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The thing about Nashville is: Nashville is not Nashville any longer. When I was a kid, there were 400,000 people here. Over two million now. People who are moving here have no regard for the history of this city. They have no regard for our landmarks or anything. They’re just tearing everything down and throwing up these terrible glass buildings everywhere. The thing is, because of that stupid television show—it makes us looks like douchebags. It makes everyone who lives in Nashville look douchebags. That’s the thing. The city government has bent over and let everyone who comes into town f**k them in the ass. ●
— Justin Townes Earle doesn’t hold back.
I wouldn’t say he was tearful. But he was a little glisteny. Miranda Lambert was onstage, and she was crying as much as I was. I was looking at her like, ‘Hey, at least you’re Miranda Lambert. I’m out of a job.’ ●
— Marty Slayton Jordan, longtime background singer to George Strait, on the end of the singer’s last tour stop. She competed as an artist in her own right on a season of “Nashville Star.”
I’ve had every part of my life dissected — my choices, my actions, my words, my body, my style, my music. When you live your life under that kind of scrutiny, you can either let it break you, or you can get really good at dodging punches. And when one lands, you know how to deal with it. And I guess the way that I deal with it is to shake it off. ●
— Taylor Swift.
I’m not sure I agree that Taylor consistently presents herself as persecuted. For one thing, most of her narratives, even the more straightforward breakups, are more nuanced than that. Look at “Change,” for example, and how she acknowledges that her ex has dumped her, “Because people are people/ And sometimes we change our minds.” Shit happens, and even though she feels devastated it’s because shit happened. Her catalog also has several examples of her admitting to fault on her part, especially “Back To December.”
My issue with “Shake It Off,” which I initially thought was disappointing and gets worse with each listen, is that there’s none of that nuance or narrative. It’s a standard Katy Perry-style anti-haters anthem that could’ve been by anyone and is about nothing in particular. For someone whose gifts are about capturing the specific, that’s a fatal misstep. ●
— London-based writer Alex Macpherson, one of many (non-country) critics featured in a Wondering Sound roundtable discussion of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” song and video.
I’m not worried about Swift, though. I’m worried about us. We look tacky. Why do we get angry about music, when we could just go listen to something else, or go watch a ballgame?
By all indications, Swift can take it. She’s managed a stunningly graceful transition from child stardom to adult superstardom. And even as she takes notice of the rancor, she refuses the rebuttals that I would be shouting from my lungtops. ●
— Peter Cooper covers “Shake It Off” and Taylor Swift hate for The Tennessean.
But as the pop critic Lindsay Zoladz recently observed, disdain for generic boundaries can be a kind of orthodoxy, too. […] In this context, it’s easier to see why genre loyalists can sound a bit defensive. And maybe it’s easier, too, to see why genres are useful. In a mix-and-match culture, it’s refreshing, and somewhat miraculous, that country music still exists as a genre and a radio format and a culture, able to nurture a promising teen-aged singer-songwriter with a knack for impossibly memorable love songs. A country music that can do that might also be a country music strong enough, and stubborn enough, to hear a surefire hit from one of the biggest pop stars in the world and tell her goodbye, for now. ●
— The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh on “Country Music’s Taylor Swift Problem.”
I know [country] radio was having a hard time, because those records were not researching well. And it became, ‘Do I have enough balls to let go of Shania Twain?’ The answer was, ‘No — I’m gonna call her a country artist for as long as I can.’ [With Taylor], I guarantee the answer will be the same. ●
— Mike Dungan, chairman/CEO of Universal Music Nashville Entertainment, on how the current Taylor Swift situation mirrors industry hand-wringing during Shania Twain’s Up! era.
I see a lot of hurting people. Back down in Mississippi where I live, there are a lot of people struggling and trying to get out of debt, a lot of heartache. I think people need to hear something positive to turn them back in the direction and change things and make things happen again. I think the world needs that right now in the condition that it’s in. Maybe somebody who’s not feeling good can put this record on and it’ll make them feel better. ●
— Paul Thorn on why the time is right for Too Blessed to Be Stressed.
I was 5 when the first Highwaymen tour happened and I had the good fortune of traveling with them, and again when I was around 10. Those families were very close to my heart, and us children all stay in touch. I will see Willie and Kris both from time to time, and they are so kind and supportive. I’m very proud of our friendships and to be part of that inner sanctum. Let me tell you this, that was about the most real group of people to put together on stage that ever existed. It’s breathtaking to even look back on it. Of course, as a kid, i could have cared less, I wanted to find the closest arcade. So did the other kids, so ha! ●
— Shooter Jennings did an “Ask Me Anything” Q&A on Reddit.
It’s like I was in a total dream. It’s hard not to have your jaw on the ground around people like Kristofferson and Willie. They’re icons, idols. But at the same time, they’re still people. They’ll sit and have a conversation, and later you slap yourself and remember, ‘That’s Willie Nelson.’ ●
— Ben Haggard, Merle’s son and guitarist, to Peter Cooper.
I don’t think the country community was appreciating what they had, and I definitely don’t think that they are paying respects to the ones that have passed very well. I’m not talking about the fans necessarily but the business itself. But then again, they were never on their side on the way up. Why would anyone expect them to be on their side on the way down? ●
— Shooter on country’s treatment of legends like George Jones and Waylon as they aged.
The song, the melody, the chorus is so George Jones or George Strait. It really is. Of course, I’m always going to have the haters and critics out there that say it’s not. But then, kiss my ass! I know more about those records than a lot of people. ●
— Blake Shelton (to Rolling Stone Country) on new single “Neon Light.”
Q: Do you think that the [bro country] style is too prevalent? Is there enough variety?
A: I think this is a variety of country music. I understand that it’s changed a little, but if you look back over the past 40 years country music has continually changed. It may not sound like this in three years, you know? I just want to keep writing songs that I love with the sounds that I like. ●
— Cole Swindell.
I think the reason women are looked at in that way — and it’s not in a negative way at all — I don’t think it’s degrading to tell a girl to get in my truck and let’s drive around. I think that’s just what we’re doing. I’ve got an ’85 Chevy Silverado, and I have a bench seat where the girl can sit right next to me. She can slide on over. That’s literally why we’re singing about it. ●
— Chase Rice on depictions of women in bro country.
Because he’s independent and did it his way, there are those who are going to bet against him. And they’re gonna lose money to Chase Rice and Gary Overton. ●
— Gary Overton, whose Sony Nashville has been signed BY Chase Rice for radio promotion in an unconventional arrangement. Yes, he did just refer to himself in the third person.
Some of the songs that were big hits for me, probably 18, 19 or 20 years ago, we don’t play in the set. They went to No. 1, but that was it. They were part of the radio game. In the ’90s, that’s the way things were done. It’d be a hit, and I’d play it onstage and everybody was happy. After a few years, it wasn’t the caliber of a song like ‘It’s a Little Too Late,’ ‘Bubba Shot the Jukebox’ or ‘Too Cold at Home’ — the songs I consider my classics. That I have to do every night. Some of these songs were hits on the charts, and I played them because of that, but now we don’t even do them. ●
— Mark Chesnutt on the hits that don’t endure.
We were like, ‘Maybe we can pitch this to Kelly Clarkson or something.’ When they were like, ‘We want to put this on hold for Toby,’ I said, ‘Whoa. Wow. Okay.’ But you know what? To me, it kind of worked. I’m totally shocked. I never even think of any guys wanting to cut my songs. I feel like I write these — I hate the words ‘female empowerment’ or ‘female up-tempo songs’ and all that junk. I can just relate to the more pissed-off side of life, I guess. ●
— Natalie Hemby (“White Liar,” “Only Prettier”) on getting a Toby Keith cut with “Drinks After Work.”
Less is more. When I first moved to Nashville and was getting to know the city, I found an original copy of Tom T. Hall’s Guide To Songwriting at the downtown library. Upon reading it, I figured out that I was trying to cram too much stuff into a very small space. He had a whole chapter on the extreme importance of editing. “If a word doesn’t add to the song, then get rid of it.” When I write, I like clean lines (no pun intended) with concise but poignant content. I try to use words and phrases that really give me the biggest bang for my buck. My goal is to create an emotional connection or response in the listener and I only have three minutes to get it done. I try to make every word count. ●
— Angaleena Presley to American Songwriter. Her debut solo album is out October 14.
He had all these quirks where he was scratching his beard a lot, just all these quirks, and we had a studio in our house and there were songwriters here all the time. A lot of times they’d be waiting for Hank to start writing and hours would go by, and then they’d start to leave. I’d say, “You’d better not leave because Hank’s getting ready to write.” It was usually just the way he would start acting. You know, he’d start pacing or rubbing his beard or get quiet, go into the bedroom. I could always just tell. ●
— Suzi Cochran on how she knew when late husband Hank Cochran was about to write a song.
The sad thing about being really big celebrity like him is you lose the opportunity to communicate. I had met him before, he actually sang on a record I did with Lionel. I asked him to do it, and he was so quick to say yes. I said, “Michael, I will only keep you 15 minutes. I shoot two color and two black-and-white of everybody, and if we don’t get something you like then I just won’t put it in the book.” So he came down there and he brought Bubbles (his pet monkey) with him, and he was there eight hours. He wanted to talk. He didn’t have anybody he could do that with that didn’t need something from him. ●
— Kenny Rogers on photographing Michael Jackson.
One of the nice things about ‘Wagon Wheel’ is we could delight in contemporary pop-country music, yet not have to be claimed by it. Darius is already there. And the pressure to have a [radio] hit, for those guys, is immeasurable. So we’re glad that the guy that got the hit was somebody that we have a deep respect for, that we feel kinship with. … It just feels natural, even though it’s sort of bizarre, that it was the guy who my sister had his posters on the wall back in ’92.
It was great to get to be in the show, but to sort of have a bit part. ●
— Ketch Secor to Nashville Scene.
He really draws upon where he came from, where his people came from, that part of the world, the working class and the down-trodden, and he’s their voice. You’d say Merle Haggard’s the poet of the common man in country music, I’d say Bruce Springsteen’s the poet of the common man in rock music. ●
— Dierks Bentley on Bruce Springsteen.
The people who dig what I do, I can deal directly with them. With the podcast, I can turn them onto the things that I like. I make something, sitting in my house, and three hours later I get an email from someone who says they’re walking along a shoreline in Israel, listening to the thing I did in East Nashville. We live in amazing times. ●
— Otis Gibbs to Peter Cooper, who has been doing a whole mess of good work this week.
Turns out, the man behind “New York’s New Country” isn’t much of a country boy, either. Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey studied English lit at Stanford before attending Harvard Business School. When I met him at the plush library of the Harvard Club in Midtown, he was wearing a very, very nice suit. I asked him if he likes country music.
“I’m learning to like it,” he said.
What he really loves is the country-music audience. It’s coveted by advertisers, he says, because country-music listeners are uncommonly loyal. ●
— The Wall Street Journal’s Anne Kadet: “Metro Money: A Country Music Station, NASH FM 94.7, in New York City.”
The tune feels more like “We Will Rock You” than like Johnny Cash. Around 3’15”, there’s an instrumental break that, pitting two time signatures against each other, could have been lifted from the progressive-rock group Yes; the song then builds to a crescendo that skips forward a decade, sounding like a bridge from an early Metallica record. The cowboy hats have turned into camouflage. Anything, pretty much, can go on a country record if it’s sung well and doesn’t use abstract imagery. ●
— The New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones on Eric Church’s “The Outsiders,” from a piece on “Eric Church and Luke Bryan’s Expansive Country Music.”
So when Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean start rapping in their songs, it isn’t because they have dreams of a guest verse on a Rick Ross album. It’s because they know their fans think rap music is cool. Those EDM and heavy-metal flourishes you hear on country radio here and there? Same thing. Instead of turning people on, country stars are simply trying to appear conversant in the stuff their fans have found on their own. Strangely, the leaders behave like followers. ●
— Chris Richards for the Washington Post: “Country-music fans get what they want. Even if what they want is Motley Crue.”
I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t really listen to the radio at all anymore. Once in a while, I’ll scan it and I don’t understand what they’re doing. I can’t find the entertainment in it. I know these guys, occasionally play shows with them and they’re all good people. But I wonder if that record they’re making is something they can actually do. Too much boogie boogie wham-bam and not enough substance. It’s all the same musicians, too, probably eight to 10 musicians play on every record you hear. For a musician hearing things that way, you can tell when a certain guitarist is playing. I know more about the musicians than the artists, actually. ●
— Merle Haggard.
I don’t know why any of us do it, any of the lifers. We have problems. Our mothers held us too much or didn’t hold us enough. Who knows? That’s what I tell anybody when they’re starting out fresh and they’re asking about the best advice. I’m like, “If you have any other skills or any other thing you love in life, do that. If you don’t have this compulsion that makes you do this, don’t do it. Do it as a hobby.” ●
— Cory Branan on banging out a living in music as a No-Hit Wonder.
What I like so much about Billy Joe’s writing is the sense of humor and the intense feeling it has. I don’t know if those are related, but I like to think so — like to think they stem from a vulnerable, curious kind of intelligence that is as apt to poke playful holes in logical expectation as it is to draw back in quiet humility at the great forces in our lives: love and outlawry and death and God. I saw him a couple of weeks ago for the first time in years, and it was like it always is, a soul-shaking experience. ●
— Robbie Fulks on Billy Joe Shaver.