I hope you're having a good week and managing to stay positive. This week I've been a bit up and down; I've had lots of creative energy but when the rain came pouring down, I just wanted to snuggle up with a film and some great music. I'm learning to take each day as it comes and hope you getting through it too.
I caught up with the wonderful Bob Fitzgerald who released his EP 'Another Highway' a week ago and it has really taken off! We chatted about the response he's received so far (Bob song 'One Of These Nights' featured on The Country Show with Bob Harris this week). We talked about releasing a debut EP during lockdown and his life as a songwriter, an artist and a musician. Plus, I found out about the Monkey Shed and more importantly what's in it.
For anyone who wishes to listen to listen to our chat, click on the video below or read the interview further down;
Sammi Follow Your Arrow: Hi Bob, congratulations on your debut EP ‘Another Highway’ release. It’s had a fantastic response so far. How do you feel about it?
Bob Fitzgerald: In my social media posts at the time, I said I'm running out of superlatives and exclamation marks! It's beyond my wildest expectations especially during the current situation of lockdown. I released a single ('Running from the Rain') in March and that got to number 2 in the iTunes country single charts so lots of opportunities came in. We were all scheduled with the band to hit the road, lots of gigs planned and then the current situation came up. Like everyone else we're using social media and technology to share everything we can.
Initially I really mindful and slightly perplexed how am I going to do this then? To get the single to where we got it to, there was a lot of person interaction, acoustic nights and gigs. I feel like it's going amazingly well considering the current situation, it's gone even better than I thought it was going to.
As an independent artist, you do everything you can to promote yourself and hit the chart at the best position you can and then gently slide down the chart. To reach number 2 (on the iTunes country music chart) on Friday I was on top of the world. I woke up on Saturday morning to a text from my eldest daughter saying "Have you seen the charts?" (It reached number 1 on the iTunes country album chart). It blew my mind.
Sammi: I think it's so interesting to release during lockdown, I'm wondering if it's a really good time to do it as people have time to listen more and engage with the music.
Bob: Well it was a strategic move! Haha. No, it wasn't strategic move at all, it purely happened by circumstance as it was always scheduled to be released now. I think the audience is looking for material and artists are looking for content to put out. In retrospect now, having that amazingly produced EP ready to roll at that point has turned out to be incredibly fortunate.
Sammi: Fantastic! 'Another Highway' was released on Friday and it has four tracks. We'll talk a bit more about that later. I would like to know more about you as songwriter and whether you have a process? Do you write lyrics and then record the music with it? What is that process for you as everyone seem to have a different way of approach song writing?
Bob: I think you've hit the nail on the head there, everybody does have a different way. As an individual, I think we all have varying ways of doing it because you've always got your antenna up and you're always primed and ready for a song idea. Whether that is something you see, or head or something that comes to you.
I think initially for me, I've written songs for many years and you sit with a chordal based instrument; predominately a guitar, maybe a piano and you play some music and you create on top of that. That's how I used to do it all the time but now I prefer the way I do it now. A lot of the time, I think of a song and I sing it to myself and I go to the instrument and I go what's the chords then? Quite often I'm driving or walking and I sing into my iPhone. I've spoken to lots of musician friends about this, we have lots of voice recorder memos. You can be gardening or something and I love that head space of finding the song. It sounds really romantic and I guess it is a lovely journey to go on.
Right now, I feel blessed that I can write the songs that I want to hear. When you're younger and you're interested in songwriting you write a three and a half minute song and by the time you've got to the end you go I've completed a song and that's the achievement. The achievement now is capturing the song. 'Run' is the first one of this recent batch where I went 'that's exactly what I want to hear'. My benchmark now is what do I want to hear? If I heard that done by somebody else would I be jealous?
Sammi: I love that! That's a great approach!
Bob: You hear songs by other people and you think 'Oh man, why didn't I come up with that lyrical idea? That melody is amazing! Like Need You Now by Lady Antebellum. For me that has to be the benchmark. Is it as good as I want it to be? Luckily, through years of songwriting, I've gotten to the point now my process is to come up with a chorus or a verse and grow it from there.
I'm in the Monkey Shed, my home studio. I play all the instruments, I can write all the parts so I'm lucky I can produce the tracks and sing. I generally know what I'm doing to do before I get here. I never really sit down and try something.
Sammi: Where does your love of country music come from?
Bob: There's something true that I can't put it into words about country music. Historically my parents always had a wide range of music in the house. The music I loved the longest is this 1984 cassette of the Eagles greatest hits. It's country rock and they were a massive influence to me since childhood the Eagles music has been a constant soundtrack. My Grandad used to listen to Jim Reeves, I was into rock music and in a band when I was 16. Grandad wanted me to get a pedal steel guitar and do some Jim Reeves.
Sammi: Who else besides the Eagles and Jim Reeves has influenced you as an artist?
Bob: '5th Gear' by Brad Paisley was a drawing together of everything I feel that I would want to include in music. I feel a kinship with that album, I love his whole catalogue but I think that's his finest point. We're a similar age and we had similar influences; it brings together rock, pop and humour. He's absolutely beautifully more country than my stuff, I'm more country rock and pop.
Sammi: I can see a lot of instruments behind you in the Monkey Shed. It's becoming famous in it's own right as I've already heard about it. What else is in there? What instruments do you play?
Bob: It's a long time coming to have a bespoke place to have all my favourite things behind me. Mostly musical instruments and things from my childhood, a Kiss gnome my girlfriend Kerry painted as I'm a huge Kiss fan. Plus, a birthday card from Brad Paisley. I play guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, sing and produce and engineer my reproduction demos here. I've got a pedal steel but it's the most complicated instrument! A beautiful sound but like a swan where it looks graceful but it's like paddling beneath the surface, so many pedals!
Sammi: I love all the tracks on 'Another Highway' especially ‘Running from the Rain’ as I feel instantly transported to the American highway and going on an adventure. What is your favourite track and what is the story behind the song?
Bob: Each is special in it's own way, 'Run' is the one I wrote and said yes! It's where I started this journey and drew everything together and I'm writing the music I want to hear. 'One Of These Nights' I particularly love as I captured the vibe I was going for. It's like an American movie. it's like a scene in California with a house on the side of a hill with the canyons in the background and it's night time and open air and there's a lit pool with beautiful people drinking and it has a 70's vibe.
It led me to think of the greatest nights out with my friends and memories in Cardiff. It's one of those nights where everything is just right and you catch yourself noticing this is the best night. Your mates are great, the drinks, the bars you go to and it's summer and no weather worries and that's what 'One Of These Nights' is trying to capture.
'She'll Do' comes from life experiences of my own and narrative endeavours and I had some feedback from a friend saying "we've all been there" but a favourite is probably 'Run'.
Sammi: I guess it's been a long time coming to piece these songs together and choose. Tell us about your background and how this has all come about.
Bob: I've got a larger number of songs that I'm equally as confident about the four songs that were chosen for the EP. I reached out to Danny McMahon as I wanted to get into the UK country scene I was following on social media. I messaged him and met him in his studio and met him and Andrea Succi (his business partner). I found the co-conspirators I was searching for and they totally understood where I was coming from. I'd been to a few studios around and asked them to re-mix what I'd done in the Shed and it came back a bit more rock or pop and I thought that's not what I'm after.
Country has a specific sound and Danny and Drea knew what I wanted. They helped facilitate that engineering and mixing and I was really pleased that I had that amazing knowledgeable and friendly sounding board. It was a no brainer that 'Running from the Rain' was the single and 'Run' was really close. The process was choosing from many songs which was the four best songs that would best represent me right now as a first release.
Sammi: What’s the plan for the rest of the year or when lockdown life ends?
Bob: I realised from the success of 'Running from the Rain' single and all those live opportunities now, I had the opportunity for people to hear my sound which is that produced sound with layered guitars, drums and bass. I was mindful that if I went straight into the Facebook live, of me and an acoustic guitar I won't be representing my sound.
Once you know an artist it's lovely to hear an acoustic version of a song, so I thought of doing the remote gigs with my band go through the set list with the guys recording their parts and sending them to me and I'll put it all together. We're going through the songs one by one and a collaboration coming up, also the 'One Of These Nights' lyric video coming up. There will be more Facebook lives coming out and performances.
What's hit me with this in the UK country music scene is that everyone is so warm and welcoming and I've made loads of new friends. It's a community based scene. The biggest thing that's made this happen is the fans who are so passionate about it. The artists want to share music during the lockdown but wonderfully the fans are desperate to hear more and it has been so well supported. To all the UK country music fans, thank you so much, the support is beautifully felt and it's wonderful.
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Thanks to Bob for chatting to me, watch this space as big things are coming for him so get onboard now and have a listen to his new EP 'Another Highway' now.
Have a great weekend all,