A few weeks back we introduced you to Netherlands based singer/songwriter Judy Blank and mentioned her upcoming EP “ Morning Sun” which comes out this coming Friday, Sept 7th on Munich Records . The lead single “Tiger Eye Stone” gives us a taste of what to expect, music that blends her various musical influences but in particular leans towards the trad country and folk genres that she has grown to love so much.
I was eager to find out more about her new music which was recorded in her second home, Nashville, and get to know more about her background, so what better time to share her answers with you!
1. LH Hi Judy, as usual i like to ask my interviewees where they are when they are answering my questions…..to help paint a picture!
JB As I’m typing this, I’m in the passenger seat of the band bus somewhere on a French highway. We’re on our way back home from playing a few shows at a surf festival somewhere in the south of France. My bass player is driving; we all had a few too many drinks last night, so everyone’s trying to avoid driving duty for as long as possible. Having to type these answers is a proper excuse.
2. LH And straight away i’d like to get some more information about your upcoming album release please! How was it recording “ Morning Sun” in Nashville and working with producer Chris Taylor? It all sounds pretty amazing to me!
JB Recording the album was a dream come true. It really was. Since I released my slightly jazzy debut album in 2014, I hadn’t released any new music. After I finished my tour in the Netherlands to promote the album, I wasn’t really sure about my sound anymore. Or about me as a person. I simply didn’t know what songs to write or what story to tell. I ended up disappearing to the Southern States from time to time. Starting in Louisiana, where I interned in music class at an elementary school, I got introduced inspired by the gorgeous folk songs that were passed on from generation to generation. I fell in love with the simplicity of the songs, the honesty in the words and the catchy melodies. It was the start of a dazzling musical journey where I started to listen to all the old folk and country records I could find. Slowly, I came back to writing, and when I finally felt I had collected my best songs two years later, I figured the best place to record them was Nashville, Tennessee. When I met Chris for the first time, we were a great match right away. Beforehand, I was slightly intimidated by all the fantastic artists he had worked with. But he turned out to be a super relaxed, dedicated and funny guy. He loved the demos, and went out of his way to get in the best musicians he could find to add color and flavor to my songs. We decided to track everything live, just like all my newly discovered heroes did in the seventies. When I listened back to the first take we did the band, I literally cried, because it sounded so beautiful and organic. I hadn’t felt that in forever. After that, I could record the rest of the songs feeling 100% comfortable and confident about the result. We were creating in there, considering every idea me, Chris or the musicians came up with. Recording this album was so much fun.
3. LH I’m assuming you wrote/co-wrote all the tracks, was there anyone in particular you enjoyed writing with?
JB I wrote one of my favorite songs on the album with a dear friend of mine, Suzie Brown. She’s somewhat of a superwoman, being a cardiologist besides being a touring singer-songwriter. I met her in a writer’s round at the Belcourt Taps in Nashville. We both really loved each other’s songs in that round. That day I met her awesome family, too, who came out to watch her play. After the round, she asked if I wanted to try and write a song with her later that week. We sat on the back porch of her East Nashville home and came up with “1995” in less than an hour. Somehow, her and I have this incredible writing chemistry that works every time. We usually start with having an open conversation about our true feelings about something and then we just instill the writing magic in each other. It’s very special. Probably cause she is so special. Ever since that day, I stayed with her family every time I’ve been back to Nashville. It feels like I’ve known them for years. We also wrote a bunch of tunes for her upcoming record together. Check her out, she’s the 70’s folk queen we would all love to add to our vinyl collection.
4. LH What can you tell me about the new single taken from the EP, “ Tiger Eye Stone” ?
JB When I took my first trip to Nashville, I was madly in love with a boy at home. But even though I was going to be away for almost two months, I felt like I needed to make that trip on my own. When I told him I preferred to travel solo that Summer, he was slightly disappointed, but he got it. Before I left, he gave me a gorgeous ring, with a shiny dark tiger eye gemstone, to take with me on my journey so I would be reminded of him. Yeah. Hopeless romantics. Every time I felt lonely I only had to look at the ring to realize I’d never be truly alone.
5. LH Are there any other tracks that your especially excited for us to hear?
JB Unbroken is a very special one. It’s pretty dark. But it gets me every time I play it live. That’s how I know a song is a ‘keeper’. It’s a song about losing someone you truly care about. Can you ever really move on after something like that? I feel like you can learn how to live with it, but never truly ‘heal’. You’ll never be unbroken, you’ll always see the cracks. Even if in your heart, you know the person you lost would’ve wanted you to overcome. It’s such a painful paradox. (I play birthday parties, too. Hit me up. It’ll be fun.) Country legend Smith Curry, known for his work with Dolly Parton & Willie Nelson, added hauntingly beautiful pedal steel sounds to the song. But my favorite part is probably the string arrangement, written by my friend Jonas Pap, who also plays with Eddie Vedder. There’s nothing I would’ve done differently about this one.
LH Sounds fascinating, I can’t wait to her this one!!
6. LH So, growing up in the Netherlands, which artists from any genre were you listening to and which country/Americana artists have been your biggest influences?
JB Interestingly, my taste in music growing up strongly leaned towards English bands. Whenever I rode my bike to school I’d listen to The Beatles, The Arctic Monkeys and Led Zeppelin. What a rebel. Still, every time I put on a Beatles record, I discover new things that inspire me. Or I find a new perspective to a lyric I’d been singing a hundred times before. My interest in songs and songwriting started to increase when I was about sixteen years old. Why did certain words and melodies move me more than others? Why do certain songs cause little movies to play in my head? I went on a quest for songs I liked and started getting into the timeless folk music made in the seventies. Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Townes van Zandt; they’re all incredible songwriters that sketch widely ranging musical landscapes in every single song. People nowadays can still relate to their feelings and stories. It’s so mysterious and cool. Later, I discovered a folk/country band that completely changed my perspective on music: The Wood Brothers. They’re incredible musicians, but never let their effortless instrumental skills take away from the song itself. When I saw them live at the Ryman last March, they made me dance and cry during the same show. It was the best night ever. I’m also a big fan of East Nashville songsmith Rayland Baxter; his music reminds me to not take myself too seriously all the time. Other artists I’m listening to a lot at the moment are Erin Rae, Aaron Lee Tasjan & Courtney Marie Andrews.
7.LH Do you come from a musical family and when did you know that you wanted to make music your career?
JB My family is not musical at all. My mom was always good at writing little poems, though. I might have inherited my love for writing from her. My dad just loves old things. (I definitely inherited my love for vintage from him!) He bought an antique honky tonk piano when I was about eight years old. It was horribly out of tune, so when I taught myself how to play a few notes, they probably got sick of the terrible sound of the piano, I guess, since they bought a ‘real’ one and sent me a lady down the street who taught piano class. I soon realized how much I loved creating music. Instead of studying notes, I wrote little bits of music that I showed to my teacher every week. That’s how my first songs came about. I was intrigued by how therapeutic writing songs was for me. If something in my sorry teenage life was bothering me (like how that boy would STILL not fall in love with me after all the stalker-like effort I put into him), I would write about it and instantly feel better. I never thought it could be a career thing though… simply because there were no professional musicians in all of my family. It was just unknown territory, a different world that I thought I could never be a part of. But when I started playing tiny shows at 16, and realized how much I longed back to that stage the second I stepped off of it, I just decided to take every opportunity I could get to keep doing that. It’s still very addictive. I don’t think any other job could ever give me that magic, that thrill, that energy.
8. LH How easy is it splitting your time between the Netherlands and Nashville? Do you see yourself moving to the States on a more permanent basis if the opportunity arises?
JB I try to be in Nashville as often as I can. I feel like I’m more focused when I’m there, and there are so many cool friends I can hang out and write songs with! Also; all the music I love comes from the States, so it feels very natural for me to be there, cause I feel like I can be inspired by the same places and views as all my heroes. Over there, I feel more heard as an artist, simply because I sing in English, and people hear my songs in their native language. In the Netherlands, people don’t listen to lyrics as much. But the craft of songwriting is what I desire to be acknowledged for the most, so sometimes, I feel like I need to be in the States for that single reason. But in my head, I’m living in two different worlds. The Netherlands will always be home to me. I love my family, my friends, my little brother… I don’t know if I could ever leave them behind for good. We’ll see. It would be awesome to do a half/half type of thing one day. Or maybe I can just tour there.
9. LH And what about the UK….are there any plans to visit us in the near future?
JB Actually, yes! I’m not 100% sure when it’s going to be, but I’m planning on doing a little run of shows in the UK with the Oxford based band Loud Mountains, a befriended Americana band of brothers Sean and Kevin Duggan, with roots in South Carolina. I met them when I played at The Library in Oxford last year. After playing a few shows with them in the Netherlands last month, they invited me over to tour with them somewhere in the early spring of 2019. Dates to follow, so stay tuned!
LH That’s great news, please keep us posted!
10.LH Finally, a fun question…..who would your ideal country music related dinner guests be? Chose any three people, past or present……
JB Oh man, tough one! First of all, mister Johnny Cash. He’s such an inspiring figure in music. Still is. I love how people in all genres of music consider him as ‘cool’. He must’ve been such an interesting man. If you’re ever in Nashville, make sure to visit the Johnny Cash museum. You’ll cry your eyeballs out, but it’ll be so worth it. Then, John Prine. What a wordsmith he is. I would just sit and hear him talk. I need to know how he writes lines that move people from their heads to their toes, just by asking a question. (”How the hell can a person go to work in the morning, come home in the evening, and have nothing to say?”) Ugh. And last but not least, my badass friend Erin Enderlin. Not just because she’s from Arkansas and thus knows her southern food, but because she’s a legendary songwriter and hard working lady that somehow knows how to make me cry me every time she starts to sing. And how to crack me up with the right dose of Music City sarcasm. Check her out, please.
LH Oh we love Erin here at Belles and Gals, and have hopefully helped introduce her fantastic music to new ears!
Thank you so much for your time!
As mentioned earlier, “ Morning Sun “ will be available everywhere you normally access your music this Friday, Sept. 7th and depending on your knowledge of the Dutch language you can find out more details about Judy at judyblank.com which includes links to her socials.
Interview conducted by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/leslyhastings)