Delicious Commentary with Nashville Based Americana/Folk Duo, The Harmaleighs [Interview]

The Harmaleighs

1. How did the Harmaleighs come to fruition?

We met through a mutual friend at school. We first started playing music together in the winter of 2012 with a six-piece group. We ended up stripping it down to just a few of us, which turned into The Harmaleighs.

2. Tell me about the name.

Haley+Kaylee+Harmony= Harmaleighs

3. Tell me about your writing process. Where do you get your inspiration?

Haley: I get my inspiration through my own experiences. And when those aren’t exciting enough (ha!) I listen to music and get inspired. Some artists that inspire me on the daily are Brandi Carlile, Andrew Bird, & Norah Jones.

4. What is it like living in Nashville and how does it inspire your music?

Living in Nashville is like being the teeniest, tiniest feeder fish in the deepest, darkest ocean. Everyone writes/plays/sings and everyone does everything really well. It’s actually strange to talk to someone that isn’t in a band or doing something else cool. This immensely inspires our music. We listen to peers around us who are at the same level that have AMAZING songs and that really pushes us to write the best material that we possibly can.

5. Are you an independent artist or do you have label support?

We are like the ‘Al La Carte’ at a Mexican restaurant. We get some help from friends & family but we do everything ourselves.

6. What is it like being an artist in 2014 with the industry in the state that it’s in?

Hard. Labels aren’t signing artists. So if you’re really in it to win it you need to learn how to play the game. In the past year and a half we have learned how to promote a band, book shows, monitor our image, build a website, design tee shirts, & of course make the music. It can be difficult at times because you have to wear so many different hats- however we think that a band that knows more about the business side of things will be better in the long run.

7. You released ‘People Line Up’ in 2013. Talk a bit about that process and where it’s taken you in your career.

Well, that has a funny story. We knew a guy who could get us into a studio with an engineer, for free, for about 10 hours. So we said ‘Okay, let’s record an EP in that time real quick.’ (it normally takes A LOT longer). So we went in with the 5 songs picked out already & met our engineer, Paul Rossetti. Paul has ended up helping us with numerous projects, became a super fan, and has played some shows with us! ANYWAYS, we recorded that EP as a quick introduction to the band. We wanted to get some music out. After we recorded that, we got to do some touring & got some ears of industry professionals listening. ‘People Line Up’ was a good start and we are happy its out. However, ‘Pretty Picture, Dirty Brush’ will be our true introduction.

8. ‘Pretty Picture, Dirty Brush’ is slated for an early 2015 release. Tell me about the process of making your first record?

We were in a showcase through our school (Belmont University) and one of the judges was Travis Terrell. We ended up getting coffee with him afterwards and he told us that he was a producer & has a company with his buddy, Micah Sannan, called ‘Levelo.’ All of our personalities just clicked and Kaylee & I knew we wanted to work with them right away. The whole process took about 4 weeks time. We spent a week tracking the record. That means just the bare bones: voices/gtr/banjo/mando/bass. Then we spent a few more weeks adding ‘fairy dust’ which means the music you may not hear on the first listen. It’s a soft pedal steel in the back or the bells in our track ‘Doll Made Of Glass.’ Travis & Micah brought our songs & music to life. They pushed us to think critically and encouraged us to work harder. We feel that we have truly found our sound with this record, and we can’t wait to see where it takes us.

9. How did “Delicious Commentary” come about?

Kaylee & I were trying to think of fun ways to do a commentary about each song to get everyone excited. Kaylee then, the little chef that she is, came up with the idea to pair a recipe with each song. In order, the songs are going to lay out a full 10 course meal!

10. What’s your favorite kind of food?

Kaylee: My favorite type of food is Italian, specifically spaghetti and meatballs. I grew up in an Italian family and nothing was better than coming home from school and smelling my mom’s homemade spaghetti sauce. I try to recreate it myself and it’s really good, but it will never compare to my mom’s.

Haley: My favorite food is Green Olives. When I was little my mom would let me eat 8 a day after dinner. If I didn’t have a limit I would eat the whole jar & drink the juice. Ovbi we’re lyke really healthy.

11. Who’s the best cook in the group?

Kaylee for sure. Before Kaylee and I moved in together I had the diet of a 5 year old. I would eat dino nuggets & Mac and cheese. Kaylee surprises me with her cooking everyday.

12. What’s your worst recipe fail?

Kaylee: A few years back, Haley & I found something on the internet and decided to try it. A Fruit cleanse. We were to eat nothing but fruit for 24 hours. I was trying to come up with unique recipes to make the cleanse a little easier on us. I came up with a Thai fruit roll. Haley will never let me live this down, as it’s been 3 years and she still brings it up. It was the worst, soggiest, nastiest thing I have ever put it my mouth.

Haley: Typically, everything I make tops itself as the worst recipe fail. Even simple things. I think the government actually put a restraining order on me & any kitchen ever to be built.

13. Do you have any other delicious pairings in the works and what can we look forward to in 2015?

We will be releasing a recipe for each song! (10 songs). Nearly every week from here on out you can be looking forward to that. Just wait until our main dishes!

ZZ Ward Brings Her Dirty Shine to Dallas [Interview]

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

Thank you GoodBAMMSho for the amazing opportunity to interview one of my favorite artists! Here’s the interview!!

Wednesday night ZZ Ward brought her Down and Dirty Shine tour to a packed house at Trees in Dallas. With her signature fedora, blinged out tooth and delicious blend of hip-hop and blues, there is nothing mediocre about this Oregon native.

Performing songs from her debut album, Til the Casket Drops, and Eleven Roses mixtape, ZZ delivers an effortless swagger onstage that feels completely raw and authentic when she performs. Jumping from the keys, guitar, harmonica, and yes, even the drums the amount of talent in this pint size singer is ridiculous.

Before the show started I was able to sit down with the singer and talk about love, what songwriting means to her and what’s ahead in 2013.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

Is this your first time performing in Dallas?

I was here for a radio show for NPR but no I’ve never played a show. This is my first time at this venue. I really like Texas a lot, love the whole feel.

I love how you’ve merged hip-hop and blues to make a sound that’s completely unique and yours. Starting out did you ever feel the pressure to conform to a particular “radio friendly” or “industry specific” sound?

Luckily no, the label that I chose to sign with, I based my decision on the people who worked for Hollywood Records. I mean they really just believed in my artistry from the beginning. From the moment I played my songs for them they loved it, which is wonderful. I never felt like I had to try and be what was cool or what was popular. I really had a lot of freedom making the record.

Do you feel like that’s an issue in the industry today, not having a lot of creative freedom?

I think on the industry side a lot of people don’t want to take chances. You know, they don’t want to lose. They’re scared to lose and a lot of times, I think they shelve artists because of that. I know artists that are making records and they can’t put their record out because there are so many people behind it. So I’m very thankful for where I’m at.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

Save My Life is such a beautiful tune and you can definitely hear that Fitz and the Tantrums flare. What was the process like working with Michael Fitzpatrick?

It was wonderful working with Fitz. He has such a good throwback feel. We wrote the song at his house, where he actually records a lot of the Fitz and the Tantrums albums. He definitely brings that throwback feel. He’s just such a great, real down to earth guy.

The metaphors and visualization in your songs are so vivid and relatable. How old were you when you wrote your first song? 

I use to write pieces of songs. I was just putting a lot of ideas together, sometimes like five pieces, and every song would be like Bohemian Rhapsody. So, I would say the first time I sat down at the piano and wrote a full song I was 13.

Do you consider songwriting to be a blessing or a curse?

I think it’s a blessing and a curse. When I was writing this record I locked myself in my apartment and I didn’t live a normal life for a while. I didn’t go out to the bars and sometimes I would be writing and if the song wasn’t done I wouldn’t go out. But it feels so good when you actually finish a song and you like it. There’s really no other high. It’s a pretty great experience.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

How many songs did you write for the record?

Well you know that’s interesting, that’s a good question. There wasn’t a lot of fat. I didn’t really write a lot of songs, actually I didn’t finish probably any songs that didn’t go on the record. Every song that I finished went on the record. But it depends, I’m very critical from the beginning. So if I’m writing something that I think is okay, it doesn’t make me feel sexy or mad, or empowered, if it doesn’t give me a strong emotion from whatever side that it’s on then I’ll usually throw it out.

When I wrote Home I had been working on another song for about 3 hours and all of a sudden I just went into the chords of Home and had a melody and I was like, this is great. Forget the other song. You kind of just have to follow it.

Your passion and pain really shine on this record. How easily do you fall in love?

Well I don’t know, it might have changed a while ago. Then I might have said something different because when you’re young you think you’re in love but you don’t really know what love is. I don’t think I fall in love very easily, but I love very hard.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

The title track, Til the Casket Drops, you’ve said is “a song about going to war for someone that you love. Not only was it the first song I wrote for the album, but it ended up being the perfect embodiment and emotional foundation for the entire album”. Was the song written early on for the album or later?  

It was the first song I wrote for the record and I didn’t know I was writing it for an album. I feel like Til the Casket Drops was the first song where I really, I didn’t shy away from who I was going to be as an artist. I just kind of embraced it and that was the first song that did that.

How did it shape the rest of the direction for the album?

I think just the concept of the song about going to war for somebody that you love and the ups and downs of relationships. I think the album is a very passionate record. So it just made since that it would be the title of the record.

Put the Gun Down is the first song Neff-U produced on the album. You’ve mentioned all the sonic experimentation that went on during recording it. What final mix or part sealed the deal for you knowing the song was perfect and finished?

You know that song came so easily. When we were in the studio, being the first song we worked on, we didn’t really put a lot of stuff in. I think some of the hardest times in music are when you get stuck . If you get stuck with something and you have to push and push and push until it sounds right, that will test your patience. With Put the Gun Down we didn’t really have that. Neff-U played piano, I wrote the guitar structure to it, I actually already had that, and then he did the drums. It was actually pretty straight forward with that track.

The metaphor, Put the Gun Down, is so brilliant, in your writing do you come up with the metaphor first or do you just start writing?

It’s easier that way. I mean it doesn’t always work that way. A lot of times it’s just, you have to write, or you want to write. It would be the easiest thing in the world if you had a million ideas that were great concepts for songs. If you can get that story, I feel like it’s almost like writing a script. If you have that one story or idea that’s different, it’s easier from there. But it doesn’t always happen that way.

Last Love song, I didn’t know what I was going to call it. I wrote the chorus, I had everything, but I didn’t have a hook. So I just called it Last Love Song, I’ll tell the story about the song at my show, because I didn’t want to write anymore songs about that person anymore. That’s why it became Last Love Song. So it just depends.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

For Blue Eyes Blind: Ludwig Goransson said “you are one of the new voices of today and it’s never been so easy writing a song with someone.” Why do you think the creative chemistry worked so well between your melodies and his beats?

You know what, I don’t have an answer for that. I didn’t do a lot of co-writes on this record but I have done a lot of co-writing since I moved to Los Angeles. Before I wrote this record I went in with a lot of different people  and wrote a lot of songs. I learned a lot from it. I think it helped shape me to be a better writer. But two of the co-writes, one was with Fitz and the other with Ludwig, I don’t know, they just worked. I didn’t walk in and say, man I’ve got to hit this sound, we have to get a song for the record. I really didn’t feel that pressure. I went in with Ludwig, came up with some chords, a melody for the chorus, Ludwig just dropped this ridiculous beat in and it kind of went from there. It was really easy with him.

On Crying Wolf Rich Parry of Blended Babies said that “you took a very rough idea and made it shine or “made that shit shine”. Then he added that “ONLY sometimes drinking too much in the studio is a good thing.” How many drinks did it take exactly to build the song?

Well it’s really interesting because that song came along and for me, coming up with an idea that is different and hasn’t been done before, I don’t feel like you have a lot of opportunities to do that. It’s always really fun and special when you can do that.

I was sitting there with Blended Babies going through some of the tracks and I heard Maceo Haymes from the O’My’s singing on this track. I was sitting there and I could kind of come up with the idea in my head, I was really excited, and I asked, “was he drunk when he sang this?” And they were like, “yeah he was throwing some ideas down, he was drinking, wasted on whiskey, we told him go in there and just sing some melody. Don’t even worry about the lyrics.”

It’s authentic, he was really wasted when he sang that. So I was like, oh my gosh this is the perfect opportunity for me to vent about being in some of the relationships I’d been in where this person is wasted and they’re constantly doing this and that, threatening you, and I had the best idea in my head. I don’t think anyone in the room really knew it but I was like, I’ll show you, I’ll show you…I’m going to write this song.

I flipped Kendrick Lamar’s Look Out for Detox and he was cool enough to rap on the track.

What was it like working with Kendrick?

He’s such a talented guy. I think it’s incredible how he went into such an obscure song, and it is one of those songs where it doesn’t really need someone on it because it’s so different. But putting him on it was such a left idea and he just destroyed it.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

You were discovered on MySpace. How can artists utilize today’s social media to propel their music career?

It’s a different world. I heard an older musician on a late night show and he was talking about when there use to be no such thing as social media. Now, every performance you do, every performance I do, goes up online. No matter where I am, I mean there is no forgiveness.

But I think if you’re an upcoming artist you can definitely use social media to your advantage. You can cover songs and get a following on YouTube. But if I would give any advice, to an upcoming or aspiring musician, it would be to write your own music. It takes time to find the right people to help you get to where you want to go. It’s not a one man or one woman job, you definitely need to have a team of people that can help you. You can’t wait for people, so my advice would be to think about what kind of music you want to make and start the train yourself.

What was it like moving from Oregon to LA?

Scary, terrifying…it was terrifying. About 6 months ago for some reason I started having those memories about what it was first like to move down and I was so depressed when I first moved. I left everything behind. I left a boyfriend behind, I literally started a new life. It was really scary but I just realized there wasn’t enough for me where I lived for what I wanted to do. I needed to get around people that were doing the same stuff I was doing.

From Eleven Roses to the Criminal EP and now Til the Casket drops and this amazing year you’ve had. What are you looking forward to the most in 2013?

The thing about being a recording artist is there’s a lot of variety and there’s a lot of stuff that nobody can tell you how it’s going to go. You just kind of have to go with it, buckle up and go for the ride. I’m excited about doing different stuff, doing different performances. I’m doing a co-headlining tour at the end of January with Delta Rae. So we’ll just see where it takes us.

Jillette Johnson Talks “Whiskey & Frosting” & Being Fearless [Interview]

When Fiona Apple wrote about a Shadowboxer and feeling like a Criminal it was impossible to not become transfixed with the world she painted with her lyrics. The nineties and early aughts bred a slew of female singer songwriters  that told the deepest stories through song.

Over the years popular music has become increasingly watered down, with focus on lyrical content falling in second place to house beats and campy tales of love and partying with friends. With the success of artists like Adele it’s clear that people still crave and respond to music that’s emotional and above all, honest.

With the debut of her EP, Whiskey & Frosting, I sat down with Wind-Up Records artist Jillette Johnson to talk about growing up in New York, what inspires her and what the future holds.

Growing up in New York Jillette was born to a non-musical family with the passion to entertain and create at an early age. She started piano lessons at 6 and writing at 8 years old. With the support of her parents she started playing venues in New York City at just 12 years old. After getting her first manager at the same age Jillette used NYC as her canvas to create music that was open and honest.

That honesty caught the attention of Wind-Up Records Executive Gregg Wattenberg with the title track Cameron.

“Powder and a brush can cover any cuts / And quickly running cotton under cold water / Rinses out the blood marks / Cameron you’re a star, a light where there is dark” 

tells the story of being alienated for our differences and embracing that uniqueness. After being signed to Wind-Up Jillette started writing for Whisking & Frosting.

Jillette isn’t resting on her laurels, “All of the music on the EP was written by me in my apartment over the last year. I’m having a lot of fun but it’s just the beginning. There’s a lot more work to be done.”

With her debut album set for an early 2013 release she’ll spend the next few months creating a buzz with the EP and radio in the winter. So where did Whiskey & Frosting come from?

After a horrible day Jillette and her boyfriend were headed back to her apartment where she hoped they would spend a quiet night alone. When they walked in all of her friends were there to throw her a surprise party and on the menu for dinner…whiskey and frosting, two of her favorite things.

“Whiskey and Frosting represents that twinkle in my eye and saying something real or dark with a hint of sweetness.”

Jillette doesn’t shy away from dark messages and difficult subjects. That fearlessness in her writing, the desire to create her own little world, has kept her on the creative path that has lead her up to this point. “It’s so important to be real and honest when you’re creating music.”

That realness meant turning down a prime spot on the hit show The Voice this past season. After attending an audition with a friend she turned down the opportunity to continue on the creative path she began, and to not compromise the voice she worked so hard to build throughout her career.

“It takes a lot of courage to audition for a talent show, you go through a lot. What I do is very holistic and unfortunately there’s no room for that in a show meant to entertain people. It feels like sacrilege to not be myself and for my voice to not be heard.”

This commitment to her music and bringing authenticity to what she creates also meant leaving New York University after one year to put 100% of her energy behind her career. When I asked her what would she be doing if she wasn’t creating music her response was simple,

“I never considered doing anything else. If you have a plan B then your plan A doesn’t really matter. I wanted everything I did to be about my career.”

That passion  and vulnerability is evident in songs like Pauvre Coeur (poor heart).

“Dare I say I was enamored / By the stories of your pain / You were darkened in the wild fight / And I was tangled in your mane.”

The story of compromising yourself in a broken relationship that leaves you completely lost is told beautifully over Johnson’s aching vocals and rolling piano.

“I was trying to make you see me / Like the way you did before / So I took off my clothes and I opened a bottle / And told you I’d do whatever you wanted / Naked on the floor, crying I’m too beautiful / Oh my poor, poor, pauvre coeur / Beats no more.”

Jillette sings and composes with a passion that comes from such an authentic place. From her own life experiences to the streets of New York Jillette is influenced by life around her and the city that raised her.

“New York has hugely influenced me. There’s so much to draw inspiration from. I really think it’s the epicenter of the universe, so much beauty to inspire.”

Music legends Paul Simon, Prince, Carol King and Randy Newman are a few musicians that have influenced Johnson and her creativity. Newman’s simple approach to his lyrics and music that isn’t “overly flowery but to the point and eloquent” is what inspires Johnson. “They help me figure out what I want to say. I have to have a message in my music.”

Torpedo is Whiskey & Frosting’s anthem tune with Jillette’s beautifully layered vocals and poignant piano  laced with hard hitting drums and of course, those lyrics.

“So come on torpedo do your worst / Get me right in the heart, blow me up ’til you see my ghost / But I will not lay down in the road / I will not make it easy / I ain’t got no saints or saviors / This is guerrilla and I will fight this war / So come on torpedo.”

Whiskey & Frosting Track Listing:

  • Cameron – Where it all began!
  • Torpedo – Most upbeat track on the EP
  • When the Ship Goes Down“Probably the best song I’ve ever written”
  • Heathen – Friend favorite
  • Pauvre Coeur“The most fun to play live”

Since this is Sarah’s Musical Kitchen I took the opportunity to ask Jillette who were some of her favorite NYC artists and of course, what are some of her favorite places to eat and drink in the city.

Favorite Local Musicians:

Favorite Places to Eat & Drink:

What’s your favorite thing to cook? “Beef Stew for my mom.” I think we need a recipe!

It was a pleasure speaking with Jillette. The eloquence and passion in her music is evident when she speaks about her musical journey and what the future holds. Her fearless approach to writing and absolute awareness of who she is as an artist is refreshing and inspiring. Whiskey & Frosting is the heart and soul of a talented artist waiting to just blow you away. Download it today and look for the debut album in early 2013.

Image Courtesy: Jillette Johnson & Wind-Up Records
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