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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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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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