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Farewell Angelina – A Musical Sisterhood for All People

Image courtesy of quotesworthrepeating.com

I’ve been called a lot of things over the years, but perhaps one of the coolest things I’ve ever been called is an “Honorary Angelina”.  That’s because the interview I did with the band Farewell Angelina was so much fun, it’s amazing we even got anything worthwhile accomplished, but like women on a mission, we managed to laugh our way through it AND get things done.

Upon entering the interview room, I heard laughter.  Lots of laughter.  I then saw a table laden with wine bottles, Dunkin’ Donuts and cupcakes.  Well, now, this was my kind of interview!  I was about to run outside and check the address on the building to make sure I had the right place.  Did I just crash someone’s party by mistake?  Nope.  This was the right place.  These were the right people.  As it turned out, these were people that clearly had wandered from my tribe.  Thankfully, I found them again!

Farewell Angelina is a four-piece band that includes Nicole Witt (fiddle, guitar), Ashley Gearing (acoustic guitar), Lisa Torres (acoustic guitar) and Andrea Young (violin).  There is no “band leader”.  This is a total team effort.  It was so uplifting to watch these four ladies try to describe how it all works.  When one is having an “off” day or maybe having trouble with their voice, it’s not a big deal, because someone else will take the reins and handle whatever needs to be handled, particularly when it comes to singing lead.  There is no designated lead singer, as everyone in the group sings lead on certain songs.

Photo courtesy of Farewell Angelina and Chuck Arlund

Nashville is one of America’s great melting pots.  Especially in the music community.  It’s rare to find native Nashvillians.  Everyone is from somewhere else, yet they come together to create some of the best music on the planet.  The women in Farewell Angelina are no different.  Nicole Witt is originally from Springfield, Missouri.  Ashley Gearing hails from Springfield, Massachusetts.  Lisa Torres came to Nashville from just north of Los Angeles and Andrea Young calls Alton, Illinois home.  I really knew I loved these ladies when Young mentioned that Alton, Illinois was “home to the world’s tallest man” (his name was Robert Wadlow and he was 8’11” tall and lived from 1918 to 1940).  Factoids are part of what makes me tick!  Did I NEED to know that?  No.  Did I WANT to know that?  Yes!!  The best part?  They all agreed that they are full of useless trivial information and their road journeys are often filled with quick side trips to historical houses.  History geek that I am, I was sure I needed to learn to play an instrument in a hurry so I could try and join this band.

Photo of Robert Wadlow & Father courtesy of Wikipedia

I was eager to know how this group of people came together to form their band, but I wanted to know more about them as individuals from their earliest memories.  I was interested to know what besides music, pop culture-wise, influenced them as very young girls.  Torres popped in with an answer immediately.  “I made the mistake of not telling my parents this until years later because they totally would have helped me fulfill this dream.  I wanted to be on The Mickey Mouse Club or Kids Incorporated because I sang and danced and did musical theater.  That’s what I wanted.”

Photo courtesy of Refinery29

Gearing responded with, “For me, music was something that my Mom and I did together.  We bonded over it.  We would just listen to Carole King, LeAnn Rimes and all these amazing female singers in the car and just sing to each other.  She was a single mom and my Dad passed away when I was a baby.  So, it was just kind of our thing that brought joy into our lives.  I just stumbled upon doing it as a career where it was like, ‘Oh, I actually like doing this and I’m not doing it at the same level as other people, so let’s just keep rolling with it’, so definitely Carole King’s Tapestry.  We just went and saw the musical Beautiful and we were sobbing the whole time, it was so good.”

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

Young was up next.  “I wanted to be Dolly Parton and I didn’t even understand what country music was.  I saw the fun hair and the outfits, and her nails.  I thought it was so cool that she could have long fingernails and play guitar, and she’s a good player!  I would get little scraps of material and my babysitters would try and form some type of outfit, and I’d put on wigs and do the whole thing.”

Finally, Witt gave her account of early pop culture influences.  “Just music.  My grandparents were bluegrass musicians and my Dad was a square dancer on the Ozark Jubilee show, so it was generations of music and it’s in my blood.  It’s really the only thing I ever wanted to do and I’m living it.  I love songs and lyric and people, so I love stories and my radar is always up for writing songs and just putting real life stories into songs that hopefully impact people.  It’s just been a blast to write songs for other artists, but now for us to write songs together and kind of find our voice, this is probably a lifelong dream for sure.”

At some point I knew we had to talk about Farewell Angelina music, so we got to that.  A good place to start was how the band got its name.  It’s named after a Bob Dylan song and Andrea Young came up with the idea.  She explained how and why it ended up being Farewell Angelina.  “It was actually a simple process.  I just had this idea of finding a song title because searching for a band name or hoping one miraculously pops up is like trying to hold down the wind.  So, I just made this list of songs that had women’s names in them.  Some of them just weren’t going to work and some of them looked like they might, but Farewell Angelina was one where we all kind of went, ‘Oh…’ So, then we kind of researched the song and our moms loved Joan Baez who also cut it and it just kind of snowballed from there and that’s what it was.”  Witt added, “It also sounded really beautiful and feminine.”

Back to the part about there being no band leader.  These women consider their band “a democracy” that runs itself on passion.  On any given song, the band member who feels the most passionate about that song generally “leads the train” when it comes to things such as arrangement according to Young.  That passion ignites a fire under the rest of the band and the song comes to life.  Never once during my time with these ladies did it feel like there were any power struggles.  As they put it, it’s a “sisterhood” and they all grab part of the load wherever and whenever needed.  Torres said it best.  “If one of us just can’t get it together one day, someone else can.”

Farewell Angelina’s new album, Women & Wine, officially drops on January 25, 2019 and this band is excited about it.  They co-produced it, which they love.  Ashley Gearing joined just before they began work on the album, so it was the first time all four band members got to be in the studio together.  The album’s whole vision is based on Farewell Angelina’s tour and all the touring they’ve been doing over the past few years.  Torres elaborated, “Knowing that we wanted to create something that when the fans buy it at the show, they can take it home, play it and go, ‘Yep, that’s what I just saw on stage’, and they can feel that same energy from us, those same stories that they got to hear on stage and really get to take a piece of the show home.  Also, give them some things, if they haven’t seen a show yet, that make them say, ‘Oh my gosh, yes!  I really want to see this!’  Then they can come and say, ‘Yep, I get it’, you know?  We each picked a song that we dearly loved to sing lead on, and then we’ve got our ‘all skates’, like ‘Women & Wine’, and then we’ve got a really special bonus track on there that was written by Mr. Kevin Bacon.”

Photo courtesy of Twitter

Kevin Bacon does not sing on the song, but his brother does play cello.  The group all agree that Bacon is a perfectionist and he is just as talented a musician as he is an actor.  He was more than happy to allow Farewell Angelina to take charge and handle the song the way they wanted.  Obviously, he approved of the way it turned out.  Gearing said, “After it was done, he heard it and he sent us a really sweet video while he was hiking in L.A., about how much he loved it.”  Young added, “What else is cool about it is lyrically it is a bit reminiscent of a Bob Dylan song.  It kind of ties things up.”

It’s apparent how much touring means to these women.  While it can be rigorous, it’s live shows that connect them to their fans, and making that connection is what they consider their most important job.  “By going into all these different cities and meeting all these different people, it gives us a chance to really connect”, explains Young.  She continued, “You know, you can push play or listen to your favorite song on Spotify 867 times, but if you go to a concert, it’s once in a lifetime.  You can’t ever repeat it.  So, every night we are looking for moments to connect.  It’s kind of a like a rolling party.  We just really have a lot of fun.”  After hearing Young say all of that, it wasn’t any wonder why they put such an emphasis on their touring experiences into this new album.  The road and all that goes along with it created the blueprint to everything this band does.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

All the tracks on Women & Wine were recorded at Legends Studio in Nashville with Dan Frizsell.  Legends is appropriately named because so many of the greats have made records there, including Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.  Legends also attracts newer artists such as Florida Georgia Line, Mo Pitney and Blake Shelton for Frizsell’s mixing and engineering talents.

As for studio musicians, Farewell Angelina handpicked the ones they truly wanted to create the full sound they were looking for.  A full sound that didn’t override their own voices.  They knew exactly what they needed and which musicians would work best.  Not that it was all that easy to narrow it down in a town loaded with outstanding talent, but they feel they nailed it.  Even their current tour is limited to the four women in the band playing two fiddles and two guitars, and all they added was a drummer.  The vocals are that vital to what they do.  They don’t want guitars screaming over their harmonies.   Gearing pointed out, “We’re very organic.  We wanted it to still sound like us.”

If it sounds like you want to see Farewell Angelina on the road that they cherish so dearly, Witt gave me a rundown on some of the places they’ll be going. “Green Bay, Wisconsin, Illinois, two shows in Iowa, two shows in Minnesota and St. Louis.”  “I bought a very packable puffy coat”, said Young, referring to the cold weather cities on the first leg of their tour.  They do get a reprieve afterward with some shows in the south, including Delray Beach, Florida.  They’ll then head to Europe, where they have dates in Switzerland and Spain.  When asked if they’re planning to play in the UK, the band said they didn’t have anything on the schedule, but if “supply and demand” warranted it, they would love to add that in if possible.  If you happen to be in the UK and would enjoy seeing Farewell Angelina, make some noise.

What’s really exciting about this band is how much they’re growing in popularity.  Having had a good tight fan base in areas like Atlanta, St. Louis, Florida and Iowa already, they now see things spreading out quite a bit.  Venue owners are now calling them to book or to let them know that ticket sales are going really well.  They’ve opened for some major artists such as Old Dominion, Jake Owen and Kenny Chesney and are set to open for more acts like them this year.

I did discover that these four women have a collective dream, and that’s to open for Keith Urban.  They were almost begging The Universe to make that happen for them.  If The Universe is reading this, please work your magic and get Farewell Angelina on a bill with Keith Urban.  I think they deserve it.  Oh, and if this should ever come to fruition, the messenger wouldn’t mind a good seat to the show.  A girl can dream.

Photo of Keith Urban courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

As far as venues they’ve played on the road, which ones were their favorites so far?  Gearing said they were just talking about The Capitol Theatre in Flint, Michigan.  “We were the first act to play at the reopening of The Capitol Theatre in Flint, Michigan and the people that came to that show were just so excited to have us and it was such a vibey, cool atmosphere.  They fed us.  We were drinking wine.”  Young piped in, “They were having bike week outside and bikers were coming in.”  It was especially memorable to the band because different radio stations showed up for the show, the country stations and the rock stations.  “It was bigger than country music”, said Young excitedly.

Video courtesy of Farewell Angelina and YouTube

“Farewell Angelina is not in a box.  Women & Wine is not just for women who drink wine.  The men love it.  It’s for everybody”, Gearing declared.

Then things got heated.  Sort of.  Witt jumped in with, “I’m gonna go for Arrowhead Stadium”, and gave Gearing a sideways glance.  “Arrowhead, because the Chiefs (Kansas City), my team, and the Patriots (New England), her team (Gearing’s), are playing a big game on Sunday and we got to sing the anthem at Arrowhead on Thursday Night Football in Primetime.”  A little friendly rivalry and some back and forth jabs about that went on for a minute or so, but Witt ended it with, “We’ll just see what happens.”  Well, she tried to end it, but Gearing shot back, “I’ll just be a silent gloater.”  Witt came right back with, “You will not be silent, get outta here!”  I told you this was a fun interview.  If only I could include all that was said.  There was a lot of laughter, just know that.

Video courtesy of Farewell Angelina and YouTube

I took the attention away from the great football debate by asking what song evoked a wave of nostalgia among the women each time they heard it and Gearing was fastest.  “Anything from the Tapestry album by Carole King.” I guess we could have figured that out by what she’d said earlier in the interview, but you just never know.

Witt answered with one I could easily relate to.  “I’m gonna go with a song I just saw this Saturday night.  I went to the Willie & Friends Show (Tribute to Willie Nelson) and I cried when Alison Krauss sang “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”.  Are you kidding me?  It was like, she didn’t move.  She stayed still, she stood up and sang the thing and it was like, ‘Whoa’, it was so amazing.  Oh, my God.”  I was at that show and I can attest to every word she said.  It was something else.

“There are so many songs that hit me like that.  Anything Frank Sinatra will get me these days.  It’s just a very special thing.  When I first met my husband, we ended up dancing for hours to Frank Sinatra”, Torres recalled.

Young had a hauntingly beautiful story to tell.  “There’s a clip of it on our record but, there’s a song on there called ‘Ghost’, and it started out being a song about The Opry, and then it sort of morphed into more of an individual thing.  In The Marshall Tucker Band, there was a man named George McCorkle, who was one of my mentors when I first came to town, and I actually played his last show with him and he passed just a couple of weeks later.  He didn’t know he had cancer.  George wrote ‘Fire on the Mountain’ by himself, so after ‘Ghost’, that’s one of those things where at our live show, you kind of feel like the air gets sucked out of the room, for US, regardless of what’s happening with the crowd.  It brings you to a whole new place just singing ‘Fire on the mountain, lightning in the air, gold in them hills and it’s waiting for me there’, so yeah…”

Photo of George McCorkle courtesy of findagrave.com

To that Witt chimed in, “It’s going on our record, so Andrea, myself and Logan Brill wrote that.  She (Young) was playing for someone else at The Opry the night before and she posted something on Instagram that said, ‘Even the ghosts are singing tonight’, and I was like, ‘Hell yeah, that’s what we’re writing the next day!’ It just kind of wrote itself after that.”  I couldn’t help saying that I would never hear ‘Fire on the Mountain’ or ‘Ghost’ the same way again.  It was amazing to hear that story and I was so grateful they shared it.

After that, which took us way down deep into the heart of country songwriting and what it’s really all about, true stories that can shake you right to the core, I decided to lighten things up by going in the opposite direction.  I asked about birthdays, specifically, birthdays on the road.  It turned out the next band member in Farewell Angelina to have a birthday will be Lisa Torres.  I wondered what happens when someone has a birthday while touring.

In typical road fashion, Witt celebrated her last birthday rolling down the highway in the backseat for 12 hours.  “That was your present”, exclaimed one of the band members.  Torres did clarify that they do try to make birthdays special on the road as best they can, and even when they’re home, they try to be together for those as well.

The new record is called Women & Wine, so I inquired as to what kind of wine the ladies preferred.  On this they varied, but Witt was a definite “red”.  Gearing will take red or white, but if it’s red she prefers pinot noir and if it’s white, sauvignon blanc, “but I don’t discriminate.”  “Whatever comes in the coffee cup”, said one.  “Or the box”, said another, “we’re not against boxed wine.”  Torres only had one issue and that was with dry wine.  If it’s too dry it creates problems with singing because it tends to dry you out too much.  “It loosens me up”, Gearing responded to that piece of information.  These girls were way too much fun.  It was a good thing we were running out of time because that wine on the table was starting to look like a plan rather than a decoration.

Image courtesy of Ella Belle Boutique

This led to a bit of a true confession moment.  A singer/songwriter friend (a BRILLIANT singer/songwriter friend) named Cheley Tackett (if you don’t know who she is, find out) had asked me prior to this interview to ask Nicole Witt about “the unfortunate fiddle incident at the Flora-Bama many moons ago”, to which Witt relayed a story about a gig Witt and Tackett played at that venue several years ago.  She told of a country music show that oddly enough, attracted a crowd which developed into a mosh pit.  Witt was playing her Grandpa’s fiddle, a family heirloom, that night.  “This was before I had a fiddle stand, so I laid it down sort of against the wall. It was so crazy that night, we were kind of out of step, and Cheley backed up to the wall and stepped on the fiddle and it did break.”  The good news was, the fiddle was lovingly restored afterward.  True confession number one.  Check.  This story was actually told right at the start of the interview so I wouldn’t forget to ask about it.  I had to initiate this conversation.  Witt decided to come clean about the next thing all on her own.

Photo courtesy of cheleytackett.com

Witt began her confession.  “This is what I thought you were going to ask me about with Cheley.  There was a time when I was playing with Cheley on songwriter nights and I would have one or two drinks and I would forget my lyrics and she finally sat me down and she was like, ‘Hey, so Nic, what if we like, what if YOU don’t drink before you play?  What if we do that?’ So, I was banned for a long time and then I just kind of got to the point where I was like, ‘Maybe I should be worried about that’ or something like that.”  When asked if she’s since overcome this problem, she said, “I have”, to which I replied that I’m sure Cheley will be happy to know about that.  More laughter.  The wine was looking even more appealing now.  So were the donuts.

Just as I thought that Witt’s confession had cleared the air, cleared her soul and all was right with the world, Gearing slid in with, “I will say, you still forget your lyrics sometimes.”  The craziness and the laughter had now reached fever pitch.  It did lead into a discussion about lyrics and how even the biggest names forget their own lyrics sometimes.  Gearing confessed that she worried about missing her spot when she first joined the band, but the girls told her they had her back if that happened.  They have a really solid bond.  Even with the then-newcomer, they were welcoming and helpful.  That should tell you something about how these women operate as a band.  They’re very good friends who play in a band together very well.  That about sums them up as easily as it can be summed up.

Cheley Tackett also expressed amazement at how this group of women manage to juggle a rigorous tour schedule while raising babies and teenagers.  She called them “superwomen”.  They all agreed it takes a village and without family and each other, it would be impossible. They help each other and accept help from the outside.  That’s key.  They don’t take on the world alone and that’s what makes the whole thing work.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

If you look at photos of Farewell Angelina, they look well put together.  So, where do they buy their clothes?  The answers were almost identical all the way around.  They shop online and at TJ Maxx.  On any given day off, you might find Gearing at TJ Maxx.  Witt, however, wanted to give a shout out to her friend who has an online shop you can find on Instagram at @stitch_x_stoned and she was actually wearing something from that shop, and it was really cool.  So cool, in fact, that I needed to get a photo of it.  The tag line on Instagram says “Styling Wearable Art for The Raddest & Baddest: Maker @onealleathers” I looked at the photos.  Definitely THE Raddest & Baddest.  If you consider yourself part of that group, you need to follow this shop.

Photos courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

Where do the girls in Farewell Angelina like to eat in Nashville?  That is, when they actually have any time to eat in Nashville, of course.  Torres likes Sopapilla’s in Franklin near Cool Springs Mall because the food there reminds her of food her family, who comes from New Mexico, makes.  Gearing favors Urban Grub in 12 South.  Young wanted to plug Sushi Circle because it’s a small business that’s really good.  Witt wanted to mention that the rest of the band was exceptionally good at finding good places to eat on the road that aren’t the usual chain restaurants.  With as often as this band travels, that’s important.

Lastly, when Farewell Angelina “Thinks Country”, what do they think?  “Nicole’s always talking about the story aspect of songs and I think that’s what drew me to it.  I didn’t grow up with country music in my house.  My parents didn’t listen to it, but my best friend did as a kid, so I just fell in love with that, and being from California, it’s like the closet genre, everybody loves it, but nobody talks about it.  So, I felt unique and very drawn to it”, Torres responded.

Young answered, “I would say the same.  The songs came first, and those who came before us.  Being able to look at those people who set the bar so incredibly high and just trying to even get on the same ladder.”

“The realness of the genre, and there’s so many new great artists.  I love Maren Morris”, replied Witt.

“There’s so much room in the genre right now too”, added Gearing.

I put in my two cents that Maren Morris would make a great “Guest Angelina”.  “I think she’d like wine too”, said Gearing.  I’m betting she would.  Probably even out of a box.  As for me, I walked out with a donut in my hand.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

Farewell Angelina can be found:

Website:  http://www.farewellangelinamusic.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/farewellamusic/

Instagram:  @farewellamusic

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/farewellamusic

*Feature photo courtesy of Farewell Angelina and Chuck Arlund








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