Inside the « real » Nashville with…Amanda Watkins (English Version)
The TV series Nashville is set to return for a second season on ABC on September 25th. During the 21 episodes, we were able to travel to the heart of this incredible musical capital, to go behind the scenes of the music industry, to witness the ups and downs of different artists and enter some small clubs (BlueBird) or attend major shows in legendary places such as the Ryman Auditorium. Some of you may have asked themselves what it’s like in « real life » Nashville. How do country music artists emerge and become famous? To answer these questions, we have met some artists who play country music and they have told us about their « real Nashville. » For this first part, our guide is called Amanda Watkins. She’s a young artist on the rise, pretty and full of energy. She’s like our « Juliette Barnes”.
I’m Amanda Watkins, I’m a country singer/songwriter, I love old country music as well as southern rock and I like to mix the two. I started singing when I was 5 in church and I haven’t stopped. I have a huge desire and love for music and it has created many happy memories for me.
If I’m correct, you were not born in Nashville. How did the town become important for you and why do you love this town?
I’m not. I was born in Huntington WVA and raised in FLA. Nashville is the center of all country music and I love country music and want to be a part of that network so I can’t imagine living any where else at this point in my life. Living here, since it is such a small town and friendly town I might add, you run into people a lot. So you can be having lunch and meet one of the best songwriters of our time and next thing you know you’re in a writing room together writing a song.
In the show Nashville, Connie Britton’s character says that it was difficult for her, when she was a child (or even a teenager), to tell her friends she liked country music. Do you understand that?
I think sometimes growing up country isn’t « cool » like rock music or hip hop. It’s like the song by Barbara Mandrell, « I was Country when Country Wasn’t Cool ».
Nowadays Country music has become more main stream and more accepted. It has slowly entered some of pop culture due to Blake Shelton being on the NBC show The Voice and Taylor Swift just appealing to a younger audience.
How did you start working? I saw on your website that you were very young when you realized that « the agenda for me was going to be singing, songwriting« . Can you explain that? And how was your childhood? Did you spend a lot of time writing?
I knew I wanted to sing from the time I was 5. It made me feel good. It was what I did when things got hard, It’s what I did when I was happy… IT’s JUST what I did! I had an amazing childhood. I grew up devoting my life to competitive swimming and being a musician. I had a band in middle school and then started touring the blues scene in high school. (Florida has a huge blues scene) I’d go around to every blues festival and club on the weekends that I didn’t have swim meets and tear it up with both my parents by my side. I sang a lot of Bonnie Raitt. It fit into the Blues scene but was still country!
When I graduated I had to decide if I wanted to go to college for swimming or if I wanted to go to Nashville and continue to pursue music and there was no doubt in my mind what I was going to do. I skipped college and went straight to Nashville to pursue music. So, I’m thankful I made that decision and I’m even more thankful for parents that let me choose something completely out of the box, that literally has no safety net. Their support is what built my confidence into feeling safe in following my heart and my LOVE for music.
Nashville is more related to country and rock where as New Orleans is more related to Jazz music. Do you agree with that?
I think Nashville is more Country all around. It doesn’t have too much of a rock scene. But, I will say country radio has become more pop than it has ever been. What used to be called Country Western is now just Country. And yes Nashville is to country music what New Orleans is to Jazz.
How can you describe the atmosphere of Nasville? Is music all around? In the streets? The clubs?
There’s music here all the time. You can see anyone you want to see passing through here. From the biggest of big names to the most talented underground artists. If you go downtown you can hop from bar to bar and there is live music almost 24 hours a day. they stop for a short period of time and that’s it. Just recently Steven Tyler from Aerosmith popped into the Bluebird (A tiny, tiny songwriters joint you probably know from the show Nashville) and got up and sang 3 songs in a songwriters round.
I went to a Buddy Miller concert not too long ago and Robert Plant got up and played harmonica on 3 of his songs. He lives here now along with The Black Keys, Sheryl Crow and Jack White. And of course you know every country music star lives here. SO you know they pop up all the time at different clubs and places unexpectedly.
In the Nashville show, there are 2 characters who start writing for other singers? Was it the same thing for you? Today, do you only write for yourself or could you do it for other people?
Nashville is interesting. It’s a town built off the publishing of songwriting. Many artists have hits sang by other artists before they ever get on the radio. Brantley Gilbert for instance had multiple hits he wrote for Jason Aldean before he ever got to country radio himself. The same for Kacey Musgraves. Miranda Lambert recorded « This Aint my Momma’s Broken Heart » which went up the charts before her single ever did. WHen you come to Nashville the first thing you do is write, write, write. Sometimes you end up writing songs that don’t necessarily work for your project so they get pitched to other projects. As for me, this just recently happened with a song called « cheat on you ». I wrote that with John Rich and it wasn’t a song that fit me so he ended up recording it for his project Big & Rich and released as a single this passed Feb. I think some part of the town wants you to pay your dues in this manner. And while you’re waiting around on getting your single to radio why not write some songs for artists that are already on radio.
What kind of subjects inspire you?
Hard working people. Fighting for happiness. Love. Freedom. Definitely the working man. I think it’s because I came from a blue collar family and my dad started his own business and I watched how hard he worked to make a living for his family. He never complained and he always came home happy. He made a life for us and himself and no matter how much he had to work, he never missed a show of mine or a swim meet or anything that was important to him.
Did you have some artists who inspired you? And today?
Yes, Jamey Johnson. I love his voice and mostly his songwriting. His lyrics are brilliant. Chris Stapleton for the same reason. They are proving great lyrical content can exist in todays country. I also love Loretta Lynn. I love what she sang about. As a woman she pushed the envelope and stood for what she believed in and I love Waylon Jennings with all my heart. Every song he sang… everything. My mom named me Amanda after his song. If I had to say who I think I am as an artist I’d say somewhere between Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings with a hint of Aretha Franklin…
In Nashville, there is a special place: the Ryman Auditorium. Have you ever sung there? And is it a special place for a singer and is it a memorable occasion?
The Ryman to me would be the absolute most special place in Nashville. I’m sure you know all the reasons why. I have had the opportunity to sing there and it was amazing. Breath taking. Unreal. I cried for almost an hour after I got off stage. I mean, the people that have stood up there and sang their stories…. It’s almost like standing on sacred ground. It was such a spiritual and humbling experience. I’ll attach a picture from that night. I’ll also attach a behind the scenes video clip from the Grand Ole Opry. As a country artist, this is something that is a great honor to be a part of. So, to say I’m thankful to have been a part of it is an understatement! I can’t wait to do it again.
In Nashville, Hayden Panettiere & Connie Britton sing together in Ryman Auditorium the hit « Wrong Song«
Like Juliette Barnes in the show, you are young and you seem to be very popular. How did you deal with the celebrity name tag the first time you really had success?
I don’t know if I’ve reach the point of celebrity to truly answer the question but I do know I wanted and still want to make sure I’m grounded. That it always remains about the music. Everything else comes after. But, its about making music and making people happy and giving them a great experience. I remember my favorite concerts were the ones that I went there in a good mood and then left feeling even more amazing. That’s all I want to do.
Can you talk about your own Nashville? The places you like to spend time at, to listen music,…Your Nashville with YOUR words.
I don’t know if I’ve found that place yet. When I’m not touring and I’m home, I like to wake up with a cup of coffee, turn on the food network, put a pen in my hand and write. I’ve written most of my favorite songs that way. For leisure I love going to all the new restaurants. They are popping up everywhere. City House and Martin’s BBQ are still my favorite though. If I’m going to listen to music without knowing who is playing, The Station Inn is my favorite. They always have the highest caliber of musicians. Mostly bluegrass!
And any show at the Ryman will be amazing. If you want to go downtown and see Broadway I recommend Roberts Western world. When I first moved here I would go there to two step, have a grilled cheese and a pbr. They have the best music on Broadway as well.
Thanks to Amanda Watkins we have discovered a small part of Nashville that we can see every week in the ABC series by Callie Khourie. We’ve come across familiar faces and places and we have discovered others. Like Nashville TV series, Amanda has showed us how the city and the musicians who live there are but one. Amanda Watkins, a beautiful young emerging artist that we strongly advise you to follow if you’re fond of this type of music. Our journey into « the real Nashville » is not finished yet. We will soon discover a new artist who will take us to different areas of the city. In the meantime, why don’t you listen to Amanda Watkins. This song entitled « Countryside » could be heard in the TV series. When I listened to it I thought Callie Khourie through her stories and her music choices managed to capture the spirit of Nashville.
…and thank you Amanda for your time and your passion…