Nashville is like an ever-evolving song, with roots going back for over a century. The lyrical narrative has always been one of community in some form or another. As it’s so aptly put by the thoroughly British and resident East Nashvillian Robyn Hitchcock, we live in a “groover’s paradise.”
This town is bursting at the seams with talent, so much so that it’s easy to take for granted how incredibly fortunate we are to be so completely steeped in it.
Take, for instance, Tim Easton’s release show at Fond Object for American Fork. Easton is a troubadour’s troubadour, and he repeatedly mentioned how much it meant to turn his new record over to the universe at a neighborhood show. His neighborhood.
Or The Dead Deads, whose recent show at The Basement in celebration of their new record, For Your Obliteration, saw Lzzy Hale and Joe Hottinger of Halestorm opening for them with an acoustic set (while sporting Dead Corps X’s over their eyes, no less). The house was packed, and, as they say, faces were melted.
Then on to PaShun Music Branch, a Hip-Hop collective recently hosted by The East Nashvillian for a recording session at House of David. This group of artists, DJs, and producers showed up ready and made the most of the opportunity, knocking out raps on seven songs in the process. They finished the day discussing their creative relationship with writer Collin Czarnecki.
Our very own Tommy Womack spins a yarn about his first real guitar in “East of Normal,” and he’s the subject of a profile by Holly Gleason. He also wrote our feature on the aforementioned Robyn Hitchcock, as well as a profile on Andrew Leahey.
Speaking of whom, Leahey makes his first appearance as a contributor with his piece on The Dead Deads.
We delve even further into the underpinnings of the East Side’s music community with Gleason’s excellent piece on Dualtone, an independent record label with big-time success. The ever intrepid Randy Fox — working overtime by not only contributing six stories to this edition, but also serving as one of the principles behind the launch of WXNA 101.5 FM — checks in with Justin Collins regarding his collaboration with Adam Landry to launch Cosmic Thug Records. Fox rounds out our indie label profiles with a story on Cowboy Keith Thompson, whose Inglehood Records will soon issue an album that features legendary harmonica player Charlie McCoy covering Henry Mancini songs (yes, “Baby Elephant Walk” and the theme from ’70s TV show “What’s Happening!!” are included), which Thompson also produces.
Lathe operator Cameron Henry is also profiled by Fox, and is a must read by all you vinyl aficionados interested in the most critical of processes required to bring you analog bliss.
The man on the other side of the glass — engineer and producer Andrija Tokic — sat down with Luke Levenson recently to discuss his career, background, and what he brings to the record-making process. Tokic produced Alabama Shakes’ Boys and Girls, the record that, it could easily be argued, launched the East Side music scene into interstellar orbit.
Rounding out our features are profiles of the inimitable Todd “Toddzilla” Austin, the new “Nashville Cat” Mark Robinson, synth-wave trio Financier, powerhouse-vocalist Sarah Potenza, and East Nashvillian by way of love, Josh Farrow.
Craig Havighurst pens the guest commentary “Air Americana,” providing us with his perspective on the recent launch of WMOT Roots Radio 89.5 FM. Transitioning from classical and jazz programming, the Middle Tennessee State University-based station will be the first anywhere to provide commercial-free Americana music programming.
And then there’s Hags, who needs no introduction.
Although I began compiling the editorial for our annual music issue long before Stugill Simpson wrote his recent rage against the machine, I find the context timely. Having lived in Nashville for long enough to witness the ongoing evolution of the music scene (not to mention everything else), Simpson’s Facebook diatribe managed to obliquely strike a resonant chord. In it, he laments the way in which he perceives “everybody on Music Row is coming up with any reason to hitch their wagon to (Merle Haggard’s) name,” and specifically calls out the Academy of Country Music for pumping “formulaic cannon fodder bullshit down rural America’s throat for the last 30 years.” The post ends with an alleged quote from Haggard himself: “Fuck this town, I’m moving.”
I suppose the argument could be made that arriving at the point of “Fuck this town, I’m moving” is a rite of passage. The Outlaws were basically saying “fuck this town” in the ’70s. Everyone I knew carried the tradition into the ’80s, and even Johnny Cash famously joined in with a full page ad in Billboard featuring the iconic 1968 photograph of him flipping off the camera overlaid by “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to thank the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.”
Apparently, winning a Grammy for Best Country Album doesn’t necessarily require establishment support, so Sturgill’s probably going to do just fine. Besides, there’s always been a tension between art and commerce, and Nashville is no exception. The point is, the establishment is a byproduct of and not the reason for Nashville’s greatness as a music town.
It’s the community of artist, songwriters, and musicians that make this Music City USA. Always has been, always will.