Tag: Townes Van Zandt

New Video: Acclaimed Swedish Folk Duo First Aid Kit Tackle a Beloved Willie Nelson Classic

Acclaimed Stockholm-based sibling folk duo First Aid Kit — Klara and Johanna Söderberg   can trace the origins of their career to growing up in a rather creative household — their father was a member of the Swedish pop rock act Lolita Pop and their mother taught cinematography. As children the Söderberg Sisters loved performing, often giving concerts using a jump rope as a pretend microphone. Klara wrote her fist song when she was six. 

When Klara was 12, a friend introduced there to Bright Eyes and it led her to Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, The Carter Family, The Louvin Brothers, Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. That same year, she received a guitar as a Christmas present and quickly learned to play it.

Johanna Söderberg grew up listening to a wide range of music including Britney Spears and German techno; however, watching O Brother, Where Art Thou and listening to the film’s soundtrack changed her life: both the film and the soundtrack inspired her to sing “Down in the River to Pray” with her sister. Fascinated and impressed by how they sounded together, they started to get more serious, eventually busking in the Stockholm metro and in front of liquor stores. 

As the story goes, Klara came up with the band name when she was 13. She was looking through a dictionary and found the term “first aid kit,” and thought it best descried what she wanted her music to be. As they were getting more serious about being a band, the Söderberg Sisters began writing their own original material inspired by Devendra Banhart, CocoRosie and others. 

In 2008, they began to receive attention across the blogosphere for their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.” And since 2008, the Söderberg Sisters have managed to receive international acclaim — they’ve been nominated for two Brit Awards for Best International Group while releasing four critically applauded albums, four EPs which include 2018’s Ruins and Tender Offerings EP, as well as a number of singles and covers. 

Recorded close to a decade ago and unreleased until recently, the acclaimed Swedish duo recorded a straightforward yet gorgeous cover of Willie Nelson’s beloved 
“On The Road Again.” And while marking the first bit of material from the duo since the release of the aforementioned Ruins and Tender Offerings, their latest single adds to a growing list of covers. But more important, proceeds from the single will be donated to Crew Nation, a charitable fund created by Live Nation to help those working backstage, who have lost work this year as a result of pandemic-related lockdowns and quarantines. Of course, interestingly enough, because of the lockdowns and quarantines, Nelson’s classic feels more relevant and hits much deeper and differently than ever before. I’m longing for live shows, travel and adventures; of the new friends I’d meet; of the new food I’d have; the new things I’d see and know.

As we speak, I think of being with some newfound friends in Montreal and how we passed along a bottle of beer while we were walking from dinner to a showcase; of an older woman crowd surfing during Corridor’s set at Le National; of chatting with a group of incredibly Midwestern women in between sets at The Wood Brothers and Nicki Bluhm at The Vic Theatre; of randomly running into a new festival friend in an airport bar and cheering to our safe travels home; and of so many more things I can’t do and miss so much. The video adds to that dull and constant ache I feel lately — but while capturing the Söderberg Sisters (who are absolutely adorable, by the way), their backing band and crew goofing off on the road, playing in front of enraptured fans and more. 

“We’re excited to release our version of ‘On The Road Again’ by Willie Nelson. We recorded this cover a couple of years ago and recently found it while digging through the archives,” the Söderberg Sisters explain in a statement. “The song is a country classic, it feels like we’ve known it forever. Because of the situation with COVID, sadly, the theme of the song has never felt more relevant than it does today. 

We made a video for the song using cellphone footage from our tours throughout the years. Going through all those videos made us emotional. It made us realize how much we appreciate being able to roam freely around the world. How much we love the feeling of playing live for people, in the flesh. How much we miss our incredible band and crew. 

All the proceeds from the streaming of the song will go to Crew Nation. So much of the magic happens behind the stage. It’s easily taken for granted, but without our touring and venue crew live music wouldn’t be possible. It’s important that we help them out right now. 

Oh, how we wish we could get back on the road again! Hopefully we’ll see you down the road sometime soon.”

Last year, I wrote about the critically acclaimed Northern Idaho-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Jeff Crosby. Crosby’s work draws from and meshes folk, rock, American and country in a  way that feels and sounds warmly familiar and radio friendly. Dropping out of school when he was 17 to pursue a music career with a touring West Coast band, the Idaho-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist has spent a significant portion of his life on the road, playing night after night, show after show, from load-in until the last drink is poured and the house lights are finally turned on.

Crosby’s material is deeply inspired by the beauty found in his travels and the unconventional stories of the people and places he has encountered along the way, giving his work the feel of being like a page ripped out of intimate and personal diary, detailing the love won and love lost and experiences of someone who has relentlessly kept on the move. Throughout his career as a solo artist, his work has been compared favorably to singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle while building up a profile by sharing stages with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Charley Crockett, Widespread Panic, American Aquarium, Niki Lane and a list of others.

For about five years, Crosby lived in a small apartment off Los Angeles‘ Sunset Boulevard. Giving up coffee so that he could pay rent, Crosby played with The Homeless and the Dreamers — and while struggling get to get by, he found a way to thrive and make poignant music. Through a chance encounter, he met and befriended a music editor for the critically applauded TV series Sons of Anarchy and wound up with two of his songs being featured the show. During that same period, Crosby split his time touring with his band and later with Widespread Panic’s Jerry Joseph, which found Crosby traveling abroad to tour the UK, Iceland, Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua. His experiences in each of those countries helped influence the material off his Gregg Williams and Geoff Piller co-produced album Postcards from Magdalena, an effort that received praise internationally.

Crosby’s forthcoming Geoff Piller-produced full-length album Northstar is slated for release this year. So far, I’ve written about the album single “Laramie,” a deliberately crafted song that that recalls 70s AM rock and Full Moon Fever-era Tom Petty — but with a wistful and nostalgic air. Northstar‘s latest single “If I’m Lucky” is an upbeat and country-tinged rocker centered around an enormous hook and earnest lyrics, written from lived-in, personal experience. In this case, the song is deceptively ambivalent: the song’s narrator expresses the hope to be lucky enough to hold onto love, the motivation to keep on going when things get tough — but there’s also the acknowledgement of time passing by quickly and getting older and of the mistakes and poor choices piling up.

“’If I’m Lucky’ is about getting older and avoiding the inevitable end of relationships I’d neglected while spending the last year on the road,” Crosby told Parade. “I finished the verses watching a couple fight in a Motel 6 parking lot in Sacramento, California. I felt kinda lonely and envious that they at least had someone to fight with!”

Jeff Crosby is a critically acclaimed Northern Idaho-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter, whose work generally bounces around the boundaries of folk, rock and Americana. Dropping out of school when he was 17 to purse a music career with a touring West Coast-based band, Crosby has spent a significant period of his life on the road — playing night after night, show after show, from load-in until the last drink is poured and the house lights are turned on.

Crosby’s material draws from the rare beauty found in his travels and the unconventional stories of the people and places he has encountered along the way, giving his work the feel of being like a page ripped out of an intimately personal diary of someone who has loved, lost and has relentlessly kept on the move. While his work has been compared by some to the work of legendary and beloved singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle — and as a result, the Northern Idaho-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter has shared stages with a diverse array of artists including Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Charley Crockett, Widespread Panic, American Aquarium, Niki Lane and a list of others.

For a five year period, Crosby resided in a small apartment off Los Angeles‘ Sunset Boulevard. Giving up coffee so that he could pay rent, Crosby played with The Homeless and the Dreamers — and while struggling get to get by, he found a way to thrive and make poignant music. Through a chance encounter, he met and befriended a music editor for the critically applauded TV series Sons of Anarchy and wound up with two of his songs being featured the show. During that same period, Crosby split his time touring with his band and later with Widespread Panic’s Jerry Joseph, which found Crosby traveling abroad to tour the UK, Iceland, Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua. His experiences in each of those countries helped influence the material off his Gregg Williams and Geoff Piller co-produced album Postcards from Magdalena, an effort that received praise internationally

Crosby’s latest single , the Geoff Piller-produced”Laramie” is a carefully and deliberately crafted tune that sounds as though it draws from 70s AM rock, 80s Tom Petty and Americana as it’s centered around an arrangement of shimmering acoustic and electric guitars, a soaring hook and incredibly thoughtful, earnest songwriting that seemingly comes from lived-in personal experience. In the case of “Laramie,” the song’s narrator reminisces about an old and very fond memory of a relationship that quickly went wrong. Haunted by the ghosts of that relationship, the song finds its narrator questioning his role in what went wrong  — and wondering if there was anything he could have done to prevent it. Certainly, if you’ve had a particularly bitter and heart-wrenching breakup at some point in your life, the song captures something both personal and universal.

Crosby is currently working on a full-length, which is slated for release in 2020. Be on the lookout for more.

 

 

 

Interview: A Q&A with Nicki Bluhm

Over the past few months, I’ve written a bit about  Lafayette, CA-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Nicki Bluhm, and although she began her career as a solo artist releasing two albums, 2008’s Toby’s Song and 2011’s Driftwood (which was re-released a year later), Bluhm may be best known for a six year stint as the frontwoman of Nicki Blum and The Gramblers, an act that included her ex-husband Tim Bluhm, with whom she also released a duet album, aptly titled Duets in 2011. Interestingly, Bluhm’s Matt Ross-Spang-produced full-length effort To Rise You Gotta Fall was released earlier this year, and the album, which is her first solo album in over six years was primarily written in and influenced by one of the most difficult and life-altering experiences of her life — a period in which she got divorced and her band went on hiatus. She then followed that with a seemingly spur of the moment move to Nashville.

Bluhm, who has frequented Music City for a number of songwriting sessions was deeply inspired by her time in the city, and how could she or any songwriter not be? After all Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Reba McEntire, Townes Van Zandt and dizzying list of songwriters have all claimed Nashville as a homebase at some point or another. “When I could come to Nashville on writing trips, it was just percolating . . . it was intoxicating,” Bluhm says in press notes. Around the same time, Bluhm met renowned producer, engineer and mixer Matt Ross-Spang, who was in town working on another album, and as the story goes, Ross-Spang and Bluhm quickly hit it off. “I really needed someone who was going to take the reins and have a vision for the album and he really did,” Bluhm says of meeting Ross-Spang. “My ex-husband had been my musical director, co-writer, and producer on all my records except one and I was looking for someone to step into that leadership roll, which Matt did very gracefully. I was looking for a clean slate; the only baggage I wanted to bring into the studio were the words to the songs I was singing. I wanted it to be a fresh experience; I didn’t want to even have history with anyone in the room that would pull me into old habits or ways of thinking.  So we agreed we’d record in Memphis.”

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Photo Credit: Noah Abrams
1522343021NB1_NoahAbrams.jpg
Photo Credit: Noah Abrams

1522268571nikki.jpgRecorded at Sam Phillips Recording, the Rise You Gotta Fall sessions were primarily centered around the live tracking of a backing band of accomplished musicians that included Will Sexton (guitar), Ross-Spang (guitar), Ken Coomer (drums, percussion), Al Gamble (Hammond B3), Rick Steff (piano), Dave Smith (bass), Reba Russell (backing vocals), Susan Marshall (backing vocals), Sam Shoup (string arrangements) and a number of special guests. “We really just recorded live and we didn’t do that many takes of each song,” Bluhm says of the sessions. “The final versions we ended up with were all one take. It was really refreshing to go analog. It minimized over thinking and second-guessing; forced us all to stay in the moment and play from the heart. . . Throughout the session there was a lot of listening and trusting. Matt really spends time curating his sessions and who he decides to bring in; he knows how to keep the vibe right. What you are hearing is, as Jerry Phillips would say, ‘not perfection but captured moments in time.’” Bluhm adds, “These songs are quite personal. They are the conversations I never got to have, the words I never had the chance to say, and the catharsis I wouldn’t have survived without.”

 

“I had lost my partner in so many ways,” Bluhm recalls in press notes, “my musical partner, my life partner, my creative partner, and all of a sudden I was left on my own, to start my own engine. It was really intimidating and scary,” she says “but I had support from my management, my agent, my friends and family, and ultimately I just had this guttural drive that I didn’t even know I had in me. I was on auto-pilot, ready to move forward and take the steps I had to take to keep moving forward.” Unsurprisingly, album title track, “To Rise You Gotta Fall” is an effortlessly self-assured track that’s indebted to Memphis and Muscle Shoals-era soul, and as a result the single reminded me quite a bit of Nicole Atkins‘ Goodnight Rhonda Lee and Natalie Prass, thanks to a “you-are-there-in-that moment” immediacy and a fully-fleshed out narrator, who has the resiliency and determination that comes from living a complex, messy life, full of struggles, heartbreak, setbacks, small victories and crushing losses. And as the song points out, life will find a way to kick your ass in ways both large and small — and yet, you’ll always wind up in the exact place you needed to be at that particular moment.  

To Rise You Gotta Fall‘s second single is the aching ballad “Battlechain Rose,” which was co-written by renowned singer/songwriter Ryan Adams and as Bluhm told American Songwriter, the song was inspired by a restless night in which her mind wouldn’t stop turning with thoughts of the past, of what she could have and should have done differently, of her inability to move forward and of her despair of knowing that relationship has become a phantom limb of regret and heartache. Coming from such a personal place, the album’s material thematically and lyrically focuses on the aftermath of the messy dissolution of a longtime relationship — there’s hurt, accusations, betrayal, anger, hatred and foolishness and yet, the album’s narrator won’t let an embittering situation change her, her outlook or anything about who she essentially is. It’s the strength and wisdom I’ve seen primarily in women, who after a breakup with someone can say “Yes, it hurts. I will cry until my heart burst — and then I’ll cry a bit more. But I’ll be okay.  I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse; but goddamn it, I won’t be fooled like that again.”

I recently spoke to Nicki Bluhm via email for this Q&A, and in typical fashion we chatted about a number of subjects — from how she got into music, her influences, how her creative process has changed with her latest album, how the writing of the album has been necessary for her mental health, writing with Ryan Adams, her tour earlier this year with The Wood Brothers and much more. But before we get to that, I will remind you that Bluhm has been touring with a backing band to support To Rise You Gotta Fall and the tour includes a July 25, 2018 stop at the Bowery Ballroom. Check out the remaining tour dates below — and then one of the most fun and honest interviews I’ve done in some time after the jump.

Tour Dates 

July 13 – Atlanta, GA @ Atlanta Botanical Gardens
July 14 – Charlotte, NC @ Knight Theater
July 19 – Scranton, PA @ Peach Music Festival
July 20 – Alexandria, VA @ Hamilton
July 22 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
July 25 – Floyd, VA @ FloydFest
July 25 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
July 26 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry
July 29 – Nashville, TN @ 3rd & Lindsley

 

 

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WRH: How did you get into music — and when did you know it was your calling?

Nicki Bluhm: I started singing in the shower at a very early age…for my goldfish Ginger who lived in the bathroom. She had the pleasure of hearing me perfect ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ over many years of steamy rehearsals. Beyond that it was a very organic pathway. In my twenties I was encouraged to sing by a man I admired and respected musically and that encouragement brought me to where I am today; writing, singing and performing my songs. The sheer joy and catharsis that singing brings me is enough to know that it’s what I’m meant to be doing right now.

WRH: Who are your influences?

NB: There are so many. As a young girl growing up on 80’s radio, Whitney Houston‘s voice made a big impression and mesmerized me like no other. I studied every note she sang. As I got older I was turned on to other musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt and Sandy Denny (to name a few.) I have so much admiration for these women and the mark they have left and continue to leave on me.

WRH: Who are you listening to now?

NB: I have a habit of listening to the same records over and over and over. I started collecting vinyl in my late teens and 20’s and bought a lot of cheap records which turned out to be mostly records recorded pre 1970. I could listen to JJ Cale non-stop for the rest of my life and be satisfied. That said, I am trying to listen to more contemporary music. Some of my favorite artists right now are Mapache, Khruangbin, and Hiss Golden Messenger.

WRH: You spent a lengthy stint with your ex-husband in The Gramblers and To Rise You Gotta Fall is your first solo album in about 7 years or so. Hopefully, it’s the first of many, many, many more. How has your creative process changed since then?

NB: For the first time I went outside my comfort zone in all ways imaginable. I co-wrote with strangers in Nashville, recorded with a new producer (Matt Ross-Spang) and musicians I had never met in Memphis and basically forced myself to let go of anything familiar so I could invite new energy into what I was doing.

WRH: I’ve listened to this album quite a bit — maybe 15-16 times since its release, and what I find remarkable is that there’s an unmistakable simpatico between you, the session players and the backing vocalists. I know you had met producer and guitarist Matt Ross-Spang before the sessions but curiously, did you know any of the session players before that?

NB: First of all, THANK YOU! It’s funny, I felt that same “simpatico” right off the bat with the musicians and strangely enough I had never met them. Sometimes the stars align and fate brings you exactly what you need. That’s how I felt about this recording session and everyone involved. There is no denying it was meant to be.

 WRH: Part of the album is influenced by your relocation to Nashville. How has Nashville treated you?

NB: What I love about Nashville is that you don’t have to explain what it is you do to anybody. Everyone just gets it. That has been a nice shift for me. The only downside is that because everyone is in the industry it’s tough to develop friendships because we’re all gone on tour all the time!

WRH: Nashville has had a long and rich history of some incredible songwriters who have lived there at some point. I can’t imagine any songwriter not being in awe of the fact that Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings walked down some of the streets they did or drank in some of their favorite bars. The city is also the home of JOVM mainstay Nicole Atkins, Ron Gallo and a long list of contemporary artists — but I was curious: are there any Nashville-based artists that the rest of the country should know but hasn’t yet?

NB: Funny you mention Nicole…we are actually texting right now…haha. There are SO many incredibly talented artists in Nashville. In my short time here I have barely scratched the surface. I was lucky enough to co-write with an incredible songwriter Simon Gugala. Writing with him has been a highlight for me here so far. I also love going to Santa’s Pub for the Sunday night country set that is put on by Carter Brallier. He had a gal by the name of Emily Nenni who just put out a record called Hell of a Woman. I haven’t listened to the record yet but her live performance was impressive and I dug her voice and vibe.

WRH: The album is deeply influenced by one of the most difficult periods of your life — with the songs detailing the sense of loss, hatred, betrayal, regret and heartache that often come about after the bitter end of a long term and significant romantic relationship, and the resolve to move on as best as you could. To me, there’s a bit of a hopeful undertone — that the song’s narrators will do more than just survive, that she’d be the type to thrive no matter what. While the album is centered within personal, it’s a universal experience. Curiously, was there any point when you were writing the album, that you may have been like “wait, maybe this is TMI?” or said “I can’t wait until that SOB hears this!”?

NB: Honestly, writing these songs saved me. I can’t tell you how important it was for me to get these ruminating thoughts out of my head. It was something I needed to do for my mental health. People have different ways of coping with trauma; what helps me is writing. I had no intention of being spiteful in the process but I had to speak my truth and remain authentic to myself and my experience. Music has helped me get through so many difficult periods of my life, it’s made me feel less alone in my struggles. This record and these songs are my contribution to that sentiment. If hearing what I went through brings someone comfort, I have accomplished what I set out to do.

WRH: The album features two co-writes with Ryan Adams, if I remember it correctly. How did that come about? How was like to work with him?

NB: We became friends through mutual admiration and began working together on some stuff. There is no rhyme or reason to the way Ryan operates. Our time together was spontaneous and could never be repeated but I am forever grateful for the songs that came out of our time together. He has a way of pulling words from the ether like no one I’ve ever known before.

WRH: “Battlechain Rose,” is one of those Ryan Adams co-writes. How did the concept for the video come about?

NB: My dear friend and neighbor Scot Sax is also an incredible singer/songwriter, video producer, and everything else creative (if there is such a thing as artistic ADD he has it) and when I played him the song his wheels started turning. When Scot has a vision he executes it and that’s what he did for the music video. We were exploring the dimensions between reality and dream realms; past and future; knowing and the unknown. The contrast of color and black and white was a way to address this dynamic. The younger heart being guided and nurtured by her predecessor.  here is a lot of symbolism that is left to be interpreted by the viewer.

WRH: I saw you open for The Wood Brothers at The Vic Theatre in Chicago back in April. That was a fantastic show, too. You played a solo set in which you accompanied yourself on guitar with stripped down versions of much of the album’s material before touring with a live, backing band throughout the summer. Was it particularly difficult to re-arrange songs in such a stripped down fashion from their recorded fashion? And after playing with a backing band for many years, was it nerve wracking to be out on a stage on your own?

 NB: Yes! I could sing in front of thousands of people and not bat an eye but put a guitar in my hands and I become a deer in headlights. It was something I needed to get over; something I needed to prove to myself I could do alone. It was important for me to face that fear and get past it. I’m a pretty big proponent of doing things that scare you; I’ve been scaring myself a lot these past few years. But once you’re on the other side of fear and you see that something wasn’t so scary after all, you’re motivated to keep striving and putting yourself out there. Growing is hard and painful…not much different than the physical growing pains you had as a kid. Growing pains as an adult are more emotional but none the less real!

WRH: “Things I’ve Done” is a one of my favorite songs on the album. To my ears, it sounds as though it were influenced by Bonnie Raitt in some way — I think of “Something to Talk About,” in particular. Did her work influence anything on the album?

 NB: That was a song I co-wrote with Scot Sax (mentioned earlier) and Steve Poltz (both my neighbors in Nashville.) Bonnie Raitt is certainly a huge influence on me but interestingly enough was not on my mind during the creation process of this song. Perhaps she was subconsciously…the subconscious is powerful. What I love about her is the ease and naturalness she brings to whatever she does. It’s possible that Scot was channeling her but you’d have to ask him about that.

WRH: How was it like to tour and play with The Wood Brothers?

NB: Aside from being incredible musicians, The Wood Brothers are some of the kindest musicians I have met in the business. They took such great care of me when I was out with them and every night they invited me out on stage to sing with them which was a true honor. They are such humble and relatable humans, I feel so grateful to call them friends.

WRH: What’s next for you?

NB: Touring my ass off! It’s time to take these songs on the road and share them with the world. We’re doing extensive touring this summer in the US and will be going overseas this fall. All the while writing new songs as I continue to feel all the feels life has to offer me at this stage in my life. I’m curious to see what songs come out of me next!

 

 

 

 

Sawyer Gebauer is a Wisconsin-born, Oakland, CA-based singer/songwriter, who has spent a great deal of his musical career moving back and forth between the States and Europe. When he was 19, Gebauer relocated to Sweden, where he founded and formed Brittsommar, a musical project that featured a rotating cast of musicians and received quite a bit of attention across Continental Europe with the release of their 2011 debut effort Day Of Living Velvet. After the release of Brittsommar’s debut, Gebauer relocated to Berlin where he recored 2013’s The Machine Stops in a dilapidated warehouse. Eventually, Gebauer returned to the States, recording the final Brittsommar effort 2015’s Mary Me EP at TRI Studios in San Rafael, CA 

After Brittsommar ended, Gebauer started his latest musical project Catch Prichard, which draws deeply from Americana; in fact, Gebauer has publicly cited Townes Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen‘s 1995 release The Ghost of Tom Joad as major influences on his latest project, and that he wanted to write and record a collection of stripped down songs based around narrative and melody — and the end result is the soon-to-be released Eskota EP, a five song EP named after the Texas ghost town in which it was recorded. 

The first single from the EP “Hometown” is an elegantly simple track featuring Gebauer’s gorgeous and moody baritone, accompanied by his dexterous guitar strumming, and gently padded drumming — and the result is a sparse, spectral song that’s indebted to folk as much as it country, while possessing a narrator’s attention to physical and psychological detail.