Author Archives: Tim Hibbs

Eternal appeal: Sarah Gayle Meech channels Nashville’s traditions

According to CNN, over 30,000 people moved to Nashville last year, which averages out to 82 per day. Of those 82, it seems I meet at least half who have moved here to be a part of the city’s thriving music scene. That’s fantastic for us, because the steady influx of new talent means we always have fresh music to hear. It can be hell on the recent resident, however, when they realize just how deep the Music City talent pool runs. On any given stage, musicians who would be the top player in their former city/state/country are just average Joes trying to make it against very stiff odds. The day job is necessity for all but the most fortunate.

Sarah Gayle Meech moved to Nashville from Los Angeles in 2010 and gravitated toward the intensely competitive Lower Broadway scene. There, artists play in dozens of honky-tonks down the eight-block stretch to the river, surviving on tip jar offerings. You HAVE to be good or you won’t be playing there for long. Sarah has thrived due to a combination of formidable talent, steely determination and classic songwriting skills. Her new album, Tennessee Love Songs, features fifteen self-penned compositions recorded with the cream of the new Nashville session players. We spoke to Sarah about the new album, moving to Nashville and the eternal appeal of traditional country music.

For this album, you wrote all the songs. How long was the writing period for the album?

The majority of the songs came within a year’s time. Last summer, I was hell-bent on writing the songs for this album. There were two songs written in previous years that I included but everything else was fresh off-the-cuff.

When you play Lower Broadway in Nashville, are you able to play original songs?

Yes! I played the entire new album at Robert’s last night. In fact, I played both of my records at Robert’s last night! (laughter)

It can be hard playing original songs for the downtown crowd.

You kind of feel it out. I always play my originals, regardless, but I’ll pepper in the cover songs because you’re on stage for 3 1/2 hours. I don’t have 3 1/2 hours worth of original material and I don’t know who does– Bruce Springsteen? The Rolling Stones? (laughter) I put in songs by my favorite artists like Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Patsy Cline. We’re down there working for money (Ed. note: TIPS!) and if someone says, “Here’s twenty bucks, play Willie Nelson,” we’re going to play it!

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Brian Wilson,
The TVD Interview

“There are only two geniuses in rock: Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson,” I immediately countered, and so began my initial meeting and conversation with Rob Roth, owner of New Jersey’s legendary music store Vintage Vinyl. We continued the debate throughout dinner, no doubt frightening the rest of the table with our animated opinions. By the end of meal, we had begun a solid friendship. And we still disagree on Rob’s assertion.

Debate aside, there can be no argument that Brian Wilson is a musical genius. The depth he brought to the Beach Boys recordings through his vocal and instrumental arrangements is still the benchmark so many strive to reach. Wilson’s personal struggles have been well documented but he has never stopped creating arresting and vital music.

On April 7th, Capitol Records releases Wilson’s eleventh solo studio album, No Pier Pressure. Originally intended as a Beach Boys release, those plans were scrapped when the band fell apart after their 50th anniversary tour. Instead, Wilson assembled an all-star lineup of guest vocalists including Kacey Musgraves, fun.’s Nate Ruess, and She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, along with Beach Boy alumni Al Jardine, David Marks, and Blondie Chaplin. Likewise, he recruited A-list session players like Don Was, drummers Jim Keltner and Kenny Aronoff, Dean Parks, and Jeffrey Foskett. The good new for vinyl fans is that it will be released as a two-LP set pressed on 180-gram vinyl in addition to CD and digital formats. We spoke with Wilson via phone on the eve of its release.

Congratulations on No Pier Pressure! To me, it sounds like an extension of the Pet Sounds era. Was that what you were going for?

Yes it was. I wrote the songs together with Joe Thomas, who I’ve been working with for a while.

I understand your daughter came up with the album title.

Yes, she did. I’m not sure what it means, exactly, but she did choose it.

You have an impressive group of musicians on the album. How did you recruit them?

We called each guy up, like Nate Russ, Zooey Deschanel, and all of them.

The singers and players are stellar, to be sure. Being in Nashville, I have to ask about Kasey Musgraves. Did you enjoy working with her?

She was great, it was really fun working with her. She’s a great singer and she learns really fast.

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Lloyd Cole,
The TVD Interview

From his stunning debut with The Commotions on 1984’s Rattlesnakes, Lloyd Cole has continued to make intelligent pop music for the last three decades. With lyrics referencing literary and pop culture figures as well as chronicling the ebb and flow of personal relationships, Cole touches the mind as well as the heart.

After a period as an acoustic troubadour, Cole has reunited with some early solo career colleagues to make Standards, a return to the jangly guitar milieu of Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe-era sounds. We spoke with Cole prior to his March 29th appearance at Nashville’s City Winery.

Your new album finds you returning to the electric guitar sound of your earlier albums. Was the title a conscious reference to that?

I don’t remember why I called it Standards, really. I just liked the sound of it and I knew that some people would think it was me being snotty or arrogant, calling it Standards, and I always like to rub those people the wrong way (laughter). I guess there’s still a bit of the snotty kid who titled an album Mainstream twenty-eight years ago still there inside me.

I was happy to see you reunited with Matthew Sweet. I’ve been a fan of his since the Buzz of Delight days in the ‘80s Athens, GA scene.

On (Lloyd Cole and The Commotions’) first tour of America, we had a great time in Athens. We wound up having about three days off there, just one of those scheduling things where there were no gigs and we were booked for three days in some nasty hotel. We met some local kids who had a big house and we moved out of the hotel and went to stay with them. I think we drank a lot, probably.

What was it like picking up the electric guitar and getting back together with Matthew and Fred Maher, with whom you had recorded twenty years earlier? Did it feel familiar, strange…

It was, strangely, exactly the same. It wasn’t even familiar, it was the SAME. After a couple of hours on the first day, we looked at each other and said, “Well, this works (laughter).” The combination of the three of us just works and it’s really hard to explain. Fred takes a week to remember the title of a song and Matthew knows how the song goes before I finish telling him. They learn in very different ways but they play together really well. They’ve played on Matthew’s records and on my records, they just play bass and drums together really well in a way that really suits with how I play rhythm guitar and write songs. When we were recording, I played the guitar and sang the songs live. Matthew and I were in the control room, Fred was in the drum room and it just felt weirdly identical.

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Billy J. Kramer,
The TVD Interview

Billy J. Kramer seemingly came from nowhere (well, Bootle, Lancashire, England, to be precise) to climb the upper reaches of the UK and U.S. pop charts beginning in 1963. Hand-picked to join the NEMS Enterprises artist roster by The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, Kramer was given Lennon/McCartney songs to record and was produced by George Martin. When his original backing musicians quit, professional Manchester combo The Dakotas were hired by Epstein to be Kramer’s band. He rode the wave of Beatlemania worldwide and had several top ten hits in multiple countries.

After the beat music boom crested in 1965, Kramer and The Dakotas parted ways. He launched a new career in cabaret and British television, maintaining a solo career there for the next two decades before relocating to the U.S. He has recently released a new CD, I Won The Fight, and is excited to be a part of the British Invasion 50th Anniversary Tour.

How did you get involved with the tour?

I was approached by the promoters, you know? I’ve been living here for a long time, doing gigs and different things, and when they came up with the idea for this tour, I said, “Yeah.” I’ve been very uplifted by the whole thing. I thought it would be good but it’s been better than I could ever imagine.

After the British Invasion tour ends, I’m going to the UK to do the Solid Silver Sixties 30th Anniversary Tour. It will be with Mike Pender of The Searchers, Chris Farlow, P.P. Arnold, and The Merseybeats. It will be thirty concerts in all and it will the first time I have toured there in eighteen years. I very excited about it.

You toured the U.S. prior to The Beatles’ arrival. Do you still see some of your original fans as you tour?

Yes, definitely. I have a connection with Beatlefest, which I have done on numerous occasions, and the fans always come out.

As you were growing up, what artists caught your attention early on?

Buddy Holly singing “That’ll Be the Day” hit me really hard the first time I heard it on Radio Luxembourg, which I used to listen to on Sunday nights. Also, the bass player in my first band had a brother who would bring records back from America. I remember he had the 78s of Elvis singing “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Both of those records blew me away! I started to collect records myself around that time.

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Peter Asher,
The TVD Interview

Peter Asher has had a long and storied career, initially as a musician, briefly as head of A&R for Apple Records, and later as a heavily influential producer and artist manager. Through records he produced by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, he helped create the ‘70s singer-songwriter sound which is still influencing artists today. He was at the center of ‘60s Swinging London and with his musical partner Gordon Waller, made records that distilled the essence of that heady era.

He is preparing to tour several U.S. cities as part of the British Invasion 50th Anniversary Tour with Denny Laine, Billy J. Kramer, Mike Pender’s Searchers, Chad and Jeremy, and Terry Sylvester of The Hollies. Asher will act as master of ceremonies for the concerts as well as performing some well-loved hits from the Peter and Gordon catalog.

I know that producer Andrew Sandoval put the British Invasion tour together. How did you get involved?

Andrew is a friend and he works with Keith Putney who books a lot of my shows and runs that part of my career. They came to me with this idea and asked me to be a part of the first British Invasion tour. Unfortunately, I was already booked for that period so I was only able to do the first date, which was L.A., and the last date, which was somewhere on the east coast. I couldn’t do the tour properly, but I enjoyed the two I did. I MC-ed the show, introducing people and sang some of the old songs. This year, they asked in plenty of time if I could put two weeks aside to do the full tour and I was delighted to say “yes.”

Take us through the structure of the show. You’ll be the master of ceremonies and I understand the acts will share a common backing band.

Yes, we have a wonderful band, most of whom are members of my band. Everyone will do some of their own hits and we’ll work up some numbers to sing together. It’s fun! I tell stories about how I met certain people and how I first heard these records. It all fits together in the picture of the so-called “British invasion” which just had its 50th anniversary last year, so it’s now ancient history (laughs). When it comes my turn, I sing four or five of the Peter and Gordon hits.

This whole thing began in a way when Gordon (Waller) and I got back together after a thirty-eight year gap (Ed. note: Peter and Gordon reunited as part of a 2005 two-day tribute concert for Mike Smith, lead vocalist and keyboard player for the Dave Clark Five. Smith had recently fractured his spinal cord and was paralyzed. He died in 2008. Waller died of a heart attack in 2009). At the time, I confess that I wasn’t sure if singing the old songs was going to be a cool and rewarding thing to do. But, in fact, it was very interesting. The audience was a mixture of people our age, who were around at the time and remember it and young people for whom it is historical research, I suppose (chuckles). They’re visiting the living remnants of a period of history that they have read and heard much about.

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TVD Recommends: Forecastle Festival,
July 17-19, 2015

The first wave of artists for the 2015 Forecastle Festival has been announced and, per usual, it is an eclectic and intriguing bill. Forecastle, now in its thirteenth year, happens each July in Louisville, Kentucky’s Waterfront Park, on the banks of the mighty Ohio River. The park is a sweeping 85-acre greenspace with a decorative tributary running through the center, giving you a chance to cool your heels in the water and relax between sets (ponder that, Coachella). The festival’s four stages are spaced with adequate distance to prevent sound bleed, but close enough to easily get from one to the other quickly. But, really, why should you go?

These days, virtually every town with a stoplight has a festival. Seriously, it’s getting out of hand. What once was the purview of a few select cities is now everybody’s Paloozasquatch. Having attended a fair number of these gatherings, I can testify that Forecastle is different. Produced by AC Entertainment, i.e., the folks who stage Bonnaroo, and Forecastle’s founder JK McKnight, it offers many of the same amenities as its big brother (great artists/terrific food/cool vibe) with one major difference: no camping.

While some prefer the immersive, stay-in-a-tent experience, I’m too partial to real beds and hot showers. Downtown Louisville has plenty of parking adjacent to the park and hotels in all price ranges. You come, you see the acts, and a) go back to your room or b) take in one of the after-hours shows. Either way, no bedroll required.

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TVD Recommends: Bloodshot Records 20th Anniversary Blowout at City Winery Nashville

To consider that Chicago’s insurgent indie label Bloodshot Records is twenty years old is a bit off-putting, though in the nicest way. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was digging Neko Case & Her Boyfriends The Virginian? Or getting knocked to my knees by the absolute power of Robbie Fulks’ “The Buck Starts Here” from Country Love Songs? Don’t even get me started on Alejandro Escovedo’s mid-career peak Bourbonitis Blues.

Through two decades, label founders Nan Warshaw and Rob Miller have consistently delivered records of superior quality and made my wallet the weaker for it. Well played, Nan and Rob.

Like any red-blooded twenty-something, Bloodshot is ready to party and the shindig will commence Saturday, January 24th at City Winery Nashville. With a lineup of label stalwarts Robbie Fulks, Cory Branan, and Bobbie Bare, Jr.’s Young Criminal Starvation League, it is guaranteed to be a night of great music and memorable moments.

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Daniel Lanois,
The TVD Interview

Daniel Lanois is one of the premier sound architects of our time. He has produced some of the largest selling albums of the last three decades, often serving as an auxiliary member of the band in session. He is also a master musician and songwriter who has created an intriguing body of work. His latest album, Flesh and Machine, is a major departure from his previous work. A collection of 11 soundscapes, at times it sounds like sometimes collaborator Brian Eno with a rhythm infusion. Ultimately, it comes off as a bold and totally unique creation, one that Lanois entered with not a little trepidation.

Lanois recently performed his new material at City Winery Nashville, accompanied by a compelling video presentation. For the show, I was seated across from Nashville music legend Mac Gayden. Gayden, who recorded a series of adventurous and experimental records in the ‘70s, has a direct, flesh and blood connection to Lanois. I spoke with Mr. Lanois after the performance, when he reflected on his new direction as well as growing up in Canada.

Flesh and Machine is such a departure for you, musically. How did you choose this new direction?

I spend so much in “the laboratory,” my studio (chuckles), and every day is a sonic adventure. I decided to embrace my experiments and let those sounds be the direction of the next record. I was able to take myself off the songwriting hook, so I wasn’t operating by any of those preconceptions. It was a new-found freedom for me. I still have a regard for conventional songwriting, of course, but I thought this time I’ll have the laboratory experiments direct me into this new frontier.

This music is also more rhythmic than what I’ve done before. I’ve always loved rhythm so to be able to highlight that was something that was special to me.

At your recent City Winery Nashville show, I was impressed by the collaborative process between the three of you, especially Brian Blade. What an amazing drummer!

Yes, he’s just a star and I can’t say enough about him. We’ve been working together over 20 years and he never ceases to amaze me as a drummer and as a human being. He’s a great barometer for the music. Can’t get enough of him!

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TVD Recommends: Hard Working Americans, The First Waltz at Acme Feed & Seed, 12/20

In 2013, tenacious troubadour Todd Snider called some friends to help play some songs he’d been collecting by some of his favorite writers. Answering that call were Dave Schools from Widespread Panic (bass), Neal Casal of Chris Robinson Brotherhood (guitar/vocals), Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi (keyboards), Jesse Aycockand (guitar/vocals), and Duane Trucks, Derek’s younger brother (drums). Alt-country chanteuse Elizabeth Cook helps out on background vocals sometimes as well.

This collective took on the name Hard Working Americans and proceeded to play marathon shows full interactive musicianship and camaraderie. They hoisted their freak flag high, right beside the Stars and Stripes, proclaiming that you don’t have to attend a tea party in order to be patriot. Mostly, though, they just played kick-ass music.

Appropriately enough, they recorded their self-titled debut album at Bob Weir’s studio. The process of putting this group together was captured by filmmaker Justin Kreutzmann in the riveting rockumentary Hard Working Americans: The First Waltz.

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Nicole Atkins,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

Nicole Atkins first came to national prominence with the release of her debut album, Neptune City. Since that album on Columbia, she issued Mondo Amore on Razor & Tie and has just released the first album on her own label, Oh’ Mercy! Records titled Slow Phaser.

We chatted with Nicole to talk about the new album, her love of vinyl, and a surprise comeback from a beloved melodic rock band.

The first time I heard about you was when my friend and former colleague Sky Spooner raved about you.

Oh, yes, Sky! He was the A&R scout for Columbia who discovered me.

The title of your new album, Slow Phaser, conjures vivid images for me, but what does it represent for you?

It’s funny how that came about, actually. We were recording the album, testing out different sounds, and I said to my producer Tore Johansen, “Hey turn up the slow phaser, man!,” as a joke. As soon as I said it, I thought, “Slow phaser: that’s a really good album title.”

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense because there’s a shit-ton of slow phaser on the album, soundwise. Also, I equated “slow phaser” with late bloomer and that’s what I feel like I am. I’ve always felt that way, so the title felt very appropriate.

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