I used to be one of those California elitists who drank the Kool Aid. In my heart, I truly believed Nashville, Tennessee was a festering hole of all things big hair, retro-Western, and narrow angles of Americana. I thought that, until I moved to Nashville early in 2012. That's when I realized Nashville is Music City, by name, for a reason, and those Shiner-drinkin' hipsters in Austin, Texas can keep SXSW.
My home is situated in the heart of East Nashville; East Nashville is to Nashville as Williamsburg is to New York. You don't have to drive far in order to dodge some bearded guy in flannel on a bike, before pulling into the Turnip Truck for all your local/veggie/vegan/grass-fed/sustainable/whatever-goddamnit-it's-good-food needs.
Sure, if I want to take my longboard down 2nd Avenue to the pedestrian bridge, I'll make it to the Country Music Hall of Fame in about ten minutes… but why in the fuck would I go to the Country Music Hall of Fame? If Dolly ain't there for a special appearance, then I won't be there. Moreoever, Broadway is mostly tourist-trap bars where you'll pay triple the price for drinks, and be surrounded by people like "Mandy and Krystal from Pennsylvania, woooooooo!" Uhm, yeah, I'll pass.
Nashville is Music City, because we're the perfect size for what we need to be. In Los Angeles and New York, every waiter and bartender you meet is in a band – and that band usually sucks. But don't let that stop them from telling you about it – endless self-promotion is the name of the game in big cities.
You don't have to tell everyone who you are here, because Nashville actually has the bandwidth to support its talent, and climbing the ladder here isn't as hard as it is in New York or Los Angeles. Your band isn't fighting for stage time, and our "venue to artist ratio" is perfect. You can accidentally wander into a venue or pop-up festival and find something you'll really dig.
That's how I came across up-and-coming retro-rockers, The Cunning. Now, bear with me, because I'm posting their video below, knowing full well the video is not a good video – and it looks like it was shot for $37 and maybe the drummer traded the editing guy an eighth of weed. Aside from the "guys, seriously we really don't have a budget for this" visual treatment, "Lonesome No More" channels the mid 90s rock ballads of Collective Soul, Live, Everclear and Meatpuppets. The song is beautifully written, the bass guitar has the perfect rattle, and you instantly "get it".
How do you find a band like The Cunning in Nashville? You wander around The Tomato Festival long enough. I had a PBR in a paper bag, took a seat on the curb near the front of the stage and said, "Hmm… there guys are a fucking killer band."
How about something a little more "dance-ready"? Well, look no further than Cherub. If Cherub is new to you right now, I'm terribly sorry. When I first arrived in Nashville, I ran into Jordan (singer/guitar) for Cherub at Beyond the Edge. He saw my "Earmilk" tattoo on my chest and looked at my sideways. You see, I'd posted his music before, but didn't know his face. "You're Shane Morris.", Jordan smirked at me. Then it clicked. "Oh, you're Jordan from Cherub." Shots were had. High fives were exchanged. Friends were made.
I caught Wild Cub at The High Watt, when Full Circle Presents owner Blake Atchison invited me out, my first month in town. That's another thing about Nashville – it's a southern city, and people will show you around. Blake, more than any other person in the city, was responsible for introducing me to the local talent. Any time there was a show at Cannery, 12th and Porter, Anthem, or Marathon, Blake Atchison made damn sure I was there. He invited me around the after parties, and I met his friends. More than I adopted Nashville, this city adopted me.
It was at one of these after parties that I met Micah McGee, better known as Strooly. He was mild-mannered, quiet, and sarcastic. If you're trying to promote yourself as an artist, it helps to be an extrovert – and Strooly is not that. Blake mentioned to me that Strooly made music, so I gave it a listen… and I really REALLY liked it.
Strooly just has one problem: Bad timing. He makes nuanced, slowed-down, spacey instrumentals. We live in an extra of snare rolls, twerking, and overpowering bass. I can't help but feel a little bad for him, because he's never put out a project I don't love, but music blogs treat his music like a gym sock full of dirty AIDS needles. "Bitches can't twerk to this, bro!"
"Real Tears" is slow, melodic and sleepy. The contrast comes in with "Live Green", a clearly (CLEARLY) Memphis-infused trap style that girls un-ironically wearing booty jorts love to twerk to.
I also met KDSML through Blake. KDSML is one of two resident turntable champions here in Nashville. I haven't seen anyone cut party hits like KDSML since DJ AM, way back in 2007. As a plus, he also makes music that is enjoyable to listen to while you're enjoying some of life's more herbal pleasures. His EP "Nug Life", an album about his struggles as a gold miner, has a track called "The Reefer", that focuses on the importance of preserving coral reefs in light of rising ocean temperatures.
The further I travel down the hip hop angle, the more I need to mention Starlito. I don't think I really understood his talent level until I heard this short, two minute mellow freestyle over a Ryan Hemsworth production. His wordplay, understanding how just how words work together, and all the moving pieces in a song… really shows why his body of work doesn't suck, ever, and why until someone else knocks his off – All Star AKA Starlito is the best rap lyricist in Nashville.
… and then there's Ducko. Ducko McFli is Nashville's resident "most known unknown". We all know songs he's produced, but he doesn't get any respect for it – and for the love God I don't know why. Three weeks ago he stopped by my house after a trip to Atlanta, and he played me what he's been working on. He also forced me to smoke a substance known as "pawt" with him.
Aside from co-producing "Draft Day" for up-and-coming Toronto rapper Drake, Ducko brings heat on every beat he makes. Reference this recent tune from OG Maco, who sounds like Mystikal. Really. I mean, "DANGER!", he sounds like fucking Mystikal, and then Migos jump onto the track and it's over.
If you need to switch up from the Atlanta "fire tracks" infused with plenty of imagined large asses, FatKidsBrotha delivers an addictive, dare I say, Eminem and Dr. Dre circa 1999 rap song, over a Ducko McFli beat. It sounds like Dr. Dre. It's indeed a "Riot".
Switching gears completely, away from everything you can do on a laptop, and everything hip hop is a brand new band called Willie and the Giant. They came to my ears in typical Nashville fashion – I was grilling pork ribs, shirtless, in my front yard, and my neighbor Grant came and delivered me a beer. (Because if you're already grilling shirtless, it's safe to assume you'll want a beer.) I had just moved into my house, so he and I got to know each other. He mentioned playing bass in a band, so I joined him in his Honda while he played me his band's demo.
This is Wilco meets some brass, with a soulful flair to it. If you're a Wilco fan, you'd be a fool to sleep on Willie and the Giant – mostly because they do things the right way. By "right way" I mean that this album never touched a computer. That warm, hot sound you hear is analog tape. It's expensive as hell to record to a reel of tape – something along the lines of $300 a reel, last time I checked.
Speaking of my neighbors, the guys across the street are Mona (pronounced Moe-Nay). They're a band that sounds a lot like Kings of Leon – and uh… look, they're alright. I'm not really a fan of them because I'm not a fan of Kings of Leon either, BUT… their lead singer Nick Brown is in another band (side project) with Jared Followill from Kings of Leon – and it came out great. Sometimes, the sum of the parts if greater than the whole. They're called Smoke & Jackal, and I sincerely hope my neighbors Mona follow this sound a little more. Currently, I think they're out on tour, because their van and trailer aren't here right now.
In closing, I'd like to thank all the local blogs and publications that focus on Nashville music. Rob Bragdon and his whole team at Break on a Cloud have always been fantastic for this city, along with Concrete Magazine, and Nashville Scene. We do well taking care of our own around here, and I love seeing our music culture being exported around the world.
If you're an artist, and you're looking to make a name for yourself in music, come to the city called "Music City". You'll be glad you did.