What about music struck your fancy in the first place?
It’s one of those things I can’t quite put my finger on…I’ve just always felt complete comfort, safety, and happiness when I’m around music. When I was a kid, my favorite movie was Edward Scissorhands. Growing up it remained a favorite, and my parents couldn’t figure out why I loved it so much. It wasn’t the kooky characters or wild and colorful sets—it was the music. That gorgeous score from Danny Elfman just sucked me in. It gave me chills even as a child. I watched that movie a thousand times just to hear it over and over again, and to this day I cry when it plays. That’s when I knew music was going to be the biggest thread in the tapestry of my life.
How old were you when you started playing music/singing?
I know it’s sounds cliché, but I really don’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing something or trying to sing something. I loved singing in church, in the car, stores, parking lots—anywhere I could. And I loved putting on shows in our living room using Daddy’s flashlight as a microphone. Let me ask Mama…she says my first “official” performance was in 1989 (age 4) at a local pageant. I performed Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothings” complete with choreography…apparently there’s a video somewhere.
What’s your favorite part about living in Nashville?
You hear this all the time, but Nashville truly is a community. The people you see on red carpets are the same folks you see out in your neighborhood coffee shop, happily living their everyday lives, jogging past you at the park, dropping their kids off at dance class. It tickles the heck out of me that I can have an official “sit-down” interview with Keith Urban and then bump into him at the grocery store later on that same day.
You host CMT’s Listen Up series and you talk to lots of upcoming artists. How has it been working with CMT?
It’s absolutely amazing. I’ve always been drawn to the new artists—their passion, their excitement, their willingness, that unrelenting drive—it’s never higher than when an artist is on the verge of that “big break.” Hosting Listen Up gave me the opportunity to witness and share those magical moments.
I will never forget when we featured Sam Hunt. He was the most-buzzed about artist we’d had on the series since I’d joined, and I was already a huge fan. He’s such a talented guy, and I just knew he was going to be a superstar. Before the interview I jokingly said to him, “Well, my real question is how long are we gonna get to keep you?” Meaning that the whole world—country fans and non-country listeners alike—would be falling in love with this guy once they heard this record. We predicted that his music would transcend the boundaries of genre and it did. He’s one of the biggest stars on the charts right now—one year out from his debut album and he’s already been nominated for a CMA, was just named one of our CMT Artists of the Year, and was the most-nominated country artist at this year’s American Music Awards. And I felt like I got to watch it all happen, with a front row seat. It’s a beautiful thing.
How do you split your time between being a musician and being a TV personality, or do the two often overlap?
At first, I tried to keep the two completely separate. But I’d been singing and playing much longer than I’d been in the Radio/TV world, so it was inevitable that one side would find out about the other! When that day came, it just felt natural to own them both and let the two overlap only when it was appropriate. CMT has been so supportive of my music. Sometimes, if I’m hosting a writer’s round or a concert event for the network, they’ll say, “Hey, why don’t you just bring your guitar and play a few?” And there are a few artists that know I play and they’ve all been incredibly encouraging.
At the end of the day, I think being a musician helps me be a better interviewer. When I’m talking with an artist, I try to strip away the proverbial lights, glam, and celebrity and just make it a conversation about real life and music. Because when you take all the fancy out of the equation, that’s all any of us in this business really are anyway: regular folks with extraordinary jobs that just live for music.
You’ve been sorting through Reverb’s database for over a year now! Who are some of your favorite artists that you’ve discovered, and why?
My little Madison Shea! Oh, I just love her. When she first came through curation, I thought, “Whoa, whoa, whoa…she’s HOW OLD? And she’s writing these songs?” There was a sophistication about her voice and her music that far exceeded her years. I was blown away. She’s a star. Then there’s Erik Smallwood. Emily Earle, Dustin Hensley, they’re wonderful… there are so many and I’m their biggest cheerleader.
If you could write a song with one of the artists you’ve discovered on ReverbNation, who would it be?
Madison sure could teach me a thing or two, and I’d happily take notes!