It’s pretty cool when Roger McGuinn, founder of the legendary folk rock group The Byrds, calls you “a bright shining star on the horizon.” That’s just what he’s said about Greer, SC, native Angela Easterling.
Angela’s been earning awards and praise from all over, particularly in the last few years since moving back to the Upstate after living in Los Angeles. Here, her music has grown, and she’s formed a band, The Beguilers, with Spartanburg’s Brandon Turner and Jeff Hook. And it’s here–in Spartanburg, actually, at The Showroom–that she’s throwing her album release party next Saturday, July 16 for her latest, Beguiler. (Tickets at HUB-BUB.COM, of course, and each purchase comes with a copy of the CD!)
We’re so excited to welcome her to The Showroom, and we think you should get to know her. She graciously answered a few questions for us about her music and her relationship with the Upstate. Read on, my friends.
Congratulations on being named a Telluride Troubador Finalist! How was the festival last month?
It was really amazing and such an honor to be chosen as one of 10 finalists out of 600 submissions. The other songwriters were so talented and everyone’s music was so diverse. It was pretty overwhelming to be there. There were over 20,000 people at the festival and I got to play on the mainstage. I’m sure that is the most people I have ever played for at one time! The town was gorgeous and all the music was wonderful. Every night I laid in my tent (because it was the only place I could get warm, LOL) and fell asleep to the sounds of bands like Old Crow Medicine Show playing live on the stage – it sounded like they were right next to me. I had a hard time getting used to the cold weather & the altitude (something like 7000 feet). The first day I was there I was very sick & dizzy & thought I was getting the flu but it just turned out to be lack of oxygen. Once I got used to it I was fine. The last day I had to pack up early & leave because it started snowing! All in all, it was one of those experiences you’ll remember for a long time, driving cross country, camping all week and being a part of that amazing music, and doing all of it by myself. I just kept thinking about all those people that were at that festival and took off work and saved money to be there and I got to be there because it was my job! I felt very lucky.
You say that your music changed when you moved back to the South from L.A. and that you found what you needed. What about the Upstate inspires you?
Well from a purely practical standpoint, living here makes it possible for me to play music for a living. The cost of living is lower here than most places across the country and I own land and a family house here so that lowers my expenses even more. We are also in a great location for touring and it is very easy to get other places from here. I can drive to Nashville, Atlanta, DC, even New Jersey or the Northeast relatively quickly. For the last few years I have toured the east coast and played my own music for a living. I was never able to do that when I lived in Los Angeles. I hardly ever even got to play my own music in L.A. because I was so busy working another job to pay my rent and bills. It was ironic that I went there to pursue a music career and while I certainly learned a lot about the music business and about myself there, I rarely made any money from my own music until I moved back east. This is also a great place to live, to come home to. When I get home from the road, the last thing I want to do is get stuck in a bunch of traffic like L.A.!
I have been surprised how happy I’ve been since moving back. I’ve always been restless and small town life did not make me happy as a kid. I couldn’t wait to leave. But now I love it here and find that my writing has deepened as I have found connections to so much from my past, especially drawing great inspiration from my Hammett family’s farm that has been in Greer since 1791. I never thought much of our farm growing up and if you asked people who went to college and even high school with me, most of them probably didn’t even know I had a farm. It just wasn’t something I thought was that special enough to tell people about. I guess I took for granted that it would always be there. That all changed when I moved back here in early 2007. I was very lost and in a big transitional period in my life and unsure of where I belonged. While I was in L.A. my family had lost a big chunk of land to inheritance taxes and while I knew cognitively in my brain that had happened, it was a shock to go out on what had always been our property and see these big McMansions down there. Then they took a bunch of land for the road and it really started to look possible that we would lose the whole thing. That woke me up fast. I really began to appreciate the fact that I can go out and stand on land that I know for the past 200 years my same blood has worked this land. I was scared and angry to think I could lose it. This has inspired much of my writing on both my last album (2009’s BlackTop Road) and my new one. It brought my writing to a more unique and personal place than it ever could have been in California. I think maybe in California I was so separated from the struggles and day to day life, the beliefs, the history, everything that pertains to where I come from, that it was hard for me to really write about anything but surface things. In L.A. especially, I was so surrounded by people who accepted me for exactly who I was and shared my beliefs that ironically, I think I kind of lost my edge as a writer. I didn’t have anything deeper to express there. Musically, the most “country” sounding of my albums was recorded in L.A. When I was there my connection to home was music and so I played a much more traditional country style. All I listened to while driving around Laurel Canyon was bluegrass. When I got back here, I missed California some and so I was listening to The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, etc, in other words, Laurel Canyon music. And that has stylistically informed my last two albums – going more towards a 60’s/70’s folk/country-rock sound.
I have spent a lot of time in Spartanburg in the last couple years and I really love this town. Maybe I shouldn’t say this but I never fit in too good in Greenville; it was one of the reasons I wanted to move away from the South when I was a teenager. But I feel comfortable being in Spartanburg. I walk down the street and people say, “Hey Angela” – that never happens in Greenville, LOL! I kind of feel like it is my hometown. I love the musical history of Spartanburg and it’s continued support of original music. When I moved back here and saw one of the names I’d been staring at for years on my Emmylou Harris records (Fayssoux) was playing in a local coffee shop, I ran right over there to see her. I love that you can go see amazing artists like Fayssoux and David Ezell any night of the week and when David plays one of his original songs, the folks in the crowd are singing along to every word. That support for creating original music and songwriting is a really wonderful thing. I love that Brandon Turner, one of the most mind-blowing guitar players I ever seen, is right there on stage with me and so is bassist Frank Wilkie who played with the Marshall Tucker Band! I drew so much inpiration for my new album from working with Brandon, as well as Jeff Hook, my drummer. We are so lucky in the Upstate with the talent that is here and I hope people don’t ever take that for granted and that they continue to support the local artists.
It was sort of something that happened when I put all the songs together, I realized there was a water theme running through (pardon my pun) most of the songs. I was very, very fixated on the BP oil spill when writing some of these songs, that might be part of the reason. I had water and the environment and it’s effect on us and our effect on it on my brain. Then when I wanted to record Brandon’s song (The Fish & The Bird) plus the old gospel song Anchored in Love, that really tied the water theme together.
It’s also pretty cool that you write on a variety of topics–they’re not all love songs in the usual sense. Is it more difficult to not write about romantic love?
Well, to be honest, not for me. I am very likely the least romantic person on the planet, so writing a love song is quite a challenge for me and I have very few in my own repertoire. I hate romantic movies and typically skip over the romantic parts of the books I read – it’s just not that interesting to me. I write mostly about what inspires me: history, family, society, the environment, spirituality, personal struggles, etc. But love is a big part of life and I do write about it as well, I just usually try to find some different angle or different way I can address it so it will be interesting to me. And I hope, interesting and appealing to the listener. But I have to say, I don’t think I have any songs (yet) that anyone will want played at their wedding!
What’s your favorite thing to do in the Upstate?
Absolutely number one favorite thing is go to Greenville Drive games. I love baseball and I’m a huge Red Sox fan, so one of the best things about moving back here was learning we have a Red Sox team. I go to games as much as I can, even with my busy show schedule. I also love to eat and we have lots of great affordable restaurants. I love that there is so much to choose from of my favorites: Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, Mexican, etc.
Thanks so much to Angela for being a part of the HUB-BUB Blog. Come be a part of her CD Release Show next Saturday and rock out with us!