By Johnny Griffith
Lauren Alexander is breaking your rules. Just listen to her latest album “Smoke Signals,” and she’ll tell you. Obsessed with music from an early age, Lauren was surrounded by opportunities to explore, educate, and express herself in a myriad of genres. Once the Bullard native had a taste of the stage she never looked back, but don’t call her a Country artist; she’s much more than that box can hold. Crossing her “twangy country roots” with “soul driving classic rock,” she sprinkles on a healthy dose of folksy Americana for a unique, expressive, soul-bearing blend of original music and lyrics that invites you to break the rules along with her.
In between traveling and her latest project, a new song release “Sleeptalking,” Lauren caught her breath long enough to answer some questions about where she’s been, what she’s doing now, and where she’s headed.
Johnny: When did you first develop an interest in music?
Lauren: I was always around music growing up. My dad is a sound engineer and plays guitar so there were instruments and equipment lying around all the time, and my parents were cool about letting me be super loud. Having that freedom early on led me to be very comfortable in a creative mindset.
Johnny: Do you remember when and where you first performed in public?
Lauren: My very first performance was at church when I was just six years old. From there I performed at fairs and festivals around Texas, pretty much anywhere I could. I remember being so nervous early on. I wanted to be up there singing, but I didn’t want anyone to look at me!
Johnny: How integral was your family in helping you develop that early interest?
Lauren: I think I would have found music at some point no matter what, but my family is the reason I was able to get started so young. They drove me all over Texas to play at festivals and dive bars, and every other Sunday we would drive to Fort Worth for yodeling lessons. I knew very early on that music wasn’t just a hobby for me. It is a blessing that I’ve been able to focus primarily on my music, and I have to credit so much of my success to my parents and the family of people that have been so supportive of my vision.
Johnny: When did you make the decision to start writing your own music?
Lauren: I’ve always been a little shy, which has led me to feel misunderstood a lot. Songwriting was the best way I found to communicate without having to say a word. It’s easier to express your feelings when they’re tied up with a melody that carries half of the weight. Writing songs is like another part of my language now that helps me to organize all of my thoughts and feelings. I have to write for my world to make sense.
Johnny: Has the writing process evolved as you’ve become more experienced in the craft?
Lauren: My process is different every time, so I can’t say that it has changed. My creative headspace is definitely different than it used to be, but I think that mostly just comes from gaining new experiences and being comfortable with who I am and what I have to say.
Johnny: Your sound is quite a unique tapestry that has threads of several different styles and artists weaved into it. How do you describe it, and who are the artists you looked to for inspiration in the evolution of your sound?
Lauren: The evolution of my sound has been very organic. I grew up singing country music, but as I got older and began to develop my own musical appetite, I didn’t limit myself to being just one kind of artist. As I’ve transitioned into the sound that I have now, and writing for “Smoke Signals,” I’ve listened a lot to The Black Keys, Grace Potter, and Lana del Rey, as well as Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, and The Beatles. I think you will always be able to hear whispers of my country music upbringing in everything I do.
Johnny: You grew up in Bullard and have played all over East Texas, but you’ve spent a lot of time in Nashville as well. How much of the time is split between the two these days, and what kind of professional challenges does a move like that bring?
Lauren: I lived in Nashville for about a year and a half. There’s music going on all the time, and I found a really great community of people that were really into what I was doing. But I missed having the freedom to travel. I missed my band. At one point I was working three part time jobs, playing shows at night, and still paying for groceries with spare change and calling home for money. I got into a really dark place being stuck there. I had to make the best decision for my career and myself, which was to move back home to East Texas and have more freedom to go and play shows wherever I want. I’ve been lucky to find cool music communities all around Texas, Colorado, and California. I joke a lot that I basically live in my car; it feels like it sometimes!
Johnny: Your debut album “Smoke Signals” is a great release, and the production value is out of this world for a debut from an independent artist. Who did you work with on this, and what has the response to the album been so far?
Lauren: Thanks! “Smoke Signals” is one of my greatest accomplishments. I’m so incredibly proud of that record and all the great people who were involved with it. I worked with Rosewood Studios in Tyler where I’ve been recording since I was 12. They’re the best, and people seem to really love it. I’ve gotten some radio play on several songs from that album, which is one of the coolest feelings in the world.
Johnny: Behind every successful singer at some point is a solid band. Do you have a regular cast of musicians taking the stage with you?
Lauren: I’ve been touring with my guitar player (and husband) Richie and my drummer Jeff for about six years. My bass player Stacy has been with us for about two years. We’ve all got a really good thing going on. I feel comfortable knowing that they’ve got my back on stage, and I think that’s really important.
Johnny: What do you feel has been your biggest milestone to this point in your career?
Lauren: Releasing “Smoke Signals” was huge for me because I worked so hard on it, but I’ve also gotten to play a lot of cool stages and travel to so many beautiful places; so it’s hard for me to pick just one big moment.
Johnny: Where does Lauren Alexander go from here?
Lauren: My plan is to keep doing what I’m doing: playing shows, writing songs, and putting out music. I’ve got another album in the works that I’m very proud of, which will be released in 2018. I’ll also be having a baby in February, and I can’t wait for the new adventure and challenge of touring with a kiddo.
- October 13th and November 17th: Eagles Bluff – Bullard
- October 14th: The Grove – Tyler
For more info about Lauren Alexander go to:
Stefan Cotter: A Little Out Of The Ordinary
It’s the weekend. You want to get out of your home and enjoy some time out. Maybe some dinner and afterwards, a bit of live music at one of the venues around town but you want something a little different than the usual. Not that the usual isn’t good, but you’re just marching to the beat of a different drum today and want a soundtrack to accompany your mood. If that is the case, then you need to find where Stefan Cotter is playing and make your way to one of his shows.
Originally a product of Morgantown, West Virginia, the unique singer/songwriter eventually found his way to East Texas with his wife about 8 years ago and has been doing things a little differently ever since. With the ability to be comfortable playing multiple and disparate genres, Cotter has contributed to many local groups and continues to entertain audiences all over the region with his eclectic brand of musicianship that is definitely not the ordinary.
We tracked Stefan down to get a better perspective on what he’s doing and how he’s doing it:
Johnny: What were your earliest musical memories and what got you interested in being a musician initially?
Stefan: My dad is a trumpet player/teacher, who is finally retiring this year, and I remember him writing out “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and teaching me how to read music on the trumpet. As I recall, that was about 4th grade. He also did a lot of musical theater gigs in the summer when I was little and I used to go sit in the orchestra pit with all of the musicians and I thought it was awesome fun. Those people were great musicians, some of whom I still know to this day. I also got to experience him as my high school band director, which made for a lot of great fun! One memory that sticks out was probably around second grade when he let me march with the high school marching band and play cymbals in the small town we lived in during that time.
Johnny: Your bio on ReverbNation cites your genre as reggae, rockabilly, bluegrass, and rock. That’s an unique mix, especially in this neck of the woods. What are some of your staple cover tunes that really highlight a Stefan Cotter show?
Stefan: I have a lot of “favorite” cover songs but some that have stuck with me are: “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles, “Valerie” by The Zutons, “Could You Be Loved and Waiting in Vain” by Bob Marley, plenty of 50’s country and rock ‘n roll, Chuck Berry’s “Roll over Beethoven,” and lots of old traditional bluegrass as well. Coming from West Virginia, bluegrass and old time music is everywhere.
Johnny: What drew you to those styles of music as your genres of choice?
Stefan: I have no logical explanation, but I assume the excitement. If the music is good, I get excited and the feet start stompin’. You know it when you hear it. That goes for reggae, jazz…anything. Also, I think punk rock/ska was my first love I reckon and there is something very punk rock about Chuck Berry, early Beatles, and early rockabilly. There’s just tons of energy. To add to that, the guy that taught me how to run a real sound system, Paul Vallett, also introduced me to REAL roots reggae, “Rock Steady,” and reggae dub. There is nothing better than testing a full on sound system when there is nobody there and just pounding that low and slow reggae. So that’s where the reggae came in I suppose.
Johnny: Who would you say your biggest musical influences were when you were discovering your “sound?”
Stefan: It’s constantly evolving, and that includes my sound too I guess. Sublime was my favorite band for a long time in Junior High and High School. Reel Big Fish was what band I wanted to be in. I was in Jazz band and the orchestra in high school so that brought in a lot of new music. Then I got into jazz/ classical music in college. I was obviously exposed to a ton of different ideas and I loved it. Again, the reggae sound system, then I found Django Reinhardt, who is my all time favorite guitarist. Bob Wills and John Prine and suddenly I get lost again on an entirely different rabbit hole. I’m also constantly influenced by the bands that I’ve played with, both as a college credit or rock bands that I played around with in Morgantown, most notably The Greens. You should check them out, those guys absolutely rock!
Johnny: Are you primarily a solo act or do you work with a stage band?
Stefan: Actually I try not to play solo any more. Its too much fun to play with other people. We’ve got Big Funky Cloud (BFC) at Stanley’s every Wednesday with Keith (“Grease”) Jones on bass, Nick Pencis on drums, Gary Freeman on keys, and myself.
Then we’ve got a string band that we call The Thing Band for lack of a better name. It is with Gary Freeman (keys), Jake Ham (drums) and myself play as a trio sometimes, and we throw in Jopi Drew (bass) for good measure when we can. Jake Ham and Jopi Drew and I have been playing music for the past 8 years or more and love it.
Johnny: About how many shows a month are you currently playing?
Stefan: I play about four shows a week. I play with BFC every Wednesday at Stanley’s BBQ and every Saturday with my old time/bluegrass band at The Grove and others thrown in there depending on the week.
Johnny: How many originals do you usually try to work into an average set?
Stefan: I try to work in about 10-12 but it just depends on the crowd and the night. Sometimes people are in the mood to dance to songs they know, but every now and then you can slip some originals in and the crowd will respond positively. Those are the nights you know it’ll be a fun time.
Johnny: Are you primarily playing in this area or are you traveling to other markets to play gigs?
Stefan: I’m currently just sticking around town. I’d like to get into Dallas but you’ve got to have some momentum to make money there and right now I’m trying to build that locally to be able to parlay that into some attention in the Dallas scene.
Johnny: How would you describe a typical set for a new listener?
Stefan: I call it “Rastabilly”which is lots of fun party-type reggae and old fashioned rockabilly/country/bluegrass all mixed with gypsy jazz. Be ready to dance!
Johnny: What’s on your radar for the rest of the year and beyond?
Stefan: Right now, just keeping busy playing shows mainly. Playing on my fellow bandmates records and hopefully being able to compile an album myself.
EGuide Magazine’s Gig Guide
Chris Oliver & Company: Making The Connection
By Johnny Griffith
If you’ve been to The Grove in Tyler recently on a Sunday morning for brunch, chances are you’ve been listening to the solid grooves of Chris Oliver & Company whether you realized it or not. Originally born in Tyler, Chris attended both Robert E Lee and John Tyler high schools before finishing at North Garland High School in 1995. Eventually moving back to Tyler, Oliver has been a mainstay in the music scene for several years. An accomplished drummer, Chris now fronts the eponymous Chris Oliver & Company and their mission is to make sure you walk away from a show with a smile on your face and the beat in your heart.
We talked with Chris recently to get more info on what they’ve got going:
Johnny: Who makes up the “& Company” portion of Chris Oliver & Company?
Chris: Chris Oliver & Company is myself, Josh Brock, Calvin Sheffield, and Dr. George Faber. That’s been the lineup since we started.
Johnny: How did you guys all meet?
Chris: I grew up with Calvin pretty much all my life and he’s been one of my best friends. We’ve played in church as well as playing in several other bands around the area including being the rhythm section for Wesley Pruitt. Dr. Faber has pretty much been a mentor to both of us since we were both young and has been playing forever. I met Josh Brock about 4 years ago and he was one of those guys that came in and fit like he’d been with us for years.
Johnny: How did Chris Oliver & Company form?
Chris: About 2 years ago, from another gig I was doing, I was asked to do a Sunday brunch show over at The Grove. I had to put together a band specifically for that and, you know, it’s not easy getting a bunch of musicians to do a mid-morning gig on Sunday after playing out till 2am the night before. That first bunch I put together is still Chris Oliver & Company today.
Johnny: You guys play a superb mix of songs…what genre would you consider your wheelhouse?
Chris: That’s a hard question. Everything has a season and I can look back and see where my musical life has been a steady progression with different styles and preferences each taking their turn. If I had to pick one singular style, I’d have to say blues-ish, but it’s really not that simple.
Johnny: You guys were invited to play down in Austin at the Heart of Texas Blues Challenge last year. How was that experience and what do you feel you learned as a band?
Chris: Yeah, we got the invite down there so Josh, myself, and another bass player went down due to Calvin not being able to make it, and we auditioned. They were impressed enough that we were invited to actually participate. We went back down in August and won the preliminary round which got us to the finals. While we were eventually beat out, it was a great experience. The finals were at Antone’s in Austin which has had some legendary players on stage over the years. That atmosphere, on that stage, you could feel the vibe and the history and we grew a lot from that.
Johnny: How far are you traveling to play shows at this point?
Chris: Right now we’re staying local until our album is finished. We will be getting ready to do a tour after that, which will take us out of state but until then it’s home.
Johnny: About how many shows are you playing a month these days?
Chris: We’re mainly hitting about four shows a month, really focusing on the album, and playing the standing brunch gig at The Grove.
Johnny: How have local crowds reacted to a band that doesn’t really fit the mold for this region?
Chris: Every time we hit the stage, I don’t care where it is, if they call us to play and you see this band and our show, I want you to have an experience. If you’re down, we’re going to hit a point in the set where we’re going to lift you up. But we’re not really there playing for the masses…we’re there for that individual and when you connect with lots of people on an individual level, something special happens.
Johnny: Are you working originals into your set list or is it primarily cover tunes?
Chris: It really depends on how we’re feeling that day. Some people who have heard our originals will ask for them but it really depends on the vibe. Sometimes we will throw some out and see what kind of reaction we get.
Johnny: How would you describe a typical Chris Oliver & Company show?
Chris: We try to get your attention, make you listen, make you have fun…we might take you to church, it just depends, but we always end with thank you and an appreciation for the audience.
Johnny: Any big plans on the horizon for the rest of the year?
Chris: Our main priority right now is finishing the album and putting together a tour to get the word out.
Johnny: So after two years of Chris Oliver & Company, what would you say has been your most memorable gig to this point?
Chris: That Antone’s gig for the Blues Challenge was easily most memorable. Everyone brought their “A” game and was on point. Again, that combined with the history of that place and the players that have graced that stage…it was unforgettable.
Johnny: Who would you say you’re listening to right now that gets you excited?
Chris: I’d say right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Donnie Hathaway vocally, but I’m just a fan of music in general.
You can catch Chris Oliver & Company at facebook.com/chrisoliverandcompany. You can also catch Chris Oliver & Company most Sundays during brunch at The Grove in Tyler.
EGuide Magazine’s Gig Guide
Date Night: From Fancy to Simple, Tyler Offers a Lot of Romance
July 4th: Freedom Fighters 5K Race and more races!
Theatre Guide: Opening June 7th, “Ring of Fire” at Tyler Civic
Blue Moon Gardens: More Than a Family Nursery
Dinosaurs are Back at Discovery Science Place!
It’s Going To Be An “INCREDIBLE” Summer at Studio Movie Grill
Connie Smith in Concert at Liberty Hal June 27th
June 22nd-23rd: 10th Annual Tyler Coin Show
Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir Set to Perform, August 3rd
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