Nashville artist Cristina Vane has had a revelatory few years. Born in Italy to a Sicilian-American father and Guatemalan mother, she spent her youth in Italy, France and England, before moving to the US for college at 18. After school, she moved to Venice Beach and it was there that she discovered her love for delta blues and turn-of-the-century music. Vane stood out amongst her contemporaries with her love for pre-war American blues and artists such as Skip James, Robert Johnson and Blind Willie Johnson. After 4 years in LA, she felt stagnant and, with the help of her Instagram followers, set out on a 5 month tour across the US in the summer of 2018. The cross-country tour allowed Vane to connect with and reclaim her American heritage, as well as experiencing country, old-time and bluegrass music on a local level. “My favorite part about traveling across the country was reclaiming my American heritage, which was very difficult to figure out.” she explains. “Anywhere I went I had my anthropological hat on, watching how people talk and interact. There were new places that sometimes felt totally familiar and sometimes completely foreign. Each pocket of the country has its unique flavor, and discovering the musical stylings that go along with that really informed this record. I knew virtually nothing about country, old-time, and bluegrass music until I ventured to the American South, but seeing those different musical traditions on a local level was inspiring.” Upon her return from tour, she moved to Nashville with the hopes of surrounding herself with like-minded musicians. On April 2nd, Vane will release her debut full-length album Nowhere Sounds Lovely, the songs of which are a catalog of her experiences on her cross-country tour. She worked with Grammy-award winning drummer and producer Cactus Moser (Wynona Judd) on the album, with him playing on the record, as well. The album was engineered by Rodney Dawson, and also features bass player Dow Tomlin, fiddle player Nate Leath, and pedal steel player Tommy Hannum. She has released two singles from the album in recent months, “Badlands” and “Prayer For The Blind”, as well as accompanying music videos. Vane will be teaching a virtual delta and country blues guitar class through The Nashville School of Traditional Country Music on Tuesdays from 7-8 PM CST via Zoom through March 30th. You can find more information HERE. You can connect with Cristina Vane via the following links. Photo credit: Aleks Zagozda.
You were born in Italy and grew up in Europe and have said that your childhood and adolescence were filled with music but that you never really wanted to be a musician. What can you tell me about writing your first song in high school and realizing that you could combine your love for poetry and music together and how that changed your outlook on pursuing music as a career?
Yeah. I wouldn’t even say that’s what changed my outlook on doing music. To be honest with you, it was basically the first time that I wrote a song and was like “This is nifty”. I can’t stress enough how innocent everything was. I was just like “I’m in school studying to do real things, but I can do these fun and creative things on the side.” It’s not that my parents were ever discouraging of music, but it just didn’t seem like a serious career. I just think that in my younger head, I was thinking about international relations, being a translator, being a writer for a magazine and that maybe with those I could still be creative. But it seemed like being a musician just seemed like such a vague fantasy. I think I was just writing to express myself. I was a teenager and had lots of strong emotions and genuinely loved poetry and genuinely loved music and always played and sung music. I think I really had a moment in college where I started to realize “Oh. Nobody knows what they’re doing. I could maybe be a musician. Who’s going to tell me otherwise?”. It took a long time. It wasn’t until I was almost kind of like “Should I drop out of college and really pursue this aggressively? What am I going to learn about being a musician in the classroom?”. But obviously, my family was like “Hell no you’re not going to do that.” I also realized that just wasn’t bright in case…you know, if you want to do music, it’s such a volatile thing that I just wanted to have a back up. I’m glad that I have my degree, and it did teach me a few things, like a work ethic and whatever. It was sometime in college that I really decided I wanted to be a musician and that’s what spurred me to play my first shows one summer in London. That’s the same summer I saw someone playing slide guitar and was like “Oh my gosh! This is so cool. I wanna play like that.” Then I learned slide and started writing stuff that I really felt connected to, more so than the other stuff, and then kind of just went from there. Especially when I graduated…I went to an Ivy League school, so everyone in my class was going to Wall Street to bank and getting pretty serious jobs, not that music isn’t serious. But I didn’t have even a job in music. I just was like “Well, I’m going to go to LA and find a job and see what happens,” and I did just that. I worked, over the course of me living there, six different jobs. 4 jobs at a time usually, doing things like production or working as an usher at The Wiltern or at a donut place or at a vintage place.
You moved to Venice Beach after school and discovered the sounds of the delta blues and turn-of-the-century music. What can you tell me about that experience for you and being introduced to that kind of music, which has had a big impact on you?
I wish I had a clearer memory of which bridge actually led me. There are two that I remember really clearly leading me to turn-of-the-century music and delta blues specifically. I remember putting on Led Zeppelin, who are obviously infamous for ripping off old blues singers and not crediting them. I had no idea and didn’t know what delta blues really was. I had tried to listen to Robert Johnson, so I guess that’s a stretch, but genuinely didn’t connect with him. I didn’t think he was the bees knees, the first time I heard Robert Johnson. I thought the recordings were really hard to listen to, and to be honest, I thought he was a little bit repetitive and boring and I honestly would still…I wouldn’t say it with those words but I would still say that out of all of the delta blues people that I enjoy, he’s not at the top. I would have to say it was a Led Zeppelin song, which comes from Blind Willie Johnson’s recording of “In My Time Of Dying”. That’s a traditional song, and there are verses from that song that are found in literature even before he recorded it, but he’s the first recording of that song, in 1927 I believe. When I looked that up, that was just music I had never heard and I was like “Oh my god! I knew those skinny white guys didn’t come up with a song like this on their own!”. I just knew it, because that’s the only reason I even looked it up. I was like “It doesn’t really sound like they wrote this. This isn’t a British song. I just know it’s not.” You can tell which Led Zeppelin songs are theirs. And then somehow Rory Block, a female guitarist from New Jersey who kind of came up in the East Village in NY who is an unbelievable guitar player, did a tribute record at some point in her life to Skip James, who’s another one of my absolute favorites. I somehow stumbled upon her tribute record and I looked up the original because there was one song in particular that I couldn’t stop listening to. And sure enough, it was also in ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’, which I hadn’t realized. So basically, those were the bridges to old music and I had actually been playing and experimenting with slide styles for at least 6 months before I got hip to delta blues at all. And then after that, it was at the suggestion of my brother, that I started playing a resonator guitar. I didn’t even know what that was, so I looked into it and thought they were cool. They are louder and different and I like the way they sound. I bought a resonator and that kind of led to different things, because there a lot of things that are associated with that style. Looking back now, once I took up slide guitar and realized what that tradition was coming from and started getting into the delta blues and everything, I was like “I can’t be bad at this. You can’t play blues guitar and be bad at it.” Part of this whole genre is how you play. It doesn’t mean you have to be a really fast or technical player, but it just means that you master that instrument. All of the players I respect might sometimes only be playing with two fingers, but they know exactly what they’re doing and know how to get that sound out of their instrument. Most of them don’t need these huge bands behind them because the raw emotion is communicated. That was in my head when I was listening to all of this music. I was like “I have to level up. I can’t play this seriously.” I didn’t have to and could have just continued writing stuff that was within my reach, but that’s when I decided I wanted to become an actual guitarist, like more concretely than in the past.
In the summer of 2018, you have talked about how your were feeling stagnant as an artist in LA and embarked on a 5 month tour across the US with the help of your Instagram followers. Before venturing into the American South, you said you didn’t really know anything about Country, Old-Time and Bluegrass music. How do you feel that seeing those different musical traditions on a local level inspired you?
Yeah. It did in a really huge way and kind of changed my life. I understand that the conditions that give rise to blues…and this is super generally speaking because there are different kinds of blues and different kinds of people, but the main chunk came from slavery. And that is so foreign, not only temporaly, but I’m not even from this continent, so there was obviously no way that I felt that I could get closer to that in way that made any sense. With old-time music, it’s so very much alive and kicking, especially in the South and in traditions that were so different from how people value music in cities. In the metropolis, you go see music or you’re putting your music out there or you’re busking or in some way exhibiting it. I feel like in a lot of the cultures in the South, like in Appalachia and Mississippi, where I did go and check it out, it’s a part of the family structure and communal structure. That music is largely orally passed down and it’s not weird to play 4 instruments and you don’t have to be perfect at all. It’s just so different in the way that, on average, the people down here approach music. I think it’s given rise to these really popular genres that tons of people love and I was just really inspired by that. I was like “I can just play the fiddle or pick up another instrument and it’s not weird that I’m not already perfect at it.” I grew up in a very European environment where you get lessons, and you play one instrument and you play it well. That was a big thing. The reason I kind of went on that trip and then subsequently moved to Nashville, and that’s why I say it changed my life, is that I just had a sneaking suspicion when I lived on the West coast that I was getting a lot of this knowledge about these genres second hand. It was coming from these people who had gotten as close as they could, maybe, to the sources but more often than not they were people who had also learned from a book. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I have some really amazing teachers, but coming here and being like “Oh. Your uncle has played the banjo his whole life? Yeah, maybe he can teach me a thing or two.” And it’s not some fancy book that says “This is how you play this classic fiddle” but rather “Yeah, this is how my family plays this tune.” The last thing is that basically I just started thinking of folk music as localized instead of genres. Especially in the era of that I’m interested in, pre-war, folk music, especially was actually communal music. It wasn’t about one rock star writing a hit song and then selling it and making tons of money. It was taking verse from a song that everybody’s known and has grown up hearing and you are playing it in your particular Texas blues style, because that’s where you are from. And then you might hear the same song or verse played in an Old-Time arrangement in Kentucky, because that’s where they’re from, but the music still traveled. That was helpful for me, to start realizing these songs I had learned kind of in a vacuum of context had context and the context goes way deep. There are all of these versions and all of these places. If you ask one group of people what they think of when they hear that song, they might have a totally different answer.
You have said that your favorite part of traveling across the country was reclaiming your American heritage. What did you discover about yourself and that part of your heritage in the process, and did you feel any especially deep connections with any particular parts or landscapes of the country?
Gosh, that’s tough. I felt deep connections with parts ofd the country that aren’t in my immediate family heritage. My dad is Italian-American, so that’s the American side of my family. I never grew up here, but he definitely did. He was born and raised in Connecticut and then moved away with my mom. He took a job at an Italian bank and never looked back, so that’s why we were raised in Europe. My mom is Guatemalan, so she’s not American, but we kind of grew up, especially in the lense of Europe, which I’ll be totally honest, they are not super stoked on Americans, so especially back then before globalism was quite so expansive, I feel like people made fun of Americans and you didn’t want to be one. In Paris in 1998, you didn’t want to be the American girl. You were considered gauche and not fashionable and you’re ignorant and all of these stereotypes. So, I guess I grew up kind of rejecting that side of me, even though I speak the way I do and I went to a lot of American schools. I went to British schools too, but I didn’t see a big reason to claim that side of my family, but ten years later I’m still here. It’s because this country has offered my so many things. Not only my education, which to be honest I could have gotten for a lot cheaper somewhere else, but it was still an amazing liberal arts program. I didn’t go to the UK because they don’t have liberal arts. You have to choose what you want to do and I couldn’t do that. That was the first time I thought about it. With this trip, I just started thinking about how everyone talks about the nature in the United States and that’s one thing we didn’t grow up with in my family. We definitely never made a point to come and see the parks or anything. We maybe saw the Grand Canyon once when we visited my aunt who lived in Arizona at the time, but going on the trip was actually really revelatory and I understood the expanse and sheer size of the country and how different it is. I had just never seen landscapes like that, so I think that even though I didn’t feel connected to it in my own immediate history, like when I was out in Montana I didn’t feel like “This is where my family is from”, I definitely felt a deep sense of pride for this country and how beautiful it is. And obviously, there’s a lot mixed into that. There’s what’s going on with the Native Americans of these areas and how are the people I’m staying with largely interacting with them. I had to learn about even the most basic history of Native American culture. I still don’t know anything. It’s, like, embarrassing. But there were just so many things that opened my eyes. I thought national parks were, like, the wild and if you didn’t show up with water, you would die. And they are the most curated and the most safe and there’s, like, a store in your campsite (laughs). I guess I’m saying all of that because it really closely links to the nature for me and I’ve rediscovered my heritage. As far as music, my dad is not in the country or blues or bluegrass traditions. He was just an 80s kid in Connecticut who loved good music and loved Elton John and loved rock and punk when it was big and whatever. I’m not like “Oh, I’ve reconnected with the folk musicians in my family.” My family doesn’t have those. I’ve definitely reconnected with the physical land and understanding even just the jokes and stereotypes about midwesterners or why they talk about Italian-Americans and why they do things like that and getting a deeper understanding of the South was really important. It was a big question mark in my book and that’s where most of the music I enjoy comes from. I just felt pride. Yes, there are things that I miss about Europe all the time and of course every country has different strengths and drawbacks, but the States get really bad rep and is unparalleled in some ways, with the beauty and the history. Even colonial history. I never knew there are whole towns in the midwest that are, like, Danish essentially, because they were 90% Danish settlers in this one random area, so they have windmills. You’ll just be driving through, like, Kansas or something and there’s a windmill town. That’s what traveling gave me, just a bigger scope to understand what it even means to be American and who these people are.
Having discovered all of this different music, whether old-Time music or the delta blues, that has impacted you, how do you see yourself re-interpreting those sounds into your own sound? How do you feel you have made it your own?
I think it is important to talk about that, because I guess there are people out there who are straight up traditionalists that are not trying to do that at all and intentionally not doing it, and that is great and I applaud them. I just want to stress to everyone I talk to that’s not me. People see my Instagram sometimes and focus on the fact that I play all of these old finger style tunes and that’s what my music must be like too. I’m like “no, no, no.” I was born and raised on a lot of rock music, whether generic UK rock or indie rock, or metal or punk. I would say that I made it a point to be like “Look, I’m not trying to replicate 1930s delta blues.” That already exists in its greatest form and I’m not going to add anything to that conversation. It is not natural to my background and to where and how I grew up. I would almost say it’s disingenuous and disrespectful to pretend that I’m going to, like, capture even a fifth of the emotion of these people and what they were going through. That doesn’t mean that I’m not influenced by it, so I would say it comes through in the instrumentation in a large way. Slide guitar has a sound, even if the riffs I’m playing are closer to an Allman Brothers or to a more modern sound, but I am definitely playing finger style guitar and that is an older way of picking and a lot of people don’t usually apply it to a tons of songs. They might play a few like that, but it’s definitely in my style because that’s how blues players largely play. It’s also the same with the banjo. When I play the banjo on a tune, it suddenly sounds a lot closer to an old-time song than it would to a delta blues song. The instrumentation is big, but then the more I’ve listened to the music, I’ve definitely incorporated some words and themes. There are some little sayings that I do love from the folk tradition. An example I can think of from recently is a song I just wrote. I felt really weird, because as I mentioned I grew up in the tradition where you write your own music and it has to be original…all of it. I wrote this song and there’s so many chord combos in the blues already, and it’s like “Cool. This sounds like a run of the mill, really good old-time finger style song, which I am happy with, but what about the words?”. I started writing these words and I get to a refrain and I thought of Jake Fussell, who’s alive and maybe in his 30s, and he’s the son of a folk anthropologist and does this all of the time, where he’ll take popular folk songs and take either the refrain or entire verses, but reimagine them in his own song. I didn’t do that fully, but I definitely used the line “If I lose, let me lose”, which is in blues and old-time. For me it just felt so weird. I was like “But this has been done”. And then I was like “It’s ok. That’s the tool you’re using.” It’s meant to be shared. It isn’t like you are taking a Brittany Spear’s verse and making it your own. This is something that is already out there in a million songs. That’s the other way it creeps in, like in little expressions or in the structures of the songs too. Sometimes I’ll get inspiration from the way, for example, old country songs are structured really strangely compared to classic folk or pop, where there’s like a verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus. Sometimes little pre-verses, with no repeating chorus but the music separates into A and B parts. It’s just really fascinating. I kind of just cherry pick all the little things that I like from the different traditions and I’m still learning so much, because I didn’t know anything about bluegrass and country two to three years ago. At all. I cannot stress enough how little I knew (laughs). I didn’t know who Hank Williams was.
On April 2nd, you’ll be releasing your debut album Nowhere Sounds Lovely. What can you tell me about the process of writing and recording that album, as well as the musicians that play on it with you, which includes your producer Cactus Moser? What do you feel that they added to the process and sound of the record?
Well, a lot. I reached out to Cactus and had listened to the record he had just put out for The Big Noise. I will be totally honest with you. I had no idea who Wynona is or was. I actually still don’t know her music. Like I said, I wasn’t raised on country, even in the slightest, so that’s definitely not what drew me in. What I liked so much about Cactus was the fact that wasn’t mentioned once, which I really appreciated because that’s not why I was there, and that he kind of heard me loud and clear about what we were just talking about. He was like “We wanna be true to whatever roots we have in older music and whatever influence it has on our music, but at the end of the day you want to rock. If that’s what you want to write, maybe we should do that.” And I was like “Yes! Absolutely.” Almost all of my songs are going to have drums and distorted guitar and like in “Badlands”, if you’ve heard the single, it’s not an acoustic song. He was in charge of getting the musicians and they were just all stars. They play with him on the road, which is a good sign. They were also really nice guys and I’ve told everyone since that the experience of having a bunch of grown men that could so easily have been dismissive or just not overly enthusiastic about doing a 26-year-old’s record, they loved my songs. Or at least they told me they did, and they were so nice and seemed very genuinely complimentary and were like “Sometimes we get hired to do pop stuff and it’s so boring and I love this. This is cool.” That made me feel so comfortable and were also just the right mix of no ego and no pride, which is hard to find sometimes in studio musicians. Any good studio musician should be this way. I may not have done much, but I know what I want and if you’re paying for a record, sometimes it’s hard to say that out loud when there’s a grown and accomplished person in front of you. It’s like “Oh you’re telling me you don’t want me to do this thing?”. But, I’ve always been pretty outspoken and I remember the first time I had to tell my steel player, Tommy Hannum, “You know, what you’re doing sounds cool but it’s really poppy sounding. It almost sounds like pop. Can you try giving me, like, desert, dustbowl, death vibes?”. I just gave him the vaguest instructions and he looked at me and was like “Ok” and went back in there and just killed it. That is when I knew I was really lucky and had some great musicians lined up. We recorded that in Cactus’s studio and it took us a little while, well not actual tracking, which went fairly quickly, but then I went on tour and they were touring with Wynona, so it was really hard to get mixes done. I didn’t have good speakers and the communication was just kind of spotty. So that was two years ago and it took us a whole year to kind of finish the mix and then whole other year where we tried to shop it, this past year. I decided this deserves to be out there. The pandemic is so depressing and I needed something to do anyway, so it was like “Let’s get this out into the world” and maybe the next thing I do will get picked up or maybe not. I just didn’t want to sit on it anymore.
The first single that you released from the album was “Badlands”, which is the last and closing song on the album . What can you tell me about the track and what led you to choose that particular track to be the first single?
I guess I chose it because, out of all of them, it definitely had the most crossover ability, in the sense that a lot of my early songs have this thing where the beat brings it, I think, into a territory where it’s like “Ok. This doesn’t just have to exist in this super specific Americana-acoustic niche. This song has a vibe.” Maybe someone who doesn’t even like slide guitar may think it’s a cool song. That’s how I felt about that song. I felt like it had some wide appeal. And there’s a lot of different flavors on the record, so I didn’t know if I wanted to start with a soft song or a banjo tune or maybe the one where there’s no drums. Then I was like, “Nah. I wanna start with one of the rock songs” because that is kind of where everything to me has merged into a cool thing. I love that I have some songs that are just me and a fiddle or whatever, but my childhood was mostly rock and I just like to make music that reflects that.
You have said that until you worked on this upcoming album, that you rarely wrote about anything besides human emotion and relationships. How do you feel that your songwriting and the topics you write about have grown and evolved over the years?
Well, I’m sorry to tell you this but I have regressed and I am now writing again about stupid boys, but that is of my own doing (laughs). All joking aside, I think that’s an easy thing to go back to because human emotions often are volatile and you’ll have moments of deep emotion that are triggered by another person sometimes and a lot of other people go through this. I dated two addicts in a row, and when I say addicts, I mean full on heroin and meth, and it was really hard because I am not an addict, so we didn’t share that. The first time, especially, I didn’t really know what was going on for most of it, so writing these songs…I mean, one of my first EPs was almost entirely about one person and I kind of just started to feel like, not like that’s a cop out. That’s fine. People can write about whatever if the song is good, but it was almost like a waste of my writer’s imagination. I mean, I liked to write even before I started writing music and it just felt cheap to constantly be like “I got hurt. Life is hard.” So, when I was traveling I was so inspired by places for the first time probably in my life, to that extent. I’ve been inspired by places before, but never interacted with them in that way and spent days on end out camping on the land. That’s when I felt I should try writing a song about traveling or even, like with “Badlands”, a specific place. That was a really big challenge for me as a writer. I really had to think about how I could write a song that’s not just total cheeseball and picking up on all of the obvious stuff that people are going to talk about, that still accurately represents the place I’m in and how amazing it feels. So that’s what all of those songs are kind of an exercise in, I guess.
What can you tell me about the opportunity you received last year to participate in The Magnolia Sessions and about the EP you recorded?
Yeah. That was super fun. Obviously everyone has been going through kind of a tough time with Covid and everything, so to have a project to get excited about was very, very cool. I had recorded my other EP that had put out in the summer right before we shut down, so I was really stoked that I was able to put that out in, like, July maybe. But then it was just a big question mark of what I was going to do. I wasn’t really comfortable playing gigs and didn’t want to book because everything’s weird. Dan reached out to me from Anti-Corp and was like “Hey. Would you be interested in doing this session?” and I just thought the concept was so magical and it obviously turned out to be. The whole premise is that you’re in his yard, under this big magnolia tree, and you can really hear, in Tennessee and the South in general, the cicadas and all of the bugs in the background. I loved that. It was the first project I had done where I was also able to talk in between the tracks and kind of explain the songs, like you would at an open mic or something. I loved that. It was fun for me to listen back and it gives the fans, few though they may be, something to be like “Oh. That’s a real person that’s telling me what that song means to her and why she wrote it or whatever.” I’m really thankful to Dan for calling me to do that project, because I just love the way it came out. I made it a home for all of these extra songs that I just know I won’t have enough space for, even if I did a double album next. I just have a lot of songs that have been sitting around, and some of them almost seemed better off without any accompaniment, so it’s great to have a place to put them where people will still appreciate them and they can be unaccompanied songs and not have anything else to bolster them up.
You have said the tour that you did was a way to reconnect with your musical purpose, which is to connect with and inspire people through performance. What can you tell me about that purpose and how you’ve navigated that with Covid and not being able to play live shows? How have you filled that void? I know livestreams probably aren’t quite the same.
Yeah, it’s not quite the same at all and it has been really hard, because that re-gave me purpose when I feel like I was really to preoccupied with just the wrong priorities. I had priorities of, like, outward achievements, because my whole life I was taught that’s how you achieve things. You set a goal and you do it. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have a manager or a record deal or all of these external things that don’t always mean what you think they mean. I just felt like when Covid happened, I was finding a really great balance where I feel like I had momentum and all of those external markers of a career that may or may not come to you, some of them were happening. I had just played the best show of my life. I had just played at the Filmore and opened for Wynona through Cactus and met Bob Weir and had done these things that felt like maybe I was on the cusp of finally getting somewhere important. And then, of course, there were shutdowns. It’s just been weird. So I actually haven’t been doing that much. I don’t have, like, a cool, romantic answer for you. I have just been struggling a lot to play even a lot of the time, and that’s hard to admit to people because they expect you to double down and use all of your free time to play now. I’m like “Dude. That’s all I did in the past year, just fill my free time constantly with my music career”, because I don’t have a manager and I didn’t have a PR team (I do now) and I don’t have a booker. I don’t have these things and I had to make flyers and do all of this stuff. So it almost felt like a vacation and it was like, no one can do anything right now and no one’s going to notice if I just stop. But that doesn’t help the other part of it, which is just like my soul feels empty on some level because, yeah, playing music live is a huge part of the satisfaction I get. It was kind of like a whole crisis, like am I even a musician and do I even want to be a musician if I could never perform again? Would I still be a musician? And of course the answer, on some level, is like, it’s within me, so yes. Even if I couldn’t play out, I would probably play in my house for the rest of my life because it brings me joy. But would I pursue it and be like “I need to get TikTok”? I don’t think I would be…I don’t know. To me, what’s the point of putting out this awesome record if you can’t go and play it? I don’t know how to reorganize my mind to look at that differently. I know we all have to adjust to this new lifestyle, but it’s just really hard. I’ve done livestreams, for sure, but it’s been nice to do all of these interviews, with the record coming out. It’s given me a little bit of that feeling back, to be totally honest. It’s made me feel like I’m not just, like, a waste of space right now. It’s been hard, though, because I’m also comparing myself all the time to other artists, which is bad. I’ll see acts that are way bigger than me, so of course they’ve managed to thrive during this time. But they’ll do drive through shows or film from some cool theatre that’s empty in Virginia. And I’m like “Dang. I just wish I was big enough to at least do that.” Us little people are just stuck here, like, unless you want to risk your and your band’s life to play a show, you’re kind of out of options. You don’t have to risk your life, but kind of do every time you go out.
What can you tell me about your latest single “Prayer For The Blind”?
It’s just such an interesting story. I’m always just happy when it’s not, like, “Oh. The story is that I dated a guy who was bad to me.” There’s definitely a lot more to it. I was traveling that summer that I traveled a lot and I couldn’t find anywhere to stay. It was the 4th of July, I’m pretty sure. I’m not even from here so it didn’t even cross my mind, but also I was in my car driving across Iowa or somewhere like that, so I definitely wasn’t thinking about it. I realized I had driven past Sioux Falls, I think, and thinking, like, Sioux City would be the jackpot. And Sioux City was really not where it’s at and I didn’t want to stay there but I didn’t want to drive back because I had to keep going. So I ended up camping in some strange KOA campsite on the border of Nebraska and Iowa, and this couple from Nebraska ended up kind of taking me under their wing. They saw I was alone and were like “Oh my gosh. Are you out here by yourself?” and they cooked for me. The lady told me this story about her own mother. When she was telling it, she was laughing and telling it like a comical story. Basically, it was that her mother has dementia and is convinced that her husband is going out dancing with a woman with two peg legs. And she laughed, but there wasn’t even a moment of “Oh, isn’t that sad?”. She was telling it because she found it funny and obviously it’s her burden to bear. There are parts of the song straight from the story, but then there are parts of it about intergenerational, especially mother-daughter, relationships. My mom’s awesome, but we definitely have had our issues between us, and she’s a good mom, compared to a lot of people whose moms maybe just weren’t able to give them the love and support they needed. I feel like, even when they are, you kind of just have to like…that’s what the chorus is about, like “Pray for your mothers”. They are doing something that’s so hard. It’s so hard to be a parent to somebody and we’re all so limited. So I don’t know. It’s kind of just about that and the blind lead the blind, meaning that sometimes some of that trauma or that sickness is generational. I don’t think dementia is, but that’s the person that was leading you and suddenly she can’t even make sense of her own life anymore, but you’re still going to follow that person. That’s still your mother. That’s kind of the vibe behind the song and I wrote it for them. When she told me that story, I literally told her I was going to write a song about it because it’s the wildest story I’ve ever heard. She loved that.
You will be teaching a virtual Delta and Country Blues class in a few weeks through the Nashville School of Traditional Country Music. What can you tell me about the class and how the opportunity came about? Do you teach often?
No! I’m really excited! It’s my first workshop class like this. I did a few private lessons when I was in LA. Basically, one of the owners/operators of the Nashville School of Traditional Music reached out and I thought they wanted someone to teach clawhammer, because it’s just really traditional and they do a lot of flat footing at that school and stuff. But she was like “No, we have tons of banjo people. Actually we were wondering if you’d want to do guitar?”, and I guess with my imposter complex/insecurities about being a little late to the game in terms of guitar playing, like serious guitar playing, I was like “Really?”. In a town like Nashville, what do I have to offer? I realized that I had compiled a very specific skill set and I might not be able to shred scales in every key and mode, even though I do know what they are. I have a good base in music theory. I have just learned so many blues styles over the past three years, and they are all different. Every player, even in neighboring towns, they’ll, like, use their thumb differently or they’ll use their strumming hand in a weird way or whatever it is. So, I realized that this would be a perfect opportunity, if people wanted to learn that stuff…like, I just had to learn from YouTube videos of the few people that had decided to share that. So I’m really excited and it’s been giving me something to focus on. I wanna help people with music. It’s just hard. There’s so many things you can do. But I feel the most happy when young girls…sometimes I get messages from dads, and moms. But mostly it’s dads who have messaged me and been like “My daughter Sophia is 5 years old and she thinks you are the coolest thing and she has a little fake slide that she wears”. I literally couldn’t believe that, because I’m already kind of a nobody, but to know that there are people that, like, don’t even care because they’re kids and it’s not about being famous. They just look up to me in some way. It’s still like a very small stepping stone in that general direction, where maybe in the future I could do more of them or specifically seek out, like if you have a young kid who wants to learn any of these styles. Because they also are dying and that really bums me out. Everything else, especially in the South, is so regimented. Like, you can go learn bluegrass at a school. You can go learn even old-time.. There are tons of workshops and tons of festivals. You can go and learn from all of these people who have been doing this their whole lives. With the blues, there is nothing like that. They do international blues music awards. They do the blues circuit. But you have to pay 150 bucks to even audition, to do the live audition for the blues awards staff. I did that in LA. We had to pay to compete in the blues battle of the bands, which could then send you to the international blues competition. It’s kind of disappointing to me that that’s the only structure, one that’s not even instructional. It’s just like “Hey. If you have money, you can kind of join in this weird club that we have in different cities.” I really have never connected with that. I guess that’s like a lofty version of this hope. I’ll be lucky if 5 people sign up for my little class, but I would love to just expand that on some level or find out who’s interested and maybe even find a way to make it free for them, if that were possible.
Aside from the album and workshop, what’s next for you? Are you working on new music or have any livestreams coming up?
You know, I’m doing little interviews here and there, just like this one, for the record. I think I should probably do a livestream. But I have nothing planned right now. I’m just trying to keep it together and see what else this year is going to throw at me. I thought last year was the worst year, but this one has quickly outpaced 2020. The next thing is putting out the record. I do have a show in July or August booked, which is exciting. It’s in Wyoming and it’s a festival. Other than that, I legitimately have nothing on the books. I’m just kind of riding the wave. I think that just like that festival, the few things I am meant to do this summer will reveal themselves and maybe I’ll poke around a little more. My plan is to obviously build a tour around that one show. But I don’t really anticipate that much else. And I have been pretty bad about livestreams, so I should probably do at least one before the record comes out. We’re just going to put out another single and another video, so that’s on the docket. To get that third video filmed and then get it out. And then this record will be out and I can send out all the merch and hopefully get on the road again sometime soon.