From arena shows to bar gigs, and major label albums to indie releases, Marc Scibilia has done it all. A road warrior and genre jumping, singer/songwriter for more than a decade, he’s hand-built his audience the old-school way: by writing songs that count, playing shows that matter, and rolling with the punches.
Born into a working-class family of Lebanese and Italian heritage in Buffalo, New York, Scibilia left town a month after graduating high school, moving away from the Northeast and resettling in East Nashville. His school guidance counselor had unknowingly set those wheels in motion several years earlier, when she sat down with Scibilia to talk about his future. Frustrated with his lack of conventional plans after graduation, she sarcastically asked him, “What are you going to do? Go to Nashville and write songs?” To the budding musician, that question sounded like a great idea, giving Scibilia the extra motivation he needed to head south. At 18 years old, he became one of the first members of his family — a family that includes several part-time musicians — to leave the Buffalo area.
Nashville — a town rooted not only in country music, but pop, rock, and dance, too — has become an appropriate home base for Scibilia’s music. He doesn’t limit his songwriting to one genre. Instead, he writes songs that spread themselves wide, mixing pop hooks, rock & roll energy, and dark storytelling into the same pot. Taking cues from the artists he grew up with — including the Beastie Boys, Lauryn Hill, and Bob Dylan — he sings about the greatness of ordinary life, filling his songs with regular characters who resembled Scibilia, his family, and his friends. He tours heavily, too, opening for everyone from James Bay to the Zac Brown Band. Every night, the audiences are different but they all respond to Scibilia’s music.
Eventually, his growing success earned him a record deal with Capitol/IRS Records. With Butch Walker serving as his producer, he recorded Out of Style, a major-label debut album whose title hinted at the music’s broad, multi-genre appeal. “I wanted it to feel like a mix-tape,” Scibilia explains, and he succeeded, creating an album that seemed poised to create just as much buzz as his cover of the Woody Guthrie song “This Land Is Your Land,” which had appeared in the most Shazam-ed commercial of Super Bowl 2015. Then, one week after the album’s release, the label closed and Scibilia was on his own once again.
Fortunately, Scibilia had always thrived on independence. Wholly in charge of his career once again, he began making new music at his own studio, embracing the freedom to record and release songs whenever he wanted. There was nothing standing in his way: no boardroom meetings in Nashville skyscrapers, no focus groups, no record executives weighing in on his marketability. Even better, Scibilia’s fans were just as supportive as ever, turning his cover of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” — recorded as a duet with fellow songwriter and Nashville TV star Lennon Stella — into a viral smash. Released during the 2016 holiday season, the song racked up more than a million Spotify streams during the week before Christmas.
Scibilia kicked off 2017 with another viral hit, “Summer Clothes,” a nostalgic single. “I was 18 when I moved from Buffalo to Nashville,” he reflects, “and my dad would call me once a week and end every conversation with, ‘One more time, what’s your address?’ But he would never send me any mail. The song is a little bit about my hometown, my family, but mostly just someone looking for an excuse to call someone they miss.” Scibilia released the song as a double-sided single: the first featuring synthesizers, acoustic guitars, and drum loops, and the second fueled by a stripped-down combination of vocals and unplugged guitars. Then, while the song gathered steam on the Spotify and iTunes charts, Scibilia did what he’s always done—continued writing and creating from his life experiences out on the road and at home in East Nashville.
Long before they combined their voices, the three members of the Lone Bellow were singing on their own. Brian had been writing and recording as a solo artist for more than a decade, with three albums under his own name. Kanene and her husband Jason were living in Beijing, China, hosting open mic nights, playing at local clubs and teaching music lessons. Zach began writing songs in the wake of a family tragedy: After his wife was thrown from a horse, he spent days in the hospital at her bedside, bracing for the worst news. The journal he kept during this period would eventually become his first batch of songs as a solo artist. Happily, his wife made a full recovery. Rams Head is thrilled to present this talented singer-songwriter!
If the opening notes on Joe Pug’s new LP “Windfall” are a bit disorienting, his fans won’t likely be surprised. The Austin, TX singer songwriter has made a habit of defying expectations so the piano-driven “Bright Beginnings” and the atmospheric rumination of “Great Hosannas” are just further indication that he’s quite comfortable stepping outside of the guy-with-a-guitar trappings of the genre.
His rise has been as improbable as it has been impressive. After dropping out of college and taking on work as a carpenter in Chicago, he got his musical start by providing CDs for his fans to pass along to their friends. This led to a string of sold out shows and a record deal with Nashville indie Lightning Rod Records (Jason Isbell, Billy Joe Shaver). As he toured behind “Messenger” (2010) and The Great Despiser (2012) it was with a band that looked as much like a jazz trio as an Americana band. “I never quite found a live band that captured what I was aiming for until I connected with Greg [Tuohey–electric guitar] and Matt [Schuessler–upright bass]. It was an arrangement that maybe didn’t make a ton of sense on paper but 10 minutes into the first rehearsal I knew this was going to be my band.” The following years would have them on the road for over four hundred shows, including stops at Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and The Newport Folk Festival.
The relentless grind of four years of nonstop touring had taken its toll though, and by late 2013 he was ready to call it quits. The tour that fall was a runaway success but his personal and creative lives were a different story. “It was this surreal dichotomy. Everyone kept congratulating me on how well the tour was going, and the mood was probably the best it had ever been on the road. We finally got two hotel rooms in each city instead of one. We’ve got this incredible group of die-hard fans that somehow make each show bigger than our previous trip through town. Meanwhile my relationship was in shambles and creatively I was at a dead end. There was absolutely no joy left in playing music. So we walked off stage after a particular show when I played terribly, and pulled my manager aside in the green room and told him to cancel the rest of the tour dates and that I was essentially through.”
But studio time was already scheduled and deadlines had been set for a new record, so after a few weeks Pug was back to the business of writing songs. “In retrospect, I was in a very unhealthy place. I was sitting in a room with the blinds shut and a notebook, forcing out words that weren’t there and drinking astonishing amounts of bourbon. I was looking at it as a job….as a business obligation, and that is a very slippery slope.” At that point he decided to make good on his promise from the previous tour. The album was put on indefinite hold. “I just needed to start behaving like a human being again. I needed to reconnect with my girlfriend. I needed to eat healthy food. I needed to go enjoy live music as a fan. I really needed to make sure I still loved making music, because I really had my doubts at that point.”
The resulting layoff paid dividends in spades. When Pug set up camp in Lexington KY in 2014 to record, he did so with some of the best songs he has ever written. The agenda was much simpler than previous albums. “The aim on this one was very straightforward. We wanted to capture the music just the way we play it, with minimal production. It was a very back to basics approach because ultimately that’s what I love about music, and that’s what I love about making music. I wanted to record these songs the way they were written and put them out in the world.” The result is a collection of songs that are as close as we’ve gotten to a road map to Pug’s ambitions. He has collected plenty of the requisite Dylan comparisons over his young career but on this record it’s easier to hear the sway of more contemporary influences like Josh Ritter, Ryan Adams and M.Ward.
The theme of resilience plays a central role throughout Windfall. The weary protagonist in “Veteran Fighter” wills his way further down the highway despite the gloom that seems certain to overtake him. “The Measure”, a song inspired in part by Frederic Buechner’s novel Godric, marvels at “every inch of anguish, laid out side by side” but ultimately finds that “All we’ve lost is nothing to what we’ve found.” “I never really write songs with a specific narrative in mind,” Pug explains. “When you’re sort of pushing through a dark period of your life it’s probably inevitable that some of that is going to find its way onto the page. But in the same way, by the time we were in the studio the process had become very effortless and joyful. And hopefully you can hear a lot of that on the record as well.” This duality appears perhaps most overtly in the album-closing stunner “If Still It Can’t Be Found”, which features Pat Sansone of Wilco guesting on mellotron.
If it’s not around this corner it’s around the next
If it’s not beyond this river it’s beyond the next
And if still it can’t be found
It’s prob’ly for the best
As the saying goes, “All’s well that ends well.” Joe Pug didn’t call it quits after all. He’s engaged to be married and still drinks bourbon on occasion. His new album, Windfall, will be released March 10, 2015 on Lightning Rod Records in the US and Loose Music in Europe.
Hitting the road now for over 7 years, Grace has toured most of the 50 states and firmly made her mark in the UK, joining up with the likes of James McMurtry, Leon Russell, Marty Stuart, T-Model Ford, Jesse Winchester, Lisa Marie Presley, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Hayes Carll. Also, having gained worldwide attention on NBC’s The Voice (made it to the final 32 contestants of season 4) in 2013, and on PBS’ “Sun Sessions” Grace has solidified herself as a relentlessly creative artist and a powerhouse of talent.
“Sultry” ROLLING STONE
“BADASS” YAHOO MUSIC
“Astoundingly defiant” SPIN
“Simultaneously sultry, twangy, and growly.” TEEN VOGUE
“Killer slide guitar player with a sultry swagger.” LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE
At the wild age of 22, Grace left six generations of Memphis roots behind to find her voice – what she found was far more than a delicately destructive sound. Invoking the spirits of the cross roads and imbibing the spirits of the heartland, this Tennessee tumbleweed found a home with the salt of the earth. Her songs are their stories – they are a mausoleum to hearts broken along the way and a shrine to the poignantly mundane – hemmed with deep compassion and an unapologetic vulnerability. A born-again rambler baptized by the road, she was destined by her very name.