By Brent Thompson
Phone interviews are the norm for a music journalist, so when you get the rare opportunity to interview artists in person, you jump at it. Recently, I met with Kaydee Mulvehill and Zach Austin at Southside’s Filter Coffee Parlor. On Thursday, May 16, the two Birmingham-based singer/songwriters will perform at The Nick in a triple-bill show that includes Texan Matthew McNeal. During our time together, Mulvehill and Austin shared their thoughts on the local music scene and songwriting while leaving me with a memorable John Prine quote.
Birmingham Stages: Kaydee and Zach, thanks for your time. From a fan’s standpoint, Birmingham’s music scene seems more vibrant and active than ever. As artists, how would you describe the city’s scene?
Zach Austin: I think our local scene is strong and solid as far as everyone working together. Everyone pretty much plays with everyone and helps everyone. It’s like a huge family.
Kaydee Mulvehill: I had a band in 2006 that played until 2009. Back then, we would play The Nick. It was a great place to play, but was geared to full-band shows. Now, on the weeknights, it’s almost like a listening room. You would never know that unless you were there. I think the scene and talent are awesome, but I wish that there were more places where you could come and listen. In the past, some of the bigger venues would get on board in supporting the local artists and having them open up. I wish places would take notice of that and give local talent more opportunities.
Birmingham Stages: As artists forging careers in the era of home recording, iTunes, Youtube and social media, how do you feel about the current climate? Are the modern outlets beneficial or do they just promote clutter?
Mulvehill: I think it goes back to having an old-school work ethic. So much of that is true – you can promote yourself on social media, but the way people remember you is if you can walk up to them and have a conversation and make relationships. You stay after the show and talk to people and make an effort to engage in conversation – that’s what makes people tell their friends about you. You won’t make the same impact as building relationships with people if you’re just throwing it out there.
Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing processes?
Austin: My phone is full of random pieces of songs that I have ideas for, but sometimes I can just write a song in one sitting.
Mulvehill: I’m kind of the same way. One of the reasons my songwriting has gotten better is I have a good community of people to send songs to. There was a song I wanted to throw away and I sent it to people who said, “This is the best song you’ve ever written.” I was surprised. When you can send it to a group and get that feedback, that will take your songwriting to the next level. You get so down in it that you can’t see the forest for the trees.
Austin: You need to get into somebody else’s head and find out what they hear from it.
Mulvehill: Songs are so personal that to you they make sense because you know what you wrote them about, but for a listener – not knowing what the story is behind it – you want to make sure that your message is clear.
Birmingham Stages: You mentioned that the city’s music community is a close-knit one. Does co-writing exist among local artists?
Austin: It’s hard because I’m a control freak with my songs.
Mulvehill: It can make you vulnerable, especially if it’s something you’ve written that’s personal and someone says, “That’s stupid.” You have to be able to go into it without an ego.
Austin: John Prine once said about co-writing, “When I wrote that, I was thinking about my wife and I was really hoping that he wasn’t thinking about her, too” [laughs].
Kaydee Mulvehill, Zach Austin & The Lonesome and Matthew McNeal will perform at The Nick on Thursday, May 16. Doors open at 9 p.m. and showtime is 10 p.m. Advance tickets to the 21+ show are $6 and can be purchased at www.thenickrocks.com.