Growing up in Jersey. Which artists and songs were your favorites to listen to?
I grew up on oldies and pop music. I remember loving Elvis Presley and the Beatles as a kid since my parents were always tuned into New York station WCBS-FM 101.1. It was around the seventh grade when I discovered other music existed and quickly fell in love with the Backstreet Boys and every other boy band that existed at the time. From that I started listening to more singer-songwriters like John Mayer, Jason Mraz and bands like Switchfoot. I eventually had a punk/rock phase and loved acts like the All-American Rejects, Good Charlotte and later Jersey’s own the Gaslight Anthem.
Country music. How did you decide to become a journalist in the industry?
When I started my blog in 2007 I was mostly covering indie, rock and pop artists. It wasn’t until I attended the 2009 CMA Fest in Nashville with some friends that my passion for country music began. I covered the festival for Marie Claire, and attended my first press conference. Darius Rucker was the first artist to come through and I didn’t realize how aggressive you had to be to get your question in. As other journalists yelled to get their questions answered, I sat there with my hand raised. The last question was asked and Darius was being ushered off the stage by his publicist, but then he stopped and looked right at me. He said, “You have been so patient this whole time. What is your question?” I fell in love with country music in that very moment and dreamed of moving to Nashville ever since.
Picture with Lady A on your Twitter account profile. What stands out for you about that meeting with the trio, one of many over the past ten years?
Lady Antebellum remain one of my favorite interviews. They are always so thoughtful in responding to each question and their warmth makes you feel like you’re catching up with old friends. In the photo, we’re on a red carpet for Musicians On Call, a non-profit that brings music to the bedsides of hospital patients. Lady A have supported MOC for years and were being honored for their work with the organization that night in 2016. I actually was first introduced to MOC in 2010 during my first interview with Lady A. Red carpets can often be stressful, but their presence is always a welcoming calm.
Nashville citizens rallied to come together after the March tornadoes. However, within days, everything was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. How is the city coming together to continue to rebuild?
Nashville is such a tight-knit community, unlike anywhere else I’ve been. Shortly after the tornadoes hit, countless artists banded together to host benefit concerts and various campaigns to give back to the community. Then the pandemic hit and everything came to a halt. Through it all, artists continued to host live-streams to help benefit tornado relief while others are selling merch to help rebuild.
Honestly, I’ve been listening to more artists that I grew up loving lately. Maybe it’s all the uncertainty in the world right now, but I’ve been going back to the familiar for a sense of normalcy like all of John Mayer’s catalog, Switchfoot, Kip Moore, Backstreet Boys.
John Krasinski started “Some Good News” to share, well, some good news during an onslaught of bad news. If you were to start “Some Good News — The Country Music Edition”, whose story would you be sharing this week?
There were a lot of cute country stories over the past week, like several artists enlisting their kids in the toddler challenge where they left the room and told their son or daughter not to eat anything in a bowl of candy until they returned. Thomas Rhett’s daughter, Jason Aldean’s son and Tyler Hubbard’s daughter all passed with flying colors! Also, Brett Eldredge’s latest video for “Good Day” is so heartwarming.
Bobby Bones posted he wanted to help people affected by the quarantine. In your post thanking him, you mentioned wanting to pay it forward. What would be your own personal good news story from the quarantine?
I was so humbled at the support of the Nashville community after my lay-off at Billboard. Strangers and colleagues sent money via Venmo and encouraged me to keep writing, while songwriters I’ve admired for years reached out and shared words of wisdom and various job opportunities. I moved to Music City nearly 5 years ago not knowing many people and the outpouring of support really solidified that it has become my home. It made me more determined than ever to keep uncovering and writing stories about Nashville for other outlets. I’m not moving anytime soon!
Brett Eldredge took time off to put together his upcoming project. You said he shared how the song “Where the Heart Is” is the mission statement for the album. How has the song helped you get through these tough times?
At a time like a pandemic with so much job loss, you start to question your purpose in life. Brett’s song couldn’t have been released at a more perfect moment for me. My dream since high school was to be a music journalist and to work at a music magazine, and in a way my job defined who I was. His song is a reminder to find where your heart is and keep chasing that dream no matter the obstacles.
What are you doing to take care of yourself during the quarantine?
I retreated to South Carolina to visit my parents for a few weeks and it’s been so great to take a break from writing about coronavirus-related music news and spend some time at the beach. Hearing the sound of the waves is my favorite way to escape and hit the reset button for a while.
Was great meeting you last year at Stagecoach. Totally loved your ‘old school’ approach to taking notes while interviewing artists. What ‘old school’ music is on your quarantine playlist?
Definitely Elvis Presley! I found a commemorative 1978 album of his during a trip last year to L.A. at Amoeba Music that I keep spinning. Also, Switchfoot’s 2003 album The Beautiful Letdown is one of those records I listen to when life gets tough or I’m going through something and always serves as a bit of therapy and reassurance that everything’s going to be OK.
Putting together questions, researching before an interview. What advice would you give new writers to help them come up with ideas as they prepare for an interview?
Do your research. Read previous articles on the artist, watch interviews they’ve done on YouTube or TV, listen to the album they’re putting out. I’ve always found really focusing on the lyrics of a song, or a song that leaves an impact on me, to be a helpful talking point with an artist.
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Previously on-staff at Billboard. Putting together features. I’m definitely a fan of your writing style. How has your writing evolved since you started?
I’ve been trying to get better at providing an adequate storyline that opens the story, has a lot of color, and ties it back together at the end. Also, I’ve learned that diving in more on the music business aspect of an artist’s career and how that makes them who they are can make for a better interview. I think artists are so used to be asked about their current single or album, it’s refreshing for them when they’re asked more behind-the-scenes questions on how the album was made and the logistics that went into each project.
Post about your first-ever cover story in “Country Weekly”. Can you describe what it was like seeing the published magazine the first time?
It’s kind of indescribable. It was always my dream to write cover stories for music publications so to see my first cover story in print and hold it in my hands for the first time was truly a dream come true. It also made me want to write more!
Typical day in the life of a journalist. How do you plan and schedule your interviews so you can meet publication deadlines?
In keeping with the “old school” theme, I have a weekly planner that I write everything down in. I know with the age of technology, maybe it’d be easier or more efficient to put interviews and assignment due dates down in my phone, but something about writing it down and seeing what I have planned each day keeps me on schedule.
Moving forward. What steps do you see the music industry taking in the next few months to keep fans engaged until artists can begin touring again?
I’m hoping that drive-in concerts will become the norm for now. While it’s not the same as standing shoulder to shoulder together in a sweaty venue, the thought of live music returning in any form is exciting!
Have seen some artists are offering online private lessons, for example, voice. Do you see writers offering similar lessons for new journalists?
I don’t see why not. I’m sure headline writing lessons, how to write for magazines, etc. would be of interest. I know when I was in college I would attend conferences and writing workshops to amp up my skills so online lessons seem like a great way to sharpen your tools, hone your craft and make new connections.
From interviewing up-and-coming artists to superstars like Dolly Parton. Can you share some of the funniest/favorite moments from your interviews?
I kicked off 2020 with an interview with Doug Douglason, the lead singer of Hot Country Knights, and Dierks Bentley’s alter ego. It was unlike any interview I’ve ever done and I had to hold back my laughter because he is hilarious and somehow remains flawlessly in character.
Dennis Quaid crashed my video interview with Midland on the ACM Awards red carpet last year and my first-ever time in Vegas for the ACMs in 2014 I interviewed Dustin Lynch on a gondola at the Venetian Hotel.
But my favorite by far is my first interview with AJ McLean from the Backstreet Boys after he put out his first country single. The interview went well, but I’ve never been so nervous in my life. So nervous, in fact, I somehow left the room when our chat was over without my notebook and recorder which I have never done before or after!
Music heals. What message do you want to share with artists and fans alike as we move towards our new normal?
I think the fact that so many artists are still releasing new music throughout the pandemic is so inspiring. So many of us are trying to stay positive in the midst of so much uncertainty and knowing that a new album is dropping from your favorite artist or band is something to look forward to. The country community hasn’t slowed down one bit on releases and for that I’m so grateful! As long as we have music, I’d like to think everything is going to be OK.