The Country Throwdown Tour wraps up in a few weeks. By all accounts it has been a success, drawing large crowds and little, if any, controversy. We caught up with Emily West, Heidi Newfield, Sean Patrick McGraw, Sarah Buxton & Jedd Hughes while they were on tour to get inside their heads.
In January 2010, West released a duet with labelmate Keith Urban titled "Blue Sky." She's a singer-songwriter who appeared in the April 18 episode of Celebrity Apprentice as the "music make-over" target for the women's team lead by Cyndi Lauper. Lauper won the challenge, and as a result West donated 100 percent of the first month of iTunes sales of her song "Blue Sky" to the Stonewall Community Foundation, Lauper’s charity.
CB: I recently saw you on Celebrity Apprentice, my first exposure to Emily West. I just wanted to ask you about your experience there and how it helped you?
EW: It really did help me. A lot of people who would never have known me were able to see me because of that show. There are a lot of cool ways to get my music out there on the internet, but MySpace and Twitter only go so far. To be on a national TV show was invaluable. Cindy Lauper and I are text buddies. She is hilariously funny and gives me tons of advice. Sharon Osbourne was there as well and it was amazing to work with the legends. It was a cool idea that Capital Records and my management team came up with and really got some great exposure.
CB: I know you write a lot of your own music and songs. What is your process for that?
EW: You know it changes. My spirit gets a little de-juiced. There are ups and downs to everyone here on the tour when you don’t feel like writing. I don’t remember writing half my songs. I was on a quantity vs. quality kick for awhile. Everyone talks about writing that hit and what is a hit these days? You think about it too much and it is a lot of pressure where you are almost afraid to write. I cannot work like that. My mouth always say crazy things and banter. I just try to write things down on the iPhone.
I usually get with some really great writers and try to banter it out with them. I am on a singer songwriter bus with 12 egos which is awesome. We are always singing. It is freakin crazy over there and sometimes I just want to get some beauty sleep. Ha ha.
CB: You are on the tour all summer. What bands are you most excited to see each night?
EW: Every night, I try to see Ryan Bingham. I just saw his set and I am a huge fan of his. I see Jamey Johnson and Little Big Town every night. Last week I was onstage with Jamey and his band singing “Crazy.” The Grove is actually my band that I am borrowing from Jonathan Singleton and the Grove. They are all unbelievable. Every act is amazing and I basically just walk around and see everyone here and stalk them. I enjoy the camaraderie of it all.
CB: Do you live in Nashville now?
EW: Yes, I’ve lived there for 10 years.
CB: Were you affected by the flood?
EW: No, I wasn’t. I was two blocks away. It is crazy to see with drywall, couches everywhere in the street.
CB: I am from Clarksville and many of my friend’s businesses are gone. Things that have never flooded in 100 years are gone.
EW: It is crazy that there is not much press coverage on it. I know there are natural disasters going on everywhere, but legendary things are ruined. Guitars are ruined. The good and positive thing about it is the people coming together and helping each other. I helped a friend of mine who was affected. It is amazing to see girls that only usually know how to do their hair are now ripping out drywall and doing repairs. Doing my hair is my only thing and I actually learned some skills.
CB: Who would be your dream collaboration?
EW: I have always wanted to do a duet with Tom Petty. I think Jamey Johnson would also be great. I am always struggling with what Emily I want to create. Where do I want to brand myself. I love old school country. I think we should all chill out and listen to some old school depressing country. To sing with Little Big Town would be amazing since their harmonies are like smooth cashmere silk.
CB: Message to your fans?
EW: That is what twitter is for…I’d like thank the academy and the fans ha-ha…A lot of people go where the fame is. I do this for the music. People tend to follow what is hot so I want to thank the fans and believers who have stood by me from the beginning and supported me.
Heidi Newfield is a country music artist who was lead singer for the group Trick Pony, alongside Keith Burns and Ira Dean from 1996 until 2006, when she left in pursuit of a solo career.
CB: I think I had heard an interview that you had lived with Johnny and June Carter Cash?
HN: I actually never lived with them. Ira Dean, my partner in Trick Pony, was friends with them and he introduced me to them and without him I would never have had the privilege to work and record with John and meet June and spend so much time with them.
CB: They helped a lot of people starting out in Nashville.
HN: If you think about how that entire generation came up, the movies glamorize it, but it was the epitome of not glamour. Johnny always told stories about how they would make more room in the car by duct taping the bass to the roof. Not the bus, not the motor home, but the car. That is how they traveled back then driving themselves to every show in their car. When we started out in Trick Pony, we drove ourselves across the country in a van and a trailer to all the shows for 4.5 years. There is something to be said for paying your dues like that. It makes those of us who have worked really hard to get anywhere really appreciate it and stop bitching. It makes you appreciate the milestones and the history.
CB: It has changed so much in the 10-15 years.
HN: It has, and in some ways it's good because country music has broadened its horizons, but I also appreciate the traditions.
CB: What is your favorite song to perform live on stage?
HN: That’s a hard one. It really depends on your mood at the time or what is happening on stage. There is usually a magical moment on stage. There is a new song on my album coming out this fall called “Textin Texas” that is really fun to sing right now. The other night I sang with Jamey Johnson onstage with an old Waylon tune called “Don’t Think Hank Done it This Way” and it was amazing and like a religious experience on stage. It was like we went to church. “Poor Me” is always a favorite. I think people forget that I sang it so it is usually fun to start the set.
CB: Personal question. I travel 100 percent of the time away from home and I know you are on the road all the time. How do you stay close to your husband? Any tips?
HN: Absolutely: communication. Back in the era of Johnny Cash, there were no cell phones or computers, but with today’s technology there is no excuse not to communicate and get in touch with somebody. Even if it is as impersonal as texting, I take 5 minutes and send a text to my husband and tell him that I am thinking about him before I go on stage. We usually try to talk in the mornings and before we go to bed each night. Communication is key. You have to take the time no matter what and know that nothing is more important than reaching out to that person.
CB: Who would be your dream collaborations?
HN: It’s hard to answer with just one. Bonnie Raitt is one. I have always been a fan of the blues and her history is so cool growing up in a Broadway family and her following the blues from a young age. Her story is similar to mine. I grew up in California listening to Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn and Marty Robbins. Something grabbed me. I started listening to Muddy Waters and Little Walter so I picked up a harmonica. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would be another one. On the country side, I would love to work with Jamey Johnson. Our voices blend well. We’ve talked about it and I dig what he does, so if we found the right song I would love to work with him.
CB: What’s your writing process?
HN: You never stop looking around. It can come from something you read, a line in a movie, or something someone says. I learned the hard way that you will forget even if you think you will never forget the perfect line. You will forget it. I’ve learned to get up and write it down or play it in garage band. I think things just come to you or you hear something that reminds you of something else that brings out a melody..A lot of times if you get an idea for a hook and it has a direction. It may sound bluesy or be a country ballad or be a rocker song. This is also why collaboration is so important because you can throw ideas off each other and they may come up with something that you would not think of or take it into a direction that you may have never gone.
Sean Patrick McGraw (no relaton to Tim in case you’re wondering) is a former Nashville Star semi-finalist who leads a prominent road warrior touring act.
CB: I’ve been listening to your music. My favorite song is “Southern in Your Soul.” Can you tell me the backstory?
Sean Patrick McGraw: I have toured and played all over the world from Bulgaria to all across the U.S. and you can just play the first three chords of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s "Sweet Home Alabama" and there is always someone in the back saying turn it up. It always gets the crowd rowdy. I told a friend one day that it doesn’t matter where you are on God’s green earth when you hear that song you become a redneck. My song just developed from there.
CB: Who was your biggest influence in music?
SM: In country music, Dwight Yokam was my biggest influence and why I came into country. He was my gateway drug into country music. I grew up with my Mom listening to Willie, Kenny Rogers and Patsy Cline. I thought it was old people’s music until Dwight came along. I just started researching and got into Buck Owens, Johnny Cash and Hank Senior. My music doesn’t necessarily sound like them because I have a rock-n-roll background as well, but they were all influences.
CB: When I was listening to your music, I had heard you had Dwight Yokam influence but I didn’t hear it in the music.
SM: That's good because I am really trying to come into my own sound.
CB: Who would be your dream collaboration?
SM: Steven Tyler. Is he out of rehab yet? Or someone like George Jones or Willie. I would also love to have Emmylou Harris sing on something with me.
CB: Who are you most looking forward to seeing tonight?
SM: Even though I have been on tour with him for 15 shows, I am still looking forward to seeing Eric Church tonight. I also just saw Montgomery Gentry at the ACM awards and they threw it down so I am looking forward to seeing them.
CB: You’ve been on tour with Toby Keith and Trace Adkins. What is your funniest tour story?
SM: Well, I got lost in the desert trying to ride motorcycles with Toby. I rode out of Sturgis with him and it was my third day ever on a motorcycle. Toby has been a hardcore biker for a long time with his friends and there is no speed limit out in the desert, so they left me. I tried to keep up, but they lost me in the desert.
CB: Great initation from the group.
SM: I found my way back and the next day they said they didn’t mean to leave me, ha ha.
CB: Any message to the fans?
SM: New record and new video coming out that I want everyone to check out. Thanks for everyone’s love and support.
Singer songwriter duo Sarah Buxton and Australian-born Jedd Hughes say they're enjoying their time on tour as part of the Blue Bird Café Singer Songwriter tent. We were able to catch their set on the main stage and in the Blue Bird Singer Songwriter tent and became an instant fan. Jedd’s guitar playing and vocals are a perfect compliment to Sarah’s sultry voice.
CB: One of the things I'm interested in since you guys are a singer songwriter duo is your writing process. How do you come up with the songs?
Sarah Buxton: We both have our own ways.
Jedd Hughes: It’s never the same. Sometimes it is just an idea for a title or an idea for guitar groove and we put it together.
SB: It's a lot like cooking. There are millions of ways to make a pizza or spaghetti and a million recipes to get there.
Hughes: Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere like magazines or someone will say something and you think wow we need to use that line.
CB: Do you write it down immediately.
SB: Now we save it in the phone. The phone has taken over.
CB: Who is your dream collaboration?
JH: Sarah Buxton
SB: Jedd Hughes. Wait. We're already doing it.
CB: How did you guys meet and start working together?
SB: Jedd was doing a record with my fiance at my fiance’s house and he asked me to come in and sing a harmony on one of his tracks. It was 4 years ago. At that point we both had record deals so we just did shows around town together. After a while we didn’t care if we had deals and the record label went away and now we are totally free.
CB: What is your favorite song to perform live?
Both: "Endless Summer."
CB: Who are you most excited to see play each night?
Both: Jamey Johnson, Jack Ingram, Little Big Town. We have a lot of friends on the tour and just wander around to see our friends play and get to sing with them. It is an awesome summer.
CB: Have you been affected by the flood in Nashville?
Buxton: Not personally, we had friends who lost everything. We are playing a lot of benefits around town. A lot of disasters going on right now and people are just going to have to smile on their brother and help one another out.
CB: Any message to the fans?
Both: Just thank you for staying with us. We have waited a long time to get something going and we have had loyal fans all along the way.