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MUEN Magazine Interview
MUEN Magazine Blog
HI NATASHA AND THANKS FOR TALKING WITH ME.
Hi Shauna, it is my pleasure.
YOU HAVE HAD A REMARKABLE YEAR. LET'S START WITH THE REALLY GOOD STUFF. YOU WERE NOMINATED FOR "COUNTRY ALBUM OF THE YEAR" AND "COUNTRY SINGLE OF THE YEAR" AT THE 19TH ANNUAL LOS ANGELES MUSIC AWARDS. WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU FOUND OUT YOU WERE NOMINATED?
I did not realize at the time how huge an honor it was and what my competition was, or I would have been thoroughly daunted. It is a good thing I was too busy to check into that. But I was very excited. First, we found out about the nomination for the single, then we found out about the nomination for the album. Just the fact of getting 2 nominations was, now that I look at it, an inkling of what was starting to happen around TEQUILA TIME.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AT THE AWARDS SHOW.
Arriving at The Avalon to the red carpet, and talking with the other people being honored, interviewed and photographed was a thrill. Meeting Mike and Carole Curb, and then learning so much more about them during the televised documentary in between the awards ceremonies and the performances onstage, was the highlight of the evening. Al Bowman, the executive producer of the event, was racing back and forth making sure everything was running as smoothly as possible. Meeting you at the last leg of the red carpet was great! I look forward to seeing the shots from the red carpet paparazzi and the interview I had on RealTV, which I understand aired in Brazil and Portugal, so I am really looking forward to that. I do have some great shots with my publicist, Doug Deutsch, when we were called back to the red carpet, and one with Mike Curb, which I understand ended up on the front page of NBC Los Angeles online.
YOU ARE ALSO UP FOR "IMPACTING ARTIST OF 2009" AT THE 2009 NEW MUSIC AWARDS. WHAT WILL THAT MEAN FOR YOU AS AN ARTIST?
We are one of the Impacting Artists of 2009 in New Music Weekly, and that became the precursor to being considered for the nominations for the 2009 New Music Weekly Awards. In fact, we secured FIVE nominations for those awards, which are being voted on now, so keep your fingers crossed, Shauna! We won the nominations for Crossover Artist of the Year, New Artist and Breakthrough Artist in the College category, and New Artist and Breakthrough Artist in the Adult Contemporary Category. People can still vote for us by going to: www.newmusicweekly.com and downloading the ballot. Once again, our competition is steep. We are up against Levon Helm, Chickenfoot, Son Volt and Marshall Crenshaw in the College category, all of whom are some of my favourite artists, and then in AC of course we are up against some more heavy hitters.
LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR LATEST RELEASE TEQUILA TIME. IT IS CERTAINLY GETTING A LOT OF ATTENTION. DO YOU DO ALL OF THE WRITING ON YOU ALBUMS?
On my songs, yes. Writing is fun for me, and development of the song is the most interesting and sometimes surprising, in terms of its' instrumentation and production. One idea always leads to the next, and some songs really change character. I had great latitude when I was arranging the three songs written by my keyboard player, Herman Eberitzsch, that I put on the record, so I was able to change their character dramatically. My engineer and co-producer, Ronnie Rivera, has taught me to be very ruthless in the editing process, leaving nothing superfluous to the movement of the song. It is a valuable lesson.
WHO AND WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MAJOR INFLUENCES WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR SONG WRITING?
Bob Dylan, certainly. His lyrical stream of consciousness made an indelible impression on me as a young person, I am speaking of his early material, Nashville Skyline, Blonde on Blonde. Jackson Browne, melodically and instrumentation and mood; John Prine, the master of the character driven song; Van Morrison, for the space in the music. It is so easy to make it cluttered, and what makes his stuff work so well is he gives it space; The Rolling Stones, for those interweaving guitar parts and background gospel harmonies on rock tracks with countryfied licks. We could stay in this question a LONG time...Little Feat, in particular, my friend and idol, Richie Hayward, who inspired my song, Get Out Of My Way, the drum arrangement, dropped beat, or bar of 3, whatever you want to call it. His drumming inspired that tune.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE 15 SONG ALBUM?
A perfect example of indecision. (Laughing) I could NOT decide which songs to leave out. This record differs from Bad Judgements, my previous record, in that it no longer has the sax. I lost my sax player and dear friend, Martin Fierro, who was a monster player and terrific human being, to cancer last year. They say this record has a lot more country in the influence, but I think that is because without the sax and with the addition of the fiddle, the New Orleans vibe is moderated somewhat. The bluesier tracks also have slide and dobro, and of course, there is the addition of my wonderful National Resophonic, echoing a banjo-like feel to bring it on home. I have brought in more accordion which is a common thread throughout the record, some with a B3 pad.
I READ THAT YOU RECORDED IN FOUR DAYS. WHO WERE SOME OF THE TALENTED PEOPLE WHO WORKED ON THIS ALBUM WITH YOU?
The recording band and touring band are pretty much the same with a few exceptions. Rafael Padilla on percussion, whose steady gig is with Chris Isaak; Ed Roth, on accordion, and supplementing some keys and B3 tracks, who is with Coolio right now, or maybe Ronnie Montrose, not sure, gotta ask him. He's a dynamite player. He had actually heard Tequila Time a few years before we did the record. Bobby Black, on pedal steel. Bobby has been around forever, Nashville session cat, and used to be with Commander Cody for a time. He met my keyboard player, Herman, on a pick up gig and Herman called me and said, this is our guy. Turned out Bobby and I knew a whole lot of the same people, and he and my fiddle player, Woody Vermeire, had been with Cody but not at the same time or the same line up, but had played together extensively. Steve Evans on bass; Steve is now back with Elvin Bishop as well as Chris Cain while waiting for us to tour. We miss him. (Steve are you reading this?) Ian Lamson, slide & lead guitar and David Aguilar, dobro and Tex-Mex lead guitar parts, both of whom are great players and dedicated to their craft, Danilo Paiz, who put the percussion on Get Out Of My Way. Danilo and I worked together on Bad Judgements also. He is a great drummer and percussionist, cut his teeth with Dizzy Gillespie. Talented man. On the production end, as well as drumming, there is Ronnie Rivera, who according to Ed Cherney has some of the best ears around, and I would have to agree. Ronnie engineered Bad Judgements also and by the time we got around to making Tequila Time, we a good rapport in the studio and know how to keep the flow going. I thought he was going to be in overload, engineering and drumming, but he was right on it, he had tones by the end of the first day and we were rocking. We had a good assistant for tracking up at Prairie Sun, where I do my recording and mixing, Matt Wright and we just lay down those tracks, boom boom boom, we had go-bos around the B3 and I was in the Iso booth, everyone else in the room. Fiddle, percussion, Ed's keys, pedal steel and Dave's dobro were the overdubs, which we did at our home studio. When it came time for mastering, Ronnie said let's go with Gavin Lurssen, with whom he had worked on other projects, and Gavin had just been finishing up other material in the same genre, John Mellencamp, and the Allyson Krauss/Robert Plant project - Gavin does most of T Bone Burnett's projects - so Ronnie felt that would be a good fit. Gavin had some good insights when we were at mastering. There is a funny story...outside Lurssen Mastering a sign over a parking space said: Reserved for Ms James. I said to Ronnie, oh, somebody else has my name here. I went and parked somewhere else! Gavin had a good chuckle at that.
YOU ARE GETTING A LOT OF AIR PLAY ON RADIO STATIONS ACROSS THE NATION. WHAT WAS IT LIKE HEARING YOUR SONGS ON THE RADIO FOR THE FIRST TIME?
Well, there's a two-pronged process. First there is the joy of hearing them fully realized, recorded, mixed, mastered. Then the release of the single to radio. That is always a thrill and you also are always initially pleased to hear how it translates. When I first heard The Restless Kind, off the previous record, I remember heaving a sigh of relief thinking, yeah, we chose the right single. Loggins Promotions test markets the songs first and we take a look at those results before deciding which one goes to radio first. On this record, I pretty much had an idea, so on the sampler I already had 3 songs picked out, which did turn out to be what we went with. What is a thrill is watching that single running up the charts, and having your friends call you from LA, Colorado, Florida or Texas, whatever, saying, hey! I just heard you on the radio.
WHY IS IT THAT YOU ARE REFERRED TO AS THE "CROSSOVER MUSIC QUEEN?"
Yeah, the title took, didn't it? The music has been well-received in so many formats. First, the Roots Music charts took to it, now we are welcomed in AC, Top 40, AAA, Country, College, and doing so very well across the board, it is quite something.
WHAT MAKES YOUR MUSIC UNIQUE?
I know everyone says my music is unique, but I don't really feel that it is so unique. I think it is good music, and it is not boring, and it is not all the same sounding like alot of songwriters and bands' material. It might be unique in that it has such broad appeal, retaining an edgy feel while maintaining a mainstream audience. It is just good music. It has alot of elements in it from country, rock, blues, swamp, jazz, and people relate to good music, with real lyrics and believable vocals.
ARE YOU STARTING TO SEE A WIDER RANGE OF FANS AT YOUR SHOWS AGE WISE?
I have always appealed to a wide range fans in both age and gender. I am starting to see a wider range of fans globally, as more and more people become aware of my music.
ARE YOU GOING TO BE HITTING THE ROAD IN SUPPORT OF THE NEW ALBUM?
That is the idea. We are pencilling in some small tours now and we are shopping for a booking agency that is a good fit. I have DJ's and fans all over the country asking me when I will be playing out their way, so we are in the process of making that happen -- outside the country too, as we have a strong international presence as well.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST AUDIENCE YOU HAVE PLAYED IN FRONT OF? WHERE HAVE YOU FOUND YOUR BIGGEST FAN BASE TO BE?
The Harmony Festival has the largest turnout, somewhere around 50,000, but they are not all at one stage. That was a fun gig however and I met another band I like alot, The Duhks, who were on right before us. We have pockets of fan bases across the country and internationally. Toronto, Texas, Colorado, Northern Calif, Oregon, Washington, parts of the midwest (and the midwest was also fond of our first release), the south, PA, and in Europe we have alot of fans in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, in South America we get them from Argentina and Brasil mostly, and Australia.
AT WHAT AGE DID YOU START SINGING AND PLAYING GUITAR? DO YOU PLAY ANY OTHER INSTRUMENTS?
Seven. I used to take piano lessons when I was five. I write music on piano, bass and guitar, as each instrument lends itself to a different expression. The bass driven songs are funkier and jazzier, the piano driven songs are more pop-ballad in expression, and the guitar driven songs, which are the most predominant, well, you can see the range - anything from swamp to folkrock to country to blues and all in between.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS?
When I was living in London at around 19 or 20, I was approached to co-write a song. But I had already been playing out for years by then, and busking as well. Made my way across Europe in that fashion.
YOU WERE A CHARACTER ACTRESS AT ONE POINT. WHAT WERE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU APPEARED IN?
Just bit parts really, nothing of note. I like acting, and I write as well, but music has always been my calling.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OTHER THINGS YOU ARE INVOLVED IN, SUCH AS HOBBIES, CHARITIES, ETC.?
I am concerned and very interested in all things to do with the preservation of this planet. Oceana is a great project; I also have become involved in Breast Cancer Awareness, just this year in fact. I love science - nature science, physics as it relates to space sciences, history -- we must remember and be aware of history to be truly aware of ourselves and able to make the changes that will enable us to grow and become the highest expression of our being. Maybe that can save this planet. I am writing a new song about just that. I am concerned about the dumbing down of our education system; John Gatto wrote a great book about this subject. Reading quality literature on a consistent basis to ones' children sets up an indelible pattern for their critical thinking skills and awareness and also skills relating to emotional balance. My children are both readers. I am happy about that.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE INTERVIEW. I WISH THE VERY BEST FOR YOU, BUT BEFORE I LET YOU GO WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU'D LIKE TO ADD OR SAY?
Thank you very much for taking the time to prepare this interview. I appreciate the opportunity to reply to such well-thought out questions. This allows for more insights than when we were in that light drizzle on the red carpet at the Los Angeles Music Awards last month. Although, it was certainly a delight to wind up all the interviews down the line that night with yours. Look for a new release to radio coming out the beginning of the year. I hope you will like it!