In celebration of AmericanaFest 2018, Noisetrade here conducts a group interview with artists including Amanda Shires, Tommy Emmanuel, Erik Koskinen, Them Coulee Boys, and Pert Near Sandstone about the festival and the genre itself.
Guest post by Will Hodge of NoiseTrade
We’re celebrating AmericanaFest 2018 in Nashville this week by throwing our very own party with our friends over at Thirty Tigers and Big Tickets. The NoiseTrade Songsmith Social will take place at Diskin Cider on September 14 and we’ve assembled an incredible line-up of artists to play. Ahead of our party, we conducted a group interview with many of our scheduled performers, including Amanda Shires, Tommy Emmanuel, Erik Koskinen, Them Coulee Boys, and Pert Near Sandstone.
NoiseTrade: If this is your first AmericanaFest, what are you looking most forward to? If you’ve been to AmericanaFest before, what did you like about your previous time here and what are you looking forward to experiencing again?
Amanda Shires: AmericanaFest is a great time to see friends and go out to shows. We spend so much time during the year away from our musical family. Plus, the Awards are always a good time.
Soren Staff (Them Coulee Boys): This is our first time heading to AmericanaFest and honestly, we’re just looking to take it all in. Nashville seems like this gigantic mythical beast to us small town Midwest boys and we’re hoping that immersing ourselves in it for a week humanizes it a bit. There are so many wonderful people at the fest, playing at so many places, so we’re just happy that we get to play a part. Hopefully we can show that we belong.
Erik Koskinen: This is my first time to the festival. I lived in Nashville 16 years ago, so I am looking forward to seeing how the town has changed, musically and physically. I’m also excited to go out and see other shows by other musicians that I haven’t ever seen or haven’t seen in some time.
Nate Sipe (Pert Near Sandstone): This is the first time Pert Near Sandstone will be experiencing AmericanaFest. I am always interested in meeting new musicians that we may work with again and getting exposed to artists that inspire us and musically influence us. Aside from great parties, it is an opportunity to expand our community and support system, which is vitally at the core of independent acoustic music in America.
Tommy Emmanuel: This is my first AmericanaFest. When you’re an artist that’s been around as long as I have, you come to find that one of your greatest joys is playing in front of a new audience. Plus, there are a lot of artists at AmericanaFest that I love as people and as musicians. This gives me a good moment to catch up with them.
NT: To those who have been to AmericanaFest before (either playing or just attending), do you have any favorite AmericanaFest memories?
Amanda Shires: Well, once I hung outside of a bathroom just to meet George Strait!
Erik Koskinen: I have no memories except I saw Ry Cooder on YouTube performing there once. I wish I could’ve witnessed that in person.
NT: Are there any bands or panels at AmericanaFest that you are planning to check out yourself?
Amanda Shires: Ha! Plans are for work days! My approach to seeing shows is to be spontaneous and wander into the music. Really though, I’m so excited about k. d. lang.
Tommy Emmanuel: I’m actually participating in a panel about specifically about artist collaborations. My recent album, Accomplice One, is an album of duets. I got to collaborate with some of my favorite artist in Americana such as Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Jerry Douglas, Mark Knopfler, Rodney Crowell, Suzy Bogguss, and quite a few others.
Nate Sipe (Pert Near Sandstone): Absolutely, maybe too many! Checked on my list of performances to catch: Tyler Childers, Molly Tuttle, Town Mountain, Colter Wall, Dom Flemons, The Americans, Whitehorse, Amy Helm, The Last Revel, Milk Carton Kids, Asleep at The Wheel, Rosanne Cash, Richard Thompson, Lindsay Lou, Jade Jackson, Buffalo Gospel, JP Harris, Elizabeth Cook, Leslie Stevens, and Jaime Wyatt. I’ve not explored the panels yet, but surely there will be some of interest. I also hope to stumble into other shows I was not anticipating.
Soren Staff (Them Coulee Boys): There’s so many bands playing that it’s kind of overwhelming to narrow it down. Of course, we all want to get a look at the legends like John Prine, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Asleep at the Wheel, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t try to take in Amanda Shires, Tyler Childers, and I’m With Her. We have so many friends here like Pert Near Sandstone, Buffalo Gospel, Dead Horses, and The Last Revel, so we also want to hang with them if possible!
Erik Koskinen: I’d like to see as many bands as possible, but definitely Amanda Shires. I shared the stage with her a few years ago and she’s performing our same showcase. She has my vote!
NT: Since Americana is one of the most diversely sonic and unwieldy genres around, what do you think is the “entry point” of your specific sound that connects it to the Americana community?
Soren Staff (Them Coulee Boys): It’s easy to say the instrumentation with guitars and banjos. But we feel the entry point for us and many others is the sincerity of what we sing about. It’s not about the “country” imagery, but more about the genuine emotion behind the words. We don’t hide behind our words and the music we play only serves to make them easier to hear.
Erik Koskinen: I base my playing and songwriting mostly off of American roots music, that is Americana. American roots music is highly diverse. I think Americana is more a format or portfolio than a genre. For example, Polka is a genre and Polka is Americana. Polka is Americana even though its roots come from across the ocean, just like most of our roots. Americana is a collection, hence the diversity.
Nate Sipe (Pert Near Sandstone): I believe Pert Near Sandstone’s songwriting is the link to this community. We have always been eclectic in our influences musically, reaching beyond our traditional string band instrumentation, which makes us unique but also allows to relate with an expansive number of subgroups within the genre. I think of Americana as folk and roots based music, with permission to explore a blending of the old with new sounds and approaches. We could almost claim that as our credo when composing and selecting repertoire for performances.
Tommy Emmanuel: So much of what is considered the Nashville sound or described as Americana can be tracked back to my hero and mentor, Chet Atkins. I do my best to honor Chet’s music and memory in everything I do, so if I could hope for an entry point it would be through Chet.
Amanda Shires: It’s in the melodies. The melodies are roots based. It’s also in the sentiment of the songs.
NT: At this year’s Americana Honors & Awards Show, the recipient of the “Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music” award will be Rosanne Cash. Do you have a favorite song or album of hers (or any special memories of her from throughout her career)?
Amanda Shires: First, “Seven Year Ache” is one of my all-time favorite songs. Second, Rosanne works hard and fights the fight daily. She uses her voice for good and more than deserves the recognition.
Erik Koskinen: Well of course “Seven Year Ache” is a killer song. I heard it recently on the radio – 89.3 The Current here in St. Paul, MN. It was played amongst a handful of modern indie songs and the music actually fit in the mix well. What stuck out above the rest was the lyrics and melody.
Soren Staff (Them Coulee Boys): I remember a recording of “Sea of Heartbreak” the Rosanne Cash did with Springsteen that was so killer. Admittedly I listened for Bruce, but I stayed for her voice on that classic.
Tommy Emmanuel: I love the entire Cash family. I admire Rosanne Cash for being a free thinking artist to say, write, and play what she feels. To me, that’s the definition of a true artist, and I can’t think of anyone else more deserving of that award.