Artist Spotlight: Songwriters and their Little-Known Gems Inspire New Record Label

Earlier this year another new label opened shop in Nashville but unlike many other labels, Adroit Records was opened not to showcase new singers but rather singer-songwriters who create music that is often unheard by the masses.

Matt: So Jim, how did the idea come to you to make the “Words and Music” record?

Jim Tract:  I had come to Nashville to visit and do some writing because a lot of my friends from California had moved here and somebody recommended that I go to the Bluebird Café and that I’d enjoy it. So I did and Craig Monday was performing and during his round he sang “Heaven Is A Small Town.” When he got to the chorus, the audience gasped and then applauded; I was astounded.  It was amazing to me that A, a song of that caliber existed and I’d never heard it and B., the audience was having such a visceral reaction to it. I was just astounded so at that moment, that’s when the seed was planted.  As time went on, I went to more and more clubs and heard more and more writers but that was the moment listening to “Heaven In A Small Town” and realized that music of this caliber existed and nobody was getting to hear it.

Matt: I’ve always been a fan of hearing songwriter’s renditions of their own popular songs and even own a few “Names Behind The Songs” albums.  As someone who enjoys the songwriting and the process of creating, it’s just cool to me, this concept.  So Vince, what has “Walkaway Joe” meant to you and your career?

Vince Melamed: It’s nice to have a hit with a song that you’re really proud of.  So that was good for me.  “What Mattered Most,” is another one that you’re glad that it became a hit.  So I am real appreciative of that.

Matt: What does it mean to have your song out there to hear you singing the song instead of maybe an artist like Kenny Chesney cutting your songs?

Craig Monday:  It’s just that, another way to get my music out to people because this is what I want to do with my life so it’s another avenue to reach as many people as possible and I’m thrilled to be part of the project.

Vince:  Yeah, I agree. It’s just another outlet of expression and we sit and write and sometimes our songs never see the light of day, at least for people to hear ‘em so it’s great to be able to share them with fans.

Matt: With “Heaven Is A Small Town,” what I really liked about that song especially is that with hearing so many ‘I’m proud of my hometown’ songs, it’s really cool to have a song that gives you goose-bumps or makes you go wow, which that song did.

Craig:  Well, thank you.

Jim: What did you think about the music box at the end of the song?

Matt: Music Box?

Vince: it was great Amazing Grace…

Matt: Oh, yeah, it was interesting…

Jim: You see, Craig didn’t notice. 

Craig:  But the day we were recording, you didn’t tell me you were doing that. 

Jim:  No. I know, that’s because I like surprises. I’m serious.  You think he would’ve said something like “I hate it, I love it,” but he didn’t say anything (everyone laughs)…

Matt:  There’s not a song on this record that I wasn’t impressed by...

Jim: Really…

Matt: Yeah, especially when I saw Lisa Carver sing “Bullets” live.  It was mesmerizing…

Jim: So that was like a religious experience…

Matt: yeah, I also brought a songwriter friend to the show and he was literally hanging at every detail that Lisa put into that song…

Jim: You know what the most amazing thing about “Bullets” for me is? When we were finished and sequencing the album, I discovered its six minutes long.  I had no idea.  In Nashville, you’re programmed to self-destruct if anything goes over three and a half minutes long. 

Matt: There’s something about the songwriting community here in Nashville and how they stick together.  How can you describe this community for someone who has never been to Nashville?

Vince:  Well, it’s a true community.  I came from LA 24 years ago but it’s a community where everyone is truly happy for you when you get a hit or write a great song.  It’s a true community of writers.

Matt: Craig, for those who’ve never heard the CD, what can they expect to hear when they listen to this album?

Craig: I think people can expect to hear great songs.  Songs that move you in one way or another, it may make them want to sing or dance and more than one song are going to get to you.

Jim: I want to add that coming from L.A., if you have a great idea or something, you kept it to yourself because somebody out there will steal it, the next day and the best thing you could do is talk to your attorney about it, if you can afford one. It’s so different here.  And I go by how many of the artists on the album have been together.  Not everyone had met everyone else but they were all ready to help each other out any way they could.

Matt: Like at the show you had at the Rutledge….

Vince: Exactly, I play a few nano-seconds behind to contribute something to the song, to make it feel a bit better.

Jim: And it’s so genuine, I can’t even begin to explain to you how I’m so used to people butting in and getting in the spotlight, whereas here it’s different and it’s all about making the piece of work better, it’s about what’s right for the material and not about ego or getting in the spotlight, it’s about making the material as good as it can be.  Sometimes, that means just sitting and being quiet.    Cheley Tackett has a song called “From Up Here” that is written from the point of view of a mother who dies young, and she’s writing from up here.  The first like says “I know who shot Kennedy, Mona Lisa told me why she smiles” and stuff like that.  It’s a brilliant song.  So here we are at the Bluebird and David Russell, the fiddle player on the album was there, and Vince was there, and if you hear the song you’d swear they had rehearsed it but they hadn’t.  it’s astonishing.

Matt: I saw Bekka Bramlett perform with Joey + Rory and James Slater at the Bluebird and It was a mesmerizing experience, like that religious experience…It was such a wow moment, particularly when she sang “Used,” a song also recorded by Lorrie Morgan. 

Jim: A lot of those things, as you’re watching them, are an once-in-a-lifetime moment, and you feel like you’re witnessing something special, like it’s a privileged moment in time. 

Matt: Jim, why do you think that “Words & Music” is the perfect vehicle to showcase what your label is all about?

Jim: Because it’s a record company that’s built for people that are passionate about music. And these are songs you can get passionate about.  Let’s face it; these 10 songs are the greatest hits of these writers and if not their best then in their top three of the things they’ve written.  I’m sure that Vince would agree that “Walkaway Joe” is one of his best three songs and that Craig would feel the same way about “Heaven Is A Small Town.”  Lisa Carver’s “Bullets” is her masterpiece. For each artist, that holds true. These are their masterpieces.  So I think when people get to hear it, they’re going to realize that something’s special is going on here. It’s not one thing and then wait three to hear another great one; it’s bang, bang, bang…

Matt: So, is the goal of the label to put out a full album of songs on Vince or Craig or other artists?

Jim: We started recorded a record with Vince in February and I can’t wait to record an album with Craig and Ray Sisk.  I mean Ray Sisk has so much material and is such an honest-to-god artist. 

Matt: I understand because when I talked to Jason Matthews last summer he said that he recorded the album because he couldn’t understand why people hadn’t recorded those songs.

Jim: Right and when you go to writer nights and see Ray Sisk perform, everybody gets quiet. Why? Because you are hearing people open up the drapes into their soul.  It’s just a matter of time and we need to build our audience.  What we’re trying to do is build a forest fire by starting a grass fire.  So when we read reviews like yours…

Matt: And when I wrote that review, I made sure to include each and every songwriter’s name in the review because, especially in this case it was important for me to do that, given that not too many reviews will do that.

Vince and Craig, It must’ve been a great feeling to have your songs on a record like this or cut for a record of your own?

Vince:  it’s wonderful.  You know, that song came out in 92 or 93 and it took me a long time to get up enough nerve to go out and start performing and I think I went to a Tin Pan South and that song and it took me years to stop thinking about how she (Trisha Yearwood) did it and just sing it in my own way with my own strengths and weaknesses as a singer so it was a great honor to be able to sit down and sing with a full band. 

Jim: and you should’ve seen those studio musicians played with a reverence that was absolutely astounded me, particularly when they realized they were playing this great song and with the original songwriter.  Can I ask Craig a question?

Matt: Sure…

Jim: I asked Lisa Carver this; when this guy steps out of the shadows and says “now have I got a deal for you, why don’t you sign to my record label?’  How hard was it for you to give up this song, or to entrust this song to somebody who you didn’t know from Adam.  It’s obviously near and dear to you. So what was that experience like?

Craig: well, I think I have a good judgment of character and people and I never got a feeling that was bad or about anything being fishy and while I’ve heard the stories about what had happened to people before but I never had a bad feeling about it at all, so it was very easy….

Matt: No snake oil or juju sales pitch…

Craig: Right, right…

Jim:  You know it’s weird because I went so far to make these contracts so transparent and so much into the artist’s favor that it was the only way they’d consider getting involved but over time it still was amazing to me to have them entrust their masterpiece to me. What an honor, it was somewhat overwhelming. 

Vince:  It’s an honor to be approached, though.  Because it takes money to do stuff and for someone to say “I’m going to hire musicians and use a studio and you get a chance to do it.”  It’s a little bit of a responsibility but it’s more of a joy. It’s a cool thing.

Jim:  One day we were mixing a song we had written together and we had a vocalist on it. We were having the impossible task of trying to decide which of the two vocals was better.  Did we want great or fantastic…At one point Vince sighed and I said, “Dude, this is our job, this is what we get to do. How lucky are we, we could be hanging dry wall but we get to do this!” 

Matt: I think that’s what you want to have in life. To get to do something you really want to do...

Jim:  So going back to the record, imagine how it feels for me, as the producer, to get a whole album of songs like we do; to get that quality.  Not many people get the choice of songs like we do. 

Matt: Vince, what’s the best advice you can give an aspiring songwriter?

Vince: If you live in Nashville, make sure you go to those free shows at the Bluebird Café, and start networking yourself.  It’s kind of like playing tennis, see if you can write with someone who’s a little bit better than you and once you finish a song, don’t treat it like it’s a precious baby and it’s your last thing. Keep writing. Write 75, 100, and 175.  Keep going, just keep doing it.

Jim:  I’ll add to that.  The Bluebird is the working school of songwriting. It’s the top of the top.  The shows are webcasted every single night. So if you seriously want to be a songwriter, listen to those shows.  You’ll be amazed, astonished on a nightly basis and it’s free. It’s there for the asking.

Matt: Isn’t the Bluebird owned by NSAI too?

Vince: Yes

Jim: Yes, the opportunity to see the quality of artistry there can’t do anything but help.  But if you’re going to be passionate about it, that’s what you, do.  You will do anything to do what you need to do.  We have a songwriter on the album who stocks shelves overnight, every night so she can write all day.  You do what it takes if you are passionate about it. 

For more information on Adroit Records, please visit their website (click here)