Joy Williams Brings “Porch” Songs to WorkPlay

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Andy Barron

Since 2001, Joy Williams has released a steady stream of music, both as a solo artist and as one-half of The Civil Wars. In 2019, the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter will release the album Front Porch [Sensibility/Thirty Tigers]. Two tracks from the upcoming album (produced by Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids), “Canary” and “The Trouble With Wanting,” are available now. On Thursday, November 1, Emporium Presents: Joy Williams at WorkPlay. Anthony da Costa will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $20 and can be purchased at www.workplay.com.

 

Always An Adventure: A Conversation with Robby Staebler of All Them Witches

By Brent Thompson

For its 2017 release Sleeping Through The War [New West Records], All Them Witches enlisted the help of A-list producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson). But when it came time to record the recently-released follow-up album ATW [Red River], the band’s members – Robby Staebler, Charles Michael Parks, Jr. and Ben McLeod – put the production duties into familiar hands: their own. On Wednesday, October 31, All Them Witches will perform at Saturn. The Birmingham show marks the opening night of the band’s upcoming tour. Handsome Jack will open the 9 p.m. show. Recently, Staebler spoke with us by phone from his Tennessee home.

Birmingham Stages: Robby, thanks for your time. If you will, talk about the creation of the ATW album.

Robby Staebler: There were two things on that album that existed in some random form. “Half Tongue” – we just started playing that at a soundcheck at some point last year, just that riff. The other one was the heavy part of “Rob’s Dream” – that was something that me and Ben recorded years ago, like when we first started the band. That was something that we demoed and never looked at it again. Everything else just came about it – it was another fast process which has its drawbacks and bonuses, but it was a relatively quick thing. Over the course of two weeks of writing sessions and rehearsals, we basically structured the album and took another week to sit down and record it in a place we rented.

Birmingham Stages: It must be nice to write and record in such a quick, efficient manner.

Staebler: The last three albums we did were a relatively similar process. We just took an extra week with this one. I think we’re going to do something different for this next record. We were all living in different places, but I’ve moved back to Tennessee and I’m a good middle spot between Parks and Ben and I’ve got a studio. I’m renting a church and we’ve been rehearsing a bunch and just jamming. We haven’t been able to hang out and just jam for probably five years. We’re looking forward to this year and everyone being close and being able to play whenever we feel like it. I live 50 miles outside of Nashville because I can’t handle [living in Nashville] – I can’t be distracted. If I live in Nashville, I’m going to bars and making friends and spending all of my money. I live in this really small town and all I do is play drums everyday and work on graphics.

Birmingham Stages: After working with Dave Cobb on Sleeping Through The War, your band decided – with Ben at the helm, as the album’s press release states – to self-produce ATW. If you will, talk about that decision.

Staebler: It wasn’t really much of a discussion. We could’ve gone the same route – the producer thing – but we don’t really need someone to nudge us in directions. I’m not saying working with Dave diluted our process at all because it didn’t. It was a new experience and it was exciting. But we’re confident enough to be what we want and not really seek outside counsel for things like that. Ben’s super nerdy about the engineering aspect and recording – he really wanted to be at the helm, as they said. It was super easy and it was fun and relaxing. We could go as late or early as we wanted – there was no rush.

Birmingham Stages: At this point, do you see the band using the self-produced approach on upcoming albums?

Staebler: I think so. We’ve always been doing it ourselves with the exception of the last one. I’d put my money on us doing it ourselves.

Birmingham Stages: Your band is known for is work ethic and incessant touring schedule. How do you guys maintain that level of intensity?

Staebler: Because we’re each a real musician and that’s what our whole lives have been to this point. We’ve always played music and now I can pay my rent, see progress and talk to people and see that [our music] means something to them. If you call that “work ethic,” then you can, but we’re just doing what we love to do and being able to pay our rent doing it is more motivation. It’s always an adventure. We love traveling – it’s hard, it’s tiring and we miss our girlfriends, our families and our pets. But you only live once and if we get to go around the world and play stuff that we made and share our art with people, then we have to keep doing it.

Birmingham Stages: Going back to the subject of do-it-yourself recording and producing, artists now can forge careers without the required help of a label. Some artists say that’s great and some say it creates clutter because there is no gatekeeper. Simply put, anyone can record and release an album anytime. How do you view today’s overall climate?

Staebler: It’s definitely a pro that you can do it on the cheap. It’s accessible to people who couldn’t do it before and they can do it now. If they really want to do it, they can do it. It’s very saturated, but it’s just the world we live in. You can’t do anything about it. It’s just a matter of chance that someone listens and passes it on. There are so many things people will never hear that are amazing. Maybe it’s luck of the draw, but that’s how it is.

All Them Witches will perform at Saturn on Wednesday, October 31. Handsome Jack will open the 9 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $12 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Still Making Good Records: A Conversation with Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers

By Carey Hereford

  Photo Credit: Danny Clinch

Muscle Shoals native Patterson Hood formed Drive-By Truckers in 1996 with his longtime friend and former roommate Mike Cooley. Since then, the band has released 11 studio albums and four live albums. The quintet – known for its blend of alternative and Southern rock – has an upcoming three-night run at Saturn on November 6-8. Recently, we spoke with Hood by phone about the recent album release by Adam’s House Cat (his former band with Cooley), his relocation to Portland, OR and the Truckers’ upcoming shows this fall.

Birmingham Stages: Patterson, thank you for you time. Recently you released the Adam’s House Cat album that was recorded in early ’90s. What are some details about this band and why did you choose now to release this album?

Patterson Hood: Adam’s House Cat was together in 1985 through 1991 and we were based out of Muscle Shoals area. We usually played Monday at the Nick in downtown Birmingham, and if it rained just about no one would show up. During that time, we regularly played the Nick and other places that are long gone like the the Tip Top in Huntsville. But by like the fifth or the sixth year we had become a pretty big band, yet we never had a big following. We had just finished the album right around the time that the band had broken up, and we decided not to release. This record we put everything – our heart and soul into it –  and ended up not releasing it. That was something that was always eating at Cooley and I. So, of course me and Cooley went on to form The Truckers; We put out several albums and played well over 2,000 shows. This year I made it my New Year’s resolution to release that album. All of the tapes of the original mixes were lost, so we needed to remix it. A few weeks ago we released the album, and did a few reunion shows which was great because that was the first time we had played together in about 27 years.

Birmingham Stages: How do you decide if the songs you write are meant for Drive-By Truckers or for your solo records?

Hood: I mean a lot of it has to to do with timing and a lot of has to do with the direction of the song and the direction that the band is in at the time. Recently, I have written a group of songs that will someday be a solo record. I was in the process of writing what will be the next Drive-by-Truckers record, and the first bunch of songs that I wrote for it just did not hit me as songs that would fit the band. Yet they were songs that I really liked so at some point when I have time I do want to get around to making that record. It turns out I continued writing and ended up writing what I needed for the next Truckers record and got those songs recorded, and I hope we can get that new album released by next fall.

Birmingham Stages: How has it been living in Portland, Oregon? Why did you choose to live there as opposed to living somewhere closer to the South?

Hood: It has been great. Unfortunately, I have not spent much time there in past few months because I have spent more time in Athens, Georgia than there place where I live with my family. I am 54 now and spent 53 years of my life living in two small towns in two states, Florence, Alabama and Athens, Georgia. It never dawned on me when I was young that I would live somewhere outside the South. We were in a situation where developers ran us out of the neighborhood that we were living in near Athens. I thought maybe this is telling I need to experience something else. It has been really hard moving my whole family across the whole country, yet it has been rewarding in some places, too.

Birmingham Stages: Are there any songs that you wrote for either the Drive-by-Truckers or yourself that seem unfinished or could be improved in anyway?

Hood: I am always pretty self critical when it comes to writing music. I feel like I am certainly a better writer than I have been at any other point. It is always pretty easy to go back and see things that I could have done differently. But overall, I am in peace with most of my writing. I probably have a harder time listening to my vocals of older songs than the writing itself. I have worked really hard over the past 20 years to become a better singer and I think I have made a good bit of progress in the last seven or eight years. But when I hear my vocals from some of the earlier songs they can make me cringe pretty bad.

Birmingham Stages: How do you make the band’s older songs stay fresh in comparison to the new ones?

Hood: I definitely do not feel any need to do everything the same way it was done on the record. If there is a line in a song that I feel like makes it a better song now, I will certainly do it live. If there is a way of singing it or playing it differently the band can do it. The Truckers over 20 years have had many personnel changes and they all seemed to end about seven years ago. We landed on this lineup and have stayed extremely stable since then. Prior to that it was a kind of revolving door of third guitar players and bass players. It is never expected for a new guitar player to play a song the same way a former guitar player would play it. Whoever is in the band I want them to make the catalog their own. We did a live album a few years back in San Francisco at the Fillmore and it contains many reinterpretations of songs on it. That is a record I am really proud of – I really like how the band plays all those songs. But I am not in anyway disparaging any of the former live albums – I am really proud of all of the versions of this band.

Birmingham Stages: What is the process of making your setlist each time you play?

Hood: We do not – we never do a setlist. We basically decide the first song shortly before we start playing. Everything that happens after that is decided on the spot, we have a clock on stage so we know where we are on time so they do not have to end up pulling the power. We generally know where we are going to end. But we cue each other with hand signals like baseball players use for which song we are going to play next. The goal is to make it feel like to the audience that there is a setlist. This process keep us on our toes and makes the show more fun for all of us because we do not really know what is going to happen next. This also makes us not play the same show twice and keeps all of our songs fresh.

Birmingham Stages: In your opinion, do think rock-and-roll is dead or gone?

Hood: I definitely do not think it’s dead – it’s not the cultural defining thing at this point in time. Hip-hop is certainly the big news of the past two or three decades. There are still great still great rock bands and great rock music. Being in the business of live music and touring around rock-and-roll is still the greatest ticket seller of live shows. Fortunately, we are at a point where we can support our families doing what we love. Also, we are still making good records. Our most recent record, in my opinion, was one of the best records we have ever made – even the most successful record we have ever made. For a 22-year-old band, that is something really to be proud of.

Drive-By Truckers will perform at Saturn on November 6, 7 & 8. Showtime each night is 8 p.m. Advance tickets to the 18+ shows are $27 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Everything Matters: A Conversation with Chris Vos of The Record Company

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Jen Rosenstein

“The only moment you can do anything about is the one you’re living, so you might as well live in that moment,” Chris Vos says, speaking by phone from his Los Angeles home. And if anyone should be enjoying the present moment, it’s vocalist/guitarist Vos and his band mates in The Record Company. Bursting onto the scene with the release of its 2016 debut album – the Grammy-nominated Give It Back To You – the trio’s raw, timeless sound found mass critical and commercial appeal. In June of this year, The Record Company released All Of This Life [Concord/Universal], a 10-track collection that has charted on the strength of the single “Life To Fix.” On Tuesday, October 30, the band will perform at Saturn. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear will open the 8 p.m. show. Over the course of our interview, Vos gave his take on songwriting, the current music industry climate and recording the follow-up to a successful debut.

Birmingham Stages: Chris, thanks for your time. How did the material for All Of This Life take shape? Were these newer songs, songs that had been around for awhile or both?

Chris Vos: It came both ways you just described. There were a couple of creative bursts and there were a couple of concepts that had been hanging around for awhile. “Make It Happen” had been hanging around for awhile and on “The Movie Song” we had a chorus we liked but we didn’t have anything else. “Make It Happen” came together that way, too. “Life To Fix” is a creative burst I would say. When we made our first record, we made it in our living room borne out of the struggles like any other band. Nobody knew who were and we didn’t know if anybody would ever care who we were and we just wanted to make the best record we possibly could. When it came time to make All Of This Life, we wanted to stay true to the experiences we’d had. Life had changed, but we stayed the same in a lot of ways and that’s how we wanted the sound to be. We wanted to evolve and grow but hang true to our roots.

Birmingham Stages: An artist recently told me that sometimes a certain song tells you that it’s time to make a new album. Was that the case with All Of This Life?

Vos: We just knew we wanted to make another record. We had just finished the first record and we were playing those songs for a year and a half before the record came out and then the record comes out and you’re playing them for two years after and we wanted more music to play. There wasn’t a song – we just knew when we were done touring we wanted to start recording the record.

Birmingham Stages: To your point of playing a limited number of songs repeatedly, how have those songs stayed continually fresh to you along the way?

Vos: I don’t know. When you’re in love and walk through the door and see your wife for the 500th time or the 50,000th time and you really love each other, it’s always a good thing. That’s how the music is – when you really love what you’re doing, everything matters and every show matters. If you feel like it’s getting stale, you need to look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What am I doing? Is my heart in the right place right now?” It never gets stale for me. That being said, as an artist you get done with the painting and you want to paint another one. I can still play all those songs and feel them on a very deep level every time  because every time is different. I just look at it as a tremendous gift and you’ve got to work hard to stay worthy of it.

Birmingham Stages: Given the success of Give It Back To You and the touring and promotional demands surrounding it, was it difficult to find time to write songs for a new record?

Vos: Bob Dylan said in the movie Don’t Look Back, “When I’m out here, I’m collecting ideas and then I go home and write songs.” I am constantly typing phrases in my phone and singing into the phone. It gives you a constant recording device that is in your pocket. The chorus for “Life To Fix” – we were crunched in the back of a van in Colorado and Alex started humming this melody. I said, “What is that?'” He said, “I don’t know.” I said “Record it.” Later on, we listened and it became one of the strongest melodies on the record.

Birmingham StagesYou mentioned recording Give It Back To You in your living room. Today’s technology allows you to self-record, release and distribute music, but some artists say the ability for anyone to do so creates clutter. How do you view today’s climate?

Vos: I think it’s great. I grew up on a farm and it puts a field in front of everybody and you’ve got to go out there and tend to it – you’ve got to work. It’s got to be about the music first, no matter what the technology is. It’s got to be about saying something. Once you put it in the technology, the secret ingredient is working your butt off. It does seem impossible, especially in the beginning. You have to set the mission – What are the songs? Who are the people that are going to play them with me? The journey is very rewarding. You make friends with the word “No.” A lot of times you don’t even hear that. When you hear “No,” someone actually cared to reply.

Birmingham Stages: The phrase I often hear from artists regarding the current industry climate is, “The gatekeeper has been removed.”

Vos: In any era of music, the gatekeeper is the individual listener. There are a million little gates. The greatest gift a listener can give an artist is 15 seconds of their time to say, “Alright, show me what you’ve got.”

Birmingham Stages: You mentioned staying true to your sound on the new album, but obviously your band’s circumstances changed between the recording of the two albums. Did those circumstances tempt the band to change or tweak any part of the approach?

Vos: This is the first time any of us have ever gone into a record knowing there are some people out there that are going to want to hear it. That is intimidating at first and every artist that has made more than one record knows that feeling. We just looked at each other and said, “It just comes down to the three of us sitting in here and working it out.” When the three of us sit down and work together, things start happening. The focus has to be the music. We had gone from a living room to clubs to theatres and opening for bigger artists – we did Madison Square Garden with John Mayer. So, we wanted our sound to grow because we had grown. But the center is always the music and that’s something we didn’t want to compromise.

The Record Company will perform at Saturn on Tuesday, October 30. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $22.50 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

 

Blues Traveler Returns to Iron City

By Brent Thompson

“Run-Around” and “Hook” may have put Blues Traveler on the pop charts, but the band has been forging a deep and wide musical path for more than 30 years. Blending rock, blues, psychedelia and folk into its own distinct sound, the quintet – John Popper, Chan Kinchla, Tad Kinchla, Brendan Hill and Ben Wilson – sustains this formula on its latest release, Hurry Up & Hang Around. On Thursday, October 25, Blues Traveler will perform at Iron City. The soulful San Francisco-based septet Con Brio will open the 8 p.m. all-ages show. Advance tickets are $28 and can be purchased at www.ironcitybham.com.

The Authentic Experience: A Conversation with Con Brio’s Andrew Laubacher

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Simpson Yiu

Con Brio (meaning “with spirit”) has landed on a unique musical formula – write socially-aware songs that address these unsettling times and place them on a funky, danceable platform. In July, The San Francisco-based septet released Explorer [Transistor Sound], the follow-up to its acclaimed 2016 full-length debut, Paradise. Thriving in front of a live audience, Con Brio has grown its fan base with noted appearances at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. On Thursday, October 25, the band will perform at Iron City as the supporting act for Blues Traveler. Recently, we spoke with Con Brio’s drummer Andrew Laubacher by phone as he and his band mates prepared for a run of European shows.

Birmingham Stages: Andrew, thanks for your time. If you will, talk about the creation of Explorer.

Andrew Laubacher: Some of the ideas and content had been stuff we were working on for about a year and a half between Paradise and when we started working on this record. A lot of it was written for that record and written with a purpose. The way that you write material in a big band – there are seven of us – things happen organically, whether they’re ideas we’re working out at a soundcheck at a show or we’ll hole-up somewhere and do a songwriting retreat if we have days off. It’s probably about 50/50 – that and the other half of it [vocalist] Ziek [McCarter] and I go and work with other people to get some outside perspective and stuff for the record.

Birmingham Stages: Given you were busy promoting and touring for Paradise, was it challenging to find time to write material for Explorer?

Laubacher: Yeah, that’s always a tough thing because being on the road is busy. If we’re playing 200 shows a year, you add on your travel and rehearsal schedule. Just to keep that going is a full-time job, so to find time to say, “What do we want to make next?” really requires a lot of focus.

Birmingham Stages: Your band is known for addressing topical issues in your songs. If you will, talk about your lyrical approach.

Laubacher: I think there are a few songs – without going out too far of the way to hit the nail right on the head because we don’t consider ourselves to be a political band – on Paradise like “Hard Times” that speak pretty clearly to some issues. “Hard Times” in particular comes to mind because everybody has hard times. That’s not just what’s going on in the Bay or the U.S. I think there might be some pieces of that on Explorer, but I think we wanted to explore a different angle and bring some positivity and levity. We wanted Explorer to be more fun.

Birmingham Stages: How do you feel about the current musical climate in the age of Youtube, iTunes and satellite radio?

Laubacher: I was talking to Ziek about this some years ago. We’re not really in the music industry – the music industry has changed so much and been absorbed by social media. The way I look at it is that we are in the entertainment industry and there’s a retail aspect that has gone now in the way people consume music. People consume music differently and appreciate it on different levels. In general, we’re providing a larger service – we’re not just in the business of selling records. For the most part, people don’t buy records. What we’re attempting to provide for people is a way to unwind and a way to engage. I can appreciate the way things have changed – streaming services, Youtube. I don’t think that anybody knows what’s going to come next, but we’re all hanging in there. People are only going to be drawn to things that are authentic and have substance.

Birmingham Stages: Con Brio is known for its relentless energy in the live setting. How does your band continue to bring that intensity and enthusiasm so consistently?

Laubacher: What’s keeping good music alive is the live show. When you’re there face-to-face, people appreciate that authentic experience and it goes both ways – that’s the authentic experience for us, too. We might have a 24-hour straight travel day, but by the time we get to the stage, it doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re in it for. That’s the whole thing – that connection and that experience. The live show is where you see the chemistry between the members of the band and the band and the audience.

Con Brio will perform at Iron City in support of Blues Traveler on Thursday, October 25. Advance tickets to the 8 p.m., all-ages show are $28 and can be purchased at www.ironcitybham.com. 

Inside The Human Spirit: A Conversation with AHI

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Jess Baumung

AHI’s roots lie in Canada, but his songs take listeners on a sonic journey to places near and far. Citing Bob Marley as a prominent musical influence, the singer/songwriter (pronounced “Eye”) incorporates the wide-ranging styles of Michael Kiwanuka, Alabama Shakes and Michael Jackson into his sound. AHI’s latest release, In Our Time [22nd Sentry/Thirty Tigers], is an 11-track collection that furthers his reputation as a master storyteller. On Thursday, October 25, AHI will perform at the Alabama Theatre in support of Lauren Daigle. Recently, he spoke with us by phone from a tour break in Nashville.

Birmingham Stages: AHI, thanks for your time. If you will, talk about the songs that comprise In Our Time.

AHI: Most of them are new ones – a few of them are last-minute additions. “Five Butterflies” came in at the last minute and “The Hardest One” was another last-minute one – it almost didn’t make the album. These songs were all written after [previous release] We Made It Through The Wreckage.

Birmingham Stages: How do songs stay fresh and relevant to you after you’ve performed them hundreds of times?

AHI: When I get onstage, I do a lot of storytelling and I think telling the stories that revolve around the songs and getting the audience’s reaction to those stories gets me into the songs. Also, right now I’m promoting specific songs so there are certain songs on the album that I haven’t played live yet. I’m still also promoting my first album in a lot of ways because there are a lot of people discovering me that haven’t heard my first album. I’m comfortable playing the same songs over and over again because, as an artist, I’m learning how to sing these songs and I’m growing into these songs. There are a lot of singers that think their first take is the best take, but my voice always gets better and I learn about the songs as I sing the songs.

Birmingham Stages: Some artists tell me that – given the instant accessibility provided by outlets such as iTunes and Youtube – this is a great time to be releasing music. Others tell me that – for those same reasons – this is a difficult time to separate yourself from the crowd. How do you view the climate these days?

AHI: I acknowledge both points of view, but I’m more on the side that it’s the most beautiful time in the world to make music. I can sit down and write exactly the material that I want to write. So, I look at it more from a creative point of view. If this was 10 years ago, maybe I would’ve been signed sooner or maybe I wouldn’t have been acknowledged at all. So being able to make the songs I want to make and connecting with the audience gives me the perception that this is the perfect time for an artist like me to exist. I can’t take that for granted.

Birmingham Stages: The phrase I hear quite often these days is, “The gatekeeper has been removed.”

AHI: I don’t know about that one [laughs]. The gatekeepers still exist, but there are other entry points. A lot of artists have decided, “I can go through this gate instead of that gate and get more of the pie and own my own publishing and masters.” That’s what I do – I own my own publishing and my own masters. When I get a check from Spotify, it’s a lot bigger per stream than artists on bigger labels because they’re divvying it up.

Birmingham Stages: You are well-traveled and your sound and songs reflect it. If you will, talk about how your life experiences affect your musical style.

AHI: I feel like we’re all people trying to connect to something and trying to be recognized for that connection. I’ve been to Ethiopia and Trinidad and, for the most part, people are kind and we all just want to have a human connection. What I try to do with my music is peel back the layers as much as possible to give people the most honest, pure connection possible from my point of view. I’d like to think that my voice is transmitting something that’s inside the human spirit.

Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process?

AHI: I write at home 99% of the time. I need a base where I feel like I can be comfortable and I can be vulnerable. But, with that said, my biggest song was written in Nashville at an AirBnB [laughs].

AHI will perform at the Alabama Theatre on Thursday, October 25 in support of Lauren Daigle. Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show are available at www.ticketmaster.com.

Listening Station: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

By Brent Thompson

Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium has become Jason Isbell’s home away from home over the past few years and who could blame him? Though he could easily fill the city’s nearby – and much larger – Bridgestone Arena, the lure of the historic, intimate “Mother Church” remains a powerful one. On the cusp of an upcoming six-night Ryman run, Isbell  – backed by his trusty 400 Unit – is releasing Live From the Ryman [Southeastern Records] on October 19. The 13-track collection spans material from Isbell’s recording catalog and – in addition to being a souvenir of his live show – is an ideal snapshot of his recent output. Tracks including “Elephant,” “Super 8,” “24 Frames” and “If We Were Vampires” display the maturation of the singer/guitarist’s songwriting since his previous live release, Live From Alabama. And while Isbell’s songwriting and guitar skills are well-noted, the tightness of the 400 Unit is often overlooked and Live From the Ryman allows the band to shine. Equal parts folk artist, classic rocker and country troubadour, Live From the Ryman reminds us that Isbell has created a sound that is both universal and personal at once.

Make A Genuine Connection: A Conversation with Anna Grace Beatty

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Sean Kirby

With the flood of national touring acts performing in Birmingham on a regular basis these days, it can be easy to overlook our talented, local artists that are recording and performing original music. Anna Grace Beatty is a local artist that is about to step to the front-and-center both literally and figuratively. For the past few years, the singer/songwriter with a sound that belies her 16 years of age has been honing her craft and writing songs at a furious pace. On Friday, October 12, Beatty will release her EP Burns You Up. The record’s first single, “Ain’t No man,” has been receiving airplay on Birmingham Mountain Radio. That same night, she will perform at a record release show at WorkPlay. The show – featuring Rachael Roberts and Chelsey Whild – will benefit Girls Rock Birmingham, a nonprofit program that helps young girls grow as individuals and artists. Recently, Beatty spoke with us by phone from her Birmingham home.

Birmingham Stages: Anna Grace, thanks for your time. If you will, talk about the writing and recording of Burns You Up.

Anna Grace Beatty: It’s been a pretty long process. I’ve been writing for two and a half to three years and I started out with a very different sound than I have now. I love writing and I used to write three hours a day – it’s kind of an obsession for me. The oldest song would have been written a year ago in February – that particular song is called “Livin’ The Dream” – and I think we recorded it four times. Some of the songs were written pretty recently toward the beginning of this year. Some of them are old, some of them are newer and we just pulled them all together and tried to get a group that was cohesive.

Birmingham Stages: When you are writing, do you ever take pieces from one song and attach to another idea or song?

Beatty: Yes, I do a lot. I usually start with lyrics and, if I have a lyrical hook, I’ll try to compile some ideas that work with that idea. Once I have a pretty solid body of work, I’ll sit down with it and start piecing some things together. A lot of times that makes the original idea evolve and change a lot, so it ends up a total 180 of what I thought it would be when I started. It’s a really crazy process and you have to give it time.

Birmingham Stages: How are you able to balance the time demands of your career and school?

Beatty: I homeschool and I will be graduating high school in December. I am getting high school and college credit for my classes. The deal that I have with my parents is that I’ll get halfway through college and do two years and that way I’ve done some of the work ahead of time. I’ve been doing that for a year now. It’s been really nice to get credit in both departments and I’m thankful to have the flexibility.

Birmingham Stages: As an artist, how do you view the climate these days? Technology has allowed for easier accessibility to listeners but it also seems you are required to wear a lot of hats.

Beatty: I love being indie and I want it to stay that way for as long as possible because I love having a hand in everything. I don’t want to say that I’m a control freak, but I want to make sure everything is done right [laughs]. I love every aspect of the process – the business, the studio, everything. I want to be as much a part of it as I can be. You’re not beholden to anybody and I like that. You can make a genuine connection with people and don’t have a bunch of middlemen. There is definitely a flip side – anyone can make an iPhone voice memo, put it on the internet and call it a record. It’s a catch-22. I went to a studio with a producer and we spent 18 months on this EP. I strongly believe in that because I like the collaborative nature and I think it produces better results.

Birmingham Stages: Even though anyone can record and distribute an album without the help of a label, it seems that you still have to tour behind the music and make a connection with an audience.

Beatty: Absolutely. Right now, making records is an investment in your career – you’re not going to see a lot of return on it because of the streaming climate. I think there will be a correction in that department – the industry realizes that the model is not going to be sustainable for the long term. But, as of right now, there are a lot of people that are great writers and singers but there are so many little pieces to being an artist. People can peg genuine and they see the way you treat people and it’s immediately visible to anybody.

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about Girls Rock and its mission.

Beatty: Girls Rock puts on summer camps for girls ages 9 to 16 to teach them how to be female artists, which is another thing we could have a six-hour conversation about. It’s hard to be a young artist and a female artist at the same time. They take the girls, form bands and each band writes a song and they do a showcase at the end of the week. I think the last [showcase] was at Saturn and they’ve done it at WorkPlay before – it’s always at a nice club or venue here. They teach them stage presence, help them design logos and screen print t-shirts and talk about fashion. They teach them about all aspects of the business and how to navigate it as a young girl. I’m really glad Birmingham has something like it.

Birmingham Stages: With the challenges facing female artists, there seems to be a heightened awareness of those challenges in the industry. The acknowledgment is hopefully a step in the right direction.

Beatty: I totally agree. It’s just like the streaming model – I think there is a correction happening because the mindset has to be changed. Obviously, that takes a really long time because it’s changing the way people think but I think it’s happening. Awareness is being built through programs like Girls Rock. It’s slow growth but I think it’s happening and I’m very excited to be a part of that wave.

Anna Grace Beatty EP Release Show, benefiting Girls Rock Birmingham, will take place on Friday, October 12 at WorkPlay. Rachael Roberts and Chelsey Whild will open the 7 p.m. all-ages show. Advance tickets are $8 and can be purchased at www.workplay.com.