Category Archives: Interview

Interview – Lindsay Craven, Merlefest’s New Artist Relations Manager

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Festival season is upon us…

For many festivarians, each year is greeted not only with new wishes for success, health and prosperity, but also with a child-like giddiness as they await the first signs of music festival lineup teasers and announcements.

Whether longing for the lush, legendary landscape of Mountain Jam, the boho-chic vibe of Coachella, the gritty soul of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival or the harbor breeze of Newport Folk Festival–there is certainly a festival out there for any and all musical tastes.  While the overall feel, location and extra perks may entice festival goers to consider buying that multi-day festival ticket package, it really is the lineup that seals the deal.

So, what exactly goes in to putting together a stellar festival lineup?  It certainly doesn’t just appear out of thin air.  On the contrary, planning and confirming a multi-day, multi-stage music festival lineup often involves a dedicated and innovative team of people who start reaching out and booking artists over a year in advance.

A lineup for everyone…

To learn a bit more about the process, EOAF caught up with Lindsay Craven, the newest Artist Relations Manager for MerleFest–North Carolina’s premiere music festival.   Now in its 32nd year, MerleFest continues to stay true to its “traditional plus” and family friendly roots.   Craven credits the late, legendary musician and festival founder, Doc Watson, for laying the groundwork and creating a culture that celebrates all types of music, not just that of the western NC region.

“We’re very thankful to Doc, for developing that phrase [traditional plus].  And, it’s very much what Doc did.  Doc’s music wasn’t restricted to bluegrass or blues, and he loved everything.  He wanted us to share all kinds of music with people,” Craven said.

After over three decades, “traditional plus” remains the driving force for anyone in charge of booking artists and filling out the four-day festival schedule across 13 stages.  By bringing in the industry’s best in traditional Appalachian and Bluegrass music, in addition to Americana, Folk, Rock, Blues, and Gospel, MerleFest appeals to a wide, diverse audience that travels to the great Tar Heel state in late April every year.  The diversity of genre and dedication to keeping the festival family friendly really set MerleFest apart from other big festivals.

“With audiences that aren’t familiar with the festival, I think a lot of people just say we’re just a Bluegrass festival, or that we’re just old-timey country music and it’s just not the case at all. We have those things, but we have lots of others. The traditional plus motto is far from one musical genre. You’d be hard pressed to be any kind of music fan and come to MerleFest and not find something you like,” Craven said.

Though she’s worked part-time for MerleFest in some capacity for over a decade, Craven was hired into this full-time position in July 2018, and has been non-stop ever since.  Craven worked directly under previous Artist Relations Manager–Steve Johnson–learning first hand the enormous amount of work that goes into setting a lineup.

“Steve knew during last year’s festival that he was going to be moving out.  So, he did a lot of work ahead of time to help us stay on track and not start from way behind…we’re really appreciative to him for everything he did to make sure it was kind of a seamless transition, as much as it could be,” Craven said.

While Johnson did a great deal of work leading up to his departure, the business of booking artists and setting a lineup can often feel like watching the shifting sands of The Outerbanks.  The landscape can change daily, and early plans do not always stay in place.

“A lot of our headliners changed from the original plan just because of scheduling conflicts, money not working out, and things like that,” Craven said.

Though green in this particular position, Craven had to solve some significant problems in her first few months.  By all accounts, it looks as if she took the proverbial bull by the horns and accepted the challenge, because this year’s headliners are superb–The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Amos Lee, Wynonna and The Big Noise–along with heavy-hitters like Keb’Mo’, The Milk Carton Kids, and Tyler Childers.   Let us not forget the MerleFest alumni, who fans return for year after year–Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Kruger Brothers, Scythian and more.

“[The most challenging part of booking] is competing with the amazing number of music events and venues in North Carolina now. Just trying not to overlap artists that the same audience can see in five different places within a year. It’s fantastic that there are so many music venues and there are so many music festivals. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s just a huge thing to compete with when planning said festival,” Craven said.

Let the fans be heard…

Artist Relations Managers, also often called Talent Buyers, rely not only on their team to help build out a lineup, but also on the festival fan base.  Social media platforms have changed the way fans and artists can communicate directly with festival organizers.

“I pay attention to [the artists’] social media pages to see what kind of following they have. We listen to their music.  We pay attention to our own social media, too, to see what people are asking for,” Craven said.

Festival organizers often post teasers or clues leading up to the initial lineup announcements, to get the fan base excited.  At least for MerleFest, the responses that come out of those teasers become important in terms of current or future lineups.

“Since this is my first year in this particular job, I’ve really been paying attention with each announcement–what people were guessing right before we made the announcement, and then what they hope to see on the next announcement.  If we don’t have [the artists] on the docket already, I make sure I make a list of those people and consider those for going forward,” Craven said.

Painting the canvas…

Outside of fan feedback, Craven and her team search for talent through different music association awards and conferences–namely the Americana Music Awards (AMA’s) and International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) annual conference, respectively.  Additionally, there is a longtime running “wish list” that has trickled down from each former artist relations manager that now sits in Craven’s hands.

“In the beginning, it’s just kind of an open canvas.  We are just looking at our wish list and looking at the chatter from other events, saying ‘what seems to be doing well?’ and seeing if would fit for us and fit our budget,” Craven said.

As that canvas fills up, other elements–like spreading genres across multiple stages–begin to factor in to the planning equation.

“As we get closer to festival time, it gets a little more scientific in trying to see, well, [this artist] has to go on this stage so we kind of want more of this flavor of music,” Craven said.

According to Craven, MerleFest artists fall into one of three main categories, “the ones that are here every year, the headliners, and the people we have fresh and new every year.”

Communication with artists can take many forms, and this typically depends on the level of artist/band success and/or the longstanding relationship with the festival.

“We have some artists that are here year in and year out, and most of those artist we communicate directly with.  The bigger artists–The Avetts, Brandi, Amos–we talk with their agents initially, and then the tour manager for sure.  We rarely talk to them directly,” Craven said.

Much of Craven’s work involves reaching out to the agencies that have worked with MerleFest in the past to learn about up and coming artists.  They discuss budget and schedules and try to see if it will work for all parties involved.  The final MerleFest lineup boasts over 100 artists, not including those who have been invited to compete in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

“It’s a big job,” Craven said.

And a big job requires a big budget in order to pull in the best artists and to ensure smooth operations from start to finish. The MerleFest budget is determined year to year by past and projected attendance. Interestingly, MerleFest is a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College, further strengthening the symbiotic relationship between the festival and college.

Though Craven’s main responsibility is to direct the booking process, the work doesn’t stop once the contracts are signed on the dotted line.   With the lineup set and about a month to go, Craven is currently busy with the artist relations portion of her job–hotel reservations, merchandise, direct communication with artists, and coordinating schedules.

A path to MerleFest…

So, how did Craven get to sit in her current position–perhaps a little luck, certainly a lot of working up through the ranks, and an immeasurable amount of drive and good old-fashioned love for the work.  A journalism major and graduate of Appalachian State University (App State), Craven always had a spark for the entertainment industry.

“I always thought I was going to be an entertainment writer.  That was my initial goal.  The funny thing is, I guess it was in middle school, I think we were doing some school project where we had to decide what we want to be and [we had to look] through these books that had all kinds of different job descriptions and what you needed to do to go to school to become that.  There wasn’t an artist relations, it was artist representative, or something along those lines, and that was what I did my school project on,” Craven said.

So, when she decided to apply to App State’s artist management program, it seemed like a good fit, until she learned she had to be a music major.

“It wasn’t an option to pursue that particular degree.  But, I kind of fell into anyway,” Craven said.

Falling into this role, sounds a bit passive, when actually her path to MerleFest has been more than just being in the right place at the right time.  During her undergrad years, Craven was proactive in getting involved in local opportunities that aligned with her interests and skills.  A simple perusal of the internship listings on App State’s website seems to have been the catalyst to pave the way.

“I started with [MerleFest] as an intern in 2007, and then came back again as an intern in 2008.  And then after I graduated, I filled in throughout the year whenever they needed extra help.  In and around credential time, or around some announcements and things like that, they need an extra body in an office to get some information from artists.  And every year I’m here for the festival working in the artist relations trailer,” Craven said.

Her MerleFest experience over the next several years, led her to the Yadkin Arts Council, where she worked as their Executive Director.

“I did all of the booking for our theater there, for the last five or six years. It’s a very, very small staff. So, due to all of the experience I gained from basically wearing all of the hats at that theater, that’s what got me to the point where I was qualified enough between what I’d learned working [at MerleFest] and what I learned working there, that they felt that I would work in this role,” Craven said.

From MerleFest to Yadkin Arts Council and back to MerleFest, Craven positioned herself to be both primed by those who came before her and primed by her own career ventures to succeed in her new role.

A bit of advice…

Somewhere, there is an eager, starry-eyed middle schooler writing a paper about the glamorous life of an Artist Relations Manager. Craven, having put in over a decade of hard work–both paid and unpaid–can offer some sage advice to those who may wish to follow in her footsteps.

“Work for any and every opportunity. This all came about just because I was looking at internship listings on the App State website. Look local. It doesn’t always have to be the biggest thing. You don’t have to be working stage-coach for Bonnaroo. You can start small and there are so many small festivals out there right now,” Craven said.

Opportunities are not always paid, and those are often the ones that get a foot in the door.

“[Festivals] are looking for young talent with energy to volunteer and help. And that is important. You have to be willing to volunteer. You’re not going to get paid right away or probably for a very long time. But, if you stick with it, you’re going to make connections. If you are hard-working and dependable, people are going to see that and when something comes available, they’re going to be looking to somebody that they can trust and count on,” Craven said.

Having a genuine love for and understanding of music and the festival scene and showing up year after year are important elements that have translated into a successful career trajectory for Craven.

“You don’t have to listen to every single artists on the docket, but you should at least have a desire to know and appreciate the music you’re presenting,” Craven said.

Making her mark…

Aside from booking talent, Craven has also been very focused on observing the vast number of traditions that take place each year at MerleFest. While she is excited to make her mark on the 2020 lineup, her experience with MerleFest has taught her the importance of maintaining the festival’s rich and cherished traditions. From coordinating the Veteran’s Jam and Mando-mania to planning outreach performances at 17 Wilkes county schools, Craven’s job goes beyond what the main lineup schedule indicates.

“There are lots of individual things that go into the festival that aren’t just what you’re seeing on the stages. I’ve got to learn what things happen year in and year out, so I make sure I build those in and don’t mess with any of our traditions,” Craven said.

With tradition comes a level of expectation, in particular from those artists who have made MerleFest an annual event over several years.

“We don’t want to offend any of the artists that have been with us a long time. We value them. We want to honor what they do and continue to bring new and interesting things for people to see. I am just trying to make sure I learned lessons before I get super deep into putting a schedule together. Right now, I am getting through the first festival and making sure I know as much as I can before I dive head first into throwing a ton of offers out,” Craven said.

MerleFest 2020 will be Craven’s first full run in this position, and she already planning out how her workspace will function best to match her visual mind–giant empty versions of the stage schedules plastered across her walls with an endless supply of dry erase markers and sticky notes.

“I have to see it all out in front of me. It’s easier to look at one big wall of things as opposed to 20 pages over four days,” Craven said.

One can imagine the thrill Craven will feel as she begins to fill the empty time slots for MerleFest 2020. Orchestrating such a beast of a production with so many moving parts is not for a disorganized mind. It takes creativity, imagination, and the ability to envision how the whole experience will translate into something greater than the sum of its many parts. With that creative freedom comes a heavy responsibility to also maintain the elements that make MerleFest such an amazing festival.

“I really don’t think that there’s anything more that I would add to the festival. I really feel like our goal is to not work on getting bigger, but keeping our event the best quality that it can be. If at some point an opportunity presents itself, that we could expand something or create something new, we’re never opposed to those kinds of opportunities. But, it’s not something I’m actively looking to do right now. We’re more focused on just making sure we keep it top-quality and keep all the things that people expect from it,” Craven said.

Once the dust settles from MerleFest 2019, Craven will be right back at it, standing wide-eyed in front of her blank canvas with that same child-like giddiness music fans experience when a lineup unfolds before them. It is evident that Craven’s unique journey through the MerleFest ranks has prepared her to excel in this position for years to come, and it will be exciting to watch lineups evolve across her tenure.

For more information about lineup and tickets, please visit Merlefest.org.

Are you headed to MerleFest this year?  If so, download your MerleFest ’19 app for Apple or Android to make your experience even better!

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Interview – Marco With Love

Photo credit - Curtis Wayne Millard

Photo credit – Curtis Wayne Millard

EOAF recently caught up with frontman Marco Argiro (guitar/lead vocals) of Brooklyn-based indie rock band Marco With Love to discuss the band’s upcoming EP, Townes Van Zandt, NYC inspiration, Slimer from Ghostbuster, and his kick ass band members Subodh Samudre (bass/ backing vocals), Blaine O’Brien (pedal steel/backing vocals) and Peter Landi (drums/backing vocals).   The band’s four track EP, Tidal Wave, is slated for release on July 17th.

EOAF: What’s the quick and dirty of how you guys came together (when, where, how, etc.)?

Argiro: I met Peter a few years back when we were both doing live session work for a mutual friend of our’s band. He and I became fast friends and later he ended up playing drums for my British side project The Killing Floor. So when I was assembling the live band that would later turn into Marco With Love he was the obvious choice to be the drummer. Subodh and I met at Ping Pong Tournament some years ago hosted at the Corbis offices in NYC. We bonded over a mutual admiration for 90’s power pop bands like Superdrag and Nada Surf and talked about one day having a jam. Our schedules didn’t line up to make good on that jam ’til a couple years later when I was wrapping up production on the Love LP. We had a instantaneous spark. Together we worked on the music for what would later become Tidal Wave, the band’s first song. I met Blaine at the 11th street bar in the East Village only a few short years back. He was playing pedal steel and harmonica in his band Brothers NYC and I just so happened to be the support act on the bill. I was immediately intrigued by his playing and style having just spent the last couple years exploring the cosmic American music of Gram Parsons. Up until this point I hadn’t seen anyone playing steel guitar up close before, and I was blown away by the sound he was putting out. I remember approaching him after their set and asking if we was a fan of “Sneaky Pete” Kleinlow. Thankfully he said yes, and within a short few months he joined Subodh, Peter and myself at the next rehearsal. The core of MWL’s lineup was now in place, the rest is as they say. History.

What inspired the new EP? 

The new EP was inspired by living in the big city, our collective travels around the globe, family, and the need to create our own blend of Jangly Country Fried Rock n Roll music. Visionary artists like John Lennon, Tom Petty, and high energy garage acts like the Sonics and The Troggs really helped path the way for us and helped the guys and I to push the boundaries of conventional modern music. We have also decided to add a fourth cut to the EP. It’s a song called “Leave It Behind” and some folks may recognize it from the Love LP. The original version is in a different key and was recorded back in 2012 in my Bushwick basement studio. The band and I felt the new MWL version far better represented our band’s sonic evolution and captures the intensity of the band’s live show with some added psychedelia production.

Why did you choose to include a Townes Van Zandt cover (Waiting Around to Die) on your EP?  How does it fit with the other song?

We decided to include the Townes cover on the EP because we all loved the way it turned out in the studio. The song has a great vibe and truly captured a moment. We also felt that it helped showcase our band’s versatility and ability to explore related genres. Waiting Around to Die is the kind of song we aspire to write ourselves one day. As far as how it fits on this particular EP, we felt the fictional drifter in this particular song is not unlike the character in Poor Young and Gifted and also share similarities to one of the main characters in Leave It Behind. Both had an abusive father and had to endure hardships along life’s journey.

What is your songwriting process like…who is the primary songwriter?  How do others contribute?

Our songwriting process varies from tune to tune. Historically I have been the primary songwriter for the band, but with the Tidal Wave single the music has been more of a collaborative effort. For example, during one of our earlier writing sessions Subodh had a really cool riff that he had been messing around with. He shared the idea with me and we quickly started jamming on it for a while until we came up with some other chord changes together and thus the rough outline for the tune was born. I generally record these raw sessions into an iPhone singing a rough melody so they can be further explored at another time and mined for other potential ideas. Once we’ve had a chance to shape them a bit more we like to get the whole band together and start jamming as a unit. We usually then realize what is missing from the arrangement and each member adds the dynamics that are needed in order to fill out the song on the their respective instrument. Every single member of MWL is a multi-instrumentalist and capable of writing songs on their own so this helps tremendously when being objective during a jam or a writing session. In between rehearsals and gigs is typically when I work on lyrics for the songs. Living in Brooklyn, I often write in transit. Mostly on subway commutes or even in the back of cabs utilizing the iPhone again only this time working on lyrics by typing in notes. Though I prefer to write in my home studio in Clinton Hill, you never know when a line will come to you and a potential lyric will be born.

Did you all grow up in NYC or just live there as adults?  If not, where did you grow up and how was music incorporated into your lives?

Like most people living on this island we all originally came from other places. My father and his family immigrated to New York from Italy back in the early 60’s, but he and my mom ended up moving to South Florida where they raised my sisters and I down in Fort Lauderdale. From a very early age music became the driving force in my life–started bands with my best friends, made records, and submersed myself in the local punk music scene. The only member of the band that actually grew up in the New York area is our drummer Pete Landi. He grew up out in Sag Harbor and like the rest of us music played an integral part of his youth. Subodh, our bassist and his family ended up settling in Virginia Beach, Virginia after living all over the world. He grew up playing in bands in the early post hardcore emo scene in Virginia Beach then continued to make waves playing and touring with various bands in Richmond, VA. Blaine, too, called Virginia home, only his town was Roanoke. I think it’s safe to say we all got the musical bug pretty early on in life which helped shape our trajectory.

What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write?

Various subject matter tends to inspire our band’s material.  While some songs tend to lean more towards abstract thought and points of view, others are more direct chronicles of the lives of family and friends. Tidal Wave could very well be about turning over a new leaf as much as it could be about the ridding oneself of poisonous people in our life. We consider ourselves socially conscious, but not overtly political. To quote Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dream. Wandering by lone sea breakers, and sitting by desolate streams. World losers and world forsakers, for whom the pale moon gleams. Yet we are movers and the shakers of the world forever it seems.”

How has living in NYC influenced your music?

Living in New York City has kept us street smart and continues to inspire all of us on a daily basis. Getting just about anything done in NYC is just a little bit harder than most other places we’ve lived. Though the city is almost too fast paced and often can prove to be logistically difficult, the people and the rich musical history help keep our heads in the clouds.

Why type of venue/music event do you enjoy the most? (listening room, bar, club, festival, songwriters session, etc)?

Every stage we get up on has its perks. There’s something about playing to an intimate room where people are listening to every lyric and really engaging, but of course for us rockers playing a big festival or club show with a packed room is pretty darn cool. Regardless of the size of the audience we always aim to make every last person in the room leave the venue with a smile on his/her face. Ideally they will remember their MWL show experience and bring a friend to the next one.

What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?

I love it when the show all comes together, it’s really rewarding for us to work hard on writing the material, rehearsing it with the band and then the big pay off comes when we play out for a live audience. It really is a symbiotic relationship between the audience and the guys and I. It’s always nice to return to a city or venue and looking out into the crowd only to notice people are singing along or even just smiling. There was one time that we played the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn with a couple bands from Detroit when the guys and I noticed that there was a guy dressed up in a Slimer costume from the Ghostbusters movie.

How has social media helped your music career?

Social Media is a blessing and a curse. On one hand it has helped us reach music fans in far off lands as well as down the road from us in Brooklyn. On the other hand, I feel it can take away the mystique that musicians once had. People end up knowing way more about artists these days. As a musician it can sometimes seem like a chore. I think overall I’d prefer to just make music rather than worrying about telling everyone what were doing at that particular moment. That being said, I bought into it early on and saw the potential and reach that it could provide independent artists.

Tell me a bit about your upcoming touring schedule…how are you going to promote this EP on the road?

Well, we plan on having an EP release party here in NYC, in addition to a few dates in Nashville, San Francisco & Los Angeles. We will be getting our new record into all the mom and pop and independent Brick n Mortar record stores that we possibly can around the states and across the pond in the UK/ Europe.

What do you do when you aren’t writing or performing?  Any other interests or charity work?

When I’m not writing or performing you’ll likely find me behind the bar slinging drinks, however I like to spend time with family, read, and watch documentaries with my dog Layla. I’m also a volunteer member of Musicians On Call here in NYC. We do our best to brighten the day for sick kids and their families. Subodh is a Creative Director and Art Director for Advertising, a rock ’n roll photographer, music composer and is always busy producing art projects with his design company ‘Make Things Awesome.’ Peter works in a record store and also fronts his own grunge rock band, The Glazzies. Blaine designs websites, is a honky-tonk DJ, does kickboxing in addition to session work for other groups.

Take a listen to the first single off of MWL’s EP, Tidal Wave, and check in on news and tour dates via Facebook.

 

 

 

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Interview – Paleface

Photo by Sooz White

Photo by Sooz White

In a world where musical authenticity is constantly being called to question, anti-folk icon, Paleface, is as real as they get. After nearly three decades of writing and performing music, Paleface remains true to his craft and continues to create art that is raw, fresh, and inspired.

Paleface’s music career is much like a collection of short stories, woven together with unpredictable highs and lows—each chapter marked with different shades of joy, sorrow, chaos and control. Throughout it all Paleface has managed to come out on the other side with tales to tell.

Paleface got his start playing music at NYC clubs in the late 80s, rubbing shoulders with creative minds like Daniel Johnston and Beck. While being managed by the legendary Danny Fields, Paleface signed a major-label record deal, began putting out albums, and touring with bands like Crash Test Dummies and The Breeders. Everything appeared to be falling into place, but by the late 90s Paleface’s partying lifestyle caught up with him, nearly taking his life and forcing him to reevaluate his direction.

By 2000, a sober Paleface found himself among a new crop of imaginative musicians in NYC, many calling themselves “anti-folk.” Artists like Kimya Dawson, Regina Spektor, and Langhorne Slim shared the stage with Paleface, and he soon became an integral part of the anti-folk scene.

“Anti-folk didn’t stand for anything,” Paleface said. “It was whatever you can do to make art you should share it, get on stage, do it. If people like it, great, if they don’t, that’s OK, too. Nobody was gonna crucify you ‘cause you were bad or not what they wanted. In that anti-folk scene nobody would care ‘cause anything goes.”

It was during this period in his career when Paleface struck up a friendship with Scott and Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers). This instant artistic connection ultimately drew him, and girlfriend/drummer Monica “Mo” Samalot, away from New York in 2008 to start a new life in Concord.

After moving to North Carolina, Paleface and Samalot hit the road, touring as a high-energy folk-rock duo throughout the United States and Europe. Paleface continued to record and release albums like the self-released “A Different Story” as well as “The Show Is On The Road” and “One Big Party” on Ramseur Records. Studio and on-stage collaborations with The Avett Brothers exposed a whole new audience to Paleface’s music and it appeared that his momentum had shifted up again.

However, a health scare and setback in Europe while promoting “One Big Party” forced the pair to take time off to regroup, yet again. Unable to tour, Paleface spent time focusing on getting healthy and painting — a talent he had discovered while living in NYC.

“Painting is very meditative and relaxing in a way that music is not,” Paleface said. “It’s like a puzzle that you figure out as you go which at any moment can change or be wrecked by your next move. Music, if you change something you can immediately go back to how you had it if you don’t like the change.”

Paleface creates bright, bold, music-inspired folk-art. His canvas and drum head paintings often carry uplifting themes, much like his music, and he sells them as special one-of-a-kind merchandise at shows.

“I think of my paintings as rock-n-roll folk art, and my music, too,” Paleface said. “I like the fact that people can get this special thing that’s much better than a CD or T-shirt or even a print … 250 sold paintings later I’m still making them and getting more and more interested in it all the time.”

In reality the paintings help to supplement the often stretched-thin income of a touring independent artist. Life on the road is difficult, but Paleface has managed to stay positive after all of these years.

“[Touring] is harder work than people know,” Paleface said. “It sounds romantic and I wouldn’t trade it, but you can get tired with the miles. Great shows can always help build you up and bad shows remind you nothing is certain, but I love seeing all the friends we’ve made out there on the road and checking on the progress they’ve made in their own lives.”

Paleface has been touring through Greenville for several years, a stop that he may have missed had it not been for his connection with the Avetts.

“The first time we ever came was back in the day playing with the band Oh What a Nightmare, which at the time was The Avett Brothers’ other project, kind of a hard rock trio with Seth on drums and Scott on electric,” Paleface said. “I like Greenville a lot. The Spazzatorium was a great scene and Jeff [Blinder] who used to book there had really good taste so it was always fun to go there and play. After it closed we just kept coming back because we liked playing here.”

While the Avetts may have brought Paleface to Greenville, Samalot keeps the duo coming back. She is the driving force when it comes to the business side of things — mapping out tour routes, booking venues, handling all social media—in addition to rocking the drums and singing harmonies. Paleface and Samalot are partners in every sense of the word. On and off stage their mutual respect and love is unmistakable and they are constantly pushing each other to improve.

“(Samalot) really loves harmony so we’ve been doing a bit of that of late,” Paleface said. “She also remembers songs that I forget and if she likes it enough pushes me to bring it back and make it something. I must confess that I’ve only recorded a fraction of the songs I’ve written so it is good to have someone who remembers them.”

When it comes to songwriting, Paleface’s talent is off the charts. He is a true storyteller, creating a unique auditory experience that reaches all ages. Paleface’s ability to write songs with traditional acoustic instrumentation that ends up feeling charged and electric is unmatched and magical.

“[It’s an] obsession,” Paleface said. “I don’t need to bottle it. It just is an inextinguishable flame that burns inside.”

As he begins another new chapter in his career, Paleface is approaching his newest material from a more informed and introspective place. Though it has been challenging, he is confident that his approach will yield some of his best music to date.

“For a while, because I’ve had a rough time in the music (business), I just wanted to stand on stage and sing happy songs and I didn’t really care if it was cool or not,” Paleface said. “Lately I’ve felt a little restless with that. I’m taking my time with it so I don’t know when it will be finished, hopefully soon.”

Until then, fans can catch Paleface touring across the country. This month, Paleface will once again make a stop in Greenville to close out Spazz Fest VI at Christy’s Europub on March 22 from 7-11 p.m. Fans can expect Paleface to deliver another fun and lively performance, full of some of his best old tunes, a few new ones and plenty of audience interaction.

“I want [the audience] to feel the energy and give it back so we can both bug out to the sound vibrations,” Paleface said.

This piece originally ran in Mixer Magazine.

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Music and Healthcare – Dave Lamb’s Story

Brown Bird's Dave Lamb and MorganEve Swain

Brown Bird’s Dave Lamb and MorganEve Swain

Independent touring musicians typically think about costs associated with lodging, van repairs, and replacing an old blown out amp.  While a touring life doesn’t always coincide with the healthiest of lifestyles, the thought of budgeting for proper healthcare is often placed on the back burner–that is until it turns into a screaming tea kettle that can no longer be ignored.

Such was the case for Brown Bird‘s Dave Lamb, who was diagnosed with Leukemia last year while on tour promoting the band’s most recent album, “Fits of Reason.”  It was at a show in Houston when the fatigue was so insurmountable that he was rushed to the emergency room.  The diagnosis was shocking, as was the aftermath of medical bills that piled up for this uninsured musician.

With the tour cancelled, and no income in sight, Lamb set up a crowd-funding campaign on YouCaring to help offset the growing medical expenses.  The response was overwhelming, and Lamb was able to raise over $60,000.  As he continues treatment along the long road to recovery, Lamb is speaking out to other uninsured artists about the importance of finding coverage.

“It’s important to be informed about your health care options because the costs may be more manageable than you might otherwise have thought,” Lamb said. “I want to encourage others to understand the importance of having health insurance when you’re suddenly faced with a very serious illness.”

Lamb, along with bandmate MorganEve Swain, recently teamed up with HeadCount–a nonprofit organization that works with musicians and fans to help promote participation in democracy.  While HeadCount typically focuses on voter registration, the organization is now working directly with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to assist musicians seeking information about health insurance.  They are also helping musicians like Lamb tell their stories.

HeadCount has created a dedicated information hotline that musicians and music industry professionals can call with questions about health insurance, at (919) 264-0418.

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Interview: Jiggley Jones

Photo: Beauty By Grace

Photo: Beauty By Grace

To kick off the new year, Evolution of a Fan caught up with Americana singer-songwriter Jiggley Jones, out of Coatesville, PA.  Last year was a huge year for Jones, who took home the  Songwriter of the Year award at the 2013 International Music and Entertainment Association Awards (IMEA), which was held in Ashland, Kentucky.  Jones took some time to chat with us about his music, fans, and family.

Evolution of a Fan: How did your upbringing affect the type of musician you are today?  What kind of music were you exposed to at an early age?
Jiggley Jones: I only dabbled in music when I was really young, singing at church and playing the clarinet in elementary school. It wasn’t until my later teens that I started to get serious about my love for music. I think the radio was my main influence musically when young and as I got older and bought my own albums I was finally able to branch out a bit.

EOAF: What does it mean to you, to have won the 2013 IMEA Songwriter of the Year award?

JJ: Wow, “Songwriter of the Year”. This is my forte, my bread and butter, my contribution. It means everything to me to be recognized for that!!

EOAF: What is your songwriting process like?
JJ:  I do try to block out time to write because I really need to focus on the mental side of the music without distraction. I usually start with a guitar chord progression or “riff” and then I’ll “scat’ sing a vocal melody over that. I might even put in some vocal harmonies before I sit down and painstakingly work out the lyrics. Usually they will be based off of how the music is “moving” me at the time.

EOAF: What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write?
JJ: Everything I’ve stumbled across in life inspires my lyrics. Mostly I generalize so the listener can put their own life into the song. Once in a while I get more specific but overall music means emotion.

EOAF: How does “storytelling” play a part in your  music?
JJ: I have told a few specific stories in the past but I feel the story is up to the listener to develop in their own mind.

EOAF: Why type of venue/music event do you enjoy playing the most?
JJ: I really like the coffee house or small “tight” room/bar. The sound quality is usually perfect for what I’m doing which most of the time is me with my acoustic guitar and maybe one other instrument at most.

EOAF: What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?
JJ: There’s an energy in the air that can’t be simulated in any other situation. There’s always that pressure to get it right and perform with the emotion that you need on a consistent basis. So playing live pulls out that inner you and when you’re on, you’re on. It’s always nice to get those compliments at the end of the night also.

EOAF: Which musician/band has had the most profound influence on your songwriting/performing?
JJ: Classic rock was always my go-to influence. I still listen to it today. Mix some old Neil Young with some acoustic Led Zeppelin, and throw in some Eagles and Steve Miller and there you go.

EOAF: What musicians would you have on an iTunes playlist?
JJ: Other then the ones I just mentioned I would go more current and throw in some Blackberry Smoke, Zac Brown, Dave Matthews, and maybe go real old school with Mozart.

EOAF: Is there a story behind your name?  If so, care to share?
JJ: Well it’s certainly not that interesting of a story but Jiggley is a real nickname that I’ve had for years. I was at a party one night up in New York and that name got stuck to me during the night somehow and of course that spread like wildfire. Everybody that ran in that circle of friends called me that from then on. Fast forward a handful of years and when this project started I thought I’d use my old nickname just for fun. Everybody once again seemed to like it, so it stayed.

EOAF: In our crazy technology driven world, what is the best way for you to get the word out about your music?  What seems to work best (word of mouth, social media, etc.)?
JJ: Definitely social media. Because of that I have an international fan base instead of just local and I’ve never left the country, so that pretty much sums it up.

EOAF: What kind of support have you received from the music scene in PA?
JJ: I love Pennsylvania and you’ll find just as many music lovers around here as anywhere else. The one problem with being from rural Pa is that there aren’t a lot of original venues around and you have to travel. As far as support goes, I have a lot of old friends from my local area who follow my social media sites.

EOAF: What do you think of the re-emergence of “roots”/”Americana” music in the mainstream?  Good, bad, indifferent?  Any rising acts that you really like?
JJ: Man if it weren’t for the re-surgence of Americana/roots stuff I think I’d be in big trouble as a songwriter, lol. I have to say that I do like The Lumineers and I think that they and maybe Mumford and Sons have really given Americana that “mainstream” push. I’m sure there are plenty of others I didn’t mention also.

EOAF: What was your experience like writing music for various MTV shows?  Have you watched MTV lately?  Do you think it still is an important avenue for musicians?
JJ: There are other music video choices these days which is great. MTV specially, though the innovator of the popular music video, has changed away from that format it seems. Maybe YouTube has something to do with that I don’t know. We didn’t write music specifically for MTV, they actually picked up what we had written and used pieces of it on the shows as soundtrack stuff.

EOAF: How has your work with Bright Star International changed you?  Why is this charity so near and dear to your heart?
JJ: To be honest, though I am on the Bright Star roster, I haven’t worked with them yet. I am definitely looking forward to working with them and the various charities that are involved with children. I have three youngsters myself and they mean the world to me. It kills me to think that there are kids out there that don’t have the opportunities to thrive in life. Bright Star themselves are not a charity but an organization that hooks artists up with charities. What a great idea !!

EOAF: Have you always been a Taylor guitar guy?  Tell us a bit about your guitar and how it helps you tell your story.
JJ: This is my first Taylor and I don’t think I’ll ever change from that. One day I picked up a friend’s Taylor and instantly fell in love with it. I just wish I had enough money to go out and grab up a few more of them. It’s mainly a comfort thing and that means a lot to me as I’m playing for long periods of time. The feel is great, the sound is great and the quality/workmanship is great. What more can I say.

jiggley jones video shoot2

Photo by Beauty By Grace

To learn more about Jiggley Jones and his music, please visit: http://jiggleyjones.com/wordpress/

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Interview – Emily Minor

minor

“North Carolina is the best place in the entire world.  No matter where this job takes me, Carolina holds my heart.”

~Emily Minor

With a relentless loyalty to her southern upbringing, Wilmington native and East Carolina University graduate, Emily Minor epitomizes the idea that you can take the girl out of Carolina, but you cannot take the Carolina out of the girl.

Three years ago, after graduation and a life-changing experience on American Idol, Minor packed up her acoustic guitar and college memories and moved to the epicenter of country music–Nashville, Tennessee. With husband John by her side, Minor jumped into the country music scene feet first, with a big dream and nothing to lose.

Evolution of a Fan caught up with Minor recently to chat about life in Nashville, on the road, and what she enjoys most about being a musician.

EOAF: How did your upbringing affect the type of musician you are today?  What kind of music were you exposed to at an early age? 

I’m extremely lucky that I was raised in musically diverse home. Our radio played anything from Buck Owens to Stevie Ray Vaughn, from Billy Joel to Whitney Houston. I was always exposed to great music and artists.

EOAF: What musicians would you have on an iTunes playlist?

It’s a lot like what I grew up on, a little bit of everything. I enjoy some of the new country on the radio today but I really love old country. It’s not unusual to find Merle Haggard or Brenda Lee on my iPod. 90’s country is great too, I love Brooks ‘N Dunn. It’s a broad spectrum–Hall and Oates, Aerosmith, and I love working out to Katy Perry.

EOAF: What is your songwriting process like?  Do you tend to write the lyrics first or melody? 

Typically an idea for a hook comes to me first and I can usually sing it the way I would hear it in a song. Usually lyrics will come to me and then I’ll sing it back to my husband and together we’ll create a melody on our guitars.

EOAF: Do you play any instruments? 

I play acoustic guitar when I’m writing and learning new songs at home. I don’t play anything while I’m on stage and maybe eventually I will. I love to entertain and sometimes its hard to run across the stage and jump around with a guitar strapped to me. Not to mention, I play with a bunch of ridiculously talented musicians. I leave them instruments to them.

EOAF: What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write? 

 I’ve been lucky to live a very uneventful, happy life so sometimes it’s hard to draw from personal experiences but every now and then I’ll write something that relates to my life. I find a lot of inspiration in whats going on with my friend’s life, whats going on around me, or something that has happened to someone I know back home. It’s a lot of fun to make up stories and write about them, create situations in my mind.

EOAF: Your EP has some really great songs on it.  What new songs are you testing on the road and when can your fans expect an LP?

Thank you! I have been writing a lot. At one point this summer it was like my creative juices were just pouring out of me and everyday there was a new song to write. I’m still writing a ton and now we’re in the beginning phases of choosing what songs are good enough to put on the new album. We’ll start the work for a new album this winter. I can tell you that you can expect more songs written by me and my co-writers and a lot of what you heard on the first album. Great, turn it up loud, sing-along songs and some tear-jerker ballads too.

EOAF: Where were you when you first heard one of your songs on the radio and how did it make you feel?

I was in a McDonald’s parking lot and it came on the radio. i had just finished and interview with the station and they were playing it right after the interview aired. I just sat there and listened. I close my eyes and just took in the moment and soaked it all up. And then I screamed and jumped up and down! You never really get used to hearing yourself on the radio. It’s always a treat to hear your songs played. It’s a very rewarding three and a half minutes.

EOAF: What have you learned about the music industry since moving to Nashville?

I’ve been in Nashville for three years now and my mind has been like a sponge. I just soak up everything I hear and read and try to learn as much as I can. For one, I’ve learned that there are so many talented people in town. You never know if you’re going to pop into a songwriter night and see the guy who wrote Eric Church’s “Springsteen” or hits for Diamond Rio. That’s awesome to me. I’ve also learned to be nice to everyone and to never speak badly about someone. You never burn bridges. You never know who someone is, who they know, and how it could come back to hurt you. You can’t make judgements in that town.

EOAF: How hard or easy has it been to connect with other songwriters and producers in Nashville?  

Networking is what Nashville is all about. You’ve got to shake hands–it’s just how the world turns there. It’s really easy to go into a writer’s round and hear someone great and approach them later about writing together. They’re just like you. They want to meet new people, broaden themselves as writers, and have something new to look forward to. Everyone is so friendly in Nashville, It just takes walking up and introducing yourself. Even the big time celebrities are down to earth and don’t mind stopping for a picture or to talk. I saw Vince Gill once and just walked right up to said hello. He is one of the nicest people I’ve met.

EOAF: I’ve read that you really enjoy being out on tour.  What are your favorite and least favorite things about being on the road?  

Of course playing to new people and being on stage is the best part, but I also just enjoy the riding time with my band. We’re one big family, they’re the brothers that I never had. We joke on each other, laugh, get into a little trouble. When you’re on the road for that long with the same people, you have no choice but to like each other and make the most of it. We have a great time. My least favorite thing would be missing out on friends and family things. I have to miss a lot of birthdays, weddings, family dinners–and sometimes that’s tough.

EOAF: What type of venue/music event do you enjoy the most? (listening room, bar, club, festival, songwriters session, etc)?

It’s so hard to choose because they’re all great. I love to play a listening room or writer’s round because it’s very intimate and people are there to listen to your work. They listen to your lyrics, take it all in, and really hear the message you’re trying to deliver. Festivals are fun too because it’s family friendly and I love watching all of the little kids dance around and have a good time. It’s also a great way to meet the fans, hear what they have to say, and get your music in their hands. I really enjoy singing the National Anthem too and I’m always honored to be asked.

 EOAF: What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?

Nothing is better than being on stage. It’s a high for me. Every now and then we’ll take some time off to recharge or spend some time writing and after a couple of days, I’m losing my mind! I’m ready to get back on the road and play. the best part is watching people sing along to the songs you’ve written, or having them request that you play one of your own songs. That’s always the highest praise. My shows are always super fun but for the most part nothing crazy usually happens.  I once had two grandmas start fighting while we were playing. It was hilarious.

EOAF: Tell me a little bit about your backing band.  How did you guys get together?

We all met through mutual friends. That’s how it works out there. You start playing with people and then they’re unavailable for a gig so you call a friend of theirs who can do it and it’s all one big link. Right now I’m very fortunate to have some talented guys on the road with me. My guitar player is my husband, John, and with him we have a fiddle player, bass, drums, acoustic guitar, and occasionally keys. Not to mention they’re all super nice and down to earth which goes along way with me. You can be a really great player but if you aren’t easy to get a long with and friendly, it’s not going to work out.

EOAF: What is your favorite song to cover and why?

I love to do anything by Aerosmith. If I could die and come back as someone else in this world, I’d be Steven Tyler. I just love everything they’ve done. Right now we cover “Crying”. I saw Steven Tyler and Carrie Underwood cover it and I thought, “I HAVE to do that!” I also love the song “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” by Heart. I watched my Mama sing along to it on the radio as a little girl and I love singing it now. I’m country to the bone but I’ve got a little bit of a rock ‘n roll heart too. I’d love to work some Fleetwood Mac into my set.

EOAF: What is your “must have” when you are on the road?

I always have my own pillow and blanket. I’m peculiar about hotel linens and their cleanliness so I always have my own blankets and pillows. I’d also be lost without dry shampoo for my hair.  It’s great for in-between days. Oh yeah, and my husband. He manages me and plays in the band so I probably shouldn’t leave him at home or I wouldn’t know where to go or what to play!

EOAF: How do you feel when you come back home (to NC) to perform? 

North Carolina, especially Greenville and Wilmington, have been so good to me. And even all of the little towns around. Everyone is so supportive and caring. I can always count of seeing some familiar faces in the crowd and someone is always wanting to feed us or offer up a shower and bed for a nap.

EOAF: What do you miss about Greenville?  How did your time at ECU prepare you for where you are today?

Greenville is so wonderful and near and dear to me. I grew up in Wilmington but in a lot of ways I feel like I really grew up and learned who I was in Greenville. The small town, the close-knit community, I just love that. I really miss Saturdays in the stand cheering on the Pirates too and tailgating with my friends. I majored in Education at ECU. I thought I needed a “real” career, but I started a band while I was in college. Getting my start playing around Greenville really taught me so much and prepared me to move the band to Nashville and take this more seriously.

EOAF: What do you do when your aren’t writing or touring?  Any other interests or charity work?

I’ve been blessed to work with some great charities over the past couple years. I’ve done some breast cancer and heart research events and I always appreciate being asked to join them. I try to spend as much time with my family any chance that I get. We are all very close and I miss them terribly. On normal days, I spend my time doing things like grocery shopping (my favorite place!) and laundry. I find them relaxing and it brings a sense of normalcy and routine to my life.

EOAF: What advice would you give to a young musician who wants to pursue a music career?

Start a band! Play! To anyone who will listen, it doesn’t matter if you make money. The money will come. Just start a band with really great musicians, practice, take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. No one likes a big ego. And get on the road and play, get your music out there. It doesn’t hurt to move to one of the music capitals of the world,  Nashville, LA, New York. Atlanta’s music scene is really growing a lot too. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do.

It is clear that fame and recognition have not gone to Minor’s head.  She maintains her homegrown charm and light-hearted spirit, which translates into relevant music that keeps her fans coming back for more. Minor’s fall/winter tour is underway.  Check out her website and catch her as she blows through your town!

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Interview – Dolph Ramseur

dolphramseur

Thirteen years ago, Dolph Ramseur left the tennis court to start his own independent record label, Ramseur Records. He had no real experience in the music industry, but was armed with a deep-seated passion, blue-collar work ethic, and relentless determination–three key ingredients for success in any industry.

Today his roster includes bands like The Avett Brothers, Langhorne Slim and The Law, Bombadil, Paleface, Jim Avett, David Wax Museum, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Samantha Crain. After over a dozen years in the business, Ramseur still maintains a humble demeanor, a sweet southern charm, and a homegrown love for music. Simply put, he is a fan just like the rest of us.

Recently, Evolution of a Fan caught up with Ramseur via phone to learn a bit more about the man behind the music:

EOAF: Good morning Dolph, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Briefly, what is a typical day like for you?
Dolph Ramseur: Well, I get about 250 emails a day, and then on top of that, mix that with phone calls and instant messages. But, it’s really just sort of making the foundation for the artist, building upon that, trying to see what is coming in the future, what’s down the pipeline and plan for that accordingly–whether it’s tour dates or recording.

EOAF: So are you pretty hands on with promotion and booking for some of your lesser known bands?
DR: To a certain extent we are. Some of our acts don’t have booking agents so we have to find shows for them. But then the ones that do [have booking agents] we help out with the promoters, and getting the word out about shows and when do tickets go on sale, and how do we promote these shows, and what kind of Facebook ads are we going to take out, and what should we post on the website. There’s a lot of moving parts.

EOAF: Do you have a fairly large staff to do this or is it still a pretty small operation?
DR: Well, we are still small. I have an employee in Nashville, one in Los Angeles, and then one in the Winston-Salem area, and I am in Concord, NC.

EOAF: So you are still working out of your house?
DR: Yes, we all do that.

EOAF: That’s convenient.
DR: Yeah, we’ll its got its advantages and pitfalls, as anyone who works out of their house will tell you.

EOAF: That type of flexibility sort of allows you to move where you need to go. Do you often get on the road to support your musicians?
DR: Yes, although I can’t do it as much as I used to, just because it’s so busy on all aspects of what we do. But, yes, I get out quite a bit.

EOAF: What would you say over the past year has been one of your highlights of being at a show?
DR: Well the two shows with The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks this past year were great. Seeing The [Avett] Brothers down in Atlanta in front of 12,500 people was pretty special as well, because I was at the first show when the guys played in Atlanta. You know you go from playing to 50 people to 12,500 and you see the growth of the band. It’s pretty amazing.

EOAF: Does that shift ever seem overwhelming? Do you ever ask yourself, “How did we get here?”?
DR: Well, I know kinda how we got there. It was a lot of hard work, and a lot of talent from the band. I feel like we’ve got one of the best fan bases in the world. So, you mix all three of those things together and some special things can happen. But in some ways I’ve lost scope of maybe how big it is, and maybe that’s a good thing. I mean, I saw the guys play to 8 or 9 people in Charlottesville, VA 10 years ago and they put on the same show to those 9 people that they did at their last show in Charlottesville to over 4,000. So, I think we all have blinders on when it comes to that. We are thankful that we have that kind of crowd, but it’s not something that we, I mean, it is what it is.

EOAF: Now some of the bands that I believe you have on your roster now were introduced through your relationship with The Avett Brothers. Do you kind of keep an eye on their opening bands as a way to find new talent?
DR: It just depends. I find them everywhere.

EOAF: Are you actively looking for new talent, or do you feel like you are pretty much at capacity at this point?
DR: Well, we are pretty full, but you never know what you might come across that strikes us. That’s sort of a hard one, you know, because you just kind of get bit by the love bug on it, so I just don’t know.

EOAF: You’ve probably served as a mentor for the musicians that you manage, but do you also serve as a mentor for your staff?
DR: There’s a lot of give and take with my staff. I always had the saying, ‘big team, little me’ so we always learn from one another. I’m learning something everyday at this job. So, we share the knowledge of this, and I think the main thing that we are trying to do is to have fun doing this, because there are so many people working jobs that hate their jobs. My staff and I are really lucky because we are doing something we really love and have fun doing. As far as being a mentor, I’m not sure. I think we are all in this together, so it’s not necessarily that kind of role I’m playing.

EOAF: As a manager, how would you define your job. What are the important qualities that you think have led to your success?
DR: I guess, well, you see in some ways I don’t even feel like we are in the music business. I’m in The Avett Brothers business. I’m in the Carolina Chocolate Drops business. I’m in the Bombadil business, the Langhorne Slim business. I feel like all of these acts we work with are all handmade kind of acts. They are all unique. They are all different from the norm. It’s tough for me to answer. I’ve been at this now for about 13 years and I had no experience of it before getting into it, so maybe I had no bad habits and I didn’t know the pitfalls necessarily. We kind of just went by the seat of our pants. But, you know, I’m from a very blue-collar family, so I’m just a hard worker first and foremost. I show up everyday, and I care. If you show up everyday and you care about what you are doing, it’s almost hard not to have success, because there are so many people not showing up with that passion. I can’t speak for those folks, but we just take a lot of passion and pride in this, and I want everybody on the planet to hear these acts.

EOAF: That passion and that gut feeling you get when you find a new artist, or hear someone like Langhorne or Paleface, does that feed into your decision to bring them on? Would it be difficult for you to represent someone who you didn’t have that feeling about?
DR: Yes, it would be tough. It just wouldn’t be fun.

EOAF: You’ve said in other interviews that you are really just a fan of music, and that is kind of what got you into this. Do you think your musical tastes have evolved since staring Ramseur Records 13 years ago?
DR: Well, I’ve always been left of center when it comes to music, so I like all forms. If anything I get jaded because I hear so much stuff, and it’s hard to digest so much music that’s coming at me sometimes. My father was a big Johnny Cash fan. He was a big Hank Williams Sr. fan. He was a big Roy Orbison fan. He loved The Platters. He was a big Pavarotti fan. My father is about as blue-collar as you are going to find. He didn’t go to college, real hard-working fella. So, he exposed myself and my sister to a lot of different kinds of music. So maybe I get that a little bit naturally. He also had a thing when it came down to gospel music, he would rather have someone who was not a great singer but put a lot of heart and soul into it as opposed to a great singer who was just going through the motions. I learned that early on from him. I don’t know how much my tastes have evolved, because I just like so much stuff.

EOAF: You grew up surrounded by all of that great music. Do you actually play an instrument or sing?
DR: No. I do not. I keep telling people that I am one of the world’s greatest musicians, I just haven’t found what instrument will get it out of me. I do not play, and I think I learned that from tennis. I taught tennis at country clubs and I went to college for tennis and I kind of lost the passion for that because I did it so much. I’m almost glad I don’t play an instrument, because it kind of keeps me from overloading too much.

EOAF: When you started Ramseur Records, did you start it with the intent of putting out albums and being a manager, or did that combination evolve over time?
DR: Yeah, it kind of evolved. Again, I really didn’t know what I was doing at all.

EOAF: And starting the label came out of a relationship with Martin Stephenson?
DR: Yes. Martin had gone through the whole gambit of the industry from being an independent artists who got signed to a major label. Martin, very much like The Avett Brothers, never had radio success, but he was selling thousands of tickets in the UK, and really doing well. He had a very similar story to what The Avett Brothers have going on, where they have kind of danced around mainstream success but sort of still stayed under it. That’s kind of what Martin did. So, I learned quite a bit from Martin and he is very similar to The [Avett] Brothers and he’s got the same gift they’ve got.

EOAF: How did you meet him?
DR: That kind of goes back to me being a music fan. He had left major labels and went through the indie route and was putting out records on his own, and I reached out to him. He noticed I’m from NC and he’s a bit of a fan of music from this state, like Doc Watson and Charlie Poole and the Piedmont blues players from the state. So we just struck up a friendship, and I told him that he should come over to NC and I will introduce you to some pickers. That’s kind of how it all happened. I really didn’t have any real idea of getting into the business. When I met Martin I could see where musicians need help, and they need some support and someone to help and put fuel on the flame.

EOAF: So, a manager is like a Jack-of-all-trades. You have to do everything, wouldn’t you say? You are the sounding board, you book, you promote, you do all of these things.
DR: Yes, definitely.

EOAF: In that light, I saw that The Avett Brothers recently released their first single off of their next album. Are you involved in those types of decisions, like which single will be released, album art, song sequence, etc?
DR: That’s a yes and no type of question. It differs for every act, because some acts will want our input on a certain aspect of the [process]. Like, some may want to know feedback on a single. Some may be dead set on a track listing and some may be dead set on artwork. Some will need help on artwork, and some will need help on the track list. It varies from case to case. We are and we aren’t, just depending on what the project is, where the artist is. Sometimes the artist may change where they need help, because they are so close to the project. They sometimes need help from someone that’s got a little separation from it.

EOAF: In terms of an artist like Langhorne Slim, his last album, to me, was Grammy-worthy. Does it ever surprise you when things don’t get as much attention or the attention you think they deserve?
DR: No, no. We are just thankful for the attention we get and we can’t sit around hoping and wishing and ‘what ifs.’ We have to play the deck of cards we are dealt. You know that album to date has sold 22,000 copies. That is a lot of records for an independent act like Langhorne. I look at all of then albums like babies. You want them to grow up and do well. Sometimes they do and sometimes it doesn’t stick. It’s hard to say what America or the world wants, and the way certain things go. You know, who knows? I have no clue.

EOAF: How do you find a balance between managing all of your acts?
DR: It’s hard for me to know what time is spent on what. With some of my acts, certain employees will spend most of their time with those certain acts. Of course I spend most of my time with The [Avett] Brothers, with The [Carolina Chocolate] Drops. So it’s just kind of hard to say how that time is divided up. I’m so close to it, it’s hard for me to kind of step back and see it.

EOAF: Can you speak about your handshake contracts? Why does this work for you and has it ever backfired?
DR: No, it hasn’t backfired and I don’t know, I just got into this business to have fun. I feel like if so much energy is spent on that kind of stuff it just sort of takes the spirit out of things. That’s not to say that you can’t have great spirit and great goodwill between two people in a contact, but I just kind of like the old thing that you get further with shaking hands than balling up a hand in a fist. Again, I don’t recommend it to other people. I just do my own thing.

EOAF: What kind of advice would you give to a rising musician who is looking to get signed or looking for someone to represent him/her?
DR: I would say more than anything would be to try to master your craft, and also try to realize that no matter how great you are, there’s always ways to improve. I don’t really deal with anyone like this, but I kind of sense that some artists think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. A lot of times that’s sort of when they plateau and never kind of get any further down the road than they already are. I feel like if you are an artist who is always trying to push the boundaries of what you are doing and always trying to improve as a singer, as a songwriter, as a performer, I would say definitely master your craft and a lot of things will fall in place with that. Also, there’s this sort of sense that you’ve got to get this success right now, and I don’t feel that’s the case. A lot of times people who did have success quickly, it would be a rocket ship–as soon as it goes up, it’s coming right back down. You have to think of it more as a balloon ride. Also I always say to steer clear of the American Idol, The Voice, those kind of things. I just kind of feel like that’s all smoke and mirrors in my opinion.

EOAF: Charity appears to be a big part of your business model. Why is that so important to you? Was that something that you thought of from the beginning, or has that just evolved over time?
DR: That might be my family background. I feel like all of my family has sort of had that mindset. We’ve all been pretty fortunate and hardworking. My grandparents where cotton mill workers, and they were real thankful to just have a job, and they were really active in their church and in the community. I remember my grandfather, who was born in 1902–my other grandfather was born in 1900–but my Grandpa Ramseur I remember, as a kid, every Thursday he would dress up in his Sunday best and go to the hospital and just pray for people in the hospital. He’d just go room to room and ask them if it was okay if he could pray for them. He did that for years. So, I guess I get it kind of honestly.

EOAF: Is there anything coming up in the near future, like the My Favorite Gifts Christmas Album, that you have in the works?
DR: There might be some things in regards to St. Jude with Bob’s daughter. Hopefully there will be some things that will come from that. We’ve got a new Cheerwine campaign with The [Avett] Brothers, the second installment of The Legendary Giveback and that’s going to be pretty exciting. We are always looking at things and seeing what might work. There are a lot of things being done that no one even knows about. We are fortunate to be in a position to help.

EOAF: That is awesome, and the fan base definitely takes it to another level as well. They organize their own fundraisers. I’ve seen it in action. It’s pretty amazing and inspiring, and it’s nice to know that you all have a piece in that, and that you’ve inspired other people as well.
DR: I can’t speak any more highly for the fan bases that [our] bands have. We are so fortunate. I feel like all of the acts realize that they wouldn’t have the careers they’ve had without the fans for sure. That’s another thing that I think has benefited me is growing up in the hub of NASCAR. When I was a kid, Richard Petty would sign autographs until nobody wanted one, but he would always thank the fans and let the fans know that without the fans he wouldn’t have the opportunity or then platform to do what he does.

We’d like to thank Dolph Ramseur for his time and contribution to Evolution of a Fan. To learn more about Ramseur Records and the artists, please visit the official website and Facebook page.

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