Over the past couple of years, a growing number of mainstream pop artists such as Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani, Bebe Rexha, Kylie Minogue, and Lil’ Nas have been falling over themselves to record in Nashville, or collaborate with Country artists and producers. Even pop-princess, Taylor Swift has recently signalled a return to her roots.
Meanwhile, in the UK, country music has been for many years a guilty pleasure for some. However, all that has changed, and it is boomtime for country! The dedicated festival circuit continues to expand, and the numbers of American artists choosing to come here to play is growing exponentially. Much is owed to the redoubtable figure of Bob Harris, and his Thursday evening show on BBC Radio 2, for the promotion of country music in the UK; and the full time dedicated commercial station Chris Country Radio has also played its part. Country is a music genre which is as eclectic and broad as any other, and is leading the way in growth of new listeners, of not only American stars, but a whole new wave of British artists.
One of those acts getting some attention right now is The Heartland Roots Band. I recently met up with band leader Adrian for a chat, and I asked:
What is the hardest thing about trying to make headway in the music scene in 2019?
Right now, it’s, paradoxically, both a great, and a terrible time to be making original music. All the new technology means that although it’s never been easier to record your own songs and get them out there, the internet is absolutely flooded with music on all of the streaming services and social media networks. And of course, it’s nigh on impossible for songwriters and musicians to make a living on the revenue from internet streams.
What music have you put out there?
We self-released an album of our own material in 2017, and another 4 songs last year, and, via the magic of Spotify algorithms, we now find ourselves with listeners in dozens of countries worldwide, which is strange to think that our songs, which we recorded back in Leicester, are being heard in the likes of Brazil, New Zealand, Singapore etc. Of course, the numbers are pretty modest at the moment, but going the right way!
You’re about to release a single with a record company here in London, are you not? How did that come about?
A company called Animal Farm got to hear our songs, liked them, and we met up just before Christmas at a club in old Soho, where we weren’t drinking champagne that tasted like Coca-Cola! We’ve recorded 4 songs so far and the first of these, ‘Breaking Away’ is the new single.
Is Animal Farm a country label?
I can understand why you thought that. The ‘farm’ thing and all. No, quite the opposite really. The company is run by a pair of Finnish brothers Ville and Mat Leppanen, who were the punk band Snow Dogs back in the day. But I guess they have all sorts of genres on their roster. They’re producers, and they know their stuff, and I like to think they know a great song when they hear one!
Where do the ideas for your songs come from?
Oh, anywhere and everywhere really. But they’re all real. That’s the thing about this genre, it’s very honest and unpretentious. The songs are about real feelings and situations that real people can identify with.
So do you think that the rise of country music is a ‘reaction’ to pretentious music forms?
Maybe. But we have respect for all genres, and all songwriters and musicians, who are out there working to get their message heard.
Does The Heartland Roots Band have a message as such?
If there was one overarching message it would be positivity, I suppose. And empowerment, particularly for women. We have 2 female band members, Anna who is our keyboardist and percussionist, and Samantha who is our lead singer and she also plays guitar. There was a traditional theme in country songs that played along the lines of, you should stand by your man, (whatever he does!). We’re trying to get away from that, and Samantha and Anna definitely would want to promote a strong female vibe.
Do you identify your band as a purely country or Americana act?
No not really, we have influences from folk, and blues, and rock, and all sorts going-on in there too. That’s what you get when you put 6 individual musicians together, a real blend of everyone’s input. That was also the original idea behind the name of the group, in that we were based in Leicestershire, the ‘heartland’ of England, and we were playing music forms which were the ‘roots’ of popular music in the UK and USA.
So, you see yourselves as a ‘real’ band, with real musicians, who play real instruments and write real songs, how have your live performances been received?
The reaction has been fantastic, everywhere we’ve been. It’s not always easy of course, as venues are often clogged with tribute bands or DJs, but we love playing live. We went out and did some gigs in France last summer. That was amazing!
What’s your favourite part of playing live?
We love getting the crowd going, getting them on their feet and dancing, and all that warmth that we get from audiences inspires to perform.
In what way are you different to other country acts?
I’m not sure how different we are. We are a group of disparate individuals brought together by word of mouth or by small ads on the internet. I think probably most of the UK acts that have have found their way onto a major label have been either solo artists, duos, or vocal groups, so I guess we are slightly more ‘out there’. We are a bit more raw and gritty than most UK acts I suppose, but I don’t mean that as a criticism of anyone else because I totally respect what others are doing, but that’s their thing and ours is ours
So what’s next for the band?
We’re doing interviews and publicity for ‘Breaking Away, and also we’re looking forward to playing live again later in the summer.
Interview by Juliet Bawden
You can download the The Heartland Roots Band MP3s: HERE