As we continue our inaugural Label In Residence with New West Records, we decided to have a chat with a handful of their incredibly talented roster, including Lilly Hiatt, Sammy Brue, The Texas Gentlemen, JD McPherson, Andrew Combs, and The Deslondes. Check out their stories behind what drew them to sign with New West, who they enjoy being label mates with, what their favorite New West releases are, and much more!
NoiseTrade: Tell us the story of how you ended up signing with New West and what (or who) you felt most connected to when making your decision.
Lilly Hiatt: I signed with New West about 5 years ago, initially on their imprint label, Normaltown Records. I knew a few of the guys that worked there, and had been trying to get their attention. George Fontaine, Jr. was who I felt very connected with during that process, because he really took a chance on me!
Andrew Combs: I’ve always been a fan of the artists and records New West was behind, but when I heard that John Allen and Kim Buie were hired at the Nashville office I absolutely wanted to be a part of their lineup. I respect both of them immensely.
Sammy Brue: We were looking at about four different labels when I was getting ready to sign my deal, some bigger than New West. But I knew the album I wanted to make, so I wanted to be somewhere that would allow me the freedom to make that album. New West was pretty key in helping me narrow down producers. Kim Buie, Vice President of A&R at New West, was very protective of my ideas and gave me a feeling of openness. After several meetings with her I felt that she was someone that understood where I was coming from.
JD McPherson: I spoke to a few labels when looking for a new home, but New West stood out from the rest in terms of their trust and excitement about the future. They had just put together a great team of industry veterans that I was stoked to be working with. The real deal sealer though, came when I had lunch with a few folks from the team and we had a long and lively discussion about punk rock. It’s imperative that people I work with in the music business love music and be able to speak with passion about it. They passed that test with flying colors.
The Deslondes: George Fontaine, Jr. was coming down to Nola to catch a show and got halfway there before his flight was canceled because of ice on the runway in New Orleans, which is a very obscure occurrence maybe comparable to snowballs-chance-in-hell of happening. Anyhow, we were a little sad because we wanted to meet in our natural habitat. They tried again and we all met up with them in Chattanooga TN at JJ’s Bohemia and a good time ensued and we all got to know each other late into the night.
The Texas Gentlemen: John Allen caught one of our sets at SXSW this year after we had cut TX Jelly in Muscle Shoals the previous fall. At that point, we were planning on releasing the album ourselves. Once John and the rest of the team at New West showed up, it really opened some doors to release the album in ways that we couldn’t have done on our own. Plus, it’s great to be included alongside the other artists on their label.
NT: When making your album (or albums) with New West, what were some of your memories/experiences that let you know you were in the right place and on the right label?
Lilly Hiatt: Every time I have made an album with New West, they have let me pick the producer of my choice and make the record the way I want to make it. During the recording process, they have stayed out of the way and trusted me. This is huge and allows for uninhibited creativity and magic.
Sammy Brue: Making my album in the Muscle Shoals area of Alabama was an experience in itself. The history and the overall vibe was moving. The biggest obstacle going into recording was the fact that I had strep throat the week before we started. My voice was shot! That’s when John Paul White stepped in. He did everything in his power to get me better and make it enjoyable. He really put me at ease in the studio. But the moment I knew I was in the right place was when John took me over to FAME Studios just to check it out. I walked into Studio A and there was a huge picture of Etta James hanging on the wall. I stared at it for a couple of minutes and knew this was where I wanted to be.
The Deslondes: Just going to visit those guys at their office in Athens gives a good sense of the family and camaraderie that is the drive behind the scenes. They have provided refuge for us and many other bands when passing through during a tour or to just hide from bad weather for a few days. They are all just music fans before businessmen, as well as just good old fashion record nerds. Which we all are too, so there are never too hard to get along.
The Texas Gentlemen: New West was great with TX Jelly. They welcomed the album with open arms. Not to take anything away from the other ears of the staff up at New West, but hearing from Kim Buie that she was into the album was really cool. She’s been a part of so many amazing albums over the years, it’s an honor to know she’s digging on what you’re doing.
JD McPherson: Through the making of the record, I especially bonded with Kim Buie, the A&R rep for New West. There were many times that I was in a rut and she helped talk me through it. Having so much helpful advice and input from her was a lifesaver. Now that the new record is emerging, the Radio and PR departments are knocking it out of the park. Seeing so much hustle and “outside the box” thinking from Joel in Radio and Brady in PR makes me feel very fortunate to be working with such a team.
Andrew Combs: Simply put, they let me have creative control and were supportive of my direction when recording.
NT: Who are some of your current label mates that you really enjoy being alongside of on the New West roster?
JD McPherson: Hearing that Shovels and Rope had moved to New West was a big factor in my decision to join the roster. Nikki Lane and Aaron Lee Tasjan are quality people. So glad that in addition to New West’s reputation as an Americana/Roots label, they made the bold decision to add acts like Ron Gallo and All Them Witches.
The Deslondes: I have loved just about everything that Ron Gallo does. He and his band are great people and a great group of musicians. Also, Andrew Combs and Lilly Hiatt’s whole crew. I’m looking forward to this new mysterious band known as The Texas Gentlemen though. I don’t know much about them but I like what I hear. And of course, our buddies Shovels & Rope.
Sammy Brue: Two of the most down to earth artists I’ve met and hung out with are Aaron Lee Tasjan and Lilly Hiatt. Both of them are just incredible people as well as songwriters. The first time I crossed paths with Aaron was in a small venue in Salt Lake City a few years back. I had just got my recordings back from my self-produced EP and we were standing outside listening to it. He was legit excited for me and super supportive. After that I would run into him at different festivals around the country, first in Oklahoma and then at Newport Folk Fest. He’s the guy who is always cheering on fellow artists and pretty much loved by everyone.
Andrew Combs: I’ve been digging the newest releases from Daniel Romano, The Deslondes, Kacy and Clayton, Ron Gallo, Lilly Hiatt, and Aaron Lee Tasjan. But again, I think the whole roster – past and present – is impressive as hell.
Lilly Hiatt: Aaron Lee Tasjan is my boy. I think Ron Gallo is cool. Andrew Combs is awesome. I like them all!! Oh yeah, my dad, of course.
The Texas Gentlemen: Ron Gallo, Rodney Crowell, Buddy Miller, John Hiatt, and Ben Folds. Lot of freaks of talent in there.
NT: For those that have experience being signed to other record labels, what makes New West special in your mind and how have they made you feel celebrated and supported?
Andrew Combs: Well, they’re all big music fans, first and foremost. That is the most important and inspiring thing to be around when it comes to having a record label, in my opinion.
Lilly Hiatt: They have stuck with me and invested in my artistic journey without hindering it. Kim Buie called me on the phone about a year ago just to say she admired my writing and believed in me. When I told her to trust me and that I had the right songs to take to the studio, she did. To have a label with that kind of patience and integrity is a gift and I am grateful.
The Texas Gentlemen: Everyone up at New West seems to be geared towards music first. It’s really great to be around fellow fans of music and to be aligned with people that believe in what they are doing.
JD McPherson: I’ve received a lot of personal attention from each member of the team. Whether it’s late evening phone calls, or being taken to personally meet with Radio bookers, I’ve felt that each member of the team is really involved with the making of the album.
The Deslondes: They have never questioned any creative decisions that we have made and have given nothing but love and support as we stretch out across the country and now the world.
NT: Do you have a favorite New West release, either from this year’s batch or a back catalog classic?
Andrew Combs: I’m still wearing out the new Daniel Romano record Modern Pressure.
Lilly Hiatt: Let’s say my dad’s Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns. I love that album.
JD McPherson: I love, love, love the new Ron Gallo record (Heavy Meta) and the All Them Witches record (Sleeping Through The War) is the soundtrack to my breakfast more often than not.
Sammy Brue: They have had quite a few really great releases over the last few years. I think what Justin Townes Earle and Mike Mogis did on Kids in the Street is incredible. Sara Watkins’ last album Young In All the Wrong Ways is inspiring. The Devil Makes Three always blows me away too. As far as their back catalog goes, I pretty much steal as much vinyl as I can every time I go to the office because you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
The Texas Gentlemen: Ron Gallo’s Heavy Meta. He’s unafraid of saying what’s exactly on his mind. Righteous material.
The Deslondes: Have to say the current re-releases of their own Athens local Vic Chesnutt. He was an amazing singer-songwriter and spectator on the human condition.
When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t west of Rome, just east of the border in a static-y Ramada Inn, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack