Your Country's Right Here: Eric Church Fans Keep His Star Rising

There’s never been any doubt that Eric Church‘s fans are loyal.

The self-described outlaw country musician has seen his fans do everything from force organizers of the 2009 Country Throwdown Tour to move him from the Outlaw to the Main Stage to literally pulling other concertgoers to their feet when Church walks on stage. Yet even Church was stunned that his latest album Chief went to No. 1 based, industry experts opine, on word-of-mouth spread by fans.

“The fans are what did it,” Church said. “They became the social network for me. I didn’t go on Facebook or Twitter and say ‘Buy this album,'” he said. “The fans are what did this. For somebody who hasn’t had a Top 5 hit, hey I’ve hardly had a Top 10 hit, it’s incredible.”

That’s not just Church’s opinion. Billboard magazine reported that Church is the only core country artist in thirty-four years to have a Billboard 200 No. 1 without ever having a Top 5 single on the charts. The last time that happened was 1967 when Bobbie Gentry‘s “Ode to Billy Joe” hit the top album spot.

Capitol/EMI Nashville president Mike Dungan told Billboard that the massive touring Church has undertaken since his album Sinners Like Me was released in 2006, is what boosted his fan base to arguably meteoric levels

“When people hear him, they are immediately interested,” Dungan told Billboard. “There are a lot of No. 1 radio hits that are passive from a sales standpoint, but no one has everaccused Eric of making passive music. Listen to all three of his albums back-to-back and I think you’ll agree that there isn’t one artist working in this town who has made three records in a row that are this great.”

Yet the songs are all Church’s very distinctive, blazing guitar-and-drums brand of country. He’s proud that he was able to make albums that pushed the country format just a bit away from what many consider traditional country.

“It has been a little longer path that way,” said the North Carolina native. “Because [my music] sounds different or unique, it can be harder for the songs to get on the charts. We push buttons either sonically or lyrically. But I’ve always said we have a small window of opportunities to make records where we can further the format and take the format in different directions.”

“I think [my first album] ‘Carolina’ had aspects that did that. I think ‘Sinners’ had aspects of it. But ‘Chief’ is the first one that I made, top to bottom, that is different and unique [from other country albums). It far exceeded my expectations. It made me feel good that the old model of fan word-of-mouth and good music still wins. I had some doubts about that, really. I thought the time had passed that model by.”

Clearly, Church’s fans proved that’s not true.

Find out more about Church’s music and his tour dates by visiting his Web site.



Sound And Vision: Pop Stars In Love — When Dating (and Marrying) Well Is The Best Career Move

Sometimes it’s not what song you sing but to whom you sing it. And if Selena Gomez‘s new hit, “Love You Like a Love Song,” is art imitating her love life, she couldn’t have picked a better object for her affection than boyfriend Justin Bieber. Though the romance occasionally has been hazardous to her health–death threats from too-ardent Bieber fans and a recent mystery illness (she blamed exhaustion, the rumor mill churned out one about a Bieber bun in her oven)–it’s also worked wonders for her career.

A quick recap of the life and times of the rising star: A few years ago, Gomez was just another Disney Channel starlet trying to make good on the pop charts. By this time last year, she was running neck-and-neck with Demi Lovato in a tween-and-teen-pop world ruled by Miley Cyrus. For anyone older than thirteen or fourteen, she was the one who wasn’t dumped by a Jonas Brother.

But love changes everything. Though she’s probably still best known as the girl who won Bieber’s heart, Gomez is now solidly in the running for teen queen. Thanks to her Bieber connection, she’s become a tabloid and celebrity magazine favorite and, with near-perfect timing, she’s at last a true pop star. In the July 23 issue of Billboard magazine, her aforementioned latest single jumped from No. 66 to No. 35 on the Hot 100, and it’s shaping up to be her biggest hit yet. Could nineteen-year-old Gomez have done it without Bieber, seventeen? Possibly. But he’s guilty by association of helping to pave her way to possible multi-platinum status.

Gomez isn’t the only singer reaping the benefits of high-profile love with a younger teen. Australian pop star Delta Goodrem, twenty-six, was virtually unknown in the United States until she began dating Jonas brother Nick, eighteen, in May. Though it’s too soon to tell what effect it will have on her commercial potential in the US, there’s no doubt that millions of Jonas fans who’d never heard of Goodrem back when she was engaged to Brian McFadden, the former member of the UK boyband Westlife who’s now a judge on Australia’s Got Talent (they announced their split on April 1), now know her name and her face.

Muse’s Matthew Bellamy was hardly unknown in the States when he began dating Hollywood star Kate Hudson, previously wed to Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. But he’ll no doubt have more to celebrate than fatherhood (to Bingham, his and fiancee Hudson’s son, who was born July 9) by the time Muse releases its next album. Bellamy’s increased visibility, courtesy of his significant other, could finally propel his band, which has yet to score a platinum album in the US and has had only one Top 40 single (“Uprising,” No. 37 in 2009), into Coldplay territory.

Ah, Coldplay. Chris Martin needed Gwyneth Paltrow as much as Keith Urban needed Nicole Kidman, or Jay-Z and Beyonce needed each other (professionally, that is), but there’s something about the meeting of two mega-superstars that almost always ends up boosting their careers to even more stratospheric highs (see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, and Brad Pitt and, well, Gwyneth Paltrow). That’s what happened with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, who were both major hitmakers in their own right when they got hitched 1996. Since then, the supercouple have ascended to superstar status in tandem.

Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, who began dating in 2006 and married in May, are currently following their lead. She spent the last year winning pretty much every country music award in the business for her third studio album, Revolution. Meanwhile, he landed a new gig as a judge on The Voice, NBC’s new hit star search; his first platinum single, “Honey Bee,” became a No. 1 country and Top 20 pop hit; and his new album, Red River Blue, just became his first to top the Billboard 200 album chart.

Sure they were both doing just fine on their own, but like all successful couples, on and off the clock, they’re even stronger together. May they all continue to prosper on the charts and love happily ever after.

Your Country's Right Here: Joanna Smith Tells Us Why She's the "Next Big Thing"

Just when you start to yawn over proclamations that various critics have found the “next big thing” in country music, along comes Joanna Smith and shows you”yes”that is clearly true sometimes.

You’ve likely heard Smith’s new single “Georgia Mud” that had its radio debut February 7th, or read critics at Billboard Magazine, Variety and Roughstock proclaim her musical potential.

But we all know that the airwaves are filled with one- or two-hit wonders so we decided to find out if Smith is the real deal. The bottom line”Yep, she has her head on straight, knows her stuff and has the chops. But don’t take our word for it. Check out some of her straight talk in the interview below:

OS: So how does it feel to have all these major music critics single you out as an up-and-coming musical powerhouse?

JS: You know what? It sounds so cliché, but I’m just enjoying the moment. I really don’t have time to celebrate because I’m so busy, but I do want to savor it. This is what I’ve waited for, the opportunity to play music. This business is filled with fleeting moments and I’m just trying to strike while the iron is hot. That means I need to stay as busy as possible. When you love what you do, it makes it fun.

OS: I’ve read that you grew up in Georgia on a pretty steady diet of Reba McEntire, The Judds and Dolly Parton. I think you were so brave to move to Nashville and try to make it big. How did you start?

JS: When I first moved to Nashville, I was too young to get into the honky tonks. I thought writing would be my way in. So I took odd writing jobs and looked for publishing deals. I competed in a talent contest (in 2006) and got to open for Glen Campbell at the Ryman. Then I got a regular gig at Tootsie’s. I started playing down there and it was quite an experience.

OS: The talent contest had to be unnerving.

JS: The talent contest wasn’t quite as bad as signing at the Ryman. I was very new to town, relatively speaking. I had experience performing but to sing at the Ryman”I didn’t feel worthy. I was so nervous, but my mom and dad said it didn’t show. It was such a whirlwind.

OS: How did your parents react to you pulling up stakes, leaving behind a college scholarship and moving to Nashville?

JS: My parents freaked a little bit. My mom more than my dad. My dad was a little calmer because he had his own [musical] dream. I had to leave a scholarship at Auburn University to do this. But I have always known this is what I’ve wanted to do and my parents have been extremely supportive.

OS: Did you know anyone in Nashville when you arrived?

JS: I really didn’t know a soul. I knew one person, Luke Bryan, and at the time he wasn’t as well known as he is now. He is from the same place that I am. When we were younger, he’d come over [to my parents’ house] to go fishing with my dad. He thinks of me like a little sister. He was wise about the music business and he wouldn’t let me get in any trouble. He’d be honest when I asked him about opportunities and people, but he let me fend for myself.

Luke let me come over to his publishing company and showed me around, introduced me to people. That’s how I did it”I built my circle and met more and more co-writers and wrote better and better songs and signed a publishing deal.

OS: Tell us about your new single “Georgia Mud.”

JS: I love that song. It is one of those songs that has a very fresh melody and is enjoyable for a singer to perform. I never get tired of singing it. It’s about where I’m from and about lingering love and first loves that are hard to get over. I think everyone can relate to it although it is set in Georgia. It’s written sort of like a mini movie.

When I sat down with the two co-writers to write the song, they wanted to write a song about Georgia. I was sitting there politely trying to figure out the best way to tell them that I couldn’t write another song about Georgia. But then one of them threw out a riff and it went from there. This might be the best Georgia song ever.

OS: Was the song easy or difficult to write?

JS: It was super easy. Sometimes you have to work really hard at them but we didn’t with this. I am very lyrically minded. I love words and love to read and so [when my co-writer] started saying “bare feet hanging off a tire swing,” well, I used to have tire swing in back yard that I loved. It went from there.

OS: Perhaps a good way to wrap up a bit is to compare the first time you played the Ryman to last November when you sang your own song “Getting Married,” and the classic Tammy Wynette tune “Stand By Your Man” at Tootsie’s 50th Anniversary celebration there. Tell us about that.

JS: Things moved so quickly. They had a full red carpet out and flashbulbs going off everywhere. I just figured I’d strike a quick pose and then try to figure out what celebrities are there. I met Kris Kristofferson and Mel Tillis, which was so great.

When your career takes off and you’re just getting started you don’t have a lot of time to prepare (before you go on stage). You get there, get your eyelashes on right and it’s time.

I just figured I was there and I’d savor the moment! I loved it.

Joanna is scheduled to perform with Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood on April 30th at the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, CA.

For more information about that concert, her upcoming album or other news, check her website.

iRock: The Anix

For many the future of music is a topic up for debate” whether it’ll sink like a stone or be saved by those artists with raw, born-with-it talent. During the past decade, the music industry found salvation in pop and hip hop more so than they have in the past thanks to the Top 40 charts being man-handled by the likes of Lady Gaga, Nickelback, Drake, Flo Rida, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha and the like. Many people today think the true meaning behind music is lost in the waterfall of contracts, dollar signs and sponsorships.

However, now is the perfect time for the underground music scene to make their mark and give the people the raw talent that we were brought up on (remember the 90’s alt rock movement? I sure do). Luckily, I recently found a band that meshes the elements of synth pop and industrial music with the alternative rock sound that has been fading since the birth of autotune. Hailing from the city of angels in California is this week’s iRock artist, The Anix.

The Anix beautifully implements an electronic sound that not many can perfect (especially at this stage) while offering a rock edge jam-packed with strong, cutting vocals and crunchy guitar riffs. In September 2009, the group joined Apoptygma Berzerk on their tour through US, Canada and South America (shameless plug for label attention * cough cough *). With an industry-ready music video for Half The World Away (embedded below) and  write-ups on Absolute Punk and in both Billboard Magazine and Revolver Magazine, this unsigned trio shows potential to hit the rock scene harder than most”and with a polished sound like this, there’s no limit to how far they can go.

The Anix is fronted by Brandon Smith (vocals/guitar) who, along with drummer Logan Smith and keyboardist Greg Nabours, deliver solid performances on each track they put out. Building on influences from The Police, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Queen and Rush, the band proves there are still real musicians out there who can write solid songs with perfect hooks that will keep listeners on the edge of their seat. Check out the playlist below to hear “Resident One,” “The Ghost Of Me And You,” “Half The World Away” and “Bullets Without A Gun.”

Without further ado meet my new rock fix: The Anix.

OurStage artists win Billboard World Song Contest!


Domino Saints, a duo with roots in the US and Puerto Rico, have charted in the top ten on OurStage in both the Latin and Reggae Channels. Now, they are taking their success global, literally. They are one of three winners in the Latin category in Billboard Magazine’s World Song Contest for their song, “Buenos Dias San Juan.”

This big win is taking them to Puerto Rico where they will perform at the Puerto Rico Music Business Conference Showcase on March 6th. If anybody is lucky enough to head south, escape the cold and wants to fill their ears with great music, don’t forget to check out the Domino Saints while you’re there!

Get a taste for their Latin sound here and get more on their OurStage fanclub: