W.B. Givens Interview: Singer-Songwriter Talks Debut Album, ‘Locomotion’
Singer-songwriter W.B. Givens' newly-released debut album, 'Locomotion,' is an interesting study in contrasts.
With titles like ‘Death in Her Afternoon,’ ‘Blood & Gold & Latitude’ and ‘Back to Church,' the songs are driven by a unique lyrical perspective married to a genuine sense of song craftsmanship. The music itself is an amalgam of bluegrass, bluesy country and rock, with a modern slant to the production that fits right in with contemporary Americana.
The video for the album’s first single, ‘Oh My God,’ is already in rotation on CMT Edge after premiering on American Songwriter’s web site.
The Boot caught up with Givens just prior to the album's release to discuss the new album, his upcoming tour, his influences, and how the digital age has changed the playing field for independent artists.
'Locomotion' is available for purchase at iTunes.
How long have you been in Nashville?
I've been here for about five years now. I moved here to go to Belmont in 2008, and graduated last year.
How did that lead to your first full-length album? Did you come here thinking specifically you would make an album?
Well, music has definitely been my passion since high school. I played in a bluegrass band in high school. My sister played fiddle, and my good buddy and longtime songwriting partner, Mr. Chad Carson -- who plays in this band in New Orleans called the Kid Carsons. So I knew then, in high school, that I was having so much fun that it was going to be something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, regardless of how little it pays out. [Laughs.]
Definitely the love of music brought me to Nashville. I wanted to just come to Nashville and just move here, and not go to school, but it helped my Dad swallow it a little bit better, that I could actually get a degree out of it, and Belmont's a good school with a good music business program. I got to meet a lot of people. It's been a good ride.
It's good to see people getting into the business that know a little bit about it now, as opposed to just blindly staggering into it.
[Laughs.] Blindly just sort of signing everything that comes across their way, and then they just end up screwing themselves. And there was a lot that they can't teach you -- just given the state of the music business, there's not a whole lot of the old system around. It's an industry, I think, dominated by entrepreneurs, people just getting creative. And that's what people want to see. That definitely is something that came to me outside of Belmont. But the publishing and copyright courses, and marketing of recorded music, it does help you get your wits about you.
It's all about independent artists owning their own stuff, because that's really the only way to make a go of it, unless you're going to be very, very successful with a label.
Exactly. Because there's not a whole lot of pennies in the pond anymore, and the ones that you have, you want them to be completely yours.
Six of the 11 songs were co-writes between myself and Chad Carson, who I mentioned earlier. Those are 50-50 splits. There's not a whole lot of other hands in the pot; it's all mostly mine as far as the publishing and that. I plan on taking it as far as I can by myself, but you do want to have a team around you, at the same time.
What kind of marketing is the best fit for this kind of music?
I had a job as a social media marketer for a year prior to this, until this past August. I'd say social is pretty important. Especially country music, because in the bigger scale, in pop country, the fans are all on Facebook, and they're all on Twitter, and I think that social media provides something that is invaluable to all artists, in this day and age where information is just flying past and getting thrown at you left and right. It's an opportunity for all artists, regardless of genre, to connect with people. I don't think it's the end-all, be-all, but the great thing about Facebook and Twitter is they allow independent artists to essentially become their own marketers.
Tell us about the writing and recording process for this album. Did you write all the songs and then say, "Okay, there's an album here," or did you say, "I'm going to make an album," and then write the songs?
The song on the record called 'Death in Her Afternoon' is the one where I finished it, and that was it. It just seemed like now was the time to do it. Every song that I've written for the past year fit together, they all have something in common. I don't know what that is, and hopefully it comes out on the recordings, but they definitely all fit, to me, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. You finish that one song, and you just decide to do it.
Do you usually start instrumentally, do you work from titles, or how does a song start off for you?
It changes. It's always different, It's always been hard for me to sit down and try to write a song. I'm always more about waiting for that inspiration to happen. Now, when that inspiration does happen, it can either happen all in 30 minutes, or it can take me a couple of months, if it's a bigger idea that I need to take more time with.
These are really unique songs, and what's cool about an artist in your position, who doesn't have to rely on commercial radio, is that you can write songs that really stretch the boundaries. You're not obliged to write a tailgating song.
Exactly, and I can't imagine a situation where I would oblige myself to do that. In the past I've always written like, it is what it is. What comes out is me. And it's fun to try to make whatever's happening to you try to relate to everyone else. For me at least, it's all about putting your audience into a situation that's familiar, but changing a small part of the situation to where they kind of look at it in a different light.
If you were to pull out just a few songs for someone who hadn't heard you at all, what would they be?
'Oh My God,' the first single on the record, is the first one that I wrote with my writing partner, Chad Carson, and that was the first time that I had ever really sat down for hours and hours and argued about prepositions and every little thing. That was the first time I'd ever been that intensive about it, and I learned a lot writing that song, a lot about songwriting. So that would definitely be at the top of the list.
And I'd say probably 'Low Fuel,' is the other one, because before this record, and really the last eight months, we did not have drums and electric guitars and all this kind of stuff. We had a fiddle, an upright bass, an acoustic guitar and a mandolin, and that was the lineup. But I started hearing more stuff, and that was the first one that we actually put the drums to. And I think it came out really well.
Who are some of the main influences that you bring to bear on this record?
Songwriting-wise, I'm heavily influenced by John Prine, Townes Van Zandt and all of those. But then there was a lot of -- the pedal steel on the record comes from my love of traditional country music. The organ on the record comes from the old soul music that came out of Memphis. And I've always loved rock and roll, so I wanted to be a little bit louder. The harmonies have always been something that we hold real close to heart, because from bluegrass days, everybody sang all the time, and I just loved the choral aspect of that.
If you were trying to describe this album to someone who hadn't heard it, how would you describe it?
Country soul harmony town. [Laughs.] I've also used before, 'It sounds better than it smells.' But yeah, that country, soul, really song-heavy kind of thing. Songs are the most important thing to me.
You also have a Southeast tour coming up, do you have the actual dates yet?
I just want to nail them down and confirm everything, but yes. The record is on iTunes Oct. 29, and then we have our release show in Nashville on Nov. 7. And then we embark on a couple of weeks of release show, then continuing on to the holidays.
Have you done a lot of touring in the past?
We've definitely done a lot of weekend runs, the three or four days runs. The longest stint we've ever been out consecutively is about two weeks. That's usually enough time to go out, and I like to stay within 500 miles of Nashville so we can get back and not have to smell each other for a few days, and then go out and do it again. [Laughs.] That's the general idea.