If You Know, You Know - Nashville's Pop Scene

July 27, 2018

 

In case you haven't already heard, Nashville's pop scene is a thing. With 100 people moving to music city on the daily, there's an influx of transplants - including a small yet mighty army of talented pop writers/producers from Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and the like - including token Nashville natives holding it down.  

 

Over the last 20 years, rock carved out its place in the country town with acts like Jack White, The Black Keys, and Kings of Leon setting up shop in Music City expanding Nashville's reputation to include more words than Honky Tonk. Pop, on the other hand, has only scratched the surface with Music Row still focusing heavily on country radio records. But with venues like The Back Corner opening, groups like The Other Society and Trimble House popping up, and a growing contingent of industry champions, writers, and producers climbing out of the woodwork, there's a glimmering hope that pop in Nashville might really have a fighting chance. 

 

With this spirit in mind, we surveyed a few of our favorite Nashville-based pop artists for their take on the matter. 

SPAZZ CARDIGAN 

 

 

What part of the current pop scene in Nashville is most energizing for you as an artist?

 

The most energizing element of the scene for me is the raw potential of it.  The pop scene is so new here that it's really still forming itself; we're in this beautiful early stage of trial & error to see what parts of the Nashville mentality will integrate themselves into the architecture of the scene and what new elements we bring to the table as millennial creators.  The interesting through-line I notice among so many artists or writers here is that most of us didn't initially plan on Nashville being where we would find ourselves, and because of that there's a very tangible push to re-write the rules of the city and what it means to make a living here. That urge to restructure leads to this really beautiful diversity of thought; you can have artists like Joy Oladokun & Messyah & Lo & Biyo all exist in the same scene with the same crowds, and that's so cool to me.  We're all invested in figuring out what we are and what the legacy of the moment will be on what the city grows into.

 

 

 

How do you feel the pop community locally could improve or better facilitate the success of Nashville based pop/indie songwriters and artists?

 

I feel like, for as much community as we instill in ourselves that gets us out to shows or to hang out with each other, we really aren't putting in the ground work to break the barrier between the insular "Pop" community and the Nashville scene at large.  This feels almost counterintuitive to say, because we're packing out nights at the Back Corner or Cannery or Mercy Lounge or Exit/In, but sometimes it feels like we're only advertising to each other or trying to make sure people within the community are aware of what we're doing — even if that isn't the intention.  Like, ultimately, we all want Nashville to be a more inclusive town in general that facilitates creativity across the spectrum that we're bringing to the table, and I'm not sure that we've quite found the way to pop the bubble yet. It'd be really interesting to see what would happen if there were a radio station in town that lent its support to the pop community as the focal point and not just as a cute sideshow or an afterthought.  The optimist in me wants to think it's just a matter of timing and that, as more and more of us continue playing shows that spread the buzz through word of mouth, then it's inevitable that we become the attraction of the city because there are artists in this scene making some genuinely progressive work and who are hustling their asses off.

 

Tell us about one project you are most excited about at the moment?

 

I just released a new single called "Over," out today, that I'm incredibly excited to play for the first time live at my upcoming headlining show at The Back Corner on September 7.  

 

Photo by Nolan Knight

 

KAT SAUL 

 

 

What part of the current pop scene in Nashville is most energizing for you as an artist?

 

I love that the pop scene in Nashville is still considered underground. There aren't any stereotypes or industry molds for our art on the creative or business sides, which provides so much opportunity for creativity. In the studio or in a strategy meeting, we get to take risks and organically bring genuine art to life.

 

How do you feel the pop community locally could improve or better facilitate the success of Nashville based pop/indie songwriters and artists?

 

There is still a gap between the music business and creative communities in Nashville when it comes to non-country music. There are a few groups dedicated to awareness of non-country genres, sponsoring awesome showcases and events of the like...but I believe the stage is a barrier here. Success can only truly come with conversations and relationships including, but not limited to, the music industry.

 

Tell us about one project you are most excited about at the moment?

 

Recently, I shot my first music video for my latest single, "Jericho". I am very excited to release it Aug 24. 

 

Photo by Jasmine Archie

JAKE WESLEY ROGERS

 

 

What part of the current pop scene in Nashville is most energizing for you as an artist?

 

It’s a super interesting time for pop in Nashville because I feel like there’s so much to prove. We all know that country and rock have been established here, but we’ve yet to make Nashville known for “pop” too. That’s super inspiring for me though! I love being a part of something that is new and growing.

 

 

How do you feel the pop community locally could improve or better facilitate the success of Nashville based pop songwriters and artists?

 

For the most part, I believe Nashville is quite welcoming and supportive of pop artists and songwriters. One thing I feel like we could all do better is to make sure we are encouraging the type of pop songwriting that isn’t just focused on commerciality. For me that looks like cultivating artists and true expression versus focusing on hits and what is currently fitting in.

 

Tell us about one project you are most excited about at the moment?

 

Ooh okay, so I’m currently in the last few stages of figuring out what I’ll be recording for my next project and I’m so excited!! I’ve been feeling so free and vulnerable in my writing lately—I think I owe a lot of this to the most recent Brandi Carlile album (recorded in Nashville!). I really can’t wait to record these songs here in town and put them out in the world.

 

Photo by Graham Dodd

EVA LIN

 

 

What part of the current pop scene in Nashville is most energizing for you as an artist?

 

Personally I am not one for labels or following rules, so what I find most energizing about the Nashville pop scene is that it is so new, and relatively underdeveloped, that there is so much room for exploration. My music is deeply rooted in blues and soul, but mixed with my love for hip-hop, it's a pretty unique sound for Nashville, and I think it's super dope how I sort of get to pave my own path here.

 

How do you feel the pop community locally could improve or better facilitate the success of Nashville based pop songwriters and artists?

 

I think there is definitely a need for stronger relationships between artists and songwriters and musicians within the pop/indie community.  We need to come together and build each other up so that we can get something really started. Perhaps a festival to unite and highlight the indie and pop artists paving the way.  I don't think industry has truly started paying attention to what is bubbling just under the surface, because the people, in Nashville and definitely beyond, want more than country and Americana. It's time.

 

Tell us about one project you are most excited about at the moment?

 

I am so excited to get new music out this year. I'm currently writing for my debut album, which has taken me from my home in New York City, writing with members of Charles Bradley's band, to Los Angeles, writing with bad ass songwriter Alex Vickery.  

 

Photo by Bridgette Aikens

MYYLO

 

 

What part of the current pop scene in Nashville is most energizing for you as an artist?

 

The pop writing community here is what keeps me going. There's this tight knit circle of writers and publishers who are trying to make this happen and it feels like we're setting the foundation for something special.

 

 

How do you feel the pop community locally could improve or better facilitate the success of Nashville based pop/indie songwriters and artists?

 

There's very little business infrastructure here. A lot my peers and I have taken hella meetings where we hear that we're "Doing all the right things." And yet, so few pop writers are getting picked up in Nashville. Often times publishers or execs will say that they don't know what to do with our material, even though they like it. Its very frustrating and, if that continues over the next few years, I think you'll see talent graduating to Los Angeles, New York, and London which would be unfortunate for the burgeoning scene here. If this community is going to survive, then business folks need to start setting up camps where writers and artists have genuine income.

 

Tell us about one project you are most excited about at the moment?

 

I'm really excited about my buddy Spazz Cardigan. I frequently bop to his bops in my car and I think he is a bonafide starrrrrrrr. He's working on new releases and, from what I've heard, they're soul moving fosho.

 

I am very excited about this song called Lack of You that I'll be releasing in a few months. I fleshed out a demo for it in my bedroom and spent like 24 hours straight listening to it because I felt as if I had cracked the code to my own soul. Christian Fiore, a superb individual and producer, helped me make the final version. Still, a lot of the work on it is from that original demo. It'll be the first thing I release where I feel like I've earned a producer stamp.

 

Photo by Libby Danforth

KATIE MAC 

 

 

What part of the current pop scene in Nashville is most energizing for you as an artist?

 

The most energizing aspect of Nashville's pop scene is definitely the sense of community. We are lucky enough to have creative spaces where we all get together and support each other such as showcases, events etc. The scene here really fosters meaningful connections between creative people, and I think that is so awesome and rare.

 

How do you feel the pop community locally could improve or better facilitate the success of Nashville based pop/indie songwriters and artists?

 

One thing that I feel like we could do better is make a bigger effort to connect to listeners globally. Even though it's important to reach people within our industry bubble, we need to make sure that we are serving and growing our audiences. This means catering to people who don't know a thing about the music industry, songwriting technique, or any of the other things we tend to focus on. The big question should always be- "Am I creating something emotionally compelling that serves or connects with people?".

 

Tell us about one project you are most excited about at the moment?

 

Personally, I just released my latest single, Gold and I am stoked to keep the jams coming over the next couple months!

 

Photo by Luke Rodgers

DAVIS MALLORY 

 

What part of the current pop scene in Nashville is most energizing for you as an artist?

 

I just took part in a Danish songwriting camp in Nashville with many of Nashville's pop/indie songwriters and producers and it was a wonderful experience that really made me love being a pop writer in Nashville. I have lived in Nashville for 5 years. I moved here from New York City, where I used to work in A&R/Marketing at Astralwerks records the home to David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia and Halsey. When I first moved to Nashville it was a big adjustment for me - I was accustomed to going to a lot of DJ parties. What I lost in NYC's DJ culture, I gained in Nashville's songwriting culture. I have written close to 400 songs in the 5 years I have lived here and have developed a crew of pop producers and songwriters that I work with on a regular basis writing music for DJs around the world. The community here is super friendly, supportive and collaborative. It's also very affordable to create music here and live here.

 

How do you feel the pop community locally could improve or better facilitate the success of Nashville based pop/indie songwriters and artists?

 

I wish there were more companies in Nashville focused on pop artist development and opportunities for pop artists to perform on bigger stages. From my understanding there are very few "pop" publishers and "pop" label people in Nashville - the focus at the major labels is still on Country artists. I have had meetings with A&Rs who only want Country songs from me for their Country artists and don't know what to do with my pop music, or even help connect the dots with their LA/NYC counterparts which is frustrating. Of course there are opportunities for pop artists here to be signed to publishers as writers, and there are pop producers here, but it feels like the kind of big success you dream of as a pop artist doesn't happen for pop artists in this town the way it does for Country artists. I've toyed with the idea of moving to LA or Europe for my music, but I love this town, it's where my family lives and it's a healthy place to live. This week during the songwriters camp that I was in - I had an emotional moment while at a Carolina Story concert. I was moved both by their music and the enjoyment of a week writing pop music with Danish producers who appreciate the Nashville way of songwriting, and while sitting in the audience I began to cry and wrote these lyrics for a possible future song:

 

And then something magic happens

Makes me wanna stay in Nashville again

Right when I think I'm giving up and moving to LA

They'll like me more there I tell myself

This gay boy from the south

Trying to make a dream come true

The things you do when you try to make a dream come true

You do just about everything you can do

When you try to make a dream come true

 

I don't know where the best place is for a pop artist to live, but I love what Nashville has to offer and feel that for me right now this is the place to be.

 

Tell us about one project you are most excited about at the moment?

 

I just got asked to sing at Europride in Sweden on August 1 opening for the winner of Eurovision Netta. I am also singing at Amsterdam Pride on August 4 and Prague Pride on August 6, then DJing at Amsterdam's Club NYX on August 11. This tour has me very excited. I wrote a new song this month that I will be premiering at Europride called "Pitter Patter (Rodeo)" produced by Swedish pop artist KAAG which I think is one of my best so far.

 

Photo by Blaine Pennington

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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