Think back to when you were 14 years old. What were you doing? I know what I was doing. Living the junior high life. Waking up every morning to catch a bus to face peer pressure, the daily 40 minutes of horror called “math class” and in sharp contrast, the 40-minute breeze of English class. The enjoyable precursor to text messaging called “passing notes” and talking about boys and concerts in the cafeteria with friends. It was the 1970’s and the livin’ was easy, or at least it seems that way now. If you had asked me then, I would have given you a very different answer. I remember days when I thought my world was ending. Being 14 is rough.
Well, I know a 14-year old who you would think lives a charmed life. Her name is Ava Paige. She doesn’t attend a regular brick and mortar school. She goes to school online, but that doesn’t mean she has it easy. She “attends” TVOLS online, which is essentially a middle school that follows exactly the same curriculum as the regular school she would attend in her district. She must complete all the same assignments as she would if she were sitting in a physical classroom. She simply does the work at home. This gives her the freedom to also work toward her ultimate goal, to be a singer/songwriter. I want to put the emphasis on songwriter and as I move along, you’ll see why.
Absolutely focused on being a songwriter, Paige understands that finishing school with good grades is the priority. I can’t stress this enough. She is a self-professed “science nerd” who attended Space Camp in Alabama last year and is currently reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Chris Hadfield. She admits her weak subject is English, but still carries an average of A’s and B’s, which I think we can all admit isn’t too shabby. She also said she really loves the concept of going to school online. She’s keeping up and enjoying it, which she and her Mom agree is a win/win.
Photo courtesy of amazon.com
Ava Paige is one of those rare singer/songwriters that is an actual Nashville native. Born in the former Baptist Hospital (now known as St. Thomas Midtown Hospital), maybe all the music in the air entered her lungs in the very first breath she took, because she picked up her Dad’s guitar when she was only six. Not wanting to put it down, within two years her parents realized she might be serious about it, so they sent her for lessons when she was eight. Paige was actually writing songs before she could write words. She would come up with ideas and ask her Mom, Angie Davis, to write them down on paper for her.
Paige’s first guitar teacher was Andy May at Shiloh Music in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. Her next teacher was Corban Calhoun who continues to be her teacher to this day. Calhoun is an accomplished musician who writes and produces and Paige feels they connect well. She said she hasn’t missed a weekly lesson in all the years she’s been with him. She’s highly dedicated to learn and improve.
Paige had a unique celebrity encounter when she was just 10 years old. Her family enjoys frequenting Sam’s Sports Grill in Old Hickory, Tennessee, a food and music venue right on the water, popular with boaters and water lovers of all kinds. One night, while Paige and her family were on one of their typical visits to the restaurant, who should pull up and dock their boat but singer/songwriter, Kelly Clarkson and her family. As if that wasn’t enough for the slightly starstruck 10-year old Ava Paige, Clarkson, hair in a messy ponytail from a day out on the lake, wanted to sing karaoke with Paige! So, sing karaoke they did! A hoot of a version of The B-52’s “Love Shack”, and of course, it was all caught on video. It’s Nashville folks. You just never know who might pull up in a boat. This is how we do it around here. Don’t go celebrity hunting. Let them live their lives and if they want to join in with yours, believe me, they will.
Video courtesy of Angie Davis and YouTube
Singing with Kelly Clarkson may have been just one more push closer to the edge of that cliff that Paige needed to solidify her desire to become a performer, but I’ve got news for you, it isn’t all about pop stars and the latest hits with Paige. Just stay with me. There was a continuing theme in our interview and no matter how hard I tried to rephrase my question, the answers remained the same. This teenager knows what she’s doing and I’d also like to address something else and it needs its own paragraph.
Here in Nashville, everyone knows this term, but for those of you who may not know what it is, I’m going to tell you about it. I’m talking about something known as “The MOMAGER”. I found a very good description of this very real creature in the Urban Dictionary. It reads as follows:
a parent who pushes their child or children into show business at the risk of their mental and physical health and without any regard to their social development or privacy
“Momagers” are also known as “Helicopter Moms” or in the past were sometimes referred to as “Stage Mothers”. Many may believe, because Ava Paige is so young, and because her Mom, Angie Davis, is always with her at shows, that Davis is a “Momager”. I sat down for one of the longest interviews I’ve ever done with both Ava Paige and Angie Davis, and it’s true, “Momagers” are very real creatures, but after that lengthy talk with both of them (and Paige did most of the talking), I can pretty confidently say, Davis is not one of them. In fact, she and Paige both made it a point to tell me she isn’t. Paige even went so far as to tell me she doesn’t even allow Davis to hand over her guitar when she gets on stage. “I am not a Helicopter Mom”, said Davis, quite firmly. Paige agreed, “No, I won’t let her be.” “I handle the business side of things, but that’s all”, added Davis. I wanted to be sure to clear this up early and as I get further into the interview, I think it will become more apparent that this is Paige’s show and Davis is merely a supporting crew member.
Starting with the basics, Paige calls Mount Juliet, Tennessee home. Aside from the fact that she doesn’t go to school with the majority of the kids her age, she lives a fairly normal life. She shares her home with her parents and her 16-year old brother. She loves boating, fishing, golfing, drawing and all kinds of animals. Oh, and boots! “I live in boots, except on the boat.” Her Dad makes her wear flip flops on the boat. She even loves snakes! She said she enjoys holding the snakes at her favorite music store, Gruhn Guitars in Nashville. Store owner, George Gruhn, knows a whole lot about snakes and you can read up on that quite a bit just by doing a Google search of his name, but that would be another story for me. All I can tell you is Paige calls Gruhn Guitars her favorite music store, even if all the snakes left today, but she does consider them a great bonus. If you’re a fan of guitars and snakes, you can find the reptiles on the second floor of the store at 2120 8th Avenue S. in Nashville. Maybe even buy a guitar while you’re there, I hear they’re really nice!
Photo courtesy of Native Magazine
I was interested if anyone else in the family played music. It turns out Dad was a casual guitar picker and played some clarinet. Mom played piano. Paige’s brother tried his hand at music but it wasn’t his thing, he was a sports guy. So, I guess it could be assumed she may have inherited the gene to play music from her parents, but where did she get such a strong desire to create it? That was what I wanted to know. The more I talked to her, the more this question burned in my brain. It started with a tiny flame right about here. I asked what kind of music she liked. She said she liked all sorts. “Some pop, 90’s, 80’s, Ambrosia, Kenny Loggins! Kenny Loggins was the best concert ever! I had front row center and I got the set list!”
Yes. This girl is 14. She was telling me how thrilled she was that she saw Kenny Loggins. She loves Ambrosia and is obsessed with music from a decade that she wasn’t even alive to experience. Did I feel like she was force-fed this music by her parents or someone older? No. Was she possibly INTRODUCED to it by them? Absolutely could be. Is there anything wrong with that? Not at all. The fact that she fell in love with it is great. As the old saying goes, “Good music has no expiration date.” Paige is just another example of how true that saying is. We don’t have to have lived in an era to be a fan of its music. In fact, I think it’s our responsibility to keep music alive by passing it on. In my mind, somebody was just doing their job.
Did you notice something though? This 14-year old girl didn’t name one current artist. I waited for one, but I didn’t get one. At least not at that point, so I changed up my question. I asked who her musical influences were. Her answer, for someone as young as she is, surprised me. “Can I divide them up? I have songwriter influences and I have guitar influences.” I agreed that it was fine. Sure, go ahead, divide away. She listed her songwriter influences as Chris Stapleton, Ashley McBryde, Travis Meadows, and Brandy Clark. Her guitar influences were Vince Gill, Lindsay Ell, Brad Paisley, Eric Clapton and Keith Urban. An impressive list to be sure.
I then posed the question about current artists, to which she excitedly remembered to mention Carly Pearce, Jimmie Allen and Lauren Alaina. She relayed a story about Carly Pearce walking down the street and hearing Paige playing off in the distance and followed the sound of her music until she found her at Tavern ’96 (now Pete & Terry’s Tavern) just to listen to her and tell her how good she was and then hand her a couple of CMA Fest passes as a bonus. Talk about a serious boost of confidence for a then-13-year old singer/songwriter. This was the day after Pearce’s first CMA Fest performance on the big stage. She certainly didn’t have to do that. Female country artists lifting up other female country artists. There’s a belief that doesn’t happen, but trust me, I see it all the time. Jimmie Allen has also shown support by expressing interest in attending one of Paige’s live shows. Paige couldn’t stop saying how grateful she was for them reaching out to her.
Like everything I write, here’s where I fall off the rails and tell you something about me, but like everything else, eventually, there’s a reason for it. You just have to trust in the grand plan. Artists I interview don’t just fall from the sky on to my laptop. I have to find out about them somehow. Sometimes it’s the easy way. Someone sends me an e-mail and I get introduced to them via a publicist, and that type of connection is fine, but it isn’t very interesting. Other times, it’s what I like to call the “domino effect”. The first person kind of falls on to the second, and that one falls on to the next and it keeps going. Such was the case with Ava Paige. The big difference is this one really ran full-circle. It was odd.
It all started with Travis Meadows. I first met Travis Meadows several years ago, just by being a fan. He’s still one of my favorite songwriters and I’m still a fan. Last February, Annette Gibbons and I interviewed Ashley McBryde at CRS 2018 and I casually mentioned to McBryde that we had a mutual friend in Travis Meadows. She talked about how Meadows helped her become a better songwriter and then during the interview we asked her if she were to open a bar in Nashville what would she name it. She said she would call it “Southern Babylon”. It was the name of a track on the then-yet-unreleased Girl Going Nowhere album and she said she wrote it “with a friend”. She told us her reasoning for naming the bar “Southern Babylon” and it sounded fascinating. When I later went to review the album, I couldn’t wait to hear the song, but McBryde never actually told us what the song SOUNDED like, she just told us what it was about. When I actually heard it, I was completely blown away. I ended up calling the song the best song on the album. I still stand by that statement. It had every element I consider when trying to choose the best track on a record. The co-writer was Tommy Collier.
Video courtesy of Warner Music Group and YouTube
Fast forward a few weeks and I was contacted by that co-writer (Tommy Collier) asking if I might be interested in giving his demo record a listen. I agreed and he sent me a CD. I really liked it and I wrote up a review. Fast forward several months and I get a message from Collier to watch a video of a cover some girl did of none other than “Southern Babylon”. Now, let’s keep in mind that “Southern Babylon” has never been a single. In my mind, it’s so good, it probably never will be. The best songs never get to be singles. The radio world just isn’t ready for this much brilliance most of the time. Sorry if that sounded harsh, but it’s often true. The girl performing the cover on the video was, at that time, 13-years old. What? Why was she covering THAT? She was actually doing a pretty good job of it too. To have the co-writer of the song bring it to my attention was saying something.
Video courtesy of Ava Paige Music and YouTube
I needed to find out more about this girl. It turned out that girl was Ava Paige. The only way I was ever going to really understand why she chose to cover “Southern Babylon” was to talk to her. I asked if she’d like to do an interview and here we are, and when I say things go full-circle, they really do.
I told you one of her songwriting influences was Travis Meadows. Travis Meadows. If you aren’t familiar with Meadows and his songs, first, may I kindly suggest you at least make an attempt at familiarizing yourself? His work is many things. It’s usually quite dark, some would call it depressing. Most of all though, it’s authentic. It is as raw and open as you will ever find. If Meadows writes a song you can be sure he has opened his brain to the world. Every thought is laid out musically for the masses to hear. He holds nothing back. More recently he has written some more uplifting songs, but that’s because his life has taken some very good turns after decades of lying at rock bottom. He is easily one of the top songwriters in Nashville and one of the people other writers would give anything to collaborate with, yet I would bet not many 8th graders know who he is, but Ava Paige did. That was my first clue that something was different about Paige.
Video courtesy of Music City Roots and YouTube
Of course, Ashley McBryde has been all over country radio with songs like “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” and “American Scandal”, but I had to ask her why she chose to cover “Southern Babylon” rather than one of those really popular songs. Without missing a beat, she replied, “I’m a sucker for a good story. I love Ashley’s whole album. I have it on vinyl. That’s a cool song.” There’s no doubt. “Southern Babylon” is a GREAT story. Paige went on an on about how she loved the song and how she could envision everything going on in the song because of how well the lyrics told the story. She was preaching to the choir at that point. I had been saying that for a long time now. For Paige, it all came down to how a song was crafted.
I wasn’t satisfied yet though. I needed to break through. I pressed a little more. What other artists did she like? There must be some “normal” teenager-type musical interests with this girl. Finally! I got it! “I like some stuff from Passenger and I love ‘Jealous’ by Labrinth. I like some Bruno Mars.” Other than putting a lot of emphasis on loving the Labrinth song, she seemed almost forced to come up with the other artists. Kind of like she would listen to them if they came on the radio, but if someone turned them off, it wouldn’t kill her either. Here’s where it all comes back to the songwriters. In this same portion of the interview, she also mentioned she’s a big fan of Hillary Lindsey, Natalie Hemby and Lori McKenna. All songwriters. I honestly don’t know if there are any 14-year old girls, at least outside of Nashville, that have any idea who these three women are. Are they important, amazingly talented people? You bet they are.
Do you have a teenager? Ask them who their favorite artists are. I will bet you a hundred bucks not one of them (unless they live in Nashville and are surrounded by the music business) is going to list one of those women. I was stunned. I thought I was pulling out the “average teenager” when I heard Passenger and Labrinth, but one breath later, we were right back on singer/songwriters. The ones who write hit songs that other artists make famous. Paige is focused. Her target is zeroed in on songwriters and songwriting. I couldn’t sway her. Was her Mom coaching and swaying her answers? Not one bit. I watched. Like a hawk. These were Paige’s answers. Mom said the only reason she even goes to everything is because she has to drive and her daughter is a minor. Understandable. I wouldn’t want my teenage daughter meeting with strange people alone.
For the record, let me give you just ONE song that each of these incredibly talented songwriters has penned. Hillary Lindsey (co-writer on “Jesus Take The Wheel” recorded by Carrie Underwood), Natalie Hemby (co-writer on “Baggage Claim” recorded by Miranda Lambert) and Lori McKenna (co-writer on “Cry Pretty” recorded by Carrie Underwood). Believe me when I say, I could have gone on forever with hits these ladies have written. I’d say Paige knows who to look up to if she’s got plans to be a good songwriter, and she not only plans to be one, she’s doing it. I asked if she’s doing co-writes and she most certainly is.
As a member of NSAI, ASCAP, TSAI, Global Songwriters Connection and Hub Nashville, Paige has all the right connections for finding people to write with. Sometimes, she admits, it isn’t easy. Not everyone wants to write with someone as young as her. On the other hand, however, some very seasoned writers seek her out. They actually want to write with someone really young because they’re looking for a fresh perspective and new ideas. The question is, how does it work when they get in a room together? Surprisingly well sometimes. In fact, there was a song in progress at the time of our interview that was looking very promising with co-writer Kent Maxson.
Paige calls herself more of a “melody person”, preferring to come up with the melodies to a song first and feels it’s better to talk first and get to know her co-writers a little bit before trying to come up with a song. She’s written with people like Gerald Smith, Erica Sunshine Lee, Corey Lee Barker, Steve O’Brien and Melanie Meriney, but these are all adults, where does a 14-year old girl get inspiration? Paige herself confesses she has never been in a relationship, never been bullied and really has had no serious life problems to base songs after. She relies on other people (co-writers, family, friends) and their experiences and quotes she reads for some of that inspiration. Another thing that Paige does is research on the music industry. “I don’t want to ever walk in clueless.”
As much as she enjoys writing, Paige likes to get out and play for people as well. She has a standing gig at The George Jones every Monday from 11 AM to 2 PM and plays at places like Piranha’s in Nashville, Boot Barn on Broadway and The Listening Room. She also does a series of shows called 3 Storytellerz with two friends, Landon Wall and Taylor Gayle, at 3rd & Lindsley Backroom. These, among many other venues she plays. She’s always out there somewhere and you can find out where on her social media pages.
Video courtesy of Ava Paige Music and YouTube
When I asked Paige what question she’d like to ask one of her favorite artists, she really couldn’t come up with one, but she did say there were two that would probably put her in a pretty starstruck position. Those two were Chris Stapleton and Dan + Shay. She said she’d probably be frozen and unable to speak. Clearly, these are her idols.
Photo courtesy of thinkcountrymusic.com and 90 East Photography
Photo courtesy of thinkcountrymusic.com and 90 East Photography
I decided to skip over to some fun stuff around this point, we had talked a long time about the music business and I figured she could use a break. I asked her what her favorite store at the mall was. Expecting something typical like Forever 21, I should have known better. The Ava Paige answer was never typical. Her response? “Bass Pro Shop.” I told her she could hang out at the mall with my husband. She said she could spend all day in there.
She wanted to add she has a favorite non-mall store as well. That would be Sassy Daisy Boutique in Mount Juliet. I knew there had to be a “clothes thing” somewhere inside that girl.
Photo courtesy of Sassy Daisy Boutique, Mount Juliet, TN
Her favorite movie? “Princess Bride.”
Favorite restaurant? “Urban Cookhouse in Midtown. Underrated. Everything is fresh, straight from the farm. It’s the best.”
Recommendations of things to do for people coming to Nashville with teenagers? “The Escape Game is amazing! Bobby’s Idle Hour, it’s a hole in the wall, but it’s a cool hole in the wall. The Listening Room, if it’s an all ages show is great. Cummins Falls toward Cookeville is fun.”
Nearing the end of the interview, I asked Paige, besides being a singer/songwriter, what her goals were. No hesitation. “Write with Travis Meadows.” I told you this all went full-circle. I started this “domino effect” by knowing Travis Meadows. His domino fell on to Ashley McBryde’s. McBryde’s fell on to Tommy Collier’s. Collier’s fell on to Ava Paige’s and Paige’s landed right back on Travis Meadows’s. Full-circle. Nashville. It’s the smallest town disguised as a big city you’ll ever find.
For my final question, I asked this, “Have you ever thought about giving up music and just being a ‘regular’ teenager?” “No.” “Why?” “I actually get emotionally depressed when I can’t play. I went on a Disney cruise and they didn’t allow musical instruments on the ship. There was a piano on the top deck. I used to sneak up there once a day just to play that piano. I don’t play well, but I would just noodle a little bit to get my fix.” I guess that says it all. Nobody’s forcing her. Nobody’s stopping her. She needs this. Music is like a drug for Ava Paige. A good, clean drug that she’s been addicted to for a long time. It isn’t just the thrill of performing and hearing people applaud for her either. She is somehow addicted to songwriting and songwriters. That’s powerful stuff. That’s unusual stuff. She has a really heavy list of idols. That’s so very Nashville.
Ava Paige can be found: