Lori McKenna is on Basic Folk talking about her new album The Balladeer. Lori's been a huge part of the New England folk circuit for over two decades and for the last ten years has been a much in-demand songwriting in Nashville thanks to Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Mary Gauthier. Lori grew up (and still lives) in Stoughton, Mass (where the Ikea is!) and she talks about her complicated relationship with her hometown and discovering how her home life are the secret ingredient to her incredible writing. Lori's a great storyteller and we get a lot of stories about her brothers and sister, her dad, her husband, her kids and of course, Mandy Moore. Lori talks about developing her confidence in songwriting. She didn't leave the house with her music until she was in her late twenties, even though she had been writing since she was a young teen. She talks about the first song she wrote and played for her brother about a rodeo. It was the late 70's and she had never been exposed to rodeos and still has no idea where that came from. I did the math to even make sure she couldn't have absorbed it from any Garth Brooks' rodeo songs. From there, Lori just wrote to express herself. The new album is filled with personal songs as well as one character song, which happens to be the title track. Lori McKenna is a songwriting giant who has been hugely historical in my life, so it was an absolute honor to have her on the podcast.
Stella Schindler of Kentucky Avenue on Basic Folk!
1 hr 24 min
Samantha Crain had a hell of a time in the summer of 2017. She had just released her album You Had Me at Goodbye earlier in the year and was ready to roll out for a busy schedule of touring the new music. By the end of the summer, she was laid up after experiencing three car accidents, where she was hit all three times. A combination of those crashes and life-long tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome led to her hands literally not working. She was not able to play guitar or tour. A major depression and a very dark time set in from being homebound and not able to play guitar or write songs. Through physical and emotional therapy, she slowly started to heal. She also took this time to document some past trauma by recording herself talking on a tape player. This led to a lot of self-reflection and shedding of old life-long anxieties. When she was well enough, she began to write songs based on what she had been documenting and processing. This resulted in her new album, A Small Death. We talked about the new album as well as Samantha's very interesting life. A member of the Choctaw First Nation, she values using her native language to modernize the indigenous experience for herself and other young native people. We talk about her dad, a Southern Baptist Evangelical Preacher, who would perform music as well as feats of strength at religious tent revivals. She also shared a little about her experience as a weight lifter. Samantha Crain is one of a kind! I wish her the best in her healing journey and with the new album.
We got to know Izzy Heltai on episode 27 of Basic Folk where he talked about his supportive family, Western Mass community and for the first time spoke in an interview about being a trans man. He's released his debut album, Father, and is kind enough to return to the podcast to give us a track by track breakdown of the record. Izzy's new album centers around songs he wrote from ages 19 - 23, where he spent a lot of time on the road, so there are plenty of road themes. The opening track is the only song to directly address his experience as a trans person. He is still trying to figure out how to talk about himself without wrapping his entire identity in being trans, but it is an important part of his writing. Izzy is really easy to talk to and is very open about his life-long struggle with depression. His joyful personality and positive energy wouldn't make you think he would have to deal with such frequent sadness, but he talks about how writing and honestly addressing it allows him to channel it through music. I take Izzy down some weird winding theories on this record and he does really well to answer all my ridiculous questions. Enjoy the conversation and then go buy Izzy's new album!
Brittney Spencer's making her way in Nashville. Her presence in Music City is radical not only because she's a woman, but also Brittany is a young Black country artist. Spencer has been enamored with country music ever since she fell in love with The Chicks as a 15 year old. Even though she did not see people that look like her represented in country music, she connected with the sound enough to realize that she needed to be a part of it with her own music. Originally from Baltimore, Brittney grew up with strong roots in the church and credits that experience as the basis for her musical foundation. In Nashville, she joined the Christian songwriting collective Common Hymnal. Through their supportive network, she's been able to write songs that give an authentic depiction of human struggle. In the pod, we discuss the disenchantment that a lot of people feel towards Christian music. I am very stumbly when I broach this subject, but I was relieved when she understood where I was coming from. Certain Christian music and thinking about the genre as a whole can make people feel uncomfortable. Brittney aims to be a country artist that happens to make songs that are Christian. She also is consciously working on how to make her music something that the Black community would like and she shares how she works the Black experience into country music. Aaaaand she used to be a radio DJ at the local NPR Music station, so THAT'S AWESOME.
We get a very fun track by track for Jonatha Brooke's new album The Sweetwater Sessions, which are new interpretations of previously recorded JB songs from her solo career and The Story, her duo with Jennifer Kimball. Jonatha recorded these songs during a master class in recording at the Sweetwater Studios in Fort Wayne, IN. Originally she was only going to record a handful of songs, but things were turning out so well, the team decided to produce a full album that shows the evolution of these songs since they were recorded. The songs range in age from 1993's Angel in The House with The Story to her Imposter EP from last year. Jonatha is kind enough to go through each song: in some cases talking about it's inspiration, how she updated the song and how the meanings for some of these songs have changed for her over time. JB is one of my favorite people to talk to. She is emotionally generous with her answers and brings so much charisma and joy to any conversation. Every Monday at 2pm Central, Jonatha hosts a Kitchen Covid Concert, on her Facebook page, which are so delightful. Enjoy JB - I assure you this will not be the last time she appears on the pod. BF loves JB! Thanks Jonatha!
1 hr 20 min
Alex Sturbaum is a traditional folk musician originally from Cincinnati, OH, which offers a thriving community of folk players and contra dancers. There was tons of music in the house growing up thanks to their father, Arthur, who played and hosted jams. The young Alex fell in love with traditional music of all types: the jigs and reels of Ireland, the ballads of Appalachia, sea shanties and began playing on the Irish frame drum, the bodhran. Starting off as a rhythm player still influences Alex's playing even though they have moved on to many other instruments like the guitar, button accordion, bouzouki, banjo, mandolin and singing. They attended Oberlin college to study biology and geology and that's where Alex became enchanted with performing at contra dances. Alex recently came out as a non-binary person, uses the they/them pronouns. Alex has found the contra community to be a welcoming place, which is evident in the gender-neutral dances that have been held in coastal cities. Alex also talked about writing traditional songs that fill vacancies in narratives they wished already existed. For example, on the new album, Loomings, the song "Sweet Mary Starbuck" is a song about the culture of whaler’s wives in Nantucket. The husbands would go off to sea for years and Alex wrote from the perspective of two whaler's wives who fell in love. This conversation covers everything from environmental restoration to how gender-neutral contra dances lead to better communication when it comes to consent. Enjoy this wonderful person! Thanks Alex!
Ellis Paul! The one and only. This has been a long time coming. The Maine-born musician is famous for helping establish the “Boston Songwriter Sound” in the late 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. He grew up on a potato farm and became a national track star, which earned him a scholarship to Boston University. Ellis started learning and playing guitar after an injury sidelined him. He began seeking out open mics in the city and came across Club Passim in Harvard Square, Cambridge, where he now holds the record of the most shows played there ever. We talk about the early days, playing over 200 shows a year, Woody Guthrie, living with Dupuytren Syndrome and how that has affected his playing. He’s been a favorite of mine for a long time and it was great to be able to prepared for this interview and listen to all his songs again, including his latest album The Storyteller’s Suitcase. We talk about a couple of standouts on that album including a song where he explains the afterlife to his 5 year old daughter. Oof. Ellis Paul! Thanks for listening!
1 hr 7 min
A special episode of Basic Folk features First Nation person Jamie Fox, who is one of the only people in America playing a style of fiddle called "Métis" of the Aaniih and Nakoda tribes in Montana. Métis means "mix race" and essentially it means that Jamie has native and European heritage. She grew up on a reservation in Montana being able to celebrate both sides of her heritage. Jamie explains how the Métis developed their own culture and how that fit into music specifically the fiddle. She and her brother learned at the feet of a local legend, Fatty Morin, who would make them practice tapes that explained the importance of the music. This is truly a special episode of the podcast because of Jamie's mission to preserve her style of playing and also the insights she offers in her background. Previously, she has traveled around to camps and festivals teaching the music of the Métis. Jamie doesn't have recorded music out there, so she's not here promoting anything. This is really an opportunity to learn something new about her culture. I'm so honored that she is on Basic Folk today!
Laura Cortese is on her way to legendary status in the fiddle community. Born in San Francisco, she has worked for years honing her sound: bringing together traditions learned at fiddle camp, a love of songwriting and experimental lush indie soundscapes. She has performed under Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards for the past two albums and with her new release Biter Better, the imagined LC + The DCs sound has been achieved. In our conversation, Laura takes us back to growing up with divorced parents, discovering a love of creating music through community, melding all her musical interests, her iconic self-drive that has achieved so much and FASHION. Obviously. Also life after trauma and living in Belgium with her musician partner while expecting their first baby.
1 hr 11 min