Erin Rae Goes Deep on ‘Lighten Up’ LP

Photo Credit: Bree Fish

Erin Rae’s new album, Lighten Up, is an exercise in showing up for herself. 

In early 2019, Rae and a fellow singer-songwriter friend, Louise Hayat-Camard of The Dove & The Wolf, made a pact to write a song each day and send it to each other. For Rae, it was about developing a discipline, holding herself accountable to the craft. In doing so, the songs that comprise Lighten Up started to take shape, including the title track, “Cosmic Sigh,” and “Drift Away.”

“It was when those songs presented themselves that I started to imagine what the record cover would look like and see what the album will take shape around,” Rae describes to Audiofemme. She even sketched out plans for album art and wrote out a tentative track list that helped build momentum for the project, the title itself meant to inspire the listener to lean into curiosity.

“It’s not really my style to be directive and tell people what I think they should do. It’s playing around with that term and inviting people to be curious: ‘What is she talking about? Who does she think she’s talking to?’” she laughs of the “inquisitive” phrase. “Once you get into the songs and you hear that, it’s very much my experience that I’m talking to. Take what you like, leave the rest.” The album was released on February 4; Rae is currently on tour with Courtney Marie Andrews in Australia before returning to the U.S. as a supporting act for Watchhouse, beginning on March 31.

Rae’s previous album, Putting on Airs, confronted her inner darkness and past trauma, diving into her psyche on songs like “Bad Mind.” It details her experience as a queer woman in the South, the feelings she once had to suppress now finding freedom through song. “’Bad Mind’ was a song that I was nervous to share because I was like, ‘Are my collaborators going to think this is weird that I’m talking about being afraid to be gay in this song?’” the Tennessee native pondered, instead met with support from her co-writers. “I’m still aware of the intensity of the subject matter, but it feels like through playing it, I got freed up from any sort of fear around that or being uncomfortable with it.”

Lighten Up continues this healing process. Intentional about maintaining an introspective nature through the music, she wanted to honor the shift that’s occurred in her life since Airs was released in 2018. “Once you have done some of that deep digging and done some healing work, the turning point where I’ve seen all that stuff, now I have awareness and now I want to move into the next part of my life where I’m more into connection with other people and less inhibited by old survival skills or patterns of behavior, negative beliefs,” she explains. 

A major part of this healing journey was allowing all of the walls she’d built around herself to come down. “Cosmic Sigh” directly addresses this, a vintage-sounding acoustic number that sounds like it was transported from the golden era of folk. Here, Rae intertwines this sense of growth with images of the natural world as she serenely sings, “The sun/Day is dawning in the soul/And warms the melancholy/And come what may/She’s won/There’s no need to be afraid/With her illusions falling.”

“Something that I’ve worked with a lot in my life is how anxiety and negative self-belief has hampered that connection, or if I’ve connected with people, being hesitant to be as open as I would like to be,” she says. “Letting myself be known, be vulnerable, be messy, and not seeking to have it all figured out before entering into if it’s a romantic connection, feeling like that needs to be perfect. I think primarily a lot of my work has been to repair that relationship with myself. It’s not so much about ‘What do you think of me?’ It’s ‘This is what I think of me now.’”

Songs like “Cosmic Sigh” and “Drift Away” acknowledge these energy shifts, touching on days when it feels like time has slowed down, to experiencing the magic of one’s own dreams coming to life before their very eyes. Meanwhile, “Can’t See Stars” finds Rae in a soul-cleanse, driving far past city lines to escape the madness of the modern world and soak in the beauty of the night sky.

“One thing that I really enjoy in writing is drawing the correlations between my internal experience and then that of my emotional experience in nature and life itself on the outside that’s continuing to operate amidst all of us in our human stuff that we do,” she shares. “It’s the correlation between an over-saturation of social media and constant distraction and people, the internet, always having somewhere to distract myself, and then how that can add to the disconnect from myself and my intuition and that inner stillness. The physical manifestation of that is literally not being able to see the night sky because we have a billion city lights going all the time, and just needing to create some space and some distance from that from time to time.”  

As she continues to move forward and find inner peace, Rae has a new set of survival skills she’s cultivated through vulnerability, connection and building community, all of which will carry her through to the next bright spot in her journey. “Sometimes there’s a few steps forward and you’re like, ‘I think things are getting better and I feel hopeful,’ and then there’s ‘Why don’t I try to go back to my old patterns because that’s more comfortable and I’m a little scared to move into the unknown.’ And, and then it’s ‘No, we’re going to keep going,’” she notes. “My goal for this album is for it to be giving permission and compassion for myself and whoever listens to it and relates. My intention for this is to help there be a softness towards these deeper, emotional things that we all have, so that maybe there’s some space for them to be brought into the light to be processed.” 

Follow Erin Rae on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Heather Bond Highlights Nashville’s Stellar Female Musicians with “The Mirage” Video Premiere

Photo Credit: Meg Sagi

In the middle of filming the video for “The Mirage,” Heather Bond decided to kick off her heels, not just for the comfortability factor, but to foster the intimate atmosphere she was aiming for. Surrounded by tall plants, dimly lit lamps, and paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, Bond wanted to create a “relaxing, chill vibe” for the visual, premiering today via Audiofemme.

The song is Bond’s second co-write with accomplished bassist Viktor Krauss, and became a favorite on local indie radio station Lightning 100 – so much so it was named to the station’s top 100 songs of 2021. “It’s one of those reflective songs that I think everybody can relate to,” Bond explains. It was inspired by the nostalgia of thinking about past relationships, how they change over time, and how they shape us. “When you’re looking at everything in retrospect, suddenly everything is very clear, [even if] at the time it wasn’t, and it feels messy and muddy and you’re trying to figure out who you are and who you are in a relationship,” Bond says. “From a distance it’s very clear – wouldn’t that be nice if we could recognize that in the moment?” 

Bond had never performed the song live – until she assembled a supergroup of female musicians and background vocalists at The Studio in Nashville. Describing the experience as “surreal,” Bond reveals that it was an “emotional” day of filming, hearing her song come to life with such an exceptional group of players. “The energy was really cool,” she adds. 

Bond takes center stage with an iconic ’70s-inspired look: burnt orange leather pants and geometric patterned shirt to match. Accompanying Bond is Megan McCormick on guitar, Melissa Mattey at the piano, Elizabeth Chan on drums, Krauss on bass and Devonne Fowlkes and Emoni Wilkins serving up background vocals. “I have never played music with a whole group of women, so that was surprisingly a very powerful experience for me,” Bond expresses, citing them as “talented, beautiful and so kind.”

What makes the video particularly unique is the way Bond allows each person their moment to shine, the camera capturing each performer’s gifts and the way they light up the room, whether Mattey is grooving to the melody on keys or Chan is transfixed on Bond, while Fowlkes and Wilkins fall into a rhythm with the singer as they sway to the beat in synchronicity.

For Bond, it was important to give each person their moment in the spotlight. “I told Craig [Hill] that I really wanted him to focus on everybody. There are certain artists that really highlight their band members and I think it’s amazing – it’s my song and I’m singing this song, but the whole thing would not come together without each performer. So I wanted to highlight everybody, and they’re all so good,” she praises. “I love how I felt like each of them were so committed and connected to what we were doing in the moment.”

At one point, the camera crosses over Wilkins to find McCormick getting lost in the melody during her guitar solo, allowing the feeling of the song to take over her hands as she played. “I love that moment where she’s just grooving on the guitar. I’ve watched that quite a few times,” Bond says. “I get lost for a second. This was the first time hearing my songs with the full band, and so when there’s a moment that I’m not singing and it’s just the music and Megan is playing this gorgeous solo, I was able to sink in and lose myself for a bit.” 

Getting lost in the moment and overtaken by the music was one of Bond’s goals for the video, and it also reflects the ’70s and ’80s influences of her upcoming album, The Mess We Created, out February 25th. “We wanted it to match the way that the record sounds and feels. I wanted for it to feel relaxed, like a mix between a studio and living room thing where you feel like you’re in the room and hanging out with each player as they’re taking their turn on camera,” she describes.

She also wanted to bring a sense of solace to viewers after a chaotic couple years of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Life has not been easy for anybody, and the past two years have been pretty intense,” she says. “I’ve been very lucky in a lot of ways. I know people have had it much worse. I definitely need those times where I slow down and reflect and remind myself [that] it’s going to be all right. You’ve been through some stuff, you’re going to go through more, but right now, take it in and let go what you need to let go. So a lot of the songs on the record are like that for me, just accepting what has happened, letting it go and trying to move forward.” 

With a live EP to follow The Mess We Created on March 25th, Heather Bond is already looking ahead. She hopes listeners will do the same, while drawing a sense of tranquility and clarity from the song itself. “One of my favorite things when I’m listening to music is when I put on a song and it makes me feel nostalgic or makes me start thinking about my life and who I loved and who I’ve lost and I’m not even necessarily honed in on the specific lyrics, it’s just a feeling,” she observes. “So that’s how I hope that ‘Mirage’ translates – you’re listening to it and the feeling takes over and you’re able to reflect.” 

Follow Heather Bond on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for ongoing updates. 

Carli Brill Leads With an Open Heart on “Concrete Jungle”

Photo Credit: Hannah Gray Hall

Carli Brill is a lover of items from the past. Growing up in Southern California, Brill and her mother spent countless hours shopping in antique stores, discovering hidden gems and imagining the stories behind them. Now based in Nashville, the singer-songwriter says she draws inspiration from the unknown past still clinging to these objects.

“As a songwriter, I’m always trying to think of new concepts and ideas, so a lot of ideas actually do come from my time out at antique stores sitting and pondering ‘I wonder who owned this? What were they like and what would they think about today?’” she tells Audiofemme. “I love that vintage and antique items tell a story. They have so much depth to them. I like the mystery behind antiques and anything from the past.”

But for her latest single “Concrete Jungle” – officially out February 4th, but premiering today exclusively on Audiofemme – Brill didn’t have to imagine someone else’s life. Instead, the ethereal tune is inspired by the singer’s personal experiences and memories: visiting New York City; meeting her husband Jordan, with whom she recently celebrated eight years of marriage; paying homage to the city’s “rich music history” and all the “people that have fallen in love in this city.” 

“It was such a sweet time that I had there, and the beginning stages of falling in love I think for all of us are moments that we cherish and we never forget,” Brill expresses. “I really wanted to capture that feeling and put it in a song and have the listener almost feel as if they’re falling in love as they are listening to the song.”

The pure-hearted singer accomplishes this by crafting lyrics rich with personal anecdotes; she cites the line “your smile is as bright as your tattoos” as one of the most authentic she’s written. “That’s a very dear line to me that made it in the song,” she says warmly. “The first thing that I noticed about him was his smile. It was just so bright and joyful and wide.”

She also nods to late rapper and Brooklyn native Biggie Smalls as she sings, “Baby come closer/Spread your love on me/It’s the Brooklyn way,” in the doo-wop style number, complimenting the romantic lyrics with a melody that transcends musical genre. Taking listeners on a “melodic journey,” the song begins with a slow-tempo electric guitar, leading into an up-tempo second verse incorporating “vibey” drums; Brill describes the bass as the “heartbeat” and “backbone” of the track. By song’s end, Brill layers ‘60s girl group vocals that turn the song into an experience.

“That was really important in the creation of the song,” she asserts of how the melody matches the story. “[It] almost feels as though your head is spinning at that point when you’re falling in love and you’re like ‘I don’t care what happens, life is great, nothing can upset me.’”

These intriguing instrumentals are a common thread across Brill’s compelling catalogue. The eclectic artist began this process with one of her recent releases, “Hey Little Girl,” an upbeat, genre-defying number that encourages optimism and smiling through life’s misfortunes. “I discovered a lot about myself and I gained a lot of confidence in writing that and I realized I was writing this song to myself,” she explains of the song’s conception. “I was able to see what kind of artist I wanted to become.”

Her songs act as a time lapse, transporting the listener through multiple eras with ever-evolving melodies that match the old soul that shines through in her lyrics, harkening back to the days when Brill and her mother would frequent vintage stores.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Brill hopes that “Concrete Jungle” will inspire listeners to lead with an open heart and express their feelings to the people they love. “I would hope that they would feel encouraged to tell somebody that they love them, even if it’s not in a romantic way,” Brill shares. “We often associate Valentine’s Day with a romantic love, but… it doesn’t have to be romantic love.”

Brill is set to release more new music in the coming months, focused on cultivating an audience of kindred listeners. “I hope that what I create is going to speak to people and I want to always create from an authentic place. It’s sharing what you actually think and what you actually feel about something regardless of how others are going to react to that. It’s how I feel and what I actually believe inside,” Brill says. “I hope that people will connect with that.”

Follow Carli Brill on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates.

Watkins Practices Open-Mindedness on Unbiased Eyes LP

Photo Credit: Justice Slone

For experimental indie duo Watkins, Unbiased Eyes is more than an album title – it’s a way of living. Their 2021 LP explores the depths of love and human existence across ten songs, from the mind-opening invitation of introductory track “Good Problems” to challenging the concept of time in “Beyond the Ambience.”

Vocalist/guitarist Taylor Watkins points to “Sad Happy” as a “huge focal point” of the record, as it encourages listeners to unlearn toxic habits, exemplified in such lyrics as, “Take a broken mind, rewind through all the things you learned/Way back to unbiased eyes/All past boils down to the place we call the now.”

“I’m challenging every listener to break out of that mentality and to experience life for its true self. To reconnect with nature and to see life as the beautiful, chaotic existence that it truly is,” Watkins describes of the song’s message.

“The whole goal of Unbiased Eyes, the album, and the phrase ‘unbiased eyes’ and the message I’m trying to get across is to really see without judgment. I wanted to convey this message of seeing every day with a fresh perspective, to be able to see the beauty in everything for the first time,” Watkins says. “In a lot of these songs, you’ll notice lyrically I try to take on this duality of life and to almost express it in a childlike mentality to help each listener return to the present moment. The theme of shedding all of this imprinted knowledge and these everyday habits that we’ve acquired over the years, and trying to remove yourself from this societal norm and start experiencing life in the now [allows] each listener to find their own pathway to the present moment and to stop worrying about the past or anxiety of the future and to take in what it means to be here and to see with unbiased eyes every second.”  

The duo’s passion for creating a sustainable world and connecting to the universe has been cultivated through years of open-mindedness. Drummer Scott Harris reveals that he’s spent the past few years researching permaculture, which focuses on living off the grid and on the land, incorporating the elements of agriculture, community resilience and more. “A lot is trying to connect people back to the natural world. What we’re always trying to push for is how can you rely on yourself more and get away from the system,” Harris explains of the process.

The pair were introduced in 2011 by a mutual friend as freshman in high school in West Chester, Ohio, quickly realizing they were musical soulmates. “We both saw it as an outlet in our lives that we wanted to chase forever. It was pretty much a guiding passion for both of us,” Watkins says as their mutual love of music. “[We] already had very strong personalities in the sense of individuality and self-awareness and finding your own path or passion in life. So when we met each other, we were already ahead of our times in that way that we were thinking with our universal eye rather than just where we were at that moment in time.”

They spent their days after school jamming in a friend’s basement, taught themselves the ins and outs of recording and producing by creating makeshift studios, and began gigging weekly around town. “Looking back on it, I think it’s funny how we clicked and wanted to really innovate with music and take a little bit of a psychedelic approach to it and wanting the mind-opening route to music,” Harris recalls of their early days. “It was really all great memories.” 

Remaining present and deeply focused on their craft is a natural instinct that the band has carried throughout their decade-long career. “It’s never for the fame, it’s never for the recognition. It’s not even for ourselves. We wanted to mainly focus on spreading self-awareness and to promote a reconnection to the natural world,” Watkins says.

After Harris moved to Nashville in 2015 to pursue a career in audio engineering, the duo continued to hone their craft, meeting in Nashville and Kentucky as they developed their own sound they’ve branded “psychedelic Southern,” in an attempt to open listeners’ minds to the vastness of the world.

“To us, the word [psychedelic] means mind-opening or mind-altering growth. We wanted to take this journey with music to really try to grow ourselves, grow our own minds. Not only ourselves, but to spread what we know, our realizations and give those to others,” Watkins says of their distinct sound. “That’s where we started moving forward as a duo, me and Scott realizing not only can we spread this message lyrically, but we were finding ways sonically with our recording styles to incorporate modern style and try to create new fusions of our favorite music, and trying to find a way to do it new in our own kind of light.”

Growing up, Watkins was an avid fan of Henry David Thoreau, and was inspired by his philosophy that “you can never learn in life until start to put yourself into the unknown. There’s no learning unless you are risking it, unless you are getting yourself just a little bit uncomfortable,” Watkins paraphrases. To that end, Watkins has achieved “unbiased eyes” through travel, immersing himself in different cultures, beginning with a backpacking trip around Europe with friends in college, visiting thirteen countries in the span of a month.

That appetite for travel has only grown, inspiring him to make his dream of living on the road a reality. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Watkins and his partner purchased a van that they turned into a livable home on wheels. After finishing weather proofing and prepping the van during quarantine, they took to the open road, traveling across the country from the Gulf Shores of Florida up through the Midwest before settling in Maine where Watkins lived and worked on a farm.

“The goal in mind during these travels is we’re always looking to build a sense of community everywhere we go. Every time we travel, we’re looking to find people that not only already vibe with the message we’re about, but who can also help us grow that message, and to really show us new sides of growth and progression that we weren’t necessarily even aware of,” Watkins examines. “We really want to use these travels as a reflection on where we see ourselves continuing to build communities in the future. Where do we put ourselves geographically to create these sort of spaces?”

With that mindset, they also migrated out west, venturing through Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico before settling down in Idaho’s Teton Valley in a town with a population of 1,000 people. Riding a bike to work and living in a van that was often caught under two feet of snow in the harsh Idaho winter was an eye-opening experience for Watkins, as he intentionally became part of a smaller community with people who have a desire to grow their own food and truly support one another. “Traveling opened up this new sense for me to realize that if I’m receptive to the energy, I can gain a new perspective out of each person I talk to, removing all of those pre-biased intentions and accepting people where they’re at,” Watkins professes. 

All of this ties into how Watkins and Harris walk through the world with “unbiased eyes.” For Harris, that means viewing each situation in life through a positive lens, while Watkins holds himself accountable to live each day with a sense of “self-acceptance,” letting go of judgment, and living in the now not only for himself, but others, in hopes that it inspires listeners to live a fulfilling life.

“Moving forward, we’re going to take all of these incorporated ideas that Unbiased Eyes holds and try to grow off of them, not only within the music, just within ourselves,” Watkins proclaims of the duo’s mission. It’s not really even about the music necessarily for us. “It’s the sense of community and spreading awareness and building and growing together through the music.”

Follow Watkins on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

5 of the Best Country Christmas Songs of 2021

Photo Credit: Andrew Eccles / Ilde and Jim Cook for Cookhouse Media

The Christmas spirit is in full swing in Nashville, and with it comes a variety of holiday songs from some of the best artists in the city. The 2021 holiday season finds the likes of Pistol Annies, Brett Eldredge and singer-songwriter Lori McKenna offering festive Christmas-themed projects that capture the heart of the season. Additionally, Grammy-nominated Americana singer Allison Russell offers a moving rendition of a Christmas classic, and rising star Tenille Townes channels childhood memories on “Christmas Cards.” Some are playful, some are nostalgic, and others honor the reverence of the holiday. Here are five of the best country Christmas songs.

Lori McKenna – “Christmas Without Crying”

It’s difficult to pick the most compelling song off singer-songwriter Lori McKenna’s exquisite EP, Christmas is Right Here, but “Christmas Without Crying” showcases the Grammy winning songwriter’s mastery of lyrical imagery like no other. Here, McKenna bypasses the fanfare of the Christmas season to capture the many layers of nostalgia the holiday brings. The poignant number finds her exploring the glory days gone by, painting an image of herself on Christmas morning with a smile on her face so big her eyes are closed. But she also touches on the memories, and people, of the past that cross one’s mind during the holiday season. By acknowledging the specifics of what makes the holidays bittersweet, McKenna tells a Christmas story that is bound to resonate in one’s spirit. 

Best lyrics: “You can roll past that old high school and smile/At the glory days long gone by/You’ll be thinking about Grandpa/When you’re stringing up those lights/And that will be why/You can’t make it through Christmas without crying” 

Pistol Annies – “Joy”

It’s certainly a Hell of a Holiday when the Pistol Annies team up for their first Christmas album! Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angeleena Presley do not disappoint with their mix of sharply written originals and respectable covers. In between all the biting words and sassy phrases, the Annies sneak in “Joy,” a humble, acoustic-guitar led acknowledgment of how the feeling of joy reveals itself in simple ways. Each member of the trio beautifully conveys this, Presley sharing how joy shines through a smile, while Lambert admits it’s in slowing down time to realize what truly matters. For Monroe, who recently finished her final chemotherapy treatment for a rare form of blood cancer, joy is love, the driving force behind all that motivates her to keep moving forward, like a friend offering a hand to hold. From a group that often relies on their quick wit and clever lyricism to tell a tale, this is a welcomed moment of pure joy.

Best lyrics: “Love, so many ways/That’s all it takes/To get up and goin’ again/Love, all the joy it brings/Takes the time it needs/To show up like a long lost friend/Love, joy, it takes time” 

Allison Russell – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

You’d be hard pressed to find a more stirring rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” than Allison Russell’s. With deep violins and electric guitar supporting her, Russell’s voice carries the weight of the classic Christmas song. Her robust vocals blend gentleness with honesty and emotion, allowing each word to simmer. Russell’s vocal runs could give Judy Garland a run for her money, as her mournful interpretation reminds us that Christmas is not holly jolly for all. As a bonus, check out the Montreal native’s recording of the song in French, which is just as enchanting as the English version. 

Best lyrics: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Let your heart be light/From now on/Our troubles will be out of sight”

Brett Eldredge “Mr. Christmas”

Brett Eldredge is arguably the king of Christmas music in the country world. His 2016 holiday LP Glow set the precedent for modern country Christmas albums with his jazzy swagger and Sinatra-like voice. He follows Glow with the equally strong 2021 effort, Mr. Christmas. Complete with a big band sound, the album’s title track sees Eldredge appropriately taking on the persona, tirelessly shining his holiday spirit with nods to candy skies, glitter trees and festive parties. Revelers won’t be able to deny the holiday cheer after one listen of this jazzy tune. 

Best lyrics: “Call me Mr. Christmas/I’ll make your spirit bright/I’ll dry your eyes with candy skies… Yeah, every wish will come true/Yeah, I’ll be Mr. Christmas for you”

Tenille Townes – “Christmas Cards”

One of two originals on her four-track EP Songs For Christmas, Tenille Townes’ “Christmas Cards” puts a nostalgic stamp on the collection. The Canadian native taps into the experience of letting go, while also expressing gratitude for the memories made along the way. She connects the magical childhood feeling of making a Christmas card in crayon for a beloved friend to the present day, as an adult looking back on the changing seasons. Her pure voice reflects the song’s honesty, creating a sweet Christmas tune that has equal power to bring a smile to one’s face and tears to their eyes. 

Best lyrics: “Someone you loved along the way/Becomes someone you used to know/Thank you for the picture, thank you for the past/And I hope you smile as easy in between the camera flash/So here’s to another year/Here’s to our memory” 

Bren Joy and Jake Wesley Rogers Step Out of Creative Comfort Zones For Red Bull SoundClash

Photo credit: Se Oh / Lamont Roberson

Nashville is called Music City for a reason. From the country music capital of the world to the home of the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers, Nashville is brimming with creative talent. Red Bull is working to elevate that creativity with SoundClash, its long-running event that sees two artists face off in a musical competition where the winner is decided by the audience. The artists entering the musical octagon must be willing to step outside of their creative comfort zones and adapt to new situations. Willing to step up to that challenge are two of Nashville’s rising stars: Bren Joy and Jake Wesley Rogers, who will take over Marathon Music Works on December 9 at 9pm EST.

Bren Joy, an R&B artist influenced by ’70s Motown and California culture, has credits that include writing “Dynasties & Dystopia” for Netflix’s hit animated series Arcane: League of Legends and opening for Megan Thee Stallion; Jake Wesley Rogers, a former America’s Got Talent contestant turned glam pop artist was featured on the Happiest Season soundtrack and has made fans in Hollywood ranging from Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds to Madonna and Elton John. 

“I love companies that really invest in upcoming artists. That’s very important for me,” Joy shares with Audiofemme about what drew him to SoundClash. “I intentionally wrote these songs in a way that I can flip them and interchange them. I want to show people versatility.”

“It’s also a fun creative challenge too because it’s so different than a normal show,” observes Rogers. “I do like a challenge. I do like to be put out of my comfort zone because I think that’s when interesting things happen and this feels like a good way to do that.”

Part of that challenge stems from the fact that the artists are tasked not only with reimagining their own songs, but working together on performing collaborative renditions of each other’s music, along with a cover song.

Rogers says he worked closely with his music director to reinvent his sound for the occasion, adding a barbershop quartet to an a cappella version of one of his songs, with Joy teasing a “big surprise” for his performance of “Insecure,” his collaboration with R&B-soul singer Pink Sweat$, and even took himself by surprise with his new rendition of “Twenties,” the title track of his 2019 EP. He also hints at a special appearance by a female artist whose 2020 album he’s been listening to “nonstop,” teasing that they’re sharing a “beautiful moment onstage.”  

”My music’s very special to me and it’s very close to my heart, so I think it’s going to be good for me hearing different versions of my music that I write. I’m very intrigued and I’m very excited for that. It’s a very unique opportunity,” Joy expresses, adding, “there’s so many surprises.”

As a Nashville native, this opportunity is especially meaningful for Joy, who asserts that he’s going to stick to his roots and “follow my gut” in presenting his music as an example of the diverse talent born and bred in Music City. “I’m so stoked for the opportunity to do something special in my city. Nashville’s very important to me and live music is a very special part of the city’s culture and I think whenever we can take live music and go a step further and really push the envelope and push the norm, that’s what I want to do,” he asserts. “It means a lot being able to do something like this that’s very original that I don’t know if I’d get another chance to do.”

Meanwhile, Rogers plans to take what he’s learned performing other live shows, going back to his theatre days growing up in Missouri and singing in a rock band in church. There, he learned about the value of transitions in maintaining the natural flow of the songs, skills he intends on channeling on the SoundClash stage. “You have to serve the moment and the live environment, what is going to serve this show and what is going to sound the best, feel the best, look the best,” Rogers describes of his approach, hinting that he’s had several new costumes made for the show, draped in sparkles and sequins. “I feel the most me when I’m performing. There is something so different about performing live when it’s a very intimate connection with people and it feels so cathartic.”

And while they’re poised to be competitors, Joy and Rogers are approaching it with a healthy mindset. Having met as students at Belmont University in Nashville, the two artists were already familiar with each other’s music coming into the competition, offering nothing but praise for one another’s gifts.

“Our styles are quite different, but I think we’re both inspired by each other, so that’s helpful,” Rogers laughs, citing Joy as a “sweetheart” and “stupid talented.” He adds, “It’s nice to talk to someone that gets it and understands how fun and wild this career is.”

For Joy, SoundClash has allowed him to connect with an artist whose style is vastly different from his own, the common ground allowing them to build a unique sense of trust needed to perform in such an event. “I love Jake, I love his music, and I think what’s important that people don’t realize in a SoundClash is trust. These songs are very vulnerable and special to me, so I have to really trust the other artist. I trust Jake to do my songs justice and also to be sensitive to the topics,” Joy remarks, calling Rogers “visually stunning.” “It’s definitely been interesting trying to keep the same motive and intention that Jake had in the song and be respectful, but also give it different legs. It’s been really cool.” 

Part of building that trust is understanding who one another is as an artist. Rogers, who identifies as gender-fluid, is intentional about telling his story in a genuine way. Deeply observant, Rogers harbors a unique ability to capture the “friction of life,” pointing to the song “Pluto” as a metaphor for how many people feel like outsiders, and our lifelong quest to find love.

“Anytime anyone is able to be themselves, it inspires somebody else to be themselves, and that’s really important to me. My mission as an artist is to find freedom in myself and talk about it and hopefully some other people find it too,” says Rogers.

As for Joy, he reveals that 2020 allowed him to view life through a new lens, learning more about who he is at the core and leaning into it, that personal growth shining through “fully” in his music. “I think over the past year, I’ve fell so much deeper in love with my culture and my background and I have stood up for things in the past that I had been quiet about. I think that I’ve learned to be a badass, give no fucks,” he professes. “I feel like that’s where I really had this disconnect with my art in the past; I was coming from a very insecure place. I feel like now I’ve grown in my art and grown to love what I do and to stop caring so much about what people are going to think or what’s going to happen and really trust in my taste and the taste of the people that listen to my music. I feel like I’ve grown up. I’m a little more open, everything’s a little more queer, everything’s a little more cool. I feel like I am very zen at the moment.” 

While the two singers have differing perspectives on how they want the audience to perceive them, the common thread is to feel a sense of connection and community. Rogers hopes fans feel the wonder of escapism in his presentation, while Joy encourages people see the vast range his music has to offer. “I hope they take away my versatility. I think versatility is something that’s very important to me and I have grown so much. I think we all have grown over the past year, we’ve all learned a lot, we’ve all been educated, so I am very excited for people to hopefully take away not only my versatility, but my ability to write songs,” Joy declares.

“I hope that they forget about their life for a minute and forget about their brain. Music is one of the most magical things in this world and I hope that’s a moment. I hope it’s cathartic. I hope it’s surprising,” Rogers reflects with a smile. “I hope they see themselves in me.”

Follow Jake Wesley Rogers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook , and Bren Joy on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

PREMIERE: Wild Heart Club Embraces the Art of Breaking in “Rainbow”

Photo Credit: Anna Haas

In Japanese culture, there’s a special method of repairing a broken object. Known as Kintsugi, the art form uses lacquer mixed with gold to not only mend broken pottery, but celebrate its imperfections, incorporating the broken pieces into the object’s history. The art from continuously revealed itself to Kristen Castro – singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist behind Wild Heart Club – while in the writing process for her new album Arcade Back in Manitou, released November 12. “That was a visual I had the whole record,” Castro tells Audiofemme. “I was like ‘Okay, maybe I’m on the right path.’” But before she could walk the path to her destiny, she had to embrace her own brokenness.

Growing up in Simi Valley California, Castro always had a deep sense of observation and empathy. “As a kid, I was always weird,” she confesses. “I could always tell when people would click, the popular kids. I was really empathetic and I could feel when people were lonely and I was like ‘you’re just as important.’ Quiet people are usually weirder. There’s a lot going on in their head. Maybe they’re not as confident, but they’re just as important as the popular people.”

Embracing her weirdness is a habit Castro carried into adulthood, particularly her career as a country artist. After moving to Nashville, Castro joined country trio Maybe April in 2013, their sparkling harmonies and bluegrass-infusion scoring them opening slots for the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Gavin DeGraw, Brandy Clark and others. But in spite of their growing success, Castro still felt like an outsider.

“I wasn’t like everybody else. I struggled with being confident, and I really want to uplift others who struggle in that same area,” she professes. “If I have this ability to make music; why not make it to connect with other people who can’t create and want to connect. It’s nice to be heard. I have a duty to myself to be honest. It took me a long time to get there though.” Amd it wasn’t without a personal toll – what got her to the point of being honest in her music was “constantly letting myself break, which was really hard,” she says. “Every time I’d put myself first, it would break something.”

The first break came when she departed Maybe April after six years, realizing she was not speaking her truth through the music. She also ceased co-writing with other Nashville songwriters as it began to feel “artificial,” the blossoming singer-songwriter drawn more to connecting with people through the power of music rather than chasing a number one song. Then, Castro experienced another break when she endured a devastating breakup with her girlfriend. At the time, she thought, “I need to grow and I need to figure this out or else I’m not going to get better.”

But those moments of darkness put Castro on a path of truth and honesty that inspired her to launch a career as a solo artist. With only her guitar and a slew of ideas and emotions waiting to be turned into songs, Castro flew to Los Angeles to stay with her brother, where she created Wild Heart Club’s exquisite debut. “It was a lot of healing. No one’s around me, I get to make this music for nobody right now,” Castro describes of making the album in solitude. “This is just for me.”

But the song that started it all was written years prior. Castro penned “Rainbow” when she and her ex-girlfriend starting dating. The couple was part of a now-defunct band, Mountain Time, and after a show in Colorado, they attended a bonfire where Castro saw a shooting star race across the sky, wondering in that moment if it was a sign from the universe that her then-girlfriend was “the one.”

“When you’re young and in love, you’re looking for any sign to tell you you’re on the right path. I saw so much magic in that moment and in that person, and looking at myself now, even though I miss her, I feel like all my favorite parts of her are part of me now,” Castro reveals. “I love when the sky is crying and all of a sudden you get a rainbow. For some reason, I felt like that sky, and I was like, ‘I deserve a rainbow. Is she my rainbow?’ I’ve had a lot of sadness in my life, so it’s just looking for signs.”

In the live acoustic video, premiering exclusively with Audiofemme, Castro strips down the upbeat pop number that appears on the album to the bare bones. With just an acoustic guitar, her soft voice and the gentle sound of the waves crashing along the shore behind her, Castro maintains the song’s dreamy element as she sings, “Break down like a waterfall/When your tears dry there’s a rainbow/Lost in love, lose yourself/When your tears dry there’s a rainbow.”

“It talks about this magical moment with a person, [and] it alludes to toxic moments,” she notes of the lyrics. “That relationship had so many beautiful parts to it and also so many negative parts to it where I would cry if I was happy, I would cry if I was hurt. But at the end of it all, she was always there.” As songwriting partners, the couple would write verses back and forth to each other. One of the verses her ex wrote foreshadowed a breakup where one partner encourages the other to go to the beach to find peace.

When Castro’s friend and videographer suggested they film a live version of “Rainbow” on the beach, it marked a full-circle moment for the singer. “I think it honors the song in the way that we used to play together,” she observes. “It was honoring what she wanted for me and what I want for myself.”

Castro received yet another sign from the universe that she was where she was meant to be while filming on the remote beach in California. A bystander approached to remark on the “beautiful” song. “The first thing she says is ‘I could tell it was a really hard song for you to sing. It sounded like you were in a toxic relationship.’ It took everything in my power not to cry. It was again this full circle feeling, these little moments where you’re like ‘I’m on the right path’ and respecting your life guides,” Castro observes. “I needed somebody to be that rainbow for me and now it feels like I’m my own rainbow.”

Castro continues to walk a path that is deeply honest, living fully in her truth as she works to pass on the core message embedded into her music: it gets better. “Something I kept thinking about was if I could talk to my past self who was going through all of this and let her know that it gets better, because so often it feels like it won’t. This album was more than just a breakup. I finally lost myself and gave myself the ability to find myself,” she proclaims. “I think lyrically [and] sonically it was me being honest for the first time, and being honest let me start to find myself, my truest self.”

As for how she defines her truest self? “Someone that’s free. Free of self-judgement, others’ judgment, free of being critical of yourself, free to create. It’s to find the beauty in the little things,” she expresses. “I think it’s letting yourself go through it, even though you know it’s going to be really awful. If you feel a pull to something, sometimes you need to walk through it. There were so many red flags where it was like ‘don’t do it,’ but if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have this album, I wouldn’t have broken. It’s being grateful to others and myself for letting myself go through that.”

Follow Wild Heart Club on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.  

Jackson+Sellers Bring Their Cosmic Connection to Debut LP Breaking Point

Photo Credit: Ashley Osborne

Jade Jackson and Aubrie Sellers met like many people do in the era of social media — sliding into each other’s DMs. But they established an artistic connection long before the message was sent. 

The seed was planted at AmericanaFest in 2019 in Nashville when they were performing at the same showcase, the sound of Sellers’ voice stopping Jackson dead in her tracks. “I was walking into the showcase we were playing and I’m like, ‘My ears are happy. I hear something I really like,’” Jackson recalls to Audiofemme. “I look up and it was Aubrie and she was such a badass on stage. She owned the stage, you just had to stop and look. I became a fan instantly.”

Following the showcase, Jackson began digging into her future bandmate’s music, citing Sellers’ voice as “my favorite voice I’ve ever heard.” In the process of gathering songs for her solo album at the time, Jackson felt compelled to share one in particular with Sellers, called “Hush.”

“I had written this song for my sister that I really envisioned some strong female harmonies on, and Aubrie’s vocals came to the forefront of my mind. I was like, ‘That’d be really cool if she did these harmonies,’” Jackson remembers. “It was a shot in the dark.”

Jackson’s instincts were correct, as Sellers “immediately loved” the song and the two decided to meet at Sellers’ house in Los Angeles. What started as a simple session to discuss the potential of Sellers lending her harmonies to “Hush” turned into an all-nighter where they recorded several demos and sent them to Jackson’s label, ANTI- records, in hopes of releasing a single. Impressed by the caliber of their work, the label instead requested a full-length album, resulting in the release of their debut LP Breaking Point on October 22. The album introduces the newly formed duo, Jackson+Sellers, to the world. 

“Everything happened really fast and we were fast friends. The spirit of the record was a very quick and seamless progression of things,” Jackson says. “Nothing was forced. We didn’t try and aim for a certain genre. We just became friends and created music, and that’s this spirit of this record. It was so much fun and you can feel that when you listen to it. I think it was really magical in that way.”

“We didn’t even know what we were doing. But we got together and really hit it off personally, too, which I think was a big factor. Not only did we like each other’s songs, but… it felt like there were a lot of weird synchronicities,” adds Sellers. “I It felt cosmic.”

That cosmic connection arose after years of building their own solo careers. Jackson has released two albums under ANTI- and Sellers, the daughter of country legend Lee Ann Womack, has been a mainstay in the Nashville scene with her blend of grunge rock and country that’s scored her nominations at the Americana Honors and Awards. Breaking Point arrived at a time when the singers needed it most, both off the road and at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of touring allowing them the space to create something new. It also provided a refreshing opportunity to have a musical partner after years of going through the process alone, both grateful to have a teammate in the grueling music industry.

“Having been a solo artist and feeling alone being a front woman, this is a very male dominated industry and touring and doing everything, feeling isolated in press and all these things like you’re on your own. Sometimes it was really hard to connect with people, being a sensitive person and living an extroverted lifestyle,” Jackson explains. “When Aubrie and I met, we were of the same stripe. We connected on cosmic levels. We’re both sensitive, we’re both introverted and now all of a sudden we’re standing on stage doing this thing together. I have someone to talk to about it, I have somebody to lean on. I have somebody to be my friend up there who actually knows what I’m going through because they’re going through the same thing, and I really appreciate that. I think that’s one of the most special parts of this whole journey.”

“There is something to be said for having someone do literally everything with you as the co-front person. Getting to do things together like that is super amazing. I’m very introverted, so I’ve really enjoyed doing all this with someone else,” expresses Sellers. “We’ve faced plenty of challenges in our solo careers, but with this record and this project, everything really fell together in a magical way.” 

The duo carries this fellowship into each of the album’s edgy rock-leaning melodies wrapped around their dreamy voices. The two were intentional about selecting songs they naturally gravitated to, including “Hush,” the bluesy, yet gentle ballad they recorded on that fateful night in L.A. The song marries the captivating nature of both their voices on the unconventional lullaby: “Her soul’s slipping/Her mind’s drifting/Like a ship letting go of her ropes/Sand’s shifting, her hand’s gripping/She just can’t let go/Hush little darlin’/Don’t you cry.”

“I tend to write pretty simple, straightforward, and I’ve been drawn to that kind of music in the past. ‘Hush’ is that way, but it’s also very poetic in a way,” Sellers says of the track written by her bandmate. “I was really drawn to the general vibe and emotion of the song.”

Meanwhile, Jackson is a fan of the Sellers-penned “Fair Weather,” which evokes a sense of longing as they acknowledge “As fast as a cold wind blows/Fair weather comes and it goes.” “It really filled my cup and I felt like it was written about me and for me, like my ego is being stroked,” Jackson observes. “It conjures up so much imagery in my mind that I really love.” 

Breaking Point is a masterclass in what happens when two people follow the creative muse. The duo admits they’re unclear if Breaking Point is a one-off project or the beginning of a long partnership. Regardless, they’ll continue to allow their instincts to guide them, and hope others will do the same. “What that boils down to is being in a creative space where you can be experimental and free and yourself and not care what other people think and voice your opinions. That’s what this record was. Create to create and have fun,” Jackson proclaims, stating that “all the stars were aligned” when making this project. “It’s not even so much taking a risk, it’s just following your inner creativity and your true creative self and expressing your voice and see what happens. That’s what I did for this record and it’s my most favorite, cherished project I’ve done.”

“We were very much creating to create. I think that came out and it was what was so fun about it,” reflects Sellers. “I hope [listeners] feel that. Jade and I both write songs as an outlet for ourselves and our own emotions, but also the reason we share them with people is so they’ll connect with them. I’m at a point in my journey where I’m wanting to create to create, and I think this was such an amazing experience for both of us because of that spirit. I want to bring that idea to the world and hope that people also take that from this.” 

Follow Jackson+Sellers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Brandy Zdan Releases Her Pain on Falcon LP

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

In the middle of our call, Brandy Zdan looks up at the tree in her backyard and notices a bird of prey, swinging from branch to branch. As she looks closer, she’s shocked to see that it’s a falcon, a bird that has served as an important symbol in her life. “I called it to happen,” she professes. “It’s amazing.”

The falcon has served as an important symbol in her life since appearing in a dream she had after experiencing a devastating miscarriage two years ago. It then manifested into a song about that heartbreaking experience, “Falcon’s Wing,” and now bears the title of her new album, Falcon. In the weeks following the miscarriage, the falcon made its physical presence known, flying through the trees at her Nashville home, and serendipitously reappeared the week before she gave birth to her daughter, Lucky, in March 2020.

“I had experienced this vision of a falcon and this little spirit being taken away on the back of a falcon’s wing,” she recalls of the dream. “It’s a very unique animal symbolism representing the spirit for me. It represents so much more than that, but it felt like a great way of honoring that whole experience and everything that came from it, as well as that little spirit that went away and somewhere into the great unknown,” she continues.

Zdan carries this bravery into nine songs that detail her journey with pregnancy loss, new motherhood and postpartum depression, ultimately finding hope and love on the other side. The Canada-born, now Nashville-based artist has crafted an album that is a masterful demonstration in rock ‘n’ roll grit married with deeply vulnerable lyrics, each song penned and produced solely by the singer.

“I was using what I know how to do to get through those times, which is songwriting. There is such great comfort in that and figuring out how to sing a song about the thing you’re going through and write about it and articulate it. I didn’t set out to do it, and it morphed into this thing that existed,” she expresses. “We’re always told as artists to write what we know. If we’re not having any experiences that are interesting and living life, what are you supposed to write about? If you’re going through these things, you have to be open enough and brave enough to write about them.” 

Zdan made the conscious decision to illuminate her pain instead of hide it. “You were carried away on a falcon’s wing/High above the hills/I didn’t even catch a glimpse/I was lost in the tears,” she sings with her gritty, yet melodic voice. The song was written just one week after she experienced the miscarriage and was still “really deep” in the grief of it and emotions of it. Months later, “The Worst Thing” arrived in a moment of anger, Zdan responding to the expectation that women are taught to hold their trauma in an effort to demonstrate “self-control.”

“I was getting really mad about the fact that nobody is voicing these things that are happening to women all the time. None of this is stuff we even talk about. Mothers are the most unsupported people, and yet there’s states that are trying to force us to have kids. It’s like, we can’t do this if you’re not going to support us,” she remarks. “That song came from the anger of why the fuck aren’t we writing [about this]? Why aren’t we hearing more about this? I want to put some of these kinds of narratives in rock and roll and break down some walls.”

Walking boldly and fearlessly in her desire to bring vulnerability and female-focused topics into rock music, Zdan honors this fully on “Mama,” a guitar-laced ballad that shows off the angelic tones in her voice. She confesses to living in fear while craving gentleness, singing, “Mama I’ve been living in fear/Mama I’ve been trying to heal.”

“It’s the one that came very easily, but also has a lot of joy and pain in it and also encompasses myself, my daughter, my mother and my grandma all in one song. That was the hardest and the easiest place to go,” she shares. “It’s a place that I needed to heal some things within myself. I knew I had to, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy thing.”

Zdan continues to channel this vulnerability into “Dying Inside” where she takes an honest look at the feeling of being burned out from constant touring pre-pandemic, harboring a resentment toward her life’s calling. “I was very afraid that I was hating what I was doing, and that was very scary. It was a moment of ‘you need a little break and you got to focus on something else,’” she describes.  

That opportunity for a reset would arise when the arrival of COVID-19 brought live shows to a screeching halt, yet opened a pathway for Zdan to wholly embrace the album-making process, including producing and engineering Falcon entirely by herself. Zdan notes that the process was born out of necessity. Off the road and unable to pay a team of producers, she took it upon herself to fulfill a longtime goal she knew she’d one day accomplish.

“It was more of a trial and hard work to put the record together more so than the songwriting that just happened. Then all of a sudden I had this body of work that was super vulnerable and I thought, ‘I think I can actually try to record this on my own,’” she explains. “I also knew that I could do it and I was ready to do it. I think the experiences of motherhood and the trials of what I had been through in those first six months, and previously leading up with pregnancy and miscarriage, I was like, ‘I’ve gone through all this. I can figure this out. I can do it all; why not try to do it?’” 

Zdan paired her determination with melodic intuition, building comforting melodies around heavy subject matter. The process not only affirmed her vast skillset and sharp musical instincts, but proved to the versatile creator that she is capable of all goals she sets her mind to. “I think doing this on my own and having it work out, it’s given me that affirmation that I am all these things that I thought I was for my whole life. There’s no imposter syndrome. [I’m] coming from this really settled place within myself to take the risks and see what will happen,” she observes. “To have grown in the ways that I grew with the writing and where I went with the writing and then all the other things that have to do with being behind the board, that’s a success unto itself, which I’m holding on to.” 

By pouring her heart and soul into Falcon, Zdan hopes fans will make their own connections to her stories, and feel inspired share their own stories in turn. But she will always come back to the falcon, the symbol of ambition, aspiration and freedom, all of which is reflected in her powerful music.

“If you didn’t know these songs were about what they were about, I think you could relate your own grief and loss situations to them. It’s not all darkness – there’s light, and it’s a bit of a journey. I also would hope that there’s girls and women that will listen and feel empowered to tell their stories. That’s really the main thing I want; the only way that we’re going to change the stigmas around these issues is by speaking about them more and I’m using my voice to do it. My job is that,” she proclaims. “I think the falcon will come back again and reaffirm this for me.” 

Follow Brandy Zdan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for ongoing updates. 

Allie Dunn Sheds Fear of Commitment on Debut EP Good As Gone

Photo Credit: Libby Danforth

On her debut EP, Good As Gone, Allie Dunn overcomes her fears and transforms them into a collection of breath-taking songs. With a strong desire to bring back that nostalgic Laurel Canyon vibe while adding her own flair, Dunn shows off her sparkling voice and melodies to match on a backdrop of organic instrumentation.

Dunn notes that each of the four songs is a reflection of a different time in her life, particularly her experience with love and fears surrounding it. This becomes obvious in the first few lines of opening track, “Need Somebody” as she projects, “I was dead set on dying alone/85 with no one to call my own/Love was never a friend of mine/’Til it found me/Now I find that everybody needs somebody” Written in 2020 during the early days of quarantine with boyfriend Collin Rowe, whom she was staying with at the time, Dunn realized that we all need a support system in order to survive in life – once the right person entered her life to change her perception.

“It was a truth that I’ve been wanting to say, but was scared to say it,” she remarks. Confronting uncomfortable truths is a theme that arises throughout the powerful project. This shines through potently on “Do You Miss Me (NYC),” a love letter to the city she grew up in but left behind in order to pursue her dreams. Caught in a moment of fear and vulnerability at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when it was unclear when she’d be able to return to New York to see her family, the lyrics woke Dunn up one morning, leading her to the piano where she finished the song in 30 minutes.

Growing up in New York, Dunn was instilled with a love of music and performing when she began taking piano lessons at age 10 and landed a starring role as Tracy Turnblad in her school’s production of Hairspray. “It was something so special about it that I really wanted to pursue it,” she recalls to Audiofemme. By age 13, while most of her peers where listening to Justin Bieber, she and her dad were immersing themselves in the Eagles’ classic rock discography, sparking her desire to write songs. Two years later, she acquired a guitar, but says, “It was more about the people I was playing it to than myself at that time.”

“I would write to make other people happy in a sense, or invite them to my world at that age, which was interesting for young me,” she explains. “But as time got on, it started to become more personal, my writing, and more about stories that I’ve been through and what I found that people relate to. I think that’s so powerful, because at the end of the day, the reason I write is to give people something to make their day better.”

Later her perspective shifted toward creating a space for people to feel safe being themselves. “Every day, people come across things that aren’t always authentic, and sometimes people feel like they have to fit a mold. I especially went through that,’” she continues. “For me, it’s being as honest and authentic as possible in my writing [that] allows people to realize it’s okay to feel, reminding them that there is still authenticity in this world of craziness right now. That’s my main motivation.” 

Dunn carries this pure motivation into Good As Gone, reflecting her genuine spirit. It’s a great introduction to her ethereal blend of pop country and Americana, but the journey to get here was winding. Her mother was a doctor, and Dunn initially planned to follow that same path. “I wanted to have a career that helps people,” Dunn says. She studied pre-med in college, writing songs and performing with her band around town in between biology classes. But during her senior year, she was met with a life-changing epiphany while shadowing a doctor in the trauma unit. There, she encountered the family of a young patient who was in critical condition.

“That was a wake up call for me,” she says of the pivotal moment. “I was like, this is not something I’m passionate about. I’d rather allow someone else who really loves this stuff to do it.” It became clear then that music and songwriting was her true passion and life’s purpose; just one month after graduating from college in 2019, she was living in Nashville, pursuing her musical dreams unabashedly.

Still, a piece of her spirit will always remain connected to home, and “Do You Miss Me (NYC)” captures the homesickness and longing for a place she’s unsure that she fits into anymore. “You got a million people/You don’t need no girl like me to stay,” Dunn sings passionately in what she calls the EP’s most vulnerable number. “That song came out of my heart. It just poured out, I had no control over it. I don’t know what it was, but it just came out of me,” she expresses. “It was the first truth I’ve written since being in Nashville that I was not afraid to hold back. It was a moment for me where I was like, ‘why am I so scared to write what I’m feeling?’ because I think that’s where the magic comes from. That song was a turning point for me as an artist, because from then on out, I stuck to the truth and said the truth. I’m thankful for that song.” 

Dunn reveals that “NYC” is the ideal lead-in to her next project that will explore her story in even greater depth. Until then, Good As Gone serves as a well-rounded introduction and glimpse into the soul of one of Nashville’s brightest new talents. “This EP was a little a foot in the water to let everyone see how I write, and if they can relate to any of the songs on the EP, then my goal is complete,” she proclaims. “I hope people see honesty and want to be part of that world where you’re allowed to be yourself. I want to bring back the feeling that music is something that people find solace in, and I hope that people find solace in my music, for people to find some piece of truth that they’re going through in my music.” 

Follow Allie Dunn on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Caroline Romano Captures Messy Teen Romance With “Ireland in 2009”

Photo Credit: Robert Chavers

Caroline Romano is a self-professed people watcher. “I do a lot of people watching. I’m a big observer,” she expresses. “Something that I don’t know that everyone else would notice, I like to write it down. Observing life, everyone has a different lens through which they look at it. If I journal my own experience there’s something unique to learn in that.” 

Growing up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi as a quiet, shy student who had difficulty connecting with her peers, Romano found sanctuary in her journal where she’d share her innermost thoughts and feelings. When she started putting these emotions to music, it became clear that she was a natural born songwriter. Her parents gifted the aspiring artist a trip to Nashville for her thirteenth birthday, and like a scene out of a movie, she booked a coveted slot at the famous Bluebird Cafe. “I fell in love with performing and I felt very called to do this with my life,” Romano recalls to Audiofemme of the pivotal trip. 

Her parents’ decision to allow her to leave school and pursue music certainly paid off, Romano finding herself inside the Top 15 on the Billboard Dance chart in 2020 with “I Still Remember (ft. R3HAB),” the video alone amassing over one million views. Her subtle writing draws the listener in with its tender renderings of everyday nuance, and she’s steadily released a string of alt-pop gems over the last year – most recently “Oddities and Prodigies” (with b-side “Lonely Interlude”), “The Hypothetical” and “PDA of the Mainstream.” She is actively working on new music, with plans to release an album in early 2022.

But for now, she returns with “Ireland in 2009,” premiering exclusively on Audiofemme. This time, the observant creator drew inspiration for the fanciful track from 2009 indie film Cherrybomb, starring Romano’s favorite actor Robert Sheehan, and Harry Potter star Rupert Grint. Filmed in Belfast, the movie follows the two on a journey of debauchery as they try to catch the attention of the same girl. Romano felt compelled to write a song around the theme of tragic teenage romance, a la Romeo & Juliet “if they hung out in parking lots and smoked cigarettes all the time,” she says.

Though Romano was just eight years old when Cherrybomb was released, it informed her perspective on romance, alongside other movies she watched at that age, like Notting Hill, Letters to Juliet, and The Notebook. “I wanted to write about the kind of love that doesn’t get written about in story books: the things that dissipate over time and probably only two people will ever even remember,” she explains of the song’s inspiration, noting that the setting of Cherrybomb “gave me everything I needed.” “I wanted to get in on that action of oversimplified, high school storytelling in a way that I missed out on because I was so young during that time, but it’s what I grew up watching and thinking about when I thought of romance.” 

Romano sets the scene of an ill-fated teen romance that will ultimately end in demise, yet is still filled with wonder and intrigue for the two main characters. She accomplishes this through lyrics that capture the messy, yet free-spirited nature of young love, like “Look at you asleep on the floor/By the mattress in the middle of the door/I just woke up from an all night war/In my school clothes from the day before.”

“When you’re young, everything is so dramatic and the end of the world and everything has so much meaning, but it’s all these small little things. I thought about how I could make these two characters and their lives in this desolate place in rainy Ireland sound deep and dramatic,” the Nashville-based pop artist explains. “This is messy, but it works, and it’s not going to end well, but it’s pretty to them.” The image-driven lyrics capture an imperfect love story that looks beautiful to the people inside of it. It’s a story steeped in youth, particularly as Romano chants, “Broken glass and empty bottles/Our 21st century fossils/Shattered dreams instead of dollars.”

“I think there’s a lot of expectation with every kid – you grow up with dreams and you think at that age that you’re going to be something really big, but at that time, everything is so small, and all you have are these literal fragments of dreams you’re trying to piece together to make life happen,” she analyzes. “When you look back sometimes on that, I think that whether you were successful, whether you had money in the future or not, those times of poverty and recklessness was the best it ever gets.”

Romano adds a personal element to the song with the line “for a quiet girl you’re awfully loud,” an observation a friend made about her. Romano recalls her friend telling her, “You don’t say a lot, but when you say something, it means a lot and it has depth,” validating the shy girl who also harbors a powerful voice that commands attention.

“I’ve always really cherished it and I wanted to put that in the song somehow,” she says of that compliment. “I think a lot of the times it is the quiet ones that say the most. I felt very seen. I felt that people do recognize that I’m quiet and reserved and shy, but maybe I do have something worth saying after all.”

“Ireland in 2009” also reflects Romano’s unique desire to live out experiences she’ll never have, crafting a narrative she can only live vicariously through her characters. “I’m someone who definitely has a fear of missing out on experiences and missing parts of the world because I realize that my world is so small and there’s so many people I’ll never love or know, and that scares me,” she confesses. “I find comfort in other people’s stories, or at least imagining other people’s stories. I think everyone feels that way, so writing about it definitely helps and gives me a taste of it.”

As someone who walks through the world with eyes wide open, Romano hopes that the song transports the listener to their own version of “Ireland in 2009.” “I find very ugly things beautiful a lot of the time, or very sad things beautiful. I write about love in its purest form,” she professes. “I hope that they see an ultra-specific place… that they’ve known in their own life. I hope they imagine certain people living that out. I hope it reminds someone of a past love that was similar in some way. I hope it brings them somewhere I was trying to create for that song.” 

Follow Caroline Romano on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for ongoing updates.

Ryan James Brewer Crafts Liberating Debut LP Tender

Photo Credit: Ryan Hartley

With his debut LP, Tender, Ryan James Brewer finds liberation from his past. 

Raised in a rural country town in Australia, Brewer admits it was difficult growing up queer in a conservative area. Brewer developed depression and anxiety at an early age that he is still working through today, with therapy and music serving as a healthy combination to help process these complex experiences. “I ran up against a lot of bullying,” Brewer shares with Audiofemme of his upbringing. “Especially as a teenager when you’re finding out about your own sexuality, the general ideals and values there didn’t really help with that. I think as a result of that it took me a long time work through a lot of that and I think I suffered a lot.” 

The budding artist eventually migrated from his small town to the bustling city of Melbourne, where he cut his teeth as a singer and songwriter. In need of a change of scenery and a desire to connect with his contacts in the alt-country and Americana realms of music, Brewer made the 9,000 mile trek to Nashville for a fresh start. It’s here he planted the seeds for Tender, a 10-track exploration of sounds as intricate as the stories they’re wrapped around that masterfully weave together in a avant garde pop masterpiece.

“The record does try to address my struggles as openly as I can possibly be with it all,” he expresses. “[I’m trying to find strength in vulnerability, and challenging the archetypal masculine idea that vulnerability is a negative thing, which I think it’s actually quite the opposite.”

Brewer rejects this norm in “Limits of the Heart,” wherein the song’s carefree spirit is backed by an intoxicating beat of synth pop sounds that create a dreamlike effect. The song is years in the making, as Brewer had begun writing the track inspired by “unsuccessful courtships” and the struggle of embracing his place on the spectrum of sexuality while living in Melbourne in 2015. After five attempts, Brewer tore the song down in order to build it back up again while writing with a friend in Nashville before he landed on the final adaptation. 

“I was definitely grappling with my sexuality and figuring out what sexuality meant for me at the time, coming to grips with my identity as a bisexual man – because in my past I had been conditioned to think that was a bad thing,” he explains. “Part of writing that song was working through a bunch of my internalized homophobia. It was a way of releasing that in a sense.” The line “one breath dispels the limits of the heart” is one of Brewer’s favorites – he drew inspiration from Arthur Rimbaud’s poem, “Ordinary Nocturne,” which he came across while fine-tuning the track. “To me, it speaks to a freedom within vulnerability,” he notes of Rimbaud’s work. 

“One Another” acts as a “companion song” to “Limits of the Heart,” addressing the push and pull Brewer felt between his own feelings and rural Australia’s close-minded views; trying to reconcile the two practically required multiple identities, and had an impact on Brewer’s sense of self. “I identify with that in a strong way, especially in terms of sexuality coming up against a negative association… that had been engrained from a super young age because of the place I grew up in,” he analyzes. “That song is working through that aspect.”

“Just Don’t Let Me Go” is a reflection on perfectionism, and “Ministry of Love” follows suit, serving as a tongue-in-cheek critique of social media where the narrator has an “erotic relationship” with an algorithm.

Like many, Brewer’s world started to shift with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just weeks before, Brewer was on tour with Nick Lowe in Australia and New Zealand. Soon after his return to the U.S., the shelter in place order was instituted. Initially plotting to make an album completely on his own, Brewer quickly came to the realization that a task that massive was beyond his capability and knew he needed help. “That prompted a mental breakdown of sorts that combined with everything that we’re all living through at the time, and still are,” he recalls. 

Soon after, Brewer followed his gut instinct to San Pedro, a small coastal community in Los Angeles, to work with producer Jon Joseph, the two building a body of work that is electric, yet moving and powerful. They pulled in unique elements to add texture to already vibrant songs. On “Taps/WMDs,” the moody instrumental blends bass guitar and crying trumpet with the sound of Brewer’s dripping faucet, recorded during an unusually cold night in Nashville when he had to keep a slow stream of water running to stop the pipes in his house from freezing. “Things like that excite me – something that’s sort of a plain and interesting rhythm in time that’s not something you would typically associate with music, like a dripping faucet,” Brewer says.

Likewise, “Chercher La Petite Bête” features snippets of a conversation between friends Brewer overhead on a train in Paris, enchanted by their accents and cadence. “That can be a really interesting rhythmic element that you don’t really associate that directly with music,” he muses. “I like those moments of tenderness.”

These effects bring moments of playfulness to an album that deals with heavy subject matter, like album opener “End of a Life.” Brewer describes it as a “direct confrontation with the idea of suicide or suicidal thoughts.” Partly based on Brewer’s own experiences, the song was also inspired by the death of Mark Linkous, the former frontman of indie rock band Sparklehorse, who had lived with depression for many years and committed suicide in 2010.

Admiring Linkous’ writing style and openness in talking about his mental health struggles, Brewer says he felt “seen” in Linkous’ work, and hopes listeners feel the same with his music. “End of a Life,” in particular, was written with the intent of inspiring much-needed conservation around the topic of mental health and suicide. Its free-wheeling sound cradles Brewer’s potent lyrics: “And I believe/I’m intimately afraid of the energy/Can’t make it work for me anymore/With the weight filling up my hands/In the shape of a lonely man.”

“I wrote it so that the depressive idea of suicidal thoughts is personified and structured like a relationship breaking down. I think that song is me working through suicide and the idea of that and trying to normalize the discussion around it. It’s important to be able to talk about that. That’s why I wanted to juxtapose a pretty heavy theme with an upbeat, sunny sounding track. I wanted to have some sort of accessibility there,” he observes. “That song is a way of working through those things. Hopefully in an ideal world you’d be leaving the listener with some insight so that they can identify with it on that front as it relates to depression and suicide.”

But Brewer intentionally ends the album on a “Tender” note with the title track that features him in a solo piano moment. It captures the spirit of freedom and vulnerability channeled into the album that sets Brewer’s past self free, while setting the path for a bright future ahead. “This is a super personal record and it’s my way of working through a lot of things for myself. But the ideal outcome is that I would leave whoever’s listening with some insight and something that they can identify with and carry forward,” Brewer conveys. “The final result is quite liberating.”  

Follow Ryan James Brewer on Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok for ongoing updates. 

Lena Stone is Unapologetic About “Taking Up Space” In the Visualizer for Her New Single

Photo Credit: Erika Rock

It took Lena Stone longer than she would have liked to write her latest single “Taking Up Space” – but the ideas and inspirations for it had done just that, in her head, for years. Like many, Stone went through a personal transformation in 2020, and when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she finally summoned the courage to put words to the way she was feeling.

“So much of making music is presenting it to other people and putting it outward, and it felt like this was a chance for me to create inwardly, create music that I want to listen to. I realized I hadn’t been doing that as much as I should have been,” Stone admits to Audiofemme. “I think I was doing what I thought Nashville wanted from me.”

Having lived in Nashville for seven years, the Massachusetts-raised singer decided to transition from country music to pop. The move was a sign of respect from an artist with a “deep love” for country music, yet realized her lyrics and production were leaning more into the pop realm. It’s a natural step for the talented singer-songwriter, the pandemic granting her the time and focus to create music that fuels her soul. Making music without restrictions was incredibly “freeing” for Stone. “It felt so gratifying to be writing something I wanted to listen to all the time, so that was a really cool change for me,” she says. “Now that I have that, I never want to do anything other than that. I never want to make music that I wouldn’t turn on and blast all the time in my own car.” 

Stone isn’t ashamed to admit that she’s often listening to her songs on repeat these days, having reached a point in her career where she’s letting go of others’ opinions and embracing her artistic identity. One of these songs is the deeply vulnerable “Taking Up Space,” a liberating anthem that questions gender stereotypes and lays bare the reality of working in an industry that makes it impossible to fit in.

The synth-laden ballad offers an empowering analysis of the ways women are expected to dim their light in order for others to shine. Stone faces her own insecurities in an effort to break through these barriers and help others do the same. “Even though it was really scary, I was like, ‘I need to write the song that I need to hear,’” she expresses.

One thing she’d been struggling with was having a negative body image. “It occurred to me a couple years ago that many of us are striving to be size zero, and size zero is literally nothing. Why is that the goal? Why is it not okay to just be, and to exist the way that you are?” she confides. “It’s so hard to love your body. There’s so much talk about loving your body, and so few people actually do it. We put these weird rules on ourselves and the pandemic I think has made that worse for a lot of people.”

Stone kept her ideas for “Taking Up Space” under wraps until it was ready to manifest, which occurred one morning at 6 a.m. when she woke herself up mumbling the first verse and pre-chorus into her iPhone. What resulted is an open-hearted song where each lyric is more vulnerable than the next, Stone battling with the inner voices that tell her she needs to fit into an unattainable mold, biting her tongue more often than she’d like. “The whole thing centers on that title, that it is okay to be a presence, whether that’s physically, whether that’s making your voice heard, whatever that means to you,” she says. “It’s being a participant and not being on the sidelines or trying to hide yourself or be less than you are.” 

The versatile singer also addresses the pressures that come with being a woman in the music industry, noting how female artists are placed under contradictory parameters that discourage them from being too creative, sexy, or outspoken, yet are still expected to entertain. She addresses this “very complicated game of Twister” head on as she sings, “So I’m getting out of the line/For a prize that maybe/I don’t even want,” Instead, she commits to following her own intuition. “That line is really directed at the music industry and it’s saying ‘I’m doing all the things that you asked of me, but I don’t even know if that’s what I want to be doing. I’m not sure that’s what I’m called to be doing. So maybe I’m just going to stop doing what you want me to do and I’m going to do what I want to do,’” she explains. 

The visualizer, premiering exclusively with Audiofemme, perfectly captures the spirit of song. Stone is depicted as a doll-like figure, dressed in an extravagant tulle-laced gown. “We wanted me to look like a mannequin – pretty and not moving, just there,” she explains. On the one hand, the “enormous” dress literally takes up space, she adds, “but there are also assumptions that you’re just supposed to be there and be pretty and it’s like, no – I can be so much more than that.”

Stone lies on a giant chess board, surrounded by life-sized pawns. She was drawn to the intricacies of chess, where players are expected to predict their opponent’s every move. “Chess is a game of power moves and [is] about having control of the situation,” she points out. “I loved the idea of me calling the shots and me making the plays. Being in the middle of that setting felt really like it called that power play into mind.” 

“It’s fearless just facing these fears” is not only a line in the song, but a reminder for the singer to push forward, now that she’s finally confronting her demons. “But I’m getting braver every day/I’m done saying sorry/For taking up space,” she assures herself, hoping to bring peace of mind to every woman who hears the song and encourage them to feel validated in their power as a person who deserves to be taking up space in the world.   

“The flip side of trying to make yourself small is allowing yourself to be big. Every time I advocate for myself, I feel big,” she says. “I think as women, we’re taught to put everyone else’s feelings first and I definitely struggle with that a lot. Intentionality is such a key to being happier and to taking up space in the space that you want to take up.”

Though the track was a long time coming, Stone feels it was worth the wait to get the message just right. “If I can help anyone get there faster than it took me to get there, that feels like mission accomplished. If it speeds up anyone’s process to becoming comfortable with themselves, then I feel like the song has done what I needed it and what I wanted it to do,” Stone proclaims. “If we could all become a little bit more comfortable with ourselves and our bodies and our voices and our intelligence and our abilities, I think things would change for the better for everyone.”

Follow Lena Stone on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for ongoing updates. 

Christian Lopez Flexes Versatility and Pines for Appalachia on The Other Side LP

“I need West Virginia like a daily vitamin in a way. If I don’t take it for too long, I get funky and I gotta go and refresh,” reflects Christian Lopez. Born and raised in Martinsburg, Lopez still owns property among the sweeping, serene Appalachian Mountains. Now residing deep in southwestern New Mexico after calling Nashville home for a number of years, the singer-songwriter found himself creatively and personally depleted in the aftermath of 2017’s Red Arrow. So, he set sights on returning to West Virginia; his old stomping grounds have remained familiar to him through his career, frequently a reprieve from the crushing pressures of a burgeoning Americana career and the bright lights of lower Broadway.

But this time was different.

His grandmother’s land, a wide stretch of earth in the sleepy Calhoun County town of Minnora that seems to harbor all of their deepest, darkest secrets, proved to possess a sort of healing elixir. Soon, he would be on his merry, artistic way to write his new record, The Other Side, a wonderfully volatile genre-fusion.

“It’s really inspiring down there. It’s a sort of stuck-in-time property on a mountain with nothing around you,” he reflects. “It was like a bittersweet depression in a way. I was trying to talk my way through it and write my way through it. This record is so satisfying, because it came from the deepest parts of me. You have to live and keep going to reach those parts. I guess it was just sort of destined to happen at some point.”

From the plaintive, finger-plucked confessionals he has become known for to a healthy powder keg of indie and classic rock detonating in the blink of an eye, Lopez emerges in rare form. His songwriting has gotten sharper, and his vocals dirtier, as he scrapes out a deathly snarl on “Nothing Wrong” and later lilts as songbirds do with “Tanglin.”

Lopez pounces across genres with a hypnotic slyness. Even when he gets down and groovy on “Finish What You Started,” an Elvis Presley-meets-Dwight Yoakam sidewinder, he makes sure to leave a mark all this own. And in between his most disruptive moments, he keeps connective tissues to the past, the more constrained, quieter arrangements as strong as ever.

This new approach developed “probably right near the top,” he says. In working with producer Robert Adam Stevenson (Queens of the Stone Age, Jeff Beck), who he met at a Halloween party a few years ago, Lopez set his sights on twisting his indie/Americana style with Stevenson’s more ambient work to conjure up a whole new entity. “I really wanted to see what kind of fusion we could make.”

It seems fitting “Nothing Wrong” opens the record, as it was their “first real co-write” together for the project. “That was a pretty big departure for us trying all those electrics and singing those big verses,” Lopez recounts. “But you know, it’s stretching the muscle and working those new ideas, sort of just as an experimental thing. It’s a soulful thing, too, and that’s why we kicked it off on the album. I think I wanted to get people a little shook right off the bat, because it’s a departure.”

There’s a cohesion to the 12-track record, even as Lopez swoops to rhythmic highs or dips into acoustic valleys. Interestingly, he never had the intention to make an album. “It just sort of came to be,” he explains. “We really didn’t have too many hiccups. It was such a fun, satisfying experience.”

Lopez’s genre-play is not unlike the Avett Brothers, who have “inspired me on another level,” he gushes. Particularly over the group’s last five or six records, they’ve swapped out straight-arrow folk music for “wacky things and crazy departures that a lot of people would always be up in arms about. I was there loving every second of it, because that honest longing for experimenting and trying new things is what I love.”

The Other Side is steeped in longing — and not only because Lopez returned returned to West Virginia to write. Now 26, he’s beginning to feel time’s grip tighten on his shoulders, leaving him to wonder if he’s out of time to accomplish what he wants to do. “To some I’m a joke/I’m the pull behind the toke/And to some, I’m just running out of time,” he sings on “Blows My Mind (to You),” wistfully taking the piss out his detractors while also reflecting upon the one person who believes him in, no strings attached: his fiancé.

“I was trying to laugh at myself in a way. I think if you can acknowledge it, it makes it clear to yourself and to the people around you. But I still feel like I’m on the first hole of 18 in a way,” he explains. “When you’re on your third album and you’re going into your late 20s, these are real things that I have to think about and sort of battle. But it doesn’t get me down, though. If you listen to the very beginning of that song, you can hear a voice peek out right before the music kicks in. That’s my fiancé saying, ‘You got it,’ from a demo session.”

“That’s really what it’s like when someone comes in and loves you in a way that you didn’t even think was even possible, and it blows your mind,” he adds.

Such is the nature of Lopez’s finest moments. “Feel the Same” swells with a similar emotional air, with the singer-songwriter listing off all the things he misses most about his WV childhood. “I miss you/I miss me/I miss whatever we used to be/I need more than this empty name,” he howls with a commanding softness. Drums pour down as rain, pulling the song’s desperation closer to his chest.

“Living a life as a kid, you don’t realize that you’re never going to get back there again. Having that sort of juvenile happiness is like an untouchable happiness when it’s gone,” he says, adding he initially wrote the song three years ago. He pieces together several “moments of me realizing that it was gone and that the rest of our lives is seeking out that same feeling wherever we can get it, in good ways and bad ways.”

Feeling like a companion piece, “The Other Side,” written as a specific response to working his grandmother’s land, arrived when he least expected it to. “I didn’t really know what I was going to say when I went into it,” he remembers. First, he simply jotted down the little things in life he loved most. “That was my focus. But then I started to realize what it could be, and it almost felt like the song was coming to sort of uplift myself.”

Looking back, the feel of West Virginia and the people possesses “storybook vibes,” he says. “My dad was like a best friend to me. I had a great mom and a great supportive situation.”

The record weaves through reflections on “the identity you give yourself as a kid, as a son, brother, kid in this class, friend to this guy,” he offers, “but then you get to a certain age, and for me, I’m out here on the road trying to do this and there’s no one else next me other than my fiancé, and that identity is sort of stripped because you’re not just the son or the friend of the kid in class. You’re this guy out here on the road trying to figure out who you are on your own. It’s a tough transition.”

The Other Side marks not only an impressive musical transition but demonstrates Lopez is more than capable of driving the ship. “I love being able to play all the instruments and take my sweet time. It definitely was a gradual recording process. The experience made me more powerful in the studio in a good way,” he says. “When I came to Nashville, I was courted… working with people who had a lot of clout, a lot of credit. I had to sit back and follow their lead. I learned so much, and I’m grateful for all of it, but this album was very much me doing the opposite. It was very much me taking the pilot’s seat and being able to say no when I needed to and push something through when I needed to.”

Follow Christian Lopez on Twitter and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Meagan Hickman Offers Hope and Redemption with “One Day” Premiere

Photo Credit: Petya Shalamanova

Meagan Hickman has always been intentional about creating uplifting music, a trend she continues with her new song, “One Day.” 

Born and raised in Chicago, the singer-songwriter was trained classically, falling in love with songwriting after discovering acts ranging from John Mayer to Bonnie Raitt. Adapting the craft as her own, Hickman began journaling as a teenager, her thoughts soon turning into song. Raised on the sounds of Motown and listening to India.Arie and Jill Scott as a teenager helped her develop a palette for soul music that she incorporates into her own sound. “I feel like soulful music is always where my heart’s been. Vocally too, it’s challenging, and I always wanted to sing. Soulful music was always that outlet,” Hickman tells Audiofemme

The Nashville-based artist carries this sound into “One Day,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. ahead of its official October 8 release date. The spirit of the song is as bright and sunny as the yellow dress she dons on the single’s cover art, while the instrumentation is as multilayered as the lyrics. A sparkling piano adds color in the background as syncopated drums shine alongside Hickman’s radiant vocals. The song was inspired by the singer’s friends who expressed regret choosing one life path over another, believing they neglected their calling and had run out of time to pursue it. That’s where Hickman steps in to be a light at the end of the tunnel, encouraging them that dreams are never out of reach. “One day you’re gonna find a way to see/One day you’re gonna find a way to breathe/One day you’re gonna find what you need/One day you’re gonna find a way to sing,” she cheers in the chorus. 

“‘One Day’ is about coming back to those roots. Even if you’ve done all these other things and you feel like your time is up or you missed the boat, you still have it within you. It’s not gone. It may feel like it because of all these detours, but this is not the end,” she explains of the song’s meaning. “You’re going to find your song – that is your calling. You’re going to find your voice. You’re going to find whatever that calling is again, because it’s who you are. You’ll find your way back to that voice or that calling and you’re going to find that sense of peace.” 

Inner trust is an integral theme to the song. Giving it a modern twist, Hickman tackles the toxicity of self comparison in the second verse: “Foreign languages of endless data/You’ve got to decipher what matters/Deciding should you step away/Or dive head first and stake your claim.” Hickman acknowledges the “comparison factor” that plays out as we scroll, reminding herself as much as the listener that it’s up to each individual to react with a positive or negative mindset. “That moment in time is the most crucial to your success and your mental health. For me, even though it could be negative, it’s like, ‘How are you going to react to that?’ and that in turn I think affects the way that you move forward,” she analyzes. 

Alongside this critical thinking, “One Day” is a redemption anthem, Hickman serving as the listener’s cheerleader in times of self doubt. It’s a message she’s proud to share with the masses in hopes that it offers listeners a sense of reassurance and peace. “I really hope it’s like a big hug. I hope someone knows if you’re going through that crisis – whether it’s mental, physical, family, whatever – it’s all perspective,” she expresses. “Circumstances can be really bad sometimes, but my hope is to be like, ‘Here’s that hug, it’s okay. You can do it.’”

Hickman says she’s needed that same encouragement plenty of times. “I so badly want to receive what I give; I think all of us do. We hope that we give enough and we get it back. With my music, I hope that I get that same hug or that same love back. If I can put goodness into the world as best as I can, that’s my goal,” she says.

After a fraught year and times of crises that never seem to end, Hickman continues to display bravery and caring. “This world is isolating and we have so much stuff that can mess someone up,” she points out. “If there’s anything that I can do with my music, it’s to lend that hand and be like, ‘I see you. I feel you. I hear you. I go through what you go through. You’re not alone.’ That’s my hope.” 

Follow Meagan Hickman on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Adia Victoria Honors Her Roots on Powerful New LP A Southern Gothic

Photo Credit: Huy Nguyen

For Adia Victoria, creating A Southern Gothic was a demanding process physically, emotionally and spiritually. “I think that this was a record that walked with me through one of the most difficult periods of my life,” Victoria expresses to Audiofemme in a Zoom interview from the porch of her Nashville home. “It was a very physical process of writing this record.” 

Though the exquisite new album captures Victoria’s deep Southern roots, she had to travel across the globe in order to tap into them. In January 2020 – just before the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the South Carolina native jetted to Paris where she met with creative partners Jack Jones and Marcello Giuliani, equipped with another important travel companion: books. As a frequent traveler to the City of Light, Victoria often brings literature with her, this time immersing herself in the words of Southern writers, along with Alan Lomax’s famous recordings of field workers, absorbing the sounds of a pick ax hitting the ground to the breaths between members of a chain gang.

“Words hit different over there for me, and my relationship with speech and rhythm and words. I’m hearing spoken words differently there. You could walk for miles in the city and never run out of things to ponder. For me, that’s the perfect recipe to create art. Art just pours out of me there. I go to Paris in order to see more clearly. I think the distance gives you a little bit more of a boundary. It’s not so raw to write about over there. I get to tap into a different part of myself,” she observes.

“When I was writing the beginning portion of this record, I was far away from the South, but trying to root myself there,” she continues. “I needed to feel connected somehow to the dirt and the landscape of the South where so much of myself and stories I tell are created through that interaction of the land and the person. A lot of what guided me in the initial stages was wanting to pay reverence to the Black folk that came before me who created the blues while bent over crops and cotton.” 

After arriving back in Nashville from her trip abroad, Victoria got to work with creative partner and instrumentalist, Mason Hickman. While crafting the album, Victoria was working as an Amazon warehouse employee, lyrics naturally coming to her as she walked the aisles fulfilling orders. The singer recalls a particularly grueling shift, feeling depleted by the eighth hour and experiencing intense anxiety with the pandemic raging and many unanswered questions lingering. “It was in the thick of hell and I was walking and I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I felt so lost,’” she remembers.

But this painful moment turned into a source of refuge as a song began to form in her mind that manifested into “Carolina Bound,” pouring out the sense of desperation she felt for her home state of South Carolina. “I long for my mother brother and sister too/To see and smell the ocean turn my pain into blues,” she sings over a melody that strikingly blends the bluegrass nature of the banjo with the pain of the blues. “I mean to leave and not be found/Like a river run underground/I am Carolina bound.”

“I felt this homesickness, this primal need to go back home,” Victoria conveys of the song’s origins. “It literally came out of my body writing, walking, and working. The song definitely helped me transcend the dread of the present, and I feel like that’s something that the blues has always been for Black people. It’s been a transcendent art form for us, like a cultural heirloom that we’ve passed down,” she says. “There’s been so much drudgery done to our bodies that sometimes the blues of the mind, the poetics of the blues, have been our best means of escape and transcendence from the bullshit.” 

The singer-songwriter and poet brilliantly captures her roots and reverence for the history of her ancestors through her voice. Intentional about not wanting to make a record that was “strictly autobiographical,” Victoria takes into account the harmful traditions of the South from multiple angles across A Southern Gothic, asking as many rhetorical questions as she offers observations, stepping outside of her own perspective to see from the vantage point of many other compelling characters.

We meet a “Mean-Hearted Woman” who is coldly forced out of her home on Christmas morning by a husband who’s found another lover. Jason Isbell, Margo Price, and Kyshona lend supporting vocals on the standout “You Was Born to Die,” which finds Victoria flexing the dynamics of her voice, layered over a melody that’s as much a character in the story as the lyrics themselves. The sobering “The Whole World Knows” follows a struggling drug addict who feels like an outsider in her church-going community, while a young woman mourns the death of her sister in “My Oh My.” Victoria proves she has a fierce tongue and spirit to match on “Deep Water Blues,” undeterred in addressing white supremacy head on, proclaiming, “Now it’s been too many times I been put in a place/To have to wipe up a mess a white man made/Like my grandmama did and her mama did too/So I’ll be awful glad to get me clean of you/And let the water do what water do.”

“I wanted to almost have the record be a meditation on the way that perception is seen in the South. Who’s the narrator of one’s life? Is it you, or is it the way people perceive you? What does it cost a person who’s not able to live up to what it takes to belong in a group? What does belonging even mean? What are the ways that we’re asked to sacrifice ourselves in the name of Christianity and respectability and good manners?” she reflects. “I wanted some of the songs to be looking at this girl who can’t belong from an onlookers’ perspective and then some to let her speak and let us hear her prayers and her meditations. I don’t know which perception is accurate.”

Stepping outside of her own frame of mind didn’t come without its challenges. The singer cites “Far From Dixie” as the song she felt most vulnerable writing, a process that required time and patience. “I was in a troubled way and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say,” she admits. “I’ve learned never to write down what you don’t mean. Even if it’s not about you, if it’s not true to you coming out of your hands, I’d rather drive people crazy for a year than commit to something that I knew was not the heart of what I needed to say.” 

Always one to honor her word, Victoria reclaims the narrative of the phrase “Southern Gothic,” often defined in literature by flawed characters, darkness and a feeling of alienation. With this powerful body of work, Victoria owns her space as a prolific Southern storyteller like the ones who came before her. “Typically when people think of Southern Gothic, they’re thinking of a particular aesthetic of the South that is centered in whiteness and centered in white dread and white anxiety and white fear of ‘the other.’ But I wanted to reclaim that title to be used as a marker of a Southern Black girl’s experiences growing up doubly othered and skewered so far outside the dominant culture narrative that centered itself only by excluding you. I wanted to center the mythologies of a Black Southern girl. I wanted to center her experiences and place them shoulder to shoulder with other Southern writers who claim to speak for the South,” she explains. “It was my way of putting my work under that umbrella of Southern narrative and Southern storytelling. It’s my way of authorizing the experiences of girls that look like me, who grew up where I did.” 

Much like the respite the album-making process provided her, Victoria hopes that A Southern Gothic compels others to look inward. “A Southern Gothic, it’s a story. It’s a record that’s very much rooted in my body, rooted in the South, rooted in the dirt. It’s a record that kept me rooted when I wanted to float off into a cloud of anxiety last year. It’s kept me rooted to a true part of myself that exists audaciously independent of all the madness and the chaos. It showed me that there’s a part of me where art comes from that’s mine and it exists purely for itself and it can save your life, that part of you,” she professes of the album’s personal impact. “I would hope that it challenges [listeners] to engage with the lessons that the dominant narrative has imparted upon us to really question the particularities of the way that you walk through the world, the way the world walks through you, and consider the weight that is taken on by society’s eye upon you. How does that alter you? I would challenge them to listen more closely to their inner lives.” 

A Southern Gothic arrives on September 17. Victoria recently launched season two of her podcast, Call & Response. She’ll open for Jason Isbell at the Ryman Auditorium on October 24 and appears on his upcoming covers album, Georgia Blue, set for release on October 15. 

Follow Adia Victoria on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Madi Diaz Archives a Universal Heartache on History of a Feeling LP

Photo Credit: Lili Pepper

Nashville-based Madi Diaz brings us her most intimate songwriting to date with the release of History Of A Feeling, out August 27th via ANTI-. The record offers a sonic space to heal, feel, and face difficult emotions that are often swept under the rug. Diaz croons the full spectrum of heartbreak, through raw, stripped-down recordings. We gain an intimate window into her inner monologue, a spiral of personal blind spots, a system of healing, lyrics saturated with self-awareness and sophistication. She has honed, if not perfected, her songwriting craft, communicating her personal narrative with the concision of an arrow straight to the core of the heart.

The album was written three years ago, while Diaz was living in Los Angeles and “going through a gnarly break-up. I was writing at a breakneck pace, then a crawling pace,” she tells Audiofemme. “I really lucked out with this body of work. I had no expectations with it.” She’d even contemplated leaving music behind for massage therapy or some other field. But ultimately, she decided to move back to Nashville (after living there from 2010-2012) and do writing sessions again, unsure if she wanted to keep going as an artist or focus on music direction.

One such co-write with Kesha, Wrabel, and Jamie Floyd, resulted in “Resentment,” which first appeared on Kesha’s 2019 album High Road featuring Sturgill Simpson and infamous Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson. On History, Diaz recut the song in purest form, with only guitar and vocals. Her music video, shot in a junkyard full of abandoned and demolished vehicles, reminds listeners of the song’s essential message, excavating the wreckage of failed relationship and its emotional aftermath. As her story of disappointment, apathy, and repression unfolds, Diaz’s deliveries are poignant and gut wrenching. Her subtle country-pop cadence reverberates with clarity as she sings, “I don’t hate you babe/It’s worse than that/Cause you hurt me and I’m more than sad/I’ve been building up this thing for months – resentment.”

It’s the perfect lament for battling the ghost of a former flame, but more than that, “Resentment” explores the inner suffering of our own creation, how we let how even inconsequential burns start to boil over time. Diaz effortlessly writes about her emotional scar tissue, and the deep cuts that come with tender loss to forever alter our perspective. The song’s simplicity and effortless melodic flow evolves into a powerful anthem of agency, a declaration of truth.

Diaz’s writing career, although successful, has been nothing short of a funhouse with trick mirrors. She’d signed a publishing deal with Cherry Lane, and when they were bought by BMG, felt as though she was sucked into a black hole. “I really had nobody there. Luckily when I left LA I met a woman, Janine Gonzales, who actually worked for her writers. She hadn’t lost the plot within working in the major system,” Diaz recalls. “She actually let me out of the deal – she said, ‘You’re super talented, but there’s a luck factor. I can get you in these rooms if it’s what you want.’ At that point, I didn’t really see the point and I got out. I swore I’d never sign a publishing deal again but I did last year for my own record.”

Seasoned, but certainly still learning life lessons, Diaz has experienced the ups and downs of an ever-changing music industry. “Your early 20s is just about running into as many brick walls as you possibly can, then busting them down with your entire body,” she says. “It makes me nuts when booking agents or potential managers ask me who I sound like or who’s career I want mine to look like. Do you think Prince or Joni Mitchell followed a set of rules or path? Were they trying to be like someone else? There is no real formula. It’s a limiting way of thinking.”

Early in her career, she adds, she often rushed into the first doors that opened for her, scared to miss any opportunity, even though she wasn’t sure what she was about back then. “I knew I was good at music, and I knew that my songs were up and down. There was a lot of heartbreak and there were a lot of high highs. Being in LA for six years was a very humbling experience,” Diaz admits. “Moving to Nashville was hard because moving is hard – refinding my life and fitting everything in the back of my pickup truck and getting on the road.” She details the experience richly on her single “New Person, Old Place.”

It’s not the first time Diaz has had to reinvent herself in order to re-ignite her artistic passion. Home-schooled by musical parents, she first learned to play piano during lessons with her dad, rejected its classical structure, then fell back in love with making music when her father taught her how to play guitar around age thirteen. She passionately started covering country and pop songs by The Dixie Chicks, No Doubt, and Sheryl Crow, and fondly remembers watching Gwen Stefani climb the stage scaffolding to flip off the crowd at one of the first concerts she attended. These teenage influences – Bikini Kill, early Liz Phair, Hole and the RiotGrrl movement – contribute to the grit and grunge-tinged tone evident in her sentimental country pop ballads.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Diaz attended Berklee College of Music. “I was always encouraged to do something I loved, without the intention of making money off my passion,” she says. She jumped between majors, first as a guitarist then as a vocalist, classifying herself as a straight-A overachiever until she stopped going to class junior year and dropped out as her scholarship began to run out. “The Berklee sound is typically known as an overly perfected sound that squeezes all of the rawness of the music. I’m glad I left when I did,” she laughs. “I remember specifically being in this one songwriting class and the teacher was overanalyzing a Beatles song, explaining why a note was moved up a whole step instead of moving down a whole step. I remember holding a big pen and being like I’m just gonna stick this in my thigh because I can’t feel anything. I can’t feel the music, I can’t feel anything that’s going on here. At that moment I hit a survival instinct. I dropped everything and bolted in the opposite direction. I focused on my own music and started bartending full-time as a 20 year old.” 

She steadily began releasing solo records both independently and on major labels. “I was at a major subsidiary of Sony at one point – they were interested in making me their pop baby. They were telling me I could be cool and giant at the same time,” remembers Diaz. “A lot of major labels often ask their artist to prove what they’re doing and over-exhaust the point of creating music and art.” But she says signing with ANTI- was like opening a new chapter, full of encouragement and support. “They know that artists have intention. Their point is to create. They don’t ask me to prove that.”

Photo Credit: Lili Pepper

It’s clear that Diaz demands a filter of mystery around her work – even when it comes to her fans. “I feel like if I were to describe my music or the meaning of the song it would ruin it in a way,” he says. “It’s way more interesting to hear what the listener thinks it’s about. The listener should have their own intimate experience. I know how it makes me feel when someone tells me how to feel. I would tell them to go fuck themselves.” Diaz shares intimate pieces of herself in her songwriting, but her style leaves the narrative open for universal interpretation. Through her brutally honest deliveries, her harmonies and timbre add color, depth, and timelessness. 

“Nervous,” a refreshingly honest track stands apart as the inner monologue we all have but maybe haven’t realized. She picks apart her neurotic tendencies, her escapist mentality for love and companionship. “I know why I lie to myself/I’m not really looking to get healthy/I have so many perspectives, I’m losing perspective,” she sings, repeating, “I make me nervous.”

“I started writing ‘Nervous’ at my old kitchen table in the winter time, a very free verse form sort of falling out. It came together in about eight minutes and I didn’t touch it for eight months,” she remembers. “I have this folder open sometimes with ideas that I’ll be working on or abandon. My manager, who is also my friend, insisted I finish it. In the gibberish I was able to discern some stuff that ended up being about my needing to get over my own neurotic patterns.”

With a quick wit, and an innate ability to craft and execute timeless songs, Madi Diaz is a pioneer for a new generation of singer-songwriters, to whom she offers one simple piece of advice. “You just gotta keep saying it exactly the way you should say it,” she says. “You should really try and just rip it straight from your journal.”

Follow Madi Diaz on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Chapel Hart Build Sass and Soul into Sophomore LP The Girls Are Back in Town

Photo Courtesy of 2911 Media

Bold and unapologetic country queens Chapel Hart return with their swampy sophomore album, The Girls Are Back in Town. Equal parts sassy and heartfelt, the 12-track project finds the trio putting their most fearless foot forward, tackling topics ranging from bullying and cheaters to womanhood and independence, as told through the confident delivery and stellar three-part harmonies of Mississippi-born-and-raised sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and their cousin Trea Swindle.

The album opens with “Nearly Over You,” a breakup ballad led with a crying fiddle that matches lead singer Danica’s aching vocals and lyrics. Blue tears pour from her brown eyes as she mourns the end of a relationship, lamenting at song’s end, “Just know I’m not nearly over you.” This leads into “4 Mississippi,” a raucous ode to a hard-working single mother of four children, setting the pace for an album that stands firmly in its country roots but leans more into rock than the pop sound ubiquitous on country radio. The family band then takes the edge off with the free-spirited, “I Will Follow,” an ode to following one’s heart over their head. With soft claps and glistening harmonies, the sweet song accentuates their lighter side as they profess, “When my heart leads the way, I will follow.”

But they get back to their feisty ways on “Grown Ass Woman,” the female country anthem we’ve been waiting for. Here, they’re unabashed backwoods women who are just as equipped to run a tractor as they are willing to let their emotions, and a curse word or two, fly. “I may not be politically correct, but I can say that I did things my way/I can cry when I want to/Fight when I need to…that’s what grown ass women do,” they shout over a bluesy, edgy melody, proudly telling the world exactly who they are on one of the album’s best and most defining moments. 

The Girls Are Back in Town also proves the CMT Next Women of Country 2021 inductees to be clever and witty lyricists who embrace word play, exemplified on “Tailgate Trophy” where they blatantly disavow the misogynistic tropes in modern country. Their cheeky personalities also shine through on the single that initially grabbed the public’s attention, “You Can Have Him Jolene,” Chapel Hart’s callback to Dolly Parton’s iconic track. Instead of begging the other woman to back down, these three throw a dirty cheater to the curb after catching on to his two-timing tricks. They gladly turn him over to his new lover, but not without warning to heed some advice and learn from that fateful experience.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans and Nashville-based group shares “Jacqui’s Song,” a loving tribute to the girlfriend of their former keyboard player who was tragically killed when the tent she was under at an outdoor festival got struck by lightning. Originally released on their 2019 album, Out the Mud, “Jacqui’s Song” does their late friend proud. Calling on the tried-and-true “three chords and the truth” model, they take the invaluable lessons learned from Jacqui and turn them into lyrics that demonstrate country storytelling at its finest, singing over a honeyed melody, “When you live this little thing called life/I hope you take it by the reigns/You ain’t promised no tomorrows/And you can’t take back yesterdays.”

The singers round out the album with back-to-back-to-back rockers, calling on “Jesus & Alcohol” in a bluesy breakup anthem that features ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons on guitar, then sends their enduring harmonies as high as the Georgia pines they sing of with “That’s a Redneck Summer Night” before closing out the project with the fiery title track. Through The Girls Are Back in Town, Chapel Hart carve out a place for themselves in the modern landscape of country music. With their strong harmonies, killer hooks, and compelling lyrics, Chapel Hart lives and breathes their defining proclamation: “We’re the next women of country and it’s our town now.”

Follow Chapel Hart on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Aussie Abroad Larissa Tandy Pays Homage to Three Hometowns with Singles Series

Photo Credit: Kane Hopkins

Australian-born, Vancouver-based Larissa Tandy is looking on the bright side in her latest single “No Fun.” It’s the final in a trilogy of singles she’s put out this year, following “Drive” on July 23 and “Sirens” released on May 21. All three were written and recorded between Nashville and Memphis with the help of Nashville’s finest session players and a legend of the Motown scene, Funk Brother Jack Ashford.

The trilogy concept was birthed through a very rational decision. Tandy knew she could only afford to create and promote three songs, as opposed to a full album. But by releasing them as a trilogy, she’s inadvertently captured a snapshot of her life across three cities.  

“They do speak to the different parts of my life,” affirms Tandy. “‘Sirens’ is very connected to my past in regional Victoria. The second song, ‘Drive’ is very much based on my time in Nashville – the people I was writing with, and stylistically fascinated by – and then the third [‘No Fun’] is related to my life in Vancouver. I do feel like I have three home towns.”

Riffing on Vancouver’s reputation as a beautiful, but boring place to live, Tandy complains that never stops raining, that everyone says they’ll call then they never do, but then finds the silver lining in they city’s overcast skies: “there’s still a million reasons to never leave this town.” Primary among these – Vancouver offered sanctuary when Australia refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of her marriage. She met her partner, Elisabeth, on a holiday visit to British Columbia in 2007. Tandy returned to Melbourne for nearly seven years before she and her wife made their home in Vancouver in 2014, and the couple welcomed their daughter in 2019.

The video, however, won’t be lauded by the Vancouver tourism authorities, with an unenthusiastic Tandy posing in various mundane settings around her adopted hometown, her head poking through an oversized postcard reading “Beautiful NO FUN”.

Tandy made it herself, including designing the seagull who’s mouth she inhabits in the video. “It’s currently propped up against the house in the backyard. I might actually do something with it at some point,” she muses. Sounds like fun, so that’s probably against the local laws.

Tandy’s accent is unmistakable in its broad, Aussie frankness. Her knack for storytelling and unexpectedly candid confessions in the least melodramatic of moments are also typical Australian traits. Now 45, Tandy was born in Sydney and grew up with her parents and older brother Ryan in regional Victoria, on the Mornington Peninsula, before making her home between Vancouver and Nashville.

“My dad was in the Navy,” she explains. “My dad was from Sydney and my mum was from Melbourne. I must have been so little when we were relocated to Melbourne, and there was also a short period when we moved to Tasmania. I got kicked out of boarding school, returned to Victoria and spent my teenage years on the Peninsula. I don’t think I’m normal enough to thrive in that [boarding school] environment. I was 10 when I went, so I was making sense of this whole other world, this reality I had no idea about before.”

A reality that did make more sense to a young Tandy was songwriting and singing. “Ryan had been in every single band that I’d played in, we’d worked together on everything,” she remembers. “I started a band around 2000. I’d been playing bass in this 3-piece but the other two people were a couple and they had a spectacular break-up during one of our shows… my brother was like, ‘Start your own band – just do it!’”

They did, expanding with bass players, backing vocalists and a drummer, but they had a booking agent who lamented that his venues wanted “quieter” bands. So, Tandy improvised and insisted they did have a quieter band, inventing the name Strine Singers.

Ryan and Larissa joined with another brother-sister duo, Mick and Lou Rankin in 2011, releasing their EP Counter Canter two years later. The folk-meets-country harmonising over gorgeously simple, steely guitar still sounds just as fresh and affecting as it did upon its 2013 release. The band amicably parted in 2014, though they’re all still close Tandy confirms. “They coaxed me out of my shell, and encouraged me to put more stock in my own work,” she says. “It was a good, really supportive environment, but I was ready to move into a solo thing that I could put my name on.”

Since 2016, she has travelled back and forth between Nashville and Vancouver, writing and collaborating fervently in East Nashville. Vancouver is home though, and upon settling there with Elisabeth, she wasn’t sure how to break into the Canadian music scene. “I’d just landed in Canada. I really didn’t know what I was gonna do. Strine Singers had wrapped up. I had this idea that I’d release stuff then go back and tour Australia,” she says. “I had all these songs and I thought I may as well try to make a record, though I had no music network in Canada. I did some research on Canadian albums I loved.”

That was how she met Jim Bryson, a studio owner in Ottawa who would eventually produce her 2017 solo debut The Grip. “Jim was [a collaborator and guitarist] in the touring band for Kathleen Edwards, a beloved Canadian alt-country artist. I really loved what Jim brought to that band, so I reached out to him and next thing you know I’m flying out East to make a record with him,” she recalls. “I stayed at his place for two weeks and we worked everyday trying to play as much of it as we could.”

Fortuitously, Australian friends and acclaimed singer-songwriters Liz Stringer and Kat Lahey were on tour from Australia so they featured on the album, too. They recorded it mostly in 2015 but it took a lot of research and work for Tandy to find a distributor (MGM Australia in Sydney and Nashville). At the same time, she was trying to juggle being her own manager, with no support team, and she’d also had four hip surgeries within that period.

“I really didn’t know how to put a record out… but that whole experience has a lot to do with where I’ve got to now, which is how to find a way to release things as close to when they’re written as possible,” she says. The Grip spent four months on the US Americana charts, attracting positive reviews internationally and winning her the prestigious Nashville Songwriter Residency. And releasing these latest singles in a purely digital format symbolizes Tandy’s rebellion against the slow-moving traditional system that dictates when and how artists should make and share their work.

“I founded the more I started to complicate the process, the more I created delays, whereas doing things digitally kept things simple,” she explains. “I created visual assets, the videos, and tried to do away with anything that interfered with the process and slowed things down. I had the opportunity to do this without thinking about the commercial aspect, I had some budget to do it and I wanted to get the ball rolling. I entered a great creative period of my life, I just wanted to clear the decks and make some space for it. I didn’t want to be stuck in the standard release system of releasing an album every two years and sitting on work for so long. I think it’s possible to build your own audience and the best way to do that is to keep nourishing the patch of turf that you have with more and more of your work.”

Tandy has her own home studio, which is where she’s assembling a collection of songs that she intends to release as twelve stand-alone singles, beginning in mid-2022. But Tandy plans to preview two songs per month via Patreon beginning in September, followed later by a traditional album that offers the songs as a cohesive collection.

“The songs that I’m writing for it are really personal so I’m trying to create something low-vibe,” she says. “I’m pulling them up, tinkering, it’s a different way to work.”

It’s a great time to get personal – with prime examples of women in country music writing about their sexuality, speaking about their partners and their queerness in interviews and owning it. “There’s a real movement in queer country that is so exciting. The amount of artists – queer or otherwise – who have endorsed hat movement, or expressed their allyship… there’s a sense that things are really changing in the industry and where the power once was, it no longer is,” Tandy says. “If someone tells me my music is ‘too gay’, I say it speaks to some people, and so be it. I identify as non-binary so I see it as a challenge that in this fast-moving environment, people want to understand things quickly and easily so the more complicated things are, it can be an obstacle [to people understanding]. The more authentic you are, the better off you’re gonna be.”

Follow Larissa Tandy on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Elke Reignites Her Self-Worth with “The Pink Tip of a Match Turns Black”

Photo Credit: Zac Farro

In the eyes of Nashville-based Kayla Graninger, who performs art pop under the moniker Elke, words are gifts. As a lifelong reader of poems, books and lyrics, she turned her attention to music full time at the age of 24 after having an epiphany when talking to a friend and fellow writer. “She always told me, ‘Don’t miss an opportunity to say something.’ That was super essential as I’m trying to find a voice,” Elke tells Audiofemme. “I think words are super important and I think they get taken for granted, so I see myself having a purpose in that way. I’ve always paid attention to words. When somebody says something that uplifts you or it’s an arrangement to say something that wakes you up in a way, I really was striving for that.”

Raised in Illinois, Elke left high school at 17 to pursue a modeling career in New York City, yet came to the city equipped with a guitar in hand. She channeled her passion for words directly into her 2018 debut EP, Bad Metaphors, as well as the singles she’s released since. “The Bad Metaphors EP was really honing in on words and what they meant to me. I went about that wanting every word and every part to say exactly what it meant to say,” she says. “That was really good practice for me and a good confidence booster too.”

The EP was something of a musical experiment where she flipped the idea of what a female vocalist is expected to sound like on its head: embracing a rock sound; leaning into the masculine side of her voice; challenging the traditional gender roles foisted upon her, first by her conservative upbringing, then reinforced when she began modeling as a young adult, with her appearance under constant scrutiny. “I was sick of this whole privacy, feeling reserved, feeling like I need to sound a certain way. I really wanted that to be the focus for that EP specifically,” she explains. “I was really inspired by not feeling like I needed to be tied to a genre or a gender. That was really important for me at that time to feel like I could freely write about experiences and singing in a way that I felt empowered by.” 

All of these efforts have paved the way for Elke’s upcoming debut LP, No Pain For Us Here, out September 24 via Nashville imprint Congrats Records. The album marks new territory for the singer, as she rediscovers her feminine voice. The refreshed sound is a result of calling on boyfriend Zac Farro, drummer for Paramore and producer behind Becca Mancari’s 2020 album The Greatest Part, to produce the record and help broaden Elke’s approach. “I got to express myself in different ways that have inspired me to not feel so trapped behind a guitar and to perform more,” she explains. “It’s brought out more of this feminine side too, which I enjoy now. I feel balanced in a weird way because of this entire journey. Being able to find that voice was super helpful with this balance. I know moving forward, I’ve been thinking about even more different ways to sing. It’s definitely helped me grow and look in an upward direction.”

Her artistic reimagination is exemplified by her latest single, “The Pink Tip Of A Match Turns Black,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. While the song honors her rock roots with electric guitar, Farro’s production efforts accentuate the lighter, more delicate aspects of Elke’s naturally rugged voice, tinged with warm, feminine notes.

The song is deeply personal for the eclectic artist, as it was born out of a falling out with a close friend in New York that left Elke feeling pained and lost. “I wanted clarity from it because it wasn’t a pretty ending. There was no closure and I got really hurt from it,” she shares. “That was heavy on my heart at that moment, so I wanted closure.”

She compares the frustrating experience to watching one’s favorite TV show with foreign subtitles while stating point blank, “I may have lost this one/What I thought was a friend/Your face was easy from familiarity/The pink tip of a match turns black.” The song ends with an extended interlude as she softly repeats the word “bye,” the process of writing the song helping to heal the wounds that inspired it.

“I want every word to mean exactly what it means, and if I could have achieved that with that song to help me move on, it did,” she proclaims. “I think that you can really feel jaded by certain situations and I wanted to walk away from it feeling tall. It was meant be light, it was meant to be abstract. I really like the words for it, which makes me feel like I could find some clarity and meaning so I could move on, learn something.” Rather than focus on the dissolution of her friendship, Elke chooses to portray the feeling of waking up, or “feeling like you’re in a daze and then you see something and you feel enriched.” She hopes that fans won’t simply listen to the song, but truly hear it and be present in the moment to absorb its message, and “understand that life is actually quite good,” she says.

“The Pink Tip of a Match Turns Black” symbolizes the release of a dark personal experience, coming out on the other side more secure in who she is. It ties in to the album’s overall theme of freedom, each song representing a different stage of liberation in Elke’s journey. “Every other step of the way is either self-reflection, feeling like I know who I am and I’m cool with that. Every song ties together in that way of the steps to feeling free,” she conveys. “It was a part of the journey of freeing myself too from this New York attitude – feeling like I love being in love and feeling free and there being no boundaries to that. I still really held myself to every lyric saying everything that I wanted to say.”

While the album is inspired by her love story with Farro, its messages hit on a deeper level, celebrating fearless connection with one another as humans. “It’s definitely Zac and I falling in love, but not every song is really about that, but more so about the freedom that I felt after the conclusions of ‘I’m loved and people can be loved,’” she explains. “The idea that life is painful and that you need some sort of edge to feel present or to feel like you’re making it, I wanted to let go of all of that. I called it No Pain For Us Here because I think that the message is more important that there doesn’t need to be pain and that you can feel that to be a free person and you deserve love and your worth is so relevant. Everybody has a worth.”

Follow Elke on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Maggie Rose Brings Understanding to the Table with Timely Have a Seat LP

Photo Credit: Ford Fairchild

“Who I am inherently as a person is someone who wants to change and push the envelope,” Maggie Rose professes on a phone call with Audiofemme. “I really think that sustainability in any career, but especially in music, can only be achieved if you’re switching it up and changing it and pushing yourself and exploring your capabilities further.” 

Rose lives and breathes this proclamation. Having had her fair share of experiences trying to find her identity in the music industry, it’s not hard to see how much she’s evolved from the 21-year-old who made an impression in Nashville under the name Margaret Durante with a countrified cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” Under independent Emrose Records, her back-to-back singles “I Ain’t Your Mama” and “Better” landed inside the Top 30 on country radio. More than a decade later, she’s donning a bold pixie cut and a fierce look in her eye to match, putting forth a brazen sound that continues to showcase her powerful voice.

She shed her mainstream country image with 2018’s Change the Whole Thing, a live album that further proved her superb vocal chops while introducing her undeniable soul sensibility. “It left everything on the table and laid it bare. I realized what I could do as a singer and the beauty and urgency of live music, how important that was to me. That led me to realize that I’m a soul singer too,” she describes of the organic project. “That really unlocked a huge thing for me.” 

The album came at a time when the Maryland native felt she had nothing to lose, “untethered” from the confines that gated her creativity in the past. Asking herself what kind of music she really wanted to make, her response was to bring all the players in one room, writing songs with Larry Florman and Alex Haddad of Nashville-based rock band, Them Vibes, and recruited Bobby Holland to produce.

“It turned out to be so magical. The experience itself was so enjoyable and educating for me and freeing, but also the product was beautiful. It was really something that was genuinely new, and I said, ‘Okay, we have to make the whole LP this way,’” she recalls. “It felt like 10 years or more into my career, a rebirth of sorts.”

Change the Whole Thing proved to be an imperative step in Rose’s artistic journey, leading to the bluesy, jazz-infused sound that defines her latest album, Have a Seat, out Friday, August 20. Recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the album reflects the music she was raised on, Rose calling on the iconic voices that came before her in the studio including Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Bobbie Gentry.

“I know I don’t I know everything/But you’ll never know what I can bring/
To the table if you don’t have a seat with me,” Rose wisely sings on album opener “What Are We Fighting For,” a reminder to set aside differences to foster real communication. The album’s titular phrase here has the effect of a warm welcome to the listener to sit at a table where there’s always a place for them. 

Though recorded primarily before the pandemic, the album is arriving at a time when the U.S. is seeing a surge in cases of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant, and follows a year of civil unrest and rallies around the world for social equity in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. “I realized that these themes of inclusivity, a little frustration with the social and political contention of the world, and wanting to be heard and to hear other people and be an individual, all of those were themes that were even more resonant with me after what we’re all going through,” she contemplates of the album’s title. “It is about making room for everybody at the table and giving each other the space to speak our minds, even if we don’t agree with each other. I think having the empathy and compassion to do that is the most loving thing that we can do to our fellow man, stranger, or people that we know very well.”

“On a specific individual level, for me, it was having had this conversation for so many years of where I belong on the musical landscape,” Rose adds. “This is my way of being like, ‘this is my seat right here. I belong here and only I can fill it and only this person can fill that seat,’ and having pride and power in claiming it.” 

Throughout the album, gritty, yet subtle electric guitar compliments Rose’s smooth voice, neither one overpowering the other on songs like “For Your Consideration” and “Saint” that simmer like a slow burn, while “Are We There Yet” and “Do It” capture the throwback funk, soul and R&B melodies driven toward the goal of giving a live audience a night they’ll never forget (along with lyrical depth).

During a time of forced pause in 2020, Rose also tapped into the art of listening. “That was a period of time for me where I was home and really taking in the world around me and doing some self-reflection and dealing with how isolation can magnify our own internal struggles and voices that negate our efforts,” she says. She launched the Salute the Songbird  podcast where she engages in deep, honest discussions with fellow artists ranging from Valerie June and Amythyst Kiah to This Is Us star Chrissy Metz, Rose absorbing their knowledge while listening to her inner voice. “I’ve always thought of development as grinding and rehearsing and playing shows and being out there and staying out there, and we did in many ways, but this was also a huge state of development for me that I probably wouldn’t have undergone in this short of a time if we hadn’t had this crisis fall in all of our laps.”

Her personal reflections go deep on the album, particularly on “Saint.” The smoldering, blues-leaning number finds her confronting a false sense of perfection projected onto her by others that she’s also made a habit out of accepting for herself. “I’m only human/I’ve made my mistakes/It’s hard to feel high when you’re falling from grace,” she states point blank in the lyrics while owning her “restless heart,” promising to “keep falling” as she watches her halo fade. It’s perhaps the most human song on an album filled with them. “Masterfully written” by Charlotte Sands, Jon Santana, and Brett and Brigetta Truitt, Rose says she felt an immediate connection to the song. “That one really floored me and made me feel seen and give myself a break. I’m not a saint; why are you expecting that of me? Why am I expecting it of myself?”

Then there’s “For Your Consideration,” a song that blends empathy with anger. The swampy, bluesy melody caters to the lyrics that encourage those on opposing sides to put down their egos and access compassion to see from one another’s perspective. “Just look at all the room I’m making for your consideration,” she sings in the defining line. “I really love that song for this moment,” Rose observes. “It’s really quite dynamic in the range of emotions that we’re going through in that song. [It] feels to me at this moment, even if it’s loud and overwhelming, expression has to happen right now, because I think that we’ve all been sitting in our own corners. Isolation can create paranoia, can make us feel misunderstood, and we start having these narratives in our head that aren’t true and maybe we wanted to duke it out.”

Meanwhile, “What Makes You Tick,” featuring Marcus King, ponders what compels us to do what we do, while “Telephone” addresses the toxicity of social media and the “erosion of information” as it passes from one person to the next, like the childhood whispering game. But “Help Myself” is where Rose gets most candid. The playful melody doesn’t distract from the clever lyricism as she takes aim at Instagram culture and its endless supply of self-help remedies to numb the pain, the lyrics addressing how our culture has adopted the habit of nursing our wounds with internet tips as opposed to doing the deep work that leads to true healing.

While in the writers’ room with Whissell and Kyle Dreaden, Rose says the trio had countless examples of “dodging unsolicited advice,” offering a dose of humor in the chorus where she nods to “pills and candy” as self-medication, eventually delivering the punchline with the admission “Despite what the experts said/I’m only here to help/I just can’t help myself.”

“We’re in a minefield of ‘here’s this quick fix to solve all your problems,’ and then we implement them and we’re still dealing with the same problems,” Rose says. “I think there are a lot of things that we can do to help ourselves, but it seems like we’re wading through a sea of tips and quick fix solutions when we really should be doing the harder work of looking inward and figuring out what the root of the problem is.” 

Looking inward is at the core of Rose’s process, hoping that the intention she poured into Have a Seat will be felt by those who need to hear its messages. “Songs always change for me. I think they are these beautiful things that start to absorb meaning as they live longer. I don’t think that they really start their lives until you give them away, so that’s why we released this music,” she shares. “I want it to be an experience. I don’t want people to think that I have the answers, but I hope it’s thought-provoking. I hope people have fun and there’s a huge level of escapism. It was really awesome to be so intentional about this project. It feels like a triumph.” 

Follow Maggie Rose on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

At Nashville’s National Museum of African American Music, Culture is an Immersive Experience

Photo credit: National Museum of African American Music

“Music is a part of someone’s identity.” This message is one of the first to greet visitors upon entering the Roots Theatre inside the National Museum of African American Music in downtown Nashville. It’s a message that can be felt throughout the museum, beginning with a film introduction that explores the deep roots of music from its origins in Africa, tracing its evolution to present day as part of the museum’s purpose to “tell the story of how a distinct group of people used their artistry to impact and change the world.” At video’s end, the doors to the theatre magically open, inviting visitors into a vast world of music and culture that lives behind its walls.

Inside the “Rivers of Rhythm Pathways,” interactive tables allow you to explore Black music by decade, learning how music was used as a tool by slaves to communicate with one another, as demonstrated by “Wade in the Water,” a spiritual that Harriet Tubman would sing as she helped slaves escape on the Underground Railroad. Music acts as a thread, connecting generations to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s through the hip-hop movement of the 1990s; patrons can even take the music home with them via a digital bracelet that compiles the songs you listened to into a playlist.

At any given moment, music will start bouncing off the walls – literally. A video displaying live footage of an incredible blues guitarist performing at B.B. King’s Blues Club guided us from “Rivers of Rhythm Pathways” into the other exhibits covering their own piece of history, ranging from “Crossroads,” which chronicles the history of blues music born in the Mississippi Delta, to the music of the Harlem Renaissance and Civil Rights Movement, completing the journey to modern day hip-hop and rap. While exploring these individual moments in history, as a country music reporter by trade, I couldn’t help but notice the cross-genre connections, particularly when seeing a photo of Academy Award nominated actress and hit blues singer Ethel Waters in one of her extravagant outfits, calling to mind the lavish ball gowns later worn by Loretta Lynn and flashy costumes Dolly Parton is famous for. 

The “Rivers of Rhythm Pathways” exhibit at NMAAM. Photo credit: National Museum of African American Music

What makes NMAAM particularly compelling is the interactive element of the exhibits. In the “Crossroads” gallery, visitors have the chance to play a choose-your-own adventure game where you’re presented with a story of a woman living in rural Mississippi who must make a fight-or-flight decision as a flood threatens to destroy her home, or you can choose to follow the blossoming love story of a young couple in Chicago in the mid-20th century, the power lying in the user’s hands as to what decisions the characters make, with music guiding the story along all the while.

One interactive feature that became a personal favorite was a digital wheel displaying prominent artists throughout history including Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Ma Rainey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Elvis Presley among several others, revealing what musicians they were influenced by and how they inspired other artists. It’s here I got to take pause and absorb the haunting melody and words of Holiday’s powerful “Strange Fruit,” yet feel a sense of calming and peace hearing King Cole’s soothing “Smile” and “Unforgettable,” becoming fully immersed in their timeless voices. 

While NMAAM mostly focuses on the brilliance of Black artists and how the music they created moved culture forward, there are still glimmers of the pain and strife inflicted upon Black Americans, as told through a photo of a young woman screaming in terror as she escapes a riot in NYC in the ’60s, while another picture of a threatening sign that reads “we want Whites in this Whites only community” with an American flag perched next to it was particularly chilling, serving as a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go as a country when it comes to racial healing and equity.

But perhaps the best part of NMAAM is the makeshift dance club that’s at the heart of the museum. One can’t help but stop and join the crowd gathered around the room where patrons inside are dancing to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” and “Love On Top” by Beyoncé, their digital profiles projected onto a screen so they can see their moves on playback in real time. A few steps away, guests can keep their creative juices flowing in a music studio where they have the opportunity to become an artist themselves, creating their own beats and raps in a mock recording booth. It’s these types of feel-good elements that makes NMAAM stand out from other museums. Going beyond the typical format of objects displayed behind glass, instead bringing the history of the artifacts to life, all while creating a sense of community, elevates the experience. The soul of music can be felt inside this institution that conveys how Black music is not only an integral part of America’s identity, but that of the world at large.

Follow the National Museum of African American Music on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for ongoing updates.

Juliana Hale Finds the Silver Lining in “Chill (So Serious)”

Photo Credit: Shania Houchens

Juliana Hale maintains a daily gratitude list, taking the time to write down what she’s grateful for. The practice reflects her ability to find the positive in life’s bleakest moments, a mindset she carries over into her latest single, “Chill (So Serious).” 

Hale learned how to find her silver linings through songwriting. By the age of nine, she had taken up guitar, flute and piano (and has since mastered the bass and ukulele), and relocated to Nashville with her family to pursue a career in country music, the young star performing her original songs in the local honkytonks by age eleven. Inspiration from then-new artist Taylor Swift and Hale’s parents’ divorce led her to songwriting, the powerful art form also lending itself as an outlet for her emotions when she began struggling with gastroparesis, a disease where severe acid reflux destroyed her vocal chords. During her multi-year battle with gastroparesis, the singer-songwriter was awarded more than $600,000 worth of scholarships to study pre-med in college, with the initial goal of becoming a gastroenterologist. But deep within, Hale knew that music was her true passion, so much so that she felt a shift from country music toward a growing interest in the organic pop and Americana realm. While going through vocal therapy to heal her voice, she often found herself turning to songwriting for support.

“It was a big outlet for me as far as an escape to really get through those times. To have my voice and then have it taken away from me suddenly was definitely a big thing to go through. My songwriting and my singing has changed as my voice has begun to heal and get better, so it’s a big growth process,” Hale tells Audiofemme. “It was a lot of sad songwriting about feeling like I couldn’t really control things and I feel like I’ve become more of a control freak in a way because of that. ‘Chill’ was a big reminder for me to just let go and let things happen. In a weird way, it affected my songwriting to write positive songs because I was always trying to find the silver lining in the things [that] were happening, because there’s always a silver lining. I feel like once my voice did heal, it ended up being more unique than it was before, so that’s the big silver lining I tried to hold on to was it made me grow in a certain way.” 

Through “Chill,” Hale managed to find the light during a time of darkness. Co-written over Zoom with Earl Cohen, Calvin Gaines and Andrew Thomas in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the 21-year-old entices listeners, with upbeat, breezy lyrics: “Come and vibe with us/We got no stress/Kicking back like jokers/Serious bad days are over.”

“I was super stressed, as everybody was, and I realized sometimes you just have to be thankful for being alive,” she explains of the song’s inspiration. “It’s a big song to try to tell myself to let go, because that’s one thing I’ve also been trying to do musically – not be such a perfectionist, and not be so hard on myself and just chill out.”

While the first verse originated from Hale’s experience dating a guy who was coming on too strong early in the relationship, the song began to take on a life of its own as she and her co-writers moved toward a celebratory mindset. The second verse finds her abandoning her insecurities, dancing like no one’s watching and encouraging listeners to do the same, while the personal bridge gets to the heart of what she hopes to convey in the song. “Toast to the life/Every day’s a celebration/We’re still alive/That’s a special occasion,” Hale sings.

“I feel like that encapsulates what I was trying to get across with the song – that every day can be a celebration and there’s always something to smile about. We’re alive and that’s a gift. I feel like everything happens for a reason and we’re all here. Life is a celebration,” she reflects. “I was trying to share the message that even in these tough times, I’m always trying to find the silver lining. So it’s good to chill.”

Things are looking up for Hale lately – she stars in the upcoming film And You Call Yourself a Christian, set for release on Amazon on September 19, and she’s releasing a new song each month for the remainder 2021, with plans to release them all together as an EP at year’s end. But the intent with every piece of music she offers is to gift others with a hopeful mind and open heart. “I want to bring a positive, different aspect to people. I want to bring something real, and my main goal with music is to connect with people,” she shares. “My favorite part of music is playing shows and meeting people afterwards and having those conversations, so I hope that I make people feel understood and that they connect to me and they take away something good from it.” 

Follow Juliana Hale on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.  

Haunted Like Human Explore Relationships Through Mental Health Lens with “Stay” Premiere

Photo Credit: Caroline Voisine

Dale Chapman and Cody Clark are natural born storytellers, so it’s only fitting that music is what brought them together. The two met by a happy accident, guitarist Clark voyaging across the country from Washington state to Music City where vocalist Chapman was working at a restaurant in Midtown. Clark and his friend came in just after arriving in the city; Chapman struck up a conversation with the musicians that serendipitously led to a co-writing session between her and Clark. Realizing the creative chemistry between them in that first writing session, they formed folk duo Haunted Like Human, releasing their debut album Ghost Stories in 2017.

“We were talking about the universal human experience of being a little bit haunted by something, whether it’s your past or a mistake. That part of being haunted in this human experience,” Clark describes of the meaning behind the duo’s name. “We really try to tell stories in every song we write.” 

They channel this symbolism into their new song “Stay” (premiering exclusively via Audiofemme) from forthcoming LP Tall Tales & Fables, out October 15. The stirring acoustic number puts mental health at the forefront, as they ride ravaged waters with grace and ease, alongside a peaceful melody of guitar and strings complementing their haunting, yet serene harmonies. After taking a year-long hiatus from songwriting after the release of 2018 EP Folklore, the duo found themselves returning to the craft after opening for The Talbott Brothers at City Winery in Nashville in 2019. The lyrics of the chorus came to Chapman’s mind while driving in the car to her waitressing job, prompting her to record a rough demo on her phone to send to her bandmate, describing the song as a cross between the Talbot Brothers and Gregory Alan Isakov.

“It really became a deep dive into the way that relationships that we’ve been in have been affected by one or both people’s mental health, the struggles, and how hopeless that can sometimes feel,” Chapman explains of the song’s inspiration. “We both have wrestled with anxiety and depression a lot in different ways. I know for me, they will often feed off of each other in this vicious spiral of being insecure or feeling like a burden, and then you’re projecting that onto the other person, and assuming that they think that you’re a burden makes you feel more insecure, and what it looks like to try to work as a team on somebody’s mental health. It’s hard for everybody involved. It’s a good fight, but also it’s a hard fight.”

The duo doesn’t shy away from the hard fight on “Stay,” the gothic, instrumental score following the lead character as they battle their inner demons with whiskey and medicine, trying to keep a meaningful relationship afloat as Chapman pleads in the song’s opening lines, “You’re trying to be patient/You’re trying to be kind/But I know that you’re still running from the demons in my mind/But I promise this thing in my head/It ain’t got the best of me yet.”

“It’s a relationship that’s on the brink of falling apart,” Chapman explains. “We’ve all been there, and looking at it and saying, ‘There’s only so much that I can do for you as a person in this moment; there’s only so much that I can give. What does that mean for us moving forward?’ It’s a song about being up against a wall and really having to lay all your cards out on the table.” 

This notion comes to a head in the bridge as Chapman and Clark echo, “Don’t give up on me/I won’t give up on you,” their harmonies calling out to one another across an abyss of vulnerability. What makes the song particularly unique is the way that mental health becomes a character all its own, serving as a present player in the story. The lead character seemingly drowns in their own reality, yet possesses the strength and resiliency to overcome those inner demons.

“I feel like I’ve had people give up on me in relationships before and that’s been a sentiment that’s felt very close to a surface. It’s like ‘I need you to not give up on me in this moment,’ something about the simplicity of it, yet it’s this back and forth communication,” Chapman reflects. “I feel like personifying mental illness and giving it a more active character to play in the plot is something that I have always enjoyed doing and it’s something that you’ll see throughout our discographies. I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple of years about breaking down the stigma around mental illness and being more open about it and understanding. But to put a character and put some type of form and actions and motives, an antagonist in the story, it’s a little bit more physical than just something inside my head.”  

The song ends on an intentionally hopeful note; Chapman offers the final line: “So darling, won’t you hold me close the way you used to do?” allowing the listener to determine if the darkness ends in light. “I didn’t want it to be hopeless,” Chapman professes. “[It’s] this olive branch offering in a way, of holding out a hand and working to potentially rebuild from where you’re at.”

“It’s nice to leave it open-ended. Let the audience decide how it ends,” Clark adds.

With “Stay,” the duo hopes the song offers a message of hope for those who need it, and that listeners will connect to its message of compassion and understanding. “To me, it feels freeing to put your own story into a song, almost like it’s therapy and you’re recovering from it. It’s in a song now, that’s not my burden anymore,” Clark observes. “People struggling with mental illness [may] hear this and hear, ‘You’re not alone, you’re not the only person struggling with this,’ and hopefully be encouraged to try to improve the situation.”

“Between music and telling stories, those are such powerful human connectors. That’s always what we’re striving to do is connect with other people in some way and make them feel something. I know the moments that I’ve felt the most moved [is] when somebody will come up to us after a show and be like, ‘This song, I love it because it hit me this way. It saw me where I was and I felt that.’ To have created that connection and shared that emotion, it’s so humbling,” Chapman says gratefully. “The fact that we get to participate in that is really incredible.” 

Follow Haunted Like Human on Instagram for ongoing updates.