Monday, November 16, 2015

Interview Flashback- The Authenticity of Joey+Rory

I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did close to a 100 interviews with different artists- and since both of those great sites have come down, I will reprint some of those interviews here to give them a home in perpetuity. This interview was originally published in October 2012 on Engine 145. With the news filled with news of Joey's battle with cancer, I thought this might be an appropriate celebration of her work in music, television and life. My family wishes them peace.

My bride and I- September 2012 at Marcy Jo's Mealhouse
Don’t ever underestimate the authenticity of Joey Martin and Rory Feek, better known to the country world as the married duo Joey+Rory. The good ole farm-living down-home family-first approach that the couple put forth in their music and in their new RFD-TV series The Joey and Rory Show is as truthful as it comes. 

In the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it community of Pottsville (about a 45 minutes south of Nashville) in a refurbished old 1890’s mercantile store converted into a restaurant called Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse is where we met for an interview. Marcy is Rory’s younger sister. The Jo part is named after Joey Martin Opened in 2007, the historic building charms as it leans slightly to the right and fills bellies with great meat-and-three meals. You want authentic? Where else do you have Joey come out from the kitchen in an apron, a little flour on her elbow, introduce herself and whip out a pad of paper to take our order as our waitress? Obviously, this isn’t an odd-job to make ends meet. What you learn quickly is that cooking, baking and sitting down with a meal with their community are passions. And when you’re blessed to be Sugar Hill recording artists Joey+Rory with three albums under your belt, including the new His and Hers out this summer, life is all about following your passions.  

One of those passions also happens to include story-driven classic country music. In a radio hit driven market, the duo has taken the road less travelled to remain authentic to them. If it isn’t music that moves them, they simply choose not to listen to it, play it or write it. That authenticity has driven them to all but write off current modern country radio. The constant travel for radio tours took them away from their farm, their family, their friends and their restaurant. And while they still love to play for an audience, Joey was homesick when they were out on the road for too long. And that is where Rory’s brainstorm took hold with the television show. Loosely modeled after the classic 50’s and 60’s variety shows- even kicking off in black and white- The Joey and Rory Show was designed to open the world into the duo’s life together better than any radio interview ever could. Rory converted an old barn into a soundstage and writes, produces and stars in this “moving picture scrapbook.” The show has been one of RFD-TV’s better rated series and RFD is one of cable’s most quickly growing stations. Count Vince Gill and Loretta Lynn among the show’s fans. 

What you see is what you get. Truly. And one more thing. As truly spectacular as those first three albums were, they only come close to matching the deliciousness of the hand-rolled Marcy Jo Angel Biscuits and the rich decadence of the homemade Triple Chocolate Pecan Cake. Taking in both incredible baked goods while Joey+Rory is playing in the speakers overhead is the epitome of country bliss. Authentic country bliss. 

Ken Morton, Jr.: Congratulations on a fine third album and what is turning out to be a very fun television show. They both seem, at least on the surface, to really allow your personalities to show through quite a bit. 

Rory Feek: It’s been fun to make. We do it all here with all of our people and we do it ourselves. That’s pretty unusual. 

Joey Martin: In fact, before this interview, Rory was back at home doing the editing. We have an episode that’s due on Friday.

KMJ: Are a lot of friends and family involved?

RF: It’s actually just friends and family. The people that are doing the work with us are all friends and family that we’ve known for a long time. And they’ve never made a television show either. So we’re all learning this together for the first time. We’re all new at it and we’re having a great time. Everything is in our community. It’s not just a TV show, it’s an experiment of trying to do something different. So far, it’s been beyond everything we could have hoped for. The response has been terrific. The process has been harder than I thought. It’s actually a lot more than a lot. (laughter)

KMJ: You converted your old barn into a soundstage for the show, I understand. That had to take some creativity, I would imagine. 

JM: We did.

RF: Thomas is our handyman at the farm so everything we need done at the farm, he is able to do. He does everything. When we said we were moving my old cars out and converting the old barn into a soundstage, he just started working on it. We all started working on it. We insulated, dry-walled and hung lights. It’s pretty spectacular. Our local air-conditioning company sponsors the show and they gave us huge amounts of air-conditioning and heating which we obviously wouldn’t have had before. It’s turned into a great space. We can now just walk across our driveway and make a television show. That’s pretty unusual. 

KMJ: How important was it to do the show from home?

RF: I don’t think there was an option. We want to be at home. Part of the decision we made was to try and get off the road a bit and be at home more. If we were to do that, you need to have a way to grow your audience without leaving your house. We were just trying to figure it out. We had first shot a sitcom. It was going to be a weekly sitcom. It was all around our regular lives. Part of it was here with Marcy and Joey. It was more work and it was harder. But most importantly, there was no music involved. So we finally decided to change directions and just do what we do best. We didn’t want to get too ambitious. 

KMJ: Your name is on the credits a handful of times including as a producer. Are you learning this all on the seat of your pants or have you had any training?

RF: I’m actually creator, producer, writer, editor…

JM: Storyteller…

RF: But I’ve been actually doing our music videos for awhile. I’ve been really into all of that stuff for awhile. And we have a friend named Dave who is the host of the show and the director of the show. He’s been a friend forever. He’s really talented. The guy who has been shooting our photography for all of our albums got pulled in and now he’s the DP of the show, setting up all the shots. It’s been really neat. And for me, even though I’ve not done it before, it’s been a great challenge to tackle. 

JM: And he’s super good at it. The whole thing about editing is nothing but straight storytelling. It’s putting all these pieces together which totally parallels what great songwriting is. And that’s what he does so well. 

RF: And she doesn’t want any part of it. I’ll be up early and doing all the planning for filming that day and she’s back on the back porch shelling purple whole peas that she picked from the garden that morning. 

JM: As it should be. (Laughing)

RF: But, I love it. She’s not driven by any of it. She knows the work has to be done so yesterday morning she was canning okra. I had to finish this one segment so I brought this camera in and filmed her doing just what she does. And then I took it back to the barn and worked on it. And that’s how she likes it. And that’s how I like it because she keeps our life normal. And I try to make it extraordinary. 

KMJ: This will make a really good video scrapbook for the two of you long-term. 

RF: You’re so right. It is a scrapbook. We would never be on Twitter. Or really even Facebook. But we’re on Twitter because it’s a diary. We share our life, but not so much stuff with the label and our business stuff. We don’t care about the business stuff. We want to share real things. We look back over the last two years and it really is neat that we were sort of forced to stop and capture that moment. Because we really wouldn’t have done that if we hadn’t had the show. 

KMJ: How has the reception been from television viewers, fans and the cable station?

JM: It’s been amazing. I walked in here (into Marcy Jo’s) this morning and this table over here had tears in her eyes to come and meet us. She’s in her 70’s and it means so much to her that we’re showing that we’re real life people living normal lives with extraordinary circumstances that are placed in our life everyday. It means so much to people. The restaurant has shown it. I’ve been working here each of the last three weekends and 75% of the people through here are from out of state. They’ve never been here before. But they’ve seen us on RFD, think it’s a great show and drive up to six hours away. They’ll get up at 5am and drive six hours to come have breakfast. They’re not even sure we’ll be here or not. There has been record weekends at Marcy Jo’s in sales and
lines out the door. In everyone’s career, you’ll have highs and lows. There are times when you’re peaking and everyone knows who you are. And there are times when you’re not nearly as popular any more. But we’re to the point where people are recognizing us more and more because of the show. It’s a neat feeling. The demographic that’s recognizing is really neat. It’s some of the older folks and it’s a neat feeling that they’re getting to know you a little deeper. It’s really about the music and the relationship between Rory and I as a husband and wife. 

KMJ: You put on a Bib and Buckle Concert that’s held out on your farm for the general public once or twice a year. This is sort of an extension of that, no?

JM: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that was the first episode that we did, actually. With the show, we’re going to have to cap it this year. We only have so much parking. Our yard is only so big. (Laughter)

KMJ: There will be future seasons, I’m guessing?

JM: Yes, first season is all done and we’re already shooting for season two. We’re really blessed to have investors that believe in us so much. They believe in traditional country music and just miss it. For us, it’s just an outlet to share what we do. It allows us to share our music and hopefully, fill a hole. 

KMJ: There are some songs being performed on the show that you’ve written that weren’t originally cut by you and some songs that are being premiered for the first time on the show that haven’t previously been recorded. Is there a thought to releasing some of these songs as sort of a soundtrack to the show?

RF: Joey wouldn’t know the answer to that… yet. (Laughter) 

JM: Well, it sounds like we are!

RF: We are for sure going to releasing a box set of Season One of DVD’s. We’ve also talked about turning some of the songs of Season One into a soundtrack. We need to find out the details, but our goal is to have the songs from an episode immediately available on i-Tunes as soon as an episode airs. The recipes are the same way from the cooking segment. In the coming season, we’ll be digging into songs that people and performances that folks have never heard us sing. We’ll do “Chain of Love” and some of that next season. 

KMJ: How are you two choosing the music guests that are on the show each week?

RF: So far, we’re doing it off a short list of friends that we know and that we believe in. They’re people we’ve done stuff with for awhile. Some of the folks we did multiple songs on so that they can come back in Season Two. Like Bradley Walker, we want him to be part of Season Two. Leslie Satcher has written for us in the past and she’s going to be on the show. We’ve gotten tons of emails and mail from aspiring songwriters that
want to be on the show that we don’t know and we don’t want to do that right now. There is so much talent just within our lives and our own circle. 

JM: Like with Leslie, when you do one of her songs, you can just hope and pray that it turns out as good as her demo. She’s one of those gals that deserves a shot. And perhaps, due to circumstances outside her control, she doesn’t get that chance. But we believe in her. Rory always says that when you’re in the spotlight, that is your chance to grab somebody else and bring them into the spotlight with you. And that’s hopefully what we’re doing a little bit. We want to elevate those people we love and have people hear the music we love so much. 

KMJ: We touched on it a little bit earlier, but talk to me about the importance of this restaurant in the show. It’s obvious that it’s just an extension of family and your community just from the little time we’ve been in here. You’ve waved to every single person that’s walked through the door. Talk to me about the role of Marcy Jo’s in the master plan of the show. 

RF: What’s important is that it’s real. Every day, I will come down here and have breakfast with my sister. Saturday’s, when we’re off from the road, Joey works down here. It’s a part of our lives. Our dreams coming true are also a part of Marcy’s dreams coming true. And she’s an all-out personality. To include her as part of the show was just an easy decision to make. This is truly a great location for people to come to eat. These people behind us drove an hour and a half to come here this morning. People drive 12 hours, seven hours, from all over the place. It would be one thing to drive all that way to meet us or see pictures of us on the wall. Forget all that. This is a great place to come. It’s a great experience. 

KMJ: (With Marcy within earshot) Has Marcy gotten a slew of agents and a bunch of people and let it all go to her head yet?

RF: (laughter) Marcy is rough around the edges and she’s always upset because she wants to swear. She wants to smoke on camera. 

JM: (Marcy reluctantly nods in the background) We’re always having to stop. Beep. “Marcy, you can’t say that.” Beep “Marcy, you can’t say that.” 

RF: What’s important is to include the people around you in your moment- and then to keep it as real as possible. And it’s not the most well done thing in the world. There are plenty of professionals doing things really well-done. But people want to see authenticity and that’s really the only thing we offer... authenticity. We want to keep that. 

KMJ: You guys finish each episode with a single song called “That’s Important to Me.” What’s the importance of that track?

JM: I think if people ask what is the song that is the cornerstone of what you are, “That’s Important to Me” is what we do and what we do with our music. We thought what a great
way to end the show if we’re asking our viewers what is important in their lives. We wanted to remind folks of the friends and family and the important people in their lives just as we’ve show in ours. So we’ve pulled a couple lines of the song off for each episode. 

RF: I think we spend our lives, even as we’re travelling and working and chasing our goals, constantly asking ourselves, “What’s the point?” You have to stop and take account of what really matters to you. Because if you don’t, you’ll lose those things. Or ten years will go by and you’ll have missed all the good stuff. It’s partly us trying to remind ourselves to do that and also a reminder for our listeners to do the same thing. Take account of what really matters to you. Instead of just entertaining, we get to stop and ask a profound question too. Whether it matters to any one, we have no idea.

KMJ: You mentioned authenticity as an important factor to the show. The press release from Sugar Hill on your third album mentioned the same thing. What does authenticity mean when it comes to your music?

RF: When we started singing together, it was really just by accident. When we got out on the road as a duo, I really just played guitar and sang harmony for Joey. That’s what I thought I was supposed to do. Quickly, I started doing half the singing and she did half the singing. I’d do these funny songs or a couple of the hit songs. As a live act, both of our talents were on show the whole time, but on our albums it didn’t reflect that. On this album, we decided, “Let’s do that.” We wanted to share a little more of each other than do things one-sided.

And the other thing is that you can’t control all those outside influences or if something is going to be successful or not. So rather than spend any more time- and we’ve been surrounded by people that have said, “Spend time worrying about that,” and, “Try and grow that to a certain level and be like the others,”- we’re just going to let God sort that stuff out. Let’s just make a really good record. All of a sudden, it becomes nothing but perfect and fun all the time. When you add all those other things where it adds all those expectations or pressures…

JM: You have all these pressures where you can’t even control anyways. Does it really make a difference or not? What is it that we really want to say and how do we really want it to come across. 

KMJ: At least from the outside looking in, Sugar Hill seems to be on board with that mission. For a company who is in business ultimately to sell records, that commercial versus authentic argument seems to sabotage some artists’ missions a lot of times up there on Music Row. They seem on board. 

JM: They are. They’ve been really supportive of what our desires have been. We spent the first three years doing every single radio stations, every single show the record company wanted. We quickly learned what was enjoyable, what was okay and what was less than enjoyable. And because of that, we learned what was important and what was not important. When this record came out, we wanted to really evaluate and say, “What direction do we want to go down?” And the one thing we knew we didn’t want to push was radio. Because we didn’t think we could. The type of music that we sing, the traditional sound that we use, what we look like, it didn’t fit. All of those things were a factor. We’ve tried and tried and tried and tried. 

RF: Plus, we’re on an indie label with a little money and power to really do anything. It adds up to that you’re going to listen to the radio and not be on the radio. 

JM: We said, “We don’t want to do that.” 

RF: She really said that. (laughter) She said, “I’m not doing that anymore.” We were at the ACM Awards this last year, and Joey came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to chase that any more. She wanted to come home. This life is not what we want to do. And that’s not to say that you couldn’t have songs on the radio, but it’s just a different approach. 

JM: We still love country music and we still believe in it. And we want to be part of it. We just want to do it in a unique way. 

RF: Sugar Hill comes from a bluegrass background so they’ve only and always been about authenticity. Now, within the last couple of years, they’ve inserted some more commercial stuff. They have to combine those because labels that only worry about the artistic stuff aren’t here any more. But they’ve done a tremendous job supporting us and letting us do what we want to do. They know that us being authentic is just staying back and waiting for something to happen. Nobody works harder than us or is more creative than we try to be creative. I think we’re really good partners for one-another. 

KMJ: It might just be that it reflects some of my favorite tracks on His and Hers, but it seems like this album is slowed down in tempo a bit from the previous two. 

JM: I think we just wanted to record our best songs, whether they be ours or somebody else’s. With it being His and Hers and splitting the performances, and Rory having an unbelievable catalog of songs, we knew had the songs we wanted to record. I told him, “You do six and I’ll do six.” I told him that “Josephine” and “Bible and the Belt” had to be on there. So he really only had four more to choose from. (laughter) It just worked out that way. We didn’t start by saying we need four to five up-tempos and three mid-tempos. We just let the music speak and had it be what it was supposed to be. We really didn’t worry about anything else. 

RF: And we love ballads. We love ballads. So it isn’t nearly as ballad-heavy as we’d like it to be. We could easily to twelve songs that are all ballads. That’s what I love to hear my wife sing the most. It’s what I like to listen to the most. This record just kind of made itself. 

KMJ: There are a couple of songs written by Tom T. Hall. What is it about him or those tracks that were important to pull in on this project?

RF: I’m a big Don Williams fan and a big Merle Haggard fan and Tom T. Hall and all those people that wrote all their own songs. Everyone considers me a storyteller. He’s famous for being a storyteller. I’ve loved those songs for a long time and those old country standards. I showed Joey those songs and I think she understood the sentiment, but I don’t think she knew how neat it was going to be. Even me, I thought we would do a good job, but the second we recorded it, all we could do was listen to it on repeat. It’s so good. Even our kids love those songs. It’s important to us to lift up the people that carried country music before us. We really admire Tom and that song just showed up at the right time. The one song is all about, “I am what I am and you just have to deal with it.” Luckily, my vices are things like old cars and guitars and…

KMJ: … Turning old barns into soundstages.

RF: (Laughter) … Turning old barns into soundstages. Stuff like that. (Singing) “Your man loves you honey.” 

Before we left, Joey went back into the kitchen and brought out a recipe that she wanted to share with all of the Engine 145 readers. I can attest first-hand to its deliciousness. Do yourself a favor, pop in His and Hers on the stereo and bake up a batch of Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse Famous Angel Biscuits for your next meal. 

5 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons yeast (or 2 packets)
1/2 cup very hot water
3/4 cup shortening
2 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and sugar.
2. Cut shortening into flour mixture with pastry blender or fork until evenly distributed.
3. In a small bowl, combine hot water and yeast. Stir until well combined.
4. Stir in buttermilk and flour mixture, until mostly combined.
5. Add yeast to flour mixture and continue mixing with spoon or by hand until well combined.
6. Turn dough onto floured surface. Knead dough until a smooth ball forms.
7. Roll dough out to a one-inch thickness. Cut biscuits and place on a baking sheet with sides touching. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

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