Los Angeles-based artist Kyle Lalone revealed his musical prowess in his latest album, Somewhere in Between. Released in April 2020, these five songs epitomize classic country music with unmatched lyrical and instrumental cohesion – which is no surprise considering he graduated from Berklee College of Music. Lalone wrote each song based on his personal journey with sobriety, heartbreak, and self-exploration. Though this is the first time I’ve encountered Lalone’s music, I know it won’t be the last!

The short album kicks off with Think Myself to Death, a youthful take on life’s uncertainties. The combination of pedal steel guitar and Lalone’s smooth voice (which was made to sing country music, by the way) creates a classic, upbeat twang. Lalone questions past choices, like moving away from his hometown and choosing to pursue country music. He speaks on the dangers of overthinking – oh, how relatable – and admits: “If I keep doing this, I might think myself to death.” 

The second track, Our Love, is a light-hearted song about falling out of love. Similar to Think Myself to Death, this song has all the key tenets of classic country music, from heavy acoustics to a honky tonk swing. In the uncharacteristically upbeat breakup song, he sings, “Our love ain’t what it used to be, it’s like driving around on a tank that is empty.” Lalone reminisces on “how it used to be” with a charming level of acceptance that he needs to move on. 

The heartbreak theme prevails in Warning Signs, though this song shifts the album from upbeat to melancholy. The slow rush of guitar emulates the aching pain of a breakup while Emily Hulslander’s soft vocals echo in the background. Lalone sings about adjusting to life without his partner, acknowledging that, “You and I rode that train until it came off the tracks, got back on time and time again….Never thought this ride would ever end.” The slowest of the five songs, Warning Signs, depicts a man struggling to balance his lingering affection for a past partner with his awareness that the relationship is over, perhaps for the better.

Lalone continues to share pieces of his past in Always Trying to Quit, a song about battling addiction. He reminisces to the days that he spent getting drunk and high only to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. He sings: “I’ve put down the bottle dozens of times, thrown my bag away…then I start thinking, get lost in my head and be drunk by the end of the day…” Similar to Our Love, this song addresses a somber subject with a level of charm and optimism unique to Lalone.

He leaves us with a truly hopeful song, as the closing track, I’m Not Gonna Drink Over You, is about moving on from his two major struggles: heartbreak and addiction. And he’s right to end the album on a positive note, as the future looks bright for this budding artist! Lalone is currently recording songs that will be released in 2021, so keep your eyes out for his newest music.

Listen and buy Somewhere In Between here

Interviewed by Mae Hunt

In this interview with Girls On Grass lead vocalist and guitarist, Barbara Endes, we discuss her roots in music, the recording process of her new singles, and what we can expect from the band in the near future!

BE: Barb Endes TL: Twangri-La

TL: So let’s start from the very beginning. You’re an extremely talented guitarist and musician. I would love to learn a little bit about your upbringing and what inspired you to become invested in music initially. 

BE: I wouldn’t say I come from a musical family. I come from an artistic family. My dad played accordion growing up and his father played. And my mother’s father was a piano player and a classical music aficionado. And there was always music around, of course. But the formal education in music I had was just in the grade school orchestra. But pretty quickly, I started cheating on that. I don’t know why just reading music didn’t appeal to me as much as memorizing it.

So I just learned what little skill I did pick up, but I was able to learn how to remember things and played by ear on the violin. I stopped focusing on the music reading aspect of it and just learned to play by ear because I think it was easier for me. And that was kind of the beginning of playing the instruments for me, but I didn’t keep doing it. At that time, there was a lot of stuff going on at my house, and I don’t think I could relax and focus on it.

But a few years later, my sister started dating this stoner guitar player guy. And I would hang around with my sister and her friends. Her boyfriend was in a band, and they’re into prog rock and all that stuff. So I started hearing a lot of guitar-oriented prog rock, a lot of King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, all that kind of stuff. My sister’s boyfriend was a really sweet, friendly guy. He would come over with his guitar all the time. He had this refinished Strat and he was a really good player. I made a guitar out of a yard stick and a piece of cardboard, which a ton of kids do, right, like playing dress up in front of a mirror, but I played with a fake guitar. Later on, Dave (the boyfriend) gave me a cheap guitar. I had a few lessons with him and then just kept going on my own.

Slowly throughout my teenage years, I picked up some stuff. I was all basically playing by ear. I was pretty young when I played in a band for the first time. I had no idea what I was doing. I was awful. But we played in the middle school talent show. I actually tried to play in the jazz ensemble in my middle school. Again, I was really floundering. I don’t know if I couldn’t get guitar lessons or I just was not focused on it or something. 

I didn’t really get anywhere until I was high school or college in terms of really understanding the instrument at all. And I feel like I still barely do. I feel like I’ve really hunkered down and focused on a few kinds of things. But I’m playing a long time, and it really has been a lifeline for me throughout my life. I don’t really have a lot of technical skill, but it’s like my therapist. Throughout my life, I’ve really depended on playing a lot. 

So I’m really glad that I’m stuck with it because there are a bunch of times in my life, I put it down. But I always picked it back up. And now, I’m writing music, and I have a band and it’s really fun. 

TL: It sounds fun. And on my end, it sounds like you’ve mastered the guitar as a listener. When did you begin to transition into songwriting? Or has that always been a part of playing the guitar for you?

BE: No, I spent pretty much all of my time learning songs of the bands that I loved growing up. I think the first song I learned was a Pink Floyd song. I learned a bunch of prog stuff when I was a teenager, which was fun because it was challenging. And then I got into jangle pop, REM, all kinds of stuff from the Grateful Dead to the Gear Daddies. And then I learned about The Clash. And I got into punk rock a little bit. In college, I learned about the Pixies and a bunch of other post punk stuff. 

But I didn’t really start writing songs until my late twenties. I wrote a bunch of songs for a little EP, I guess you’d call it. I didn’t release it or anything, but it was the first time I assembled a bunch of songs. I recorded them on a four-track cassette deck or a mixer. And a friend of mine, who is a musician, wrote commercial music and mixed it for me. 

After that, I started playing with a series of other bands and didn’t really write again until maybe my mid-thirties really, early thirties. And at that point, I was actually classic country. Here in New York, at a place called The Weal and Woe, I formed this band with my friend, Russell, who is a great country and bluegrass guitar player and harmony singer. And that’s when I started really writing enough songs where I could put together a whole set of my own material. We formed the band with Russell and Jason Cade, this amazing fiddler, and Mark Deffenbaugh, a great lap steel, a guitar player. And that was my first taste of having a band and doing my own material, which was horrifying but really helpful and gave me a lot of confidence.

TL: That’s awesome. I feel like a lot of your songs or the lyrics, at least, are both very personal and very honest. It seems as though you’re not afraid to take a political stance. Is it difficult for you to write about personal events or writing about politics, or does it come naturally?

BE: I think it’s just my personality. I have a hard time writing abstractly or about experiences that aren’t my own. Sometimes, I have a song idea and I won’t know where to take it other than to try to relate it to a personal experience. And I think that’s one of the reasons I love country music. Getting really sucked into the older classic country genre is what made me feel like I could write songs.

I mean, of course, there are examples in other genres of this. But listening to someone singing about an experience that seems really personal and straightforward and honest…it felt like that’s the way that I could express myself and not feel like a phony. So when I was in a classic country band, it really made me want to write songs for the first time. And then I went back to rock music and started Girls on Grass. But I think that that kind of lyrical approach is still the only way that I really feel comfortable writing. 

The only song on Dirty Power that is neither super political or very personal about a specific thing that’s happened to me or a series of things is Friday Night. And I just wrote that song on a whim—it was probably spurred by a movie or a show or something I don’t remember exactly. But that was the only time I’ve ever written something that was completely made up. 

TL: You mentioned this earlier but it sounds like writing is like a release, a space where you can release your energy and thoughts, which is really amazing. And I do want to talk a little bit about your most recent songs. First of all, congratulations. I am sure it feels great to be putting out music in a time where the world feels like we’re in a standstill. Would you mind telling me a little bit about the recording process, where you recorded, how long it took, things like that?

BE: It’s been really nice to be able to put something out during this time because it does feel like we’re at a standstill. The band started to really pick up some momentum finally last year. We went on a couple of short tours and played the Swamp Stomp Festival again. We were applying for festivals and trying to get out of New York more. Recording those songs was intended to build on that so that we could have something new to tour behind because Dirty Power came out in April last year. It seemed like a good way for us to keep that momentum going. 

There’s this group of musicians in New York City. There’s a scene that was around in the ‘80s here, and I guess probably early ‘90s, of all these incredible musicians who are now doing a lot of recording and producing. And mostly because Nancy’s (my drummer’s) social network, I’ve met a lot of these people and we’ve recorded with a bunch of them. 

So Jay Sherman-Godfrey did the first record – he engineered it and helped produce it. And then Eric Ambel did the last record. These guys are like titans of the alt-country scene here. And the third person in that group that we’d been talking to about maybe recording with is Mark Spencer, who’s a phenomenal musician. He’s a touring musician with Sun Volt. And he’s worked with Cheri Knight and all kinds of people. Just so talented. 

He has a studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn called Tape Kitchen, and we had considered doing Dirty Power there, and then we thought, let’s just try to do the single there. It’s a really cool, old, light industrial building on the Gowanus Canal. It’s got a recording studio on multiple floors and it’s got this big kitchen. It’s a really cool vibe. We recorded live as a trio and then did a little bit overdubbing. And we had a friend, Glenn Spivack, come in to play harmonica. And he’s just an incredible player. I mean, he basically played all of this stuff on Spill Your Guts off the cuff, right? Just one of those guys. 

It was a good experience, but it’s also really different for us because I threw the songs at the band without much rehearsal time. I just thought, let’s see what happens. Who’s Gonna Cry had a really short rehearsal time. We had two or three weeks with that one. We worked out Spill Your Guts a little longer. It was really fun to see how the band responded to a shorter gestation period for the songs. It made it really fun to record them, if kind of anxiety-inducing. But that kind of energy can be really good in the studio because the last thing I want to do is to go into the studio with the band and have everybody be bored with the songs and know exactly what they’re going to play. It’s just not as exciting. There’s always that possibility that you’re going to regret not doing something on a song because, six months later, you know the song better. It was a good experience and I think I’d like to do it again.

TL: It sounds like it was a fun experience! And it sounds like it speaks to your chemistry to be able to pull it all together without as much rehearsal as songs typically have.

BE: Yeah – they’re both really talented players. Nancy’s a pro. And she puts with up with my….I can be a little control freakish. I think a lot of songwriters might be like that. But we’ve gotten to a good place in collaboration. Again, she’s just super talented and able to lay down all different kinds of things. And Dave, too, they’re really tight as a rhythm section and they love playing together. So it’s pretty awesome place for me to be as a songwriter. 

TL: It definitely, it sounds it. I also wanted to mention the Who’s Gonna Cry music video. I’m curious as to how that idea came about. 

BE: I just love stop animation. I mean, I’ll be honest. The specifics of it were largely left to Wendy Norton, the creator. We had a collaborative connection. She told me about her concept after I pitched the general idea to her and I was into the concept. I think the southwest theme was a response on her part to the kind of spaghetti western music behind it. I just loved how she rendered us in puppets. And I actually have the puppets in my house. Well, I have the Trump puppet and I have my puppet. Nancy and Dave have their own puppets. 

TL: That’s awesome. I love that video. 

BE: Yeah. Nancy and Dave didn’t want the Trump puppet. (laughter) I don’t know what to do with it. I’m thinking of doing various things with it. 

TL: (laughter)

BE: But I’m taking my time.

TL: That’s funny. Yeah. Take your time. Think of something good.

BE: Yeah, I’m glad you like it. I love the animated videos.

TL: It’s a creative way to pair visuals with songs.

BE: Also, it’s also really fun for me to collaborate with visual artists and see what they’ll do with music that we make. I like supporting people doing their art and keeping money flowing directly between artists. I’m really happy about being able to do that.

TL: Yeah. I think that’s great. And it turned out awesome.

BE: Thank you. Yeah, I love it. It’s cute, right? 

TL: Yeah (laughter). It’s definitely cute. Thanks for all of that. I’m just curious, for my last question, what’s next for you? I know you mentioned you have a day job, so I’m sure that’s eating up a lot of your time, but what can we expect from you next music-wise?

BE: That’s a constantly evolving question in my own mind right now. This is a very tenuous time. This isn’t sexy or anything. Honestly, I’m struggling to find my creative flow right now. I’m really distracted by everything that’s happening in the world and in the US. It’s definitely throwing me off my flow. At the same time, the situation we’re in has, out of necessity, forced me to get my home recording situation more squared up. I’ve learned some new skills and done some recording that I’m really excited about. I feel like I needed to get those tools back because the only home recording I did previously was on a cassette-deck type situation.

It’s been a good time for me to work on some other skills. I’m constantly thinking about how to use those to try to adapt to the current situation with the band. So we’re working that out together. As far as playing together and songwriting, it’s [the pandemic has] slowed us down. I’ve got some new songs brewing and we’re hoping to sort out a cold weather situation where we can start playing together again. But our rehearsal space doesn’t really lend itself to being in the same room together. It’s super depressing. 

I have no doubt that if the veil of all of this pandemic is lifted and everything reset, we would just fall back into the pocket and keep going. But I don’t think it’s going to be that simple. I think a lot of the venues certainly are struggling and may close. And the festival—we got into the Waking Windows, and that would have been this spring in Vermont. But who knows.

I think even outdoor festivals might struggle to get back up and running. The only crazy but fairly solid plan we have right now is to start doing outdoor concerts this spring and try to get the gear together to make that happen. Maybe start songwriting with the idea of recording again as a band next year. But it’s just so hard to know what’s going to happen.

TL: Yeah. I think the pandemic has definitely impacted everybody in different ways. I am sure that your anticipated 2020 plan has changed. But it’s also caused a lot of us to cultivate new skills, like producing music inside. So hopefully, that brings along some new material. But whatever you have in store for us, I’m sure it will be great.

BE: You’re very kind. We’ve really received a lot of support this year, like a support for the 7-inch. And it’s really helped us keep going mentally. And so we really appreciate your interest and your willingness to help us get the word out.

TL: Yeah, of course. It’s good music. So it makes it a lot easier when it’s good music. 

BE: Thank you. 

TL: No, thank you! Thank you for taking the time today. I really appreciate it and have really enjoyed speaking with you.

Buy Girls On Grass music and merch here.

Take a Look in the Book by the Legendary Ingramettes is composed of ten electrifying tracks strung together by the voices of three inspiring and talented musicians. Not only that, but this album carries 65 years worth of stories and history led by the incomparable voice of Almeta Ingram-Miller.

The story of the Legendary Ingramettes began in the 1950s when Maggie Ingram performed as a gospel singer amidst the rising popularity of black male gospel quartets. A mother of five, Maggie worked to balance her familial responsibilities with her label as the “Gospel Queen of Richmond”. She performed alongside bands including the Six Trumpets and Silver Stars Quartet until 1961 when she recruited her children to perform as Maggie and the Ingramettes. 

Throughout her tumultuous life, battling a divorce, poverty, and oppression, her reliance on Jesus and gospel music persisted. When Maggie passed away in 2015, her daughter Almeta took over the group and kept the voices of her family alive. Take a Look In the Book is the first album produced with Almeta at the head. 

The first of many memories is that of family prayer time. The Family Prayer, the first song on the album, commences with an electrifying keyboard riff followed by excited anticipation for this sacred time of day. The vocals are intense as a consistent chant, “Come on, come on, come on…,” calls listeners to share their enthusiasm. Almeta recalls that her mother would “call us ’round the table Sunday morning, one by one, name by name.” As the first song on the album, it solidifies the album’s purpose: to uplift humanity through the gospel.

The album then transitions to the title track Take a Look in the Book which maintains the feverous gospel performance. With a chorus echoing behind her, Almeta assures listeners that “You’ve got an answer to all of your problems” if you read the Bible. Other songs that highlight the relentless devotion and powerful voices of these strong women include Rock of Ages and Time Is Winding Up

As the tracks continue, dark images of realities for African Americans’ in the twentieth century pierce the gospel fervor. Grandma’s Hands, originally produced by the late Bill Withers, incorporates memories of her own grandmother who “would pick that cotton until her fingers would bleed” in rural Georgia. Another song that allows us a glimpse into Almeta’s life is When Jesus Comes. This song was written with family hardships in mind, specifically the years that followed Maggie’s husband leaving her with five young children to raise. Despite the difficulties, Maggie’s dependence on Christ assures her that “everything will be alright.” 

Perhaps the most powerful songs are those that speak to resilience and glory. I’ve Endured, originally written by Ola Belle Reed, is an eight-minute ballad that parallels the life of Almeta’s mother, Maggie. I imagine Almeta’s emotional voice is inspired by the gratitude she possesses for her mother. The final song on the album, Until I Die, speaks to the family’s devotion and strength that will persist through the hardships of life. 

Coming from someone who doesn’t consider themselves particularly religious, this album still managed to resonate with me. It exemplifies not only that faith is crucial in enduring, but also that music is a powerful means of story telling. 

Listen and buy the album here

Juanita Stein’s 10-track album Snapshot offers a profound take on grief. Produced alongside Ben Hillier, Snapshot processes Stein’s emotions following the unexpected death of her father in 2019. With her brother Joel on the guitar, Evan Jenkins on drums, and Jimi Wheelwright on bass, the talented group comes together to create a remarkable album. 

The bluesy tracks take many twists and turns as Stein leads her listeners down a psychedelic path bursting with folk, rock, and country music. The unique sound pairs well with the exploration of perhaps unanticipated feelings associated with grief. I say unexpected because grieving artists so often center their music on feelings of anger, despair, and loss. While there is no shortage of those emotions in Stein’s album, she also grapples with curiosity, shock, emptiness, confusion, and many other emotions associated with death. The instrumentals echo in the background of the lonely journey Stein takes as she encounters a new world without her father. 

Stein’s sultry voice kicks off the album in 123456 and continues to play a distinctive role throughout all tracks. Her voice works in combination with guttural electric guitars and resonant percussions to create a dream-like sensation. In the reflective LOFT, Stein ruminates on fond memories of childhood and uncovers feelings of nostalgia. In a bluesy voice she croons, “The endless starry skies, vast coastline, the distance between us and the rest of the world….” Feelings of innocence persist through this song, painting the picture of an angelic time in life.

However, songs like Hey Mama and Snapshot shatter this image of perfection. In Hey Mama, Stein addresses both her parents and expresses concern about how grief may be impacting specifically her mother. She shares, “Hey mother I’ve been thinking about your heart. The weight of this boulder drags you down too far…Hey mother, I’ve been thinking about you.” It appears she is battling not only her own grief but that of her loved ones.

The eeriness remains in the title-track Snapshots where she asks: “You are a snapshot of my mind. All I can do is build a frame, assess the memory yet again. I call your name, no one’s there. There’s no spell to ease the pain, only a photograph remains.” She sings not with anger but with a curiosity as she explores a new life without this person who played such an integral role. These feelings are perpetuated by a pulsing guitar and Stein’s luminous “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing”. 

In Lucky, perhaps my favorite song on the album, Stein questions her ability to overcome challenges. Her voice fluctuates from low and steady to high and honeyed. She begs the question: “Do I have the courage and do I have the strength to do everything I can? Start all over again?” The final song, In The End, is more upbeat and optimistic with hearty guitars strumming in the background. Stein still struggles but seems to find some comfort in the shared human experience of grief and loss. 

Juanita Stein is searching for meaning in a time of deep loss. I give her credit for sharing such a deeply personal and salient experience with the world. 

Listen to Snapshot here.

Buy Snapshot here.

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

Arlo McKinley’s soulful album, Die Midwestern, is chock-full of vulnerability and brutal honesty. Released on August 14th and recorded with Oh Boy Records, the 10-track album contains songs reminiscent of indie folk (We Were Alright) and others that are cut and dry country (She’s Always Around). The album highlights McKinley’s versatility, which is also evident in his Post Malone and Rihanna covers! In all, the album can get just about anyone feeling both sentimental and appreciative of good music. 

In 2014, McKinley released his debut album with his band The Lonesome Sound, which turned into nominations for Album of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Best Americana Act from the Cincinnati Music Awards. Since then, McKinley has performed alongside musicians including Tyler Childers, John Moreland, and Jason Isbell. The highly anticipated Die Midwestern speaks volumes about McKinley’s talents. I particularly enjoy the intensely personal look McKinley gives us of his life as he often reflects on his experiences living in Ohio and breaking free from ties there.

Let’s start with the title-track, Die Midwestern. The bluegrass song begins with light-hearted instrumentals – a guitar, violin, and keyboard – just the right ingredients to create a classic country cocktail. The lyrics reflect on McKinley’s rocky relationship with his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. He sings: “I’ve been thinking that I should go, ’cause if I don’t leave now I’ll never leave Ohio.” This song is a great segway into the rest of the album as it introduces the physical place where many songs take place.

The raw and emotional Bag of Pills is a frank reflection of the drug abuse plaguing his home town and impacting both his loved ones and himself. He begs, “Hell Jesus, can you save me? Didn’t think so, guess that you’re busy.” The stark contrast between powerful instrumentals and voice-cracking vocals emulates the rockiness and unsteadiness of drug use. The passion and grief McKinley puts forth in his vocals tells me how close to home this song hits.

Similarly, The Hurtin’s Done shares the harsh realities of mental illness (without glamorizing it, might I add). In chilling lyrics, McKinley sings: “Ghosts that still haunt me, I’ll fight one by one, ‘tiIl the hurting is done.” In so many of his songs, including this one, his voice is paired with simply a guitar, emphasizing the loneliness of the lyrics.

Finally, what is a classic country album without a little heartbreak? Songs like Whatever you Want and Once Again detail the different waves of falling in love. In the slow, violin-based, ballad Whatever You Want McKinley shows his romantic side and admits to being so in love he will do whatever she wants, almost giving himself up. Once Again shares that softness and vulnerability by expressing the simultaneous fear and hope that loving again may bring. Mckinley croons: “My heart is rusted I’ve been broken and I’ve been busted. But if you tell me that I can trust it, maybe this heart can love once again. 

Despite overarching themes of grief, McKinley includes glimmers of hope towards the end. In the final track, Walking Shoes, McKinley sings “I don’t wanna get high anymore, I don’t wanna fight anymore, I don’t wanna settle old scores I just wanna come home.” He appears transformed – ready to mend relationships and better himself, moving onto bigger and better things!  

Listen to and buy the album here

Interviewed by Mae Hunt

In Part Two of Wonk’s interview, we talk about her experience releasing an album in the midst of a pandemic and her new life living and working at a yoga studio in Ecuador. Wonk shares some insight into how she chooses to see the positivity in the midst of difficult times. It’s a deep conversation and emphasizes how she isn’t afraid to dance to the beat of her own drum!

WT: Wonky Tonk TL: Twangrila

TL: So the album was released in April, which was right in the midst of the pandemic. That must have been quite an interesting time to release an album.

WT: It was. And you know, I pitched it in a mystical way, of these numbers that just felt right. So, it was April 24th, and all these round numbers, I think they’re feminine and creative to me. And I was in Ecuador. I was supposed to come home. I had a tour lined up, so big, with the biggest people, Charlie Parr, and the now-deceased Justin Townes Earl. I had Wonky Tonk beers being released and distributed on two different occasions, and CD release parties, and all that stuff.

And then, my plane got canceled, COVID happened. I think it’s interesting with this record, because it fought to be alive, and I fought for it to be alive, and everyone in my life who loved the songs so much, even when I wanted to give up, they would keep it alive. And so, it felt a little bit like, it’s okay that it’s coming in COVID. I surrendered to ego and said: “You know what? We worked to give these songs the best life, and they’re going to live a really long life. It’s okay if they don’t take the world by storm and then are forgotten.” 

I feel like it’s a long con or a slow burn, instead. 

TL: Absolutely. In the midst of quarantine, I know many people felt isolated and down. In a way, the album came at the perfect time for many.

WT: Thank you. You’re such a great listener. (laughter) Thank you for understanding. You have no idea.

TL: I think the same of you, so I appreciate it! How about quarantine? I know you’ve been in Ecuador for nine months now. How have you coped with the cancellation of your tour and being stuck in Ecuador?

WT: A multifaceted, beautiful question. Right before I left for Ecuador, I had created with my friend, Rich. We made a music video for “Wonk On” that explores the five stages of grief. And in that, I embody every stage, which was a very strange experience. COVID has created this thing that has made everything that used to work not work, including our coping mechanisms.

So, after this, I go through the grief, and go through all of the stages, the depression, the anger, all of it. I’ve got that music video that’s now floating around, under the radar, which is fine because I truly believe it’ll reach who it needs to reach in these moments. And now I’m in Ecuador. It’s called Shamanic Arts in Tantra Yoga School. I googled the word and I bought a ticket and I showed up, not even knowing that Ecuador was at the equator.

I’m on a mountain and there’s someone here who is a guitar and instrument donor. He has allowed me to borrow this beautiful, handmade guitar for the last nine months. I’ve just been creating and putting a lot of energy into Patreon. Really, really taking music and Wonking it up in a really big, creative way because I truly believe that music and creation is how you heal. How you remember your heart and how you remember yourself.

I’m getting more intimate with music as it is meant to be rather than getting swept up in all of the business-y stuff that really sort of ruins my heart (laughter). That’s why I’m here in Ecuador, remembering my heart. And Ecuador’s great. 

Four of my planes going home have been canceled, so I’ve just been here. We make all kinds of  mantra videos – yesterday I even posted it. We did a goddess mantra for Shakti, this feminine energy. And then, it was like, “Oh, it’s the full moon. That should be the harvest moon. Let me do a cover of Neil Young ‘Harvest Moon.’” And so, to have these Shakti tantric mantras and then Neil Young next to each other (laughter). That’s a good summary.

TL: Thank you for sharing that. It honestly sounds like a brave decision to go down to Ecuador in the first place. I’m so glad to hear that you’re having such a healing experience and you’re able to get in touch with music in a way that you may not have been able to, had this not happened. 

WT: Exactly. It’s beautiful. It’s because I choose it, you know? I couldn’t choose my record, all of that I’ve paid for and fought for, got released and no one cares because it’s COVID, and then my tour. I always say, “How do I turn the shit into gold?” and without being delusional. I could be caught up on—I mean, I see pictures of the Facebook Memories and I’m like, “Oh, live music. Oh, the road. Oh, I miss all of this.” 

But at the same time, it’s just taking this open space and figuring out something new to do with it. 

TL: Absolutely. And you make it sound so easy, but it is an intentional decision to be able to see the bright side of that situation. I’m curious as to, what is it inside of you that allows you to make those intentional decisions and to not get hung up on the turmoil the pandemic has caused?

WT: (laughter) I can’t believe you’re 24 years old, well-spoken, and beautiful. Just everything.

TL: You’re so nice.

WT: (laughter) You’re awesome. Part of the reason I came to Ecuador was that—I have this app called “Active,” and it’s just a joke of a physical activity sort of thing. It’s what’s got me into yoga. It’s this guy that’s going, “You have survived everything up until now.” And truly, to give yourselves compassion for that, but I have gone through some—you know, everyone has those things in their life, but it was pretty tumultuous. 

And especially in the last three years, I had cervical cancer, and a brush with death engaged to a very scary, dangerous person that I didn’t know was any of that. So, coming out, I am now cancer free.

TL: Congratulations. That’s amazing.

WT: Thank you. It is amazing. I think it took that cancer, and it took this person to really rock my world. I feel like those two moments were really a smack in the face and I started listening. I know I’m this sparkles and love, but it’s not this, “Choose love and light, love is so good,” it’s that love is the hardest thing, like our exploring and our love for ourselves. And so, I had to take responsibility for, “Wow, how did I get in these situations? Because I chose them. Yes, people were bad, but I chose to be here whether I knew it or not.”

And so, I needed to learn how to love myself and to trust myself and others, because this trauma had really rocked everything. 

TL:  I’m trying to soak it in, because one of my last questions was just going to be, I know the Wonky Tonk movement is one of love. I wanted to ask what inspired that movement, but I feel like you just answered that. It sounds really like it wasn’t inspired by something external, but it was inspired within yourself. The idea that it’s a movement of self-love is something so powerful.

WT: Amen. Yes, I think just in summation of putting those two things together, that what I’m learning is that we all have a pilot light inside of ourselves, and it just needs an ignition. I think for a lot of my life, I tried to be other people’s light, being their love, being their heart for themselves, trying to save them when they wouldn’t save themselves, and that beat me down. Now, I’m learning here, and within myself, that I am supposed to take care of my own light so I can be light in someone’s lantern on their path to remember theirs.

I know that sounds all woo, but that’s that self-love. I can’t shine bright and illuminate the darkness for someone else to find their own way if my lantern is just dwindled. 

Something bad happens or something great happens. It all comes through me and I have to play guitar. I always played instruments when I was sad, and it needed to be this coping instead of a release. Now, when I’m sitting here playing things, they start in the darkness and then they turn it into this beautiful light. I just wrote a song about, “What do I do with all this pain?” I went down to lay down the guitar and I felt that I had created the darkness around me. 

I picked it up, put it back in my lap and an entire different song came out, and it was, “What do I do with this?” I feel it and I let it go in this beautiful way that’s not trite at all or contrived. I think that’s what it is, that listening, the self-love is listening to that intuition that we forget about. I could have put that guitar down and been like, “No, F it. I’m in a bad mood and I’m in this painful mood. All my friends are dying. Everyone’s sick,” this and that. 

Instead, it was something in me, just this little, tiny voice said, “No, try one more time. That’s not what we were trying to say.” And then, it came out in this beautiful strength. To listen to ourselves is the biggest love. And that’s what Wonky Tonk is, and what it continues to be in this musical world. 

TL: Absolutely.

WT: That’s why I love my Patreon because it’s a space to reinvent what Wonky Tonk is. Not even reinvent, but reestablish in the world, because music people never got it. Again, that’s self-love, trusting ourselves, to just imagine and play and listen and create and dance and sing and cry and scream. (laughter)

TL: It really does sound like there’s a little bit of magic happening in your movement and in your music-making process. I can tell that the process of creating music for you does serve as an outlet. I can assure you that your songs serve as an outlet for many people, including myself. I’m so grateful for everything that you are, and everything that you create and how you are so free-spirited and such an individual in a world that sometimes doesn’t necessarily reward that kind of individualism. 

WT: Yes, girl. (laughter)

TL: (laughter) So, thank you is what I’m trying to get at. Thank you. I appreciate it. 

WT: And thank you, because it really is, it takes one to know one. I know that’s such a phrase, but a lot of people, it takes somebody to be—if it’s not already in your language, you can’t hear what I’m trying to say or what I’m moving through, and you are there, girl. You are a match. I am so grateful that you even just exist, let alone that we get to talk. 

TL: (laughter) I feel the same. I feel the very same, so thank you. It’s been such a pleasure. I’m going to close off with the questions and stop the recording, and then we can sign off after that. Thank you so much.

Interviewed by Mae Hunt

Wonky Tonk is more than just music – she is a movement. In this long and heartfelt conversation, Wonk discusses not only her latest album, Lesson and Lovers, but she also details her music-making process, her life in Ecuador, and her latest projects (see her WONK ON video here. Read Part One of the Interview for an authentic and easy-going dialogue that illuminates Wonk’s compassion and resilience. 

WT: Wonky Tonk TL: Twangrila

Twangrila: I am here with Wonky Tonk who recently released Lessons and Lovers with her band, the High Life. First off, I have to congratulate you on Lessons and Lovers. As you know, as I mentioned, I absolutely loved the album. I think that there is such grit and fearlessness to it.

Wonky Tonk: Thank you, thank you. I love that you like it. (laughter)

TL: (laughter) Before we get into the album, I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got to where you are today. You grew up in northern Kentucky, right?

WT: That is correct. I grew up in Fort Thomas slash Covington, Kentucky. I think how I got to where I am has such a broad answer— (laughter) Yes, grew up in northern Kentucky and always felt very out of place, so travelled and created in trying to make my own space. 

TL: That’s amazing.

WT: Yes, and after all that time, I ended up at the equator. (laughter)

TL: Very far from home. 

WT: (laughter) It’s true.

TL: I also read that you served with AmeriCorps for a couple years, is that true?

WT: Oh wow, I love that you know these things. It is true. I graduated college and didn’t know what to do, so I joined AmeriCorps, this Montana Conservation Corp and I went to Montana. We would pack horses 20, 30 miles into parks in Wyoming and North Dakota and Montana. And we would build and maintain trails. And then, I came home, and I joined one in Cincinnati called Children Hunger Alliance, where we went into low-income neighborhoods and taught health and P.E. in after school programs.

TL: That’s great. I also served with AmeriCorps for a year after graduating, so I had to give them a shoutout. I think it’s definitely an important experience, so I wanted to bring that up in this conversation. 

WT: I love that. Maybe we can talk about that later because I’d love to hear about your experience.

TL: Absolutely. It was an integral experience for me, so I love to chat about it.

WT: Beautiful, I can’t wait to listen. (laughter)

TL: Great. So, getting back to the album, one thing that really struck me about it was the lyrics, and how raw and powerful they are. It’s just so clear to me when listening that they were written with such strong emotion. I’m wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on what the songwriting process looks like for you.

WT: Oh, my goodness. I always say one of my favorite songwriters is named Guy Clark. He has a song slash record, and there’s a lyric in it that says, “Some days you write the song, some days the song writes you,” and part of the reason I’m in Ecuador is, I’m quite a mystical person (laughter). I love magic and glitter and imagination. I really feel, I don’t think about a song, I don’t write it. I’m just in service to the song. I know this is kind of grotesque, but I always think about when you know you have to go to the bathroom. It’s like, “Oh, got to go to the bathroom. Have to find a bathroom. This is going to happen.” 

So, it’s at any moment that happens with a song, and it’s not that it’s inspired by anything or I’ve got a melody, nothing. It just drops from the heavens and it’s inside my brain. If I don’t do something with it, it’ll go away, and it’ll find someone else who will do something with it. So, I always keep my voice memos handy. People don’t like it too much and think I’m unprofessional, but I don’t like to edit them so much, because often a whole song falls out, and then I have to listen to the voice memo to learn the song that just came through me. Does that make sense?

TL: It does! I think it’s a powerful process, and being on the other end of it, as a listener, it’s very evident to me that the songs are so created based on strong emotion. 

WT: Yes, thank you. Again, with the Guy Clark quote, especially with records and songs, people always talk about songs being their babies. One of the things with this, I’m always like, “These songs chose me, and I need to give them their best life.” It’s not so much—aside from “Everyone’s got a Brian,” sometimes when someone makes me mad, I have to just take anger and create something else out of it, but the rest of the time, it’s more like, “Oh, these songs need the best life. How will the world hear them in the way they want to be presented?” not, “What do I want to say?” or “What do I want someone to understand?” 

It’s kind of like being of service to them and letting them speak.

TL: Absolutely. It’s so funny that you mention “Everyone’s Got a Brian,” because I did have that as a question later on. I’m very curious, if you feel comfortable sharing, what your inspiration was for that song. I feel like that song in particular’s got to have someone or something behind it.

WT: (laughter) There’s a lot going on in the world. There’s a lot of -isms going on in the world, and when I would tour, I encountered many mean sounding men. One telling me there’s nothing he can do to fix my voice, another telling me, “Honey, that’s not an amp, that’s a monitor so don’t touch anything but your guitar now, okay?” Like really condescending. 

And this particular fellow was at Fountain Square and my whole band was there. He was such a jerk face that it made the whole entire crowd at Fountain Square uncomfortable. We continued to talk about him for many band practices. It was just this joke slash release. Eventually, it became this song we loved to play the most, and I said, “You know what? This isn’t very Wonky Tonk in total understanding, but like, let’s just play it live.” Now, people when we finish playing, they’ll all scream, “Yeah, F that guy.” (laughter)

TL: It is an anthem. 

WT: It is. It’s so much fun. And it’s really fun to create something from anger, right? You can really stew in it or whatever else. I don’t want to repeat the song and re-experience the anger, because that’s just poison in my body. So, how do I turn the anger into something that is like an anthem that is fun and blows off steam? And so, it became this beautiful High Life concoction of that creative rage. 

TL: Absolutely. It’s a productive use of all that rage. I love that song. 

WT: (laughter) Thank you. 

TL: Speaking of your band, the High Life, they sounded amazing in the album as well. What was it like working with them?

WT: Oh my gosh, I love them. I love them, I love them. I always say I finally found some people that spoke Wonk, because I’ve had a lot of beautiful and talented bands, people in my life, but these musicians, we create. It’ll be during any moment where it’ll be like, “Oh.” We look at each other and we just start going off script or doing whatever else, and really just flowing with whatever the feeling is. 

We just kind of bounce the creation off of it. And again, these guys and gals are all there for the sake of the song. So, it was never part of ego or skill. It was always like, “Oh, let’s put this piano in there. I hear it. I hear it. I hear it.” And so, they put it in, and we just dance. It was such a beautiful, drama-free, organic dance and creation. I can’t say enough about how much I love all of them.

TL: That sounds like an amazing experience. They sound like great people.

WT: That is a fact, yes. (laughter)

TL: Can you walk me a little bit through the recording process, where you recorded, how long it took, anything else about it? I know it happened pre-COVID, so it probably feels like ages ago.

WT: (laughter) Right? A whole other world. Certainly. We started recording up in Akron with an old, so I thought, friend of mine and awesome musician and recorded the majority of the base of everything. We laid down all of the tracks live. But then, this guy decided to take all the tracks, take my money, and never gave me anything. (laughter) Eventually, there was this beautiful, beautiful human being who saved my butt many a time. His name is John Hoffman, and he picked up the pieces when I finally got a hard drive of things. 

And we recorded a little bit at Ultra Suede Studios, but then Ultra Suede got shut down. Then, we recorded a little bit in a basement somewhere, and then we recorded in a storage space, (laughter) and we had to convert all these file types, and I had to call in somebody else to do this. The logistics of that were painful, but the recording process was beautiful. Oh yes, and we recorded at the Lodge in Dayton, Kentucky. It just moved everywhere, just because sometimes, like in “Brian,” sometimes people can’t be people. 

But John Hoffman saved my butt. We moved from space to space to space, creating and putting back together the pieces. The actual recording of it and the painting of those things was beautiful. Lessons, for example, we had finished recording a lot of the overdubs, like the piano and the extra, beautiful glitter parts. I remember going like, “This record, it’s not done yet.” I said, “John, can I go home and write the final song, come back and we’ll try it out?” 

Again, I only had one chorus. We sat there and we just recorded the next day. I made it up, and we captured that moment, and then High Life added all the sparkles. It was  this organic process, even through all that turmoil. So, that’s a very long answer because there are two sides to it, right? The logistics in this side, and then the actual creation. So, sorry I ranted.

TL: It sounds like it was a bit of a roller coaster, but it ended up all coming together, which is great.

WT: Yes. It fought to live.

Part Two of the Interview is coming soon.

Read Twangri-La’s review of Lessons and Lovers here

Listen and buy Lessons and Lovers here

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

I imagine Zephaniah OHora has an enchanting ability to sooth a roaring crowd using just his voice. Each track in his new album, Listening to the Music, is calm and steady, filled with a tenderness and humility that is rare in music today. Though controlled, the album manages to keep listeners on their toes with the inclusion of upbeat songs bursting with steel pedal guitars, fiddles, and even some much appreciated piano. 

Originally from New Hampshire, OHora was introduced to music through his congregation’s worship group.  It wasn’t until his mid-20s, after relocating to Brooklyn, NY, when he began pursuing music professionally after performing regularly at a classic country bar, Skinny Dennis. Since then, OHora has proved that you don’t need to be a native Southerner to create classic country music. Listening to the Music was created in tandem with the late Neal Casal, whom OHora hopes is remembered through his outstanding work on the album. 

The twelve tracks are kicked off with Heaven’s On the Way, a song about appreciating daily life and enjoying the moment. Full of country twang, this happy-go-lucky song also features John Graboff on the pedal steel guitar. OHora sings, “We’re not worried about tomorrow, what’s comin’ around the bend. We’ll map it out together and raise hell along the way.” 

Though the album starts off on a happy note, it certainly doesn’t stay that way. Black and Blue, for example, is about a romance-gone-wrong, layered with guitar riffs and colorful keys. Similarly, It’s Not So Easy Today tells the class tale of trying to overcome a bad heartbreak. The electric guitar wails in the background as OHora cries, “I’ve had time to see it my way. It’s not so easy today.” 

All American Singer interrupts a slew of sad songs with its friendly optimism. Inspired by O’Hora’s own self-reflection in the wake of national political and social unrest, this song focuses on tolerance and equality. OHora says: “When it comes to crime and equal pay I think it’s time to find a better way. I’ll stand up for democracy, I’m proud to be an All American singer.” 

Finding peace through O’Hora’s identity as a musician returns in the album’s feature track, Listening to the Music. The combination of OHora’s soft voice and easy-going acoustics allows listeners to get lost in the song. When he sings, “Sends a shiver down my spine, I felt the great divine, listening to the music once again,” I can feel that shiver down my spine! 

The album’s final track, Time Won’t Take Its Time, seems to relay an acceptance with his own life. O’Hora explains how “30 is turning to 40” and that many of his plans have not yet come to fruition. Though a lot of his previous songs are focused on romance, he admits to finding peace in traveling through life “single and free.” He even graces us with a brief but impressive yodel to close out the track!

The album includes a range of emotions, from the palpable excitement in Riding That Train to the painful When I’ve No More Tears to Cry. Ultimately, OHora seems to suggest that we can find peace and solitude through good music. This quote from Listening to the Music says it all:  “An old time country song comes on and I forgot my troubles listening to the music again.”

Listen to and buy the album here.

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

If it’s one thing I’ve learned about Margo Price, it’s that she is not afraid to swim against the current. This American country singer-songwriter has found huge success, but not without turning some heads. After the success of her first two albums, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and All American Made, Price was encouraged to ride out that success by signing with a large record label and by collaborating with popular artists. She, however, decided to take a different path and pave her own road to fame. 

Her autonomy and riskiness is evident on her latest release, That’s How Rumors Get Started. This 10-track album, signed with the indie label Loma Vista, takes musical risks that cultivate an album largely (but not entirely) defined by classic rock. The upbeat album is an instrumental powerhouse.

Price finds a lyrical balance between highly personal and widely relatable. While many songs refer to individualized experiences, such as her personal challenges with fame (Twinkle Twinkle), others refer to classic themes, such as falling out of love (What Happened to Our Love?). Twinkle Twinkle stands out on the album as the closest to hard rock that Price offers listeners. With a powerful electric guitar that drives the song, Price discusses how she coped with her transition from childhood into fame:  “If it don’t break you it might just make you rich. You might not get there and on the way it’s a bitch.”

Similarly, Stone Me toys with the idea of nostalgia in childhood and the difficulties of adulthood. This slow-paced song reminds me of the childhood chant: Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me. Price croons about how people try to drag her down with their harsh words. She says: “Through the mud and rain you can drag my name. You can say I’ve spent my life in vain. But I won’t be ashamed of what I am.” The sweetness in her voice as she sings suggests that she is taking the higher road and moving forward with her life unapologetically.

The title-track, That’s How Rumors Get Started, accurately defines this album’s overarching message. This powerful song summarizes exactly what Price is trying to get across with this album: be yourself despite what others may think. Clearly, her past challenges in the music industry have motivated and inspired Price to create this edgy album. 

Price’s carefree attitude is evident in her personal life as well, as she advocates for certain social and political movements including Black Lives Matter, mask-wearing, and closing the gender wage gap. I stumbled across one quote in a Rolling Stone review that stood out to me: “There’s countless things I’ve said that definitely cost me record sales. But you have to stand up for what you believe. When people say, ‘You’re not going to be the Dixie Chicks’ – I hate the analogy. I never was trying to be the Dixie Chicks. I’m trying to be Neil Young, motherfuckers.”

Margo Price, you are doing a fantastic job! Ultimately, this album is worth listening to not only for the musical edginess but also for the self-empowerment you will inevitably feel after listening. 

Listen to and buy the album here

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

Listening to Jason Isbell’s Reunions will inevitably leave you feeling nostalgic, but with an urge to rock out nonetheless. Backed by his band, the 400 Unit, the 10-track album mirrors Isbell’s own personal challenges while providing listeners with meticulously produced country rock music. Isbell has won four Grammys (out of four nominations!) and two UK Americana awards (out of two nominations!) – so the success of Reunions does not surprise me. Nonetheless, the Alabama singer has struck gold yet again on his seventh album. 

Let’s begin with the opening track: What’ve I Done to Help? Reflecting on our current political and social turmoil, Isbell engages in self reflection and questions his individual impact on society. The nearly seven minute song is guided by a heavy base and states: “Now the world’s on fire and we just climb higher, ’til we’re no longer bothered by smoke and sound. Good people suffer and the heart gets tougher.” This song sets the tone for the following tracks, most of which stems from self-reflection and the desire to contemplate past turmoils. 

For example, It Gets Easier is directly tied to Isbell’s own battle with alcoholism. In this song, Isbell wisely advises a fellow alcoholic that although it gets easier, it never becomes easy. In a profound verse, he sings: “Last night I dreamed that I’d been drinking. Same dream I have ’bout twice a week. I had one glass of wine, I woke up feeling fine, and that’s how I knew it was a dream.” 

Similarly, St. Peters Autograph was written for his spouse, Amanda Shires, when she was grieving the loss of a friend. This song, perhaps the most sentimental and emotional on the album, is a testament to not only Isbell’s prolific songwriting skills but his ability to pour his heart into his music. The softness of this song, Isbell’s tender voice, and the quiet instrumentals coalesce to create a truly moving piece of music.

In contrast to the intimacy of St. Peters Autograph, Overseas is a roaring rock song with bluesy undertones, combining guitar, fiddles, and synths. Also written in relation to his spouse, Amanda Shires, Isbell shares the devastation and heartbreak that comes with long-distance. Written at the time when Isbell and Shires (also a singer-songwriter) were touring separately, this is yet another powerful song that tugs on the heart-strings. 

Other songs I can’t neglect to mention include the crowd-favorite Dreamsicle, which details sad memories of childhood and left me feeling nostalgic, and Letting You Go, the album finale that follows Isbell’s determination to put his daughter’s needs before his own. The common theme strung throughout the album is perhaps Isbell’s ability to make his own personal experiences relatable, while invoking a strong sense of emotion in his listeners.

Finally, I will leave you with arguably the most nourishing and hopeful song on the album, River. In a metaphoric act, Isbell uses the river to wash away his sins, choosing forgiveness over anger. With piano in the background, Isbell sings: “River, here’s my secrets. Things I cannot tell a soul, like the children that I’ve orphaned and the fortune that I’ve stole.” It is almost baptismal, as though he comes clean after fully admitting his sins. This song is the crux of the album, as each track offers an honest look into Isbell’s life, the pain and the pleasure, with the ultimate goal of forgiveness and acceptance. It’s as though his lyrical transparency has set him free of his past, allowing him to walk confidently towards whatever his future has in store

Listen to and buy Reunions here.