“The idea was to keep something fresh in front of both radio and fans. Attention spans are short, and with social media, we figured it was important to stay at the top of the search engine pile, so to speak. ” – @fltourists
A.V.A Live Radio Behind The Music with Jacqueline Jax
GETTING TO KNOW FLATLAND TOURISTS
by Jacqueline Jax host of A.V.A Live Radio
Questions answered by : Kevin Winchester
Singles vs an album…
We talked about this a lot with our producer, Mark Williams. We developed a plan before we ever recorded the first note. We decided, at his suggestion, to release two EPs rather quickly and then follow that with a full length CD. The first EP had a soft release in November of 2014, but the official release and radio promo was in mid-January of 2015. That did pretty well, better than we expected actually, and we were still getting some airplay from that in September when the second EP released. The idea was to keep something fresh in front of both radio and fans. Attention spans are short, and with social media, we figured it was important to stay at the top of the search engine pile, so to speak.
We didn’t release a single from either, though. Once we saw which songs were getting the most spins, we did push those as singles, but it was after the fact. And, everything we make available always has the option of downloading single tracks as well as the full record.
We’re already working on the full length CD, and we think we’ve identified, at least at this stage, the song to release as a single prior to the full CD release. If everything continues according to plan, we’ll probably release “Palestine” sometime early next year as a single. The thought was to—in the span of about 18 months—have three “releases” that would keep new material coming out every three or four months. We felt that, being a “new” band without a proven track record or a bunch of touring in the books, that a single would be tough to sell or promote by itself. Now that we’ve established ourselves a bit with radio and are steadily adding more to our fan base, we can promote a single now to generate anticipation and interest ahead of the full-length record.
It’s changed a lot over the years, in both good and bad ways. It’s really tough to sell music, as in CDs or records these days, because it’s so easy to find it for free and many people don’t mind doing that. For instance, our latest record released on Sep 18th. I found a Russian site on-line where you could download it for free three days later. What’s worse, if you download from that site, it comes with a free computer virus. On the other hand, technology has made marketing to people who are interested in your music easier, quicker, and a little cheaper. It’s a labor of love, that’s for sure.
Pros and cons have you experienced…
We have fans all over the world, and yet we’ve really only toured in the Southeast. That’s pretty cool. That would never have happened fifteen years ago. Because the record industry has changed so completely, it’s up to the bands to do all the work to get their material in front of those potential fans, though. It’s more liberating being a do it yourself artist, and you can carve out a niche that way, but you are doing it all on your own most of the time, there’s no big label throwing marketing money at you.
Hurdles and pitfalls…
Working hard and working steady. We keep trying to write solid songs. And like I said before—we try to do everything with peace and love in our hearts. We believe if you put good vibes out in the world, good vibes come back to you. It seems to have worked so far…
It’s a necessary evil. In one regard, it’s making everyone zombies. For instance, when I’m home and my dog is curled up in my lap and he hears my phone vibrate, he’ll hop down and go in the other room. Yeah, I know it’s probably just the frequency, but I like to think that he knows something, senses something, you know, like the old notion that a photograph would steal your soul. But, on the other hand, social media is great because it puts us much closer to our fans. When folks interact with us on social media—they’re interacting with us, not our management or record people, or someone else behind the scenes—it’s one of us. That’s really nice.
Challenges that you’ve had to overcome…
Yeah, the biggest challenge we’ve had to overcome was when a skunk crawled under the stage between sets at an outdoor show last year. We were lucky that Billy and Frank happened to see it go under there. It’s not like you could poke it with a stick or yell at it to run it out…well, we could have but the last set would’ve been a real bummer. We waited it out, everybody stayed cool, and eventually the skunk left. Without buying any merchandise, I might add… But seriously, we just try to work really hard, stay consistent. Everything’s a challenge, you know? Writing, arranging, finding time to rehearse new material, booking, promoting, recording, staying in touch with fans, everything. But, we’ve found out the harder we work, the luckier we get.
We fit somewhere under that big Americana umbrella…
We’ve all been playing since we were very young. For all of us, our parents, grandparents, or other family played, and they were our first influences. As a band, we’ve been together a little over 2 years. Actually, we all live within a couple of miles of each other and have for years, but we never played music together until this band formed. We were all too busy in our other music projects. We had mutual friends who kept saying we should get together and write some songs, and we tried a time or two, but the timing wasn’t right for one reason or another. Then, a few years ago, purely by chance, we all ended up at a local cover band’s show. We started talking, realized our schedules and commitments were open, and things developed from there.
Whatcha Gonna Do?
Rachel wrote it. She, Joe, and myself write most of the songs then bring in a rough demo to the group. From there we all kinda put the Tourists spin on it. Everybody contributes. Rachel and Joe had worked out the general arrangement, chord progression and melody for this one and brought it to us last year. We liked it immediately, made a few changes as far as instrumentation, then started playing it at shows last year. It always gets a great response live and our producer liked it too, so it made it onto this record. Rachel says it’s based on a true story, but she’s not told us that story yet.
It’s a break up song, basically, but not a sad one at all. Obviously, it’s a story told from a female perspective and the tune shows a strong confident women, one who is sure of herself. She’s not looking to be “taken care of” or be any of those old misogynistic stereotypes once assigned to women in relationships. Instead, it shows the main character insisting they be equals—as it should be, and that she’s not going to accept anything less. She believes in herself. Ultimately, the song is a celebration of domestic equality and of the effort it takes on both parts to maintain a successful long-term relationship. Sure, all of us guys in the band kid Rache about it. We think it’s one of those songs that shows the “happy wife, happy life” mantra.
Rachel tells us it’s based on a true story, but then she just grins and stops talking. We suspect there’s a really interesting backstory, but she’s not sharing. Yet… When we first heard the tune, it was from an old demo Rachel and Joe did. It sounded kinda “poppy,” had sort of a jangle-y 80’s feel too it. We slowed it down a bit, put more of a country-blues groove to it, and Rache started singing it with more twang. For the most part, we recorded it live, which is always interesting. Mark Williams, our producer (Grammy winner, produced REM, Hootie & the Blowfish, Southern Culture on the Skids, and a lot of Blues/Gospel folks), uses a technique with us called binaural recording. It’s a trip. He actually brings in the heads from mannequins, puts them on stands in front of us, and puts a microphone at each “ear” of the mannequin. Felt a little odd, but once we got into the mixing booth, it was amazing to hear the effect the technique had.
We all tried really hard not to become emotionally attached to our respective mannequins. It was tough, but we managed. Billy had a little separation anxiety after the sessions ended, but it’s all good now…
We’re all from the South, several generations deep, so the whole idea of a Front Porch has a certain kind of appeal to us. It’s where family gathered, stories were passed down, and in a metaphorical way, it represents where we first came to love music. Think of the old Andy Griffith Show, where Andy would sit on the porch in the evenings and play his guitar and sing songs—that’s a good way to think about this record. We hope these songs pay tribute to that feeling. We also hope they honor our musical traditions, both personally and in a larger way, the traditions of all Americana music.
We like writing and playing songs that, even if the subject matter seems a little sad or dark, ultimately have a positive vibe. If you come to our shows or follow us on social media, you’ll hear us saying or posting things like “whatever you do, always be kind,” or “whatever you do, do it with love in your heart.” Every time before we go on stage, we have a little meditation moment where we kinda reaffirm that idea and remind each other to play the show with peace and love in our hearts and in our music, and to try and give that to our audience. We hope this record does the same.
We’re based out of a small town in North Carolina called Waxhaw…
and all of us live in the area. It’s about 30 miles southeast of Charlotte. The original music scene is great in North Carolina, especially for Americana music. Waxhaw is so small, there’s not really a music scene in town. Charlotte is getting better. It’s still primarily a cover band sort of town, but the last few years we’ve seen a few more places open that feature original bands. The Asheville, Boone, Greenville, SC areas are not that far from us, and the environment for original music is really positive there.
If you’re in Charlotte, the Evening Muse is a great original music venue, as is The Visualite Theater and the Neighborhood Theater. There’s also the Double Door Inn, which has been around and supporting original music since 1973. There are a couple of great honky-tonks, too, Pucketts Farm Equipment and The Thirsty Beaver Saloon.
Billy and I like riding motorcycles. We both have Harley’s, touring bikes. And all of us like going to hear other bands in the area when we can.
I would love to have 5 minutes alone with…
Wow, tough question, there are so many… Personally, at the moment, I’d say Jason Isbell. I’d love to talk with him about his writing process. I really admire his writing, his phrasing, the way his songs have a solid narrative feel without actually seeming like a traditional ballad or “story-song.” On any other given day, maybe John Prine or Ray Wylie Hubbard. Rachel often mentions the influence of Emmy Lou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette on her, so I’m sure she’d like 5 minutes with one of them. As a band, we’re all big Neil Young fans. It’d be neat to have 5 minutes with him. And Bucket Head, Frank loves Bucket Head and he’s indoctrinated the rest of us. Maybe Houndmouth. We’re fans of theirs, too.
Emphasis on being current and trendy…
As an Americana band, we don’t worry too much about being current or trendy. Instead, our focus is on being true to our roots, and as we like to say, playing within ourselves. We’re fortunate to have such a great chemistry in this band. We all really love each other, we’re family, and because of that we were able to figure out who we were as a band relatively early in the process. We figured out the Tourists sound and how to do things the Tourists way. We try to stay true to that and not worry about trends. Good music, good song writing, never really goes out of style anyway. Trends change with the wind.
I am most afraid of…
Snakes. I really don’t like snakes.
My personal definition of success is..
Success is being true to yourself in all you do. We’ve talked about this as a band. Sure, we’d love to have an Americana “hit,” whatever that means. We’d love to have a song or record sell a million copies. Sure, we’d love to play every big festival every year and have every venue show be a sell out two weeks in advance. But for us, if we can write songs, make music that is honest and true, music that we’re proud to release and proud to play for people, and those songs bring some peace and a little light to those who hear it, then we’re successful. With that in mind, we feel like both our records so far have been successful.
My over all goal for my life & career is…
Make music that makes me people happy.
3 Ways that I challenge myself …
1) I always think I can write a better song than anything I’ve written so far. It keeps me writing every day. If I’m not writing, I’ll never write that “better song.”
2) I won’t bring a new song to the band unless I think it’s better than something we’ve already released. This challenge forces me to be realistic about what I write and to edit and revise ruthlessly. I probably throw away a hundred songs for every one that I actually bring into the band. Even then, not every song I’ve brought in has made it, or will make it, onto a record.
3) I listen to a lot of songwriters that I admire and challenge myself to write as well as they do. Writers like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Carrie Ann and Michael of Shovels & Rope, John Prine, Dylan, Darrell Scott, Towndes Van Zandt, there are so many. I try to figure out what works and why in their songs. I take their songs apart and reassemble them. I’m a fiction writer, too, have my MFA in Creative Writing, and from that background, I’ve learned to constantly study other writers and then evaluate and re-evaluate my writing, hopefully applying what I learn from others. Because of that, I don’t feel like I’ve written my best material yet. That’s still to come, maybe the next song, maybe the one after that.
They are the Carolinas Music Awards 2015 Americana Band of the Year. They’ve played Americana festivals, venues, and performance centers throughout the Southeast. They’ve played opening support for national Americana act, Shovels and Rope. Their first EP,produced by Grammy winning producer, Mark Williams (REM, Hootie & the Blowfish, SCOTS), spent almost two months in the Top Ten on the Roots Music Report charts. Their shows are filled with happy, smiling, dancing people. They have red clay roots and it shows in their music. Flatland Tourists started their musical journey together in 2013, and for them, every day and every gig since feels like a vacation. Rachel Garcia, Joe Williams, and Kevin Winchester write most of the songs, sometimes individually and sometimes as a group effort. Rachel wrote “Whatcha Gonna Do,” and promises us it’s based on a true story…but she’s not told us that story. Yet… You can find it on their latest release, “Front Porch.”
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