INTERVIEW: Nash Street

Grassroots Country is a self-ascribed title which Nash Street attributes to their love of contemporary country music and bluegrass instrumentation. The band consists of Daniel Hare on upright bass, sisters Hannah and Caroline Melby on fiddle and mandolin respectively, and Clay Lezon on lead guitar, all ranging from ages 19-24. Recently added to the group is Ben Matthis who brings vocals and guitar to the unique sound of this young band. The original group comes from Starkville, Mississippi; the band strives to artfully bridge the gap between country music and traditional bluegrass. On January 24, 2008, the band was awarded for their diligence when they won the 2008 Colgate Country Showdown. Nash Street won the title “Best New Act in Country Music”.
I was there when they won the prestigious award and sat down with them recently to catch up on life after winning and to see what has transpired since and what is looming in the future.
Bev: It is so great to see you all again, tell me what all has been going on since you won Colgate Country Showdown?
Daniel: Well, there’s been quite a bit. Where do we start? Do you want to talk about right after the win?
Hanna: Right after the win we had a lot of momentum going and we tried to go with that. We took a year off from college, because it was hard to balance school and work; it proved to be really beneficial because we wrote a lot, got to tour and gained a lot of exposure in magazines, which was really fun to see.
Caroline: Since then we have recorded three songs and we’re working on an album, because our current one is two-years-old. Right now we are working on that, writing music and we have been in Nashville quite a bit. Hopefully we will be moving up here soon.
Clay: One of the big things we did was right after our win was to define who we were as a group and what our sound was. Now we are writing songs that truly show who we are and expanding our form and putting it into our current project, it is a lot of fun.
Daniel: When you are put on a national stage, such as the Colgate Showdown, more people know who you are. Before that you are not a recognized act, but a situation such as that gives you a bit of a reputation and you also have a tremendous amount of prize money which you can do whatever you want and can use it to benefit the group. There are so many fantastic musicians out there that are not in that position, which do not have that wonderful opportunity to get their name out there and also have the financial means to better their career. We hired a publicist who believed in our product and was also adequately able to help sell our product.
Bev: Think back to the Colgate Country Showdown, what was the scariest thing that happened during the competition?
Clay: During the finals, everyone was so excited to play at the Ryman Auditorium, but I wasn’t too bad about it; I was just looking forward to it. Nothing really hit me until we got down to the floor, and backstage and we’re getting ready to go on and the group before us was finishing up and I realized three of the four members were present and Hannah was not there. So we’re about to walk on stage for this national show, a live show, and we did not have all the members of the group. We look up and she is in the balcony just looking over and waving and it’s like “[gasp] oh no!”
Hannah: I had been watching the other people because we had become friends with all of them and I wanted to watch them play. We had rehearsed it that we were number five, but then they had moved us up to number three or four and so I was not even planning it and all of a sudden I heard next up Nash Street, I was panicking!
Clay: She ran all they way down and just as we were walking on stage she scurried up to the stage and scooted on. That was when the nerves really hit me. That was my nervous moment right there.
Bev: During the minutes just before they called your name, what thoughts were going through your heads?
Hannah: I think none of us really expected to win because there were so many great acts. I was thinking it was a toss-up, anyone could win at this moment and I think when they called our name at first it was like a second of “WHAT!?...Could you repeat that!?” and then it was sheer excitement and shock and a you do not believe it kind of feeling. It really was over-whelming. To be such an amazing contest and then you’re standing on the Ryman and then Leann Rimes calls out your name and then you see the check it was just one thing right after another.
Bev: As you are song writing, do you have certain kinds of songs you’re looking for? Is there a theme to your upcoming project?
Hannah: I don’t think we have gotten that far yet. The three songs we have are a mixture. Caroline and Clay are the main two writers and one of the three songs we recorded is called “Honeysuckle Kiss” and it is a real southern love song. We have tried to write a lot and it is finding that fine line between blue grass and country and we are trying to wash that line out.
Daniel: We’ve heard advice on both levels; one side says “you have defined your sound you have to become bluegrass or country” and then we have heard you do not really have to do that. We like to mix it up and have something surprising on every track. I know personally, I do not like to sound the same. I am not influenced by one type of music and it is hard for me to listen to a blues song or classical music and then write a strictly bluegrass or strictly country song. I think we try to write a smorgasbord of music.
Bev: Speaking of influences, who are your top influences?
Hannah: I would say Nickel Creek would be a good one because their music really brought young people back into bluegrass and Little Big Town has great harmonies.
Caroline: I think Sugarland has influenced our performance because they are such great entertainers and you want to bring that excitement to the audience. Watching them you are just drawn in and cannot wait for the next song. We tend to think the audience can relate to the songs and when they do, and we hear them tell us a particular song really touched them or this song made them laugh, and then we achieved what we wanted.
Clay: I would say being a guitar player; I would say a lot of guitar players are my influence. Before I joined the band, it was artists like Eric Clapton, BB King, blues musicians and now it is Cody Kilby, Ryan Sutton and I find I like more acoustic bass. Tommy Manuel, The Beatles, All different types of music. I don’t consider myself a songwriter, but you pick up on the different songwriting styles.
Daniel: I really connect with anybody in music that can really put their heart and soul into their music, it does not really matter what kind of song it is. I enjoy listening to AC/DC, Johnny Lange, the blues, and bluegrass. Anybody who has fun with what they are doing and believes in what they are doing then it really comes across in the music. I like to think I am putting that out in our shows where I enjoy myself on stage and people enjoy our music along with us.
Bev: What are the most obscure and strangest questions you’ve gotten so far from fans or people attending your show?
Daniel: A girl had asked me to sign her chest and I was like fourteen at the time. I was like uhhh, I will sign your stomach. That was a fun one. One lady wanted to run her fingers through my golden locks of hair at one show!
Hannah: I told her she could!
Daniel: Hannah was just like “oh yeah go ahead” and I just look at her like what are you doing!? And this lady just ran her fingers through my hair. I had long curly hair at the time. It was a little weird. Clay square danced with a lady at our show, he put down his guitar right in the middle of a lick and he jumped down as we were playing and started square dancing.
Caroline: It was right in the middle of a song and it was kind of a dead crowd and he said next person that gets up and dances, I’m going to come down and dance with you and this lady jumped up and immediately started dancing. So he sat his guitar down and ran down there.
Bev: What’s next on the big agenda? Do you have anything really big happening?
Hannah: We have a pretty big show coming up in Huntsville, Alabama called Big Spring Jam. It has a bunch of stages as I understand it, we are opening up for Sara Evans and John Anderson, and it is going to be a really great show. It is close enough to home that some our fans, family and friends can come.
Bev: Are you all from the same town?
Hannah: Well, close. Clays from a town an hour away from us.
Bev: So how did you all get together as a group?
Hannah: The band was formed in 1996 when the gentleman who taught me fiddle decided to get a band together. We played square dances, churches and similar events. Daniel joined the band about four years later and played the bass and Caroline would follow the band around (she is my little sister) and finally she decided that she was just tired of sitting there in the audience and decided to pick up the mandolin, so she joined. I was in Wal-Mart and found Clay and was like “Are you playing with anybody?” we were looking for a new guitar player and he said no; so I asked “what are you doing tomorrow
Bev: Do you have a projected date in mind for when you will have this project completed?
Daniel: Not a specific date; but we’d like to aim for early 2010.
Bev: What has been the most exciting thing you have experienced as a group; as far as the publicity and getting your name out there?
Hannah: Recently we played our hometown at a Mississippi State University’s football game. We did the half time show with the band and that was really cool. It was one of the most exciting things I have ever done. To hear them playing songs that you wrote and watching the crowd. There was something like 52,000 people there and it was the largest crowd MSU has ever had. It was also special because it was the first home game, so of course everybody comes back and we saw friends and family that we haven’t gotten to see in a long time who were also there and we got the chance to hang out with them as well.
Bev: What has been the most unexpected thing that’s has come of all of this that you really had no idea could ever happen?
Caroline: Hannah’s broken wrist.
Bev: How did you break your wrist?!
Hannah: I just slipped and fell on a muddy hill. I had been wearing spike heels all night and when I put some flip flops on, that’s when I fell.
Daniel: One of the most surprising things we have done is when we played on WGN in Chicago. We did a news show and we spent a couple days driving around sight seeing. As a kid that was one of the things I never thought I would get to do, so that was really a lot of fun. It was icy cold but it was a great time.
Clay: The most unexpected thing for me is being recognized by people. We have begun to randomly be approached by people and that’s weird for me. I am used to just playing music and just enjoying music and then actually being recognized and people saying “hey we saw you on television and you did a great job”; to me that’s weird.
Hannah: It is a good weird. It is really neat because then you know that you have touched someone. You know they have heard your song and really like it or they can relate to it. That is a special feeling when you see them smiling.
Daniel: We’ve all been touched by music, but then we realize that some of the music we make actually touches people in the way musicians touch us, that is pretty neat. That is unexpected. That is a different level than just playing music.
Hannah: Seeing people sing your songs, that is cool. I remember listening to a Garth Brooks live album and you know how he stops and you can just hear the crowd sing it back to him. I have always wondered what that must feel like. We do not have that kind of Garth Brooks status, but even with a small crowd when you see people out there singing your song that is very cool!
Bev: Have you been involved in any videos yet?
Daniel: We recently did a promotional video to send out to festivals and to create interest in bookings. It was a fun performance and all of our friends were there cheering us on. They were singing songs and the camera was panning on them. It was a lot of fun.
Bev: Was there anything during the making of the video process that surprised you? Something that you didn’t know how that worked?
Hannah: The whole thing!
Caroline: I got tired of doing it over and over and over again.
Hannah: I guess for some reason, I just thought you played the song live.
Daniel: You find yourself acting. There are things you just would not normally do if you were on a stage performing.
Bev: As far as photo shoots, is that something you are all comfortable with or is that something that has taken a little bit of getting used to?
Hannah: (pointing and laughing at Clay) Clay’s just been the one who says “I’ll just be in the back.”
Clay: We have done a few photo shoots around the house and around our town, but now we do take a lot of photos. I guess it just comes with it. It is funny in a way, because when we go to take photos with our families I will notice I am doing the same smile.
Bev: Are you pre-releasing any songs right now as you continue to prepare for the CD?
Caroline: The three songs we recorded are on Itunes.
Bev: I assume you also use Facebook and the Myspace?
Hanna: And the website
Bev: Do you do any chat’s or forums that you actually get on there and participate?
Clay: We haven’t done that yet, but we were talking about that a while back and finding different ways to improve our website.
Hanna: We check them almost every day. Fans will send us emails or write on our wall and we respond to it. We love to get mail. We have our music available on Itunes and Café Press.
Hannah: We have not done twitter yet. We were going to, but somebody already did Nash Street, So we will have to do Nash Street official or something else I guess.
Bev: Do you think all of the social websites take away somewhat from being anonymous? Or do you want to be very approachable?
Clay: I think you can draw the line on being approachable. You can be approachable in many different ways. I am more of a private person than twitter will allow; for example I like the idea of using it for a promotional aspect like when Sugarland said they taped two tickets under the table at a Starbucks downtown or something like that. As far as “I’m eating breakfast” it’s like who cares. Nobody cares about that sort of thing.
Daniel: We like to do be approachable. We enjoy spending time at our merchandise table and actually be able to talk to people and share with them our musical experiences and all we’ve done. I have met a lot of friends here in Nashville just being able to talk to people.
Bev: Everyone, it has been wonderful catching up with you. I am excited to visit with you again this Spring when the new CD is completed and hopefully catch a show or two before then.
Nash Street: Thank you for coming to visit us and we hope you do come out to a show soon!
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