Robert Schwartzman Article

Robert Schwartzman

“The Music Man”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Robert Schwartzman is a man refreshingly fanatical about the art of making music. Despite, or perhaps as a result of, having seen rapid success with his California retro rock band Rooney, the 28-year-old singer/songwriter is absolutely bursting with new ideas, projects, and overall zeal for the industry, which is more than evident in the way he talks about his songwriting process: “I get excited by chords; I get excited by melody; I get excited by lyrics… something has to spark excitement, and you just run with it. It’s a domino effect either way, but the process is specific to whatever’s occurring in that moment.”

“Learning by ear inspired me to start writing music, taking feelings and stories from my life and turning them into a song,” he explains of his early penchant for songwriting. “It was the thrill of having something in my hands that didn’t exist before.”

As for influences, Robert cites “oldies but goodies” as his inspiration, then and now. “You know late fifties, early sixties, cruising with your friends with the top down and milkshakes,” he says. “I’ve always thought – and still do – that that music is really simple and so… right; the innocence of that music has always inspired me.”

These threads are discernible in Rooney’s distinctive flashy guitars, chunky rhythms, and summery melodies, but Schwartzman, ever the opportunist, is on the verge of expanding his repertoire with a solo venture as well. “The band has been a big part of my life and it’s important to me, but there’s still a need to be able to take chances and try other things. I played all the instruments, they’re all my songs; on every level, it’s my record.”

Schwartzman’s debut will be released this fall, with plans for a tour following closely behind. After all, the live show is what it’s all about, Robert claims. “I like the feeling of playing music to people. Playing a live show sort of helped me understand how people are affected by music. When you perform something, you feel it in a different way; you feel like you’re putting it all on the line.”

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Paul McDonald Article

Paul McDonald

Idol‘s Lone Songwriter”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Paul McDonald draws musical inspiration from his life, which, if you’re up on your pop culture you’ll know, has been positively brimming with spectacular, whirlwind song material. The 26-year-old singer/songwriter placed eighth on season ten of American Idol, met, dated, and got engaged to Twilight starlet Nikki Reed, and toured the country, playing arenas, as part of the Idol tour… all within the first eight months of 2011.

This sort of dizzying fate is new to all American Idol contestants; however, unlike his bright-eyed, freshly scrubbed young competitors, McDonald was living a musicians’ life before the show, writing and touring endlessly as the front man of The Grand Magnolias, a Nashville-based Americana rock band.

The veteran songwriter in a cast of budding performers, McDonald has been a wild card element from the beginning, but Paul’s effortless charm, uncomplicated passion, and raspy tenor vocals promoted him to an easy favorite. “It wasn’t my goal to win American Idol,” he admits. “I kind of did it for fun, but we’ve met so many great people, and it’s opened up so many doors.”

Amid all these new avenues and opportunities though, his songwriting process has remained remarkably the same. Of his compositions, Paul says, “They come in different waves. Sometimes I’ll pick up my guitar and a song will just come out or sometimes I’ll write the guitar part or the piano part and then put lyrics over it later. It’s just kind of how they come out of my body, you know?”

“I’ve tried to open my mind to a lot of different kinds of records and experience different artists, make my writing a little bit better,” he elaborates. “And there’s a whole lot of stuff to write about right now because this is such a serious transition period.”

“I’ve got a lot of material to work with, and I’m just going to go into the studio and take my time, try to make something really good,” Paul states in a rare moment of solemnity. “To me, it’s really never been about anything more than making good music and playing good songs.”

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Kerli Article

Kerli

“BubbleGoth”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

As defined by its poster child, the term “bubblegoth” is about “putting together things that don’t necessarily go together. It’s about making dark things beautiful and beautiful things dark,” and 24-year-old Estonian singer/songwriter Kerli believes in and lives out those ideals everyday, extending her fascinations into both extremes and working to understand their dichotomy through her music. Kerli’s unique brand of electropop personifies the light and dark polarity of “bubblegoth;” it is ethereal and smoldering, gossamer yet tenebrous, electronic, intricate, expansive.

It seems clear that conviction and innovation are key factors in the creation of Kerli’s music as well as her image, inspiration that most assuredly stemmed from the necessity of imagination during her childhood. “I grew up in Estonia, and my family was very small town. I never had any art or creativity around me, so I had to create that for myself.” Now, that ideology has manifested itself into something more sophisticated, although still quite visionary. “I always write in colors,” she explains. “I try to paint the picture with lyrics and with sounds and melody, so that each song has a lot of personality.”

Despite the distinctiveness of her background and philosophies, Kerli’s songwriting process sounds not unlike the time-tested patterns of a pro. “I like going out into the world and taking note of what people are thinking and feeling, then I try to see everything that I’ve gathered through my own lens and attach it to my own concept.”

And that concept is shaping up to be both insightful and esoteric: “the human search for perfection, or somebody’s idea of perfection.” For her sophomore album, expected this fall, Kerli succumbed to her natural obsessions. “I find a lot in my art that I write about overcoming obstacles… even if I don’t mean to, it just sort of comes out that way.”

As for motivation, well, it’s like I said – poster child. She is representing the greater population of her growing “bubblegoth” community. “My fans are a big part of what I do… it’s like we’re all doing it together; I’m just a piece of the puzzle.”

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Sage Keffer Article

“Burning Up Nashville” with Sage Keffer

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

Sage Keffer

Sage Keffer

Sage Keffer is excited about country music.  And I’m not just talking about looking forward to getting a hit song on the radio, or enthusiastic about his upcoming album, or optimistic that the CMT reality show he’s featured in this spring is going to garner some well-warranted publicity.  This man is buzzing with contagious energy.

As I sit down with him in his office on 18th Ave. in Nashville, Keffer is positively bursting with anecdotes and witticisms and lessons learned.  At first, I thought Sage Keffer might have just had a little too much coffee that morning or that he was just thrilled about all the opportunities he’s come across since he made the infamous move to Music City, but over the course of our interview, I realize that he’s just a dynamic kind of guy, and when you get him talking about his journey and his experiences in country music, he’s refreshingly passionate about every step of the way, burning for each new endeavor on his way up.

Sage Keffer, in his own words, is capable of a well-blended variety of genres: “it goes anywhere from rock and country to jazz and country; there’s even a bit of a Latin mixture.”  In my words, Keffer has an uncanny ability to transform between songs and manifest himself and his voice in each new number with unconventionally diverse skill and delightful effortlessness.  However, in talking with Sage, he reveals that his natural presence and musical ability didn’t always come easy.

“When I moved to Nashville I didn’t know how to play the guitar,” Keffer admits.  “If I thought about it, I could make a D chord, C chord, and that was about it.”  Keffer, young, green, and ambitious, didn’t let idle his fingers for long, though.

“I was told to go to the Bluebird Cafe, and I started hanging out there, and I saw this lady named Ellen Britton, and I thought, what do you know?  I found a guitar teacher,” Keffer laughs.  “Little did I know that there’re musicians everywhere here and it’s hard not to find a guitar teacher or songwriter.

“I took lessons from her for quite some time,” Keffer continues, “and then when the money started running short, I started mowing her yard in exchange for lessons.  I did that for a couple of summers, and I just can’t say enough great things about her.

“My goal initially was to just get to the point where I could accompany myself, but now I even give a guitar lesson or two now.  I’m certainly no Brad Paisley or Keith Urban, you know, but I can do alright,” he finishes.

Astounded at the brazen courage with which Keffer replanted himself and his dreams in Nashville, I am compelled to unearth his musical past.

“I grew up playing the violin in orchestra and I also sang in choir, so I had classical music theory behind me,” Keffer replies, but it seems evident that his true passion has always been in singing country music though.

“By the time my freshman year ended at the University of Denver, I was like, ‘I do not want to be a vocal major anymore,’ because I was learning how to sing in Old English and Italian.  And my heart’s always been in country music. […] My goal has always been move to Nashville. […] So I finished up my degree in psychology, and moved down here immediately.”

“In kindergarten,” Keffer explains further, “I wanted to be a singer, an actor, a writer, a boxer, and an astronaut, and I always knew I wanted to sing country music, so when I graduated college, I thought I could either move to LA, do acting, and then get into country music, or move to Nashville, do country music, and then get into acting.  I always admired the careers of Dwight Yoakam or Harry Connick, Jr. who have been able to do well in both and be pretty well respected in both.”

When asked, “Why country music?” Keffer’s answer is honest and simple: “Country music has always been influential to me because it’s always been about real life – the trials and the tribulations… and the good, happy stuff too.”

For Sage Keffer country music was a given.  And Nashville was an easy choice; however, making it in this city harbored unforeseen challenges for the Colorado native – songwriting being the most prominent, and the most formidable.

“The reason I’m here is because I love performing onstage, so when I moved out here, I had not done much writing,” he tells me.  “I had composed some music growing up and in college, not a whole lot of journaling or writing, so when I moved out here, I found out writing was huge.”

But of course, Keffer was not to be discouraged.  He saw his lack of experience not as a barrier but as a call to action.

“I started attending the Bluebird every night, I started studying, I’d go see Jason Blume’s class over at BMI, I got involved with NSAI,” recalls Keffer.  “I started studying songwriting, since that was going to be very important as one of the key aspects of being an artist here in Nashville.  You pretty much have to do it all.”

In just the short amount of time I’ve known Sage Keffer, it seems obvious to me the kind of man he is: undaunted and hard-working, optimistic and full of life.  Keffer is willing to talk about how far he’s come and how much he has yet to do.  I can almost anticipate his next words about cultivating his songwriting expertise:

“I’ve done a whole lot of bad writing, trying to get better.  That’s what it takes.  You have got to be willing to put yourself out there and mess up a whole lot in order to ever get something right.

Keffer then sums up his overall philosophy on songwriting material: “As an artist, I believe in singing the best material available.  I believe that a lot of my own material now is holding up along with the other material that I’ve been pitched, and finally of the same caliber.

“What I’m saying,” he clarifies, “is that I’m not opposed to cutting outside material.  I’ll probably always be a half-and-half type of person.  I think Alan Jackson has been wise – he cuts his own best material, and he also takes in outside material that’s also terrific, and to me, that’s the smart way to go.”

As far as writing style goes, Sage Keffer is a self-proclaimed ideas person, but I’m certain he brings his musical chops to the table as well; he’s just too humble to say so.

“I love writing with people that are great lyricists,” Keffer tells me.  “I love going into co-writing sessions with most of music already done and then hashing out the lyrics together, or sometimes I’ll get lyrics, and I’ll come back to them with three different songs, and say, ‘Which melody do you like?’

“I’m more of a music person and an ideas person,” he explains, “and I’m still working on the lyrics aspect of it. […] I know what I’m looking for musically, but in terms of topics and lyrics, probably what I write about is stuff that is more of a day-to-day kind of thing, about real life – both the joys and the lows of real life.  I don’t have a certain agenda that’s on my mind.

“I like to use my own personal experiences, but I also believe as an artist, we are actors.  We don’t always have to sing about something that happened to us.  It’s just important that we’re able to relate,” Keffer concludes profoundly.

So, Sage Keffer learned how to play guitar and how to write songs after he came to Nashville.  I suppose the only thing we know he brought with him in the move was his voice, and he wasted no time making an impression on Music City.  In fact, he’s a three-time veteran of our own Nashville Star.

“I made it to the nationals, all three seasons.  That was great training.  Let me tell you – you don’t do contests to win.  I mean sure, it’s great if you win, but it’s all part of your training,” Keffer elaborates.  “If you can have a strong enough stomach to go up there and have those judges rip you to shreds in front of everybody, then you can start handling bigger things.  I’m constantly putting myself in challenging situations.”

But Nashville Star probably seems like a walk in the park compared to the challenging situation Keffer got himself into last year.  Sage will be making an appearance on CMT’s reality show Running Wild with Ted Nugent airing in the spring.

“We filmed it last February at a ranch in Waco, TX.  Working with Ted Nugent was certainly very interesting,” he describes.  “He is definitely a larger-than-life character when the camera is rolling, and tones it down slightly when the camera is off.  He is… an entertainer.

“Being on a reality show is…,” Keffer trails off, searching for an appropriate word.  “Well, [Nugent] hunts us for 24 hours in the wilderness, so it was a very, very rough time.  The whole show was pretty rough.  They withheld water, they withheld food, I got six hours of sleep over three days, and I’ve never been so cold in my life.  Reality TV is certainly an interesting format of entertainment.

“I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to be on the show, though,” he sums up, “and I learned a lot about myself by being on the show because it was such a large challenge that I ended up doing things that I didn’t know I could do.”

Looking into the future beyond the TV show, Sage Keffer’s got a lot happening, most importantly the pending release of his second full-length album.  I, of course, sought out a little insight on the new material.

“The difference between my first CD and my second CD is that on [Rules of the Game], I didn’t know any better and I thought it was okay to do a wide variety of material, but on this new album I’ve really been working to distill myself down in order to be more marketable and recognizable,” Keffer reveals.  “When we were looking to track my second CD, I said, ‘We’re looking at a combination between Dwight Yoakam, Chris Isaac, and George Strait – moody, interesting rhythms, but still traditional enough to be just country.’”

My next question is predictably about tour schedules, but it looks like most of next year’s booking is still being finalized.  All that’s certain is that Keffer is “working on booking some gigs in Europe, and [he’s] got a show at the Wildhorse here in Nashville on the 15th of December.”

Sage Keffer is not only a refreshingly diverse and capable new personality in country music, he’s also one of the most solid and unpretentious people I’ve ever met.  He has an articulate idea of where he’s going, as well as a clear idea of where he’s from and the effort he’s put in to get to this stage.  I think his own words better interpret the point I’m making:

“I really plan on living a pretty extraordinary life.”

And he’s making it happen… so that Nashville can burn a little brighter.

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Moon Taxi Article

“Onward and Upward and to the Moon” with Moon Taxi

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

Spencer Thomson, Tommy Putnam, Trevor Terndrup, Tyler Ritter, Wes Bailey

Spencer Thomson, Tommy Putnam, Trevor Terndrup, Tyler Ritter, Wes Bailey

With the word “songwriter,” a lot of people will conjure images of a guy in a collared shirt strumming an acoustic guitar and crooning melancholy ballads, or scribbling lyrics on scraps of paper and humming mechanically, fleshing out the next big radio hit.  Rarely does band practice come to mind, and yet, five guys, each on their respective instruments, piecing together their parts to blend cohesive instrumentation into the context of a new song, albeit less commonplace or clichéd, is songwriting nonetheless.  A prime example of this communal technique, Moon Taxi is a band of songwriters.

I met with the guys on a Sunday afternoon in July at the “Moon Taxi House,” as they have oh-so-cleverly dubbed it.  The little place on 12th Avenue S in Nashville once boarded three of the band members; however, over time, they have spaced out (probably for sanity’s sake).  Now, band practice is held there, and all the band’s gear, including their van and trailer, is stored at the house, but only one of the guys still calls the place home.

I situate myself on an electric blue couch and wait.  A giant black lab tosses a dirty sock on my lap and begs me to play along, whining and slobbering until I comply.  Three of the guys are in and out of the room, promising me they’ll “only be a few more minutes; Spencer’s not here yet anyway.”  A tall, thin guy in glasses opens the front door, steps in, and sits down next to me without a word.  Miles (I have learned the dog’s name at this point) turns his attention to this new companion as though greeting an old friend.  Within moments, the remainder of the band is assembled and after discussing a recent soccer game for a bit, they rest their eyes on me.

On the Early Years

Tommy Putnam, bass, and Trevor Terndrup, lead vocals/rhythm guitar, I learn, have been buddies since grade school.  When they graduated Vestavia Hills High School outside of Birmingham in 2002 and moved to Nashville in the fall to attend Belmont University, they brought their jam sessions with them.  At Belmont, they met and began collaborating with a quiet kid from Bowling Green – Spencer Thomson, lead guitar.  The three of them graduated Belmont in 2007, but not before meeting their fourth and fifth members: Tyler Ritter, drums, in mid 2006, and Wes Bailey, keys, in mid 2007.

The band weathered a few modifications to their cast, the most significant of which was former drummer David Swan, whose vacancy allowed Ritter to join the line-up.

“When Tyler came along, we started really getting into it, like, ‘Okay, let’s build this.’  It took forever.  It’s still taking forever,” Putnam admits amiably.  “But what’s so cool to me is that there’s a lot of things we do now that just seem like the next phase, but back then, if I saw some of those things happening, I would have been like, ‘Wow, that’s huge.’”

“Yeah, back then, a guarantee would have been unheard of, but you know, it’s those baby steps that you take,” Terndrup adds, the anticipation of those early days mounting in his voice.  “I don’t even know when we got our first guarantee, but our first band purchase was a PA.  And then, we started making a little bit more money every single time….  One night, we came out with a thousand bucks, and we were like, ‘Whooooa.’  That was jaw-dropping.”

Moon Taxi went into the studio to record their debut album late 2006, while all four of them were still in school.  Melodica was released the following spring, and soon thereafter, Moon Taxi toyed at the idea of a fifth member – a keyboard player.

“We had a show at The Five Spot, and it looked like it was going to be a kind of run-of-the-mill show,” Terndrup explains.  “But one of us said, ‘Well, do you want to call that guy we jammed with at that party?’  And he came and sat in on ‘The Stand,’ not knowing the chords, and there’re about 27 modulations.  So we were like, ‘Yeah, he’s alright.’”

“So we picked up Wes,” Putnam sums up.  “But it was kind of a long process.  You know, he’s a good player, but he changes the dynamic of the band.  How do we fit this new instrument in there when we’ve been playing together for so long?  But I think we’ve got it; I mean, everybody knows their boundaries now.”

“We all have strong personalities, and so does [Wes],” Terndrup rationalizes.  “But I think we’ve all found a way to exist relatively in sync with each other… relatively.”

That harmonized existence has been the key to Moon Taxi’s success at songwriting.  With five minds churning out ideas, trust and synchronization are crucial to the process.

On the Songwriting Process

Live at 12th & Porter

Live at 12th & Porter, Nashville, TN

“A monarchy in songwriting – where somebody is saying, ‘This is what you do, this is what you do…,’” Terndrup begins.  “A dictatorship – that works for some people, but it doesn’t work for us.”

Putnam and Terndrup are the primary songsmiths of the group, but Thomson and Bailey collaborate frequently with them as well as contributing songs of their own.  Each has an individual method of writing, but they all understand that ultimately every song is a combined effort and a collective result.

“Sometimes it’s good to have little parts that aren’t quite finished yet, so you can say, ‘I don’t know what should go here; what are your ideas?’” Putnam describes.  “And someone’s going to have something to say, and it’ll be better.  I mean, three heads are a lot better than one.  That’s why I think we’re a lot better off than some of these bands with just one dude writing all the songs.  They get a lot of the same things going on and the same ideas and not a lot of group input, so they’re really limited that way.”

Ritter explains what having multiple songwriters in the band really means: “Each of the guys has a different presentation method.  Trevor generally has a more defined idea of what he wants the song to sound like.  Spencer does that too, most of the time.  Tommy’s style is more trial-and-error, ‘let’s jam on this and see what works,’ on-the-spot experiment.

“But all three of the guys have gotten a lot better at figuring out what the identity of each of their songs is going to be from the beginning,” Ritter goes on.  “I think, now someone brings something to the table and says, ‘This is the feel of this song, here are the parts, let’s see what happens.’  I mean, the identity is there from the beginning, as opposed to us trying to find the identity halfway through the writing process.”

Another part of the writing process is ascertaining one’s inspirations.  When asked about Moon Taxi’s muses, each of the songwriters has something entirely different to say about his lyrical catalysts.

“I’m always listening for different lyrics from people,” says Putnam.  “You go out and hear people talk and they say different random things, and I think, ‘Wow, that’s pretty good; I’m going to write that down.’

“I get material from life experiences, or other people’s life experiences,” Putnam continues.  “You got to listen to people because people are going to say the best things.  …Or books, I guess.  Trevor reads a lot.”  He turns to Terndrup.

“I don’t get ideas from books very often, though, and I can’t do the people thing either.  That’s way too complicated,” Terndrup picks up.  “I like to write about smaller things.  Maybe instances, like someone will have a conversation, and I’ll take one little thing and kind of expand upon that and try to exhaust the topic.”

“If I’m writing a song that I know I want to have lyrics, and I’m going to attempt to do it, I try to write [the lyrics and music] at the same time, if not [lyrics] first,” Thomson describes.  “But I never write from a personal level, I just come up with stuff I think sounds cool.  It feels like more of an exercise to me, like I’m trying to fit lyrics and music together, I’m working to make these words go with this melodic interval.  I’m not too worried about it making sense.”

With a fresh understanding of the early stages of their songs, I attempt to steer the conversation toward an explanation of their further development in band practice.  In doing so, I get what seems like a pretty accurate feel for what band practice itself is probably like – each of the guys begins an account, alternately talking over each other, interrupting, and finishing each other’s sentences.

“Our songs come in, and it’s like a senate, right?” Putnam illustrates.  “One person writes the bill, and the others come in and cut it up and put their little earmarks in it and amendments… and the person who wrote the bill, I mean, yeah, it’s his, but in the end, you know, we all really finished it and made it a song.”

“A lot of times, each of us will have different ideas of what to do with a certain part of the song, and it’s not like there’s a right or wrong way,” Thomson explains further.

“And we usually try everybody’s ideas…,” adds Putnam.

“Yeah, at least give them a run through to see how they’ll sound,” Terndrup chimes in.

“And to the best of your ability,” Putnam finishes.  “So it’s not like, ‘I really don’t think it’s going to go that well, so I’m going to play it so that it doesn’t work.’  You know, there’s that trust there.  Everybody plays honestly.”

“We’re better, too, about talking music to each other,” Terndrup expands.  “I mean, I didn’t have any formal music training, but I’ve definitely gotten that from these guys.  I know what to call chords now.  I picked Tyler’s brain for a while about time signatures.  At first, especially with David, I feel like we were just grunting at each other, hoping that something would work….  We were very caveman-like in our approach, and now we’re in sort of our renaissance period, you know.  It’s better than ever.”

A renaissance period, yes, and one that Moon Taxi as individuals and as a band has been perfecting since their start, making a point of constantly learning and growing in order to become finer songwriters and stronger musicians by broadening their musical tastes and perfecting their collaborative abilities.

“I think we practice smarter now, write songs a little smarter than we did,” Putnam asserts.

“Playing our songs over and over and even learning other people’s songs helps us to figure out what works and what doesn’t in a song,” adds Thomson.

“We know our strengths and weaknesses, and you know, you definitely want to adhere to your strengths, but at the same time, you want to improve on your weaknesses,” reasons Putnam.

“And then you improve by challenging yourself,” Terndrup elaborates.  “Like, I feel like ‘Anchors’ was a bit out of our genre and style.  The first time we played it, I think we were kind of shaky, and we didn’t really know if we could pull it off.”

“A lot of people don’t like that song the first time they hear it,” Putnam admits.

“They don’t like it in the context of us,” clarifies Thomson.  “But then what they’re not seeing is that it’s really just broadening the context of us.”

“People like [‘Anchors’] now as a result of us playing it better.  We’ve learned how to play that style, and we’ve made it our own.  People that I would never expect to like a more mainstream song of ours are digging it now,” Ritter concludes.

There’s a lot to dig about Moon Taxi, too, and not just their music.  These boys also happen to be avant-garde entrepreneurs, unconventionally self-reliant, pioneering a business model of their own invention.

On Accomplishments

Live at Headliners, Louisville, KY

Live at Headliners, Louisville, KY

All five members of Moon Taxi graduated from Belmont, Thomson, Ritter, and Putnam with degrees in Music, Bailey in Music Business, and neither in the case of Terndrup (who majored in Spanish and Philosophy).  Their collective backgrounds and knowledge of the industry have aided greatly in their ascent thus far.

“Opening our own LLC, our own record company, making it legit and professional in the eyes of the government, keeping track of things, booking all our own shows, buying equipment like a PA, lights, and a van and a trailer,” Terndrup articulates.  “[Those measures] show that we’re in it for something more than just having a good time, drinking beer and chasing chicks.”

“Yeah, a lot of the money we make [from our shows], we just immediately reinvest into the band,” states Putnam.

“…Because we all believe in it, and we think that it’s going to be profitable, and ultimately, a great adventure in our lives,” Terndrup declares optimistically.

Moon Taxi started 12th South Records in 2006, on which they produced their albums, 2007’s debut Melodica and most recently 2009’s live album.  Live Ride was recorded at Nashville’s 12th and Porter in August 2008 and released this past February to dazzling critical acclaim.

Beyond recording, they have spent the past couple years touring relentlessly, honing their distinctive sound with a rare, inexhaustible enthusiasm. This young group has had opportunities to play festivals such as 10000 Lakes in Minnesota, Moe’s Summer Camp in Illinois, Birmingham’s City Stages, among many others, and clubs from Texas to New York, establishing major cult followings in cities like Bowling Green, Birmingham, Lexington, Knoxville, Oxford, Louisville, and Tuscaloosa.

Moon Taxi is turning heads everywhere they play; their music is infectious.  Their sound has been compared with Phish, Allman Brothers, Rush, The Doobie Brothers, and Rage Against the Machine, but in the end, they have cultivated a purely unique blend of all of these influences, in addition to many others.

Their most popular tunes include fiery, rebellious “Gimme A Light;” straight up rock tune “Mustang;” brisk, Reggae-inspired “Here to Stay,” which features a blistering, jazzy keys solo on Live Ride; intensely rhythmic “Funky Respiration,” with its sweltering jam; tight, progressive instrumental, “Gibson;” dynamic single “Common Ground;” smoldering, complex “Skipping Stones;” and radio-worthy rock anthem “Anchors;” however, some of the group’s newest material (“Gunflower,” “The Hideaway,” and “Tumble,” for example) challenges all their current standings.

The band’s most recent accomplishments include touring with British funk band The New Mastersounds, winning Nashville’s independent music contest “Music City Mayhem,” and opening in Birmingham for Gov’t Mule.

With such a long list of successes, it seems only a matter of time before Moon Taxi’s inevitable musical stardom.  The band themselves are physically itching for bigger things.

On the Future

“We have really high expectations.  I mean, we’re not anywhere near close to where we want to be, like not even… we’re just scratching the surface here,” Putnam tells me enthusiastically.  “But the thing is we’re getting bigger.  We have so many things lined up.  One thing’ll happen and I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s huge,’ and then something else is going on later, and I think, ‘Wow, that’s even bigger.  That’s great; I can’t wait till we do that.’  And then more….

“So I can see us going up,” Putnam continues without stopping for breath.  “Whatever we’re doing is working great.  It’s just a matter of time.  We are getting better every day.  I look back at some of the things we did, at recordings from a year ago, and I’m like, ‘Man, I can’t believe people liked us.’  We are so much better now.  And what excites me is if we made that much progress between last year and today, I want to see what happens and where we are next year.

“We’re probably going to make a new album soon too,” Putnam reveals, almost as an aside.

“Yeah, I can’t wait to get back into the studio,” says Terndrup.

“I can’t wait to see what we can do in the studio now,” Ritter agrees.

“We’re hungry; we want it more.  It’s serious.  Now it’s our bread and butter. We’re even more inspired to get the job done,” reckons Terndrup.

Do it, boys.  We’re ready for you.

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Chuck Cannon Article

“For the Love of Songwriting” with Chuck Cannon

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

Chuck Cannon

Chuck Cannon

Chuck Cannon ambles down from his house in the woods to meet me, dressed in his finest beach wear, the remainder of a day on the lake with his three children.He shows me to his studio, a building separate from the house that once served as a garage, although you’d never know it: the stuccoed walls, rusted chandeliers, and dark curtains possess an old world, renaissance atmosphere, meant, I’m sure, to be conducive to the kind of flowing artistic talent so common to that era.Cannon offers me a tiny mug of fine espresso, and as we talk, he alternately sips his own cup and steps onto the front porch to puff on a cigar stub, its smoke fragrant and somehow foreign.It didn’t take me long to make up my mind – I like Chuck Cannon.

As a person, Chuck Cannon is decidedly amiable and renders a cool, easygoing charisma that instantly permeates the conversation.As a songwriter, that charisma is concentrated in his profoundly soulful mind to produce expressive songs steeped with grace, simplicity, and depth.Cannon writes incessantly, now just expounding his already massive and esteemed catalog, but the man had to begin somewhere.

Beginnings

Cannon grew up in South Carolina in a family of music lovers and Pentecostal preachers.His initial influences were broad and numerous – anything from The Beatles to Sinatra to Johnny Cash and Isaac Hayes.And as it turns out, Cannon had an early flair for writing as well.

“I wrote poetry as a kid, which was kind of odd because I was a bit of a jock too.You know it’s always odd when jocks doing anything like that.Actually, it got me into a couple of fights with those guys.”

When asked about advice given and impressions made as a burgeoning young songwriter and the development of his own technique, Cannon admits to very little uniformity in his songwriting approach.

“There are a lot of songwriters that are more method-oriented than I am.Sometimes a piece of music will inspire a song.Sometimes a line will inspire a song.I typically spend most of my time, when I’m actively trying to write a song, trying to think of a concept.And after that, a first line… because really, really good [first lines] are rare,” Cannon states.“I learned that lesson actually while I was at Belmont.”

As a music business student at Belmont (then Belmont College), Cannon ended up in the office of producer great Blake Mevis as part of an audio project.But Mevis recognized the songwriter in young Cannon and offered the boy his best advice, which he still remembers:

“He said, ‘Let me tell you about songwriting, because that’s where it starts,’ and I was all ears.He said, ‘What’s the most important line of a song?’ and very quickly I went, ‘Oh, the hook.’And he went, ‘Wrong.Dead wrong.’And of course, I was, I think, 20 years old, full of piss and vinegar, and already knew every damn thing; all I needed to do was get all these old guys that were running the town to listen to me for a few minutes,” Cannon laughs.“So, I said, ‘Okay, what is it?’And he said, ‘Well, it’s the first line.’And I said, ‘Really… okay, well, give me an example.’And he gave me the example, ‘It’s the third hardest thing I’ll ever do/Leaving here without you.’

“Now, Emily, what do you want to know?[You want to know] what happens next, and the only way you can find out is to listen to the rest of the song,” Cannon nearly whispers.“If I had to point to one thing – one single piece of advice – that was more informative to me, and more formative as a songwriter, I would have to jump up on the coffee table in front of Bob Dylan and say, ‘That’s it right there.’”

From that moment, Chuck Cannon took off, rocketing into Nashville’s notoriously fastidious songwriters’ realm and making a name for himself with proof of his talent as a wordsmith and musician.

Accomplishments

 

Chuck Cannon

Chuck Cannon

One of Cannon’s first notable compositions was “I Love the Way You Love Me,” a No. 1 hit for John Michael Montgomery in 1993, which Cannon co-wrote with Victoria Shaw.This song also won the Song of the Year award at the Academy of Country Music awards, which is awarded to songwriters.From there, Cannon began working primarily for Toby Keith, including “Me Too,” “Dream Walkin’,” “We Were in Love,” “Getcha Some,” “If a Man Answers,” and “When Love Fades” in the late 1990s, “How Do You Like Me Now?!” in 2000, and “American Soldier” in 2003-2004.

“How Do You Like Me Now?!” was the No. 1 Country Song of the Year according to the Billboard Year-End charts. Both it and “I Love the Way You Love Me” earned Eight-Million-Air Awards from BMI for receiving eight million spins on radio.

Cannon also self-released two albums: God Shaped Hole and Love and Money in 2006 and 2008, respectively, bringing to light his own gritty, soulful voice that resonates within his lyrics – intoning words that come from an enigmatic yet unaffected place.His albums prove that Cannon possesses a rare versatility to write both universally evocative songs as well as his personally significant melodies.

Beyond serving as one of Music City’s leading writers, Cannon has become a voice for his fellow songsmiths.Nashville Underground is a triumph in whose foundation Cannon played a key part.Nashville Underground is a record label designed to showcase the best of Nashville’s hit songwriters performing their own work.NU releases samplers with back-to-back award-winning tracks, and boasts a cast that includes such characters as Bob DiPiero, Stephony Smith, Gary Burr, Beth Nielson Chapman, and Jeffrey Steele, among many others.

When asked about success outside songwriting, Cannon insists, “One of my greatest honors was to be elected President of the Nashville Songwriters Association International.”However in 2003, Cannon denied an amendment to the NSAI constitution which would have allowed him to serve a third term as President.In the end, he said, administration was meant for other people.Cannon still serves on their Executive Board and Legislative Committees, working to “make the world aware of the songwriter,” but he was itching to get back to just writing songs.

Songwriting

“Me – I get up everyday, and I haven’t been able to sleep all night because I’m trying to figure out something to write.I’m trying to get these buzzing songs out of my head, out so that I can sleep.I love the process,” Cannon confesses.“There’s always kind of a mixed emotion at the moment of finishing… Have you ever read a really good book and you start trying to slow down towards the end?I love the process.I love every aspect of the process of writing.”

Cannon is not only extremely fond of the process of writing on his own, but also of writing with other songwriters and does so regularly.

“Probably my go-to guy is Chuck Jones.He wrote, ‘I’ve seen the seven wonders of the world/The moon in all its phases/But your love amazes me.’I mean, he rhymed ‘phases’ and ‘amazes’ – how genius is that?”

Cannon makes a point of approaching each particular songwriting session with a slightly different attitude, but always with the foremost objective of learning.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a co-writing situation where I didn’t learn something.From the most jaded, crusty guy that’s been writing hits since the 50s to the wild-eyed and innocent ‘oh-I-just-want-to-write-a-song.’I actively seek it out,” Cannon asserts.“I go into writing sessions with ‘What am I supposed to learn here today?’I honestly think that has been one of the key ingredients to any success that I’ve had.

“… [But] the important thing is listening, being really present, so I can actually help turn what they’re trying to say into lyric and melody.I love songwriters,” Cannon finishes.

Next on the Agenda

Most recently, Cannon is gearing up to set sail through the Caribbean on Cayamo 2010: A Journey Through Song. The festival will be departing from Miami on February 21, 2010, and making stops in beautiful Belize City, Belize and Costa Maya, Mexico. Cannon will be joining a stellar singer/songwriter line-up for this five-day journey.

Cayamo announced some returning artists this year as well as some new faces. Favorites Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, Buddy Miller, John Hiatt, Darrell Scott, Shawn Mullins, Vienna Teng and Katie Herzig, will board Cayamo alongside newcomers Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Allison Moorer, Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, Rachael Yamagata, and plenty more artists that will be announced throughout the year.Those updates, prices, and other information about Cayamo can be found at www.cayamo.com.

Cannon is also working on a third album and touring consistently throughout the rest of 2009.

Chuck Cannon is one of those songwriters that will be contributing until his pen gives out, and writing in his head after that, until the day he dies.Like any true Nashvillian, music is in his blood.We as Music City will forever be happy to claim him as one of our own.

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Brendan James Article

“On a Bold Horizon” with Brendan James

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

Brendan James

Brendan James

Brendan James approaches the pop world with an uncommon and bright new image – himself.  James chooses to share with his audiences truth and life and knowledge, but all of his own.  Instead of playing a part, James portrays himself exactly as he is – warm, introspective, kind – and has therefore achieved abounding success on his terms.

Balmy and sonorous, James’ tenor vocals express his poignant lyrics with all the fervor of personal experience and intimate significance.  James writes and plays with an openness and honesty to which his audiences can connect, intricately weaving his own emotions into universal themes, and using his evocative piano playing to articulate the powerful elegance and earthy nature of his songs.  Paired together, James’ musical efforts are strikingly compelling and gracefully simple.

Brendan James grew up in Derry, NH, but he didn’t begin writing songs until his sophomore year at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  James taught himself to play piano and took a year off from school to spend time in LA writing songs.  In 2002, he returned to Chapel Hill, graduated, and moved to New York City to divide his time between working at Urban Outfitters to pay bills and performing at open mic nights around the East Village to get his name out.  To gain access to a piano to practice, James would slip into hotel ballrooms around the city, dressed like a guest of the Plaza Hotel in order to go unnoticed.  James continued to write and perform and eventually recorded “As Oceans Rise” on his dime and his own terms, enlisting producer Mikal Blue before James even knew how, or if, the album would be released.

James finished recording the songs on The Day Is Brave in June and released a four-song digital EP via iTunes, entitled The Ballroom Break-In in reference to his days of sneaking into hotel ballrooms.  The EP reached #13 on iTunes’ Alternative/Pop chart, and the digital retailer’s editorial staff dubbed James a “top singer/songwriter to watch in 2008.”  From that time, James, who has performed with Carly Simon, Joss Stone, Corrine Bailey Rae, Robert Cray, and Keb Mo, among others, kept busy playing in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Chapel Hill as he waited for the release of The Day Is Brave by his new label, Decca/ Velour Records.

The Day Is Brave, James’ debut album, is a brilliant array of the singer/songwriter’s numerous talents and life experiences, set forth through deeply felt, insightful verses coupled with exquisitely composed melodies.  Focus tracks include “Green,” a symphonic tune boasting a strident and memorable piano harmony about a former girlfriend that he met while working at Urban Outfitters, “The Other Side,” a jazzy, dynamic tune with an irresistible beat written about James’ inability to assimilate in high school, and “Take the Fall,” which ponders a person’s responsibility to others in these quickly changing times.

Other distinctive songs are “Manchester,” an upbeat, heartening tune about the town in New Hampshire where James spent most of his time after his parents divorced, “Early April Morning,” a lofty, sanguine love song, “Hero’s Song,” a valiant and somber melody for the soldiers in Iraq, and the melancholy, pensive ballad “The Sun Will Rise.”  James’ voice in many of these tracks presents a strange dichotomy – a combination of blending with the music and standing out boldly over his piano refrains.  His resonant vocals fuse both harmony and melody, it seems, in a rich, expressive way.

Since the release of The Day Is Brave in June 2008, Brendan James has toured relentlessly across the United States, including a 26-date headlining circuit supported by MTV’s first ever SoundTRACKER tour throughout the months of November and December 2008, hitting cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Birmingham, Dallas, LA, and New York.

More recently, James has been involved in The Vespa Experiment, a project that took place during the first two weeks of May 2009 with the primary mission of sending a message to stop global warming by using the power of music.  Along with fellow singer/songwriters Jason Reeves and Amber Rubarth, James participated in an all-Vespa tour California Coast, from Carlsbad to San Francisco, on scooters to raise awareness about global warming. With just their instruments and some camping gear, the musicians partnered with Greenpeace in order to inspire young people to consider their impact on their environment.

Brendan James has made a name for himself and without ever straying from his ideals and personality.  Instead, he has found places and people who can appreciate him for who he is as a person and respect him for what he is capable of as a musician and songwriter.

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