Tag Archives: Jim Avett

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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Spring Music Festival Spotlight – MerleFest 2013

Racn - 2002

MerleFest, April 25-28, 2013 @ Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro NC

MerleFest is a family friendly music festival that was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson — son of American music legend Doc Watson.  For over 25 years, the festival has maintained its original purpose–to raise funds for Wilkes Community College while celebrating “traditional plus” music. Today, MerleFest is considered one of the top music festivals in the country, drawing more than 75,000 festival goers and some of the biggest names in traditional bluegrass, country, Americana, folk, rock and more.  This year’s festival will feature over 90 musicians on 14 stages over the course of four days, so festival goers are encouraged to download the MerleFest app before they arrive to ensure the ultimate festival experience!

In true MerleFest fashion, festival organizers have gone above and beyond to congregate the best of the best at WCC.  This year’s lineup features rising musicians like The Black Lillies, Pokey LaFarge, and Delta Rae alongside industry vets like Jim Lauderdale, Jerry Douglas, and headliners The Charlie Daniels Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Warren Haynes & Gov’t Mule. Additionally, local favorites, The Avett Brothers, have signed-on to closeout the festival on Sunday afternoon, but not before their talented father, Jim Avett, takes the Creekside Stage to perform a special family gospel set.  In addition to this year’s stacked lineup, Sam Bush will host an all-star tribute jam on Saturday night to honor the life and music of the festival’s founding father Doc Watson, who sadly passed away last year.

While it is true that MerleFest mainly involves relaxing and enjoying the company of old and new friends while taking in amazing live performances, there are also several opportunities for fans to get involved and play some music themselves.  Musically inclined fans can join others to pick, sing, and learn at Jam Camp, Pickin’ Place, and The Songwriters’ Coffeehouse.  Young festival goers may enjoy spending some time in the Little Pickers Family Area, while fans of all ages can venture out into the WCC campus woods for a Nature Walk.  MerleFest also features a series of contests for musicians and songwriters, including The Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Championship, The Doc Watson Guitar Championship, and The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.  The twelve finalists for the CASC will perform on the Austin Stage on Friday, April 26th at 2:00 PM, and will be judged by a panel of music industry professionals, including Jim Lauderdale.  The first place winner will receive a performance slot on the Cabin Stage that evening.  All proceeds from the CASC benefit the WCC Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship.  And, last but certainly not least is the Saturday night Midnight Jam — a fun and often rowdy festival tradition!

If you are looking for a music festival to kick off the spring season, MerleFest is for you!  Load up your car, head out to Wilkesboro, set up a tent at one of the many surrounding campsites, and be prepared to have your mind blown by some of the music industry’s best.  Multi- and single-day tickets are still available. For more information about MerleFest, musicians, and festival events, please visit  www.merlefest.org.

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Jim Avett @ In Your Ear Recording Studio – Richmond, VA

Storytelling and Songs

Storytelling and Songs

To launch their 2013 concert series, JAMinc.–a local non-profit organization that promotes music appreciation through education, performance, and support–brought in singer/songwriter/master storyteller Jim Avett from Concord, NC to perform for a sold-out crowd at In Your Ear Recording Studio in Richmond, VA this past Friday night.

As a part of his collaboration with JAMinc., Jim spent time before his evening performance visiting two Richmond schools–Maggie Walker Govenor’s School and Douglas Freeman High School. This push to get talented musicians into Richmond area schools is part of the core mission at JAMinc. Over the past decade, they have successfully reached over 47,000 K-12 students in the Richmond area.

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

During his time with the students, Jim shared his stories and songs, and offered them encouragement rooted in reality. He “encouraged them to be the best they can be,” not only in music, but also in life. This “just do your best” theme is pervasive in any music from the Avett family, indicating a firm belief that each of us has a purpose in life, and doing our best is always enough to make an impact.

Later that evening, music lovers gathered in the listening room at In Your Ear Recording Studio for Jim’s show. Many of those present had never seen Jim perform live, but were eager and excited to hear the music of the Avett family patriarch. Little did they know, they were not only about to hear a gifted singer/songwriter, but also one of the best storytellers this side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Unlike the crowd, I have had the pleasure of seeing Jim Avett perform several times. While no two shows are alike, I have heard most of his stories a time or two. Though he is always quick to apologize for his redundancy, it is in his redundancy that lessons are reinforced and new connections to music are created. Therefore, it’s not surprising to still find myself completely engaged and entertained when he dives into one of his old trusty tales about getting his first guitar, the art of picking, or his admiration for great songwriters like Tom T. Hall. Somehow Jim’s stories never wear thin. They never get old. Perhaps it’s his lighthearted country charm and down-home humility, or the simple wisdom and appreciation for what is true that keeps listeners like myself coming back for another helping of Jim Avett.

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Flanked by lead guitarist Ray Morton and fiddlers Ali and Justine Parker, Jim took the stage in his trademark cowboy hat and black leather vest, and did what he does best–took listeners on a musical journey through his life. During the first half of the show, Jim wove childhood stories in with the songs that have shaped him into the musician he is today. His set list was thoughtful–deliberately complimenting tales about growing up in the foothills of NC, learning his first guitar chord progressions, and stealing history lessons from Johnny Horton songs. He delighted the captivated audience with classics like, All I Have to do is Dream, Wreck of the Old ’97, Sink the Bismarck, Keep on the Sunny Side, (Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine, and Hey Good Lookin’.

After a short intermission, Jim, Ray and Ali returned to the stage to play original tunes from Jim’s most recent albums “Tribes” and “Second Chance”–and you better believe that the stories continued as well. As Jim explained the details behind each songs, it was evident that he not only writes from personal experiences, but also through a keen observation of others, which he displayed in songs like Willard and Decisions. Through his tough facade, hardened by a lifetime of honest and dirty work, a sweet and candid family man emerged as he spoke fondly of his his wife Susie and their three children. With ease, he admitted his propensity for writing love songs, before transitioning into some of his favorites including Leaving Knoxville, Through the Passing Years, Tribes, and Saying Goodbye. Jim also treated the audience to a new song called, World Goes Round and Round–a heartfelt story of a grandaddy walking along a wooded path with his granddaughter and offering up a lifetime of advice.

With his first performance in Richmond, VA on the books, Jim proved, once again, that he is a master of lyrical imagery. With his stories and songs, he painted a picture of a simpler, fonder time that many of us long for, as we forge ahead into the tech-savvy, hustle-bustle world in which we live.

In a city so defined by its history, Jim Avett has gifted Richmond with his own little piece of the past–a kind reminder that sometimes we must look back through the history of music to allow ourselves to evolve and move forward in our own story and song.

Take a listen to a short interview with Jim just before his set at In Your Ear Recording Studio:

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Leaping into 2012…an extra day of music!

Rockin' my new Little Martin in 2012!

Happy (belated) 2012!  This year is slated to be jam-packed with shows (and reviews!) across the music spectrum.  So far, I have several shows under my belt and on the books,  including:  Jim Avett, Overmountain Men, Mipso Trio, The Darkness, The Avett Brothers (NC and CA dates), The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Merle Haggard, Paleface & Mo, and more!  I am excited to share these experiences with you all.

Another wonderful thing about the year 2012 is that it is a Leap Year, and the calendar gods have granted us an extra day to do with what we wish.  What will you do with your extra day?  I know that my extra day will be filled with as much music as I can cram into it.  Music is a part of my daily routine — in the car, at the gym, at work, in the kitchen while I cook, at late night jam sessions, and even in my dreams.  I don’t even attempt to imagine a world without music — just seems unlivable!

So let us appreciate an entire extra 24 hours of  music in our lives this year.   Cheers to a fabulous 2012!

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Interview: Nick Bailey of Nick and the Babes

Nick and Graham Bailey

Songwriter Nick Bailey isn’t just writing music for TV shows; he’s writing his life’s soundtrack.  From guitar teacher to banker, singer to guitarist, and songwriter to DJ, Bailey is proof that when music is your passion, it will sneak into every facet of your life — yes, even banking.

A native of eastern NC, Bailey started playing music at the age of 13 years after receiving his first guitar for Christmas.

“I got a guitar and [my twin brother] Graham got a drum set.  He wanted a guitar but I said, ‘No you can’t get a guitar if I am getting a guitar’.  Back then I wanted to start a band because I was really into (shamefully) Guns N’ Roses.  When that song You Could be Mine came out I saw the video and watched the bass player, because I thought he was playing a guitar.  I thought, ‘Man that guy is so cool.  I want to learn how to play the guitar’.  That was really what made me want to pick up a guitar, which is just funny to me now,” he recalled.

After a year of music lessons, Bailey and his brother formed a 90’s cover band with their childhood friend Rob Wank.  Soon after, the twin brothers found themselves playing their first gig at the tender age of 14 years at a bar in the historic waterfront town of New Bern, NC.  Little did the brothers know that many years later they would reunite with Wank under the new band name Nick and the Babes (NATB).

“It’s kind of funny that we’ve come full circle.  [Rob] and I both played in a bunch of other bands.  We’ve known each other since high school.  We know each other very well, so it’s cool to have him back.  He is very versatile, and basically my wing man in the group,” Bailey said of his bandmate, who now plays keys, banjo, and mandolin while adding harmonies for NATB.

Though Bailey’s journey as a musician started that fateful Christmas, he never had goals to study music formally.  After only a year of instruction, he stepped away from lessons and began experimenting on his own.

“As far as the composing goes, that was just something that I had to just kind of plunder through.  I wasn’t a music major at [East Carolina University] or anything.  I stayed away from that.  I am not one of those guys who sits there with a classical guitar and reads music.  I felt like if I went to school for music I may end up hating it.  I didn’t want to have music homework.  I’d rather learn about the theory on my own and discover it through learning songs.  So I just learned it by doing it,” he said.

Thankfully, his self-taught approach has worked.  After two years of persistent emails and calls to a top TV music composer, Bailey was signed on to compose music for TLC’s show Nineteen Kids and Counting.  Soon thereafter he was hired to work on various TV series like Crime 360, Pit Bulls and Parolees, and Last American Cowboy.  To date he has written music for nearly 50 different episodes, and was just singed on for another season of Nineteen Kids and Counting.

Over the past few years Bailey has become accustomed to the process of TV music composition.  Typically, he is given an idea or direction from which to work.  Sometime he gets to view the scene for which he is writing, other times he does not.  Regardless of the amount or type of direction, Bailey’s job is to complete the scene with music–a process that can be both exhilarating and daunting at the same time.

“I was doing a scene for Animal Planet and they sent me this video clip from a helicopter viewing over this mountain.  They said, ‘Write something epic and grand for this scene’.  I thought that was pretty cool and I was inspired [by the video].  Sometimes they will say, ‘We need you to watch this movie and listen to the score and write something similar’.  They give me good direction as far as what to write.  I am familiar with a lot of different music, which does help me out with the TV music writing.  People tell me what they want and I can create that,” he shared.

Bailey draws his inspiration from a very eclectic background of musical influences, including funk, Motown, grunge, folk, jazz, indie rock, and more.  This aids him when he sits down to write a TV score, but can make the process difficult when sitting down to write songs for NATB.

“To me it is easier [to write for TV] than sitting down and trying to create an identity for yourself.  That is what you are essentially doing when you sit down to write.  You are creating a brand and an identity that people can latch onto or relate to, like a certain sound.  Sometimes I struggle with that.  I like so many different bands, so finding that perfect mix of everything is sometimes a struggle,” admits Bailey.

Rob, Nick, and Dail

These days when he is not up against a TV deadline, teaching guitar lessons, DJing, or working at the bank, Bailey sits down with his Martin acoustic guitar to write new material for NATB.  While the band’s sound continues to evolve, Bailey often describes it as ‘Americana’, which encompasses a number of different genres.

“I am trying to get [our music] to sound like NATB as opposed to sounding like another band.  A band like The Avett Brothers did something amazing because there really aren’t other bands out there that sound like them.  You can’t call them bluegrass, or indie rock, or folk because they really aren’t those things.  When I go to write, I try to write in a certain vein and not steer away from that.  I am not going to write anything that sounds like Metallica, but it is fun to try to mix everything that I like,” Bailey said.

Just as the music of NATB has evolved, so too has membership since the band’s 2007 inception.  Currently NATB is made up of Nick on guitar and vocals, Graham on drums and vocals, Dail Reed on bass, and Wank on keys/banjo/mandolin and vocals.

Though their touring schedule was sporadic this past year–all band members have other full-time jobs–show attendance was great and reviews positive.  They shared the stage with the talents of Jason Isbell from the Drive-by Truckers and Jim Avett, and developed relationships with a number of creative NC musicians.  One particular musician is Bob Crawford, bassist for The Avett Brothers.  It was through Crawford that the band was asked to perform Christmas Time is Here on Crawford’s My Favorite Gifts Christmas Album this past year.

“Initially the Christmas album was supposed to come out last Christmas and we were just going to be session musicians with Samantha Crain.  Thankfully it didn’t come out last year because then Bob approached me and said that he’d like to produce a track for NATB for the album.  I said, ‘Absolutely’.  We went to the studio where The Avett Brothers [recorded some of their music].  To be in the same studio where all of that happened was really cool for us,” recalled Bailey.

My Favorite Gifts Christmas album showcased the music of many popular and up and coming musicians, including The Avett Brothers, Paleface, Jim Avett, David Mayfield, Jessica Lea Mayfield, The Wood Brothers, The David Wax Museum, Overmountain Men, and Mark Crozer.  The album was produced by Crawford and Dolph Ramseur (Ramseur Records) with the intent of sharing unique holiday music in the name of charity.  All profits from the album will be donated to The Vickie Honeycutt Foundation, which benefits teachers with cancer.  This very important detail appealed to Bailey’s philanthropic side.

“[Crawford] told me profits were going to a charity for teachers with cancer.  My mom is a teacher, and there has been cancer in my family.  I have lost several family members to cancer.  To be involved in something that would benefit something so personal made it even better.  That was definitely a major motivator for us to do it right.  Being part of the bigger cause was definitely a cool thing for us,” Baily added with a smile.

Bailey also has high hopes that the Christmas album will expose NATB to a wider audience.  He is eager and excited to get the band back on the road touring and into the studio to record a full-length EP of new material this year.  In the meantime, Bailey continues to pursue his passion of music with an easy attitude and steady patience.  Experience has taught him that works.  I am sincerely looking forward to the catching the next episode of Nick and the Babes.

Nick and the Babes @ The Tipsy Teapot

Many thanks to Nick Bailey for taking the time to do this interview.  To learn more about his TV work, visit his IMDb page.  To learn more about Nick and the Babes, visit their website:  http://www.nickandthebabes.com/.

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December Music Mindblower – Finding Local Music

Technology is quite mind-blowing, isn’t it?  We live in a day and age when online music sources like Spotify or Pandora can recommend new music to you based on your preferences.  While I often marvel at the sophistication of these programs,  I also try to remember the magic that occurs when a friend or stranger recommends new music, rather than a computer.

As my musical tastes evolve, so do the avenues through which I find new music.  In eastern NC, you would be hard pressed to find big name acts playing in your area so you have to dig a little deeper and do a little more investigating to find talented musicians in the region and even across the state.  Since moving to NC, I have learned to rely on the magazine Our State and the spin-off TV program on UNC-TV to aid me on my quest of musical discovery.   Where better to learn about local music than from the people who are hitting the dirt roads, sidewalks, and jam sessions in all corners of the state?  Each month I await the arrival of Our State in my mailbox, eager to learn not only about the music of NC but also about all of the citizens who make this state a wonderful place in which to live.

While I can’t wait to receive my January issue, I am especially excited to see the next Our State program on UNC-TV next month.  On January 5th, 2012 (8pm) Our State UNC-TV will present a segment on the music and everyday life of Jim Avett.  Avett, who is often mentioned in reference to his sons Scott and Seth (The Avett Brothers), deserves attention and accolades all his own.  Whether perched on the front porch swing with his wife Susie or atop bales of hay in their old barn, Avett talks candidly with Our State about the blessings of raising their family on a working farm, the importance of staying grounded in faith, and the joy of being surrounded by great traditional music everyday.

Please check your local listings and tune in on January 5th at 8pm.

For those of you not in NC, go out and find resources like Our State or your local PBS station so you too can stay current on the people and events that make your state great!

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My Favorite Gifts – Christmas Album

I often measure music by its ability to transport me to another place, whether it be traveling back through my memories or somewhere I’ve never been.  By this measure, among others, the music on My Favorite Gifts – Christmas Album is some of the best I’ve heard in a long while.

Upon first listen I was transported from neighborhood streets once alive with song and spirit to the lonely muddy banks of the Mississippi, from an upbeat Mexican celebration to the birthplace of Jesus, and from a smokey Irish pub in New York City to the bedroom of a little boy too eager to sleep on Christmas Eve.  Lyrically, each song touches on different elements of the season, including introspective reflection on the past, jovial celebration of holiday traditions, hopefulness, goodwill to man, the blessings of Jesus Christ, and even the role of organized religion in the commercialization of Christmas.

Released last month, My Favorite Gifts brings together the musical talents and creativity of Overmountain Men, The Avett Brothers, The David Wax Museum, Jim Avett, siblings David and Jessica Lea Mayfield, Paleface, Nick and the Babes, Mark Crozer, and The Wood Brothers.  This compilation leaves behind the overdone holiday standards and treats our ears to unique interpretations of those not-so-well-known songs, in addition to a few original pieces.

The idea for this album was born from a conversation between Bob Crawford (The Avett Brothers) and Dolph Ramseur (Ramseur Records) on December 26, 2009.  Crawford, who shared his thoughts via email, recalled the conversation.

“I knew at some point we (The Avett Brothers) would be asked to be involved in a Christmas album.  I wanted us to do it ourselves and with our friends first.  Dolph immediately said that it needed to be a project for charity.  At the time, our good friend and Avett tour manager Dane Honeycutt’s mother Vickie was fighting breast cancer.  Sadly, a few months later Vickie passed away and we knew then that we were going to direct the charity towards some cancer fighting organization,” he wrote.

Musicians quickly signed on to the charitable project.  Crawford and Ramseur, who produced the album together, encouraged artists to choose songs that were special and intimate to them.  This approach fostered the creation of a purely eclectic and original collection of Christmas music.

When I first listened to the album in its entirety I was immediately taken by how different the songs were stylistically.  Instantly, I could hear the care that was taken to choose songs that expressed each artist’s or group’s feelings about Christmas.  I wondered how the artists came to choose or write their songs.  To my delight and appreciation, most of the contributing musicians shared thoughts about the creative process with me via email.

David Childers on his song Rambling Door to Door:   “The subject of Rambling Door To Door is the group of boys I used to get together with on Christmas Eve to go caroling.  We were not the most well behaved, but we all loved it.  The character singing in the song is looking back almost 50 years to his youth.  He sees what was then, and he sees what is now.  The now is not as nice a place, but he can still sing to himself if no one else wants it.  There’s a joy in singing, but even more so in singing those songs that are of a short season or time.”

David Mayfield on On Christmas Eve: “It was a real treat and an honor being invited to be a part of My Favorite Gifts.  I’ve always wanted to do something for the holidays, but was sure I couldn’t do a standard any better than Bing [Crosby], so I was floored when Bob Crawford suggested John Hartford’s On Christmas Eve.  I’ve always loved that song and never would have thought of recording it.”

David Wax on La Rama: “The David Wax Museum delves into American and Mexican folk traditions.  We thought it would be a great addition to the Christmas record to take an unknown Christmas song from Mexico and arrange a bi-lingual version of it.  There’s a centuries-old custom of musicians carrying a Christmas branch (“La Rama”) between houses and playing this particular song in exchange for food and tips.”

Nick Bailey on Christmas Time is Here“Bob approached me and said he would like to produce a track for Nick and the Babes on the album.  The arrangement of the song is actually for a bunch of little kids singing.  It’s really high-pitched, so we had to do a different arrangement, but I still wanted it to sound like the song and be recognizable.  I picked the song because it has always been one of my favorites.  It is more of a sad and lonely, reflective song.  I think that when people get older, Christmas takes on a different meaning.  Sometimes it becomes more reflective…thinking less about presents and more about family.”

Jim Avett on writing The Brightest Star:  “I wrote The Brightest Star because I thought everybody else was going to write an original!  I had not preconceived anything…it just sort of came out.  I have a lot of gospel in my background so naturally the song reflects my feelings that all gospel, including Christmas carols, should be theologically correct, which I think this one is.”

Paleface on Fairytale of New York “Bob Crawford called me when we were recording our album One Big Party and asked if I wanted to be a part of a Christmas compilation that he was putting together.  I said of course and in my mind flashed on the Pogues song, Fairytale of New York.  It’s always been one of the best and most under-appreciated Christmas songs I’ve ever heard.  He asked me to think about what song I might want to do and we hung up.  When we spoke for the second time about what song I remember [Crawford] saying, ‘Dolph and I thought it would be great if you did Fairytale,’ without me having mentioned it to him yet so that was all I needed.  We had Stuart from Bombadil join us and had a fun afternoon recording it.  I remember saying that everybody should just relax and have fun cause ‘this song is so good its hard to mess up’.”

Mark Crozer on writing Next Christmas“The song itself has quite a long history.  I came up with the melody for it when I was briefly living in New York just after Christmas 2008. Then it sat around for a year before I was sitting down one day thinking I’d really like to write a Christmas song.  It’s been a crazy fantasy since I was a kid to have a festive hit in the charts that gets brought out year after year and becomes part of the Christmas tradition.  In the UK, where I’m originally from, the Christmas single is quite a big dealSo, as I was sitting there I suddenly remembered the tune I’d written a year earlier and the words just came out in one go the way they do on occasion.  I wanted to write something that reflected the hope for better times ahead that I think everyone feels at this time of yearIt is a very hopeful song, but laced with a little of the irony that we Brits love so much.”

Crawford on I Thank God and more:  “Seth [Avett] heard it from a Sam Cooke recording. We had already kicked around the idea of other, more traditional songs.  I Thank God is very unique while maintaining one of the key themes of the Christmas season which is thankfulness for the blessings of God.  I am also honored to work with the Overmountain Men.  David Childers is one of the greatest song writers of our time. I think he and Jim Avett could write an album of Christmas songs that would redefine the genre.”

The creative process of writing or adapting, and recording holiday favorites for My Favorite Gifts was augmented by the fact that the album would contribute to a cause much larger than those involved.  Many of the artists tied to this project were close friends to Vickie Honeycutt and remain close to her family.  So it seemed only fitting when Crawford and Ramseur decided that all album profits would be donated directly to the Vickie Honeycutt Foundation.

The Vickie Honeycutt Foundation, which was formed shortly after her passing, honors “a woman who served as a beacon of compassion for so many.”  Honeycutt, a graduate of UNC-Greensboro, taught at Mt. Pleasant High School in her native Cabarrus County for 32 years, and was known for her caring nature and dedication to help others succeed.  According to the website, the foundation’s goal is to provide assistance to “teachers and educators battling cancer so that their sole focus can be on recovery.”  With charity at the forefront, several artists openly expressed what it meant to work on such a special project.

Mo, drummer for Paleface, responded, “It’s pretty awesome to get to be on the same album with so many greats, and it’s a true honor to get to celebrate with them the memory and life of a dear friend’s mom who was so sweet and caring to all.”

Suz Slezak of The David Wax Museum echoed Mo’s sentiments.

“It’s always special to have the opportunity to support causes we care about with our music. We were also touched to be included in such a stellar line-up of bands, many of whom we listen to on a regular basis,” she wrote.

Mark Crozer, who is likely a new name for fans of this grouping of artists, was also very moved by the direction and purpose of the album.

“When I learned that it was to be a charity album for such a good cause  I was even keener to be involved.  Teaching has been in my family for generations and I have dabbled myself.  I’ve also lost friends and family to cancer so I wanted to do something to help raise funds for projects that support people living with cancer.  I think the Vickie S. Honeycutt Foundation is a truly wonderful organization, and I’m so thrilled to be part of this project.  It’s also a thrill for me to be in such distinguished company as The Avett Brothers, Jessica Lea Mayfield, The Wood Brothers and David [Childers] of course.  It’s a great album and pretty diverse which makes it even more interesting,” Crozer wrote.

As a “lifelong friend” of Vickie’s, Jim Avett was “honored to be a part of anything to do with her and her family” as well as “to be included in a compilation CD with such talented creative people.”

Collectively, My Favorite Gifts is a wonderful work of art that will please the senses, revive the true spirit of Christmas, and benefit those in need well into the future.  It is a Christmas album with far more substance than Santa, making it easy to enjoy all year-long.  It is a must-have so please visit your local record store or amazon.com/iTunes to purchase My Favorite Gifts for yourself and your loved ones.

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