It is album release week for Texas-based country artist Bri Bagwell and recently she was kind enough to answer a few questions for Karen Loves Country. Read what she has to say about working/living in Austin vs. Nashville; hardest challenges of trying to break out; and why an opening slot for Miranda Lambert would be a dream come true.
Bri’s album In My Defense features a nice mix of polished country pop songs, with a few clever lyrical twists on age-old topics such dreaming big, independence, relationships, and personal triumphs, and disappointments. She wrote or co-wrote all the material except for the current single If You Were a Cowboy. Album stand-outs include that song, plus girl power jams As Soon As You and Cheat On Me, the well-written heartbreaker Ring A Bell (an old-fashioned cheating song that Bri assures is purely observational), and Empty Chairs which lets us into an artist’s heart and what it is like to keep reaching in the music business. Rachel Loy, a Nashville-based artist, bassist, and producer (who it turns out also produces another Texas based fav William Clark Green) produced In My Defense. If you like 90s radio country (think Deana Carter or Lorrie Morgan) you’ll like Bri Bagwell. Enjoy getting to know her and her music:
KLC: How did you get your start as a country singer?
BB: I’ve been performing live – if we are counting the musical plays I was in as a young girl – since I was three years old. I started playing with a band when I was 14, after teaching myself to play an old keyboard I found in my parents’ garage. I have two older brothers (they’re identical twins), so when they were 21, we formed “On Tap” where I started playing original and cover music in local bars. I know Mom and Dad struggled with letting me play in the bars at such a young age, but that was pretty much the only way we knew to do it. I would play in the bar Thursday night til 1 am, and then I was up at volleyball practice at 7:30 the next morning in high school. That honky-tonk lifestyle has been a part of me since then.
KLC: You are from New Mexico but now base yourself in Austin, TX, correct?
BB: I’m from Las Cruces, NM, and moved to Austin when I was 18 to attend the University of Texas, where I graduated with a marketing degree and management minor. Since then, I’ve lived in a few different cities, including Nashville for two years. But, I have always ended up back in my favorite city; I call Austin my current home, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
KLC: Are you an independent or signed artist?
BB: I am an Independent Artist managed by JSU and booked by Red 11 out of Nashville. I don’t currently have a publishing deal or record deal. I’m not sure if I want the latter at this point, but I don’t want to shrug off any future possibilities. We did over 180 shows last year (which is purely INSANE), and making a living touring with three band members and two crew members is a dream come true for me. I am an independent artist, but with a GREAT team.
KLC: Tell us about your experience as a Nashville songwriter.
BB: I had a publishing deal in Nashville from 2012-2015 with Sony ATV. For those years I wrote songs on a salary, but I would fly back and forth almost every week to play shows in Texas with my band (The Banned). Looking back, that was an insane part of my life, with constantly traveling and running/playing in a band. I had a booking agent, but no management, so I was definitely burning the candle at both ends. I wouldn’t trade it for anything; I made lifelong writing partners, wrote songs for my second and third record, and simultaneously started making a name for myself in Texas.
KLC: What are the differences in working in Nashville vs. Austin?
BB: Nashville is so impressive in the sense that people get out of bed and go write songs like it’s a nine-to-five job. In Texas, we are so guilty of saying, “Hey! We should write a song!” and never following through with it. People in Nashville treat many aspects of music, especially songwriting, more like a business than an artistry… it’s really inspiring. I learned so much about discipline during my years of living there. As much as I love Austin, I’m on the road so much that I only get to be home 4-6 days a month. Austin, of course, has an incredible music scene, and I’m proud that people such as the Texas Music Office are working to get more paid live music into the city.
KLC: I enjoyed many songs on your new album In My Defense, but would like to know the background on Ring a Bell and Empty Chairs:
BB: Empty Chairs is definitely one of my favorite songs on the record; to be honest, it was a little sadder when I originally wrote it. Rachel Loy (my producer) and her husband (and songwriter) Brian Keane, helped to tune this one up a bit so it has a more positive vibe in the chorus. I never thought I would be able to sing this live, and I cried the first time I did. I’ve learned to get through it, and the reaction from the audience is always an appreciation and understanding. Every artist that has heard the record has chosen this one as their favorite, and I’m proud that it resonates so well with my peers.
We thought about changing Ring A Bell to where she doesn’t go through with the cheating – only because every other song on the record is about me at this point in my life. But, I thought, I am a huge country music fan right now – where would this genre be without the cheating songs! I’m glad we didn’t change it.
KLC: What’s the hardest thing about breaking in?
BB: Everything you do in this industry is very, very expensive, while initially what you make is next to nothing. Between the gear, the band members, the cost of recording, having the van/trailer to travel, gas, hotel rooms, radio promoters to pay, people taking their percentage… and now to add that people don’t really buy records anymore (instead, they stream). You are constantly weighing what you should give up for exposure and what you need while still being able to somehow pay your rent/bills. Also, I feel like in recent years, there are SO many more bands now, especially in Texas. The market is much more saturated.
KLC What is your proudest moment from your music career?
BB: Dean Dillon told a crowd at the Redneck Country Club that I am one of his favorite upcoming songwriters. To hear a living legend of songwriting compliment me like that, I was in disbelief.
KLC: Of the CMA nominees for Female Vocalist of The Year (Miranda Lambert, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves and Carrie Underwood) whose tour would you most like to join as opener?
BB: Miranda has always been my hero. After seeing Miranda’s video for “Kerosene” – which mom ran to my room to get me to come watch – I was immediately thinking “THAT is what I want to do.” I’ve opened for her once, and as a performer, singer, songwriter… I don’t think it gets any better than her.
KLC: What else would you like fans to know about your life, career, drive, goal, etc?
BB: In the Texas Music Scene, many of my inspirations from Eli Young Band to Randy Rogers have told me that it takes a good seven years before you start to pop. I remember hearing that and being shocked by that length of time, but I’m so glad that they told me that. I’ve had my band for seven years now, and it has taken a lot of hard work and perseverance to get where I am. I don’t think that I am the most talented songwriter or best singer, but I do know that I have worked the hardest I could throughout the years. No matter what you do, I think hard work pays off. I’ve been Texas Regional Radio Female Vocalist of the Year for six years in a row, had three number ones on the chart, and I’ve been on the full-band stages of every major festival on my bucket list for this scene. If I believed people when they said that I couldn’t do it because I’m a female, I wouldn’t have gone on to prove them wrong.
KLC: Where can fans get the album?
BB: On my website (www.bribagwell.com) we are offering signed copies of the new record, and also VINYLS! The record is available for pre-order on iTunes, Amazon, Google, etc and a couple of the songs are already streaming on Spotify as well!
Thank you, Bri Bagwell!
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