Friday, Friday, Friday! I am completely aware that the song title I have chosen for today is not a country song. But as you read on, you will see why I chose it.
I have a great weekend lined up with a lot on deck. I am so glad it is finally here! I have had a phenomenal week and I am hoping you guys had a great week too. I have been invited to the MCMA Awards as a member of the media and I couldn’t be more excited. It is my first time doing something like this, so needless to say, the post after that will re-cap the awards with some photos. I can’t believe this all started by me sending smart-ass tweets to Blake Shelton! So even though I haven’t gotten to interview him (YET), I guess I have a lot to thank him for. Now if I could only get a re-tweet. If any of you know him, let him know I am waiting…
Let’s get this party started…
Islands of Imagination:
It is true. Kenny Rogers recently announced his retirement. Just a few days after he broke the big news, Rogers headed over to Dollywood in Nashville to lend a hand to his old friend and duet partner, Dolly Parton. Parton, who has a charity called Imagination Library, held a fundraiser last weekend for the organization and Rogers came to sing a few songs. He performed to a sold-out crowd at Dollywood’s D.P. Celebrity Theater. He chatted with the crowd a bit and mentioned that Parton has shipped over 70 million books through the charity. The event raised over $60,000 bringing the total raised by the fundraising concert series to over $635,000. That’s a lot of books! Rogers is currently preparing for a 30 date concert tour that will take the singer across the US and Canada with a Christmas themed show.
There is a huge number of country singers who have pets and are involved with animal causes. Emmylou Harris falls in to this category. In a PBS Documentary titled Shelter Me: Partners for Life, Mad Men star John Hamm hosts the program, which highlights Harris’ work with the a homeless animal shelter that is on her property called Bonaparte’s Retreat. The Nashville based shelter is named after a beloved family pet of Harris that passed away at 11 years old. It became the first in the Nashville area to work with Animal Control to limit the number of animals who are euthanized. Harris is also involved with a program called Crossroads Campus, which couples at-risk youth with foster animals to help teach them responsibility and life skills. The documentary began airing last night (Oct. 1) on PBS stations across the US.
Canadian singer songwriter Lindsay Ell is taking to the streets of Nashville. She has partnered with CMT’s Next Women of Country to hold a 24 hour concert called Lindsay Ell Busking on Broadway. The concert was set to begin last night at 11 pm and is to continue until 11 pm tonight (Oct. 2). Why on Earth would she want to do this? To celebrate, of course! Ell has a new single (“By the Way”) coming out very soon. She will have her guitar in tow and will perform covers as well as original music. She has even hinted that there MAY be some surprise guests dropping by to join her for a tune or 2. My gut tells me that one of those may be Dierks Bentley. Ell will be accepting “tips” which will be donated to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt; the same charity that Bentley’s Miles and Music fundraiser supports. If you aren’t in Nashville, this is also airing on Periscope.
Rude Boy Clothing isn’t necessarily a brand that most would associate with country anything. In fact, this company based in Asia is actually geared more toward hip hop/ urban fashion. So why am I talking about them on here? Well, the feature artist in my interview this week has recently become sponsored by the brand, so it seemed only fitting that we talk about them today.
The term “Rude Boy” (or “Rudie”) comes from the Jamaican term for “bad boy” or “bad man”. The brand itself is a company built by CEO Jimmy Li. The focus of the brand is on an urban lifestyle with a modern edge. The company believes in individuality and success for those who a working hard toward reaching their goals. With that in mind, they sponsor music artists the world over, helping them get some exposure for their work. They are partners with Rude Boy Magazine in this endeavour.
Their latest collection consists of over-size t-shirts, hoodies, hats and beanies (or “toques” if you are Canadian). They can all be purchased on their website which is www.rudeboybrand.com. Here are a couple of the styles that are available:
I keep a notebook on my desk. It’s just a small, black Moleskin notebook. It isn’t so much for writing ideas down as it is to write down names of artists that I would really like to contact and interview because something about them strikes a chord with me (no pun intended). I like to be able to go back and look them up to check out their other work. Several times I wrote down Chris Ising’s name while listening to The Iceman Show on different days. His voice had this wicked rasp to it that made me want to hear more. His song “I’m From the Country” made me smile because I felt like I could relate to it. On my personal Facebook page, I mentioned that I had been listening to The Iceman when I got a message from an acquaintance of mine commenting that her husband was on the countdown. I had met Chris twice during my VERY short stint with the Winnipeg Roller Derby League, of which his wife is a member. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t put 2 and 2 together. Well, I am glad that Serenity helped me to do so. I was fortunate enough that Chris didn’t hold that against me and agreed to sit down with me to talk about his career, finding work-life balance and song writing.
Chris is not only a very nice and soft-spoken guy, but he is also from my home town – Winnipeg, Manitoba. At the age of 7, Chris’ parents placed him and his 2 brothers in music lessons. His first love, however, was not country music. Chris was a bit of a “metal head”, and still enjoys rock. It wasn’t until university that he discovered a love for country music. I asked him who some of the bands were that inspired him to make this change. He replied, “Diamond Rio and Garth Brooks. Mostly Diamond Rio.” There was a very eclectic mix of music that was played in his house. “Growing up, my Mom liked country music so the Oak Ridge Boys and The Gatlin Brothers were always playing. Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers. And my Dad listened to that but he also listened to rock and Englebert (Humperdinck) and odd ones like that.” His Dad grew up in Germany, so there were also a lot of German records in the house.
Because of this musically varied upbringing, I asked Chris if he had any guilty pleasure songs. You know, those ones that you may be embarrassed to admit, or maybe you can listen to them over and over and over again (mine is “Sara” by Starship. Don’t judge me). Chris admitted to a couple of them, “I have a few. King’s X would be the biggest one. Rascal Flatts, there’s a few of theirs that I can put on at any point. ‘What Hurts the Most’ is probably the biggest one. I could listen to it over and over.” Chris attended the Jeffrey Steele Boot Camp in 2008. He happened to be the person who wrote that song. When his daughter found out, every time she would see Jeffrey’s photo she would say, “Hey, that’s What Hurts the Most!”, knowing it was her Dad’s favorite song.
As a husband, father to 3 children and working a full-time government job, we started talking about how he manages all of it. I have a hard enough time balancing being a wife, the blog, my job and getting dishes done. I asked Chris what his secret was. He sighed, “I have no time anymore. I go to work, come home, make dinner, do the kid stuff and once they go to bed, I’m up until probably 2 in the morning. And then back up at 6:30.” Looking at Chris, he has a real rocker image; the longer hair, the cool glasses, the arms full of tattoos. It is hard to imagine him in this role. So I asked what is something he does that most people would find surprising. He laughed, “The housework? That I like to vacuum? It’s all the dogs. I’ve got allergies and our youngest has fairly bad allergies and really bad asthma as well so when we give them a bath, the long-haired one sheds like crazy!” I told him that he could come by my house any time to vacuum. He laughed again, “It’s kinda like that and mowing the lawn. It’s just a mindless chore you do that I don’t have to think so I don’t mind doing it.”
Despite the fact that this talented guy has so much on his plate, he is making the most of the time that he does have to work on his music career. He has songs at the top of a couple of charts on radio stations in the US and he is up for 5 MCMA Awards. Very recently, he was at The Josie Show Awards in Nashville, where he won an award for Country Modern Male Song of the Year for “I’m From the Country”. I asked him to look at all of these success as a whole and tell me what his thoughts were on it. Was it a “wow” moment? “You know, it is! You know what is funny? I tell people this all of the time; I started out as a writer, I had no intention of ever performing.” He really enjoyed doing songwriter showcases but never thought he’d have a band and be performing as an artist. He explained, “When I put out the CD and it started getting played, I was like ‘I’m a songwriter’. I put out these singles as a calling card. Then I went to the CCMA’s and I had a video out for ‘I’m From the Country’ and people started recognizing me from that.” Chris went on, “When I started getting played in the US, that was different because people started looking at me as an artist.”
Chris is no stranger to the Nashville scene, having been invited to play during the CMA Festival this year. Since I had been there myself as a fan, I asked him to tell me what it was like from an artist’s perspective. “It was exciting. It’s a busy event. We were in The Boot Barn, that’s where I did all my shows. You had a full store of people shopping while you’re playing. Then you have hundreds of people just going down the street and stopping and watching from outside.” He then made a bit of a comparison to the CCMA’s, “I had done showcases at CCMA before so it was the equivalent to that in terms of the audience you had and the nerves that would go along with it.” He added, “I went down there not so much as a writer, more as the artist. It’s different when I go to an event and I’m going to showcase as a writer. You treat it a little bit different.” We had been talking about performing in all of these amazing settings, so I asked what his favourite place to play in Winnipeg was. Chris replied, “I like playing at The Thirsty Lion. I used to do in-the- rounds there. Other than that, I have not played my own stuff in Winnipeg other than just doing song circles.” His favourite room of all? “The Park Theatre.”
Since Chris considers himself a songwriter first, I asked him where he draws his inspiration from. He replied, “Everything. Everything you see around you. It’s funny because there’s a lot of drinking songs on there. Iced tea is what I drink. Or Diet Pepsi. I don’t really drink. Maybe a beer here and there.” He furthered that point, “There’s a lot of breaking up songs on there and I’ve been married for a long time. So a lot of my stuff is not about my life. It’s just stories. Maybe I’ll see something on TV and I’ll go, ‘Hey, I could do that in a song’ and it’ll just develop in to an idea.” He does admit there is a bit of him in the songs though, “You always put a little bit of yourself in there too, there will be a line or 2 about an experience you had.”
Knowing how I feel about putting “a baby” out in to the world, I am always curious to know if people are like me. Sometimes you write something and think “I don’t know about that”. I asked Chris if he had ever put anything out there that he wasn’t really thrilled with. “Everything, sort of. I’ll write songs and I’ll play them until I’m happy with them. I’ll work on them until I’m happy with them.” He continued, “Some of those on the CD have been around for a while. And I reworked them and reworked them But even now I when I listen to them…It may be that you don’t like listening to yourself so you’re always critical of your own material I think more than others.” He admitted to being a bit of a perfectionist, “I don’t think I’ve put out anything I’m not proud of though because I know that I won’t really release things publicly until I’m satisfied with them.” Chris finished the thought by adding, “You’ve got to critique it a lot yourself before you give it out to people.”
Chris has been doing this for a number of years so I asked him to compare his style and song writing from then to now. “I would say I just grew up a bit. It’s more sophisticated now. When I started writing, you’re told what the rules are.” Time and maturity changes things, “As you go along through the years, you kinda toss that out the window and you learn that it’s more a feeling or a gut feeling. It doesn’t always have to rhyme. As long as the flow is there and it sounds good and it doesn’t feel awkward.” In a nutshell, “It’s become more comfortable.”
He has not only written material on his own. Chris has been involved in many co-writes as well. I wanted him to explain the pros and cons to co-writing to me. He began, “When I started out, looking at co-writing was a scary thing. You have to share those ideas with others and you don’t know where that song is going to go.” But things changed as time went on, “When I started co-writing, I look at it as easier because you can feed off each other.” Co-writing takes a certain formula to be successful. “Three is the magic number for that. There are some groups I write with all the time now. I’ve found over the years that you have to weed people out.” I had heard this before from other artists who co-write. “I have to be careful about who I write with and who I don’t because I don’t have that much time so I’ve got to make it count.” He does have several people (including a woman named “Fly”) he usually writes with. “I tend to stick with a lot of the same people because we have a history of writing and we all work well together.”
Chris has already had a big year and it recently got bigger. He has been sponsored by Rude Boy Clothing (there’s your connection the fashion feature this week). I was curious how a country artist became involved with a company that is obviously hip hop/ urban fashion-oriented. “I got an email from them one day, probably about a half a year ago. They contacted me and asked if I was interested. We missed the cut-off for their quarterly magazine at that point. I had emailed them back about a month or so ago and asked them if they were still interested in working that out, to see if they’re interested in pursuing that still. They contacted me and said, ‘Yeah, yeah, totally.’ I went back to them and said, ‘Are you sure because it’s country?’ because it’s hip hop clothing. One of my friends said, ‘I think it’s because of your look and all the tattoos. That fits with what they do.’ Shortly after that last email, Chris had an article in their magazine and next thing he knew, “I had to select what kind of clothing I wanted; t-shirts or hats or whatever.” He is also sponsored by Steve Clayton Picks, “I used those picks for quite a few years. You could get in touch with them for sponsorship so I figured I might as well. And they said sure!” Having “some” knowledge of the garment industry, I knew what deals like this meant for artists. Chris did too, “It gives you more standing. It shows that you are serious.”
I looked at this opportunity to talk to Chris as a chance to see what kind of advice people had given him. He has had so many experiences, that I was curious to see what the best piece of advice he had ever gotten was and who it came from. Chris answered, “Jeffrey Steele. Two years after being down there being mentored by him, as a group we had written a song that a band picked up, went in to the studio to record, then broke up.” Chris explained more of the story, “I contacted Jeffrey and said, ‘Well, what do we do with this? It’s got 13 writers on it.’ He actually said, ‘I’ll put it under my publishing company’ and we decided anything made from that would just go straight to his charity because it was too hard to distribute to everybody. The best advice I got from him was at that time. He told me not to get excited because until the actual CD comes out, you don’t know if it’s going to happen or not.”
Because I do my research, I knew that Chris has a duet coming out with a new artist named Laura Ashley. He told me the story of how that came about. “I had the song. It’s one that I wrote probably about 2 years ago. It was written as a duet and then I didn’t know who I wanted to sing it. The way it was written, some of my parts are a little bit higher, so I had to find a female vocalist who could sing in a lower range. When I got on to The Iceman’s countdown, I thought I’ll maybe find one on there who will suit it. I didn’t want anyone too raspy because I’ve got a little bit of that in my voice and I didn’t want it to be overpowering. And then when I heard her voice I said, ‘That’s the voice right there! That would be perfect!’ and so I worked on it.” It wasn’t until a while later that he asked Laura to join him on the project. “When we were at the CMA’s, we were at an after party and I went up to her and asked her if she would be interested. I said, ‘Because you have the voice I want to put on it’ and she was up for it.” The 2 are still working on the song and it will hopefully be released soon.
This isn’t all he has on his plate right now. On top of the duet with Laura, he is looking at releasing another single off the CD. And if that isn’t enough, he is also on the board of directors for the MCMA’s. With the award show coming up quickly, his up runneth over.
I had one last question to finish up with. I asked Chris what the last photo he took with his phone was. He leaned over to show me. “The Northern Lights. The kids wanted to go outside and see if the Northern Lights were there. So we went out at 10 o’clock and my daughter said, ‘Take a picture of the Northern Lights!’ I took like 4 of them then our arms were getting bitten by mosquitoes so I was like, ‘OK, we’re going in now.’”
Be sure to check out Chris’ website at http://www.chrisising.com and follow him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/cising) and Twitter (@ChrisIsing). Here is Chris Ising’s chart topping song “I’m From The Country”: