I'm 21: Making the Album


            So, as many of you know, my album “I’m 21” comes out in just 7 days! For this album, my favorite part was recording with the band- there’s a special energy involved when you get the whole band in the studio together and you get to run through the songs after spending time writing and playing them by yourself. As an artist, I had ideas in my head of how I wanted these songs to sound, and when I actually got to hear them with the bass, guitar, and drums combined with my piano-playing, it all came to life. The songs take on their own personality and the live energy creates a really exciting experience. It’s no longer just sheet music; each band member arrives at the studio with the songs already memorized, so their personalities become part of the songs through how they play and feel them. It’s raw and full of feeling, and this live feel gets captured in the studio for the recorded album.

 

            Since the last album, I feel that my writing, singing, and playing have improved. I’ve grown up a lot in the in-between period; more life has happened since I recorded it, and I’ve also grown in my taste in music. When I recorded the last album, I was primarily into Jerry Lee, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley – that whole old-school rock and roll genre – and I really wasn’t enjoying what was coming out of contemporary, mainstream music. Since then, I’ve expanded the music that I listen to, to include people like Adele, Charlie Puth, Chris Stapleton, and Meghan Trainor and, as a result, I think the album has a lot of elements of modern subjects, modern culture, and even a more modern vibe overall. It’s a contemporary rockabilly album; whereas the last album was just straight rockabilly, this one is more driven and mature. I think people my age will be able to better relate to rockabilly music, as this album attempts to make it hip again.

"I found myself listening to a lot of B.B. King and Adele as I recorded this album."

 

            In particular, I found myself listening to a lot of B.B. King and Adele as I recorded this album. I listened to B.B. King because I just love to sit and relax while his music plays, so I pretty typically listen to him for hours on end. And since we wanted to go for a more modern vibe for this album, and Adele has that raw, soulful vibe in a lot of her music, along with some of the contemporary blues elements, I think listening to her helped my sound gain some of those modern elements. It gave me ideas as to how I might sync parts of the songs together, along with how to phrase musical and lyrical lines. By listening to these two artists, I was able to get that modern, yet still raw vibe that occurs when you combine their artistic styles. From the way I sang the songs, to the way they were arranged, written, and played, these artists helped by influencing the end result.

 

            There’s one song on the album called “Rockabilly Saturday Night” that I wrote about a year ago, and it’s my favorite song on the new release. It’s sort of my ode or tribute to everybody who has inspired me in the rockabilly music scene from the 50s/60s rock and roll world. I took the modern pop chord progression, which has been used in numerous songs from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” to Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory,“ and even Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” and I put the rock and roll backbeats to it. Then I took lyrics or names of some of the classic, favorite rockabilly songs and wrote a lyrical story about a rockabilly Saturday night – going out to the lake in your pickup truck, hearing “Johnny B. Goode” on the radio, and other common rockabilly themes. It’s sort of my tribute to every artist I listened to growing up, and who has influenced me in my musical style since youth, but with a contemporary twist added in the classic pop chord progression.

"They’re contemporary rockabilly songs – classic in style, but with an edge."

 

            That being said, the album itself isn’t strictly a tribute album, in the sense that it references these past rockabilly artists, but it is a tribute to being 21 years old. All of the songs have a definite, basic rockabilly feel with the three basic chords, the same chord progressions, and the back-beat. But they’re contemporary rockabilly songs – classic in style, but with an edge. For example, the song “Kiss Me When You’re Sober,” came about when a friend told me about her senior week and I got the urge to put the story into a song. I think that anyone who is 18-21 years old can relate to this album because it talks about events that happen at that point in a person’s life. These are songs about a girl not texting a guy back, a break-up, kissing someone when you’re drunk, and enjoying a Saturday night. It’s a reflection of my life and the lives of others my age, and I believe these aspects make it modern, yet classic.

 

Bringing Rockabilly into the Modern Era

Backbeats and Elvis Presley

"I initially got into rockabilly when I heard Elvis Presley for the first time."

"I initially got into rockabilly when I heard Elvis Presley for the first time."

I initially got into rockabilly when I heard Elvis Presley for the first time. I was about 5 or 6 years old and immediately loved the rawness and passion in it. I also thought it had great rhythm, in what musicians generally term the backbeat (For all of the non-musicians reading this, the backbeat is an emphasis on beats 2 and 4, and is the aspect of rockabilly that gives it a unique sound. Click on the link for a demonstration). The genre’s name of “rock and roll” comes from artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard who took this backbeat and combined it with a swing-roll style in the drums. One of my favorite aspects of the rockabilly style happens when you put the beat together and get both the coolness of the rhythm and the passion behind the music.

Telling a story

I also really love the story that rockabilly songs tell. Every artist has a story, from the way they were brought up, to the time period they lived in. Their experiences and stories make the style what it is. I love the authenticity and the real passion that’s in it, along with how cool, straight, and simple it is. Rockabilly isn’t necessarily hard to play or write since it comes straight from personal experience; the hardest part is getting the right passion into it. It has to give off a feeling that makes you want to move to make it true rockabilly.

Rockabilly then and now

When rockabilly first came out they named it for the primarily white, country hillbillies who got ahold of what was referred to, back in the day, as “colored” music. This “colored” music was the blues. When artists like Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, and Buddy Holly started playing Chuck Berry and Little Richard’s style of music, they called it rockabilly because it was a new movement of rock and roll. Nowadays, the genre has shifted its focus from the stylistic difference between races to an interest in the rhythm of the rockabilly sound.

"Blue Suede Shoes" simplicity

Since the invention of rockabilly, the artists chose very topical themes to write about in their songs, providing a possible reason for the way this style has faded out of popularity. These older artists wrote songs about “blue suede shoes” and “fishnet stockings”-simple songs that proved appropriate for the time period in which they were played. I’ve found that a lot of current rockabilly artists try to write with that same mindset, by picking a retro object to focus on in their lyrical material. This songwriting process creates very authentic rockabilly, but lacks relevance.

Rockabilly in the modern era

Bringing rockabilly to millennials

Bringing rockabilly to millennials

With my music I try to reach people my age, particularly millennials, by writing about topics they can relate to, rather than keeping with the retro topics used by artists in early days of rockabilly. So while I write songs with the same boogie-woogie piano beat that Jerry Lee and Little Richard made famous, I write about more modern ideas and objects. For example, there’s a song on my new EP called “Text Message.” Obviously they didn’t text back in the 50s, but nowadays texting is common. So essentially, I’m writing rockabilly songs with the same style, but with more applicability to modern times, making it hip and relatable again. I’m bringing rockabilly into the modern era.