Warren Brothers Article

Warren Brothers

“The Search for the Perfect Song”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Brett and Brad Warren always write their songs together, and as the Nashville songwriting duo The Warren Brothers, their industrious pens have been working for the likes of Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Dierks Bentley, among an impressive, steady growing list of others.

“Because we’re brothers, we have a built-in chemistry,” Brett explains. “We’re also brutally honest with each other. It can be refreshing and also taxing to write with us, but it will not be boring.”

The Brothers’ writing process seems about as diverse as their list of co-writers themselves: “We might go have lunch with Martina, and something in conversation will hit us, and we’ll write a song about that. Or Tim will call me up with an idea, and I’ll head over to his house, and we’ll write it. Or we’ll just start messing around on a guitar and try to think of stuff. There’s really no set way.”

Despite the Brothers current savvy, they worked hard to hit their stride. Early in their now 15-year career, Brad and Brett performed as artists, releasing three albums in six years, and served as judges on CMT’s Nashville Star for a time. Since then, they’ve found their niche as wholly devoted songwriters and have hurled themselves into the arena without hesitation.

“As regular artists, we were way too diverse,” Brett clarifies. “As songwriters, [that diversity] has been a blessing. We have a song on Hinder’s record and Toby Keith’s, we have four songs on Tim McGraw’s new album, and we’re writing with Orianthi this week. We just had a song cut by Lynyrd Skynyrd even, so we’re all over the map, and it is so much fun. We’ve written with Chris Daughtry and Ne-yo and people that are so different, it’s not even funny.”

The Warren Brothers’ lively schedule is due in part to their high demand as great writers but also probably as much to their enthusiasm and passion for finding the perfect song. They write with purpose and zeal for the music above all else.

“The best moments in my career have been the ones where I realized we were writing not for the money, not for an award; it was all about the song.”

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Marie Hines Bio

Supporting HeartCrash

By Emily J Ramey

Written for Marie Hines

Marie Hines

Marie Hines is a creator. She cooks dinner, she bakes cupcakes, she’s an avid DIY-er, and true to her Southern charm, she’s not afraid to get down in the dirt if it means cultivating something colorful and fragrant. Drawing inspiration from nature, HeartCrash boasts music that mimics the fine lightness of a summer breeze and the rolling current of a cool autumn stream. By broadening her scope and expanding her thematic obsessions, Marie has fallen right into place between Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles, an artist as spirited and smart as she is talented.

Those familiar with Marie’s debut, Worth the Fight, or her live follow-up EP, The Living Room Sessions, will recognize her characteristic feminine grace, billowing piano melodies, and incandescent strings, but there’s something new and exciting in this collection of songs. On HeartCrash, Marie’s brush strokes are broader, more confident. Like a bright-eyed bride lifting her gauzy veil for the first time, letting the sun dazzle her and the wind brush her skin, the young Nashville singer/songwriter is stepping out and making strides. “With HeartCrash, I wanted to do something that wasn’t safe. I wanted genuine and natural and raw. These songs embody where I am now, I think.”

“Hammer,” written from the perspective of a character in a book, opens the album with the leaden lines, “You never think your lover’s words could kill you, and you can’t foresee the blow that is your last,” and continues to unfold into an rolling instrumental landscape that explores the windswept valleys of slighted love. The unshakable title track was a new experience for Marie; “it didn’t come out of love or lack of love; it came out of anger,” she claims. A song about “a collision of two souls, the realization of clashing opinions and irreconcilable differences,” “HeartCrash” stomps out a driving beat, sullying forth with words like “I won’t stay, stay around for you to take, take me down, down, down.”

“Mending” is far and away the most complex song on HeartCrash, piano rivulets spilling into swirling ocean depths, dissonant strings surging and eddying into a roaring cascade. “The song has a steady 4/4 rhythm, then a 3/4 rhythm enters in the bridge. The different rhythms layer together perfectly,” Marie reveals, “and to me, it feels like two people falling in love.” The single “Perfect Kiss” is a playful acoustic refrain, silvery and gleaming in its idyllic innocence. “It’s a very personal song,” she says. “It’s a snapshot of the moment I realized I was blissfully happy in my relationship, and that I had found the person I want to be with for the rest of my life.” And “Poison in the Well” is a potent, pleading struggle to let go of the past, an emotion that elicits the strongest vocals on the record.

Marie’s debut album saw critical success with a feature in WalMart’s Valentine’s Day in-store promotional campaign in 2010 and 2011 and the top prize in both the Intel Superstars Competition and the Avon Songwriting Competition. Following the release of Worth the Fight, Marie embarked on a national tour, playing venues like LA’s famous Hotel Café on the West Coast, Nashville’s Bluebird Café, New York’s The Living Room on the East Coast, and cafés, house concerts, and coffeeshops all along the way.

More recently, Marie’s songs have provided background music for dozens of wedding videos, iTunes, Hallmark, Delta Airlines, Spotify, and Forever 21 have showcased tracks in various capacities, and the “Perfect Kiss” music video is in regular rotation on CMT Pure.

Marie Hines’ new release is available on February 28, 2012. For more information about Marie and HeartCrash, go to http://www.mariehines.com.

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Angie Aparo Article

Angie Aparo

“The Anti-Musician”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Angie Aparo has made a name for himself writing key songs for some heavy hitters in the music world. His career, burgeoning from penning hits like “Cry” and “Free Man” for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw respectively, continues to flourish with a cut on Miley Cyrus’ 2010 record and two tracks on McGraw’s January 2012 release.

But writing for others seems to come easily to Aparo: “When I’m writing for someone else, it’s like writing a play. I know the characters.”

These days, he’s challenging himself and taking time to write autobiographically. The solo album he’s currently working on will be his first in six years, and it’s about time by the sound of it.

“Writing for myself is a religion, it’s a therapy; it’s all these things wrapped in one, and then, oh yeah, there are the songs,” Angie quips. “For me, the songs are a just by-product of sitting with yourself for a while.”

And Aparo takes that alone time very seriously. Indeed, it is the only successful way he’s found to write his songs.

“When I’m writing my own record, I have to be so alone,” he says. “I sequester myself. It takes time to figure out what I’m trying to say and then how to say it.”

As Angie takes to the recording studio, he’s not tying himself to any one idea. In fact, he’s blowing the doors off anything remotely conventional and working toward music that is “playful” and “unorthodox” instead.

“I want to make anti-music, but I don’t know what that means yet. I mean, what is music? I think we’ve limited it. This record’s going to be interesting,” Aparo reveals. “I’m sampling sounds, noises; I want to make a noise orchestra, you know, life happening. I think it’s going to be a real joyful record.”

Beyond all else, Aparo’s desires lie among the satisfaction derived from making something new and above all, musical.

“It just doesn’t matter the medium; I’ll do anything to make music. I’m on this journey now of what can I turn into an instrument.” Angie’s journey continues on the road this summer, following the release of his eighth record, expected late this spring.

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Merry Ellen Kirk Bio

Supporting Firefly Garden

By Emily J Ramey

Written for Merry Ellen Kirk

Merry Ellen Kirk

Merry Ellen Kirk is a poet. Perhaps “songwriter” is a more commonly used term, but it’s also too commonplace for Merry Ellen’s glittering narratives, songs that spring up wildly from her subconscious and bloom into vibrant, lilting melodies. Her sparkling piano refrains sweep and spill into fresh, sweet rivulets of notes; her lyrics weave bright, halcyon tales of dream sequences, the light and dark polarities of the human experience, and beauty in its many forms. “I write about light and dark a lot… good and evil, dreams and reality, the darker and lighter parts of the human soul,” she explains.

Despite the undeniable tension in her thematic obsessions, Merry Ellen Kirk explores her dichotomies with grace. She writes songs with the cool effortlessness of youth, sings with the jaunty simplicity and breezy flair of a practiced performer, and plays with fleet fingers and subtle polish. In cultivating her own sound, Merry Ellen has employed a few key elements from her predecessors: the classical prowess of Tori Amos, the natural poise of Sarah McLachlan, the quiet pensiveness of A Fine Frenzy, and the bold whimsy of Regina Spektor.

Growing up a missionaries’ daughter in Mongolia has had its effect on Merry Ellen’s music, creating a refreshingly broad perspective from so young a person. “I think it mostly comes out in my approach to life. I feel like more of my songs are about the world and making the world a better place. My music is about seeing the world and being better for it.”

Of her unconventional childhood musical inclinations Merry Ellen reveals, “In Mongolia, they don’t have pianos, but I knew it was always something that I wanted to do – play piano. So when we moved back, I started taking lessons.” They were the tiny seeds of something greater, a glowing catalyst dawning on Merry Ellen’s path. “It was definitely a huge risk to just put myself out there and start doing this full time when I was seventeen. I had only written a couple of songs, but I knew that it was what I wanted to do.”

A true Nashville singer/songwriter, Merry Ellen works best under pressure, dividing her artistic talents among multiple projects – like serving as half of burgeoning folk duo The Shakespeares and developing a pop venture with fellow songwriter Rachel Pearl – all the while tending her own flowering repertoire. “I’m inspired by other artists, and sometimes things in nature, too, because God’s the artist there. I write songs from those moments.”

On her sophomore album, Firefly Garden, 21-year-old Merry Ellen spins a gossamer web of silvery tunes that glints and glistens with morning dew and lightly stroked piano keys. “Every week for ten weeks I recorded a song, and it was really therapeutic for me. It was freeing,” she says. “I think that’s what the album is about: all this crazy stuff is happening around you, but it’s important to find your inspiration and your beautiful place in life.”

The record, produced by Shakespeares counterpart Aaron Krause, is an enchanted glimpse into Merry Ellen’s sun-dappled mind, a veritable Eden of lush emerald canopies and richly tinted florets in which her music becomes the soundtrack to a verdant dream like delicate chimes floating on the billows of perfumed zephyrs. Among the high points of Firefly Garden lie the colorful, saccharine lyrics of “Candy,” which are a cleverly draped disguise for a faintly melancholy word on chimeras and the hope and sorrow they arouse; the muted, jazzy, rhythmic tune “Do You?” that channels a Pieces-of-You-era Jewel or even a dusky Corinne Bailey Rae; the exquisite “Masquerade,” an intricate, tortured tribute to Romeo and Juliet that features a rolling, minor piano and a heavy, fragile despair; and “Clair de Lune,” a lovely, diaphanous interpretation of Debussy’s famous melody complete with Merry Ellen’s own lyrics, that swells and ebbs like salty tides breaking lazily on gleaming white sand, a performance both deeply felt and lavishly played.

“I feel like everything that happens in your life kind of goes into your songs. It’s something that becomes part of your music. Who you are is your music.” Becoming so helplessly entwined with one’s music is a silent commitment to see the world through different eyes, an unalterable promise to commit one’s life to the glorious immortal verse. That poetry is what sight would be to the blind, speech to the dumb, walking to the crippled, and life to the condemned, but Merry Ellen Kirk sees, speaks, walks, lives, and she has poetry.

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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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Bonnaroo Article

“Bonnaroo Superlatives and Overall Festival Wrap-Up”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

the infamous arch

Well, I survived my first Bonnaroo… something that I wasn’t so sure of going into the weekend… but I came out okay on the other side, and what’s more is that I can honestly say I had the time of my life. I feel comfortable now saying that I was genuinely worried about the lack of sleep and the heat and the sweat and the dirt and the general lack of hygiene and everything else unpleasant that comes with a four-day camping festival in Tennessee in June (and I feel comfortable saying this now because they were in fact real concerns, not just the girly dramatizations of my mind), but no matter how much all of those things affected my experience, I (and I think it’s safe to say that 95% of my Bonnaroo peers would say the same) walked away with a smile and a sunburn and remained otherwise unscathed.

In general, my days (other than the day we actually got there and set up camp, which was slightly different if only in time frames) went like this:

8:00-8:30 — Wake up sweaty and hot as a result of the sun beating down on my tent, creating a tiny makeshift sauna; position myself directly under the oh-so-valuable tent ceiling fan (yes, they have those!!) to try to go back to sleep; wake up five minutes later, still burning up, and exit tent into the bright, dewy morning
8:30-9:30 — Trip to the nearest porta-potties/wash stations; back to the campsite to try to sleep just a few more minutes in a lawn chair; greet fellow campers as they emerge and do the exact same thing; eventually give up on sleep and grab the nearest Gatorade/bottle of water/liquid of any kind; make breakfast, which could range from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to an orange to a beer to instant grits
9:30-10:00 — Turn the car on to charge up my phone; use this precious 30 minutes to also change clothes in the car with the AC blasting

a lovely middle of the scorching day shot

10:00-11:00 — Sit around in lawn chairs and various other minimally physical activities to reduce the chances of sweating, some of which included reading, drinking beer, spraying each other with misty fans, making sandwiches, telling stories and reminiscing about the events of the previous day, cheeseball eating contest, etc.
11:00-11:30 — Get ready to leave the campsite for the day; pack backpack with water, coozie, power bars, flashlight, picnic blanket, wet wipes, toilet paper, sunscreen, schedule, phone, wallet, sunglasses, etc.; apply copious amounts of sunscreen; fill misty fans with melted ice water from coolers; grab road beer; zip up tent; lock car
11:30-12:00 — Walk into Centeroo; set lunch meeting time and place; split up for various shows beginning at noon
12:00-3:00 — Go to shows (approximately three); fill up water bottle (approx. twice); reapply sunscreen (approx. once); eat lunch or snack
3:00-4:00 — Find a shady place (if possible) to lay out picnic blanket and take a nap
4:00-6:00 — Go to more shows (approximately 1.5, depends on the day and the schedule); drink more water; maybe do a little shopping or just walking around (because the heat is somehow more bearable when moving as opposed to just standing or sitting and sweating)
6:00-7:00 — Lay the picnic blanket out again (probably near one of the bigger stages in order to sit and enjoy one of the bigger acts); take turns going to get dinner

a Bonnaroo summer sunset

7:00-10:00 — Rejoice in the setting of the sun and the resulting cooler temperatures; find a place farther up in the crowd for the headlining act; rock out to the headlining act
10:00-11:00 — Leave the headlining show a little early to beat some of the crowd; walk back to the campsite
11:00-12:00 — Spend some quality time at the wash stations with some freezing cold water, a bar of soap, a toothbrush, and some shampoo; lean head over sink to wash dirt, sweat, sunscreen, etc. out of hair; use giant cup to wash/rinse arms and legs; use washcloth to rinse rest of body as well as possible; resist wasting time washing dirty, dirty feet
12:00-1:00 — Sit around at the campsite, drinking beer, wiping dirt off feet with wet wipes, competing in a cheeseball eating contest (again), texting Mom to let her know we’re still alive and well, talking about what late night shows to attend
1:00-2:00 — Take a nap before going back to Centeroo for the late night show
2:00-2:15 — Wake up and realize the late night show is starting right now and also realize that sleep sounds like such a better option
2:15-8:00 — Glorious slumber in the cool, refreshing night

the 20-something people on stage for Mumford's encore

As far as the music goes, there were some good shows and some great shows. With the exception of The Black Keys ending their set 30 minutes early with no encore to follow, I was never disappointed by an act’s performance. It seemed like every artist I watched was throwing him/herself into the performance, despite the heat and the sun and all other circumstances. The best example of that fact was Mumford and Sons’ show. They played as if Bonnaroo 2011 was the last show they’d ever play, which is of course, far from the truth. And their encore consisted of a 7-minute rendition of “Amazing Grace,” sung and played by members of Apache Relay, Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Cadillac Sky, as well as the legendary Jerry Douglas himself. Yeah. So the Award for Best Encore goes to Mumford and Sons.

The Award for Most Eclectic Crowd goes to Primus.

The Award for Best Frontman goes to Robert Plant and Band of Joy.

The Award for the Best Sit Down and Chill While Listening Act is a tie between Amos Lee and Iron and Wine.

Bela and his banjo

The Award for Best Spot in the Crowd goes to Bela Fleck, not really for anything he did, except for the fact that I knew I could only enjoy a portion of the performance from far away, only being able to hear the music. To truly get the full experience at a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones performance, I knew I would have to be so close that I could see how fast and nimbly their fingers were moving. It was incredible, and well worth the elbowing and the extra sweat factor involved in standing among thousands of other hot, sweaty people. And I can now officially say that I’ve seen the original lineup of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, which is quite something in and of itself.

The Award for Best Main Stage Act is a tie between The Decemberists and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

The Award for Best Big Name, Daytime Act is a tie between Alison Krauss and Union Station and Old Crow Medicine Show.

The Award for Best Act that Piqued My Curiosity and I Now Need to Look Up goes to Beirut.

David Mayfield and sister Jessica Lea

The Award for Most Surprising Act goes to The David Mayfield Parade. I had heard of the band before, mostly in relation or conjunction with Mayfield’s also musical sister Jessica Lea Mayfield, but knew very little about them beyond that. I went to their Thursday night show because friends of mine dragged me along. And wow! They are fantastic! We were right up front for all the action on stage, which included corny jokes and unbelievable guitar solos from the larger-than-life, boisterous bearded man that is David Mayfield himself, a tiny yet impressively adroit little fiddle player, a female bass player whose long blonde hair hung directly in front of her face 80% of the show, a ginger lead guitar player, and an equally as epicly bearded drummer with an unexpected but lovely singing voice. The band blew me away and in doing so, registered themselves as by far my favorite show of Thursday’s line up. I bought their album immediately after returning home (well, immediately after a shower, that is).

The Award for Best Up and Coming Act goes to The Head and the Heart.

The Award for Most Unexpectedly Large Crowd is a tie between Florence and the Machine, Neon Trees, and Sleigh Bells.

The Award for Oldest Crowd is a tie between Gregg Allman and Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.

the six-piece from Music City

The Award for Best Local Act goes to Apache Relay, who just killed an all-too-short Sunday evening set. Theirs was the last show I attended before leaving Manchester forever (read: until next year), and it was one hell of a way to close out the festival. The six piece band had all the instruments for a bluegrass or Americana band, but these guys played nothing if not straight up rock. I actually have the privilege of being able to say that I know most of the members of Apache Relay, each of them being former Belmont students like myself, but even fully understanding how talented each of these guys is did not prepare me for their exceptional stage presence and raging, fiery, exciting set. Nashville can be so, so proud.

The Award for Best Introduction goes to The Black Keys for having Aziz Ansari.

The Award for Best Dance Show goes to Walk the Moon.

And the Award for Best Headliner goes to My Morning Jacket.

I could go on and on about Crazy Things That Happened at Bonnaroo, or Awesome and Unexpected Collaborations on Stage, or How I Managed to Get In on Thursday and Out on Sunday in Under an Hour Each, but truly, truly, the festival called Bonnaroo is an experience that you can only fully understand after having experienced it for yourself. And everyone’s Bonnaroo is completely unique. So, my final words on the subject are simply these: I will see you there next year.