Angela Easterling’s Declaration of Independence
“I get a bit tired of people who want to commiserate with me and try to tell me how terrible my life is because I’m an indie musician. “Oh it’s sooo hard, you work so long and for so little money etc, etc.” they say. Yes, it is a lot of work, there are parts of it that aren’t always fun and I’m not always thrilled with the progress I’m making and/or my finances. Rest assured, you are not informing me of something I don’t already know. But nobody tied me down and made me do this. I absolutely love what I do and I feel so lucky and blessed to be living this life.”
Angela Easterling, April 4, 2011
“Life In Music” blog from her No Depression page
Several weeks ago I was working on a couple of different posts. One was a feature on Marissa Nadler, a folk artist who has decided that for her fifth album release she is going to do it on her own, giving up the cocoon of having a label and distributor. The other was about three local singer-songwriters who are playing in coffee houses, recording music on their own and trying to figure out where they go from here. And then I saw Angela’s blog and it was like hitting the trifecta.
Being an independent artist for many is a choice, one that they make intentionally and happily. It’s not necessarily a choice made because they are waiting patiently for some major label talent scout to come along and hand them a six figure advance and a gig in Vegas. Choosing to be independent probably has elements of curse and blessing…a hire wire act with equal measure of risks and rewards.
So for you who are leading this life today, for those who are starting out and trying to figure it all out, and for all of you in the No Depression community, I thought it might be an excellent time to check in with Angela as she gets ready to release her third indie album, Beguiler, sometime in July. I’ve been living with this music for a few weeks now and can tell you that Angela has put together a great collection of tunes that feel good, rock hard and has a great chance of being my go-to summer road music CD this year.
For those who may be unfamiliar with her, this is the quick bio: a South Carolina roots music singer, songwriter and performer who went to school in Boston, lived for a time in LA, has twice been a Kerrville New Folk finalist, spent quite awhile on the Anericana radio charts with her last release BlackTop Road and you’ll often find her on the road either solo or with her bandmates Brandon Taylor and Jeff Hook.
Angela and I live about 3000 miles apart…she in SC and me in California. We’ve never met eye to eye, but over the years through the magic of the internet we’ve got to know each other. And so it seems about right that we decided to use email as our weapon of choice in having a chat about her music, life on the road, her family farm, the challenges of being an indie artist and of course,…baseball.
Me: It’s been about two years since we met here at the No Depression site, and you were also one of my first friends on Facebook. I think that social networking is something you have really mastered as an artist, because you blend in equal measures of the personal and professional. How important do you think it has been in establishing yourself as an artist and maintaining a connection to your fans?
Angela: I don’t really. I don’t have much time for an actual life. I just got together over the weekend with my one friend here in Greenville for the first time since January…she brought me my birthday present – my birthday was in February, so she’d had it for months! Most of my dearest friends live in other cities: Austin, L.A., New York. Some days I sit down at the computer in the AM to do some booking and the next thing I know, it is 9 at night. This is a full-time plus job. I don’t mind it though, I mean, I actually love it. I get to play music for a living, so I love what I do, and I’m always going to different places and meeting new people as part of my job. So when I get back home, I tend to be kind of a hermit. I lived in L.A. for a few years and had a super-fun social life, going out to parties and fabulous events all the time. But I was getting nowhere career-wise. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I guess I’ve always been a real loner,
so this lifestyle suits me. For me, if I can get out to a baseball game, a movie, go bowling or play tennis every now and then and go for my walks every day, that keeps me balanced.
Me: A lot of artists today are going the independent route and trying to do it all DIY. For both BlackTop Road and this summer’s Beguiler, you used Will Kimbrough in Nashville as a producer, and have augmented the sound with artists such as Al Perkins, Anne McCue and Fats Kaplan. And for the last album I believe you hired a publicist and radio promoter. Without spilling all of your secrets, how does one manage to finance that and does the investment in your music translate to stronger sales and better gigs?
Angela: Well really where the big expense comes in is the promotion, PR, etc. But I feel it is necessary to get yourself out there as an indie artist. Why make a great album with Will Kimbrough and then have nobody hear it. My career grew exponentially after BlackTop Road, because that radio and press put me in front of a national audience I was not reaching. I began booking more gigs and better paying gigs. Plus getting songwriting royalties. My living expenses are minimal, so I filed all that money away into savings to record my new album. I also did some fan-fundraising for the first time with this new album. I hadn’t planned to do that initially, because I was not raised to ask people for money and I didn’t like that idea at all. But one of my favorite things to do in my downtime is to sew. I come by that naturally – my Grandma used to make my clothes when I was a child and she paid for 5 trips to Israel and Europe by selling her homemade quilts. I had been turning vintage dresses of mine into pillows to give family members as gifts. But then I realized how much I had been photographed in these dresses and thought maybe some of my fans would like to have the pillows. I posted them on facebook as a fundraising tool, and they sold out immediately. I couldn’t believe it. Then my stepmother took the dress scraps and made them into angel ornaments, which also sold out as soon as I posted them. That fundraising was a really small part of my budget, but what it did for me to go into the studio knowing so many folks believed in me and wanted to support my music – what that did for my self-esteem, that was the real treasure.
Angela: Nope, I get in my loaded-down Prius and drive myself to the show. I stay at people’s houses, sometimes I stay with folks I’ve never met until I show up on their doorstep. It amazes me how many folks are willing to open their home up to a stranger. Sometimes the places I play will put me up. And if I’m really lucky, I’ll get to stay at a Holiday Inn. 🙂 But I love it. I love to travel, and I play so many small communities that aren’t on a typical tourist’s radar. I love going down the road for a long drive, listening to a book on CD. I love seeing the country this way. I would be on the road all the time if I could. It can be a little schizophrenic sometimes: I will get treated like royalty one day and like dirt the next, so maintaining a healthy sense of self is important. I enjoy being by myself, but it’s more fun to bring the boys along. Brandon will be out on the road with me this summer.
Angela: I think it is definitely the latter although I want to take a minute and give some props to David Henry at TrueTone Studio who engineered and mixed this record. I think a lot of that is owing to him. I never heard my vocal sound like that before. David is amazing. Will and I did not discuss my vocal too much. I just went in there and sang them and he gave me feedback in the moment, and helped me work out any issues I might be having with a particular song. I trust Will and David implicitly and feel extremely comfortable with them. It was not hard for me to just relax and go in there and focus on that lyric. I knew they would not steer me wrong. I think a big thing for me has been all these shows have strengthened my voice but mainly have helped me to understand the nature of my particular instrument, its strengths and limitations. I used to think my range was a bit lower than it really is. As a result, many of the songs on my first album are in a lower key than I sing them in now. Through doing more shows, I realized my voice sounds better and I have more ease of singing in a bit of a higher range. Also learning what I need to do and not do as far as my lifestyle to help my voice sound the best. So that’s just part the learning process. I am glad that you hear the results!
Angela: We have a small farm in Greer, SC that has been in my mother’s family (the Hammett family) since 1791. My ancestor received the farm as a land grant for fighting against the British in the Revolutionary War. Before that it was Cherokee land. It is still a working farm with grass-fed free range cattle and my aunt has a greenhouse business. The farm is smack-dab in what is the fastest growing area in the state of SC. When I was a kid, the farm was in the middle of the country, but now is surrounded on all sides by the ‘burbs. It has survived Civil War, World Wars, the Great Depression, etc., but it is unclear if it will be able to survive in the face of development. We lost about a third of it due to inheritance taxes when the value of our land shot up overnight. A couple years back some of our land was taken for a road. That made me pretty mad, so I wrote BlackTop Road about that. The road is called Hammett Bridge Road and half the housing subdivisions and condo complexes around there have the Hammett name on them. It’s kind of ridiculous, you would think we were the ones who built all that stuff. My aunt, sister and I all have homes on the farm. The road I am standing in on the cover of BlackTop Road is the road in the song, Hammett Bridge Road. Wherever I travel, there is not a show I play where someone doesn’t come up to me and say that the same thing happened to them. That is probably one of the most personal songs I’ve ever written, but it seems to be one people can relate to.
Angela: It will be released in July (either the 19 or 26 – hope to have that figured out soon). I will be touring up a storm, playing festivals and CD release shows. Brandon and I will be doing a duo CD release tour up the east coast in August. I’ve pretty much got that booked although I have a couple of dates left to fill. And we are doing a big hometown CD Release party with the full band here in Spartanburg on July 16 and giving everyone free copies of the new album at that show. Just keep checking back with me at angelaeasterling.com and reverbnation.com/angelaeasterling for show updates. We will be going out to radio and press and all that good stuff. I’m very excited about this album because it is my first real band album recorded with the guys who I play with all the time and who inspired me musically to write these songs. Now that we’ve got this album, I just want to get out there and play as many shows with Jeff & Brandon that I can.
Me: Despite how much I love your music and respect you as an artist, your one character flaw seems to be that you’re a Boston Red Sox fan. As someone who loves the Yankees, I travelled to Fenway Park last summer just in case someone gets it in their head to knock it down one day. While I have been to a lot of ballparks in my life, this is the first one that I’ve ever seen vendors in the stands selling clam chowder. So my question is….how did a Carolina girl get it in her head that she should be rooting for this treacherous bunch?
Angela: Despite how much I appreciate your support of my music, your one character flaw seems to be that you are a Yankees fan! How can someone who champions indie artists support the Evil Empire? How can someone who appreciates heritage music support the team that tore down their legendary ballpark! LOL! I grew up a Braves fan, but nobody around here really cares aboutbaseball all that much (college football and basketball are the big emotion sports around here). I always loved baseball. When I moved to Boston for college and lived right outside of Kenmore Square, I attended my first game at Fenway and got born again as a Red Sox fan. It was a spiritual experience. I finally found a baseball loving culture. I finally found my people. Imagine my delight when I moved back home to Greenville SC and found that we now have a Red Sox affiliate team! (The Drive) Actually a big part of my love for the Red Sox is just a love of Boston and Boston people and by extension New England and New Englanders. It holds a very special place in my heart. Being allergic to seafood and fish, I have never partaken of the clam chowder at the game. But all regions have their specialties. If you ever come to a Drive game, you can get some boiled peanuts. Not many ballparks serve that!
Angela has been posting some of her new songs on Facebook, ReverbNation and on You Tube. Here’s a couple for you and I want to thank Angela for being so open and sharing for our across the country chat.