Rashad Tha Poet


“Her parents gave her the best of things, but they never gave her the best of them.” Taken from his 2013 TEDx presentation, this potent line speaks to Rashad Rayford’s flare for provocative commentary, a quality which has earned him his place as one of the key voices among Nashville’s spoken word community (in addition to a handful of NIMA honors). A poet mentor with Southern Word for the past six years, Rayford has held a prominent role in serving the organization’s mission to provide “creative solutions for youth to build literacy and presentation skills, reconnect to their education and to their lives, and act as leaders in the improvement of their communities.” “He’s a great role model,” says Southern Word Executive Director Benjamin Smith, speaking via phone to Rayford’s impact. “He’s one of our key mentors.” He’s also an emcee.

Since 2005 Rayford has issued well over a dozen releases under his Rashad Tha Poet moniker, adding an impressive musical output to his already-heavy creative workload. His latest, Less is More, stands as something of an abbreviated mixtape, with its seven tracks using soul and jazz-inspired beats from Oddisee, No I.D., Rashad Thompson, Trent Taylor, and Caveman the Wise to underscore the EP’s nonlinear storytelling. Thematically, the music finds Rayford searching for clarity in his relationships, certainly with others but primarily with himself. “Swear I ain’t preachin’,” he relates in the EP’s closing track, “this is just mirror talk.”

The set’s lone lyrical collaboration comes from Fyütch, whose wit and charm are abundant on “Wicked.” At its most basic the song’s a conversation between friends, each relating memories of near misses and romantic could-have-beens. “In middle school I used to memorize Shakespeare sonnets and couldn’t wait to get married,” relates Fyütch via email. “So I have a ton of stories of being in the ‘friend zone’, or just hilarious attempts to spit game to a girl that got me laughed at or talked about behind my back.” “But then again,” he continues, playfully painting himself equal parts victim and hero, “I always got the last laugh lookin’ all sexy on stage.”

In spoken word, being “on” suggests an aim for the profound: a lyrical exploration blending self-discovery with purposeful social observations. Add to this a self-imposed drive to exist as a positive role model in the community, and being “on” can quickly become exhausting. Less is More exists as a complementary piece to this mindspace, revealing itself as a brief detour, existing so Rashad Tha Poet can flex his creativity while giving Rashad Rayford a break from having to be “on” all the time.

Wrinkles and All



“I’m troubled by the industry convention that would require me to summarize my creative process in a dozen ‘fully baked’ songs,” explains Lizzy Ross, speaking to the “guts” of her still-expanding Naked in My Living Room release. “As if an album were a thesis to defend or a product with a warranty to uphold.” At the time of this article’s publication, Living Room is five songs deep, each track a single-take performance, capturing a “creative growth spurt” as it continues to unfold. “Most of all, it disturbs me when the need to present a perfect finished product gets in the way of continued creative expression, growth, and risk-taking,” she continues. “When the wrinkles are spared, they’re often my favorite part of a song.”

Born in Annapolis, Maryland (“perhaps the place where music goes to die”), Ross later relocated to Chapel Hill to study at the University of North Carolina. There she joined the short-lived “twangy indie rock bandLafcadio in 2008, before forming the Lizzy Ross Band the following year. In 2010 she released a solo acoustic album called Traces, before hitting full stride with the group’s debut, Read Me Out Loud, in 2011. That year (and in 2012) Ross was nominated for “Best Rock Female” at the Carolina Music Awards, winning the honor the first time through. “They’re wonderful and fantastic,” she said of her bandmates last September, on the eve of both the break-up of the group and her departure from the state. “[T]his is definitely a band of people who are good to the core.” This past November she moved to Nashville.

“I released my most recent album over two years ago [and] at this point,” says Ross, “I’m feeling I’ve quite outgrown it.” With Living Room she hasn’t abandoned her band’s “country, blues, soul, and jazz-inflected Americana” sound, she’s just taken a filter off, letting the music of the moment flow from within and through her “electric rig” and RC-300 loop pedal. “I love the immediacy of a live performance,” she says. “I love the wholeness of a single take recording.”

They might only appear a series of rugged demos, but the weekly sessions do show the singer finding her footing, both in her new surroundings and once again as a solo artist. Whether compared to past solo recordings from a few months ago, or a few years ago, they exhibit an edge that seems to be getting sharper with time. There’s a comfort Ross seems to find in this evolution.

“Once a week, I come to terms with the disparity between how I sound and how I wish I sounded,” she says. “I find things to love about the way I play a song in that particular moment in time. I give a song my undivided attention and energy, we grow into each other, and I show the world our best collaboration of the moment.”

A Beginner’s Guide to Touring with *repeat repeat


This past March, Nashville trio *repeat repeat set out on the band’s first tour together, covering 14 dates in a month, with 11 of those shows packed into 18 days across eight states; simply explaining the itinerary is a mouthful. Comprised of Jared Corder, Kristyn Corder, and Andy Herrin, the trio paired with el el for much of the tour, sharing in both the experience of playing shows together as well as the responsibility of executing on plan for the betterment of all. Plenty of bands tour — that alone isn’t especially remarkable — but what makes this tour worth discussing is that when *repeat repeat returned home to Nashville, they did so in the black.

What follows is a series of insights provided by Jared and Kristyn, who each offer guidance for those looking to hit the road, themselves. And if there’s one constant that runs throughout the planning for the tour and stories from the road, it’s to “be organized.” “Being an artist, you’re not expected to be organized,” says Jared. “But I think it sets you apart if you can be.” “These are tips if you’re trying to be a professional working band,” adds Kristyn.

1) Find Sponsorship

Last September the band teamed with el el and Ponychase for an event at The Basement, offering the first 75 people through the door a free sampler featuring new music from each of the night’s acts. Grolsch fronted the bill to have the CDs made up, and in return, received placement on the slipcases that enveloped the discs. “When you come up with something cool or creative for a sponsor,” says Kristyn, “you don’t feel bad being sponsored.”

The distance between CD printing and gas money is huge though, so when looking for actual financial backing, Jared says you must “take ambiguity out of it.” “Itemize what you’re willing to deliver for their partnership.” Here, it’s extra-critical to be organized. “A sponsor wants to see that you’re professional […] You want the sponsor to feel like it’s a no-brainer.” This means itemizing costs to show exactly why the band needs financial support, and explaining specifically how you’re providing value for the sponsor. In the case of those CDs, that meant tangible placement of an advertisement in the hands of 75 fans. If you’re already creating event posters or promoting via social media, you’re already creating avenues for sponsorship exposure. “There’s a way to do it tastefully,” says Kristyn.

It’s a bold statement, but as Jared says, “assume you’re not going to make money on the road.” Using that as your starting point, don’t be afraid to reach out to businesses in your own community that might be able to support you beyond simply handing over cash. “Look to a printshop for posters or t-shirt support,” says Jared. “Maybe they’re providing $200 worth of posters that you don’t have to pay for.” Whatever you do, try to put yourself in a position to succeed. “Months before the trip started everything was taken care of,” continues Jared. “So at this point, if we made no money from any of the shows, everyone was taking a 15 day vacation.”

2) Watch What You Spend

Every dollar that goes out is one more dollar you need to earn just to break even. That’s as true on the road as it is in life, and continuing the theme here, financial responsibility comes back around to being organized. As Jared explains, the tour hit locations that allowed the bands to crash with friends and family, “I think even before we had venues booked, we had places to stay.” But even then, it’s hard to avoid hotels, especially when you’re looking for a good night of sleep (or at least a night of sleep on an actual bed). That’s where websites like Airbnb or Couchsurfing can be handy. Or, if you’ve got a large enough vehicle to accommodate sleeping, you can plan ahead to crash for the night on a campground or RV park. At the very least, you can drive 15 minutes outside of a town to find less expensive hotel rates. Where there’s a need to spend, there’s usually an alternative that helps you save a little along the way.

This goes for food and drink while on the road, too. “If you do stay in a hotel,” adds Jared, “take advantage of it. There’s a coffee maker in every hotel room.” Before leaving home the band stocked up with bulk snacks that were both relatively healthy and inexpensive, especially when compared to gas station alternatives. They also made food that they could eat after their shows, and purchased water bottles that had built-in filters, so they could refill wherever they were for free. They thought ahead, assessed their needs, and planned accordingly.

3) Book and Promote with Purpose

There is a basic consideration to remain mindful of when booking dates: As Jared says, you’ll want “a good draw at least every two days, where you’ve got a base, or friends, or press.” He continues, “You don’t want to be top or bottom heavy,” where either the start of the tour is great and the back-half is poorly attended, or vice-versa. This is meant to not only help reduce the chances of burnout, but to also keep some semblance of momentum in check.

For their tour, *repeat repeat had guidance from a booking agent friend, but they also relied on Indie on the Move to help them connect with suitable venues in unfamiliar cities. From there, they looked to friends, Craigslist, and Google to find local bands who might be interested in sharing the bill. Once they were booked (which Jared and Kristyn recommend having locked down at least a month in advance), that’s when they started promoting.

For the tour Jared took the lead on promotion**, which he breaks down into four key segments: Print, Radio, Video, and Digital. For each city they were playing in, he reached out looking for advance coverage from local magazines, alt-weeklies, newspapers, college and larger radio stations, and local morning news programs. Beyond free promotion, however, both Jared and Kristyn espouse the need for social advertising. Through Facebook and Twitter, you can break down the demographics of your target audience so precisely that you’re only hitting people who are likely to care about your music. Because of this, they budgeted enough to promote a little on their own online in every city on the tour.


4) Make Health a Priority

It’s difficult to set yourself up for physical well-being while crammed into van with all your gear, but there are a few things that can be done along the way to help reduce the blow your body takes. That filtered water bottle from before, for example? “When you have the water bottle you end up drinking more water,” says Kristyn. Beyond saving money, being prepared with your own food also helps keep you away from seductive gas station indulgences. “Of course I’m gonna get breakfast tacos,” says Jared of the band’s date in his hometown of Phoenix. But indulgences aren’t the rule, they’re the exception: Eat as clean as you can and try to stay away from drinking too much after shows, if only to make your life easier the day after. There’s a roll-over effect, adds Kristyn, where impact of a few too many drinks or bad meals, a couple nights in a row, can really wear you down.

Health has as much to do with emotional as it does physical, and much of the emotional health of the group was aided by — again — being organized. The band made an agreement, says Jared, to split up what they earned after they returned home, drawing expenses from a collective pot along the way to avoid constantly asking everyone to kick-in financially. “One of the easiest way to burn out band members is to nickel and dime everything.” Taking a load off the mind comes in many forms on the road though. Jared and Kristyn picked up extra work before the tour, for example, to make sure they weren’t going to be tight for money when they returned home. They also packed emergency gear including a gas can, a spare tire, jumper cables, a funnel, and basic tools just in case they found themselves in a bind. Every morning Jared gave their van a complete once over to prepare for the day, “getting gas went from taking 15 to 20 minutes to taking 30 to 40 minutes because I would check everything every day.” If you can afford a tune-up for your vehicle in advance of the tour, they recommend that in addition to emergency roadside assistance. “Even if you get it for two months and cancel it,” says Kristyn, “get it!”

One of the most important pieces of advice came prior to the tour’s kick-off from el el’s Ben Elkins, says Kristyn. “Think about what you can do to make someone else’s experience, day, or situation better. Think about what you can do for others while we’re on this tour. It’s not all about you.” On some level you have to roll with the punches, says Jared. Everyone’s going to be tired and cranky and uncomfortable, but you have to “expect that and be mindful of it.”

5) Plan for What Comes Next

If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to go on tour, hopefully you’re organized enough to make it home in one piece. “Touring’s not the end-all,” says Kristyn. For the band, the return to reality meant not only going back to their day jobs, but finishing out their tour plans and looking ahead to what’s next for the band. They sent out follow-up emails to venues and sponsors, with links and screen shots documenting their promotional work, demonstrating the group’s hustle along the way to make sure that if there’s a next time, they’ll have working relationships in place to get them back out on the road.

The band is already looking ahead to their next album, which will likely be followed by another tour. They’ll play one-off dates along the way, and will keep finding ways to reach out to their fans to maintain interest. For Record Store Day, as an example, that meant unveiling a cover of “Carrie Anne” by the Hollies, in addition to releasing a previously unreleased track. “You can always do more,” says Jared, “[but] there’s no harm in stepping back for a second.”

Reflecting a little, one of the key changes Jared and Kristyn say they’ll make for their next tour is cutting down drive-time in between shows. They agree that eight hours or less in between destinations would be optimal. Their tour saw a few spurts which exceeded that, cutting into time to decompress off the road and unwind a little along the way. While they were prepared with plenty of copies of their new album, Bad Latitude, they also learned to take as much merch with them as they can fit in their van next time they tour. “If you’re in the city, that’s when they want to buy it,” says Kristyn. Learn from the missed opportunities, says Jared, “but don’t forget to know when you’ve done something great.” “Know what you want,” he continues, which is every bit as important as “being organized” in terms of touring rules. Because without that, you won’t know when you’ve succeeded.

**Kristyn works at Apple Road, which specializes in “creative publicity for the brands you shouldn’t live without.” “For the sake of my clients,” and to avoid any perceived conflict of interest, she doesn’t do publicity for *repeat repeat.

[This article was first published by the Nashville Fringe Festival.]

JOTA ESE "Super Dank III"



“My last three tapes I put out were made for smoking […] filled with bong sounds and things. The tracks are all 10-15 minutes long and made to be extra blunted.” While looking out for herbal connoisseurs with his last few productions, JOTA ESE’s Super Dank III isn’t strictly for the smokers. “Despite the name,” he says, “the videos and samples don’t have that much to do with smoking.”

As JOTA explains, most of the project “was done very late at night after I get off work, so it reflects a late night vibe.” The resulting mix drifts in and out of frictionless samples and instrumentals, all of which serves as a relaxed soundtrack for the accompanying Super Dank III video (which repurposes arctic exploration footage documenting Jacques Cousteau and the crew of The Calypso).

“This is a more classic style tape,” JOTA continues, which isn’t to say that the music stands on its own, separate from the series’ first two mixes. “I had help from the same people who helped with the beats and videos for parts one and two.” One of the big differences, he says, is that the new release was produced as a continuous recording before being broken down into the album’s 14 tracks. “Super Dank III was one track but I cut it up,” says JOTA. “So some echoes and things carry over to the next track, which I really really like.”

Shake and Bake



“I know this is somewhat cliché, but I still enjoy smoking to a lot of original dub reggae and original ska records. Those records have always had an impact on me musically.” KDSML’s five-track Nug Life EP is hardly a throwback to the days of King Tubby and Super Ape, but it does reflect the same stripped-down aesthetic of those early influences. “I tried not to over complicate,” he continues, “giving the sounds and the tracks more room to breathe.”

Released via Future Everything, Nug Life bears little smokiness to its sound despite the EP’s obvious theme: “Bong Hit” opens to an “energetic but still laid back feel” that characterizes the entire recording; “High Flier” is a washed out daydream of ethereal samples; “Now-A-Daze” is boosted by crisp pitched-down horn stomps; “The Reefer” warps woodwinds over a deep wobble; and “Gangsta” provides a bass-heavy close to the set.

KDSML promises more music later this year including “a couple of 100BPM joints,” but don’t expect him to trail off too far into the woods. “I am planning on putting out a lot more of my productions,” he says. “But all of the new material stays true to the general style I started developing on Nug Life.”

Turbo Fruits at Fond Object Records (East Nashville, TN)


Photos of Turbo Fruits performing as Misfruits taken April 19, 2014 at Fond Object Records in Nashville, TN.

AJ & The Jiggawatts, Kansas Bible Company, and Roots of a Rebellion at Mercy Lounge (Nashville, TN)


Photos of AJ & The Jiggawatts, Kansas Bible Company, and Roots of a Rebellion taken April 19, 2014 at Mercy Lounge in Nashville, TN.

Turtles All the Way Down



Much has been made of the unorthodox lyrical themes that run throughout Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds of Country Music. “It’s a very psychedelic country record about the human experience and love,” explained the singer to WFPK recently. While "love" hardly seems like absurd subject matter, we are talking about country music here, where women being “accepted” somehow counts as an application of progressive ideals. Then again, in the album’s lead single, “Turtles All the Way Down,” the pursuit of love does include the discovery of “reptile aliens made of light” who “cut you open” and “pull out all your pain,” so maybe there’s something to the unconventional label, after all.

Not unlike how the word “god” has been co-opted by religion though, using the word "love" as a placeholder for fleeting human emotion merely stands as a pornographic reduction of its limitless dynamic. Strip the word of its superficial associations and you’ll begin to understand what the music is about: that "love" is all there really is.

Utilizing psychedelics in the pursuit of understanding, "Turtles" follows the singer as he’s faced with Jesus, The Devil, and Buddha, who shows him “a glowing light within.” “There’s a gateway in our minds that leads somewhere out there, far beyond this place,” he sings. Musically, the track is about as traditional country-sounding a song as you'll ever hear, which makes it all the more enchanting when Simpson recalls seeing the spirit of the universe in the eyes of his best friend or questions why dimethyltryptamine is a Schedule I drug (despite literally being present in each and every one of us… and our lawns).

“Honestly," continued Simpson to WFPK, "I just kinda woke up and felt like I couldn’t write any more songs about broken hearts and drinking [...] People are going to make a lot more out of it than it is.” Despite the astronomical divide between honky tonk clichés and infinite recursion, this modest sincerity rings true through to the end of the song, where a heartwarming glaze of cosmic echo bleeds over a lyrical resolve to abandon fear in favor of love's everlasting nature. “Don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes, fairy tales, blood and wine, it’s turtles all the way down the line.”

Super Duper


"There was just a lot of noise to sort through," says Josh Hawkins, speaking to the time he spent living in New York City. "I think the best thing about Nashville is the country music overload. I'm not a country music fan, but in New York it was hard to meet people who were really doing interesting electronic music because everyone was doing electronic music." The producer, who records as Super Duper, has an interesting perspective that almost welcomes the artistic whitewashing of his hometown that many others hold in contempt. "When I moved back to Nashville it was so refreshing to find just a handful of electronic acts starting to bubble up, and they all stand out here," he continues. "The city's stereotype filters out a lot of the noise and makes it easier to meet and collaborate with other truly talented artists."

Growing up in Nashville, Hawkins moved to New York to work at a music house after he graduated from MTSU. Returning home a little over a year ago, he says the city now “feels like a perfect fit.” Despite feeling at home, he hasn't felt entirely secure with his music, especially his new release, Diamonds & Doubt. “I've been finished with this album for almost a year, so I was getting worried that the songs wouldn't be relevant with people anymore.” An unlikely blessing came when Diplo hand-picked a remix of “Diamond” for a recent episode of his BBC Radio 1 show. “It was such a huge boost! Having that kind of support gave me a lot of reassurance that not just fans, but also artists, would really dig these songs.”

Having previously drawn influence from electronic acts the likes of M83 and Air, Hawkins has likened the sound of his last EP to TNGHT, though he says he’s focused his direction since then. "That album was a lot of experimenting and I had no real concepts in mind. With Diamonds & Doubt I tried to simplify my use of sounds [to] give each song more personality to stand on its own." Simplified doesn’t mean simplistic though, as is evidenced by XLR8R’s description of “Circus Bird,” which transitions “a low-pitched brass loop that resembles baleful laughter” into “wonky, decaying synths.”

“With this new release I'm trying to mold trap foundations with a lot more emphasis on electronic sounds." Beyond the music, Hawkins is trying something else new in releasing the set physically… on cassette. “It's been fun to tell people the album will be released on tape because I always get a positive reaction, even if I'm talking to my grandparents. Everyone likes tapes! It's also really nice to have a tangible piece of music for my songs to live on. Vinyl is great, but cassettes definitely speak more to my generation.”

Salsa in Nashville


Discussion jumps about, though it mostly stays within a vague orbit around how the work that was being done seemed like work that was worth doing. Reflection brings history into the realm of binary: now only good or bad, seen through a vantage point which offers distance and clarity that was not entirely possible when caught up in the whirlwind. But five hours away, that whirlwind is blowing out of control. "We've done everything we can to demonstrate a remarkable amount of restraint," says the police chief as those charged with protecting and serving in Ferguson, MO take an unprovoked turn for the militant, aiming weapons at spectators and firing tear gas at journalists. "Remember when that thing happened in Nevada with the Rancher and cops showed up and there were people photographed in sniper positions with their guns aimed at law enforcement officers?," asks a virtual onlooker. "How did that manage to happen there without every single person in that group getting mowed down with SWAT teams and MRAPs and all these fucking military weapons that the cops are using in Ferguson? What was the big difference between those groups? What would happen if there were snipers on rooftops in Ferguson aiming their guns at these police?" "Watching the news & singing along to Marvin Gaye's little-known remake of his classic, 'Seriously What In the Everloving F**k Is Going On' " exhales Jay Smooth on Twitter. I don't know. Where does the pressure go? Maybe this will all look different, eventually.

There's a taco truck on the corner of Wedgewood & 12th where, earlier in the day, I celebrated one of my best friends' birthdays by buying him a burrito and a sweet tea. We sat on the tailgate of his truck while we ate and talked: It was his direction in life and what he's feeling balanced by my own, what we're going through, what we want in life, what we don't want in life, so on and so on. Later, Salsa on the southwestern edge of downtown for Hummus with Churrasco, a sweet sauce garnishing the still-pink meat, each bite laced with an ample portion of the salty spread and placed over one of the many chewy and savory dough vehicles, washed down by a couple of Diet Cokes. Walking out onto the deck after the meal was over, the instant became one of calming, the restaurant just far enough away from the tourist sector to remain peaceful, and not yet overrun with young urban types who make pornography out of their food, posing it and angling the light for maximum exposure. Who is the picture for? What is it supposed to say? But how can you not take a picture of something that looks so good?

The food was wonderful and I want to remember how good that moment felt despite how much confusion and pressure there is right now, is what this particular picture was supposed to say: Sitting outside with an elbow up on the wooden ledge, stuck between recalling what happened in order to get there and looking forward to the possibility of what's yet to come, mustering only a smile while just being overwhelmed by it all. The work that seemed like good work doesn't always end up feeling that way as time goes on. The people who seemed like good people don't always end up being who you wanted them to be. What we want in life changes, who we want to be with changes, and what we don't want changes, too. It's impossible to retroactively be proud of every last action that happened along the way, or reflect without doubt and guilt that you might never learn how to get life right. The current blueprint seems the way to go for now though: keep trying to learn, to experience, to taste, to love, and just let loose a joke and laugh when you have no idea what in the ever-loving fuck is going on around you.

Tour de Fun (East Nashville, TN)


Photos of Mantra Mantra Mantra at Fond Object Records and Megajoos and Penicillin Baby at The East Room taken April 12, 2014 in East Nashville, TN.

*repeat repeat, ELEL, Blank Range & Churchyard at Mercy Lounge (Nashville, TN)


Photos of *repeat repeat, ELEL, Blank Range, and Churchyard taken April 12, 2014 at Mercy Lounge in Nashville, TN.