Sammy Brue: Son of Ogden, Utah

It’s been told of Ogden, Utah-born singer-songwriter Sammy Brue how, at age 10, he received a guitar for Christmas and immediately started writing songs inspired by Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Amazingly, that was only 5 years ago, given that today Sammy Brue is just 15 years old. Needless to say, things have moved quickly for this talented young prodigy.

In his fast-rising career, Sammy has busked at the Sundance Film Festival, performed at the Newport Folk Festival, and opened for the likes of Hayes Carll, Lydia Loveless, John Moreland, Lukas Nelson, Lucinda Williams and Asleep at the Wheel.

After releasing three homespun EPs, he scored a record deal with renowned folk and Americana label New West Records, home of such songwriting legends as Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Robert Ellis, Andrew Combs, Buddy Miller and John Hiatt.

As of late Brue has been touring in support of Justin Townes Earle, with whom his relationship stems back a couple years already. Some might recognize Brue from the cover of Earle’s 2014 album Single Mothers. In a recent review of Justin Townes Earle’s concert at New York City’s Webster Hall, Popdust couldn’t help but mention this about Brue’s performance:

His voice alone is enough to bring a fighter to their knees, enough to crush the world’s treasure of diamonds into dust and enough to force the moon to stop its orbit. He doesn’t have to say much between songs; his music is brawny and heartfelt and he lets you feel everything. If he continues down this path, there is only greatness awaiting him.

Recorded down in Muscle Shoals with Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner and John Paul White of the Civil Wars, Sammy Brue launches his anticipated full-length debut, I Am Nice, on June 16. The record demonstrates, in the wise words of New West, “the young troubadour to be a timeless talent whose catchy compositions embody the sort of wisdom, empathy and insight that’s usually associated with more experienced songwriters.”

Who is Sammy Brue? Can you introduce yourself?

Hey, everyone. I’m Sammy Brue, a young artist making music and hoping I make the right moves so you guys hear it. I was Oregon-born, but consider Ogden, Utah my home now. Something about the mountains, I guess.

Thanks, Sammy! Tell us a little about your most recent recording “I’m Not Your Man.” What’s it about?

“I’m Not Your Man” is actually an older song I wrote that has been changed more times than I can count. I’ve changed words, titles and tempo a ton, but finally I’m really happy with it how it is. John Paul White and Ben Tanner really helped out with making it come alive in the studio. I guess it comes from being the introvert kid that was too scared to talk to girls but sat back and noticed the boys that seemed to always get the girl too. Probably a lot about being put into the friend zone in there too.

Who are your musical heroes?

I have so many. It starts with the originals, though: Woody, Leadbelly and Robert Johnson. Then I worked my way forward through time. I love Etta James! Artists seem to find inspiration in these eras, I’ve noticed. You can see how [Bob] Dylan was affected by it and in return affected so many others. Even if it in no way is the same genre, artists pull from the same places, I think. You would have to call them heroes.

When and how did you first get into music?

Well, I have a dad that never listened to the radio when I was really young. He would play a ton of Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Prince along with older artists when we would go on drives and around the house. I always thought that this was what was being played on the radio. I had no clue these were recordings. Then he would bring home newer music along the same vein like Old Crow [Medicine Show] and The Avett Brothers. But it wasn’t until I was eight years old that I heard what was really on the radio, which I remember just digging the big sound of. When I got my first acoustic guitar, I was 10 years old. I remember just being drawn back the old sounds of the troubadours. That was the music and kind of songs I wanted to make.

Any album, artist or experience in particular that has changed your perspective on music?

Recording my album in the Muscle Shoals area changed everything for me. Working with Ben Tanner and John Paul White taught me so much about music and possibilities. Both of them are geniuses when it comes to arrangements. I had never really worked with anyone before that either, so it opened my mind to co-writing and collaborations.

Bon Iver also changed my perspective on creating music too. Made me want to reach more rather than being safe all the time. Another time I played a show with John Moreland, and after watching him, I changed up my approach to songwriting.

What’s the best new song you recently discovered?

“I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” by John Mayer. I recently started picking his music apart – and by recently I’m talking about two weeks ago. I’ve known who he was, but never dug into his music until now. It’s been a good journey to see how he blends his influences with a pop vibe. He does it so well! As a guitar player, he makes me feel like a slacker.

What’s your favorite activity besides music?

I love skating every chance I get, but I get reminded all the time about how much an injury could cost. I do it anyways because why not? My skateboard isn’t welcome on tour, though! So many streets across the country I’m going to miss out on.

Cool, so what’s coming next for you?

I’m hitting the road with one of my recent heroes Justin Townes Earle. Feels like a bucket list kind of thing to me. His style and songwriting inspired me from the first time I ever heard him or found videos of him on the Internet. After I met him and started talking to him, I knew music was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life pretty much. Now we’re on the same label and releasing albums around the same time… Blows me away. Then just hoping lightning strikes.

Looking one year ahead, where would you like to see yourself?

Hopefully releasing another album. I have the second album all ready to go and keep adding songs that I feel make the cut as I go. I’ve been rehearsing with my band for the last seven months and can’t wait to hit the road with them. Just want to release this album that I love and tour it until then.

And finally, if your music was a food, what would it be?

Chocolate milk because milk comes from nature, which is the roots, and then you throw some flavor in it!

Bjørn Hammershaug

Andrew Combs: Canyons of My Mind

No other region in the U.S. has a more distinct, mythical and complex narrative than the South, as masterfully told by William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor, captured by Errol Morris (Vernon, Florida) or Robert Altman (Nashville), or more lately in the HBO series Quarry or the newly-acclaimed podcast S-Town.

But none have managed to describe everyday life of the American South as wonderfully striking as photographer William Eggleston. His quiet color pictures deal less with a clear subject or storyline, rather he tells magnificent tales of complexity and mystery found in the ordinary and mundane.

Called ‘one of Nashville’s most poetically gifted young singer-songwriters’ by NPR, with his wry observations and sharp eye for small details, Country-soul troubadour Andrew Combs could just as well have created the soundtrack to an Eggleston exhibition.

He also is a child of the South; born in Dallas, now residing in Nashville where he pens his personal and pastoral stories. And just as he himself has moved through the South, his music is rooted partly in the musical tradition of Texas songwriters like Guy Clark, Mickey Newbury and Kris Kristofferson and partly in 1960s Countrypolitan (Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich), while politely nodding to West Coast-tinged soft-rock (Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Eagles). Andrew Combs might well be described as a musical prism, reflecting the multifaceted depth of southern mythology and culture, but by doing so he has also unquestionably carved out a niche on his own.

His sophomore album, All These Dreams (2015), earned him lots of deserved recognition to a broader audience and brought him up to the elite division of New Nashville, where the borders between mainstream country and blue collar Americana thankfully is increasingly blurred out. He’s been touring with the likes of Justin Townes Earle, Eric Church, Shovels & Rope and Caitlin Smith.

Friday, April 7, Combs released the much-anticipated album Canyons of My Mind through the respected New West Records & Loose Music. We had the opportunity to have a brief chat with him ahead of album release.

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Congratulations with a new album. What do we get and what’s it about?

Thanks. Well, I guess it’s a collection of songs that may or may not give the listener a look inside my brain.

What will you say is the biggest difference between Canyons of My Mind and All These Dreams?

I tried to stretch myself musically on this record. I toyed around with my vocal approach, as well as different song structures. I also think this record was a little more raw and in the moment than All These Dreams.

What inspired you the most when writing the songs that ended up on this album?

The fearful apprehension of getting older. I find it scary, but also exciting.

Did you have a clear idea or vision on how Canyons of My Mind should be from the get go or did it develop along the way?

Definitely developed along the way. I never know what I’m doing until I get it done.

What can you share about the recording process and working with this material in the studio?

I worked with the same producers as my last record: Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson. They’re my buds and we always have a fun time collaborating. A big part of how this album sounds come from the engineer/mixer Jeremy Ferguson. He really knocked me out. And the band of course brought these tunes to life: Dom Billett on drums, Mike Rinne on bass, Ethan Ballinger on guitar, and Jordan and Skylar on keys. It was a good crew to work with.

What kind of feelings or sentiment do you wish the listener will get after hearing it?

Maybe the same feeling I get staring at swift moving water. Or a low flying bird. Calming with a sense of dread.

Please describe the ideal setting to ultimately enjoy the album?

On a drive. Or possibly at home with an adult beverage.

What would be the headline of the worst review of this album?

Ha-ha! I don’t really know, nor do I want to try and conjure one up. It seems like a difficult and depressing hole to start digging.

What’s in your opinion is the most perfect album ever made and why?

I have a few, but for the sake of time I’ll name one: Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill. There’s a whole lot of Steely Dan hating that goes on in the world, and some of it I understand. But this record, sonically and song-wise, is perfect.

Bjørn Hammershaug
(originally published on read.tidal.com, April 3, 2017)

Bloodshot Records: A Life of Sin

bloodshot_1


Bloodshot Records was born in a late-night Chicago bar, with some simple ideas scrawled out on a cocktail napkin.

for-a-life-of-sinEver since its very first album release in 1994, For a Life of Sin: A Compilation of Insurgent Chicago Country, the esteemed label has been a bright and steady beacon in a shifting musical landscape. That very first compilation included local Midwestern greatness like The Bottle Rockets, Robbie Fulks, The Handsome Family, Freakwater, and of course Jon Langford (The Mekons), whose commitment to bands like The Waco Brothers and Pine Valley Cosmonauts – not to mention his striking visual art – is closely connected to the history of Bloodshot, spawning the term “insurgent country” for which the label is known.

Predating the Americana wave to come later in the ’90s, Bloodshot soon spread out across the nation to become nearly synonymous with rootsy rock ‘n’ roll, country punk, and shining singer-songwriters seemingly unfit to belong anywhere else. Initially dropping releases from the likes of Old 97’s, Neko Case, Waco Brothers, and Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker being Bloodshot’s biggest seller of all time) laid the foundation that the label would carefully built and gradually developed over the years.

More recent signings include Justin Townes Earle, Lydia Loveless, Luke Winslow-King, and Maggie Björklund, as well as long-time main stayers as Graham Parker, Andre Williams, The Sadies, and Alejandro Escovedo. And even though Bloodshot has always stayed true to its roots, it has never stop growing and expanding and has continued to consistently release quality music. Going through Bloodshot’s massive catalog and choosing highlights is both an exciting and monumental task, one that serves as a reminder of how vital, diverse, and fun the label’s output has been.

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Justin Townes Earle (Credit: Bloodshot/Joshua Black Wilkins)

I hooked up with original label founders Nan Warshaw and Rob Miller to get to know beloved Bloodshot a little better. Read on to learn about the label that draws lines from the Dead Kennedys straight back to Johnny Cash, to hear a compelling story about longevity without compromising guiding principles and to understand how the devaluation of creative content these days makes us all culturally poorer.

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Can you please give a brief history of Bloodshot and how it was founded? 

Rob Miller: Three music freaks walked into bar… Bloodshot started the same way a great many ridiculous enterprises began: ignorance, stubbornness, naiveté, and boundless enthusiasm for music that others seemed to be ignoring. And liquor.

executioners_last_songsIn retrospect, there was remarkably little awareness as to what we might be doing. In the hazy-crazy post-Nirvana days, everyone was looking for the next big thing. The notion of ‘alternative music’ that we’d grown up on was being used to soundtrack jeans commercials, Martha Stewart was telling the world how to throw a ‘grunge party’ and the whole thing was a depressing co-opting of a lifestyle and worldview.

At the same time, we saw a vibrant and, to us, under-recognized scene in Chicago full of bands dipping their toes into the rootsy music underbelly. It was fresh, inventive, unconstricted by rules or expectations. And it was honest and straightforward. It drew the line from the Dead Kennedys straight back to Johnny Cash. We thought ‘hey, why not gather up a bunch of songs and put them on a CD and have a show!’ It was that simple and that, I dunno, pure in its genesis. There was no planning for step #2. It was, at the time, a distraction from my day job of painting houses and getting the infrequent tiny check for writing an album review or something.

But we struck a chord, and the enterprise snowballed and here we are, 22 years later, still waiting for someone to say “Hey! You can’t do that!!”

What motivated you to enter the music business in the first place?

RM: My first concert was Alice Cooper at the Cobo Hall in Detroit in 1979. I hated it all. The whole ‘Detroit Rock City’ vibe. The weed, the long hair, the pure dumb-assery of it all. Listening to “Stairway to Heaven” on the radio made we wonder why people liked music at all. It was so tedious and spoke not a whit to the hellishness of the bullying and alienation I was experiencing in high school. Then I saw Devo. Then the Ramones, then Black Flag, then X, Circle Jerks, The Cramps, The Gun Club…. all in the space of about two months. And that was it: The energy, the anger, the weirdness, the freedom.

Looking back, I guess it wasn’t a matter of IF I’d be involved in music, but a matter of when and how. After a couple years of DJ’ing in college, and a stint as a roadie, as a stage manager, as a production manager and as an occasional tour manager in addition to doing lots of writing in my spare time, I moved to Chicago to get away from music. That didn’t turn out too well.

waco_cowboyWhat labels, if any, where your personal role models or guiding stars?

RM: Being a full-fledged music geek, I started paying attention to the labels themselves early on and to the identities and histories they had. Stax/Volt, Sun, Chess and being from Detroit, obviously Motown and Fortune. Plus all those crazy regional labels like King and a thousand others. When I started getting into punk and hardcore, there was such a strong bond and association between bands, fans and labels. Dischord, Slash, SST, Touch and Go were all models – perhaps unwittingly – for the notion that if you want to do something, DO IT. Don’t wait for a major label or some other sort monolithic power structure to tell you how things should be done. Building a community around the label seemed so natural in the days of Sub Pop, Estrus, Sympathy for the Record Industry, K, In the Red, we didn’t really sit down and go “this is a good business move,” it was just a natural extension of our participation in the underground music scene.

What do you represent or stand for as an institution?

RM: Well, what we represent is for others to decide, I suppose. We’ve never got too bogged down with questions like ‘what is the BS sound?’ or ‘how much do you represent a counterview to the Nashville Country Music Industry?’ or other such things. We’re too busy doing the work and moving forward.

We’d like to be thought of, by both our fans and our artists, as a bunch of music fans who worked hard, believed in what we did, never took the support we’ve received for granted, and never took the art entrusted to us lightly.

And that we threw some pretty fun parties.

What, in your opinion, is the greatest achievement in the history of Bloodshot Records? What are you most proud of achieving since starting the label?

RM: Longevity without compromising our principles. It’s impossible for me to pick ONE moment, or ONE album, that would mean that I’m always looking back, and I try not to do that. The joy and sense of accomplishment comes from the long view; watching an artist’s career arc, still believing in what we do.  I’m proud that people still find that occasional spark in our releases, that they trust us and stick around for the ride.

Did you have an initial idea back then on what the label ought to be and how it could evolve in the future?

RM: Not to be glib, but we had no idea what we were doing or getting ourselves into back then. Or now, for that matter. There was no expectation of a “future” when we started – ignorance can be very liberating – and there are always new surprises and challenges. Often, especially as a result of changing technologies, evolution is thrust upon us and we do the best we can.

The Bottle Rockets (Credit: Bloodshot/Todd Fox)

The Bottle Rockets (Credit: Bloodshot/Todd Fox)

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How will you describe your music scene at the moment?

Nan Warshaw: Bloodshot is in the wonderful position of having many loyal fans who buy music to support the artists they love. Many of our fans come from an indie rock background and most are seeking out unique music that speaks to them. Bloodshot has never fit neatly within a genre package, our bands tend to be too edgy for Americana and Folk, and too roots based for straight ahead indie rock and punk – which is exactly why they stand out.

How do you decide whether to release an album or not?

NW: Once we commit to working with an artist, we’re in for a penny and in for a pound. We give our bands full artistic reign. We have never not released an album delivered by one of our. Our “judging” process happens earlier, when we’re deciding if an artist is the right fit for Bloodshot. First, we have to love the music and believe we can be that artist’s best label home. These days we can only afford to work with artists that are already touring a lot, artists who already have the rest of their business side together.

earle_harlemriverSo, where do you see Bloodshot another 20 odd years down the line?

NW: How will music be consumed in 20 years?!? We have no clue! What we do know is, as that change is happening, we must remain nimble and adapt quickly.

The music industry goes through rapid changes these days. How have those challenges and changes affected your work, if at all, and what is different running a label today compared to before?

We have to work harder and smarter to earn one third the amount we did a decade ago. For example, an artist seeing the success of Lydia Loveless today is comparable to what Justin Townes Earle saw six years ago, yet sales don’t compare at all. More than an entire generation is accustomed to getting creative content free, or almost free. People inoculate themselves against ‘illegal’ by paying a pittance for a streaming service, they then don’t feel guilty yet they’re not paying enough to support the artists they claim to love. Bloodshot is getting more media and fan attention than ever for our artists, but it isn’t reflected in record sales or streaming income. In other words, the loss caused by a sharp decline in physical sales has not been made up for by the increase in digital revenue. As usual, the major labels have an unfair advantage over the indie labels. They invest in or own the digital services, and those services have cut them into income streams (such as breakage) that indie labels rarely see a part of. Then the major labels don’t share that additional income with their artists.

under-the-savage-skyWe used to be able to release an album because we loved it; so long as it was recorded affordably, we could sell a few thousand copies and break even. Those days are gone. Both our country and the world at large is missing out on great music because the vast majority of music listeners are no longer paying a fair price for their music consumption. Ironically, despite the fact that both truly affordable home recording and tremendously broadened access to music dissemination allow many musicians to create more easily than ever before, we’ve stopped financially supporting creative content as a culture. So the same story goes in all creative content forms from film to journalism to photography.

This shift to devalue creative content makes us all culturally poorer.

What’s coming next for Bloodshot?

We have exciting new albums in the works from Scott Biram, Cory Branan, Ha Ha Tonka, Banditos, and Yawpers. Plus, a seminal vinyl LP release from the Old 97s. Most recently, we released a new, yet classic, juke-joint swing album Slingin’ Rhythm by Wayne Hancock, and a vocal-pop-jazz (think Harry Nilsson, Beach Boys) album It’s a World of Love and Hope from Chicago all-stars The Flat Five.

Where can folks experience your music in the near future?

Our bands are constantly touring. You can see all the upcoming dates here. If you want to be notified about new releases and your favorite Bloodshot artists coming to your town, sign up here.

Any regrets? Anything you would do differently given a second chance?

Since I don’t have a time machine and might accidentally dial in the wrong date if I did have one – anyway, I’d rather go back to re-live a great show! – I’ll avoid re-living my failures and the risk of my little historical changes causing WWIII. On that happy note, I’ll add that we’ve had the absolute pleasure and honor of working with our musical heroes – there is nothing better than watching a stellar show where the artist plays a new song that almost goes off the track but amazingly manages to stay on, or where harmonies send chills down your spine while there are twice as many enthusiastic fans watching than the last time.

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We also asked the kind people over at Bloodshot to select 5 memorable or important albums (impossible task, we know) that tell the story of the label. Mr. Miller kindly returned with these gems from over the years:

old97_wreckOld 97’s: Wreck Your Life
(BS 009, 1995)

The first record we released that made us think ‘um….we might be onto something.’ They came on like a gang and found that heavenly sweet spot between true punk, metal and deep country soul. They perfected a template that has had no relevant usurpers.

ryan_adams_heartbreakerRyan Adams: Heartbreaker
(BS 071, 2000)

No in depth history of Bloodshot would be complete without a mention of this masterpiece. A stone cold classic. The sine qua non of Ryan’s albums. Where promise met execution head on. As life piles on the weirdness and hardships, this album gets nothing but better. It took off like a rocket and we all had to hang on for the ride, learning a lot of lessons along the way.

Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Else
(BS 219, 2014)

As a music geek, one of the ongoing thrills of the job is the act of discovery. Finding a young, rough talent and watching them find their voice and develop an artistic footing. We’ve been fortunate to be along on such journeys with Neko Case, Justin Townes Earle and many others. Recently, we’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the creative and popular ascendance of Lydia Loveless. On her first Bloodshot release (2011’s Indestructible Machine) there were fevered comparisons to acknowledged music icons like Loretta Lynn, Stevie Nicks, the Replacements, and more: She’s half this, half that, one part something else. We hate math. But, now Lydia Loveless is a reference point all her own. The arc of her development is an inspiring and exciting one.

roger_knoxRoger Knox: Stranger in My Land
(BS 179, 2013)

Made with an all-star cast, headed by Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers), this is a record of great importance. It traces the influence of American country & western on the aboriginal Australian community. It is powerful and moving material, heartbreaking and hilarious, downtrodden and uplifting, suffused with longing, alienation, resilience and hope; universal themes arising out of largely unexplored context. It possesses the urgency of an Alan Lomax field recording, but with a spirit that remains relevant in today’s world. Most of our music is for entertainment’s sake, but this a record with profound historical reach.

robbie_fulks_uplandRobbie Fulks: Upland Stories
(BS 242, 2016)

We worked with Robbie on our very first release, the Chicago-centric compilation For A Life Of Sin. After that, we put out a few of his albums and several other compilation tracks. Our paths meandered over the years, but recently we have re-connected for a couple of stellar releases, the most recent being Upland Stories. That Robbie is not a widely celebrated name in households across the world as one of the premiere songwriters of this generation, is a pox upon us all. To be a part of his evolving talents is a listener’s delight.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Opprinnelig publisert på read.tidal.com, november 2016