Monday, July 13, 2015

On The Road With Lindsay Lawler- An Exclusive Interview

When it came down to naming her most recent country album, Lindsay Lawler had no doubt what she was going to call the project. Growing up chasing her music dream meant living with her grandparents for a short window of time. As many “starving musician” stories go, Lawler wasn’t the overnight success that "Cinderella Music City" movies are made out of. As a result, she spent many a night watching her grandmother carefully lay out two peaches and six cookies in an act of loving nightly ritual for her grandfather. Ironically, it would be that same care and daily dedication applied to her own career that has led Lawler to meet with some musical success and get the opportunity to honor her grandparents with a title on her newest album, Two Peaches Six Cookies.

Lawler has carved a niche for herself differently from many in the music industry. It started with a upstairs gig in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Nashville’s Broadway, continued on in the trucking industry as the Truckload Carriers Association’s Highway Angel spokesperson and continues through her involvement with Renegade Radio with two shows of her own.

With the release of Two Peaches Six Cookies, released this spring, Lawler introduced the world of a country to a sound she’s dubbed “Countrihanna” – an infectious, beat-driven mix of club and country music inspired by one of her favorite artists.

“I’m a huge fan of Rihanna and realized one day that I listen to a lot of her music, so why wouldn’t I make a record inspired by that? I love that music can be whatever it wants these days. Instead of putting my new music into a category or genre, I’m just calling it Countrihanna. It’s club music that has driving grooves, which makes it great to dance or drive to… But then it also features fiddle, steel and banjo, instilling that country vibe.”

Featuring Mark Evitts on fiddle, Kevin Post on steel (Blake Shelton), and Glen Campbell’s daughter Ashley Campbell on banjo, the album was co-produced by Catch This Music writer Chris Roberts and engineer Greg Bieck (Destiny’s Child, Lionel Richie, Ricky Martin, Hall and Oats).

“Chris, Greg and I have been friends and co-writers for years. They understood exactly what I wanted to accomplish and we have had such a great time experimenting and exploring this new sound together. It’s been so amazing watching this vision come to life.”

Lawler is a phenomenally busy artist these days, crisscrossing across the United States on her TCA Truck Stop tour, recording her radio shows and promoting her newest single to country radio. She was kind enough to carve out some time for That Nashville Sound and discuss her new album and musical story.

You cut your country teeth at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Tell me how that shaped you as an artist and how it got you started there in Nashville.

I was in L.A. before I was in Nashville and had a manager I had met in L.A. that got me into Nashville to do a demo. He turned out to be slimy but that’s okay, it got me to Nashville. He’s the one that took me down to Tootsie’s and taught me what that was all about and looks like. It was probably one of the best stepping stone things I’ve ever done. You really are thrown to the wolves at that place. I went from a girl who didn’t know how to call a song or a tune to being able to do four hours of songs. They really teach you how to entertain. I had always been a ham and liked being on stage but keeping an audience captivated for four hours is something different. Tootsie’s did that for me. Plus, it’s a place where you can create a fan base without ever having to leave Broadway. 90% of the people are out-of-towners. I was able to learn how to use downtown and Broadway to my benefit, creating fans for life. I learned how to use that free entertainment to help make those fan connections. I would make sure that I would connect, find out where they were from and where their local country radio station and bar was. That’s how I figured how to get on the road a little more. We played small towns and small bars and that ended up being so much better. It’s way better playing some backwoods bar in Illinois than trying to figure out how to play the big bars in Chicago where you are just background music. It’s truly how I cut my teeth. I’ve lived a lot of different places like Dallas and Los Angeles, but Tootsie’s was the one place where I really learned how to entertain and get over any sort of shyness that I might have had on stage. It’s always phenomenal to watch the musicians. I was always blown away, and still am, that a group of guys that might not know a song except for one can walk their way through it. If someone wanted to hear a song, we’d find a way to play it. That’s still some of the best memories for me.

You developed a very close-knit group of friends from your time there, such as Crystal Shawanda, didn’t you?

Yes. When I came to down, Crystal was singing there. She had been coming here since she was 15 or 16 with her dad, who was a truck driver. He would bring her down from Canada and she would get to sing before they’d head back home. Then they finally moved here. She definitely was an influence because she was a strong female who could definitely hold her own at the time. I found that so awesome. She would never steer from what she did or change her inner voice. I was down there long enough to see artists like Thompson Square go from there to where they are now. They’re more than making their way. There’s lots more that were down there that are starting to see success at radio so it’s fun. To see all of us make our way and chart our own courses of careers is fun to watch.

Let’s jump over to your album. This particular album is a diversion in sound and style from your previous projects. Walk me though the inspiration behind it.

Looking back, I was sitting in the car one day and thinking about what is it that I listen to. There was a difference between what I listen to and what I was writing. They were two very different things. I found that really strange because I consider my influences is what I listen to when I’m driving- that’s the only time I can really sit down and really listen to music. I love Rhianna. I love the beat of her stuff. I love her vocals. I love how she can move her vocals with still keeping it mainstream. I’ve always been a big Rhianna fan. We’ve covered some of her stuff in a country version in the past. Reba and Rhianna are always my two go-to people. We’ve coined this new version of country music Countrihanna. This new record is beat-driven songs that kind of have that club feel. But if features a lot of banjo and steel. It features Ashley Campbell, Glenn Campbell’s daughter, playing banjo on it. Kevin Post is playing steel. He played with Blake Shelton.

So we used country components, but the way we wrote it- with Chris (Roberts) and Greg Bieck- we did it around loops and beats that Greg would make in the studio. Chris and I would come up with lyrics and melodies off on the side. For the first time, that kind of writing really felt natural. As soon as Greg would put out a loop, I would know exactly how I would want the melody to go. I love working with Chris and Greg more than anyone. It’s so easy and creative and musical.

I’m really excited and proud of it. I’ve always been proud of my stuff I’ve done. You have to be. But it’s the first record that I want to actually sit and listen to. I genuinely really like it. I’m starting to hear it being played a lot in bars around here. It sounds good and fills a great space. We’ve been out on the boat a couple times and it’s fun to watch my friends sitting and enjoying it. Sad country songs don’t quite have that same vibe. (laughter)

The first song just went out to country radio and we’re receiving a great first impression. I know country radio is very different these days, but the reaction has been really great. I feel like it’s very different from what many females are doing on the country side.

Tell our readers about the unique title of the album.

The front of the album is me in front of an Airstream and it’s a little bit of a kitschy throwback vibe. The title of Two Peaches Six Cookies is something I love because its kitschy and everyone thinks it’s mildly sexual in tone but it’s actually something about my grandfather. I know that sounds totally creepy, but it’s not, I promise. (laughter). When I graduated from college a semester early, I decided I’d stay in Oklahoma and spend that half of year with my band and live with my grandparents, which was really exciting. It probably wasn’t as exciting for my parents. My grandparents were so structured. Every Monday night was hamburger night. Every Tuesday was catfish night. Wednesday was meatloaf. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Every night after dinner, my grandfather had to have two peaches from the Del Monte can and six Famous Amos cookies. It had to be in this very specific pewter dish. I’ll never forget it. He’s since passed away and I actually have the dish. I’ve kept it. If it was five cookies or seven cookies, he’d holler, “Alice, it’s six cookies!” It’s such a silly little thing.

I didn’t explain the title when I first announced what it was going to be and all my cousins called me and said that they remembered it as well. It was fun that my family actually knew what I was talking about.

Chris Roberts of One Flew South had some major influence on this project- walk me through his involvement on both the record and your career.

His influence on me in general is overwhelming. I don’t think I would be making music at all without Chris. He inspires me and makes me feel confident about myself in songwriting and performing and everything. I met Chris right after I moved to town here, about eight years ago. I met him at a party where One Flew South was promoting a single at radio at a CMA party. We wrote together and it came really naturally. If I’m not comfortable with someone, I’m very uncomfortable writing-wise. I find myself going to the same people I’m really comfortable with. He’s produced everything I’ve done and co-written or written nearly all of it. He’s the most talented person I know.

For me, I was finally able to come to him with a final project in mind with a vision of the record. He got it. He understood it right away. I appreciate him so much and with him continuing to work with me. He’s got so much going on, the fact that he takes out time to work on my projects is something I love him for. This needs to take off since he’s invested so much time working with me. (laughter) I get to travel with him and be on stage with him and work so much together that we blend so well together. It’s so special when you get to work with one of your best friends in the world- who just also happens to be one of the most talented people you’ve ever met in the world. He’s just a little musical genius and I’m really honored to be able to work with him.

You have an extremely unique relationship with Travel Centers of America and Truckload Carriers Association. Go into that and how that influences your career.

The long story short on that is several years ago, I played a show with Chris at a trucking convention in Dallas on a convention floor. We played all kinds of songs including Chris singing a version of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to trucker’s children. We met the people of the TCA and I had heard of their program called Highway Angel. They didn’t have an entertainment piece or musical to piece to it yet. Chris and I approached them about writing a song for them called “Highway Angel’ and the president at the time told us no, that it was going to be hard.” But I convinced him to let us try and Chris and I got in a room and went through some of the past Highway Angel stories. The song actually came pretty quickly- which is always a great sign that you’re on the right path. We’ve since written several trucking-related songs, but it’s been a really fun challenge for a project and try and make it appeal to everyone, not just a truck driver. That’s always what I get from truck drivers. They tell me they want stuff about trucks, but they’d like a song that everyone would like. It’s been an interesting project as we’re writing for a very specific industry, but in a way where if you’re not in the industry, you’ll enjoy it as well.

Since then, I’ve been named the spokesperson for the Highway Angel program and we just started our third Truckstop Tour. It’s hosted by TA/Petro and sponsored by Schneider Trucking, Wholesale Truck and Finance and a new company called EpicVue. It’s all promoting the Highway Angel program and TCA.

Through that, there’s another program called Citizen Driver where Chris and I have written another song called, “I Drive.” That will be will be released soon and drivers have been really inspired by it. I think what we’re going to do is put that on the new CD as a bonus track and you’ll only be able to get it at TA/Petro and package it that way.

So we’re busy. We’re on a Truckstop Tour, we’re working on a new TCA album and we’re on a radio tour all at the same time. The trucking thing is so different and such a niche market. But it’s provided me a platform- figuratively and literally- to sing and make a career as an independent artist. We’ve travelled the country doing shows and conventions and it’s provided me an opportunity. It’s an industry that I think has really been forgotten and I get to be their voice and sing their praises, literally.

You’re like a modern-day female version of C.W. McCall.

Yes, I like that!

I have one last question for you and this one’s meant as open-ended as you’d like to make it. What is country music to Lindsay Lawler?

Country music to Lindsay Lawler means never having to take a day job. No. (laughter) That can be the first answer. The second is life- just because I live in Nashville, I surround myself with music and most of my friends are singers and musicians. It’s the reason I can pay my bills, it’s the reason I’m happy, it’s the reason I’m able to have a career doing exactly what I want. It’s the reason I can tell my stories. Besides the fact that it’s life through the storytelling thing in songs, it’s my life as it surrounds everything I do every single day.

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