An Interview with Angela Moyra

'Sometimes I’m more open with my music than I am in my personal life,' says the singer/songwriter, underscoring the candor that informs her debut LP, 'Fickle Island.'

Interview: Meiko Experiments, Gets Personal on New LP, 'Dear You'

Meiko discusses her new album, its minimalist, mood-driven electronica and the most personal lyrics of her career to date.

Review: Justin Hayward - 'Spirits...Live'

The Moody Blues legend scales it down for a rare solo tour, mixing burgeoning inspirations with old magic.

DVD Review: Queen - Live at the Rainbow '74

This performance captures Queen’s emergence into immortality as a band with muscle and snarl to spare.

An Interview with Randy Owen of Alabama

The band's lead vocalist and songwriter of some of its greatest hits discusses the music that has made Alabama legends.

October 15, 2014

Interview: Dutch Singer/Songwriter Angela Moyra Makes American Debut with Beguiling New Album

Having already charmed audiences in her native Netherlands with her winsome singing and insightful songwriting, Angela Moyra is poised to likewise beguile a whole new audience in North America with the release this week of her debut LP, Fickle Island.

The music is deceptively laid-back, even whimsical in moments, its acoustic and often tropical distinctions at times belying some rather solemn lyrical sentiments. Such contrasts are complemented by Moyra’s voice, an unaffectedly pristine and sensuous instrument that enriches universal emotions with intimacy and candor.

“I knew I was never going to be a rock singer,” Moyra admits. “Over the years I knew where my strengths were in my voice, and that’s what I focused on and I guess I became better and better. Still, even now, I find out different things in my voice. It’s really amazing. I’m still learning.”

When you finally decided to pursue a career in music, was there some kind of epiphany or some tipping point where you said, “This isn’t just a hobby for me now?”

Well, I’ve always been singing. I’d graduated from business school. I’d always wanted to go to school and get my degree, but then when I was done with that — when I was working — I realized that this was not… My heart was not there. After work I would write songs ‘til five in the morning sometimes, and then after a year of doing that I realized, “Oh, this might be good.” Then I started doing songwriting competitions and from there is where I started to take it seriously.

Is songwriting something that you’re always aware of and doing? Or do you have to set aside time to focus on writing?

It’s funny, because if I need to write — if someone tells me, “Okay, write a song now” — I could probably do it. But the best songs always come from special moments in my life, really, and I can’t predict when it happens. It just comes to me. Those are the best songs, I think.

Do you ever fear of giving too much of yourself away in what you write? Is that something you’re conscious of when you’re writing?

No. I really open up when I sing and when I write. Sometimes I’m more open with my music than I am in my personal life. I’m not afraid to share feelings in songs, or share them with the world. That’s what everyone should do, share their feelings. I think it’s important to always put yourself into songs. Otherwise people won’t feel it.

How are you with stage fright?

Well, I’m always a little bit nervous to go on stage, and I think I will be forever. But I have performed in Holland so many times on big stages and small stages and every time it’s special and it’s exciting. So I’ll always be a little nervous, but I think it’s also something I’ve accepted. I used to hate feeling like that, having butterflies in my stomach and being scared to go on stage. But I’ve just accepted it. That’s just who I am when I’m on stage. I [feel] a little nervous, but then I open up throughout the show. That’s also something that’s maybe nice to see when you’re in the audience.… I go on stage and take them on kind of a journey and explain what the songs are about and involve them in it, really. It’s always a lot of fun. I love it. 

How do you measure your own success going forward? What are your ambitions at this point?

I’m a very realistic person, and as I say to my family and friends, I’m just going to really have fun with it and enjoy that I get this opportunity, shooting in a studio in Malibu or doing a gig in New York. It’s just really something special…. I don’t expect anything, but I do have a goal. I just want to reach many people and I hope they all listen to my music and visit my blog and [view] my pictures and get to know me as an artist. 

Fickle Island is available now on Zip Records. For more information, please visit Angela Moyra’s official website.

Photo © Sophie van der Perre

October 2, 2014

DVD Review: Queen - Live at the Rainbow ‘74

Before conquering the airwaves with made-for-stadium anthems and bombastic rhapsodies, Queen was a vicious, take-no-prisoners rock ‘n’ roll band. At least that’s what Live at the Rainbow ‘74 brilliantly affirms. Sure, there are glimmers here (“Killer Queen,” for instance) of the sort of kitsch and musical frivolity that would increasingly characterize Queen’s output in the years to follow, but this gig is more punk than pomp.

Sheer Heart Attack was the album of moment, and the band accordingly blazes through some of its fiercest songs (“Stone Cold Crazy,” “Keep Yourself Alive,” and “Flick of the Wrist,” among them), with Freddie Mercury already earning his legend as one of rock’s great frontmen. The 3,000-strong audience is barely visible in the film, oddly, but it’s hard to imagine that everyone in the venue wasn’t enthralled by Mercury’s charisma and unfailingly vibrant voice.

While Mercury was for the most part the focal point on the stage, however, it’s worth noting that each member of the band wrote songs. It's a crucial reason that Queen's catalog as a whole is so eclectic. Even in this performance, early as it is in the band’s career, such diversity is evident, from “Seven Seas of Rhye” with its brazen grandiosity, to “Son and Daughter,” anchored as it is by a grimy riff that would’ve served Black Sabbath well in the same era. This performance (half of a celebrated two-night stand) captures Queen’s emergence into immortality as a band with muscle and snarl to spare.

September 19, 2014

Brooklyn Duo denitia and sene Get Addictive with 'side fx.'

At first it sounds like some lost cut from the Human League, what with its lo-fi/synth-soul flow and quirky, Pac Man accents. But then a woman’s voice emerges out of the rhythm to fortify the vibe, seeming at once coyly removed yet disarmingly sensuous. It’s the title track from the forthcoming EP by Brooklyn duo denitia and sene, and it’s addictive.

side fx. is due on 11/11 via Red Bull Sound Select.

September 13, 2014

Review: Justin Hayward - 'Spirits...Live (Live at the Buckhead Theatre, Atlanta)'

Justin Hayward’s solo albums are few and far between, and the opportunity to catch the Moody Blues legend performing on his own in an intimate venue is even rarer. Such is what makes Spirits...Live (Eagle Rock Records) so instantly appealing. Yet it’s the performance itself, which showcases Hayward’s most recent studio LP, last year’s Spirits of the Western Sky, that makes this live album such a rewarding one to behold.

The album suitably anchors the set, so much so in fact that Hayward either presumed his most faithful fans would be already familiar with it come showtime or he was simply eager to introduce it to his audience. Regardless, often reflective songs like “The Western Sky” and “It's Cold Outside Of Your Heart” succeed in this setting, not least of all because of the craft invested in their creation and the earnestness evident here in their delivery.

Sounding as resonant and refined as he did in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Hayward likewise enriches classic moments from his past—“Tuesday Afternoon,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” and (of course) “Nights in White Satin” are perfunctory yet captivating standouts—with often meticulous regard. Indeed this is not an informal excursion for Hayward from the familiar confines of his band, but rather a finely honed display of burgeoning inspirations and old magic. 

September 3, 2014

Interview: Producer Joe Henry on the Making and Message of 'Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited'

By the time Johnny Cash’s tenure with Sun Records concluded in 1958 he’d already recorded some of his career’s most iconic, indispensable classics, songs like “I Walk the Line,” “Big River,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” However, having subsequently signed with Columbia Records—the storied label had already boasted such giants as Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, and Miles Davis—Cash was on the precipice of even greater success and, he recognized, a much broader platform from which, should the spirit move him, to make a stand.  

Released in 1964, Bitter Tears (Ballads of the American Indians) elucidated and empathized with the travails of Native Americans. 

In honor of the album’s fiftieth anniversary, Sony Music Masterworks has released Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited. Produced by singer/songwriter Joe Henry, the all-star collection features such artists as Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and Steve Earle interpreting Bitter Tears and thereby reasserting its fundamental defense of human dignity. 

“It’s shameful that this is still a relevant conversation,” Henry tells Write on Music about the album’s often polemical subtext, “but all the more reason why we need to wake up to how significant it is for all of us, not to [let it] become a dead conversation simply because it’s an old one.”

Taking on this project must’ve been a tall order, not only in light the sensitivities involved with the album’s subject matter, generally speaking, but also because in remaking this classic Johnny Cash album you of course hoped it would complement his legacy. Did that run through your mind when you were working on it?

Of course it did. Keep in mind that Johnny Cash was the first musical hero of my life. I sort of discovered him when I was about seven years old living in Atlanta, 1966 or ’67, so he’s always stood in front of me as a seminal figure both historically and personally. I suppose if I had been thinking about recreating the record it would’ve been additionally daunting, but it was really important to me and I think to everybody involved that we stay conscious to the fact that we weren’t trying to recreate it. We were trying to engage it and put a light on it, bring the conversation into the present tense, remind everybody that the subjects of these songs still matter, and carry the torch a little farther down the road. But of course I felt a responsibility that was unique from anything I’d ever taken on before.

It seems as though in your responsibility of finding the artists for this project you had to look beyond matters of talent and how well they could deliver the song to, at the same time, appreciate what sort of empathy they’d bring to these songs as well.

Of course. A leading factor in my mind was not just “think of artists who could deliver a particular song.” My fear there was that this would end up feeling like a tribute album, a compilation from disparate sources. I wanted to cast the record in a way that the whole thing could be as collaborative and real-time as possible. So it wasn’t just finding people who could deliver songs, but deliver them in ways that the whole album could speak as a unified whole. That was supremely important to me. It should feel like a play happening in front of you, and in that regard I tried as much as I could having everybody participate where they could on some track other than the one they maybe sang lead on. For the most part that’s true. 

Aside from these factors of collaboration and the empathy the artists bring to these songs, was there any guiding objective that you had on a basic level in navigating your way through this project?

Chiefly it was that we not be looking over our shoulders and not be working from any point of nostalgia. We were charged by a work that was preexisting, but I was really determined that this not feel in any way like we were trapped by the source music. We were inspired by it and we wanted to begin at that point, but it was really important to me that we made a record that was alive to this moment and significant to this moment. I thought it would’ve been death to this project if our whole drive had been nostalgic as opposed to working toward real-time engagement. 

Joe Henry
There must’ve been certain artists who brought something more to a particular song than maybe you had anticipated or revealed something in their interpretations that opened up these songs in different ways to you.

Absolutely true. I think the first thought I had when you asked that was the song from Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings that opens the record [“As Long as the Grass Shall Grow”]. The version on Johnny’s original was sort of a spoken-word, almost a recitation except for the sung chorus. It was Gillian and Dave who imagined a musical tableau for it that makes it move narratively speaking with the power of a Woody Guthrie song. I didn’t know where they were gonna take it until they sat down that moment—that was the first take—and played, for me, this very hallucinatory, nine-minute re-imagining of that story. 

I will just add that Kris Kristofferson’s appearance on the record was significant to me and wildly so for a couple of reasons, not least of which I believed somewhere on that record and for that song in particular, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” which is the one song that people know if they don’t know anything else on the record, I felt that really needed to be delivered by somebody who could stand in for Johnny’s very particular sort of authority and bring a very particular sort of gravitas to the situation. I thought it was important, too, to have somebody be involved who had a deeply invested personal relationship with Johnny Cash. There are really only two people alive I could imagine, and Kris was the first.

Was Willie Nelson the other one?

No, actually it was Merle Haggard. He’s got a voice of such incredible depth, as Kris does. At first I thought, one of these cats has got to be brought to the table; we need that connection. 

Kristofferson is as much a fan of Cash as he was a friend.

Indeed. Roseanne Cash is a really close friend of mine, whose blessing I sought before I was going to say yes to this job invitation myself. She has certainly shared with me that Kris is her most direct link to her dad that remains. 

What do you hope listeners take from Look Again to the Wind?

That these songs are still alive, that this is still a living conversation, and that the power of song transcends a lot of political rhetoric and has a chance to take people straight to the heart of the matter in a way that no other vehicle can. 

Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited is available now from Sony Music Masterworks.