Grab your sunglasses and buy your wristbands, because it’s almost time for Riverbend 2015. Every year, the nine-day festival brings some of the biggest names in country, rock, pop, and more to the 21st Century Waterfront, and this year’s star-studded lineup won’t disappoint. To get you pumped, CityScope magazine chatted with four of the 2015 headliners.
Heralded by Billboard as the “Leader of Country Music’s Youth Revolution,” 23-year-old Hunter Hayes already has five Grammy nominations and three No. 1 hits to boot. We caught up with Hayes about his songwriting process, his obsession with bluegrass, and the albums that inspire him.
Q: You’re a country music heartthrob, yet you describe yourself as “geeky.” How are you geeky?
A: Well, I’m socially awkward. And I’m sometimes not social at all because all I can think about is music. I’m just constantly thinking about the thing that I’m passionate about, which to me is part of the definition of being a geek. So in that case, I’m proud to be a geek.
Q: In both of your albums, you’ve written or co-written every song. What’s the importance of that to you?
A: Well, for one, I just love the process. I enjoy it! You get 100 songs for a 10-song album and you write, you write, you write. For three years, you write your album, and I just love that. Having a hand in the whole thing also just allows me to let everybody in – to keep it real, to keep it honest, to keep it open, to keep it vulnerable, because that’s what makes really good music.
Q: How is songwriting going right now?
A: Well, I normally write much more like a journal entry. It’s very instant, very quick. But right now, I’m kind of trying to exercise a little bit more storytelling. Lately I’ve dug a little deeper for experiences and stories that maybe haven’t been shared or maybe haven’t been written about yet. I’m just kind of going back in time but also going into the future a little bit, dreaming, you know?
Q: Musically, you are known for not relying on gimmicks. Sometimes it’s just you and your guitar. Can you tell us about that?
A: It’s funny because I don’t realize that’s happened, but I do love that. I think it’s honestly just me trying to channel the records that I love. And in all the records that I love, they have that vulnerability factor. Defying Gravity from Keith Urban is one of my favorite records of all time because, sonically, you can just picture yourself in the middle of the room. It’s just elegant in a way, musically, and it brings the beating heart behind the music forward and makes that the center
Q: You’re all about creating an interactive experience. Will we see that at Riverbend?
A: Yep, we’ve got a brand new show that we’re sculpting for the Wheels Up Tour, and so as a result our summer show is going to benefit from a brand new vibe. I’ve seen a few shows recently that really got me excited about live music where I was sitting in the audience forgetting how much time had gone by. That’s what I want for our shows.
One of the greatest female country music artists of all time, Martina McBride has sold more than 14 million albums, garnered 20 top-10 hits, and won CMA’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” award four times since she rose to fame in the 1990s. We chatted with her about her latest album and what we can look forward to at her Riverbend performance.
Q: You described your latest album, Everlasting, as a “labor of love.” Can you tell us a little bit about that?
A: Well, I made a record two years ago called Timeless, which was a collection of some of my favorite classic traditional country songs. We made it with no ambition of radio airplay. It was just for the love of that music. I wanted to do that again, but I needed to do something a little bit different this time. So we did Everlasting, which is a collection of some of my favorite pop and R&B and soul/funk songs, most of which have crossed over to country music at some point and are already familiar to my audience. So basically, it was just a record we did for fun.
Q: How did you pick which songs to cover?
A: It was about a seven month process of listening to literally thousands of songs and narrowing it down to about 20. After that we went in and I tried them on for size and saw what fit my voice the best and what I connected to emotionally. It was quite a large undertaking when you think of all that is available! It was really just a process of taking our time and making a record that fit together so you can put it on and listen to it in one sitting.
Q: What was your musical approach to covering the songs?
A: It’s tricky because people are connected emotionally to the original versions of the songs, so you want to honor that and not do something too crazy. But then, you can’t really make a karaoke record either. So you have to bring something new to it. I had a great band and a great producer, Don Was, and we worked together to find something that sounded like me and bring that to the original version.
Q: We hear the live show has a throwback vibe.
A: Well we absolutely wanted to bring the album to life on stage because it’s such fun music to play. So we have a four-piece horn section and we have three background singers. Everybody is dressed in coordinating outfits and we’re doing the old school moves. It’s a very visually entertaining show as well as musically entertaining. We do a lot of hits and we do a lot of stuff off Everlasting as well. It’s almost a two-hour show and we have so much fun on stage. I think it’s kind of contagious.
After recently getting married, starting her own independent label, and putting together a new band, Melissa Etheridge released her twelfth album last September titled This is M.E. We talked to her about the new album and what she’s looking forward to on her stop in Chattanooga.
Q: You have so many great hits and now a brand new album out. What can we expect from your performance?
A: We’ve taken the rock ‘n’ roll that I’ve been playing for more than 25 years and infused it with this incredible beat and energy. What you’re going to get that night are the hit songs that you love to sing at the top of your lungs and also new ones that we’ve created.
Q: Riverbend is a big outdoor festival with a ton of energy. How does an atmosphere like that affect the show?
A: It’s all about the setting. It’s all about the people and the state they’re in. On those magical nights when everyone is right on and you can go from rhythm to rhythm, you leave with more than you came with.
Q: What makes your new album, This is M.E., special?
A: It’s funny, it’s like I got to the end of a certain road with relationships and I sort of worked it all out inside myself and then I found this incredibly wonderful, supportive, loving, romantic relationship. It’s everything I want. The “I’m the Only One” days are gone, but I will always be able to play that song and share that with my fans. These new songs can have a bit of fiction in them now, and I can play and write from the history and the knowledge that I have. So this album is autobiographical like all my stuff is, yet there’s a freedom in it for me now that feels like I can really reach out and create songs.
Q: Are there any songs on your new album that you particularly love to perform live?
A: “Monster” is a monster of a song. It’s got such a strong beat that we don’t want to stop playing it. “Ain’t That Bad” is also fun to play live. And then of course “Bring Me Some Water” or “Like the Way I Do” or “I’m the Only One” are all incredible songs to play live too.
Q: It looks like you have a busy summer with your tour, but are you looking forward to spending some time in Chattanooga while you’re here for Riverbend?
A: It just doesn’t get more beautiful than the Tennessee countryside. Chattanooga and that whole area is gorgeous. The summer after my cancer I rented an RV and drove coast to coast. I drove through Tennessee and it’s one of my favorite memories. It is a beautiful place and June is kind of a perfect time to be down there. I look forward to it and hope I get to do some fishing when I’m there.
Tenth Avenue North
Tenth Avenue North started about a decade ago with they all met at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. Since then, they’ve released four albums and won multiple Dove Awards, including the 2010 Award for Song of the Year with “By Your Side” and the 2009 Award for New Artist of the Year.
Q: Your fourth studio album Cathedrals debuted at No. 1. What’s the significance of the title?
A: The significance of the title is that we believe the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We are essentially the dwelling place of God and he’s not confined to buildings. Like it says in Acts, he no longer dwells in buildings. So, we are essentially his cathedrals, and we want people to realize that they can be safe places of refuge and community.
Q: Why did you decide to write about that?
A: Our songs are really just open journals. Whatever we’re experiencing at the time, we write it. I think the topic of community was kind of just predominant in what we were going through, so it just naturally extended out of what we were feeling internally.
Q: How has your sound evolved since your first album?
A: Well this time around, we had the opportunity to work with a different producer, this incredible dude named John Fields, who really amplified what we had inside. He had this ability to say, “What’s that part you’re playing? That reminds me of this awesome ‘80s guitar part…” And then he’d pull up some YouTube video of an obscure ‘80s band playing a song, and we’d be like, “That’s awesome! Let’s do it!” There was just never a “no” from him. It was always an explored option.
Q: How would you say your lives have changed?
A: We are definitely learning to live together better on the road. Staying together is the most difficult task in any capacity. So I would say working through our difficulties as a band, but also adding Brendan and Ruben has really stretched our musical talents. They are extremely gifted and so that really added a lot and it pushes the other three of us. We’re just growing in learning how to communicate and live together.
Q: What motivates you to keep producing music?
A: We keep wanting to be creative, but also it feels like there is weight to it because of the people we meet who feel like we helped put words to whatever they were feeling or walk them through something on their heart. That means a lot to us writing songs like this, that we’re not by ourselves and that we’re writing songs other people are connecting with.