As usual, What Where When-sday is designed to keep you up-to-date with the events happening in Nashville this week. From Motown legend Smokey Robinson at the Ryman and Lockeland Strings Live at Third Man Records on Friday, to Nashville artist Brian Brown opening for Girl Talk at Marathon Music Works on Saturday, find recommended outings below.
Our special guest for What Where When-sday this week is Bartees Strange. We were introduced to the genre-bending musician back in 2020 with his debut full-length Live Forever and since then he’s worked with artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, Courtney Barnett, and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). Earlier this year, he released his follow-up project Farm to Table, which has shown up on a few Best Albums of 2022 lists including NME, Rolling Stone and The New York Times. To support the album, he’s headlining his first tour making the final stop here in Nashville at the Basement East on Monday, December 19.
“It’s been really cool to be back on the road,” Strange said. “I feel like I’ve been on the road nonstop since early 2021. Ending in December in Nashville is really cool because it’s kind of like the end of a chapter in a way between Live Forever and Farm to Table and getting to play those records a lot. We have like a huge break after this, so I’ll be doing some writing. It’s been nice to meet my fans after opening for so long and finally getting to meet the people who found my music.”
Opening for Bartees Strange at The Basement East will be hip hop duo They Hate Change and indie rock band Pom Pom Squad. He says he wanted to create bills like this so his show can be more opened to diverse group of people.
“I think the cool thing about this tour is everyone’s a person of color,” Strange said. “I felt like growing up where I did in Western Oklahoma, going to hardcore shows, punk shows, indie rock shows, I was always the only Black person there. So it feels amazing to create bills that are diverse and encourage a more diverse group of people to come to the shows and it’s worked. The shows have felt very open and welcoming to everyone and that’s been the dream since day one.”
A Q&A with Bartees Strange:
Marquis Munson: Before we talk about your album Farm to Table I want to go back to the beginning stages of Bartees Strange. Your dad was a military engineer your mom was an opera singer and you were trying to play football and worked for the federal government during Obama administration in Washington, DC. So, when did the musical journey start for you?
Bartees Strange: It started young. My mom was a singer, so I grew up following her around everywhere and listening, dancing, and meeting beautiful musicians and just falling in love with music as a kid. I never really planned on making music, but once I got a little older, started driving and discovered my own music and I was curious about how it was made. I moved so much because of the military, I think I just had a random set of influences and always wanted to impress people and wanted to have all the cool music. So, getting a little recording, like reel-to-reel tape recorder was something that started it off. I started recording my friends’ bands and that turned into me recording myself and writing more. I was just always in bands, even when I had jobs through my 20s and eventually wrote something that got me out of my day job [Laughs].
MM: I was listening to the podcast Broken Record, and you talked about your first two records that you bought was Backstreet Boys’ Millennium and 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying. I loved how you also said that Black parents are weird where they’ll let you listen to certain things that they like. I was in that same boat because my mom only let me listen to Will Smith for like the first eight years of my life.
MM: When I finally got out of that bubble and started listening to other hip hop artists, I thought it was amazing. This whole new world outside of Will Smith, but it’s great.
BS: [Laughs] It’s like, ‘Oh, you listen to rap? Oh, yeah. Like Will Smith?’ That’s hilarious. Look, dude, I feel you, though. I mean, that’s so real. Like, my parents were just Christian conservative folks. They’re just like, ‘Yeah, no secular music.’ So, I listened to all those Christian rappers and Christian rock bands. Eventually when I got a car, I discovered this whole world of music.
MM: What was it like for you growing up in Oklahoma and moving to DC and Brooklyn? Was there a huge culture shift for you, especially when it came to your music?
BS: I think when I lived in Oklahoma, I was very focused on just fitting in, not being too loud, and just getting through the day. My family is one of the few Black families in our town, so I think there was a level of awareness you had to always have. But then when I moved to the East Coast and lived in Brooklyn and D.C. and mostly Black neighborhoods, I was like, ‘Oh my God, like freedom.’ Then I met other Black people like me. People who were artists and people who were making things, who were interested in making new worlds of music, stuff I’d never even heard. Once I was reinforced in that group of people, songs just started pouring out. So, I think I finally felt like I had the support I needed and the framework for what I was trying to create.
MM: We launched this station at the end of 2020 around the same time you released Live Forever. I remember hearing “Boomer” for the first time, and I was just fascinated how you were mixing different genres from trap rap with indie rock and have been a fan ever since. Every artist should be proud of their work, but looking back on that project two years later how important is that record?
BS: Oh, it’s huge. It was the first big move I made, so I’ll always love that record. There was two years before the record came out that I was sending it to everyone I knew. My manager Jamie was hustling. She got it in everyone’s inbox, in everyone’s mail, every musical professional artist, booking agent, venue promoter we could think of. We sent that record for like a year solid before the record came out. When the record came out, I feel like everyone kind of already knew it. It was interesting, the record drops and all the people I’ve talked to for the past year and a half, some of which passed on the record, others who just couldn’t afford to help me out at the time, everyone was on board. The timing just worked out when the record came and then it did well.
MM: When did you start the process making Farm to Table?
BS: It was the same day Live Forever came out. I was a little nervous and I just wanted to record and just start moving on to the next thing. So like October 2, 2020, I started working on Farm to Table. I feel like a lot of people in 2020 and 2021 were reflecting. Just looking at their lives, changing up their jobs, changing up their partners, moving to new houses, getting out of the city. A lot of introspection and that was the same for me. I was looking at my life and all the things that have led up to Live Forever. When that record came out, my life changed. I quit my job and all these labels I wanted to work with are reaching out and people I wanted to work with are reaching out. I was producing records more and I felt like I turned the corner, but it wasn’t because of solely me. There are so many people that are a part of that, and I wanted to write an album that commemorated that transition in my life. That’s basically what Farm to Table. Growing up in a rural area, literally painting fences on farms in high school to being at the table with people that you have always wanted to be around.
MM: I want to talk about a couple of songs on this record, I really love “Heavy Heart.” What was the inspiration behind that song?
BS: I was kind of feeling guilty about how good my last record had done, right as the pandemic kicked off and everyone that lives around me, were kind of crumbling. Coming to the realization that you can’t be guilty and feel bad and not celebrate things just because life is hard. Finding space for celebration and joy, even in hard times.
MM: What was the significance behind “Mulholland Dr.”?
BS: It’s the title of one of my favorite David Lynch movies. The point of the song is it’s kind of like a woozy, drunk Los Angeles. Like this fantastical world, where things are not what they seem. That’s kind of what “Mulholland Dr.” is all about. It’s like we live in a world where everything’s so disorienting. The end always seems so near, and everything always looks like it’s about to fall apart. But who cares? That’s kind of what I’m saying [Laughs].
That’s all true, but what’s that mean today? Are you going to be scared all day, are you going to be scared all year? Are you scared for the next ten years? That’s what the hook is all about. I don’t really believe in wondering when we die. I know how we die; we’re going to die in the same way we’ve always died. I know how to lose but, that doesn’t mean I’m going to suffer all day. I’m going to do stuff I want to do. It’s like holding both of those feelings at the same time and being like, ‘Yeah, all that’s true. But also, I really like good food and I like to have a nice meal and I hang out with my friends and play some 2K and kick it [Laughs].’ Both things can be true.
MM: Who doesn’t want to play 2K in their spare time? That’s sounds like a dream come true.
BS: Yeah, I feel like people are a little too deep right now. It’s also, I think just being a Black person in America, it’s funny when alarm bells go off for other people because you’re always like, ‘Yeah, dude, this was always going to fall apart.’ It’s like you see the ending before a lot of people see the ending.
MM: I love the song and the message behind “Hold the Line.” You talk about this song being inspired by George Floyd’s daughter. Can you tell me about that song?
BS: I just felt like when George Floyd died and his daughter was talking about him on the news, a lot of people’s reactions were like, ‘Oh, this kid is so brave.’ And my reaction was like, ‘How did we let this happen again to another child?’ Your dad being killed by the police and the six-year-old now has to address the free world and grow up so quickly. Black kids, queer kids, and people of color have to grow up so fast in this country. The deeper evil behind it is we’re robbing these kids of their lives by forcing them to be in these situations.
MM: Did you play this album for your mom and dad and what were their overall thoughts on the record?
BS: They loved it. I’ve been sharing songs with my family ever since I started writing songs. I wanted to present the record this way because it was a record in a lot of ways about them. So, I posted a lot of videos of me recording my family and having them hear it before anyone else.
MM: As we close out 2022 a lot of publication have your album Farm to Table in their top albums for 2022 but I want to know what have you been listening to this year, what would be your top albums this year?
BS: Neil Young’s World Record with Crazy Horse, I love it. Freddie Gibbs’ $oul $old $eparately, that record is amazing. Been listening to a lot of GloRilla, she’s amazing and I love her voice. I love Memphis rappers, R.I.P. Dolph. Miya Folick put out some records this year that I really loved. She’s an amazing vocalist and I really loved it. The new NoSo record was also good and incredible guitar playing. It’s funny, I’m sure there are a million records I’m forgetting, but I’ll stick to those.