Lightning 100 highlights local artist each week on 100.1 FM. We spin a lot of local tunes, but now we are featuring one local artist in heavy rotation. Tune into Lightning 100 to hear a new local artists and then join Wells Adams for a live broadcast every at Soulshine Pizza for a special Happy Hour from 5 – 7:00pm followed by a performance from the featured artist of the week! Click here to find out how to submit your music to the local guys at the615. Friday Afternoon Live is sponsored by Sugarlands Distillery and Abita Beer.
Local musician, Andrew Leahey, brings a story of strength and celebratory music to the table following his year long hiatus, to recover from having brain surgery in 2013.
“Coming back from tour in the summer of 2013, I was having hearing problems, and what I expected to be ear wax or something was diagnosed as an acoustic neuroma, which is a slow growing tumor on your hearing nerve,” said Leahey. “The operation was 12 hours long, and I had a 50% shot of losing my hearing, but I didn’t. Two and a half months later, I went back on tour. To come that close to losing my hearing, I wanted to do something to celebrate.”
Leahey grew up in a musical household, his mother a classical vocalist, and he began his life as a musician at the tender age of six, simply because it gave him something to do.
“My older brother started taking guitar lessons,” said Leahey. “We had to wait outside for him at his guitar lessons, but it was boring, so I asked my mom to take lessons too. She made me agree up front that I’d stick with it.”
Born in Hong Kong, and raised just outside of Boston by an Australian mother and Irish father, Kiernan McMullen has never been boxed into one setting. This is readily apparent in multiple facets of his life, including his music.
“I guess music started for me when I was six with piano lessons,” said McMullan. “After a while, my piano teacher pulled out a book that was 500 songs with handwritten chord progressions and the melody behind it, so he taught me how take those and play around with them.”
McMullan began playing the guitar at 15 after moving to Ireland and into boarding school.
“I realized that all the improvisational stuff [my teacher] had taught me meant that I could write my own music. After that, I played a lot of bar gigs, trying to get my chaps up as far as not being terrified to play in front of people,” said McMullan.
McMullan tends to write albums that are meant to be listened to as a whole, while his individual songs are meant to be heard nonlinearly. An individual song will have a central theme, but the lines within it can be inspired by many people and scenarios, both real and hypothetical.
“Sometimes I’ll be sitting on a piece of music for a couple of years before I decide what I want to write about,” said McMullan. “Recently, I’ve tried to write songs, as a whole, for a new experience, but usually, I write the pieces separately then zoom out to fit the music and lyrics together.”
McMullan self-produces all of his music with the help of Irish music producer and former classmate, Owen Lewis.
Influenced by Hip Hop, Motown, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and Rage Against the Machine, McMullan is a singer-songwriter with a simple production and a message in every song he sings.
“It’s a cultural movement, and people forget that’s what music is supposed to be,” McMullan said listing The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Elvis as examples. “Relevancy doesn’t matter. I like listening to people who float to the top for the right reasons.”
After signing with 111 Records in 2007, McMullan embarked on a three month long string of shows in which he took buses and hitchhiked his way from place to place with nothing but his hiking pack and a guitar.
“I remember every single second of those three months. Literally, ask me what I had for breakfast on so-and-so date and I’ll be able to tell you what bagel,” he laughed. “For people that work a 9-to-5 [time] passes by, but hour by hour everything was constantly moving, and I remember it so vividly.”
McMullan will tour the states this November, and plans to tour Europe next year. A new album is in the works for the spring. For more information go to http://www.kiernanmcmullan.com/ .
“Basically, I write music because I can’t afford a therapist, and so I don’t become an axe murderer or meth head or something,” said McMullan. “I love that music is good for coping, and I can use it to get any frustration out, and help other people in the process.”
It’s a short drive from Nashville, TN, to Muscle Shoals, AL: 125 miles, or about two hours if your foot’s on the leaden side, and you’ve left one musical Mecca for another. Thanks to Nashville instrumental duo Steelism, though, that gap is bridged in the time it takes to listen to a track. Comprised of guitarist Jeremy Fetzer, pedal steel player Spencer Cullum and backed by some of Nashville’s finest young musicians, Steelism blends an eclectic array of vintage and modern influences to create instrumental music that truly sounds like nothing else.
Though Steelism is new to the music scene, Cullum and Fetzer are not, having backed artists like Wanda Jackson, Johnny Fritz, Rayland Baxter and Andrew Combs. The two met while touring the U.K. with Nashville songstress Caitlin Rose, quickly bonding over their shared love for classic movie soundtrack composers like Ennio Morricone and ‘60s instrumental acts like Booker T. and the M.G.s, The Ventures and Pete Drake. Writing together between sound checks, the duo realized it was time for the sidemen to become frontmen, and Steelism was born.
“Steelism allows us to musically explore in our writing and take performance chances we couldn’t get away with in any other project,” Fetzer says.
Though the two grew up on different continents (Cullum hails from Essex, England; Fetzer from Canton, OH), Cullum and Fetzer were cut from the same musical cloth, as becomes immediately evident whenever they take the stage. Their debut EP The Intoxicating Sounds of Pedal Steel and Guitar was met with critical acclaim, with American Songwriter’s Sean Maloney calling Steelism “instantly recognizable – surf, country, blues, all steeped in soul and heavy on the grooves – but astoundingly outside the contemporary vernacular.”
“We’ve always been into the idea of playing a strong melody—something you can hum—rather than soloing,” Cullum explains.
The duo’s full-length debut 615 to FAME releases via Single Lock Records (founded by Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes, John Paul White of The Civil Wars and Will Trapp), with marketing and distribution from Thirty Tigers, on September 16, 2014. Half recorded at Muscle Shoals’ historic FAME Studios, where Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding all tracked hits, 615 to FAME was produced by Fetzer and Cullum with co-production from Ben Tanner, and contributions from longtime Nashville-based collaborators Jon Radford (drums) and Michael Rinne (bass). Featuring 10 original instrumentals and one cover, 615 to FAME announces Steelism as one of Nashville’s most exciting new acts.
Steelism’s compositions don’t need lyrics to tell stories. “Marfa Lights” is a krautrock-inspired instrumental influenced by German bands like Neu! and Can, with its title taken from the paranormal lights of the Marfa, TX sky. “Cat’s Eye Ring” is fit for a Spaghetti Western, named for a ring belonging to a mother protecting her children during the Battle of the Alamo. The album’s only cover track is the swirling, psychedelic Pete Drake number “The Spook,” which showcases Cullum’s faithful but updated homage to the late Nashville pedal steel legend and Fetzer’s heavier take on the track’s opening refrain.
As Ben Tanner explains, “Great instrumental rock and roll, sadly, has become a lost art, but Steelism is resurrecting that tradition and adding new chapters of its own, and while they may not have a singer, they certainly have great things to say.”
After battling it out at Music City Mayhem, Lightning 100 talks to our 2015 champs before their big show at Live On The Green Music Festival on September 11th. Zack Smith answered a few questions to better acquaint us with his and Caitlin Doyle’s winning folk-soul/instrument-heavy act: Smooth Hound Smith.
Lightning: How did the band form, and explain the name of the band.
Zack: The formation of Smooth Hound Smith was kismet, really. Caitlin and I were aware of each other playing in bands in LA, then the timing worked out and we got together after I had moved to East Nashville and she visited me. She sat in with me one fateful night at Mad Donna’s, singing harmonies and playing her washboard, and we just built on it from there and started touring. The name comes from my father who is a waterman, maritime archaeologist, and 50+ year SCUBA diving veteran. He mentioned that he was seeing “smooth hounds” in the ocean out in California; they’re a genus of shark that hangs in temperate tidal waters. It also sounds like a blues man that never existed, but should have, so I put it with my last name.
Lightning: Who does what in the songwriting process, and any interesting methods or go-to places for writing?
Ian Fondrk, Logan Coats, Jon Worthy, Austin McFall, and Brian Martin came together in the spirit of finding their own catharsis through music, and with a shared goal of making people smile.
After graduating from Penn State, Fondrk and Worthy picked up their lives and moved into a quote-on-quote “crappy apartment” in Nashville to pursue their music. It was here that the two met McFall, Martin, and a neighbor in an equally crappy apartment across the way, Coats.
Named for their originally easy-listening/acoustic sound, as well as a type of gun in documentary profiling 1920s gangsters, Easy Roscoe tells the stories of their own lives and the people around them through their music.
“Our writing process is different from other bands for sure,” said guitarist and trumpeter Logan Coats. “Everyone in the band writes everything, music and lyrics, and then on ‘New Song Tuesday’ we get together and show each other stuff then start arranging.”
“It is probably worth pointing out that ‘New Song Tuesday’ doesn’t always actually even happen on Tuesdays,” laughed guitarist and ukulele player Jon Worthy. “It just kind of happens all the time. We get together to play everything anyone comes up with, bare bones and acoustic, then start arranging.”
Easy Roscoe is composed of five bandmates with a gradient of differing musical influences; these influences include Pearl Jam, Kings of Leon, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, The Police, and current pop music.
“The whole journey, so far, has consisted of victories and stagnant points, but I’m sure everyone in the band would agree, that’s what makes us a band,” said singer and guitarist Ian Fondrk.
Easy Roscoe dropped their first album, “Keep the Dancin’ Dancin’”, in January. The band starts touring this August, and will be playing at The 5 Spot on August 14th. For more information, check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/easyroscoe .
“Everyone should come out and say hi! I know that’s kind of lame, but we’re all very relaxed people,” said Fondrk. “A lot of music coming out now is sort of down-ish stuff. We want to bring a lighthearted feel, help everybody have a good time, and take a different approach to our music.”
Once upon a time, there was an 11 year old boy who wrote poems and songs. He lived in Ohio and listened to Styx on repeat. After a very successful run in the high school world of competitive acapella, Chris Jobe packed his bags to attend Belmont University- where eventually Nodaway began.
Nashville locals Marcus Garceau, Will Burgess, and Aaron Westine live a life of alternative-blues and metal, better known as Omega Swan. Influenced by different genres, styles, and decades on a song-by-song basis, front-man Marcus Garceau sites AC//DC, Jack White, and Led Zeppelin as personal favorites.
“I love Jimmy Page because he’s extremely talented with musical arrangements, like in ‘Kashmir’ and stuff,” said Garceau. “I’m definitely a music first person. It’s more difficult for me to tap into the part of my brain needed to write lyrics; I’m visual and attach to sonics. The only way I can write lyrics is if I sit down with an arrangement.”
The band formed about a year and a half ago after its original members attended and graduated from Belmont University, playing house shows as they went. They are currently working towards an album that will encompass their classic rock influences while incorporating the sounds of Nile Rodgers, the disco era, and the 1980s.
“Our new stuff is about the fundamental root of rock and roll, which is being against the system. It’s about passion and fire and missed opportunities to follow dreams,” said Garceau. “The new stuff comes from the idea of knowing your worth and knowing what you want and then working really fucking hard to make it happen.”
Omega Swan produces their own music out of a home studio, lived in by Garceau and Burgess, and are currently working towards perfecting their upcoming EP. The band will play this Friday, July 10th at Soulshine Pizza Factory, and their new song “Hate Love” is out now.
“We do want to say something,” said Garceau. “We make music, and some of it is for fun, but some of it has a message.”
Singer, songwriter, and bass enthusiast, Reno Bo, got his start in Poughkeepsie, New York with a love of music spear-headed by his father’s love of Motown and Doo Wop records.
“I’ve been a touring guy forever and played in a bunch of bands out there [New York], then I moved to Nashville and started songwriting,” Bo said. “I’d heard about this oasis of Nashville musicians and songwriters, and thought, ‘that’s the place to be’.”
Bo’s sound is retro-rock and pop influenced, as his personal favorited bands include The Beach Boys, Big Star, Tom Petty, and The Beatles. Each of these can be heard in songs such as “I See Stars”, “There’s a Light”, and “Shake Me Up”.
“I think about Jerry Seinfeld. How he probably watches ‘Seinfeld’ and thinks ‘where’d that come from?’ But, he must not sit down and write jokes. I imagine he is inspired by the funny things that happen in his life,” Bo said about his writing process. “I’m trying to do that in music. Just write my music as life goes on. So, I don’t sit down necessarily and just write.”
Inspired by his friendships with non-musical people, and the Marx Brother’s movies, Reno Bo maintains a life in Nashville, TN. He will be playing a gig this Friday, June 26th at Soulshine Pizza Factory with Lightning 100 at 7pm in support of his new album, “Lessons From a Shooting Star”.
On a warm Nashville summer evening at Soulshine Pizza Factory, an artist named Lilly Hiatt stormed the stage with boho-punk style and a black Stratford in hand. Hiatt and her ragtag band of musicians rocked for a solid hour in promotion of her new album, “Royal Blue”. The performer played music that is Americana-folk rock in nature with beachy undertones and much energy to burn.
“I grew up in Nashville!” Hiatt beamed. “My dad’s a musician and my older brother was a big fan of grunge, so music was all around me.”
Hiatt sites her father as being one of her biggest influences, as well as Neil Young, Liz Phair, and Pearl Jam.
Songs like “Jesus Wouldn’t Let Me Pick the Restaurant”, “Get This Right”, and “Far Away” display Hiatt’s clever and punching songwriting abilities. Audiences are left with no doubt of Hiatt’s conviction and complete belief in what she sings.
“I write alone in my room. I wish there was something more exciting to say, but for years, I’ve done it alone in my bedroom,” Hiatt said. “Lately I’ve started branching out and writing at my kitchen table.”
As far as inspiration goes, Hiatt looks to her strong and kind-hearted family, Mother Nature, her boyfriend, Jenny Lewis, and her cat, Poppy. Hiatt is sure that her cat understands her words when she talks to her, and claims that Poppy is a splendid listener.
Lilly Hiatt will be a performer at AmericanaFest in Franklin, TN this September, and is currently continuing her journey on the road.
“From my music, I want to be able to tour and keep afloat, but also anything that gets me to the next town,” said Hiatt. “I don’t need a lot of cash. I just need a small but loyal audience that’ll grow with me and help me keep traveling.”
Tony Lucca debuts “Delilah” off his recent self title release on 100.1 FM. Tony Lucca finished third on The Voice in 2012, won a record deal in the process, and received more press coverage than any contestant on the show that season… or any season, for that matter. He made a record with Adam Levine, then toured with Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson. He was cast on the hit show “Parenthood” playing himself as a rock singer, and performed an original song. He even starred in an Aaron Spelling prime-time drama and dated Keri Russell for years, winding up in countless gossip mags.
Code Embed: No embed code was found for CODE
“We went in with the intention of making a record that was as live-sounding as possible. I wanted to close my eyes and be able to visualize the players in the room or up on the stage, actually playing the songs together. One guitar over here, the other guy over there, bass, drums, some keys? I mean, that’s the rock-n-roll I fell in love with when I was a kid.” Lucca pulls inspiration from the heroes he heard on the radio growing up, from Tom Petty, Billy Squier to AC/DC’s Angus Young, tapping into a sense of timelessness he places somewhere between The Black Crowes and the Black Keys.
Each of the 12 songs on “Tony Lucca” are deeply personal. The record kicks off with “Old Girl”, Lucca’s rebuff to the music business treadmill. On the upbeat “Imagination”, Lucca recalls the evening where he met his wife… to the best of his ability. Lucca’s fans will enjoy the diverse sonic quality of four of his trademark ballads – the epic and sweeping piano-driven “North Star”, the optimistic “Smoke ‘Em”, the push and pull of love lost and found in “Right On Time”, and the sweet album closer that bares his daughter’s name, “Sparrow”.
Funded by a very successful Kickstarter campaign (one that hit its $25K funding goal just inside of 30 hours), Lucca feels strongly that his fans stepped up so that he could make the best record he possibly could – one he could finally feel comfortable releasing with his own name as the title. To that point, Lucca says “this record is pure. And honest. And hopefully completely refreshing to its listeners.”
Jesse Lafser has had Land in Sight for eight years now. That’s how long she’s lived in the Music City of Nashville, a town of considerable charm but nothing in the way of oceans. If she came for the water, then she, like Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca character, was misinformed.
Named after a Thomas Hart Benton painting of a woman playing guitar, Lafser is rarely misinformed and often informative. Her latest album, Land In Sight, is a gentle gleamer, a testament to what’s possible when someone with unique perspective mines the rich pool of talent in today’s Nashville and seeks atypical beauty.
“Lafser’s ability to tell a story is remarkable…. her unassuming voice is subdued, simple and clear – perfect for delivering Land In Sight’s profound truths,” wrote Erin Manning in American Songwriter magazine. Erin Manning was not misinformed. Co-produced by the artist and Mike Odmark, Lafser’s latest gets compared, pleasantly, to work from Gillian Welch, Mary Gauthier and others who trade in a rare kind of gritty elegance, and who seek an emotional specificity that connects disparate souls.
Lafser was born a quarter century ago in St. Louis. She was raised on St. Louis blues, Roger Miller and transition: She and her family moved eight times – all within the city – during her youth. Classically trained on guitar and piano and less-than-classically trained on banjo and harmonica, she wrote her first song at age 15. It is not included on Land In Sight, an album whose title is inspired by a Mark Twain story about sailors lost at sea and finally found.
Lafser knows about loss, struggle and fear, and about the cessation of these things. Music, of course, is not the cessation of these things: It’s often the cause of these things. But it can also be a balm, and if Land In Sight is clear about the fearful stuff, it also shines with hope and transformation. Jesse Lafser shines with these things, too. You may go see and hear that for yourself, should you choose.
*Land in Sight was recorded and produced by Lafser and Mike Odmark (Gray Matters Studio) and features Nashville favorites Andrew Combs, Spencer Cullum, Evan Hutchings, Mike Rinne, and Kristen Weber.
With red-hot moxie to match her crimson tresses, Anna Haas is the exemplar triple threat whose dramatic appeal scintillates on her records and especially through her live performances. Her upcoming EP, PASSION/POISON was recorded in Shreveport, Louisiana at Blade Studios with world renowned producer and drummer, Brady Blade (Dave Matthews, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Jewel, Buddy Miller) and Grammy nominated engineer Chris Bell (Erykah Badu, Destiny’s Child , U2, The Eagles). Haas moves into new territory, melding organic and electronic sounds with her signature powerhouse voice. Her sound is dynamic, with intelligent lyrics that resonate through expressive vocals and complex arrangements. Haas has reached a level of vocal and musical maturity with this sophomore release that is hard pressed to find among the up-and-coming. From orchestral to pop to blues and heart wrenching ballads, Haas’ influences span decades and genres, creating threads that tie together to make her an artist you won’t be able to forget.
When not in the studio, Haas has been taking the world by storm, touring regularly and obtaining a loyal following across the country; Her roots in both Nashville and New York are apparent in her eclectic style, “A Thousand Lifetimes” and “Eyes Open” with a Nashville influence, and tracks like “Woman of the Wild” and “Game Over” resounding of New York. Anna’s full band live show, complete with horns and fiddle, is nothing short of mesmerizing, drenched with intensity and soul. She leads her band with grace and authority, commanding the stage like Janis Joplin or Freddie Mercury, using her voice, her eyes and her body to tell her stories. Simply put, she puts on a show. No Country for New Nashville says, “Anna’s powerful onstage presence and vocal prowess is undeniable, her energy is contagious.”
Haas was winner of the Deli Magazine’s 2012 Best Emerging Artist of Nashville Year End Reader’s Poll; she sizzled with the release of her debut album, Crazy Is, which critics called “remarkable,” and “timeless and fascinating;” and is gearing up for the release of PASSION/POISON in Spring 2015, along with two accompanying music videos.
This flaming redhead has left the ground running, turning heads and melting hearts, and doesn’t seem to have any intention of slowing down.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee— Nashville isn’t just country music’s town anymore. And as its burgeoning synthpop scene continues to expand with breakout acts the likes of Cherub and Wild Cub, Music City isn’t necessarily the indie rock homestead of Jack White and The Black Keys that it once was either. Enter in MYYRA (otherwise known as Paul Davidson), whose marriage of electropop, boutique synths coupled with alt/indie authenticity aims to take advantage of the musical melting pot that New Nashville has become. With his debut EP, Erase. Rewind. Restart., set to release on June 9th via Clowder Media, Davidson pays clear homage to Music City’s growing pains while cultivating a sound that is brooding, versatile, and uniquely his own.
A transplant by way of New York, Davidson set his sights on moving to Nashville as a way to hone in on his artistry. “There’s a great sense of iron sharpening iron when you’re surrounded by the high level of talent in this city,” he muses. “You’re forced to examine your art constantly and see if you’re pushing yourself in the way that you could be. Nashville has expanded my musical palette tremendously.” Partnering with producer Joshua D. Niles(Leagues, The Apache Relay), Davidson achieved his artistic whetting in a 6-song EP that is rich in mood and steeped in cinematic flair, drawing comparisons to both The National and James Blake for the album’s layered, seductive qualities.
All of the tracks, written solely by Davidson, are a collective reflection of their creator’s resonant, melancholy timbre and lyrical poignancy, yet each song seems to individually showcase a unique set of musical skills. Tracks like the driving album opener, “All About You,” bathe in Washed Out-esque synth vibes and accusatory surrender, while the slow-burning “Torches” aches in reverb-drenched melancholy and reluctant hope. Other tunes, like the seductive standout “Control,” flex Davidson’s vocal range by channeling Lana Del Rey in a James Bond dream sequence.
“All of the songs on this EP were written during a period of time where I was experiencing a lot of personal growth… sorting through self-doubt and struggling relationships,” Davidson admits. “There were a lot of scenarios or thoughts that I found myself continuously replaying over and over in my mind, and although that may sound like a good thing for the sake of processing, it really just became an unhealthy behavior for me. I got to a place where it was necessary to completely remove certain thoughts, activities, and people from my life in order to experience the renewal that I needed, and these songs were all an instrumental part of that process. That’s why we decided to give the album the title that we did.”
Although Erase. Rewind. Restart. may be across the board in musical inspiration, the album’s universal and almost elemental theme of creation, destruction, and rebirth became a process of self-discovery for Davidson in its compilation. And with his transparency on display for the world to see, the effort seems to have paid off.
Playing up the whole Saturday Night/Sunday morning spiritual schism is as much part of Nashville music as Lower Broadway, The Ryman, and Music Row. It’s a conceit especially prevalent in roots music circles, where audiences naturally consist of churchgoers and curse-spewers alike.
Matt Haeck comes by his layers honestly; that is, his is a life and a music that feed off of each other — indeed, without the other, you get the sense that either would cease to exist.
With “Late Bloomer” (which may or not prove to be true; kid’s had the goods for years), Haeck’s put his backstory up front: the songs here were written both before and in the midst of an almost four-year struggle with addiction. There’s a song or two post-surfacing too, addressing that pink-elephant-question in the room: just who the hell are we, when we’re who we really are?
Born in Barbados to missionary parents — his dad’s “real job” was selling insurance of the more tangible, home-and-hearth variety — Haeck says his first introduction to the magic of music came while watching his mother sing alto harmony in the church choir. (His first introduction to the magic of secular music came at the ripe old age of 21, when he dove headlong into the oeuvre of Mssrs. Dylan, Cash, and Lennon.)
His introduction to the traveling life came much earlier. Haeck spent time in Kansas, Southern Illinois, St. Louis, Missouri and Michigan as a child, and has since called Austin, Texas — where he once paid the rent by “working” as a nude model — San Diego, Indianapolis, Pennsylvania, and (finally) Nashville, Tennessee home.
Fast-forward (or is that swipe right?) to today. On the strength of Haeck’s well-received stage turns in Studio Tenn’s “The Hank Legacy” and “The Cash Legacy” and the Crackerfarm-filmed video of he and Avett Brother Paul DeFiglia doing a new number of their own composition, 2014’s “Couldn’t Say Yes (Till I Learned To Say No)”, Haeck has finally begun his flowering. One highly successful Kickstarter campaign later, and “Late Bloomer” (produced by David Mayfield, and featuring the likes of DeFiglia, Critter Fuqua of Old Crow Medicine Show, and Caitlin Rose) is seeded, watered, and ready to go.
Since their inception in 2012, The Aquaducks have been bringing the party to the southeast with their unique blend of funk, rock, and reggae. Combining catchy hooks with impressive instrumental work and relentless jams, the Ducks are constantly improving their sound and making each show more memorable than the last. They can make you laugh, they might make you cry, but they will most definitely make you dance. Dishing out one of the most high-energy experiences around, The Aquaducks will find a way to get your feet moving—so please, don’t try to resist.
Elliot Root is an american alternative music group based in the heart of Music City Nashville. Challenged by the surrounding music scene, Elliot Root has received attention for their eclectic mix-up of impactful melodies and an ever changing variety of soundscapes inﬂuenced by the bands many musical heroes of all genres.
“I reached some plains so vast, that I did not find their limit anywhere I went . . . with no more land marks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea . . . . there was not a stone, nor bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by.”—Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, 1541
Ryan Culwell grew up in a forgotten place. His songs were forged in the great void that is the panhandle of Texas—The Great In-Between, a land so desolate that few even thought to settle there until oil was discovered beneath the emptiness. And the solitude of the plains comes pouring out of him when he opens his mouth to sing. Like an approaching dust storm, Culwell’s songs whisper and howl and embed the dirt of the flatlands deep into your skin.
Growing up in the middle of all that flatness seems to have amplified Culwell’s soul; his songs shine forth like the stars in West Texas on a clear night. Culwell spent most his life among the company of roughneck oilfield men in a small town near the epicenter of the Dust Bowl. “My dad and brother have always worked the kind of jobs that required them to wake up at three in the morning to fix whatever went wrong, even if the wind was blowing sixty miles per hour and it was five degrees. People think I exaggerate this kind of work ethic, and they damn sure think I exaggerate the weather in the panhandle.”
Like an oil rigger drilling for crude, Culwell’s songs penetrate deep into the essence of the Great Plains. In “Darkness” he sings: “Wind ain’t blown here in days, it’s strange and lonely/
the only sound is some old men in the diner talkin bout rain/ but that’s only hearsay/ don’t believe we’ll see no rain/ then again I seen stranger things/ like a whole world that’s flat.”
Despite hailing from a place that ignores the presence of the outside world, Culwell has become something of a searcher, an intellectual nomad. Amid his tales of oilfields and honky- tonks, he’s likely to quote the poet Geoffrey Hill (“Can Absence be a god, or have we made an idol of our emptiness?”) or the French mystic Simone Weil: “We must be rooted in the absence of a place. We must take the feeling of being home into exile.”
It was only when Culwell went into exile in Nashville that he truly got in touch with the “absence of place” that is his home. Ryan Culwell is no rhinestoned Texas troubadour—he counts Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker, and Woody Guthrie as influences. In fact, Culwell hails from the same stretch of prairie where Guthrie spent his most formative years, and like Guthrie, he has emerged as a poet of the plains. Of the legendary songwriter from Pampa Culwell says: “Guthrie was defined by the whole experience [of the Dust Bowl in the Texas Panhandle] but expressed that identity in leaving. We hear a lot about the trail of people leaving. We know the sound of exodus, but what does it sound like to stay?”
At the age of thirty-one, after moving from Amarillo Texas to Music City, Culwell began playing what he calls “bigger” songs. But he heard the flatlands calling to him, and he found himself writing secret songs about his roots on the open plains—songs about “what it sounds like to stay,” thought he hadn’t. Soon enough, these were the only tunes anyone wanted to hear. These songs became Flatlands, Culwell’s debut album from Lightning Rod Records (Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Billy Joe Shaver, James McMurtry).
On the opening track of the record, “Amarillo,” Ryan comes out swinging: “What am I gonna do with this? Just walk around waving two white fists?/ Am I throwing punches or singing
songs?/ Have I been here for way too long?” The song is a paean to those who choose to live their whole lives in a place where “most people won’t even stay the night.” Songs like this have garnered Culwell almost prophet-like status among the disaffected youth of the Llano Estacado. But his songs are not regional. The high plains are Solitude Amplified; we have all, at one time or another, felt the kind of epic absence that Culwell spins so effortlessly into song.
Listening to these songs about the empty plains, we also encounter something unexpected: hope. In many ways, Flatlands is an optimistic record, like a lighted window seen from many miles away. On the eponymous track Culwell sings: “The earth can break a man/ But I will take my stand/ I’ll climb my mountains/ Out in the Flatlands.” And on “I Will Come For You” when he cajoles, “Let’s head on out to the front porch/ And wait for the cold to come,” an almost giddy joy can be heard behind his lonesome Texas drawl.
The tenderness on this record will surprise listeners who first encounter Culwell’s weather-beaten resolve. But this, too, comes from Culwell’s dualistic relationship with his home. Like many from West Texas, he loves this land and he hates it. He’s not unlike Tom Joad: tough, but gentle. But tough. A Culwell song brings to mind an old sharecropper who limps into the town diner on a Sunday morning. The man’s weary face commands respect, but his limp puts you at ease somehow.
While Culwell is poised to take American music halls by storm with these “secret” songs, he remains humble: a man devoted to his wife and daughters and enthralled by the art of songcraft. “I don’t want to tell the world that I’ve worked harder than other artists. I probably haven’t. But I have kept my head in the game long enough to write a couple of decent songs. It’s not really different than the farmers who stuck it out in years of drought or just pushed their necks out when the wind blew all their topsoil away.”
Twenty one-year-old Kirsten Arian has been singing her entire life. At the age of seventeen, she sang in front of an audience for the first time. From then on, she dabbled in music—everything from touring the Los Angeles nightclub scene to serenading herself, with only her guitar for company. It wasn’t a lonely occasion, because she discovered her love for creating and not just singing.
In August 2012, she spontaneously decided to move to Nashville, Tennessee. The songs she creates and writes simply happen. An idea strikes, inspiration will take hold of her, or passion will well up and a song is born. She never sets out with a goal in mind, but her unique sounds, melodies, and voice seem to come from another place. “I write songs,” she says, “from an overwhelming emotion. The music as well as the lyrics are meant to convey that emotion or passion.” There is no formula. There is only what works and truth.
Other than a grandmother who enjoyed singing, Kirsten Arian has no musical pedigree or background: she was born to a family with an unlikely gift. The gift is not only her voice, but her ability to capture the intangible in a new way, provoking others to inspiration of their own and to the beauty that comes even from out of pain.
Fans of Kirsten Arian typically remark on the continuity of her sound, but at the same time seeing how different each song is by itself. “Yeah, they sound so similar, like, I can tell it’s the same artist, but I don’t feel like I could get songs on the album mixed up you know? They’re different but still Kirsten. And truly inspiring.” “I just want to make something stunning,” Kirsten says. “Something that moves people to reevaluate, their life? I want the music to go a little deeper than normal.”
Award-‐winning producer/publisher Charlie Peacock has signed singer-‐songwriter Peyton Parker to an exclusive artist development agreement with his company Twenty Ten Music. Peyton is a bright light among Nashville’s developing talent. A native of Georgia, she moved to Nashville in 2013 to pursue her musical path. She has appeared in concert with Walker Hayes, Jana Kramer, Parmalee and David Nail. In addition to winning the Southern Ground Social Club’s Open Mic Showdown, Peyton was a recent finalist in Puckett’s Rising Star Singer Songwriter contest. Peyton is currently co-‐writing, performing, and preparing for her country music debut.
With a unique voice and an easy charm, Peyton Parker knew what she wanted to be at a young age and is quickly establishing herself as a rising folk/americana artist.
Like a character in a dreary West Coast short story by Raymond Carver, Nashville songwriter Andrew Combs moves through a hazy modern world, trying to find the meaning in life on his sophomore album, All These Dreams. “I sometimes find myself wondering what the hell I am doing with my life and what it all amounts to,” Combs says, explaining the album’s opening track, “Rainy Day Song,” which sets the narrative tone for the album.
“Although I don’t know the answer to this, I believe it lies in the path I take, not the actual destination,” says Combs. “I can’t say whether I’m looking for a god, or love, or art, or all of the above, all I know is I am wading through some murky water trying to find the answer.”
While the album may adhere to this darker internal script, its musical inspiration comes from vintage 1970s production: California-tinged AM Gold; the Laurel Canyon tones of Jackson Browne and The Eagles; and Paul Simon’s Muscle Shoals-laced R&B funk.
And with its sweeping string arrangements and sophisticated charm, the album evokes other earlier eras, like 1960s Hollywood or Roy Orbison-era Nashville Sound. Listeners may also hear the faint glimmer of male vocalists like Jim Reeves, Glen Campbell, Jimmy Webb, perhaps even Frank Sinatra.
All of it amounts to a huge step forward for the Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who released his debut album, Worried Man, in 2012, which American Songwriter named one of the year’s best, while Southern Living praised Combs for being “well on his way to becoming a preeminent voice in his genre.”
For the new album, Combs worked with producers Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson — who recently co-produced Caitlin Rose’s The Stand-In and have worked with Justin Townes Earle — and recorded the album in Nashville with many of his longtime musical collaborators, including lead guitarist Jeremy Fetzer and pedal steel guitarist Spencer Cullum Jr. (of the instrumental duo Steelism).
“I feel like this record has a much different thread that ties the songs together than my first album, Worried Man, which was more raw and bare-bones, in songwriting as well as production,” says Combs. “All These Dreams explores more complex arrangements, lyrics and musical tones.
With straight-talking narrators and glimpses of poetic realism, All These Dreams at times might recall the gritty Southern literature of writers like Larry Brown and Barry Hannah, both of whom Combs cites as influences. On “Pearl,” the songwriter celebrates the underbelly of society, while on “Suwannee County,” his narrator strikes up a mundane conversation with a Florida fisherman at a gas station, which leads to a deeper discussion about spirituality.
There’s plenty of dark humor here too. On “Strange Bird,” Combs sings about an elusive lover, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and uses a buoyant arrangement to explore some unusual musical effects, such as a whistling solo.
Combs has been identified with a new crop of Nashville-based songwriters, who have also looked back to the ’70s for songwriting inspiration. Combs is featured in the upcoming documentary Heartworn Highways Revisited, alongside Nashville-based songwriters like John McCauley, Jonny Fritz and Robert Ellis — as well as one of his heroes, Guy Clark.
While he acknowledges his debt to fellow Texans like Clark, Mickey Newbury and Townes Van Zandt, Combs is also moving in a new direction, carving out his own singular path as an artist. The 28-year-old songwriter is also quick to point out that though there is a similar sense of camaraderie in Nashville today, “The songs and writers were much better in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.”
“I’m not saying there aren’t talented people in Nashville now, but I don’t think we pay near as much attention to the song as they did back then,” adds Combs. “Maybe it’s ’cause we’re too busy tweeting about our latest gig or wardrobe purchase.”
Ultimately, All These Dreams finds Combs in a league of his own, wholly focused on perfecting his own songwriting and storytelling, and delivering it all in a rich musical style that’s much more than the sum of its parts.
Lucie Silvas’ new self-titled EP is out now on Furthestpoint Records viaCaroline. In celebration of the release, Silvas will perform a special show with James Bay at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom on March 16. Additional tour dates to be announced shortly.
The 5-song EP was recorded in Nashville and was produced by Silvas, John Osborne (Brothers Osborne) and Ian Fitchuk (Mindy Smith, Griffin House). Of the new material, Silvas comments, “While I am so involved both emotionally and personally with each song, individually, on the entire album, I really think the EP is a solid sign and a great sampling of what is to follow on the full length release. These songs all really belong together—more than I ever thought they would. Every bit of everything I’ve got in myself went into this music; the energy, the emotion and the story. Writing and making an album with all the people I love was the only thing that made it possible. I never felt the same freedom to tell the truth about myself before—the good and bad— and that’s the only way I want to make music, from a genuine place. Every artist and musician I’ve been inspired by has influenced the sound of this record and many people that have come in and out of my life inspired the stories.”
Born in London, raised in New Zealand and now calling Nashville home, Silvas has enjoyed massive critical and commercial acclaim since she debuting at age 17—selling over 1 million albums in Europe alone and achieving success as both a musician and songwriter. She has also shared the stage with numerous acclaimed artists, including Elton John, Jamie Cullum, Lionel Richie, Kacey Musgraves, Tom Jones and Jamiroquai.
Waterfall Wash is a quirky, catchy mesh of folk, gospel, and indie rock. The five-piece lets steel guitar and autoharp coexist alongside colorful layers of synthesizer, glockenspiel, and three-part vocal harmonies.
With an air of unpredictability, Waterfall Wash’s live show experiments with alternate arrangements of their songs. The band has opened for indie folk powerhouse Lord Huron, as well as Bonnaroo standouts EL EL, Kansas Bible Company, and Ranch Ghost. Following a performance at the East Nashville Underground festival, No Country For New Nashville noted Waterfall Wash have “consistently impressed, showcased a dynamic and ever-expanding range, and have matured into one of the best up and coming live acts in town.”
The sound of Foreign Chords has attracted the attention of Nashville folk revivalists as well as fans of rock, gospel and even pop punk. In 2013 and 2014, the Wash ran the gamut of Nashville venues and festivals, including East Nashville Underground, Mercy Lounge, Tomato Fest, Capitol District Street Fair, 5 Spot, fooBAR and more.
Their debut EP, Foreign Chords, was mixed at Burning Bridge Recordings in the latter months of 2014 and released to the world on January 27, 2015. It is available on Soundstamp, Bandcamp and iTunes.
Longley has a gift for culling musical treasures as though straight from thin air. And now, the Berklee College of Music graduate and award-winning songwriter is set to share them with listeners on her self-titled album—her first after signing with Sugar Hill Records in December 2014.
While Longley’s songs and vocals invite complimentary comparisons to Shawn Colvin, Paula Cole and Nanci Griffith—all artists she’s supported live—her latest effort spotlights a style and confidence that’s all her own. You can hear it in the subtle-yet-soaring vocals on “Memphis,” the dagger directness of “Skin and Bones,” the bittersweet farewell that drives “This Is Not the End” (featured in the 2012 season finale of Lifetime’s Army Wives). They’re all cuts that dare you to hold back the goosebumps.
In fact, Longley’s singing never fails to thrill and enthrall. Her voice and tone, touched with the slightest of country inflections, pours out like clean, crystalline water. Still, she can roar like a waterfall or flow effortlessly along the bed her backing band lays down, as on “Peace of Mind.” The track showcases Longley yearning after silence and stillness to beat back demons of self-doubt.
The new songs grew amidst a period of transition and travel in her life; moving between Boston and New York before finally settling in Nashville, and spending much of her life on the road in a succession of minivans. To that end, the songs have been road tested at Longley’s live shows, their power to connect with fans beyond question.
These numbers pack the punch of pages torn from Longley’s journal. And fans have rewarded her transparency with tangible loyalty. For while many acts have no clue how an album will be received, Longley started her project knowing just how much her fans wanted her to succeed.
It’s like this: Her Kickstarter campaign, which set $35,000 as an album-funding goal, exceeded that amount by nearly 60 percent, raising $55,000. “We reached the mark so quickly and I’m just really, really lucky to be connected to my fans,” she says. “ I feel like they’ve adopted me—like I have this big supportive family.”
And to that end, Longley confides with you as though you’re sitting on the sofa with her in a talk that’s intimate and vulnerable. “Bad Habit” strides the valley road of heartbreak, its pounding toms and plaintive electric guitar providing an ideal frame for Longley’s vocal, the very portrait of love’s rock bottom: “I couldn’t stand the smell of smoke ’til he lit that cigarette/ Never felt the temptation ’til I smelled it on his breath.”
“I wrote it after dating a guy who had a lot of bad habits, and somehow he became my bad habit,” Longley recalls. “He was just one of those people—a smoker and a drinker who also had a habit of cheating. When I broke up with him and wrote the song, it was hugely therapeutic for me. It cleansed him from my system. And when I started playing it live, I realized that so many others had toxic people in their lives.”
Why write and sing songs so transparent and confessional? For Longley, it boils down to the simple truth of authenticity. “I just try to be myself,” she says. “If I feel like a song is not genuine to me, I absolutely do not present it because people see right through it. It’s all about the honesty, and I try not to overthink it—then it would lose some of the magic.”
Longley first felt the magic while growing up outside of Philadelphia. A song she wrote in ninth grade—her first ever—earned a standing ovation when she performed it for the student body: “I was unprepared for that sort of reaction and it was life-changing moment,” she says. “That’s when I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life.”
The track record she’s assembled since shows just how much Longley grew into her dream. She’s taken home top prizes at some of the most prestigious songwriting competitions in the country, including the BMI John Lennon Songwriting Scholarship Competition, the International Acoustic Music Awards and the Rocky Mountain Folk Fest Songwriting Competition.
But it all traces straight back to Longley’s first song. She says she’ll continue to open her soul in the service of her art because that’s what matters most to her. “Every time I get into these songs they resonate with me, lock with me, because they’re based on something I went through,” she says of the new collection. “I hope they connect with people and that they’ll help with whatever they’ve gone through. That’s what music does for me, and I hope I can do that for someone else.”
After all, what better way to fill an empty room than with fully realized music?
Most musicians who move to Nashville to pursue music probably credit James Taylor as an inspiration. It’s quite another thing to open your mouth and sound just like him.
Zach Torres’ voice has been compared to James Taylor, Vince Gill and other old souls. No small feat to be certain, but his voice delivers. In today’s sea of grating voices and beats, Torres’ voice is deceptively simplistic, resonating deep long after the last chord fades out.
It’s always been music. He learned piano at age 8 and picked up a few more instruments and places along the way. He lived in Nashville briefly for his first year of college, before moving back to his native Texas to play shows in Austin and later studying guitar at a prestigious music college in Boston.
“A Bit Like Home” was recorded in Boston amongst friends, written over the course of Torres’ meanderings the past five years. He’s still finding his voice, some days channeling old Texas troubadours and others a more piano-based beat. He’s figuring it out and for once, laying down shallow roots in East Nashville, which feels like home these days… until his nationwide tour starts in March.
Tune into Lightning 100 to hear “Worn Down Woman” and see him play as their artist of the week this Friday February 6th at Soulshine Pizza.