Interview: Smithfield’s Trey Smith and Jennifer Fielder talk music, touring

Photo: Jason Myers

With hook-laden melodies, clever songwriting and rich harmonies, the partnership of Trey Smith and Jennifer Fielder (Smithfield) are fast becoming one of Nashville’s most in-demand acts. The duo, whose family connection spans three generations, defines their music as an infectious blend of rock and pop mixed with traditional country.

Smithfield spent the year as part of the Granger Smith tour before hitting the festival circuit this past summer. Now the pair has embarked on their first nationwide radio tour promoting their latest single, “Our World.”  But don’t expect Smith and Fielder to slow down and hibernate over the long winter months. The duo plans to hit the studio again to record more new music to be released early in the New Year.

AXS recently spoke with Smith and Fielder about Smithfield and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How did the two of you come together to form Smithfield?

Jennifer Fielder: Trey and I have known each other since we were about ten years old. Our families go back three generations, so our grandparents and parents all knew each other. Growing up, our families did parties together and Trey and I met at one of our New Year’s Eve parties. As far as how we formed Smithfield, even though Trey and I knew each other, we grew up singing separately. I was doing country music in college when Trey’s rock band had broken up. He reached out to me and the two of us got together. That’s when we discovered our voices blended perfectly together. It was fate that we were meant to sing together, and our journey began from there.

AXS: How would you describe your sound?

Trey Smith: I come from a rock background and Jen comes from a more traditional, country background. But our sound is really focused on our harmonies. I like to say that it’s a rock and pop mix that’s rooted in country music.

AXS: How does your songwriting process work?

JF: Sometimes it starts with an idea, title, or a melody that Trey has on his guitar. Other times, our co-writer will have a great idea and we can latch on and tell the story. Sometimes we may just be chatting in the room about life and an idea will come out of that. You can never plan to write a great song. It just happens.

AXS: What can you tell me about your recent single, “Our World?”

TS: One of the great things about Nashville is that there are so many great songs being written every day. “Our World” was a song that was pitched to us by a friend. When a song connects with you and can bring out an emotion, it’s something you want to cut. This was one of those situations where we knew it was a Smithfield song the moment we heard it.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Smithfield by Clicking Here!

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Interview: John Schneider discusses ‘Dancing With The Stars’, new music and downloadable App

For the multi-talented singer-songwriter, actor (and dancer), John Schneider, telling stories is in his DNA. The same can also be said for his amazingly talented and beautiful “Dancing With The Stars” partner, Emma Slater. The couple’s innate ability to weave deep layers of emotion into their routine is a big reason why they’ve done so well on the popular ABC series this season.

As Schneider continues his whirlwind run in the competition, he’s also busy promoting his new music single, “Devil In The Mirror,” as well as his John Schneider App. A portal which gives fans access to all of his events and social media as well as a one-stop shop for his music and merchandise.

AXS recently spoke with Schneider about what it’s like being on “Dancing With The Stars”, his new single and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: What’s it been like working with Emma Slater this season on “Dancing With The Stars?”

John Schneider: It’s been great. Emma’s a storyteller, just like me. Once we started to gel, she started thinking about songs where we could tell great stories. She really went out of her way to find the right song, the right movement and mood for “Smile” (our recent dance) so that we could tell the story about me missing my mother but finding my smile at the same time. It’s not always about the dancing. It’s about what you’re saying, and telling stories is in her soul.

AXS: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about dancing?

JS: All of them are different, so it’s about technique and frame. You’ve got to keep your frame rigid and that boils down to keeping your elbows up, especially in the Waltz. You have to look like you have a broom handle stretching elbow to elbow straight across your back. It always feels like I’m doing it but when I look back at the video my elbows are not up. For me, it’s a lot like golf. If you get too comfortable with your swing, chances are it’s wrong.

AXS: How does dancing in front of so many people compare to performing music or acting?

JS: The assumption everyone has is that the nerves kick in when you get to Monday night and all of the people, but that’s actually when I feel most comfortable. In this case, comfort is really not my friend because comfort equals “elbows down”. But what we did this past Monday night was beautiful. I know this because they have about a hundred stagehands constantly moving stuff around and working their butts off. After our dance, I noticed several of them were crying. That to me is more important than technique. I’m not designed to be a perfect, technical dancer. I’m designed to connect to an audience. So, when I see a 52-year-old man in a black t-shirt crying underneath a light after I did a dance, I know I did something important and touched someone. Our job is to entertain and make you feel something for a certain amount of time, and for that I’m grateful.

Read the rest of my
Interview with John Schneider by Clicking Here!

Birthday Reflections at 49

October 5th, 2018. My 49th birthday.

I look at those words on the computer screen, with the cursor synchronously blinking, and find it hard to believe it’s even possible. I can’t help but think about my father who, when he was this age, had only two years left to live.

Seriously, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was the youthful teen driving my beat-up, 1973 Toyota to the Palmer mall on Friday nights after school? Pouring every last cent of my lawn mowing allowance into video game cabinets at the arcade while drinking gallons of Orange Julius and wishing I could muster up the courage to go talk to the cute girl who stood with her friends in the Listening Booth record store?

I’ve grown accustomed to listening to the creaks and cracks of getting out of bed every morning, and the inevitable gray or missing hairs I see whenever I look into the mirror. Reading glasses have become the norm for me now, and summers are often spent resisting the urge to tell young children to get off my lawn.

But these past twelve months have really been something special. I finally realized my lifelong dream of writing a novel, and after six years of interviewing and writing articles for a half-dozen websites, I was invited to write for Guitar World magazine. What’s more, I submitted my first article, which should appear in the January 2019 issue, three days before my 49th birthday.

And now, the countdown is officially on. In 365 days I will officially be a half-century old. As I look to that milestone with both fear and uncertainty, I find myself going back to that 12-year-old me, and the day I received my very first student ID at school. On the back of the plastic, laminated card were the words, “Year of Graduation – 1987.”  A year that seemed a lifetime away, just like the year 2000 did… 18+ years ago.

This song always makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it. Does it do the same for you?

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still, and that you’ll never be as old as your parents. But then you take a nap and wake up in that role.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years of my 40’s it’s that it’s no longer about the years left in your life. It’s about the life left in your years.

Interview: Gin Blossoms’ Robin Wilson discusses the band’s new album, ‘Mixed Reality’

Photo: Shervin Lainez

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than twenty-five years since Gin Blossoms’ monstrous breakthrough album, New Miserable Experience. A record which was a much-needed alternative to the flavor of the week pablum and grunge scene and featured the hits “Hey Jealousy,” “Until I Fall Away,” “Found Out About You,” and “Allison Road.” Perhaps nothing captures that same spirited sentiment better in 2018 than the band’s brand new album, Mixed Reality.

Produced by the legendary Don Dixon, Mixed Reality features the jangle influence Dixon made famous on early albums by REM and The Smithereens. At the same time, vocalist Robin Wilson’s lyrics and delivery on tracks like “Break,” and “Face The Dark” are infectiously reminiscent of the band’s early days but also show a deeper level of musical maturity. A testament to a band who, even after a quarter of a century, still has a lot left to say.

AXS recently spoke with Robin Wilson about the new Gin Blossoms album, Mixed Reality, memorable moments, touring and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: It’s been eight years since the band’s last album, No Chocolate Cake. What inspired Mixed Reality?

Robin Wilson: Motivation. It had been too long and we were anxious to record again and do something to propel our career. Mixed Reality is a companion to New Miserable Experience and an album I feel we would’ve wanted to make in 1990.

AXS What was it like having Don Dixon produce Mixed Reality?

RW: It was very exciting. Don Dixon [and Mitch Easter] recorded the first two REM records. Those were at the core of our influences as a band. I remember when we went into the songwriting, I felt very connected to my twenty-year-old self when I was listening to REM, The Smithereens and those records that inspired us.

AXS: What’s your songwriting process like? 

RW: Generally, I keep a notebook of lyric ideas and when I come up with a melody, I’ll look through my list to see what leans into it. For a few of the songs on this album, I sat down with the guitar and wrote the melody and lyrics at the same time. A good example of that is the song, “Break.” I had that verse and chorus of that song within about ten minutes. It took a few weeks to add the bridge and refine it a little, but once I felt like I was onto something I became confident in the material.

AXS: What can you tell me about the track, “Face The Dark?”

RW: I had originally written that song thinking it was going to be about the end of my marriage. But once I had it pretty well wrapped up, it felt more like it was either about, to, or from Doug Hopkins, our original guitar player. Having already been thinking of REM and the records Don and Mitch had made, it was really easy to think about Doug too and some of my memories of him.

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Interview with Robin Wilson by Clicking Here!

Interview: Guitar legend Marty Friedman discusses his new double-live album, ‘One Bad M.F. LIVE!!’

Guitarist Marty Friedman’s monstrous double-live album, One Bad M.F. LIVE!!, is a tip of the hat to the live albums Friedman listened to while growing up. Everything about the album, from the arranging and pacing of the songs to the audience participation and in the moment ad libs, is decidedly old school.

Recorded live this past April in Mexico City, Friedman’s new album showcases the guitar legend’s visceral prowess. Friedman’s band, which features Kiyoshi on bass, Jordan Ziff on guitar and Chargeeee on drums, is also in peak form. Performing tracks from the guitarist’s most recent studio album, Wall of Sound, as well as a selection of infectious fan favorites.

AXS recently spoke with Marty Freidman about his new double-live album, One Bad M.F. LIVE!! [which will be released on Oct. 19], touring, inspiration and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: What inspired you to make this new live album?

Marty Friedman: I’ve had a really good vibe with my band for the last few years and wanted to document what I was seeing on the road every night. I wanted it to be an old-school, double-live album because it reminded me of the way I felt listening to live albums as a kid and the whole experience that comes from a live performance as opposed to the studio. I don’t do a whole lot of “old school” stuff but thought it would be a cool chance to capture that feeling.

AXS: Are there any extra set of nerves going into recording a live album, knowing that there’s no going back?

MF: Not really. The only thing I was concerned about was if something were to go down with the mobile recording studio during the set. We only recorded one show, which was kind of a ballsy move. But we’d been on tour for a while and everything was working great. This is a good representation of what it’s like out there!

AXS: What’s your writing process like? 

MF: I’ll usually start off with a melody. Once you have a melody you feel is strong it’s open to many different interpretations. That’s one of the differences between live and studio. In the studio, I’m really anal about every little detail and getting things perfect. For a live album, all of that work is already done. Now, it becomes a matter of performing and enjoying it. The arrangements are a little different when you play live, especially with instrumental music, because you want to shorten some things and get straight to the point. It’s a different feeling.

AXS: Let’s discuss a few tracks from the new album, starting with “Whiteworm.” What can you tell me about it?

MF: That was written right after I got back from this really big event in Buenos Aires in 2015. I played with Astor Piazzolla’s grandson and his band doing all of Astor Piazzolla’s music. It’s a heavy responsibility to do anywhere, much less in Piazzolla’s hometown with an audience of people who grew up with his music. I worked hard to learn how to play that music in a manner where I could give it expression and play it my way without damaging the integrity of what it already is. It was such a great experience and it left me with a lot of residual knowledge. I started to have a bit more of a Latin way of thinking when it came to writing melodies and little hooks and phrases. When I got back to Tokyo to start writing for my Wall of Sound record, I was more at ease with things that were Latin in nature than ever before. That’s how that song came about.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Marty Friedman by Clicking Here.

Interview: Bassist Trevor Horn Discusses His Role in Dire Straits Legacy tour, career milestones

DSL (Dire Straits Legacy) is an experience and celebration of the Grammy-Award winning British rockers’ music. It’s an evolving contingent that features former members of Dire Straits – Alan Clark (piano/keyboards), Danny Cummings (percussion), Mel Collins (saxophone) and Phil Palmer (guitar/musical director). Other renowned musicians, including drummer Steve Ferrone (Tom Petty), bassist Trevor Horn (The Buggles, Yes), Marco Caviglia (vocals/guitar) and Primiano DiBiase (keyboards) have also joined in various stages to tour and record.

The contingent, which has already toured Europe and South America and released their first original album, 3 Chord Trick, late last year, is now embarked on a U.S. tour that will run through mid-October. The tour gives longtime fans the opportunity of hearing hits like “Sultans of Swing,” “Walk of Life,” “Romeo & Juliet,” and the quintessential MTV classic, “Money For Nothing,” performed live for the first time in decades.

AXS recently spoke with bassist Trevor Horn about the tour, his career and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How did you become involved in the DSL project?

Trevor Horn: I became involved last year because one of the guitar players was someone I use a lot on my records. He told me the band was doing some gigs in Brazil and needed someone on the bass. It’s been an interesting experience and has made me have a lot more respect for Mark Knopfler as a writer.

AXS: What do you think makes the music of Dire Straits so special?

TH: I can tell you straight off. The lyrics are real and the playing is terrific. Just the way Mark Knopfler writes; he takes things a lot of people use and turns them on their head in a really good way. Obviously, his guitar playing is great too.

AXS: What’s next for the group after this run of U.S. shows?

TH: We’ll be off to do some shows in Bucharest and Italy. I’ll also be doing a show with my own band in November at the Royal Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Trevor Horn by Clicking Here!

Interview: REO Speedwagon guitarist Dave Amato talks touring, signature Les Paul guitar

It’s been another amazing year of touring for classic rock titans REO Speedwagon. The band, which includes Kevin Cronin (vocals, rhythm guitar), Dave Amato (guitars), Bruce Hall (bass), Neal Doughty (keyboards) and Bryan Hitt (drums) has recently completed a thirty-four city tour with Chicago that went along with nearly two dozen more shows with fellow legends Styx and Don Felder.

With a tireless work ethic and a career that’s spanned more than four decades with songs like “Roll With The Changes,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Ridin’ The Storm Out,” and “Back On The Road Again,” REO is the quintessential rock act.

The band is currently out on a run of sold-out, headlining shows across the U.S. to finish off the year. AXS recently caught up with guitarist Dave Amato to talk about REO’s tour, the second generation of his Signature Les Paul guitar and more in this exclusive interview.

AXS: REO Speedwagon continues to sell out shows across the country. Do you have an opinion on why fans can’t seem to get enough of the band after all this time?

Dave Amato: It’s the songs. The songs are what continue to live on. The parents who grew up with the music now have kids in their twenties who come to the shows and know all the words. People always come up to me and say, “It’s so fun to come to see you guys because you always look so happy when you’re up there”  [laughs]. The truth is that even after all of this time we still genuinely like each other. This year, we played twenty shows with Styx and Don Felder and then we did about thirty-four shows with Chicago. Even now that we’re back out on our own we’ve managed to keep up the intensity. It’s like family and we’re happy to be out there.

AXS: As a guitarist, is there a particular REO song that’s your favorite to perform?

DA: They’re all fun to play. I get to do all the signature solos but I also have the opportunity to stretch out a little bit on a song like “Back On The Road Again” where it’s a little more free form. But really, what’s not to like? I get to solo on every song [laughs].

AXS: Can you give me an update on your upcoming Signature Les Paul guitar?

DA: My original HD-TV model with a single coil pickup and Floyd Rose has been doing great. So I asked Gibson about making a few in other colors and they built me one in Sunburst  It was so beautiful that they asked about designing a second, two-pickup model guitar. We’re doing a few experiments now and the guitar should be ready to unveil at the NAMM show in January. Just like my original, it will be based on the Axcess model but with two pickups, a Floyd Rose, and a ’58 neck. It feels like a historic guitar but it’s a different kind of animal!

Read the rest of my
Interview with Dave Amato by Clicking Here!