Hi everyone. So, as most of you know I have a new(ish) boyfriend named Jimmy. He’s amazing, and one of the things I enjoy most about him is his love for music. I have never met anyone who cares or thinks about music the same way he does. You may have picked up on this through my past posts about all the Phish shows and going to the Gorge. On our 4th date he asked me to go to Summerfest in Virginia Highland with him because some of his friends were playing. He took me to see a band called The Whiskey Gentry…
They were amazing as a band, but I was immediately taken with the talent and style of the lead singer, Lauren Staley Morrow. She has such a uniquely beautiful voice, and she has an amazing look. To put it bluntly, LAUREN’S JUST COOL.
(Lauren at Summerfest in Virginia Highland)
The next time I saw Lauren was at their CD release party at Smith’s Olde Bar. It was a high pressure weekend for me. Jimmy’s sister, Mimi, was coming in town, and I was meeting her for the first time (NERVE RACKING!!!)… going to the shows was so much fun, and it was a great way to get to know Mimi. The shows are fun because they are a little bluegrass/country/rock and roll all in one. We actually went to both shows that weekend, which were the CD release party for their new album “Please Make Welcome.” (Let me brag on them!!! They sold out Smiths!!!!)
It was during those shows that I noticed the very real and special love connection between Lauren and her husband, Jason, who is also in the band… and to steal a quote from my good friend Ginny Branch, “I LOVE love!” I love seeing people in love, I love hearing their stories, I love seeing them interact… and you didn’t have to be a love expert to tell that Lauren and Jason had it!
(Cd release party night 1. From left to right: Mimi, Kyle, Elise, Me, Ben and Jimmy)
By the next show I went to at Park Tavern, I think Jimmy had heard enough of me saying things like “Lauren is so cool… Lauren is so stylish… Lauren and Jason are so on love…. I wonder how the met… I wonder where she got those boots… I wonder if she wants to be my friend…” At the end of the show he marched me right over to Lauren saying, “you’re going to meet her, and you’re going to write about her on your blog.” Well, the rest is history I guess. I came up with an interview asking her all the questions I wanted answered: love, style, music, and love… again.
The bad news is that I have yet to hang out with her in person, but the GREAT NEWS is that I somehow convinced her and Jason to play at “The Beacham Series” party on October 18th! I know!!!! I am so excited!!! They are really going to make the party, and I am so flattered she ever considered doing it, let alone actually playing!
I can’t wait to see her, and I can’t wait to her her and Jason play. I am more excited about this party than I have been about any other!
And now (FINALLY) on to the interview I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Blayne: The first time I ever saw you guys play was at Summerfest in Virginia Highland. I loved your hat so much. That’s what really got me interested in your style, and it’s been fun to watch it during the other shows (both nights at Smiths, Park Tavern and the Piedmont Arts Festival) I love your dress choices mixed with the jewelry and sweaters and boots. It seems so effortless. Is that true?
Lauren: I’m so glad to hear someone say it seems “effortless,” because it really is not! I freak out all the time about what I am wearing for shows. I start thinking about it days before we’re supposed to play, but I always end up finding something in which I feel relatively confident and comfortable.
Blayne: I totally know that feeling! In my closet there is a huge pile of clothes that I thought were going to look great before I tried them on… I think (or at least I hope) all girls are like that. At least you always come up with something fabulous!
Lauren: Finding an outfit is a like the Battle of Gettysburg between my closet and my brain. I have never been the type of girl who could just throw on anything and feel okay wearing it. I’ve always been a more self-conscious person, so finding an outfit takes time and work for me. I have had countless melt-downs before gigs trying to find an outfit. So much so that my husband has had to come check on me to make sure I hadn’t destroyed the closet or anything else within a 5 foot radius. (Do I sound like a complete psychopath?)
Blayne: Ha ha! No, not at all! I am sure we ALL know that feeling You do always end up ins something great though! I love the way your outfits relate to the music. I am the queen of over-thinking things, but to me your music is eclectic with traditional southern/bluegrass roots and a unique modern edge (I also don’t know a ton about music, so that is a very uneducated idea). Anyway, I think that could also be used to describe your style. What do you think? Do you see a relationship between your style and the music?
Lauren: I try and keep my style and the music connected on some level. But most of the time, I am just looking for something that will present well on stage without looking like I stepped off the set of “Hee-Haw.” Also, your description of the music is pretty spot-on. You’d be surprised at how many people (who actually work in the music industry!) have no idea how to describe us….ourselves included!
Blayne: What words would you use to describe your style?
Lauren: Caught in an identity crisis between the country and the city. Comfortable. Flattering.
Blayne: That’s perfect! I think I annoy my boyfriend, Jimmy, during all of your shows. He is trying to listen to the music, and I spend the whole time pointing out the connection between you and your husband Jason on stage. It is palpable. How did you guys meet? Was it before or after you started Whiskey Gentry?
(Lauren and Jason when they were dating… aren’t they cute?!?!)
Lauren: Haha well Jason and I do have a pretty great connection on stage and off. We met through some friends at The Local on trivia night (our team won!). We dated on and off for about a year until we finally settled down with one another. Shortly there after, we started The Whiskey Gentry, and it quickly became a solidifying source of our relationship. In fact, in almost three years of being in this band together, we have never once argued about it. We’ll argue about how much milk to put in Kraft Mac and Cheese (he puts way too much), but not about the band. We are both very passionate about its success and we want the best for ourselves and everyone else involved. I couldn’t think of a better person to share this band and my life with.
Blayne: I know this is a strange question, but you guys reference your wedding a lot. Can you tell me about it? Did you guys play at your wedding? Did your friends play for you?
(Lauren and Jason at their wedding last September)
Lauren: Jason and I just had our one year anniversary — we got married on September 18th, 2010 at the Roswell River Landing. We had an amazing wedding, and I had a really great time planning it. It was so important to me for everyone to have a blast at our wedding — to feel like they were at a huge party. Nothing too formal. I wanted it to be warm and inviting without being flashy or pretentious. My bridesmaids wore cowboy boots. The groomsmen wore pink suspenders. We had flower arrangements in Bell jars, ate delicious BBQ, and drank rum punches and sweet tea vodka. Everyone told us afterwards that it was the best wedding they had ever attended, which is such a wonderful compliment. Our friends Have Gun Will Travel (look them up if you don’t know them!!) played for us, and then our band played “Queen of My Heart” for Jason’s grandpa, who actually wrote the song. It was the first time he had ever heard us play it, so it was a special moment.
Blayne: I love that! And I love that you had your friends play for you at the wedding! That is so special, especially since music is so important to both of you! How much did sharing the connection of the music and the band foster your relationship?
Lauren: The first time Jason and I opened our mouths to speak to one another it was about music. One of the trivia questions the night we met was, “What 90′s band covered the Simon & Garfunkel song ‘Mrs. Robinson’?” At the exact same time, we answered, “THE LEMONHEADS!” and then we just kept talking about music. He and I were in different bands at the time, but we knew were shared a common bond with country and roots music (Jason grew up in Tennessee in a family of musicians). Once we got serious with our relationship, then the collaboration just came naturally.
Blayne: You’re killing me! You’re story is just so perfect for you! You couldn’t have written a better one. Speaking of stories, I love the story you told at your last show about the song “Alone on a Saturday Night.” It’s so beautiful. When did you write it?
Lauren: I really have no idea where the story came from — I just pictured a woman, maybe mid 40s, who lived in a huge house all alone in the middle of nowhere. Out across her front yard, which was basically a huge field, there was one, lone, dirt road that lead into town. I just pictured her sitting on her porch at dusk and watching the road… waiting for something (someone?) that never comes. The rest of the story just spawned off of that one mental image. We were in the midst of recording “Please Make Welcome,” in fact, we were almost done with recording. I wrote the song on a Tuesday night. By Thursday, it was recorded and on the new record. That’s how strongly we felt about the song.
Blayne: It is so beautiful! I played it for my best friend when we were coming back from our Highlands trip (which you can read about here) on a Wednesday…. I saw her the next day and she knew every word to every song on Please Make Welcome!
Blayne: How many songs did you bring to the band when it formed? How about other members? Are most of the songs collaborations, or one person’s idea?
Lauren: I only brought two songs with me from my previous band. Even though I wrote all the songs for that band, it was important to me to start fresh. I took “Four Horsemen” and “Dime Short of a Dollar Bill” — both songs I felt were too good to let die. Normally, either Jason or I will come to the rest of the band with an idea for a song. Sometimes the song is fully developed (ie. “Alone on a Saturday Night”). Other times we are collaborating as group, throwing around ideas. Chesley brought us “Comrade” a while back, and we are in love with that song. It’s hands down our most well received live tune. People love it.
Blayne: I am so glad you brought “Dime Short of a Dollar Bill.” It’s my favorite song. 100%. I don’t know any girl alive that couldn’t relate to that. I am so glad you mentioned Chesley. He is awesome, and he’s a new dad! My boyfriend’s roommate, Mac, used to work with Chesley, which is how any of us even know about you guys… and yes, “Comrade” is amazing live!
(I love this picture because if you look in the top left corner you can see me! This was such an awesome show at park tavern. They have an 11 o’clock curfew, so during the song “Wagon Wheel” they pulled the plug on the sound. TWG fans are so awesome they finished the song with a huge crowd sing-along!)
Blayne: Do you and Jason write many of the songs together?
Lauren: Yes, Jason and I primarily write everything as a team now. This worked out great for both of us because we each have our strengths and weaknesses. Jason is incredibly musically talented. He can play just about anything he puts his mind to, and he understands the theory behind music so much more than myself. This is great, because he helps me figure out the best places for chord changes and progressions. I, on the other hand, am more skilled with words and lyrics (I was an English major at GSU), so I can help him figure out different phrasings and word choices. So, it works for both of us.
Blayne: Yes! it obviously does It works so well, in fact, that Jimmy was telling me that John Keane worked with you on your album. Jimmy is a huge Widespread Panic fan and would be so upset if I didn’t ask you. .. How did you like working with him? What major suggestions/influence did he bring to your new album (which is amazing, by the way)?
Lauren: Working with John was really great. “Please Make Welcome” was our first full length record, but also our first time working in a real studio. Our previous EPs were done locally and in warehouses or basements, so being with John was a welcomed reprieve. John is incredibly proficient and has amazing time management skills. We didn’t have a lot of time to get this record completed, and all of our schedules were insane at the time, John’s included. We basically recorded whenever there was time, which meant we had to make the most of every second. John really let us take the reign on this record. Jason did most of the production, while we always looked to John for encouragement and advice (“Does this chord sound okay here? What do you think about this melody line?”). John is not the type of guy who jumps off his seat in excitement, exclaiming, “YOU GUYS ARE AMAZING! GREAT WORK HERE, EVERYBODY!” But he definitely lets you know when he is pleased and when he is not pleased, and those were comments we welcomed.
Blayne: It’s so cool that he sits in with you guys so often! He must really believe in you and believe that what you are doing is special. Do you plan on working with him more in the future?
Lauren: Towards the end of the recording process, we could definitely tell that John thought we were on to something with the record. Like I said, he’s not a man of many words, but I know he wouldn’t waste his time coming to play local shows with us if he didn’t believe in what we were doing. It was important to us to be able to capture the energy of our live shows on a recorded CD, and I think that John did a fantastic job of this on “Please Make Welcome.” We couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out, and I think we’ve started a wonderful relationship with him.
Blayne: And one more question for Jimmy. How did you guys decide to start covering Africa? We love when you guys play it.
Lauren: Ha! Well, I’ve always loved the song. My dad is from South Africa and loves prog-rock, so it was a tune I heard a lot in my childhood. One day, I was listening to it and I started hearing all the instrumentation but picturing it with bluegrass instruments. My brain went crazy, and I immediately called Jason to tell him about this amazing idea I had to cover a Toto song. As you can imagine, the boys were less than thrilled: after all, how does a bluegrass/country band cover Toto? I just kept telling them to trust me and that I knew it would be great, so we worked on it for weeks (much to their dismay). The first time we ever played it live was at The Buckhead Theatre last December for our annual Christmas show. The crowd went BANANAS. I’d never heard people singing back lyrics so loud. I know it’s become a crowd favorite, and it’s one of the band’s favorite songs to play as well. But no matter how many times we play it, I will always laugh when I sing the line, “as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN.
Lauren, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I loved getting to know you better through your answers! It’s so obvious you were an English major! You express yourself so well.
Date: October 18th, 2011
Address: 3958 Tuxedo Road Atlanta, GA 30342