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May 23, 2023

Photo: Max Wanger


Contemporary chamber ensemble yMusic have backed up GRAMMY winners from Paul Simon to John Legend and St. Vincent. On their eponymous new LP, they reveal themselves to be a self-contained universe.

Over the course of a decade and a half, yMusic have pointed their arrow toward collaborators, happy to exist chiefly as facilitators and augmenters — until Paul Simon had something to say about it.

"Every time we'd work with songwriters and bands, they'd say 'So, when are you guys going to write your own stuff?'" the chamber group's violist, Nadia Sirota, recalls to "And we'd be like, 'Oh no, what are you talking about?'"

If you know classical, you'll know this is par for the course. But when yMusic appeared with Simon on his 2018 album of reimagined deep cuts, In the Blue Light, "He was like, 'You guys have to figure out what your voice is as an ensemble yourself,'" Sirota says. "We took him seriously."

With that encouragement from the 16-time GRAMMY winner under their belts, yMusic partitioned time in their rehearsal schedule for writing — and that built a bridge to their autonomous, eponymous new album of originals, which arrived May 5.

YMUSIC places the young sextet — Sirota, flutist/vocalist Alex Sopp, clarinetist Hideaki Aomori, trumpeter CJ Camerieri, violinist Rob Moose, and cellist Gabriel Cabezas — within a concise framework, emphasizing each composition's innate singability and dramatic arc.

"One organizing principle that we kept coming back to was the idea of song form, because that almost felt foreign to our body of work in a cool way," Moose, who has won two golden gramophones, tells "But also, because we've collaborated with songwriters so much, it felt at home to us."

As you absorb YMUSIC's multivalent highlights like "Zebras," "Three Elephants" and "Cloud," read on for an interview with Sirota and Moose about the group's 15-year creative journey, what they bring to the table for singer/songwriters and how this consolidative work came to be.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The press release for YMUSIC says it finds "the group focused on discovering an artistic voice all their own."

Nadia Sirota: A really important thing to know about the group is that we've been around for 15 years, but every single thing that we've done prior to the album has been a collaboration with another artist.

We have worked with a ton of amazing composers, bands and songwriters, and it's been a joy and a pleasure to work with all those people, but we had never created any original music until we started the process that resulted in this album.

So, it's been really amazing to double down on the creativity within the group. We've always been pretty hands-on in our collaborations with other people — and certainly super-opinionated, and very into editing and honing and re-orchestrating.

The whole time, we had a very creatorly hand, I think, on these collaborations, but we've never really made music ourselves — so that's what this is about.

Was this by design over the past 15 years? To augment other musicians?

Sirota: Yeah, and I think a lot of it, honestly, comes from the fact that we all come from a pretty classical background despite where we ended up in the world. In the classical-music world, it's more common than not that you are either a composer or a performer.

There are some people who do both things in an explicit way, but if you're training as a performer, you're training as an interpreter…. who's working on Brahms and Beethoven and Rebecca Clarke and all that stuff.

Even if you're doing new music, you're working with composers. We took that as we became a young new music ensemble, like so many other new music ensembles.

Rob Moose: I feel like our origin story — our mission from the beginning — was about empowerment.

We were active as freelance performers equally in new classical or classical music, but also in working with songwriters and bands. We had a lot of respect for the groups we were working with outside of classical music, and felt like they were being underrepresented in who was performing their music — or even how they were looking at their collaborative work.

So, I think built into the group's DNA was this idea of helping to — not elevate by our presence, but just lift up these people who were doing great work and give the best possible presentation to it.

We were always interested in underdogs, in a sense, and it just took us a long time to look at ourselves in the same way: Can we help our own voices get out there?

I think we realized that we've been in training for this moment all those years and we're really excited to step into this new role.

Sirota: Another angle of this is that these pieces have really been written collaboratively. It's not like one of us came with a whole bunch of ideas and doled out parts and figured it out.

In the very earliest phases of this, the six of us would get into a room with nothing and just try to create something — and six people is a lot of people to be in that creative space. I think we were all just delighted at how well it worked.

Then the pandemic hit. Everyone had to go our separate ways, but because we had forged this way of working together, we were able to keep that up over digital spaces and figure out how to collaboratively write and hone and record all this stuff.

I'm most intimately aware of your work on Okkervil River's Away and Paul Simon's In the Blue Light, although I've heard yMusic in any number of other contexts. How do you tailor your approach and methodology to each artist you work with?

Moose: I think each collaborator we've worked with has really set a tone for the way in which we'll approach the results we're looking for.

Ben Folds and Bruce Hornsby were two really important people for us that helped us get off the page and encouraged us to do the homework and create the parts — but also find freedom in live shows, or in recording studios, to create in a less conventional way for us.

Paul Simon did too, but also, he was the most meticulous about editing and refining the ideas. Which makes sense, because if you look at his work — his words, the stories, the structures of what he's created, the interaction with different styles and cultures of music — I think thoroughness is something you would never imagine would be a missing ingredient there. I feel in some ways, he pushed us to be in the moment, but also be the most under the microscope.

I think our group always approaches collaborations the same way: with great seriousness and joy and admiration for who we're working with. We take cues from the people we're working with about what's going to work best for them, as well as their audience.

Sirota: We've learned to be adaptable to all different processes, whether it's from audio first or chords first or written notation or just a vibe.

Sometimes, when I'm trying to create something alone, I get mired in my critical brain and it's really hard to work. I think the cool thing about the systems yMusic has built to work with is that they don't start from a critical place — although we get super-critical.

Moose: Being there's so many people in the group, one of the benefits is that we're still able to observe each other and pull ideas out of each other like those collaborators did for us.

A lot of pieces of music that we composed for the record started with almost eavesdropping on our neighbors as they were warming up, like: "What was that sound you just made? What is that technique that you're doing?" We would be able to shine a light on somebody else's idea that they might consider completely insignificant and perfunctory, not the basis of a composition.

To be able to bear witness to that and encourage it, that's something we learned from our collaborators; they helped us see that in ourselves, and I think we also helped them find things in that way. So, we've been really excited to keep that as part of our process.

As the violist and violinist in yMusic, how would you two characterize your interplay and function as cogs in the musical machine — both between you two and the ensemble as a whole?

Sirota: I feel like there's definitely a certain amount of rhythm viola that I sometimes play in the group. There are our most obvious functions, and then our auxiliary functions.

In the group, the only tools we have as a bassline are the cello and bass clarinet, really. So, there are ways in which those guys really end up functioning that way, and then sometimes, we totally subvert that.The broadest spectrum of the group is piccolo to bass clarinet, kind of. Sometimes, we use that spread to kick it up a little bit. If we want to add some energy, we'll either pull something up or pull something down in a really nice way.

Being a violist is a funny thing, because you're always adding butter to the sauce. You're not necessarily the main thought of it, there's a way in which you can really add an unctuousness to the sound. Usually, I'm just trying to add a little bit of texture and excitement.

Sometimes, Rob and I are in the stratosphere doing light disco string lines or whatever. There's all sorts of flexibility in the way that this group works. Sometimes, we throw viola over to the wind side and have flute and violin do string things. There are really so many different options with the group.

I don't know if you know this, but the [template of] instrumentation that we have hasn't existed before. So, we have had the great luxury of trying to figure out every single thing that it can do, and there's some neat stuff.

Sometimes, the cello is up in the violin and viola range, too, so we have this crazy high-string section for the violin section, but made up of things that are in that register, with timbres that are slightly more exciting, in my mind.

Moose: I think, in some ways, the role that you have, Nadia, is maybe the most diverse in the group.

With cello, you can form that core low-string, warmth, support thing. Then, some of my favorite combinations are when we pair bass clarinet with viola and horn for that warm triadic lifestyle. Then, like you pointed out, you'll be doing high stuff in octaves or unison with me.

Sometimes, two or three of us can represent what the guitar or piano would do. I do love being on this bright team, sometimes, with trumpet and flute. Part of my journey has been to learn how to attempt to mimic the way their notes end, which is so abrupt compared to the way our notes end.

yMusic. Photo: Max Wanger

What were the core ideas that dictated the framework of YMUSIC?

Moose: We didn't start with an intention to write a record, necessarily. It was more of a commitment to figure out what would happen if the six of us, 13 years into our journey, decided to collaboratively compose in real time with no cheat sheets, no prep, no collaborators.

Sirota: Anything can inspire the beginning of something, and then the material itself dictates where it ends up having to go. Oftentimes, we set out to do something that was not where we ended up, but it brought us somewhere else that was really cool. I think that's the nature of writing.

YMUSIC really breathes as a listening experience; it's sequenced rather well, in my opinion, and the drama seems to expand and retract.

Sirota: That was certainly the goal, and I will say we had a lot of material for this album. Pulling it together in a way that felt both exciting and kind to the listener was the goal.

The thing about the six of us is we can get in this hyper twin-language thing where we keep wanting to gild the lily, and keep on wanting to work. We could probably obsessively rewrite every single one of these songs until we die, if we wanted to.

Moose: We have pieces in there that felt like anchors that you want to arrive at in different moments, like "Baragon," "The Wolf" and "Three Elephants" — the structural beams that are [tracks] one, four and seven.

I think it felt important to end with the piece "Cloud" — the last piece that we worked together on in the room before the pandemic started. The idea of that piece was to try to introduce something positive and soothing and nurturing in a moment of uncertainty.

Sirota: Interestingly, "Baragon" is one of the most recent things that we wrote. So, we bookended the album with these two works that were important for us in the process of writing, and figured out a way to get from point A to point B.

As 2023 rolls on, what's in the works for yMusic, and what would you like to eventually do?

Moose: We got to play the entire record for the first time at Carnegie Hall in January, which was really exciting.

I know we're really looking forward to presenting the work more — especially the concert that we did — the first half being music we composed, and then the second half being two premieres from two composers that we really admire.

I think it's important] to hear our work alongside work like that, and not separate them and be like, We did that before, we're doing this now, but be like, All of these things are who we are.

Sirota: We've got some upcoming collaborations we can't quite talk about yet. So, there's the stuff on the songwriter side that will be percolating.

The stuff on the composer side that we can talk about is: we're excited to record this brand-new major work by Andrew Norman soon, and a new piece by Gabriela Smith coming in the next season or so. Alongside this, we're going to carve out more time to write more stuff.

A neat thing about this group, which has always been true, is it's not the only thing that any one of us is supposed to do. We have always treated it like an extremely important part of our lives, but we all also do other creative things, and they're not all in the same realm at all.

So, I feel like a nice thing is that when we do come together, we're always coming with a fresh perspective.

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58th GRAMMY nominees Brittany Howard, Shawn Everett, Blake Mills, and others tell the inside story of the Album Of The Year-nominated Sound & Color

Alabama Shakes' Boys & Girls was among the most soulful and celebrated debuts of 2012, yet few anticipated the degree to which frontwoman Brittany Howard and her Southern cohorts would up the ante on Sound & Color. The band's evolution earned four 58th GRAMMY nominations, including Album Of The Year and Best Alternative Music Album.

With a spacious and evocative sound that defies genre barriers, Alabama Shakes' Sound & Color was written and recorded over the course of a year, during which time Howard would hole up in her basement with a stash of granola bars for 12-hour songwriting marathons. Most of the songs were recorded during four two-week sessions at Sound Emporium in Nashville, Tenn., followed by a final recording and mixing session at Ocean Way Recording in Los Angeles. The process included recording furnace vibrations, therapeutic coloring books and escaping into a world of one's own creativity.

Following, Howard and other key participants behind the chart-topping collection give the inside story of Alabama Shakes' Sound & Color.

Brittany Howard (artist/co-producer): Instead of saying this record is really, really different, I would just say it's more evolved. Recording a Boys & Girls Part 2 would have been really boring for me. We'd had plenty of time to learn more, to learn different types of music, and of course our tastes are always growing. So this record was half looking forward and half looking back. It was like, "I've always wanted to do this. I've always wanted a vibraphone, I've always wanted to arrange a string section." But I can only play a few instruments, so when I was doing a demo for a song like "Gemini," everything was on keyboards. And then we'd go into the studio and have to figure out how to map that across the band.

Shawn Everett (engineer/mixer): I always loved "Gemini" a lot. In the initial demo Brittany had this insane digital harmony on her voice and it made her sound like a god. She already sounds like a god, so it was like a god times two. We tried to approximate that effect in our version as well. I also love the crazy guitar that keeps appearing out of nowhere on that song.

Blake Mills (co-producer): Generally the band felt that their wide range of influences weren't necessarily making their way into their own music. Their sound previous to this record felt like an attempt to capture the live sound of the band, like you might approach recording an orchestra. Many of the records they love don't sound like a recording of an artist's rehearsal, but rather an attempt to transport their listeners to a world of their own making.

Howard: I was definitely making it up as I went along. I was like, "OK, there's four days before we go into the studio. How many songs do I have ready?" Sometimes it'd be two and sometimes it'd be none. And that's when I'd go down to my basement and just keep writing songs without taking a break. I've worked on [my basement] a lot, but there's still a bat that lives in there, and there's a little mouse family. So I wasn't lonely.

Rob Moose (string arranger): The main challenge we faced was to not make [the album] feel like "Alabama Shakes plus strings." The idea was certainly not to have bells and whistles, or something that just sounds expensive, or even to play a huge role in the emotional expression of the record, as strings can do. It was really "detail work" that we wanted to do, and I'm proud of some of the touches, especially the ones that most listeners wouldn't know are strings.

Everett: In addition to Rob Moose's incredible string parts, there are several moments in which you think you're hearing strings but it's actually furnace vibrations or other strange acoustic sounds rattling. The individual frequencies have been melted and distorted into sounding like a string section or some other otherworldly texture.

Howard: When you're in the studio, you might be listening to someone hit a snare drum for about an hour and a half. So while that's going on, we're doing coloring books — you know, adult coloring books, not children's coloring, not The Lion King — and we're doing art, and we'll sit in the lounge writing country songs. And sometimes, before the session would start, we'd go in there and record country songs. Then Blake would come in and we'd be, "OK, back to work!"

Mario Hugo (art designer/video producer): The label had me come in and listen to the new music, and I was taken by it right away. It was very visual, enigmatic and spacey, but also honest and raw. And challenging as well. I listened to the final mixes through the entire design process, which is exceedingly rare. I can say that Sound & Color was, musically, one of my favorite albums to work on.

Mills: I think it's very unusual these days to find a majorly successful band who can be this fearless in challenging their audience. We dumbed nothing down, no one seemed to second guess their convictions and their fans have really stepped up to the plate and supported that bravery.

Moose: The band had some friends visiting the studio and they cooked a southern feast, which was actually amazing. I've never seen home-cooked food in the studio, and the vibe that day kind of summed up the soulful, down-to-earth qualities of the band for me.

Howard: We're just a normal group of people who believe in writing and making something. And honestly, it was truly from a point of having fun. It wasn't to get famous or anything like that. We wanted to play gigs, that was our goal, but we didn't have anywhere to gig. So it's crazy now that we're nominated for [an Album Of The Year] GRAMMY. It's remarkable and really divine, I think. But we also worked really, really hard to get here. And I won't let something like this make me relax.

Bill Forman is a writer and music editor for the Colorado Springs Independent and the former publications director for The Recording Academy.

Tune in to the 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS.

Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images


As 80,000 country music fans take over Nashville from June 8-11, genre legends, hitmakers and newcomers celebrate CMA Fest's 50th anniversary by revisiting their favorite moments from on and off stage.

​​It's where fans were once caught in the crossfire of a silly string war between Tracy Lawrence and Kenny Chesney. It's where Garth Brooks signed autographs continuously for 23 straight hours. It's where Craig Morgan first met Miranda Lambert when she was just a young fan, and where Patty Loveless stood in line to get an autograph from future collaborator Vince Gill. It's where Lainey Wilson realized country music is what she was born to do.

That place is CMA Music Fest, and this year "The Ultimate Country Music Fan Experience" celebrates 50 years of bringing fans and artists together in the heart of country music, Nashville, Tennessee. Originally known as Fan Fair, the event was created by WSM radio and the Country Music Association to provide fans their own unique experience — though it was also a clever marketing ploy to keep fans from crashing the annual country music disc jockey convention, an industry-only annual event. Now, each year, more than 80,000 country music lovers from around the world ascend to Nashville to see their favorite stars.

The first Fan Fair in 1972 drew 5,000 country music lovers to Nashville's Municipal Auditorium, and by 1982, its growth warranted a move to the Nashville Fairgrounds, In 2001, it moved downtown, occupying numerous locations including Nissan Stadium, Riverfront Park and the Music City Center — officially becoming CMA Music Festival, and later CMA Fest.

"The secret to the success of CMA Fest is the preservation of the original Fan Fair," CMA CEO Sarah Trahern tells "The tradition and unique connection between the fans and the artists is celebrated throughout our event, and it becomes a momentous part of an artist's career to be able to say, 'I played at the Riverfront Stage, or I played Nissan Stadium and was part of the television show.' The magic of what CMA Fest is today comes from the history and heart that was created five decades ago."

Trahern has seen firsthand how important CMA Fest is to the fans, and one of her personal highlights each year comes from surprise seat upgrades. "I specifically remember one year we had changed the configuration on the floor based on some sodding issues with the stadium, and one fan was particularly upset that we moved her seats even though we had moved her to a closer section," Trahern recalls. "We later found out that she had brought her husband's ashes and had placed some of them under her seat at the stadium because they used to come to Fan Fair together. It reiterated to me the power of our event to truly become a part of people's lives."

It becomes part of the fabric of country artists' careers, too. CMA Fest is where many artists are discovered, where they perform for the first time, where they celebrate milestone achievements, and where they make invaluable memories with fans. As Morgan puts it, "You know that when you're performing at CMA Fest, you're performing for those who love you the most."

Before CMA Fest kicked off its 50th iteration on June 8, some of country music's legends and newcomers shared their most cherished, hilarious and sometimes embarrassing memories from CMA Fest.

Graham DeLoach: Playing CMA Fest for the first time was gratifying, to say the least. We had really been honing our sound and figuring ourselves out as artists, both on the stage and making an album in the studio during months leading up to the show. I remember it almost getting rained out, but when the weather cleared and we finally got on the stage, we had a defining moment as a band. We had it dialed in more than ever and we're playing to a real crowd who came to listen to real music. It was a big change from the bar rooms that we had toured across America in the years prior. So, we mark our first CMA fest as a defining moment for A Thousand Horses.

Michael Hobby: My favorite memory takes me back to 2015. We were performing on the Chevy stage, right outside the Bridgestone arena in Nashville. It was super hot outside and the sun was beating down on everyone, but the atmosphere was still buzzing with the excitement from all the fans. It was a huge moment for us as a band. Our debut album Southernality was being introduced to the world, and our single "Smoke" had just gone No. 1. I'll never forget hearing the crowd singing the words to all our songs back to us, and the album had only been out a few days. That day had everything I love about music — its ability to move people, bring them together, and to create these unforgettable shared moments.

Bill Satcher: One year at a signing booth, a fan asked us to autograph and write our band name on her arm. Afterwards, she told us that she was going to go get it tattooed on her later that day. Sure enough, she came back to the same signing booth the next year and had our handwritten band name inked on her arm.

Fan Fair was always a special time for us early in our career. We'd be on the road playing shows and our mom, Frances, would load up our cousin Sylvia and my two oldest sons, Jesse and Noah, and make her way to Nashville to decorate our Fan Fair booth. We'd meet them there and spend the next few days meeting and greeting fans for hours at a time every day of the event.

We met so many artists that have remained friends to this day. We even met the Forester Sisters at Fan Fair and ended up recording a duet together, "Too Much Is Not Enough," that went No. 1.

When Fan Fair was over, we'd make our way on down to Alabama's June Jam in Ft Payne. We enjoy CMA Fest also but we're usually in Europe a lot during that time every year so we don't get there as much as we used to.

Our Mom used to live for that time of year. She loved putting our booth together and meeting all the artists new and old — in fact, I think she probably knew more artists than we did. We still run into people that knew our Mom from then.

(L-R) Frances Bellamy and Loretta Lynn at Fan Fair. Photo: Courtesy of David Bellamy

The Oak Ridge Boys go way back to the very beginning of what was then called Fan Fair. My fondest memory of those days was performing in 1982 on the heels of "Elvira" and "Bobbie Sue." It was amazing to see the crowds at the shows and the signing booth. I am thankful that from time to time we still take part even after all these years.

Ben Chism: This is our first year playing CMA Fest. It means the world to me, to Chris, to our families. When we got that email saying we were invited to play CMA Fest, I told my wife and she just jumped up and down. She's been waiting 10 years for this and so have I. Chris has too. We have family coming in from all over the country to watch this 25-minute set because it means as much to them as it does to us.

It's just an amazing feeling to go out there and meet the people at CMA Fest. That's the biggest thing me and Chris have always said is, "Don't ever be afraid to come up to us and talk to us. We'll go on a walk and talk to you all day long."

Chris Ramos: As a musician growing up, I always thought it would be the coolest thing ever to get to play CMA Fest. It's definitely a career defining moment. You have various people say, "My career defining moment was when I headlined Nissan Stadium." We get that, but along the way this is one of those things that when it happens, it's a bucket list item. I wanted to just take a minute and absorb the fact that we got invited by the CMA to play CMA Fest. Talk about career aspirations being fulfilled!

My first CMA Fest experience was very non-traditional, as last year was my very first year not just performing but attending as well. I had the privilege of getting to perform on the Chevy Riverfront Stage and with one of my favorite bands, Lady A, on the main stage. It was a crazy experience.

Something funny happened ahead of the Chevy Riverfront performance, too — I was about to walk on stage and broke my glasses. I didn't have a backup pair so I had to throw on my stylist's sunglasses for the performance. Such a great time regardless!

My favorite memory so far of CMA Fest is playing Ascend Amphitheater with my label mates. Warner Music Nashville put together an amazing lineup, and it's a show I'll never forget.CMA Fest is so unique because it brings together so many artists and so many fans in one place for the weekend. It's an amazing opportunity to be able to interact with fans and create memories you'll never forget. I love running into fans all over the country and hearing about how they discovered us at CMA Fest!

My first CMA Fest performance was in 2014 on the CMA Close Up Stage at the Music City Center, and it was amazing. As much as the show Nashville had been embraced by TV viewers and the city of Nashville itself, that performance was my first taste of how popular it had become with the group that mattered, perhaps, the most: country music fans. The place was packed, the fans were amazing, and I felt blessed to be there with them, playing my songs and Deacon's, too. I still smile just to think of it.

I can easily tell you my favorite moment. It was in 2016. I, like everyone else, had recently heard the bad news that Nashville, the show that had brought me to Nashville and had changed my life completely, was not being picked up by ABC for a fifth season. That was a hard pill to swallow — not just for those of us who worked on the show, but for the actual Nashvillians and the country music fans that had grown to love the show so much.

For me, it was no small consolation to be stepping out onto the Riverfront Stage that day to perform for CMA Fest. It was a hot but beautiful summer afternoon, and the riverbank was completely covered with amazing Nashville fans who, like me, seemed not quite ready to say goodbye. They poured out their love — even more so when I brought out my co-stars Clare Bowen and Chris Carmack to sing a couple songs. They cheered and sang along with us to their favorite songs from the show that they already missed so much. That was incredibly memorable.

But, what put it over the top — way over the top — was when CMT's Leslie Fram and Cody Alan joined me and my friends onstage for a surprise announcement that, actually, Nashville would NOT be ending. Not yet! CMT was picking it up for Season 5 [and eventually for Season 6]. The crowd went wild. And the show went on!

Jennifer and I got married June 11, so our anniversary would, more likely than not, land during Fan Fair/CMA Music Fest. One of our early, if not first anniversaries, I was at Fan Fair. Of course, Jennifer was with me. I'm working. It was at the Fairgrounds. We had just signed Juice Newton, and she found out it was our anniversary. She sang "The Sweetest Thing" and dedicated it to us. That was pretty cool, and very sweet of her.

I'll never forget the first night I landed in Nashville. It was the Tuesday of CMA Fest. I walked down to Broadway and it was like all my Aussie-Country boy musical dreams came true all at once!

I remember the first time I had a booth at Fan Fair. It was so exciting. That year Alabama was a huge success and the fans screamed for them. Soon after, my records hit the top of the charts, and I got booked to open all their concerts for a couple years. What a thrill and huge boost for me! So thankful!

A post shared by Vince Gill (@vincegillofficial)

Way back when Fan Fair was still at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, I was in the RCA Records booth signing autographs with some other artists. This woman came through the line, and I was signing something for her, and I think we got a picture together. Then she said to me, "We're gonna record together some day." And I thought "Well alright." Turns out that woman was Patty Loveless! We ended up singing on lots of each other's records including our first No. 1 hits. She sang harmonies on "When I Call Your Name" and I sang on her single "Timber I'm Falling in Love."

I vividly remember my very first Fan Fair in 1995 because the line was so long and I just could not believe it. I think we were there for eight hours signing autographs. I was amazed and just so thankful. I was still a very young, naive country boy, and I just remember my mind being absolutely blown that there were that many people standing there to meet me.

Country fans are the best! I remember one year I mentioned something about being gone so much on tour, I didn't have time to go home and wash my socks or something like that and then all of a sudden, I start getting underwear and socks at all the shows for a while. It was pretty funny.

I had been to CMA Fest — then called Fan Fair — many times before I signed my record deal, but 1995 was different. My first single "What Mattered Most" had just gone to No. 1, and when I looked out over that crowd of 60,000 people to perform it, I couldn't hold myself together. The tears started welling up, and was all I could do to get through the song. To hear folks singing my lyrics back to me, there's nothing like it, even today. Words cannot describe it.

HunterGirl (R) and her mom at CMA Fest 2022. Photo: Courtesy of HunterGirl

The funniest fan interaction last year was during the meet and greet at the signing booth. Someone came up and asked me to sign a picture, and I looked down and it was an old photo I used to promote my music in high school. Then, one after another people kept bringing the same photo to sign, and I asked, "Where did y'all get this?" They all go, "the lady in the back corner was passing them out." I looked over and it was my mom giving them to everyone she saw. It was like she was handing out mixtapes on Broadway. I have never laughed so hard. My mom is the best.

The first year I did the stadium was pretty awesome. Me and Hank Jr. did "Born To Boogie." It was me and him and Justin Moore. It was just great because I grew up listening to Hank Jr., and we had toured together so it was great comradery. Then I did "Buy Me A Boat" and it had just hit No. 1 so that was a great time.

I've had a lot of fun fan encounters. I'm pretty easy going, but people get so scared sometimes to say hello. Sometimes I'll notice it, so I'll just initiate the conversation because I can tell they want to say hello or want a picture or something. And I always think to myself, "Be Luke Bryan," because Luke is always very kind to people. So I've always tried to model myself after people like him. He's just a great template for that. Treat people how you want to be treated.

So if I notice somebody wanting to talk or they look like they might want a picture, but they are about to let me walk by because they don't want to bother me, I just tell them, "Hey listen, you ain't bothering me. We're all just putting our pants on the same way this morning and if you'd like a picture, you might as well get it now. This is perfect timing." I appreciate how respectful people are in 99 percent of the cases, but it also just cracks me up that just because I sing songs and have hits and I'm in the public eye doesn't mean I'm not a normal person. I'm probably more normal than most people I know so if you see me out there, come and say hey.

My favorite memory goes way back to when it was called Fan Fair and was held at the fairgrounds. All the artists would be assigned to a booth and we'd be there all day which consisted of signing for two to three hours plus appearances and performances. All the artists would try to outdo each other with our booth setup. We'd also do pranks on each other. One time Kenny Chesney and I had a silly string fight across from each other in our booths.

The first time I performed was at the Fairgrounds in 1992. They set up the main stage on the race track, and my producer, James Stroud, gave me a blue Harley Motorcycle to celebrate Sticks and Stones going Gold. So, it didn't suck.

Tracy Lawrence at Fan Fair 1992. Photo: Courtesy of Tracy Lawrence

I got to perform with Josh Turner on the stadium show the first time I did CMA Music Fest, which was a moment I'll never forget. Through the years, I've done a lot of different events at CMA Music Fest and it's always been fun. The fans who attend are amazing, and music is truly around every corner. I'm glad to be a part of CMA Music Festival's history. The event is truly legendary.

Fans love country music and are so devoted. What I remember best is sitting there at the Polygram/Mercury booth at Fan Fair and sitting there for about two hours and probably signing one autograph. One time mama was there with me, and I had my little Sharpies in front of me and my little stack of pictures and nobody was coming over. Finally, this man and woman looked up at my name over my head and looked at me and walked over to me and mama said, "Get ready! Get ready!" And they walked over to me. I said, "Can I help you?" and they said, "Do you know where the bathroom is?" That was my introduction to Fan Fair. [Laughs.]

Of all the genres that I've been a part of — Broadway, television, the movies and in the clothing line — everybody always says how nice the country folks are, and how appreciative the fans are, and the artists are of their fans. So coming back to CMA Fest just emphasizes how much the artists do appreciate their fans and the fans of country music appreciate the artists and entertainers. I am proud to be a part of country music and a part of a group that do appreciate each other, and they don't take each other for granted.

My favorite CMA Fest memories are the Fan Club parties that I used to do with my mother. She geared up for them months in advance and I got to see the fans bring her such joy with their love. Thank you for those memories. They meant so much to both of us.

One year I played the stadium with a cast on my leg. There's a picture of me somewhere, climbing the trusses with my broken leg hanging off the sides of the stadium.

One of the years I played CMA Fest back when I was younger, I remember a young lady asking me for an autograph. I signed something for her and we chatted for a few minutes. Years later, that young lady became a big star in country music: Miranda Lambert.

I am so excited to perform at CMA Fest again. Last year I was on the Spotlight Stage in Fan Fair X and it was one of the first times I heard fans singing my songs back to me. This year I get to play the Chevy Riverfront Stage & Nissan Stadium Platform Stage which is really exciting!

I can't think of another event where fans travel from all over the world to listen to live country music. It's pretty special to have people from different cultural and geographical locations come together to share their love for their favorite songs and artists. I can't wait to fully experience CMA Fest for the first time and put a little western into the lineup.

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My favorite was my first, which I believe was the first time it was downtown. I was 21 and on Mercury Records. I had a sleeveless Michael Jackson t-shirt on, which was borrowed from a friend back home. I was so nervous, but I remember it was really the first time I'd played in front of a crowd that size. I was high on adrenaline for days!

I have a long history with CMA Fest, going all the way back to the late '90s, like '96-'97. I had long hair and a cowboy hat. I was maybe 18 years old starting off my career. I had a booth. That's how you did it back then. You'd put these booths in these real hot buildings, and you'd sit there and sweat all day and say, "Please, look at me, look at me! Let me sign something for you that you don't care about!" [Laughs.]

Those are my original memories of Fan Fair, and as we've moved on through the years with CMA Fest, I've noticed there's a really different vibe around CMA Fest nowadays. It's a big show, a big stadium show that's always been one of my favorite things to play.

We debuted "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" in front of 40,000 people at the stadium at CMA Fest, sung it in the rain I believe. I have a lot of fond memories about CMA Fest performing on all the stages, Riverfront, Stadium Stage, CMT Stage in front of Bridgestone, and I've had a blast at all of them. That's what's wonderful about CMA Fest — you have so many fans there that are doing so many things, you're going to find a great crowd anywhere.

My favorite memory of CMA Fest is at Nissan Stadium. Luke Bryan and I actually got to co-host the broadcast, and it was such an amazing moment. We got to talk to so many artists that I hadn't really even got to meet before rehearsing that, and obviously being a co-host with Luke was so much fun.

Over the years, I've had a ton of funny interactions with fans. The most embarrassing one for me, though, happened when there was a guy who said, "Hey, can you come and sign this thing for me?" I thought that he was pointing at his motorcycle, so I got my sharpie and signed the bumper of his motorcycle. Then [my brothers] Reid and Neil pointed out to me that he was actually pointing to the T-shirt laying over his motorcycle. He actually did not see me do it in real time and I didn't know how to tell him, so I just sort of sheepishly crawled back on the tour bus because I didn't know what to do.

I got mistaken for Cody Johnson a couple years ago by a large crowd of fans. I just went along with it. [Laughs.]

As a fan, [I saw] Morgan Wallen perform in the rain on the Riverfront Stage and it was incredible. He only had "Up Down" as a hit at the time, and it always leaves me inspired to keep working and growing. You never know where a song or two will take you. As an artist, getting to play the stadium last year — my first CMA Fest invited to play as an artist— was so humbling and a massive check off of the bucket list.

I have so many fans always asking me to sign their arms and then they get it tattooed. It's a lot of pressure, but hilarious at the same time. Commitment is level 10, always!

One of my first memories of CMA Fest is seeing Keith Urban play the stadium when I was about 12. I was young but, by then, I already knew music was going to be my life, so I went with the intention of learning as much as I could from his live show.

I vividly remember how small he made that massive stadium feel. There aren't many artists who are such good entertainers that I forget to watch as an artist and naturally fall into watching as a fan, but he's one of them. He's so engaging. I remember hoping I'd have a chance to make that many people feel that way about my music one day.

The fans are what makes CMA Fest so special. They're so incredibly passionate about the music and the artists. There's nothing like it. They go above and beyond for you, so it makes you want to go above and beyond for them. One of the first CMA Fests I played, there was a guy who showed up to watch every one of my performances with a poop emoji hat on. You couldn't miss him. I remember not being able to hold it together every time he'd walk in. Just the most ridiculously hilarious thing and we connected over it. I still haven't forgotten it.

Jeannie Seely signing autographs at the first Fan Fair in 1972. Photo: Barry Amato

Thinking back on the first Fan Fair, I remember how excited I was to be entertaining so many wonderful fans all in one place! It was also exciting to be able to spend time with so many other artists, including some you didn't get to see very often, and some that I had not even met. I was in awe watching everyone else perform, and proud to be presenting our new package show with Jack Greene.

Dottie West and I had a great time posing as each other just to watch the puzzled expressions on folks faces as they tried to figure it out. We even did radio promos for some of the DJs as each other. There was such a closeness of the artists back then, and we had so much fun together. Fan Fair gave us that opportunity too. There were a lot of stories told, guitar pulling, clothes and jewelry sharing, and memories made. Sometimes I wonder if the fans had as good a time as we did!

My favorite memory of CMA Fest is getting to play the different stages. They're all cool in their own way. I started playing solo acoustic at Fest, which is fun because those fans typically come to hear artists and songs that are new to them. Now, we get to play the Chevy Riverfront Stage with a full band, and hopefully the crowd will be singing my songs with us, which is such a party!

One of our first times ever visiting Nashville was for CMA Fest. A friend of ours ended up having two extra tickets to the last day of the stadium shows, and it poured down rain. We were still so happy to be at Nissan Stadium with 60,000 other country music fans at the most magical festival ever. We couldn't believe how many people were there! We held trash bags over our heads and sang along to all the country songs we grew up on the entire night.

We recently played in London for the first time, and we had several people tell us that they can't wait to see us play over CMA Fest. It really put into perspective how global the event is!

Man, going from a nobody to somebody overnight was life-changing, and then going straight to CMA Fest right after winning American Idol. I was shocked how many people recognized me, stopped me in the street, and were singing along to my song! An incredible feeling that I will never forget.

My most memorable experience at CMA Fest was truly magical. Just moments before I was about to step on stage and perform in 2022, I received the call that my daughter was going into labor. It was an overwhelming rush of emotions, knowing that my family was expanding and that I was about to become a grandparent. That moment filled me with an incredible sense of joy, love, and anticipation. It reminded me of the power of music to bring people together and create cherished memories that will last a lifetime.

I went every year to CMA Fest from the time I was 14. My parents would take me there so literally I could go get inspired. They would make it like a family vacation really just for me. It felt like country music Christmas to me and my family.

When I finally got to play CMA Fest, it honestly felt like one of those out-of-body experiences because I'd dreamed about it for so long. Every summer we would go and I'd sit there. I wouldn't be jumping up and down with excitement, and my mama would look over at me and be like, "Are you having fun?" The truth is, I was just soaking it up. I was not whooping and hollering. I was just trying to learn and trying to watch the people on the Riverfront stage and on the Hard Rock stage, and then go over to the stadium that night and pick up little tips and tricks.' I was really educating myself, and I loved every single minute of it, so when I actually got the chance to do it myself I felt like, "Dang! We have arrived!" We have a long way to go, but we're heading in the right direction.

Country music brings people together. Of course, country music festivals are special anywhere you place those roots, but there is something so magical about playing for folks in a city where the music was made, and the team of people are there in that town that pushed that music, that played on that song. Everybody feels that when they roll into town for CMA Fest. You feel it to your core in a different kind of way.

I have too many favorite memories to count, but I'll have to go with the year we revived the Ernest Tubb Record Shop Midnite Jamboree, bringing Vince Gill, Brothers Osborne, Brandy Clark, Eric Church and others down to the world's first country music record shop on lower Broadway. The crowd was crammed inside, where the air conditioning couldn't get us any cooler than 115 degrees. We had cops on horses out front as we shut down CMA Fest three nights in a row. I saw the sun come up that Saturday morning before going to bed! Finally, on Sunday morning, it was time for my Donuts and Jam fan party — and I barely made it in time, with my new puppy at the time, Peggy Sue.

One of my favorite stories to tell is the story of my first year at CMA Fest as a solo artist. I was a bit overconfident in my popularity, you see. A couple was approaching me on the sidewalk, pointing to their camera like they wanted a photo together. As I approached them to take a photo and sign autographs, they pointed to the Elvis impersonator behind me and asked, "Do you mind taking our photo with Elvis?" [Laughs.] A lesson in humility, I tell ya!

CMA Fest is unique because there's no other community quite like the country music community and no other place quite like Nashville. Our entire business is built on the close relationship between artists and fans, and CMA Fest is basically Nashville's annual open house. You can feel a spirit of gratitude and excitement and love in the air. As a singer, I'm reminded of how lucky I am to get to be in country music, and as a fan I'm reminded how lucky I am to have country music as the soundtrack to my life.

I didn't come to Nashville as a kid because I grew up in Southern California, so I found out about CMA Fest after I moved here. It was always very much a bucket list thing for me as an artist. The first year I got to perform, I got a call last minute that my second single "In Case You Didn't Know" was going No. 1 that week. I wasn't booked to perform at Nissan Stadium, but they were like, "We can't have the No. 1 song in the country not being performed." They said, "We know it's only two days away, but would Brett play the pop-up stage in the middle of Nissan Stadium for that one song?" I was in North Carolina at the time and the answer was obviously yes! We bussed back, I popped up on this little stage out in the middle of the field at Nissan Stadium, and got to play the No. 1 song in the country. It was really cool.

My favorite memory is probably getting to go as a kid. It was a really big deal when my mom took me when I was really young. We used to go when it was back at the fairgrounds.

The first time I performed was a really long time ago. It was a really tiny acoustic show. It was a lot different playing Riverfront up to the Stadium. It was definitely something I looked forward to, and I remember thinking how cool it was to be on a CMA Fest Stage anywhere.

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Photo: Andy Pollitt


As Jelly Roll officially crosses into country territory with his latest LP, 'Whitsitt Chapel,' the rapper-turned-country star feels like a changed man — and aims to provide hope to those who feel lost.

When Jelly Roll first attended church with his daughter, Bailee, he wasn't looking for salvation. But while sitting in a church pew, he realized the story of his own relationship to redemption and religion was one he needed to share.

"Outside of religion, the idea of being able to be redeemed is just a great idea. The idea that who we were is not who we are is so powerful," Jelly Roll tells "At that moment, I was like, 'I want to write a conceptual album, that kind of outlines my journey of religion, my journey of spirituality, my journey of redemption, my journey of wrongdoings.'"

Born Jason DeFord, Jelly Roll spent a decade in and out of federal prison, and was incarcerated when Bailee was born in 2008. Her birth was a turning point for the singer, who started his music career as a rapper in 2011. But the Antioch, Tennessee native always loved country music, and when he realized he could sing, he tried his hand at writing country songs.

What followed is Whitsitt Chapel, Jelly Roll's first full-length country album. Named after the church where he was baptized at 14 years old, the LP is a self-effacing, honest and gritty dissection — and at times, condemnation — of his own life story and complex relationship with religion. Whether he's imploring "somebody save me, me from myself," on "Save Me" or reflecting on what it means to show up, in "Hungover in a Church Pew," Jelly Roll's kind of religion is one of understanding, forgiveness and growth.

Expanding on the rawness of his previous LP, 2021's Ballads of the Broken — which earned Jelly Roll his first No. 1 hit with "Son of a Sinner" — Whitsitt Chapel introduces Jelly Roll as one of country music's most intriguing rising stars. His honest accounts of his struggles — backed by compelling, gritty vocals and driving country-trap beats — transform his live shows into gripping performances, creating an almost church-like atmosphere for fans and the singer himself.

Speaking to on the day Whitsitt Chapel came out, Jelly Roll discussed making his latest album, his hopes for justice system reform and his own journey to redemption.

Well, first off, happy album release day. How are you feeling today?

Oh, thank you. It's better than a birthday. It's like having a prom that you're the king of. I never went to a prom, but I'm assuming this is the feeling.

You sold out the Ryman Auditorium this week for your release show. And I've heard a couple of people describe that show as feeling like going to church. I'm curious what it felt like from your side of things.

You know, man, I love that people compare this to going to church. Because I feel like that's how we try to make all concerts. I always say my shows are a little bit of hip-hop, a little bit of rock, a lot of country, and a little bit of a back road tent revival.

We mix up all the old stuff and the new stuff. So by default, there's a lot of genre crossing. But the back road tent revival is just kind of the theme of the whole project. It's this old fashioned "let's go to church, let's get a little rowdy, let's get a little hellfire and brimstone in here." And any good Sunday sermon has highs and lows, moments you cry, moments you're happy, moments you're scared, moments you're excited, and we just try to recreate that in the show.

Did you feel as though you were up there preaching?

I think the music does the preaching, I just talk. You know what I mean? I think the music's the sermon, I'm just the deacon.

When did you actually start rapping and sharing it with people?

I probably wrote my first rap when I was 10, maybe 11 or 12. And I shared it with my family immediately. Like didn't hesitate. The first rap I wrote sucked really bad. And I ran downstairs with great pride, people gathered around the kitchen table, and I watched them act like it was decent.

As family does. So then, how did you make the switch to do country music?

I always wanted to do country music because I'm just such a country music fan. And I feel like "three chords and the truth" was always the premise of my music. I just didn't know I could sing. If somebody would have told me I had a cool singing voice when I was 20, I couldn't imagine where this thing would be at now. I was, like, in my mid-30s when I found out I could sing.

I was doing karaoke and we were doing Bob Seger, "Old Time Rock and Roll." I came off stage. And a producer was like, "Man, you got to do a song where you're singin'." And I was like, "I would have done that 20 years ago if I thought I could sing, I'm a bad singer." He's like, "Not what I just heard." I started working at it, and you can see that I've got this album Whitsitt Chapel is the first time you can hear how comfortable I am with my voice.

The songwriting and everything, the music evolved. The way I say it is, the music followed the man: the man changed and then the music changed, this big old lug of human ions has just been dragging the music along with me, wherever I've ended up at the mic.

After that moment doing karaoke, you put out "Save Me," which I think of as your bridge to country music.

That was the big bridge, that was 2020, and that was the moment it started coming together. But you want to talk about great links as a singer — I had to relearn how to sing "Save Me" this year. This is the first time I ever told this story. When I first learned how to sing "Save Me," it was as high a register as I could sing, I was reaching for every single note. Now I can sing octaves above that. Now that I'm singing higher, I had to learn how to settle back into what the actual key of the song was.

That sounds like a bit of a surprise.

It was interesting. I didn't realize how off I had gotten over the last year or two. But it's been fun. It's been cool. Because I'm learning, I'm still new to this. I think that's why I'm so excited too, is that I'm just really understanding a little more about the theory of music. I'm understanding chord structure better. I'm understanding keys, octave, pitch, control. These are things I had no clue of when I did "Save Me."

Are you studying music theory as part of this transition?

No, I'm just playing a little guitar when I can, doing a lot more acoustic stuff. My daughter plays a little piano, a little guitar. So I'm just trying to soak up everything I can.

I think religion can do a lot of different things. And it's pretty central to Whitsitt Chapel. Can you talk to me a little bit about your relationship with religion?

I'm really, really, really kind of against religion. I'm not very religious at all. But I definitely believe in spirituality. I had this thought, how I look at church and how I see church now is different than I ever seen it. I realized that it's a bunch of people going to a place as an attempt to build community, seek forgiveness and be better.

And when done right, I don't care what your thoughts are on Jesus, God, Allah, any of that stuff, this is an incredible concept, right? That people go here with the idea of doing better, being better, and community. And looking at that as an adult — because I had a long time I was mad at the church, I think they kind of depicted Jesus wrong at times — but understanding and going back to it, I see what the spirit of it is.

But then you also write lines, like "I only talk to God when I need a favor." Can you rectify for me the real tension in that line, with what you just told me?

Well, it was sitting in the back of a church one day and listening to worship music. And just not being able to relate with it and where I am with my walk and spirituality. And you look at it from that perspective, and you're like, "What is my connection, how would my song to God sound?"

And I feel like it's, "I only talking to God, when I need a favor. I only pray when I ain't got a prayer." The third line in ["Need a Favor"], to me, is the most powerful line, "So who the hell am I, who the hell am I to expect the saving?" Just think about the word "expect" in that line, the entitlement of that. It was just being honest about how I view the church, and then there's my personal walk with God, and they're definitely different. So to me, it was trying to create that music with that spirit.

So then how do you come to name this album for your childhood church?

Well, it started when I went with Bailee to her church. So Bailee's my daughter, she was 14, when she started going to the church, she had alluded to wanting to get baptized. [I thought], well, I should go see what kind of cult she's going to, because that's kind of how I looked at church at that time. And then I went, and I was reminded of the genuineness that can be in those walls, too. I was reminded of the humanity and the compassion and the forgiveness, the love and the community, more than anything watching her and all of her friends there.

And I had started thinking about where I was at when I was 14. I'm going to a little church, too, on a little back road on a hill, there's just these little parallels. Bailee experienced and dabbled in marijuana for the first time, I caught her recently. Around the same age, I was dabbling in marijuana and trouble. It was just reflective.

And then you start thinking about redemption. Outside of religion, the idea of being able to be redeemed is just a great idea. The idea that who we were is not who we are is so powerful. At that moment, I was like, "I want to write a conceptual album, that kind of outlines my journey of religion, my journey of spirituality, my journey of redemption, my journey of wrongdoings." [It's] my take on all these things from a 14-year-old kid getting baptized at Whitsitt Chapel to the 39-year-old man that just watched his 14-year-old get baptized.

And I think 14 was a pretty big year for you, at least a complicated year for you. Your daughter's 14, what impact did that have on you?

That's what made me want to jump to action. The same year that I got baptized, I got arrested, and that started what would be a 10 year cycle of incarceration in and out. And she's in a way better place. She's so much better than I could have ever been at that age, or probably will ever be. But that was what drug it up too, because I know these are the years. I talk to people all the time. They're like, "What do you think the most important years of parenting are?" I say "Every day. But if there's a window, it's 14 to 18."

And at the Ryman show you talked about going back to Whitsitt Chapel to talk to your pastor. What happened when you went back, and how do they feel about you naming the album after it?

It restored my faith in stuff. They pulled my records and sent a picture over of my handwriting, The 14-year-old Jason asking to be baptized — you have to fill out a card. And this church has kept that record for 24 years. Crazy, right? So at that point I'm like, I want to meet 'em, can we go love on them a little bit? I wanted to go sit down and meet with Pastor Ken, and meet with the rest of his staff.

I'm anxious to hear what they think of the whole album. I played them a few songs that they loved. Their exact words was "Man, we're just glad he's thinking of us. We're thinking of him, we love him. We're praying for him. We're proud of him."

My goal in the next couple of weeks is to surprise them, pop by on a Sunday. Maybe I should go this Sunday.

There is a certain something to that timing isn't there?

Yeah, there is something ironic about that.

Now that you've released a country album, do you fully see yourself as a country artist?

I definitely consider myself a country artist. 100 percent. My wife once told me that even if I sing "Amazing Grace" anywhere north of Ohio, she said people would say I was country. She's like "You might not think that you sound country when you sing, but I'm from Las Vegas and you sound country. When you're singing songs around the house, like a Katy Perry song or something around the house being goofy you sound country." My wife's always picked on me about it.

Well the joke might be on her, if you're putting out a country album now.

Ain't that great? She loves it. My favorite thing she does is when she talks in my drawl, when she does her husband impression, it's the best.

Who did you write these songs for?

I wrote these songs for anybody that's dealing with the duality of life. Back to that Sunday service, I've went out and overserved myself, many a Saturday. Many a Sunday morning, I still woke up and showed up, and that's the duality of man.

It's kind of "Son of a Sinner" again. It's always about that somewhere between being right and wrong, because I think that's the exact place I live in. I know my heart's pure. I know my spirit's right. I also know that I make really politically incorrect jokes. And party sometimes, and I'm a little silly and outrageous. But I also know that my heart is to be a man of service and to help people. So I write for those kinds of people, the struggling poet of the broken man. Always trying to be the voice for the voiceless.

And you really end the album in that spot, "Hungover in a Church Pew," right?

Yes, that was important in the album that way, because I needed that. Because there's moments where it would sound like "The Lost": "I've been known to find my kind of people/ They ain't at home underneath church steeples." But even through this whole journey of this album, all "Hold on Me," my struggle with alcohol, my love song to my wife, "Save Me," "Need a Favor," "Dance with the Devil." Even after all that, I still found my way to that kind of upbeat, mid tempo, hungover "sunbeam down on that stained glass window, the preacher man preachin' that fire and brimstone." So to me, it was cool, because I was like, "I heard your fire and brimstone." I'm always looking for redemption.

And that middle of the road too, one foot in two places, right?


I'm curious about more of your backstory. You're really open about being a convict. And it's something that's central to your identity. I'm curious about the choice to keep that in the forefront of your identity.

Well, I'm reminded of it all the time. So I think that what my goal now is while I'm being constantly reminded that I want to remind people that you can change. I tried to buy a house four months ago, and I was turned down because of my felonies. I'm still dealing with it today.

I think it's more now about just trying to bring attention to the cause, to have some sort of justice reform. My felonies that are inexpugnable, that I got whenever I was 16 years old. You know, I wasn't thinking like a man that should have that held against it him for the last 20-some years.

So what do you want people to understand about that?

I think that we need to just re-examine the juvenile system, if we're focusing our efforts on discipline or rehabilitation. And I think that goes into the drug addiction pandemic in America, too. Are we properly focusing our attention on rehabilitation? Are we finding alternate means yet? Can we accept that the war on drugs was a war that we lost? My story is just an attempt to bring attention to those topics. And my thing is, I don't think it's a one-size-fits-all for everyone. Like, even down to my felony, I think that these things should be on a case by case basis.

You ended up donating your proceeds from your recent Bridgestone Arena show. Was that to a variety of youth programs or to the juvenile detention center where you were incarcerated?

We built a studio at the detention center where I was, we also granted some scholarships to some local high school students. I didn't want to limit the at risk youth to just incarcerated kids. Because I believe that there's kids that are at risk that haven't made that decision yet, but also don't know how they're gonna go to college. I want to help those problems as well.

What's your hope for what that money can do?

My hope is that it can create a safe space for kids to create music and express themselves. But this is bigger for me as far as like, I have a 10-year plan here that I want to change. I want to open group homes, eventually, I want to open aftercare programs, community centers. I want to bring other trade work into the juvenile facility that I was at. I started with music because it's what I know. But I'm hoping to bring barbering in and welding in, whatever I can bring in to help these kids realize that they might have another way to go about it.

Is that because of how far you've come?

I think it's because of how far I've came, and the ability to give back. I want to help. Who are you if your life has changed this dramatically, and don't try to help?

Do you feel like a different person than when you started making music?

I'm such a different person. You can hear it in the music. You can see it in the testimony. Hell, I'm proud to say I'm better today than I was a week ago. I've consciously made decisions and choices and realized things that I fell short on. I do self inventory every day.

It's just the idea that I learned through different programs, the concept of looking back at things and everyday doing a self inventory check: "Was I nice? Did I care? What did I do that didn't feel right? Did I say something I regret saying? Did I not call somebody? Did I not say something I should have said?" It'll keep you grateful. It'll also keep you humble. Because sometimes the inventory is just, "What am I grateful for? What's happened in the last 24 hours that I'm grateful for?"

Well these last 24 hours might have a few things for you to be grateful for.

Whooo, these last 24 hours are packed. It's going to carry me to the weekend. I'm now allowed a couple of f— ups. Nah, I'm kidding. It's that balance, right? "It's like okay, I've earned a night of recklessness."

Well, Sunday's coming, right?


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On their recently released album, 'But Here We Are,' Dave Grohl and company offer a gripping confessional of both painful loss and blistering resilience. In honor of their 11th album, revisit 10 of the Foo Fighters’ most essential tracks.

Foo Fighters — one of contemporary rock's most pivotal mainstays — boasts an almost mythical history. What began as Dave Grohl's one-man band in 1994 after the devastating end of Nirvana has become a seminal machine with a catalog that spans three decades.

The group currently holds the record for the most GRAMMY wins in the Best Rock Album category, picking up awards in 2000 (There Is Nothing Left to Lose), 2003 (One By One), 2007 (Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace), 2012 (Wasting Light) and 2022 (Medicine at Midnight). At the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, Medicine at Midnight also took home awards for Best Rock Performance ("Making a Fire") and Best Rock Song ("Waiting on a War").

Their recently released 11th studio album, But Here We Are, is the facet's first project following the death of drummer and vocalist Taylor Hawkins last year. Hawkins, who joined Foo Fighters in 1997 and would become a driving creative force in the group, was mourned by musicians and fans across the world. Tribute concerts in London and Los Angeles presented by the Hawkins family in conjunction with Foo gracefully paid homage to his legacy.

Grohl and company managed to push through their collective grief on But Here We Are. The project serves as a gripping confessional of both painful loss and blistering resilience. In honor of their latest endeavor, lists 10 of Foo Fighters’ most essential tracks.

Released one year after Kurt Cobain's death, Foo Fighters’ debut album brimmed with promise. "Losing Kurt was earth-shattering, and I was afraid of music after he died," he told Anderson Cooper during a 2014 episode of "60 Minutes."

Though Grohl insisted that the record was just an outlet for grief, it marked the beginning of his illustrious career. "Big Me," the final saccharine single from the project, proved that the drummer-turned-frontman had a knack for crafting catchy tunes that would become undeniable hits.

The campy nature of the track was the result of Grohl not putting much thought into the album, but that intrinsically simple approach — which trickled down to the song's video which famously parodied Mentos commercials — was the start of something great.

One of Foo Fighters’ most exhilarating moments to date comes in the form of a love song. "Everlong," which was the second single from the band's sophomore effort, pulls listeners in with its gentle, melodic chords, keeping their attention with sweltering percussion and heart wrenching lyricism.

"Everlong" is about being so in tune with a romantic partner that the conclusion of that relationship is wholly devastating. "Come down and waste away with me," Grohl serenely sings. "Down with me/Slow, how you wanted it to be/I'm over my head/Out of her head, she sang." He performed it for the first time acoustic in 1998 on "The Howard Stern Show," which Grohl said "gave the song a whole new rebirth" during a performance at Oates Song Fest 7908.

"Breakout" appeared on both the band's third album, There Is Nothing Left To Lose, and is filled with a frenzied, punk energy that channels Grohl's grunge roots. While critics praised the album and noted the Foos' notable progression toward more melodic anthems, this quick, fast hit remains worthy of the hype it received over 20 years ago.

The track also appeared in the 2000 comedy film Me, Myself & Irene starring Jim Carrey, and several of its stars appear in its music video. There Is Nothing Left To Lose also spurred the radio hit "Learn To Fly," which won the GRAMMY Award for Best Short Form Music Video in 2000.

The Foo Fighters' fourth studio album marked a turbulent period in the band's history. Aside from personal issues, Grohl had just recorded drums for Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf, and joined the group for a subsequent tour.

While the fate of Foo remained unknown, a triumphant performance at Coachella in 2002 gave the members a new outlook on their future. "‘Times Like These’ was basically written about the band disappearing for those two or three months and me feeling like I wasn't entirely myself," Grohl stated in the group's 2011 documentary Back and Forth. "I just thought, ‘Okay, I’m not done being in the band. I don't know if they are, but I’m not.’"

With its lyrical simplicity and crippling sincerity ("It's times like these you learn to live again/It's times like these you give and give again"), the song has come to embody love, togetherness and hope.

"I’ve got another confession to make/I’m your fool," Dave Grohl howls at the top of lungs on the riveting opening for "Best of You." His declaration is followed by the existential proposition: "Were you born to resist or be abused?"

In Your Honor's lead single is ripe with emotion, in which the Foo frontman is buoyantly defiant and encourages those listening to his words to be the same. That sentiment was politically driven, as "Best of You" was penned after Grohl made several appearances on the 2004 Democratic presidential campaign for John Kerry.

"It's not a political record, but what I saw inspired me," he told Rolling Stone in 2005. "It's about breaking away from the things that confine you." "Best of You" is their only song in the U.S. to reach platinum status.

One of the group's most highest charting songs was "The Pretender," from 2007's Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. Grohl's songwriting on the track is of macabre proportions, as introductory solemn chords give way to the lyrics: "Send in your skeletons/Sing as their bones go marching in again/They need you buried deep/The secrets that you keep are ever ready."

Heavier riffs and pulsating percussion make it quite the auditory experience. Perfectly paced crescendos on the "The Pretender" give it just the right amount of suspense, making it indelible to the Foo discography.

In 2012, Wasting Light earned four GRAMMY Awards including Best Rock Album. "White Limo" snagged the accolade for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance — and for good reason.

The second single from Foo Fighters’ seventh studio album is a ferocious number saturated with primal screams and whirlwind rhythms. "White Limo" was one of their most raucous songs to date and the group does their best Motorhead impression (Lemmy Kilmister's appearance in the music video serves as the ultimate seal of approval). The group was intentional in maximizing their aggression on the heavy-metal track, making "White Limo" the sonic equivalent of a lightning bolt in their immense catalog.

2017's Concrete and Gold wasn't about redefining the wheel as much as it was perfecting it. The group's ninth studio album is as rock 'n' roll as it gets.

There were a slew of memorable guest appearances including Paul McCartney on "Sunday Rain," Boyz II Men's Shawn Stockman on "Concrete & Gold," and the Kills’ Alison Mosshart on "The Sky Is a Neighborhood" and "La Dee Da."

The album's best track, "Make It Right," features an uncredited, sonically off-putting cameo from Justin Timberlake . Yet the collaboration's venture into heavier territory pays off, with Grohl paying respect to Led Zeppelin. The rock legends' influence oozes all over "Make It Right" in the form of ragged taunts and splintering riffs. Timberlake slinks into the background with additional vocals, making sure to not alter Foo's formula in any way.

Foo Fighters’ 10th album, Medicine at Midnight, was a refreshing return to form for the rockers.

Sparked by a conversation by Grohl's daughter, "Waiting on a War" embodied the group's pensiveness about America's ominous future. Over four minutes, Grohl states that he's "waiting for the sky to fall," though his melancholy thoughts ultimately transform from wistful crooning over acoustic guitar chords to a rumbling, full-throated ferocious outro. Foo's bold approach snagged them a GRAMMY Award in 2022 for Best Rock Song.

The power in "Rescued," the emotionally-charged first single from But Here We Are, relies not only on the lyrics to spell out the feeling of despondency, but on Grohl's expression of them.

"We’re all free to some degree/To dance under the lights," he sings. "I’m just waiting to be rescued/Bring me back to life." His voice languishes between fatigue and vigor as swirling guitars and ethereal buildups provide catharsis for both the band and the listener. The vulnerability of "Rescued" channels the intriguing self-awareness heard on albums like The Colour and The Shape and In Your Honor. But this song represents a brand new chapter for Foo and it's one that confronts their pain head on.

Foo Fighters Are An Indestructible Music Juggernaut. But Taylor Hawkins' Death Shows That They're Human Beings, Too.

The press release for YMUSIC says it finds "the group focused on discovering an artistic voice all their own." Nadia Sirota: Was this by design over the past 15 years? To augment other musicians? Sirota: Rob Moose: Sirota: I'm most intimately aware of your work on Okkervil River's Away and Paul Simon's In the Blue Light, although I've heard yMusic in any number of other contexts. How do you tailor your approach and methodology to each artist you work with? Moose: Sirota: Moose: As the violist and violinist in yMusic, how would you two characterize your interplay and function as cogs in the musical machine — both between you two and the ensemble as a whole? Sirota: Moose: What were the core ideas that dictated the framework of YMUSIC? Moose: Sirota: YMUSIC really breathes as a listening experience; it's sequenced rather well, in my opinion, and the drama seems to expand and retract. Sirota: Moose: Sirota: As 2023 rolls on, what's in the works for yMusic, and what would you like to eventually do? Moose: Sirota: Graham DeLoach: Michael Hobby: Bill Satcher: Ben Chism: Chris Ramos: Read More: Well, first off, happy album release day. How are you feeling today? You sold out the Ryman Auditorium this week for your release show. And I've heard a couple of people describe that show as feeling like going to church. I'm curious what it felt like from your side of things. Did you feel as though you were up there preaching? When did you actually start rapping and sharing it with people? As family does. So then, how did you make the switch to do country music? After that moment doing karaoke, you put out "Save Me," which I think of as your bridge to country music. That sounds like a bit of a surprise. Are you studying music theory as part of this transition? I think religion can do a lot of different things. And it's pretty central to Whitsitt Chapel. Can you talk to me a little bit about your relationship with religion? But then you also write lines, like "I only talk to God when I need a favor." Can you rectify for me the real tension in that line, with what you just told me? So then how do you come to name this album for your childhood church? And I think 14 was a pretty big year for you, at least a complicated year for you. Your daughter's 14, what impact did that have on you? And at the Ryman show you talked about going back to Whitsitt Chapel to talk to your pastor. What happened when you went back, and how do they feel about you naming the album after it? There is a certain something to that timing isn't there? Now that you've released a country album, do you fully see yourself as a country artist? Well the joke might be on her, if you're putting out a country album now. Who did you write these songs for? And you really end the album in that spot, "Hungover in a Church Pew," right? And that middle of the road too, one foot in two places, right? I'm curious about more of your backstory. You're really open about being a convict. And it's something that's central to your identity. I'm curious about the choice to keep that in the forefront of your identity. So what do you want people to understand about that? You ended up donating your proceeds from your recent Bridgestone Arena show. Was that to a variety of youth programs or to the juvenile detention center where you were incarcerated? What's your hope for what that money can do? Is that because of how far you've come? Do you feel like a different person than when you started making music? Well these last 24 hours might have a few things for you to be grateful for. Well, Sunday's coming, right?