the White House!

Look for a review of Sweet Danger as the release date nears. You can stream the entire album at her website now.

A Conversation with Suzy Bogguss

I thought it was cool that the name of the album was Sweet Danger, because the music is very sweet and laid-back, but you go into some dangerous emotional territory on a few of the songs.
That’s exactly what I was hoping people would read into it. That’s great!

Let’s start off with the first single, “In Heaven,” which was written by your husband, Doug Crider. It was inspired by some friends of yours?
My best friend and her husband. It’s a long and hard story, but my friend had cancer and fought it for fifteen years. Her husband was really great through the whole process, absolutely amazing. They had a child in the middle of it and everything. When my friend, who was my roommate in college, passed away, Doug and I were talking about how we were really hoping some good things would happen for our friend, Gary. He had just been a champion through all of it, and he deserved some happiness in life. So that song came out Doug. He said he just sat down and it fell out. It was one of those inspired moments from something personal that happened.

Your performance of it is beautiful. A lot of the female singers today go for the power notes, and you have that clear quality to your voice which can convey the emotion without having to oversing.
You know, it wasn’t always that way. There was a point where I felt like I really was trying to compete with that just because that’s what was going on on the radio, and it really is not my gift. [Laughs] Some of the gals really have the gift of just being able to belt, and it’s not what I was given. I was given more of a clear voice. I’d be in live concerts and my voice would break, and I’d think, “Maybe I need to be concentrating on melodies that are more adapted to my voice.” In writing a lot of the songs, of course, you have a lot of control that way.

One thing that may surprise a lot of people is that you are a distinguished songwriter. The top song you have on iTunes is “Hey Cinderella,” which you wrote.
Really? I did not realize that!

You wrote that with Matraca Berg, right?
And Gary Harrison, yes.

You recently did the “Wine, Women and Song” tour over in England with her and Gretchen Peters.
That was just incredible. We’re going to have to do some here in the States because we had such a great time. Those two have written so many beautiful songs, and it was an awesome thing to be backing their vocals. It was just the three of us with the three guitars, and it was magical. U.K. audiences, they know every little detail about you and your songs. It really is a very personal experience getting over there and doing that. Of course, all of us being friends for so many years, it was pretty neat.

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A Conversation With Pam Tillis

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

As regular readers know, Pam Tillis released the best album of her career earlier this year: Rhinestoned. I had the wonderful pleasure of talking to her about this project that is so close to her heart, and I think I’m more proud of this interview than anything I’ve done on this site to date. I don’t have the discipline of a professional journalist quite yet, so this doesn’t have the normal structure of an interview. I don’t want to alter it in any way, so I’ll just call it a conversation instead. Hopefully all of you will get a sense of the sincerity and depth of her talent while reading it. Look for more interviews in the future with other great artists!

pam.gifA Conversation With Pam Tillis
(Photo Credit: Dean Dixon)

I’m very excited to talk to you today about Rhinestoned.
Thank you so much.

What a fantastic album!
Well, I’m kind of partial to it myself.

I’m very interested in talking about the philosophy behind the project, and how some of the songs are connected to your earlier work, but I want to ask you first: Did you realize you had created something very special once it was completed?
I felt that way, but you never know until you release it into the world. There’s always that moment of apprehension. How will this be received? I played it for my brother and my sister the night we finished mixing it. We were all going on the road together, and I came on to the bus. Of course it was a little bit hard to hear it perfectly over the engine roar, but they listened to it. They seemed a little taken aback by it, but they loved the direction of it. And my family is tough. If they don’t like something, they’ll tell you. So I felt very encouraged that they liked it so much.

You co-wrote “The Hard Way” with your brother, Mel Jr. That song reminded me a lot of “Melancholy Child” and “Homeward Looking Angel.”
Hey, that’s good company.

When you write a song that’s so deeply personal, how does it feel to find your audience finding their own personal connection to it?
Well, that’s what it’s all about to me. I love that about it. People ask me a lot why I don’t write more, and I think it takes a lot for me to open up in some ways. So I only write those songs like that every now and then, when I’m feeling like it’s okay to be vulnerable.

We’re so thankful you did. “Melancholy Child” was one of those songs that came along – I was in sixth grade when I heard that, and it was like somebody wrote a little piece of my life story as it was developing.
Wow.

I was just really blown away by it. My father passed away actually, earlier this year, and as the album came out, the first song I heard that really floored me was “Someone Somewhere Tonight.” For me it’s sort of like the centerpiece of the album, the way “The River & The Highway” was for All of This Love.
I know, that’s an unbelievable song. I think you’re right about that. It’s just a really special piece of work, and you don’t come across songs like that every day.

It’s one of those songs that can’t just play in the background. Everything just stops and comes to a standstill.
It demands your attention.

To go to a lighter note, one of the things that I found very entertaining on the album was “Band in the Window”, which I know is the first single. Other than “Long Time Gone”, I can’t remember another song that talks about singing down on Broadway, and you’d think it’s so much in the history of the town.
Well, I think that people in Nashville get afraid to record something that’s not right down the middle. They’re like, “Oh, everybody doesn’t know about Lower Broad.” And I’m like, “It’s a good story. People come there from all over the world. It’s okay.”

What do you think Music Row could learn today from downtown Broadway? Do you think there are lessons there for them?
I will tell you what a friend of mine said in a conversation a couple of days ago, and I thought it was very interesting. I think there’s a good amount of truth to it. He said that people in the music business – I’m talking about those people who go into an office every day, and they listen to a thousand demos and they see a thousand artists, and they’re all trying to think about how to come out with the next big thing. When you’re downtown on Music Row in an office, it is really easy to lose touch with what the friends and neighbors find entertaining. You can just over think it, and I just totally agree with him.

My friends, they’ve got a group called The LoCash Cowboys, and people just love them. Nobody’s signed them yet, and they’re fantastic, but some people are just thinking too hard. You see stuff like that every day, people overlooking fantastic artists.

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