Two For The Road: A Conversation with The Waymores

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Lindsay Garrett

Country music has had no shortage of stellar duets that shared lives both on and off the stage. Tandems including George and Tammy, Johnny and June and Glen and Tanya quickly come to mind in this esteemed category. The Atlanta-based duo The Waymores – Kira Annalise and Willie Heath Neal – continue in that team tradition and will release its sophomore outing, the timeless-yet-timely Stone Sessions, on April 8 [Chicken Ranch Records]. On Saturday, February 19, The Waymores will perform at Birmingham’s Dave’s Pub. Recently, the duo spoke with us by phone from their Atlanta home.

Southern Stages: Kira and Willie, thanks for your time today. We are really enjoying Stone Sessions. How did the album’s material take shape?

Kira Annalise: We wrote a lot of Stone Sessions during quarantine. That’s not to say that some of those ideas hadn’t been around for a while – they just kind of came to fruition during quarantine. A lot of songs, like “Road Worn,” is very quarantine-heavy – it’s all about the feelings that came out of being trapped in the house and not being able to do what we love doing. A lot of them came to light during the lockdown.

Willie Heath Neal: There are a couple that kind of popped out like “Heart Of Stone.” Kira was going through a hard time being a parent and I was thinking about how much she is always giving, giving, giving – I just picked up the guitar and wrote that song. The same went for “Die Right Here” – I just started kicking around this idea [about] people that always say they’re going to do something and never do and and I wrote a chorus and half a verse and within 30 minutes we had a song. Some of them took a long time and some of them just popped right out.

Southern Stages: You already touched on my next question with your last response, but I was curious if you used the lockdown period as a prolific time or time to rest. It sounds like you used that time to be productive.

Willie Heath Neal: Yes, and I think a lot of our peers did as well. Once the quarantine was done, everybody had new albums ready to go.

Kira Annalise: Yeah – what can else can you do with all this free time? Not all of it was prolific – we tried to live it up while we had some time off. We came from touring about 200 days a year and we were set to step foot on a plane two days after everything hit – we were about to do a U.K. tour. They started cancelling flights and cancelling travel and everybody thought “Oh, it’s going to be a couple of weeks or a month.” We were bummed about that one tour and then we had to settle into this new place of being at home and not knowing what to do with all of our free time, so we just wrote.

Southern Stages: How would you describe your songwriting process? Do you sit down together, bring ideas to each other or finish songs on your own?

Willie Heath Neal: Yes [laughs]. From my side of this – and Kira can give hers – I had a career before we started The Waymores and I had about five albums out as Willie Heath Neal and I had just hit a wall with songwriting – I thought I was a halfway decent songwriter  and I hadn’t written anything in years. Kira was writing all these great songs and then I thought I’d said everything I had to say and I was really sad about it. Then I would come up with a line and she would add a line and, next thing you know, I was writing again. So, she gave my songwriting CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver all at the same time. Now, it’s a process – I’ll either get a melody or a couple of lines and play it for her and she’ll just spit out another line. So, it’s a little bit from column A and column B. We have a whole catalog on her phone – we’ll write a lyric going down the road or one of us will say something and we’ll say, “That’s a song lyric – write it down.” Sometimes they pop out and sometimes we craft them.

Kira Annalise: It’s rare that we sit down specifically to write. To have a writing session – that’s not something we purposely do, but we are never not writing songs if that makes sense. We’re always thinking about songwriting and writing in our heads. Willie is more one to craft some pieces. I’m the one that just verbally throws everything out and says, “Make it into something gritty” [laughs]. He’ll do some things own his own and bring them to me and I’m like, “Let’s cancel all our plans for the next two nights.”

Willie Heath Neal: When the song starts and we know we’ve got something, it’s like giving birth – you stop everything. She’s right – we’ve cancelled plans.

Southern Stages: Do you find that songs are still tweaked even after you carry them into the studio for recording?

Willie Heath Neal: Absolutely.

Kira Annalise: This one was a little bit different just because our players were not in the studio with us this time because of quarantine and Covid and everything. Our players worked remotely, so there was a lot less of kicking ideas around and that camaraderie that you build in-session. But we are really blessed with incredible and giving players that are willing to work with us. I was taught early on – and I’m pretty sure it was by Willie – that once you go to the studio, the song should be complete and ready and now we’ve kind of thrown all that to the wind and we get in there and rely on a lot of dynamics coming out in the moment.

Willie Heath Neal: What I mean by [the song should be complete] is you should have 90% of the structure of the song down – studio time is expensive and it’s not like we have a big budget. Don’t go into the studio and write the song.

Southern Stages: I assume that one of the toughest parts of being touring musician is having to say goodbye to loved ones when you go on the road. However, you two get to experience a life of touring together.

Willie Heath Neal: When Kira and I met, I had an album coming out and I was on the road like 200 days a year. We always make the joke that I had I not been on the road, we probably wouldn’t had lasted [laughs]. It would always sting – I didn’t want to be away from her and she didn’t want to be away from me. I always tell people it’s hard to go on the road and have your wife at home mad at you – now I go on the road and she’s in the passenger seat mad at me [laughs].

Southern Stages: Some artists say now is a great time to be in your position given accessibility to listeners is easier than ever and fans can buy your music in a matter of seconds. Other artists say that the current climate makes it difficult to be found among the crowd with so many music outlets available. How do you view today’s music industry?

Kira Annalise: Wow, that’s a really great question. It’s a blessing and a curse. The blessing is having all this instant access to your fans. But, in that same breath, it’s an absolute curse because people feel like they’re deserving of constant access to you. It can be really overwhelming – all of the different markets that you can put your music on. I manage The Waymores and trying to keep up with all of the new trends is exhausting.

Willie Heath Neal: As far as recording music with today’s technology, the beautiful thing about it is anybody can make a record and put it out. The terrible thing is that anybody can make a record and put it out. That freedom comes with prices and we get lost in a sea of crap sometimes – there’s a lot of good stuff and there’s a lot of stuff that’s just garbage that you have to weed through to find the good stuff.

The Waymores will perform at Birmingham’s Dave’s Pub on Saturday, February 19. For ticket information, visit




Toronto Troubadour: Catching Up with Wild Rivers’ Andrew Oliver

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Samuel Kojo

Dubbed “Indie Folk,” “Indie Rock,” and “Contemporary Folk,” Canadian trio Wild Rivers offers a harmony-laden sound that would be as equally at home on ’70s A.M. radio as today’s adult alternative stations. On February 4, the band (Khalid Yassein, Devan Glover and Andrew Oliver) will release Sidelines [Nettwerk Music Group], a 10-track recording produced by Peter Katis [The National, Death Cab for Cutie]. On Tuesday, February 8, Wild Rivers will perform at Saturn. Recently, Oliver spoke with us by phone from Toronto.

Southern Stages: Andy, thanks for your time. Are you still in Toronto or are you on the road yet?

Andrew Oliver: We are in Toronto. We are at our friend’s studio recording a couple of acoustic versions of some of the songs that are about to come out. We head out on the 27th – we have a show in Pittsburgh and then we’re out for a few weeks and we’ll see you in Birmingham not too long after that.

Southern Stages: We are really enjoying Sidelines. How did the album’s material take shape? Are these newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Oliver: It’s a bit of a mixture. About two years ago, we went down to L.A. for four months and just wrote and stayed in a house together. Most of the songs came out of that stretch of time. There are one or two that were written well before that and just didn’t make sense on any other project. It took a long time to get it all together and we recorded it in a bunch of different places.

Southern Stages: Do you find that songs continue to evolve even after you carry them into the recording studio?

Oliver: For sure, especially this time. We were working with a producer named Peter Katis, who’s done The National and a bunch of stuff where there is a lot of texture and sonic elements. We were pretty adamant about honing in on the core of the songs before we went into the studio, but definitely at the last minute we threw a bunch of stuff against the wall in terms of arrangements and adding synth sounds and guitar parts.

Southern Stages: How did your band get connected with Peter?

Oliver: We’re always on the lookout for producers and we are all nerds in terms of reading all the credits of our favorite albums and he has been on our list for a while of people we wanted to work with. We went out on tour with a band called The Paper Kites a couple of years ago when we were starting to formulate the idea for this album. They had just done their latest album with him. We were opening for them and he came out to one of their shows and we met him briefly and got along. When we started to look for producers for this album, he was our first choice. It worked out great.

Southern Stages: You play several instruments. Do you tend to write mostly on guitar, keys or something else?

Oliver: I’m mostly starting from guitar and occasionally keys.

Southern Stages: How would you describe your band’s writing process?

Oliver: We had multiple ways of doing it for this album. Khal had three or four of the songs pretty fully-formed before he brought them to us and he does some writing sessions in Nashville – we were fortunate to get some other writers’ input on the songs. Dev had a couple that she brought in – I believe she originated “Amsterdam” by herself and brought it to us. And then about half the album was us just sitting in a room together.

Southern Stages: Are all of the band’s members still based in Toronto?

Oliver: We are for the moment, yes.

Southern Stages: Was the Covid lockdown period a prolific time for you, a restful one or some of both?

Oliver: I’d say all of the above. It hit us at a weird time. We had basically just started recording with Peter in March 2020 when Covid started. We had driven down to Connecticut to his studio and were all set up to be there for almost a month to knock the whole record out. About halfway through it, they were talking about closing the border so we came home and put the record on pause. It was not a very clear process. We went up to a cottage for a couple of weeks and recorded it ourselves and Peter would remotely produce. We would send what we’d done that day and he would give us his feedback on it. We ended up finishing the album at this studio in Kingston – a college town in Ontario. We are so used to being on the road most of the year, so there was the silver lining of getting a lot more time with our families and friends. But it came at a tough time in the record process and we ended up making it work.

Southern Stages: Did you enjoy the process of recording yourselves?

Oliver: It was fun and it’s something we’re all interested in and we all mess around on our own on stuff not related to the band. But we usually leave it up to the professionals when we go to record as a band, so it’s something we’d been wanting to do for a while – to take more control over that part of the process. We learned a lot and spent a lot of time fixing technical issues, but it was fun.

Southern Stages: Some artists tell me this is a great time for the industry in that music can be easily accessed and purchased. Others say that the flood of content and outlets makes it difficult to be found among the crowd. How do you view the current climate?

Oliver: I hear it from both angles. We got lucky – our first album came out as Spotify was becoming a big thing and we got swept up in it and got lucky on getting on playlists. When we play at a show, about 90% of the people there found us on Spotify or a similar streaming service. So, for us it’s made our whole career and it’s been great. But there’s so much supply that everything feels a little less important.

Southern Stages: How do songs stay fresh and relevant to you after you’ve performed them literally hundreds of times?

Oliver: That’s a good question. It doesn’t always [laughs]. We try and change them up pretty often – we’ll do it more stripped down or have a more upbeat version or a solo section. We’re lucky that we are at a point now that we have enough songs that we can cycle through on different tours. We went out a couple of months ago and the setlist we’re doing a couple of weeks from now is quite different from that one. It’s about finding ways to change it and keep challenging ourselves.

Wild Rivers will perform at Saturn on Tuesday, February 8 at 8 p.m. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $18 and can be purchased at

The Artist Is Empowered: A Conversation with Lost Dog Street Band’s Benjamin Tod

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Melissa Payne

“My whole family is from Alabama. I’ve hopped more trains out of the (Birmingham) Boyles Yard – the CSX yard – than probably any other yard in the country,” recalls Benjamin Tod, frontman for Lost Dog Street Band. On January 21, the band will release  Glory – a 10-track collection of new material – on its own Anti-Corp Music record label. On Friday, January 14, Lost Dog Street Band (Tod, Ashley Mae and Jeff Loops), will perform at Saturn. Recently, Tod spoke with us by phone from his Kentucky home.

Southern Stages: Benjamin, thanks for your time today. We are really enjoying Glory. How did the body of songs take shape?

Benjamin Tod: Basically, all albums that I make are some combination of things from a decade ago to the week of the first recording. I have a huge stack of songs that I pull from when it makes sense to do so and they apply easily to the concept of the album. Throughout the process of recording, I end up writing just a banger for the album and get inspired to some degree through the recording. It’s kind of a mixed bag.

Southern Stages: Over what period of time was the album recorded?

Tod: I think it was started in December 2020  – it’s been a long time coming. Lost Dog albums are always really frustrating for me in comparison to my solo albums. I’ve got to lay down tracks and then I’ve got to wait on everyone else. Our bassist lives in North Carolina so he has to satellite his bass tracks from his home studio to Nashville and then we have to fit it all together. It’s a fire drill.

Southern Stages: Where is your home base these days?

Tod: I’m in Western Kentucky – Muhlenberg County.

Southern Stages: What was the Covid downtime like for you? Was it a prolific time, a relaxing time or something else?

Tod: I would say that I’m more in the twilight of my career – my writing has slowed down in general from when I was in my prime. Tracks like “End With You” – that was actually written two weeks before the Covid lockdown. A lot of my writing has an intuition, if you will. The first line of that tune is “In the wake of all that’s coming, it’s so good to hold you dear” is prophetic in some way. A lot of things that I write end up being that way. I guess years of traveling has given me a different type of intuition about the world around me. There are certainly some songs that I’ve written in the last two years that probably would not have come to be without the general situations of the Covid lockdown and the unrest and general chaos in our society.

Southern Stages: Given an artist’s life tends to revolve around travel, touring income and audience interaction, I can only imagine the upheaval of that unusual time.

Tod: I’m a lot luckier or – I don’t know what the word would be exactly – [in that] I’ve laid a foundation of music and publishing, so financially we can float. We can live off of the money that comes in month-by-month from publishing and royalties. A lot of my friends were not nearly as lucky. I’ve been on the road since I was 16 and I’m a homebody now. As far as the general psychology of being trapped here, it didn’t bother me at all. It gave me time to do some things – I had a surgery that I needed, I dealt with a lot of projects and I cleared 10 acres of land. There’s always something to do here.

Southern Stages: Your band is a success story in the DIY, independent music world. If you will, talk about the current climate and state of the industry.

Tod: I think back to the ’70s and how money was made back then. There was such a tight control on the viewership of music in general – you got radio royalties and you got record royalties. Now, you’ve got royalties from literally from thousands of subsidiaries of companies and there’s a hundred branches of Spotify. The power struggle within the industry really favors the artist right now, in my opinion, more than it ever has because an artist can speak directly to the consumer and it’s basically a perfect storm of free enterprise. People can go find what they enjoy and can support it and the artist can directly make the money. It’s kind of cut out the dinosaurs on Music Row and they have no idea what to do. I’ve been in multiple bad deals and came out mainly unscathed, but they’re clueless. They’re still trying to run the same program they were running 20 years ago. They have no idea how to make someone famous – I have a better idea of how to make someone famous than someone charging $50,000 to do it on Music Row.

Southern Stages: It’s great to hear that the gatekeeper has been removed, so to speak.

Tod: Yes, and It’s brought a revival in this music. I talk about this often, buy when we started doing this 10 years ago, this wasn’t cool, that Alt-Country, Outlaw thing. Now, it’s flooded and the artist is empowered.

Southern Stages: With several albums under your belt, how do you comprise your setlists these days?

Tod: A lot of it comes down to variables with my health and also with intonation and things like that. I have nerve damage in my hands, so people will notice throughout a set that if I play a faster flatpicking song, I’ll have to immediately go into a softer fingerpicking song. It’s really slowed me down a lot. We have so  many songs from so long ago – if we don’t play “September Doves,” there’s a large portion of the crowd that will be upset. Any band that makes it anywhere runs into this issue. So, 30 to 35% of the set is out the window with standards.

Southern Stages: How do songs stay fresh and relevant to you after you’ve performed them hundreds of times?

Tod: Man, you’ve got some good questions. Really, there’s no way for me to gauge it. I will start playing a song and it will take me right back to when I wrote it. It’s nearly impossible to do that unnaturally. I always say it’s impossible to care about something you don’t care about. You cannot force someone to care about something they don’t care about – it’s impossible. But at least every four times on tour, one of those songs I’ve played a million times hits me right in the gut and I can feel tears behind my eyes. It does happen.

On Friday, January 14, Lost Dog Street Band will perform at Saturn. Advance tickets to the 9 p.m., 18+ show are $15 and can be purchased at



Catching Up with Jocelyn & Chris

By Brent Thompson

Photo credit: Kiki Vassilakis

In addition to being sister and brother, Jocelyn & Chris are seasoned musicians to say the least. First performing together at ages 12 and 11, respectively, the sibling duo has spent years writing, recording and touring together. In early 2022, Jocelyn & Chris will release their new album, Favorite Ghosts. The duo is currently riding a wave of success on the strength of the single “Sugar and Spice.” Recently, we caught up with them by phone.

Southern Stages: Jocelyn and Chris, thanks for your time today. Where are you at the present moment?

Jocelyn Arndt: We are actually in the car on the way to a show near Boston – we are on the road.

Southern Stages: We are looking forward to the release of Favorite Ghosts. If you will, talk about the writing and recording of the album.

Chris Arndt: 2019 was a productive year for us – we’d been on the NBC Today show and we’d done a couple of national tours and we wrote most of this album and we recorded a live acoustic album that year. We were planning on releasing this album back in early 2020 but then obviously things got pushed back. We are really excited to finally get new music out there.

Southern Stages: It’s difficult to interview an artist these days without mentioning Covid and the upheaval that followed, mainly the loss of touring income and no audience interaction.

Jocelyn: Definitely. It was like one minute we had the whole summer planned and the next minute it was just gone. Thank God for the Internet because we would have had literally nothing to do if we couldn’t live stream. Nothing substitutes a good rock show, but we were able to live stream a lot and at least know that we were playing for somebody somewhere [laughs]. So that helped us get through for sure.

Southern Stages: Where was Favorite Ghosts recorded?

Jocelyn: The majority of it was recorded at White Lake Studios in Albany, N.Y. with the exception of most of the lead vocals, which were recorded at Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck, N.Y. It’s a legendary studio and they had some very choice vintage microphones.

Southern Stages: How does your songwriting process tend to work?

Chris: Jocelyn is definitely much more of a lyricist and a person who can write melodies and I live in the chords and the arrangements and the song structures. We fill out each other’s strengths and weaknesses really, really well. With each song, one of us will have a kernel of an idea – there may be a riff for me or a hook from Jocelyn. Once we have an idea that we think is worth building a song around, we bring in the other person and start throwing stuff against the wall until we have a song.

Southern Stages: Some artists say that the current musical  climate – with outlets such as iTunes, Spotify, Youtube – is beneficial given the instant accessibility of content. Others say that the current model makes it hard to be found among the crowd. How do you view the current state of the industry?

Jocelyn: You’re right about the accessibility thing and the cool thing about streaming is that anyone anywhere in the world can find you. During lock down, we’d live stream and people would pop up in Australia and Norway and people were able to connect with our music in that way. There are some advantages to it, but there are disadvantages to everything as well. We are indie artists and we are doing this ourselves as are a lot of people out there. It can be really if you’re not a big major label to eek out a little space in the current landscape. The best thing we’ve found is to try everything and nothing beats a good rock show. We connect the most with people when we can actually get in front of them and play live. We try to use the digital aspect to help people find us in the real world which is where the real connection gets made.

Chris: I do love songwriting and being in the studio and crafting the music, but this summer we hadn’t done shows in basically two years and we pushed a radio single called “Sugar and Spice” that got played all over the country and it got played on Birmingham Mountain Radio. To do that radio single push and see people again, I did not realize how much we had all been missing it – it was so nice.

Southern Stages: How do songs stay fresh to you after you’ve played them literally hundreds of times?

Jocelyn: This album will be our eighth studio record. When we were playing gigs in high school, we had three original songs and now we get 90 minutes onstage and we have to pick and choose [laughs]. It’s a good problem to have but it’s a little weird. We do try to mix it up in the set and we don’t get to play everything all the time anymore and that keeps things fresh. We change how we play things a little bit and we don’t even notice how much we tend to do that until we listen back to the original recording.

Southern Stages: Not many artists have the ability to forge their careers with immediate family at their side. If you will, talk about that experience.

Jocelyn: It’s awesome. The funny thing is that neither of us has any perspective of music being any other way because from the very beginning we’ve been playing together. We realize how lucky we are – it’s a fun job, but it can be a really tough job. We’ve always been each other’s best friends and it makes it so much easier.

Jocelyn & Chris’s new album, Favorite Ghosts, will be available in early 2022.



Review: Jason Isbell has Georgia on his mind

By Brent Thompson

When the state of Georgia went blue – politically-speaking that is – Jason Isbell became inspired to record an album of Georgia-related songs. The result is Georgia Blue, a 13-track collection that runs the stylistic spectrum. Aided by his trusty backing band the 400 Unit, Isbell also enlists a stellar guest lineup that includes Brandi Carlile, Bela Fleck, Adia Victoria, John Paul White, Julien Baker, Steve Gorman and Brittney Spencer. Along the way, the ensemble takes on James Brown (“It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World”), Gladys Knight (“Midnight Train To Georgia”), Drivin N Cryin (“Honeysuckle Blue”), The Allman Brothers Band (“In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”) and REM (“Nightswimming”). On Georgia Blue, Isbell and company accomplish the difficult task of being reverent to the material while placing their own stamp on some well-worn classics.

Review: The Nth Power returns with a message of hope

By Brent Thompson

Blending genres can be a dangerous thing, but The Nth Power has always used that concept to its advantage. On its latest album, Reverence, the trio – Nikki Glaspie, Nick Cassarino and Nate Edgar – still effectively melds R&B, rock and hip-hop into a style of its own. Joined by a stellar list of guest musicians including Ivan Neville, Maceo Parker and the late Kofi Burbridge, the band spreads its message of hope across the album on tracks including “A New Day,” “Spirits,” and “I Will Never Leave.” Co-produced by The Nth Power with Rick St. Hilaire and Will Bradford, Reverence is an apt title as the band expands its sonic horizons while remaining true to itself.


Be Your Own Artist: A Conversation with Andrew Bryant

By Brent Thompson

As if being a musician forced off the road during the Covid shutdown wasn’t challenging enough, Andrew Bryant was working through the process of sobriety at the same time. But instead of reverting to old, unhealthy ways, Bryant went into the recording studio to grapple with his circumstances. The result is A Meaningful Connection, an 11-track, timeless-sounding effort that finds Bryant (formerly of Mississippi indie-rockers Water Liars) writing, recording, producing and performing virtually every instrument himself. The album’s sound befits its rough-hewn song titles such as “Drink Away The Pain,” “Fight,” “How It Feels” and “Truth Ain’t Hard To Find.” Recently, Bryant discussed downtime, home recording, his new album and the state of the music industry with us by phone from his Oxford, Ms. home.

Southern Stages: Andrew, thanks for your time. Where are you right now?

Andrew Bryant: I’m at home – I haven’t ventured onto the road since 2019. I really wanted to at several points throughout the year and said, “I’m going to wait and see what happens.” Every time I did, my friends’ tours kept getting cancelled.

Southern Stages: I can’t imagine the upheaval of being a touring musician in a time where the live music industry was completely shut down.

Bryant: Most of my time has been filled with doing all the other things involved with music – like updating my studio and things I put off for a long time – and just writing a ton and playing every day. You kind of get out of the habit of it at home when you play on the road a lot. When you come home you just don’t play as much and you realize you haven’t picked up your guitar in a month. I really tried to build some home habits of playing every day and trying to write as much as I can and record as much as I can. I’m just going up into my studio and recording covers just for fun to keep myself playing different instruments. When I don’t have anything to do, I find something to do with music. That’s what really keeps me going.

Southern Stages: Do you have touring plans for this year or are you likely waiting until next year?

Bryant: I think I’m going to shelve it until next year. I’ve got a few people I’m talking to and I might do something this fall, but the Delta variant hit Mississippi pretty hard and now it looks like it’s hitting other parts of the country. I hope I can get out there and at least do a few shows this year. I held off on a lot of that because the vinyl for my new record was supposed to be here in August and it got pushed off until October, so I’m just now looking at getting my merch in within the next couple of weeks.

Southern Stages: We are really enjoying A Meaningful Connection. Were the songs on this album newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Bryant: I would say probably only three or four of the songs I was working on right at the end of 2019 and early 2020. Covid had started without us knowing it about the time I started writing for this album. About 75% percent of it was written during lockdown and 100% of it was recorded during lockdown.

Southern Stages: Do you still tweak songs at the 13th hour even after you take them into the studio to record them?

Bryant: At that point, it was like 50-something hour tweaking [laughs]. When you’re at home and doing it yourself, you tend to overthink things anyway and, if you don’t have anything but time on your hands, you’re going to try different versions. I tend to write a song and I hear where I want it go loosely in my head and I just follow that. But there are a couple of songs on the record – like “Fight” – which is a different type of song for me in that I only had the one line “I don’t want to fight anymore” and I just had the riff. I went into the studio and said, “I’m going to see if I can make something out of this.” That song was just made on the fly. I had a couple of songs that I cut off that I thought weren’t just quite good enough.

Southern Stages: It sounds like you’re pretty savvy in the producing and engineering areas.

Bryant: I guess so – I have my own self doubts about it, but I tend to get it done.

Southern Stages: Along those same lines, do you enjoy the process of making records at home instead of being on a budget in a traditional studio with the clock ticking?

Bryant: Yes, and there’s a lot of positives with that but there are also some negatives. For example, I’ve already pretty much written my next album and I’m really missing going into a studio. The thing about going into a studio is having the [scheduled] time – it can be good for you. It forces you to make decisions and it can be more natural. Whereas, when you’re working at home – and I have friends who are producers who work at home and we talk about it a lot – sometimes you just overthink it and you need to get it out of your room because you start to do too much.

Southern Stages: So a deadline can be a good thing.

Bryant: The deadline is crucial.

Southern Stages: Some people say that now is a great time to be an artist given listeners can find your music so easily via Spotify, Youtube, iTunes, satellite radio and other modern outlets. Others say that – for the same reason – it can make it challenging to be found among the crowd. How do you view the current musical climate?

Bryant: That’s a great question. I guess I agree with both of those points. I really like the fact that anyone can try their hand at it and get it out there. When I was growing up in the ’90s, it wasn’t like that and it was hard to make a demo and burn it on CD and get it in the hands of a label. You can be your own artist now which I think is great. I sell a lot of records and have a lot of fans overseas and I’ve never been there. I have people email me and send me messages from all over Europe and Australia. A friend recently messaged me and said, “Hey, did you know they’re playing you on the radio in Melbourne?” and I said, “No!” [laughs] and I’ve never been there. For the type of artist that I am, it’s a real positive thing and I really love it. It keeps me going.

Southern Stages: Any future plans for Water Liars?

Bryant: We’re pretty much doing our own things now. We still keep up and we talk, but it’s not something that’s on our radar.

The Human Connection: A Conversation with The War and Treaty

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: David McClister

The husband and wife duo of Michael Trotter and Tanya Blount – better known as The War and Treaty – can authentically sing about hope as they are living examples. Suffering from PTSD following his time serving in the Iraq War, Trotter persevered – thanks to Blount’s encouragement as detailed in their song “Five More Minutes” – and the duo has garnered the attention of listeners, critics and peers alike. Currently, the band is touring in support of its 2020 release Hearts Town. On Saturday, October 16, The War and Treaty will perform in support of Lauren Daigle at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center. Recently, Trotter and Blount spoke with us by phone from a tour stop in Atlanta.

Southern Stages: Michael and Tanya, thanks for your time today. How did you hold up throughout the Covid shutdown?

Tanya Blount: We’ve actually been really grateful to be able to have Zoom and figure out ways to connect with the fans. It’s been challenging, but it’s been rewarding at the same time. It’s bittersweet.

Southern Stages: Was the time away from performing a prolific time as far as writing or was it more about taking a  break?

Michael Trotter: We definitely wrote and demoed and rehearsed a bunch. We had a bunch of family time which was really cool – we hadn’t had that in a long time. We did live concerts online and honed in on what we wanted things to be like going forward.

Southern Stages: We are really enjoying Hearts Town. Are the songs on the album newer compositions, older ideas or a mixture of both?

Trotter: Definitely a mixture of both.

Blount: We would actually perform those songs for two years prior to recording the record on the road. So it’s kind of one of those records where the fans really wanted certain songs. We write them and we go out on the road to test them out with the fans. If they like them, we stick with them. If they don’t, we put them away for something else.

Southern Stages: How does your writing process work? Do you tend to write more at home, on the road or whenever inspiration strikes?

Trotter: Because I write in my head, I write everywhere. The lyrics and music happen right up in my head and it can happen at any given point in time. When the spirit moves, the spirit moves.

Southern Stages: Not a lot of artists get to experience their career with their spouse by their side. If you will, talk about the unique opportunity of doing this together.

Trotter: It’s been a wonderful thing. I’ve been threatened a lot by Tanya [laughs] – it’s been a new development in our relationship.We have two blankets and two comforters now – his and hers!

Blount: He keeps telling stories [laughs].

Southern Stages: Some artists say, due to technology, that now is  a great time to be found via outlets including Spotify, iTunes, Youtube and satellite radio. Other artists say that it’s a challenging time to be found among the crowd. How do you view the pros and cons of the current climate?

Blount: We realize that we’re a touring band – a live show band. We really don’t pay too much attention to that. Spotify numbers and iTunes and all of that stuff can be manipulated because it is technology. We just keep the focus on the fans and they tell their friends and families about us. Like most artists, we are using social media but, at the same time, we realize that we are a touring band.

Southern Stages: How do songs stay fresh and relevant to you after you’ve performed some of them literally hundreds of times by now?

Blount: I’d have to say again that it goes back to the fans. Every crowd is different – it’s giving them an experience and allowing yourself to experience them as well. To keep it fresh, we understand that it is a joy and a gift to be able to stand in front of them and feel them and have this incredible exchange of the human connection. To feel that every time, it’s a high that you can’t really explain.

The War and Treaty will perform in support of Lauren Daigle at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center on Saturday, October 16. Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show are $29.50 – $126.00 and can be purchased at



A Broader Lens: Catching up with Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Clara Balzary

In a recording career spanning more than a decade, Dawes has released a string of timeless-sounding albums. With songs including the anthemic “When My Time Comes” to the ’70s A.M. radio strains of “Time Spent In Los Angeles” to the Yacht Rock polish of “Feed The Fire,” the quartet has managed to stay reverent and relevant at the same time. On Wednesday, September 8, Dawes will perform at Avondale Brewing Company. The band is currently touring in support of its 2020 release Good Luck With Whatever (Rounder Records). Recently, Taylor Goldsmith – the band’s lead vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriter – spoke with us by phone from his Los Angeles home.

Southern Stages: Taylor, thanks for your time. How have you and your band held up throughout Covid?

Taylor Goldsmith: We’re good. It’s an intense time. Everyone’s safety comes first so we are trying to act accordingly. Some people want to complain about that, but that’s how we have to do it. Obviously, no one has all the answers but we’re being as safe as we can based on the info that we have. The idea that we get to go back out and play shows is awesome. It’s a strange first step forward but we’re very excited.

Southern Stages: Of course, each of us took our lumps during the pandemic. But I always think about the impact on artists in particular whose lives are based around travel, touring income and audience interaction. It must have been quite the upheaval.

Goldsmith: Music was the first thing to go down and it seems like the it’s the last thing to come back. My wife’s [Mandy Moore] an actress and her show has a protocol at this point that everyone can get onboard with, but group gatherings are a different thing so it’s been tough. It’s taken a lot of time, but it’s given us a lot of perspective and a lot of gratitude for the jobs we have – we won’t be taking it for granted.

Southern Stages: We are enjoying Good Luck With Whatever. Are the songs on the album mostly newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Goldsmith: Sort of a mixture, but that helped us find out what the album should be. We had the song “Still Feel Like A Kid” and we tried it for [2018 album] Passwords and it didn’t work because we tried it as a midtempo ballad. But it did give birth and direction to Good Luck With Whatever. Good Luck With Whatever became a manchild’s reckoning with adulthood [laughs] and that song became the thesis statement for everything else. Even though it’s light and humorous, I feel like it’s one of the most honest songs I’ve ever written.

Southern Stages: Did the album release get altered due to Covid or was a fall 2020 release date always the plan?

Goldsmith: That was always the plan. We recorded it the year before and it was all written and recorded before Covid hit. We had the idea to take the year off and give our fans a break because we’ve just toured so much. We thought, “Here’s a chance to record this record and put it on ice” and everyone did it. We actually recorded another record in November and now we’re sitting on that one. Because we’ve been home so much, our recording schedule has gotten ahead of our touring schedule.

Southern Stages: If you will, talk about the experience of forging your career with your brother, Griffin, alongside you in the band.

Goldsmith: It works because we put that first. We all want to go play music and make records, but if it gets in the way of something somebody wants to do and it starts harming relationships, then it doesn’t matter. It’s not even a democracy where three guys want this and one guy wants that. We just keep talking it 0ut until we are all 100% on the same page. Whenever a band is falling out of love with each other, the audience is the first to know it and you can tell when it’s a business. We try to make sure that our relationship is as healthy as it ever was because that’s what makes any band have a shot at being special.

Southern Stages: How do you feel about the current musical climate in the age of Youtube, Spotify and satellite radio? How do you reconcile the accessibility with being found among the flood of content available?

Goldsmith: When I try to step back and take a look at it through a broader lens, it seems like the leaders of a generation and cultural icons will be happening less and less because, like you said, there is so much available. If you’re an American kid between 20 and 30, there are so many people that can represent the way you think and see the world artistically. I think that can really be a cool thing. If you go in certain circles and ask who Jeff Tweedy and Phoebe Bridgers are, they’re going to look at you like “Who are you talking about?” In other circles, those are going to be icons forever. We all have a chance to find our audience in new ways. I feel a very strong connection to the Dawes community, but I know when I get on a plane there’s not going to be a single person that knows who I am and I think that’s really cool. As long as we all manage expectations and understand that there’s room for pop music and cutting-edge hip-hop and Taylor Goldsmith with an acoustic guitar all in the same world to varying degrees but still having a space, I think that’s a quality of this time we’re living in and worth celebrating.

Southern Stages: You’ve played some songs in your catalog hundreds – even thousands – of times by now. How do older songs stay fresh and relevant to you?

Goldsmith: One thing I’ve been doing more recently is playing with the set list. We just went on a little run and played three nights in a row and I made sure that we didn’t play any song twice. We also try to play a little bit with how we play it. One night recently, I played “When My Time Comes” just on acoustic guitar and let the audience sing most of it. But if you told me I had to play a song the way it sounds on the record for the rest of my career, I’d be thrilled to do it. I think the fans reignite it each night – it’s like they’re doing it for us. The fact that they respond to it the way they do and sing along with it – I’m feeling their excitement from it. We have seven albums and if we’re in the same city for two nights, we’re okay with giving two completely different experiences.

Dawes will perform at Avondale Brewing on Wednesday, September 8 with special guest Erin Rae. Advance tickets to the 7 p.m. all-ages show are $32.50 and can be purchased at

Please Note: Per the artist’s request, please note this show is requiring all fans to provide PRINTED proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event OR full vaccination for entry. All fans must have received a negative COVID-19 diagnostic test within 72-hours before entry to the facility and provide printed proof of a negative result prior to entering the venue. Or, be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (at least two weeks after final dose) and have the option to provide proof of vaccination – either the original vaccination card or a printed copy of the vaccination card. Unvaccinated fans under 12 years of age will be required to take a COVID-19 diagnostic test within 72-hours before entry to the facility and will provide printed proof of negative result prior to entering the venue. Unvaccinated fans over 12 years old with a valid medical restriction & medical note will be required to take a COVID-19 diagnostic test within 72-hours before entry to the facility, and will provide printed proof of negative result prior to entering the venue.

Review: Watchhouse gives us familiar faces with a new name, expanded sound

By Brent Thompson

Changing the name of a band more than a decade since its debut release – especially a band with a loyal following – is a bold move to say the least. With that said, welcome to the bold new world of Watchhouse, formerly known as Mandolin Orange. The duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz has recently-released its self-titled album under the new moniker and there are evident changes beyond the name. Released on Tiptoe Tiger Music/Thirty Tigers and produced by Josh Kaufman (The National, The Hold Steady), the album’s nine tracks find the duo exploring sonic territory beyond its trademark contemporary folk sound. Themes of parenthood, isolation and climate change are set to a lush, even jazzy, sound. Watchhouse should serve the band well as existing fans will stay onboard and new ones will be made along the way.