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november 2013


OPENING OUR DOORS TO

East Nashville IN

NOVEMBER

VISIT FACEBOOK.COM/THEHOPSTOP FOR UPDATES # NAT I V ENAS HV I L L E

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OPEN AND ROCKING OUT 12TH AND PORTER CRAZY CHANGES AND RENOVATIONS

COME GET WILD

P.S. NASHVILLE NEEDS TO DANCE MORE # NAT I V ENAS HV I L L E

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THE NASHVILLE SYMPHONY PERFORMS

STRAVINSKY'S

FIREBIRD

NOVEMBER 7-9 Nashville Symphony Gilbert Varga, conductor Gabriela Montero, piano

Mendelssohn - Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture Schumann - Piano Concerto Stravinsky - Firebird Suite (1919 Version) Dvorák - Slavonic Dances, Nos. 1, 3, 5 & 8

BUY TICKETS 615.687.6400 NashvilleSymphony.org 4 ////////////////

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CLASSICAL SERIES


nashvillesymphony.org/soundcheck

FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS

Purchase a soundcheck season pass for just $25 and enjoy unlimited access to the Nashville Symphony’s 2013/14 Classical Series

nashvillesymphony.org/Wavelength

FOR Young Adults under 30

Purchase a Wavelength season pass for just $85 per person or $150 per couple, and enjoy unlimited access to the Nashville Symphony’s 2013/14 Classical Series

PRESENTED BY # NAT I V ENAS HV I L L E

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OPEN

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THE GOODS 13

BEER FROM HERE

Indulge in some ancient Lutheran traditions with The Black Abbey Brewing Company’s Belgian-style ale, “The Special”

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Bored with your beard (or stache)? TRIM’s Melanie Shelley has some tips to spruce it up

Nate Akey was embarking on a life he thought he wanted—until he realized his true passion was in his blood

Hey Good Lookin’

107

YOU OUGHTA KNOW

Lightning 100 thinks you oughta know about Blank Range

Praise the Roof

Building from his Roots

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A Hymn to the Human Condition

Gary McDowell loves football, beer, trucks, and fishing—and writing award-winning poetry

Developer Bill Barkley and architect Manuel Zeitlin had a real vision for The Gulch—and it all started with an ice cube

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Overheard @ NATIVE

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The poly-artist who thought he'd be dead by twenty-five tells his story of transformation

Cocktail of the Month

With No. 308’s The Great Pumpkin, you can have your dessert and drink it, too

Everyday real talk

OBSERVATORY

Nashville street style

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Animal of the Month

Dry turkey sandwich leftovers are so last Thanksgiving. Loveless Cafe has a recipe for leftover breakfast—Turkey & Sweet Potato Hash

FEATURES

MASTER PLATERS

This month, it sucks to be an Eastern Wild Turkey

The Imagination of Cory Basil

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Raising Snow

How does a songwriter get her songs into the right hands? For Angel Snow, it took a special intervention

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Putting Food on the Table

Brandon Frohne’s journey to hell and Mason’s

38 A Night at the Casino

Producer Eric Masse and singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter show us that when you surround yourself with good people, good things are bound to happen

TABLE OF CONTENTS NOVEMBER 2013

# NAT I V ENAS HV I L L E

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DEAR NATIVES,

I

t’s that time of the year again—where you sit around a table eating three days worth of calories, gossiping about the family members who aren’t in attendance, and thinking about what you’re thankful for. This November, we’re thankful for our best friends. Best friends are good for lots of things. They’ll always remember your birthday, and Facebook doesn’t have to remind them. They might be the only people in the world that’ll never judge you but will tell you when you’re acting like an idiot. And sometimes best friends know each other so well that they finish each other’s… sandwiches. They’re the people who will do absolutely nothing with you and absolutely everything with you.

They might even help you write your editor’s letter (thanks, Papa). In honor of this special bond, we have best friends and collaborators Eric Masse and Rayland Baxter on the cover. They show us that good things are bound to happen when you surround yourself with good people. But listen to us go on and on. We know you and your best friends share some pretty crazy moments, too. Show us how much you love them by tweeting your best prank videos or photos at their expense— #nativepranksgiving. Because they’ll never quit you. May the best prank win,

Sarah Sharp Editor-in-Chief

The Grand Prize? Thanksgiving dinner for two, see below.

(1) Growler

(2) Turkey Sandwiches

(1) Giant Gelato

(2) Spoons

president:

editor-in-chief:

creative director:

We spent a night at The Casino with Rayland Baxter and Eric Masse. We didn’t play poker or craps, though. We hung back in Eric’s home studio as the two shot the shit (and some whiskey) while photographer Andrea Behrends documented the cross-interview.

SARAH SHARP MACKENZIE MOORE

managing editor:  assistant editor:

ELISE LASKO JOSHUA SIRCHIO

art director: 

HANNAH LOVELL

sales director:

  KATRINA HARTWIG CAYLA MACKEY JOSHUA SIRCHIO COLIN PIGOTT JOE CLEMONS ALEX TAPPER

web editor:

TAYLOR RABOIN

account executives:

music supervisor:

film supervisor:

          writers: photographers:

JOE CLEMONS CASEY FULLER ALEXANDER SUPERTRAMP CHARLIE HICKERSON MATT COLANGELO LILY C. HANSEN OLIVE DEL SANGRO MELANIE SHELLEY WELLS ADAMS ANDREA BEHRENDS JOSH FORD DANIELLE ATKINS TARA YOUNG EMILY HALL QUINN BALLARD KATE CAUTHEN JOHN SCARPATI REBECCA ADLER ROTENBERG ELI MCFADDEN REX RUNYEON

design intern:

SETH HAMMOCK

photo interns:

KEVIN PRESLEY KRYSTAL THOMPSON

pr interns:

DARRON HARRIS ALLISON LANCASTER CATHERINE PRATER

business management intern:

JENNIFER M. KIM

BEHIND THE COVER:

ANGELIQUE PITTMAN JON PITTMAN

publisher:   

brand director:

brand manager:

DAVE PITTMAN

founders:

founding team:

CAYLA MACKEY ANGELIQUE PITTMAN JON PITTMAN DAVE PITTMAN CAYLA MACKEY

MACKENZIE MOORE JOSHUA SIRCHIO TAYLOR RABOIN

want to work for us? contact:

WORK@NATIVE.IS SALES@NATIVE.IS for all other enquiries: HELLO@NATIVE.IS to advertise, contact:

# NAT I V ENAS HV I L L E

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BLACK ABBEY BREWING COMPANY

THE SPECIAL

WRITTEN BY

ALEXANDER SUPERTRAMP Are you ready for a quick history lesson? Don’t worry… it involves beer. In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther reportedly said, “Whoever drinks beer is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long does not sin; whoever does not sin enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!” Let’s look at how the law studentturned-monk derived this divine maxim. While on the lam from the Roman Catholic Church, Luther married his wife, Katharina von Bora, and received a wedding present from John the Steadfast. It was the Black Cloister, a monastery and its surrounding

grounds. To support her family, von Bora tradition. The Black Abbey Katharina brewed what came to be Brewing Company does more than pay locally famous beer from these grounds. homage to Lutherhaus; the taproom, Known by his pupils for his called Fellowship Hall, encourages the approachability and mealtime same camaraderie and conversation conversation (we’re guessing the ale over ales at long wooden tables. If you’re looking for an alternative had something to do with that), Luther formed the foundation for a new kind religious experience, taste Black Abbey’s of abbey built on a strong community first offering: a monastic ale christened “The Special.” The traditional Belgianmindset—and beer. Fast-forward a few centuries and style brew pairs nicely with strong we find John Owen and Carl Meier cheeses, rich meats, and philosophical illuminating Nashville’s congregation conversation. To indulge in Luther’s of beer enthusiasts with a new tradition, visit the brewery at 2952 Sidco brotherhood of beers inspired by the Drive in Berry Hill.

# NAT I V ENAS # NAT I V ENAS HV HV I L LIEL L E ////// / / / / / / / / / / / / /1/ 3 1 3


PRAISE THE ROOF

LIGHTING AN ICE CUBE

by charlie hickerson | photo by josh ford

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If you're a recent transplant chasing the hip Pied Piper’s call (i.e. GQ’s “Nowville” article), then you may not realize that The Gulch wasn’t always the mecca of fine dining and spin class that it is today. Actually, the sixty-acre area was once the last place that trendy and young urban professionals would go for an afternoon of yoga, pinot noir, and general revelry. But that changed in 2000. Renowned local developer Bill Barkley and architect Manuel Zeitlin—the mastermind behind Zeitlin Architects (the firm that designed Bongo Java, The Catbird Seat, and Cummins Station)—took to the corner of 12th and Demonbreun and scoped out what is now the Bohan Advertising building. “The vision of The Gulch was created on that rooftop,” recalls Manuel. “Bill took me to the rooftop and said, ‘Look down the street, and tell me what you see.’ I saw this big warehouse building with a concrete frame and bricked-in fill, and I replied, ‘I could see that lighting up like an ice cube at night.’” While the foundation of the building was solid, it would still take considerable work to transform the former Richards Records Storage building into a shining “ice cube.” So, the duo stripped the brick frame to make way for the massive windows seen today, added two floors to the north side, and hired Hawkins Partners Inc. to build circular concrete fixtures around the perimeter. The resulting structure, with its exposed conduits, high ceilings, and naked concrete, is an honest representation of The Gulch’s industrial past and cultured future. As Manuel explains, “We wanted to enhance what was there instead of trying to hide it. We wanted to show that these kind of places could be great to work in.” Considering the building now hosts one of the South’s most innovative ad agencies, it’s safe to say Manuel and Bill got their point across.

“WE WANTED TO ENHANCE WHAT WAS THERE INSTEAD OF TRYING TO HIDE IT.”

2 for 1 MONDAYS $1 off on wells & drafts

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WHEN NO. 308’S CREATORS BEN AND ALEXIS FIRST CRAFTED THEIR NOVEMBER COCKTAIL, THEY ENVISIONED PUMPKIN PIE. So they used spiced rum, which

brings the distinctive warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg, the richness of vanilla, and the sweetness of burnt toffee. Cream then adds thickness to accompany the bold flavor. And as if that doesn’t already sound great enough, the salt is an active bonding agent that prevents dehydration (read: no hangovers—just turkey dreams). Dress it up with a bit of cinnamon, and you’ll be wondering if all food could taste this good in liquid form.

½ oz.

John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum

1½ oz.

spiced rum

½ oz.

fresh lime juice

½ oz.

simple syrup

1 tbsp.

pumpkin pie filling

¼ oz.

cream

dash of salt garnished cinnamon

F Shake all ingredients over ice in a strainer. Pour into a coupe glass. F Garnish with cinnamon. -Ben Clemons and Alexis Soler, No. 308

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IVE H VIL LE ##N NATATIVE NN ASAS H VILLE

photo by danielle atkins


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MASTER PLATERS

TURKEY & SWEET POTATO HASH Thanksgiving is good for two things— realizing what we’re grateful for (even if it wears off with the brandy) and eating. And damn, do we eat. Our plates overflow with stuffing, casserole, and turkey legs, and by the end of it, we’ve unbuttoned our pants in front of our families. But even if Uncle Bob can put down candied sweet potatoes like it’s his job, there will still be leftovers. Instead of opting for the go-to dry turkey sandwich the next day, try a hash using everything that’s crammed in your fridge. The only rule: keep your ratio of meats to sides 1:1, and you’ll have a hearty hash you can serve with fried eggs for your expanded waistline.

DIRECTIONS:

RECIPE BROUGHT TO YOU BY JESSE GOLDSTEIN OF THE LOVELESS CAFE

THE GOODS: 2 large stalks

celery, diced fine (1 cup)

1 large

onion, diced fine (1 ½ cups)

4 sprigs

fresh sage, chopped

4 tbsp.

butter or bacon grease

4 cups

leftover sweet potatoes

4 cups

leftover turkey, chopped

photo by tara young of the loveless cafe

FIn a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and sauté celery and onions until they begin to brown (if using dried rubbed sage, add it to the butter prior to adding the veggies). Add sweet potatoes, turkey, and fresh sage and sauté until everything is nice and browned. Remove from heat and serve with fried eggs. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serves 6-8. *Feel free to add a splash of water or stock should your hash look too dry. And if your sweet potatoes are soft or mashed, save them for the very last step and stir in until heated through before removing from the stove.

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PUTTING FOOD ON THE TABLE Brandon Frohne’s journey to hell and Mason’s By Matt Colangelo | Photography by Emily Hall

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Brandon Frohne makes a good first impression. He’s twenty-seven and the head chef at Mason’s, the new restaurant inside the freshly renovated Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. He’s seen every indie cooking documentary under the sun and can remember each of them by heart (e.g. Jiro Dreams of Sushi). He can explain the science behind transglutaminase (meat glue) and how he’s used it to wrap halibut cheek in chicken skin. He says “super progressive modernist cuisine” and “f*ck” in the same sentence, without blinking an eye. Five minutes after meeting him, you think you’re talking to an approachable Southern nephew of Marco Pierre White, the original badass, cigarette-smoking British celebrity chef—the guy Anthony Bourdain wanted to be in Kitchen Confidential. When asked about his culinary inspiration, it’s no surprise that he names one of the most radical and misunderstood chefs of our time, Paul Liebrandt. Equally revered as he is ridiculed, Liebrandt is basically a whinier, less successful version of Marco Pierre White. But that’s not what Brandon finds inspiring about him. “Like me, he didn’t have much of a family. He put all his energy into cooking because that’s what he loved to do.” As he says this, his eyes relax and his voice softens. He reaches

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Pictured: Bone Marrow and Beef Cheek Confit

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BRANDON FROHNE: Follow on Twitter @BrandonFrohne & Instagram @ChefFrohne native.is/brandon-frohne

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back into his past and offers a glimpse of why he got into this profession: he didn’t have much of a family. I hang on to these words as he takes me into the kitchen and shows off his favorite cooking tools. The kitchen at Mason’s is a workshop. Aesthetically, it’s light-years behind the Michelin three-star kitchens we’re used to seeing in movies like Ratatouille and A Matter of Taste. There are no copper pots dangling from the ceiling, no pristine white tiles on the floor. There isn’t a hanging garden of freshly picked herbs. Functionally, though, it’s right there with the best. Tucked away in the back, Brandon has some of the most advanced cooking tools in the business: a $20,000 combo convection-steam oven you can program recipes into, an anti-griddle that can chill to negative-seventy degrees, a sous-vide cooker that he’s been using to “flash pickle” veggies all summer. His descriptions of what these tools can do make you want to go to Williams-Sonoma and throw away your life savings. Have you ever tried sousvide Fried Chicken Galantine? Unless you’ve eaten it at Mason’s, probably not. Brandon tells me how it’s prepared: “You gotta grind up all the chicken thighs, chicken breasts, spices. Then purée it to get an even better texture.” He speaks about fancy foods and preparations with a likeable colloquialism. His prepositions and contractions make these cooking techniques sound simpler than they actually are, like you could do

them yourself. “And then we have to stuff it into casings.” Okay, like a sausage, I could probably do that. “And then we have to sous-vide it.” Right, with this sous-vide cooker here. “And then we have to make sure it’s perfectly symmetrical.” That’s where my unfounded confidence ends and my appreciation begins. Even if I got the meat-spice mixture right and learned how to fill the casings and turn on the sous-vide cooker, my imaginary Fried Chicken Galantine would not turn out perfectly symmetrical. It would look like Owen Wilson’s nose after a fistfight. Though he claims he’s not a modernist chef, obsessed with beautiful foams and gelées, Brandon hasn’t adopted a romantic cooking philosophy— he doesn’t want ingredients to have to speak for themselves. He’s still more Wylie Dufresne than Mario Batali. His recipes have multiple components and steps that are designed to add flavors to his ingredients, not bring out existing ones. Take bone marrow, for example: “So the bone marrow— we soak it overnight. Then we change the water and re-soak it. Then you gotta roast ’em. Then we have a beef cheek confit. We take beef cheek and braise those f*ckers for like, twelve hours.” I can tell he’s just getting started by how fast he’s talking. “Beef cheek confit goes on top. Then we have these little baby quail eggs that we fry sunny-side. It’s so intricate, hard not to break the yolks on them.” Those are the three big ingredients: marrow, beef

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Pictured: NY Strip Steak

cheek, and eggs. “Then we do this Perigourdine sauce made with truffles and veal stock that goes on it. And then a little bit of gremolata, lemon zest, parsley, garlic.” Whereas Batali would roast the marrow with some olive oil and parsley, Brandon adds big, heavy flavors: confited beef, truffle, and quail egg. Balancing these flavors the way Brandon does is a culinary circus act. You don’t learn how to cook with these ingredients by yourself. You need a Yoda—a dedicated teacher, someone to put these ingredients in front of you and teach you how to combine and transform them. Brandon’s mentor was a chef named Dave Miller, whom he met when he was seventeen years old, shortly after moving to St. Petersburg, Florida, to live with his grandmother. “I got my first apprenticeship at a restaurant called Six Tables. Dave was twenty-three years old and was the top chef in Florida. I just needed a job to build my life back together.” Every week, Chef Miller would test Brandon on sauces, fabrications, and knife cuts. “Every Friday and Saturday, I’d take a test.” It was a weekly routine that Brandon craved, a stabil-

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ity that he needed to turn his life around. This lasted for two years, before Chef Miller took a job in the Bahamas and Brandon returned to Tennessee. We move across the lobby to the restaurant bar, and Brandon begins to elaborate on his childhood in Tennessee, before cooking and Chef Miller saved him. The words and images he uses catch the bartender and me by surprise. “My childhood was spent addicted to drugs, incarcerated, in and out of juvenile detention all the time. I was a hellion.” The more he recalls, the more words he utters, the more tragic his upbringing becomes. He takes me back to the beginning. He was born in Florida in 1986, and moved to Sevierville, Tennessee, with his mother and siblings in 1989—to escape a physically abusive father. Most people don’t remember life before the age of three, but Brandon carries the scars with him. “While she was pregnant with me, he abused her, which caused my right hand to be deformed.” Two years later, in 1991, Brandon witnessed his mother’s new boyfriend assaulting her. “I used little toy airplanes to hit him to try to get him to stop beating her.” He was four years old. After playing by the rules in middle school (he was a straight-A student), in high school, Brandon turned into a delinquent. In the space of a year, he had his first beer, his first joint, and starting hanging out with gang members. Then he drove without a license, robbed a gas station, and eventually got kicked out of school. These are all the charges he picked up in the year 2000, when he was fourteen: truancy, unruly, trespassing, violation of

curfew, violation of probation, assault. These charges got him placed on house arrest with an ankle bracelet. In email correspondence after our interviews, Brandon goes into more detail about his past. He describes a scheme that he and his friends hatched to steal things from their local Walmart: “One of us would go in and buy a DVD player and take it out to the car. Then we would take that receipt back into Walmart where there were no cameras and shake hands with someone and hand the receipt off. That person would then go get the same DVD player and walk out as if they purchased it.” They called this scheme “The Receipt.” It worked like a charm— they never got busted. The American Dream rarely allows for this sort of delinquency. People who don’t follow the rules at an early age don’t get to enjoy the benefits of upward mobility. They don’t go to college. They don’t get good jobs with corporate ladders and yearly promotions. They might get a second chance along the way, but not a third and a fourth. That’s what makes Brandon Frohne’s success so rare. After a childhood of bad fortune and bad decisions, he circumvented the system. He pursued a profession (cooking) and a career path (apprenticeship) that are from the Old World. Cooking has been in the Frohne family for generations—his ancestors owned restaurants in Germany and Switzerland. And apprenticeship was the only option available to him after high school. Through old-fashioned pluck and luck, he got to where he is today, running a top kitchen at one of the most prestigious corporate hotel chains in America.

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BALANCING THESE FLAVORS THE WAY BRANDON DOES IS A CULINARY CIRCUS ACT.

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Brandon has come full circle. He didn’t go to college or culinary school, but he’s ahead of his peers who have. What he would’ve learned in culinary school he has learned at numerous jobs over the past ten years, working with his hands, making real food for real customers. After apprenticing with Chef Miller in Florida, Brandon worked at Burger King, Red Lobster, moved to Ohio, moved back to Nashville, landed a job at Bluegrass Yacht & Country Club as a line cook, and then found a sous-chef position at Nick & Rudy’s Steakhouse. When he was twenty-two, Brandon got his first title as head chef at Park Manor, an upscale Belle Meade retirement home. There, he soon became the Food Services Director and simultaneously started cooking with local food maven and caterer Martha Stamps. As his work life accelerated forward, though, Brandon’s personal life hit a few speed bumps. In between his job at the Bluegrass Yacht & Country Club and Nick & Rudy’s Steakhouse, he and his girlfriend had a baby boy named Nolen. Brandon was just nineteen and only two years into his cooking career. Four years later, after landing the job at Park Manor, he and his girlfriend separated. She took Nolen away to live with her family in Ohio, sending Brandon into an emotional tailspin. Despite his steady progress in the culinary world, Brandon began suffering from depression. He wasn’t able to see Nolen for several months. It wasn’t until 2010 that life and work started moving in the same direction. That year, he fell in love with a girl named Lessie (who worked in the catering business) and got married. They welcomed baby Greyson into the family a year later—the same year Brandon began making a name for himself at Nashville cooking challenges. At Savor Nashville 2011, he picked up a first place People’s Choice Award and a second place Judge’s Choice Award with a prototypical elevated Southern dish: smoked shrimp with gouda grits and pickled peaches.

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After a brief foray in the Atlanta food scene (two head chef jobs in one year), Brandon and Lessie decided to return to Nashville and put down roots. He took another retirement home position, started an underground pop-up dinner club called Forage South, and continued competing in local cooking competitions. Success followed close behind him. In one weekend last summer, he took home second place at the International Biscuit Festival and a Fan’s Choice Award at Savor Nashville. These performances earned him an invite to the 2012 World Chef Challenge in Las Vegas, where he reached the semi-finals, and the Mason’s opportunity came shortly after that. The interview process was basically another chef challenge: an all-in, eight-course tasting dinner for the Loews corporate team. He passed with flying colors and began curating the Mason’s menu. What Brandon has created at Mason’s

isn’t a hotel restaurant, it’s a canvas for his elevated Southern cuisine. There are no oversized Caesar salads or chicken clubs, and Brandon remains adamant about this: “I don’t want to put a chicken club on the menu.” The closest items they have are the Heirloom Tomato and Okra Panzanella (essentially an okra, tomato, and crouton salad) and a TangleWood Farms chicken panini. That’s as hotel-accessible as he’s willing to do— Brandon isn’t catering to hotel guests; he wants hotel guests to come to him. He’s building a restaurant that people want to go visit, not a restaurant that people go to when they visit. And it’s working. The Mason’s launch has not only been successful financially, it has driven Brandon higher up the food chain. In early October, the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel announced that he’d been invited to cook Thanksgiving Dinner at the James Beard House in New York—the organi-

flour. sugar. eggs.

1201 5th ave n 615 823 3002 floursugareggs.net

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zation that doles out annual awards to the country’s most talented chefs. This invitation is a formal recognition of his talent and an indication that he may be in the running for a James Beard “Best Chef” nomination. When I spoke to him this summer, Brandon mentioned the Beard invite and set his sights on a higher target: “What I’m striving for is to get a James Beard award—the Rising Star Under 30.” This nomination would add another chapter to his modern rags-to-riches story. But more importantly, it would demonstrate that a combination of hard work, passion, and persistence can still take you anywhere. But it all rides on his performance at the Thanksgiving dinner. If he can execute on the big stage, he’ll be closer to his goal of receiving an award. Despite the pressure, he’s prepared an ambitious and technical menu, a perfect display of his elevated Southern cuisine. It begins


with three passed hors d’oeuvres: deviled eggs with pork belly marmalade and mustard seed caviar; sweet potato biscuits loaded with German-style prosciutto with blackberry mostarda; and Carolina rice arancini with pickled shrimp, romesco, and bottarga. Those are followed by a five-course tasting menu: butternut squash with foie-gras marshmallow and peanut butter espuma; smoked squab with whipped carrots, German eickhorn, and salt-roasted beet; brussel sprouts and beef cheek with hominy and maple-kumquat gastrique; heritage turkey with Backerei bread and Tennessee truffle; and finally, Olive & Sinclair white chocolate-pumpkin cremeux with vanilla-chestnut beignets and cranberry conserva. The James Beard menu has gone through several drafts and edits. He showed me an early version this summer, when he invited me over to celebrate his twenty-seventh birthday with his eight-month-pregnant wife Lessie and son Greyson. The three of

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© 2013 Regions Bank. All loans and lines subject to credit approval. # NAT I V ENAS HV I L L E

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them (now four with Violet) live in a two-story home in Nashboro Village, down by Percy Priest Lake. It has all the fixings Brandon didn’t enjoy when he grew up: stable parents, a front and backyard, an heirloom herb garden. As we chat over homemade ribs and chive biscuits, Brandon says the most earnest thing I’ve heard him say all week: “Everything I do now is for them. I have personal goals in the food world. I want to keep the family legacy alive. But I really want to bust my ass to create some opportunity for them.” His family is his motivation. In an industry popularized by egotistical, self-centered chefs, Brandon is like a reformed saint. As Lessie, Brandon, and I talk about local produce, two-year-old Greyson exhibits some of the hellion genes that run in the Frohne family. One second he’s jumping on the couch, the next he’s climbing on the kitchen counter. He’s a three-foot-tall, forty-pound spider monkey. “Catch, catch.” He wants his dad to catch him as he jumps off the counter. “Daddy, catch.” He doesn’t stop saying this until Brandon lets him jump and catches him, which he does, very carefully (the counter’s four-feet high). As he schlepps his son back to the table, he says what everyone in the room is thinking, “Man, this kid’s going to be a stunt car driver.” Watching Greyson tool around the house is like watching a young Brandon, before the drugs and cooking and reformation, before Chef Miller taught him fabrications and Park Manor hired him to be their head chef. Greyson is innocent. He hasn’t heard of transglutaminase. He doesn’t know the difference between heirloom tomatoes and regular tomatoes. But he has energy, a sense of adventure, and the opportunity to do whatever he wants in life. And that’s what Brandon has been working to put on the table.

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A NIGHT AT THE CASINO WITH ERIC MASSE AND RAYLAND BAXTER 38 / / / / / / / / / / / / / ///

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BY SARAH SHARP | PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREA BEHRENDS # NAT I V ENAS HV I L L E

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For years, the music industry has operated like a machine, where the

breadwinners call the shots, where artists and producers are mere slaves to the system, where success isn’t measured by raw talent or the quality of one’s songwriting, but by album sales. Piracy and internet streaming have forced the industry to determine new metrics for success. But in Nashville, we’ve found that the ones who worked their asses off were the ones who would come out on top, eventually. Singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter and producer Eric Masse are testaments to this, that good things happen when you surround yourself with good people. They’re finding that you don’t need the machine to do what you want, and you can pave your own way if you want it badly enough. We’re sitting with Rayland and Eric at the producer’s East Nashville home studio, The Casino. Here and elsewhere over the past seven years, Eric Masse has recorded and produced a diverse collection of Nashville artists such as Mikky Ekko, Caitlin Rose, Brothers Osborne, Dierks Bentley, as well as Rayland’s 2012 debut, feathers & fishHooks, and his newest EP, Ashkelon. Tonight, they bust out the whiskey after a long day of recording thirteen guitar and vocal tracks for Rayland’s new record that’s planned to release in early 2014. It’s here in this guest houseturned-recording studio that we get to watch two

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of Nashville’s most prolific dudes in music shoot the shit. ***** Rayland: Hey, what you got there? [motions towards Eric’s cup] Eric: Cup of water. R: You got any whiskey? E: Did you say, “‘Bring the weed?’” R: Bring me a shot of whiskey. E: We’re gonna have to get some more. R: We rollin’? E: We’re rollin’. You know, Ray, one of the first things I remembered about you is that you were tall and lanky, and you wore that red hat. I used to call you Steve Zissou. Do you remember that? R: Oh yeah, I still have it. It’s my winter toboggan. I remember you as a loud, baseball-lovin’ asshole. And you did not have a beard. ***** E: I read all sorts of stuff about you. I hear stories of you growing up in Maryland, in Bon Aqua and other places. I want the actual story. R: I was born in Bon Aqua, Tennessee, moved to Old Leipers Fork Road in what is now a chocolate shop. Later, we moved to Old Hickory, and my parents got divorced when I was three. My dad was always on the road touring—this was the ’80s—and at the time, he was playing with


Steve Earle. We lived in this little blue house right next to where we’d go fishin’. Then we moved to Goodlettsville, divided by the beautiful Rivergate Mall and a huge Baptist Church. In middle school, we moved to Maryland. Most of high school I went to boarding school. I went to college in Baltimore, then moved to Colorado after not graduatin’ and peacin’ out. I came back to Nashville five years ago. ***** E: Maybe this is a well-known fact, but while you were in college, you were an athlete. R: Before that, too, and still am. Soccer and lacrosse in high school. Lacrosse in college. E: But you were playing music at the time. R: My last year of college, I fronted a Tom Petty cover band called Ralph and the Movers. We worked for a moving company. There was this guy who played bass that only had three fingers. His name was Jon, or Don, or Ron…. E: You don’t remember your three-fingered bass player’s name! [throws hands up] He was in your band! So when did you realize that music was your thing? R: When I was twenty-four, I got a guitar tech

job with a band my dad was touring with in Europe. When we finished, my dad and I visited his best friend, who lived in Israel. I only planned to stay for two weeks, then it turned into six months. My dad’s friend is just a beautiful human, an angelic being. I went to town on books and docs about musicians and songwriters. He had a studio and this big ol’ library of music. My dad left after two weeks, but said I could stay. [leans back in his chair] That’s when I really started writing, when it all came to a head. I came back with a bunch of songs, and that’s when I met you. And my newest EP, Ashkelon, was written about that time. ***** E: So your dad is the great pedal steel player, Bucky Baxter. Did he encourage you to play music? R: I remember I got kicked out of college for a year, and I moved in with my dad in Nashville. He had a studio tucked into the woods, and one day I was walking through the forest, whistling to The Polyphonic Spree on my headphones. [starts whistling] When I came back, he said, “Man, Ray… you should write

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RAYLAND BAXTER: raylandbaxter.com Follow on Twitter & Instagram @rayLandishere

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songs.” Then as a kid, I remember tapping along to this song, [plays his thighs like drums] and he said, “Damn, Ray… you got rhythm.” Your dad tells you that you got something…you believe him. [lightly strums the guitar] E: What types of things have you learned from him as a musician? R: He’s very in-tune with the feel of a song. I’ve seen how he’s played the pedal steel; I’ve heard these melodies all my life, and I think it comes out in my songwriting. The analogy that I use is when a bowling ball goes down a lane, the bumpers keep the ball from going into the gutter. [puts his arms out like bumpers] Even now, he’ll give me criticism. Like in the beginning, he would say, “Don’t write so many songs in the minor key,” and he always tells me to stand up when I play, but I don’t own guitar straps. He taught me the importance of connecting with the audience, looking them in the eyes. ***** R: What musical influence did you have growing up? E: Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, my mom was what I call a recreational singer. Every song she heard, she would make an opera song. [begins to sing “Hey Jude” opera-style, before trailing off] Then, I went to a Catholic elementary school, and we would sing with our principal. He has an interesting story…. He got stabbed in the neck like forty miles away from his house. And he was not on a trip…. What was he doing? R: And that’s why you went to music school? [furrows his brow with a slight turn of the head] E: No. I didn’t grow up with a family member that was a professional musician. But I did grow up with a dad who loves all R&B music—the best and the worst. He listened to Marvin Gaye and The Four Tops. But he also listened to Silk and Guy—those are like the worst bands. He loved it. I mean, my dad was physically bummed when Luther Vandross died. ***** R: Then you moved to Colorado? E: Moved to Breckenridge when I was

nineteen till twenty-two to play hippie music and be a bum. I was the lead singer and guitarist in this jam band called The High Country All Stars, THC All Stars for short. [laughs] I was loving the mountain lifestyle way too hard. Made a lot of bad decisions. Then I manned up and decided to go to Boston for Berklee College of Music. R: What was the application process like? E: I had to audition. I literally went in there and played the solo from “Lizards” by Phish. [mimics the solo] They were like, “Good enough.” Got in. But I was going there for recording. R: What can you say about your experience there? E: I learned a lot and loved Boston. The real benefit was befriending these other great musicians and collaborators like Charlie Worsham, Kyle Ryan, Adam Ollendorff, and Madi Diaz. Then we all came to Nashville, and I started working at Blackbird Studio. But when I met you, I was at Idiot Dog Studio. R: Then you built this studio. Why do you call it The Casino? E: Because the music industry is a gamble. R: Do you actually gamble? E: I play cards and craps, but that’s not the motivation behind the name. ***** R: What types of things do you look for in artists? E: When I look for an artist, something has to speak to me about them. I just want the music to move me, period. R: Would you ever turn someone down? E: I wouldn’t. There are some projects I probably wouldn’t bring as much to the table as opposed to others. I’ve recorded guys like Charlie Worsham who are signed pop-country artists, then I did your album and worked on Mikky Ekko’s. You just have to be real, like if you play punk music and you can play it well, I’m probably gonna dig your album. R: If there was one band you could record that you haven’t already, who

“I THINK THEY’RE THE BEST ROCK AND ROLL BAND IN THE WORLD. I WOULD KILL YOU TO RECORD THEM.” -ERIC would it be? E: Simple question, simple answer: Delta Spirit. I think they’re the best rock and roll band in the world. I would kill you to record them. [points at Rayland] ***** R: What’s a new skill you’d like to learn? E: I grew up doing this on the bubble between the digital and analog recording world. So I’d like to go back and be dirt nasty at analog tape. I’ve mixed and done delay loops with tape. What I don’t do is track to two-inch tape and edit on the master reel. I’d like to add that to my skill set. R: What are you working on these days? E: Just got done recording Robert Ellis’ third record that’s coming out next year,

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ERIC MASSE: ericmassenashville.com Follow on Twitter @eric_masse & Instagram @hello_i_eric native.is/masse-baxter

FOND OBJECT: fondobjectrecords.com Follow on Twitter and Instagram @FondObject native.is/fond-object 44 / / / / / / / / / / / / / ///

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called The Lights from the Chemical Plant. I think it’s gonna be the best record that’s come out of The Casino. I did it with Jacquire King, who’s worked with Norah Jones, Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, among others. I’m finishing up Escondido’s second record. Pretty stoked about finishing up your Ashkelon EP—I think it’s a good bridge of what we’re about to do and what we’ve already done. [grabs the bottle and refills his cup, passes it to Rayland] R: I have a feeling it’s going to open up a f*ckin’ land of things. [takes a sip straight from the bottle] E: When he’s in town, I’ve been working on Mikky Ekko’s record, which is gonna be legendary for Nashville. Caitlin Rose’s record came out several months ago, which I did with Jordan Lehning (Kenny Rogers, Sylvia Yacoub) and Skylar Wilson (Jordie Lane, Justin Townes Earle) who are phenomenal Nashville talents. Every minute of it was tracked here. R: How much weight do you have when it comes to changing the way an artist sounds?

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E: Excellent question. There are producers who hang back, and others change everything. I’m somewhere in the middle. Those who are more handson aren’t necessarily bringing more to the table. The best thing about making records is figuring out the best way for an artist or band’s vision to become a tangible reality. Sometimes that takes fineness; sometimes that takes a very involved, firm hand; and sometimes it takes getting the f*ck out of the way. One of the hardest and easiest things to do is put the right people in a room together. It’s you doing a lot without actually having to do much. R: It’s like you’re a manager of a baseball team. [adjusts his hat] E: Time is also another huge factor. With you and me, we hash out the ideas for songs in three days. When you track a record with me, you book it for an entire month. When I’m pressed for time, like a whole record in one day, I can’t say, “What if you made this song slower? And the beat was completely different, and instead of going to the G chord [motions a riff], go to this chord and hang until the verse.” That eats up three-quarters of a day. I value people who are willing to work and take the time to make it right. Have the patience, then work your ass off. R: What’s the point of rushing? E: There are lots of bands that develop some hype, and they want to capitalize on that. Then, they’re guys like you, who in three years will play hundreds of shows and will force people to listen. There’s a huge difference.

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***** R: Alright, so who are your favorite Nashville bands? E: You, Caitlin Rose, Robert Ellis—I think he’s gonna take over a sector of the Americana world. Kacey Musgraves and Charlie Worsham are doing really cool country stuff that makes you want to give country a second chance, and Mikky Ekko is huge for Nashville. He is one of my favorite acts in the world and just happens to be from Nashville. Here’s someone that I’m dying to work with: Andrew Combs. What about you? R: Clear Plastic Masks, Odessa Rose, Fly Golden Eagle, Kacey Musgraves, Charlie Worsham, The Kingston Springs. “LOOK AT ALL MY SHIT!” [Rayland makes the first of many references to the catch phrase of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers] E: What are you saying? Oh… Spring

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Breakers. R: Spring Break culture is so dark to me: tits, doing coke off girls, hangin’ out with gangsters, getting shitfaced— I’ve been there. Wake up hungover and you’re trying to find yourself. You’re twenty-one. Maybe you went to church or came from a trailer park or your dad was a dentist…. E: No, your dad was a musician. R: It’s interesting to see people experience something for the first time, like throwing a bunch of rats into a barrel and watching them eat each other. I had to stop the movie when they went to jail. It reminded me of spending four days in jail. Weren’t you in there for forty days? E: Actually, it was seventy-five. In Michigan, when you return an empty soda can, you get ten cents for it. My friends and I stole 42,000 from this golf course I was working at. Why were you

“...AND THE CHARGES JUST GOT CLEARED. I CAN ENTER CANADA AGAIN.” -RAYLAND


in jail? R: It was my sophomore year of college. My friends and I got in a fight with these dudes [straightens posture], and I ended up pushing this guy into a tree. He cut his forehead, the cops came, and he pressed charges. I got kicked out of school for a year, and the charges just got cleared. I can enter Canada again. ***** E: What’s the difference between feathers & fishHooks and where you are now? R: The first time you walk through a jungle, you take one way; the second time through, you’re gonna avoid the sinking sand pit. That’s where I am now. Before, I had very little experience in the studio. With feathers & fishHooks, we were in the studio for at least two months, learning how to make a song. With Ashkelon, we rehearsed the songs, and I recorded it with a group of guys I’ve been playing with for the past year. We just did it in one day, which is the opposite approach. It’s all live with the band: three songs with the band, two songs with the girls—Odessa and violin players. We did a live version of “The Mtn Song” and “Bad Things” (which had never been recorded). [strums guitar sitting upright in his lap] E: Now we’re planning your second record. What’s gonna be different about this one? R: I love the idea of a whole entire package of an album. It’s gonna be dynamic, the songs are written, everything else will come together. I want it to show raw emotion, a psychotic nature. Maybe it will be out early next year. I released feathers & fishHooks last August 28; Ashkelon August 20 of this year. If I can do one release every year, I’d be fine with that. This one will have to be earlier than summer, though. E: Speaking of summer, this one has been a godsend. I believe in global warming, but I don’t think it’s happening so fast that we’re three years away from boiling an egg on the sidewalk. I just think it’s all a cycle. Last year, we were breaking all these heat records—it’s always fifty or 100 years when the records are set. Big fan of the Farmers’ Almanac. I do think it’s a very real thing—it’s insane

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how we’ve f*cked the planet up. R: What’s another thing people wouldn’t know about you? E: I’m a huge fan of Survivor and all reality TV. Big fan of Bravo. Another thing people don’t know about me is that I’m literally planning for social collapse. I got bug out bags. R: What’s a bug out bag? E: It’s a bag you fill with all sorts of shit. R: What’s in your bug out bag right now? E: Tools to make a fire, purifying pills, lighters, simple things. It doesn’t have to be archaic. R: When you say social collapse, what do you expect to happen? E: For money and infrastructure and the exponential growth in population to eventually catch up to the human race. All hell will break loose. It might not happen for 200 years. But with all the technology, I could be alive in 200 years. [laughs] ***** R: What’s your secret to staying happy? [puts mouth right up to the microphone] E: We are fortunate to do what we love. What if we were bagging groceries? Not to knock anybody else, but most people bagging groceries probably don’t love their job. R: If you weren’t doing this producer thing, what would you do? [crosses one leg over the other] E: Oh, I know exactly what I’d do—charter fishing trips. I’m a big fisherman. If I couldn’t fish, I don’t know what the f*ck I’d do. R: I would be making iPhone apps. [distracted by phone] E: You know what? I got one for you. Why do you capitalize your Ls? R: I can’t tell you. [whispers into the microphone] E: F*ck off. R: It was passed down from my grandfather. He who carries the strong L, the right angle to life, is he who will succeed. So I carry the right angle through life. [makes an L with his arms] Now, that could be the truth or I could be manipulating the truth. E: F*ck off. Alright, what’s your spirit animal? Mine is a yellowfin tuna, because it has to move to stay alive, just like me. [moves from side to side in his seat] R: I don’t know what mine is….

E: It’s clearly some kind of bird. R: Maybe one of those birds on Planet Earth that they watch for five months. E: Yeah, what’s your spirit animal? A bird that you have to watch for five months. [mocking Rayland] What can you not get enough of? R: Cigarettes, alcohol, love, seaweed chips, and I smoke hash oil like it’s my job. Every time I get a good hit of hash, I sneeze. E: Marijuana. Six times during this interview. And my fiancé, Sarah. R: “LOOK AT ALL MY SHIT!” [takes a sip of whiskey] E: Here’s my closing statement. Turn up the snare a lil’ bit. One of the best things about Nashville—this is real talk—is all the people, all the tight-knit relationships. People don’t need the machine to tell them what to do anymore. We can do whatever the f*ck we want. We can sit around and drink whiskey around a thousand-dollar microphone and talk about spirit animals because we want to. [raises his glass] R: Thas wassup, yellowfin tuna. [raises his glass]


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Building From His Roots

Nate Akey was embarking on a life he thought he wanted— until he realized his true passion was in his blood By Elise Lasko | Photography by Quinn Ballard

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Nate at Black Abbey Brewing Co.

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I can sense something has changed since stepping inside Fort Houston. Even with music playing through speakers in each room and intermittent tapping of hammers, there exists an unexpected calm. Nate Akey’s back is towards me with his head cocked to one side. He’s leaning over his four-by-eight-foot work table inspecting a slab of aged oak, his position reminding me of a pool player who’s still just before the kill shot. Bent at the torso with his arms extended in front of him, he kickstands his right leg so that he can be at eye level with the wood. I greet the back of his side mesh cap before he stands up and turns around. His eyes are a crystalline blue that are both modest and intense, and his facial hair gra-

dates from yellow-blonde under his nose to bleach-white at the edge of his jaw line. After showing me bar stools and table tops he’s been working on, he points to the first 5 String Furniture branding, a sign painted by his wife, Ali, that christened his move into Fort Houston this past February. The rim of an abstract banjo with its five strings are painted on a simple slab of wood hanging on his shelf space. Explaining the symbolism of the banjo, Nate begins, “When I was about twelve, all of my cousins were learning how to play guitar when we were at our grandmother’s house, but being a little guy,” gesturing at his petite frame, “I couldn’t fret the damn thing since my hands were too small.” Sensing her grandson’s discouragement, Nate’s grandmother took him to a nearby music store in their hometown, Antioch, where a

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5 STRING FURNITURE: fivestringfurniture.com Follow on Instagram @5StringFurniture

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newly delivered and refurbished banjo sat serendipitously behind the counter. On the ride home, Nate tested the strings and practiced gripping his hand around the neck. Immediately, he took a liking to the instrument and has been playing ever since. Recently, he played in Nashville’s rowdy bluegrass band, The Enablers, but had to lay down his banjo when 5 String Furniture took off. “I can still hear my grandmother say, ‘Nate, when life isn’t going your way, pick up your banjo, and it will make everything better.’ And most of the time, it does,” he realizes. Grabbing his coffee, tobacco, and rolling papers, Nate and I relocate outside. We claim the picnic bench in the part-silkscreening area, part-scrapyard, and part-break space for the Fort Houston artists. Nate flattens a paper and sprinkles tobacco in an even line before rolling

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Nate's workshop at Fort Houston

it between his fingers and licking along the glue. As he lights it, he begins his story. The now twenty-four year old was born and raised in Tennessee, though he didn’t move to Nashville until 2008 to attend college at Lipscomb. He grew up in Antioch, moved to La Vergne, Smyrna, then back to Antioch during his parents’ separation when he was a preteen. During that time, his parents lived a quarter mile away from each other, decidedly so that his father could still play a role in his son’s life. For several years, his mother has worked for the Department of Safety, while Nate’s father has worked in me-

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chanics his entire life and now serves as an installation manager at Williams Lubrication Equipment. Without question, Nate attributes much of his success to his father. “My dad should be an engineer or a Nascar mechanic,” he says with conviction. Every birthday and Christmas growing up, Nate’s father would give him tools, hoping to instill the same passion and skill of working with his hands that his own father had. And by the age of ten, Nate had a toolbox. “I always thought, What am I going to do with these things?” Though it wasn’t clear to him then, it’s obvious now that they’ve

become nothing short of his livelihood. As a Lipscomb freshman in 2008, Nate initially chose to major in 2D design, but after remembering his favorite course in high school, Anatomy and Physiology, he switched to nursing. “I decided to go all in,” he affirms. After a full load of summer courses, he was on track to spend his last three semesters at Vanderbilt Medical Center, training to get his RN license. Aside from the rigorous academics, Nate recalls the other effects working in a hospital had on him. “It definitely makes you grow up really quick. I was twenty-one, working with patients who


were two to three times my age.” He continues, “I started to see my future there.” He became determined to complete Vanderbilt’s residency program, and it seemed like it was well within his reach. Out of his class, he was one of eight students who was selected to the VESNIP (Vanderbilt Experience Student Nurse Internship Program), which consisted of eight weeks in the critical care unit—three twelve-hour shifts per week; four weeks during the day and the other four during the night. But before too long, he realized his life was consumed by the hospital—he needed something else. In his spare time, Nate mowed lawns and found a job as a barista at 12South’s Frothy Monkey, working double-shifts on the weekends. Out of curiosity, his customers began asking him what he did outside of the coffee shop, and it encouraged him to have an answer: “I work for myself.” Several of his co-workers had the same answer, telling people they were artists and musicians. “That world was so different to me, but I began to realize that what I was doing wasn’t as fun as what I could be doing,” Nate comments. This made him even more curious, and thus less interested in finishing nursing school. At the start of his last semester, “I tried so hard to quit,” Nate laughs genuinely, “but I stuck it out to get the degree.” Once he graduated, he worked part-time at nearby Walmarts, administering flu shots. At the same time, Nate had the opportunity to move up at Frothy Monkey as manager-in-training for the front of house. “Then it just happened,” he says of his epiphany. “My friend showed me this guy’s furniture, and it was the simplest, most put-together stuff. I thought, I’m going to do that.” Nate didn’t waste any time. He cut back his hours at the coffee shop and took over the garage he shared with his roommates. He concedes, “I knew it would be hard, and I knew I’d make shitty work in the beginning. I didn’t

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know how to do anything then.” But he did know something—he knew that the art of working with his hands ran in his family, and he had years’ worth of tools to prove it. From then, Nate absorbed podcasts, YouTube tutorials, and magazines while making frequent drives to Mt. Juliet to use his grandfather’s workspace. He quit his new position at Frothy Monkey last August and obtained his business license the very next month. Though he was only making $500 a month at the time, he had a larger vision in mind. This also meant moving into his wife’s parents’ downstairs apartment. “I figured if I was going to do this, I didn’t want to be scraping the bottom of the barrel,” he says. So while Ali went to work, Nate worked out of her parents’

twelve-by-fifteen-foot backyard shed. Realizing he was outgrowing his resources, in February he approached Daniel Heering, co-founder of Fort Houston, about renting a work table. The very next day, Nate set up shop as one of Fort Houston’s first artists-inresidence. “I don’t think they believed me when I told them that I’d be here every day,” he smiles. While most artists with space come in when they can, Nate’s there six days a week. “Even when I started at Fort Houston, I didn’t know was the hell I was doing— Jonathan Malphrus took me under his wing.” The creator of Steric Design took hours out of his day to teach the young furniture builder about the complexities of woodgrain and different types of trees. “I soaked it up like a sponge,” Nate says gratefully of Jonathan, who has since become a close friend. Of Nashville’s furniture designers, Nate considers Matt Alexander of Hol-


ler Design to be his primary inspiration. “I’m starstruck by Matt. Though our styles are totally different, there’s a lot I can learn from him,” he says, explaining he was actually days away from beginning an internship with Matt, before receiving his first commission—tables for Frothy Monkey’s new Franklin location. “It’s crazy to think that I’m colleagues with these guys, when I used to admire them from afar. Being around them makes me want to step up my game every day,” Nate says. “I don’t know everything, so I should learn as much as I can from them.” And while they’re all competing for similar markets, they find support in each other. The burgeoning furniture maker says his main strength is his knack for picking up new skills—and learning them very quickly. Just over a month ago, Nate picked up welding, and it’s been easier for him to get the hang of than woodworking.

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He explains the progression of his To date, it’s the largest-scale commistrade: “At first, I was building things sion Nate’s ever been assigned—includto sell. Then it became commission,” ing five tables, twenty benches, six tenwhich currently accounts for 100% of foot posts, a bar top, and a fence. “Above his profit. He continues, “It’s my idea of everything, they gave me a showroom. how it looks, mostly, but my clients are The benefit of having mostly commerlooking for a kind of vibe, too. So I try to cial work,” Nate explains, “is being able meet both their aesthetic requirements to visit the pieces, sit down at them, and and mine.” be proud of them.” Since his first assignment, his number He also cherishes the opportunity to of commissions is on the rise. Soon af- develop relationships with his clients. “I ter, he began crafting chestnut wedding never want a transaction to be, ‘Make photo proof boxes for local photogra- this for me, thanks, the end.’ I value the pher Kristen Sweeting, and his work for relationship above all else. I’m a part of Frothy Monkey expanded to their bar Black Abbey’s family now,” he smiles. top, pastry case, brackets, and shelves. “And I hope that’s the case with every Other projects include outdoor patio project.” furniture for Grimey’s Too, signs for The demand for his work is only going Creative Nation and Neeley Studio, a to increase, and Nate realizes the neceslight box for DCXV, a mini-remodeling sity of more hands. “Right now, I’m aimfor Back in Touch Wellness Center, and ing to find a balance between efficiency his favorite, Black Abbey Brewing Com- and speed while maintaining the quality pany’s accent wall, bar, barstools, and of my work,” he gestures like a conduchymn slates. tor. “And I won’t let my quality go out

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the door—that’s my priority above ev- ready for something new, something erything.” While he admits there are im- more challenging,” Nate articulates. perfections in his work, he’d rather lose “My favorite thing to build is the next sleep to make his pieces better rather thing.” But by the same token, the than completing something he feels is builder is so connected to everything he unfinished. makes. “There’s a part of me that goes “I spend so much time on something with every piece I build,” he attests. And that by the time I’m done with it, I’m it’s in the form of his signature stamp, a

banjo, that can be found on the underside of his work. I ask him if he’s considered partnering with his dad, and as if he’s been thinking about it already, he quickly responds, “I would love to work alongside him every day, but I really cherish the moments when he comes to help just because he wants to.” “It wasn’t until I started doing this that I realized how much we had in common,” he says slowly. “The longer I do this, the better friends we become. My dad’s hands look like this every day,” Nate says, displaying the callouses on his palms and the dirt and sawdust caked under his nails. “I feel like an Akey. I feel like I’m doing justice to how I was raised—like it’s what I’m engineered to do.” When I ask him to classify his style, he starts by explaining the current barnwood craze. “It’s super sexy, right?” he begins. “People are making things by nailing them together and saying it

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looks cool. That’s not good enough for me. I want to take this reclaimed barnwood idea and apply fine woodworking techniques to it.” He rolls another cigarette while describing wood harvesting. For Frothy Monkey, he sourced his wood from Glasgow, Kentucky, after receiving a tip from a friend with a barn there (Nate disassembled the hay loft himself). For his Black Abbey commission, he went to a deconstructed barn nearby with the brewery’s owner and used every scrap they took with them. Deciding on the expression “rustic meets fine,” Nate emphasizes that he always finishes with oil and wax, refraining from stains. He doesn’t have standards for price—every project is different because even with the largerscale commissions like Frothy Monkey and Black Abbey, he never does the same job with the same materials twice. Among his upcoming ventures is his biggest one yet—furnishing a work-

space for Revolution Pictures, building desks, stools, coffee tables, and shelves for the office. And though 5 String Furniture is just a year old, Nate hasn’t stopped learning and evolving. He confirms, “I want to be skilled. I haven’t always nailed that, but that’s what I’m trying for every time— I’m trying for perfection. The more I do this, the more I realize how much more I’m getting in touch with my roots.” And just as roots need time to grow, he doesn’t see himself anywhere but here. “I got lucky, that’s important to know,” he points at the table with emphasis. “I have in-laws who welcomed me into their home and who believe in what I’m doing; I have parents who are there every step of the way. Not everyone has someone who will take them in,” he realizes. “I admit, my views are romantic—I like moving stories, ones where the guy quits his job and pursues what he loves, or the guy who’s been brewing beer for

twenty years and finally starts a business,” Nate offers. While he fits this description, the selfstarter concedes that he doesn’t always feel motivated. “There are days when I don’t want to do this, and sometimes I have to remind myself of why I’m doing it. But what drives me is that I want to be one of those people who follows his heart—and makes it.” He goes on, “I try to approach each day as humbly as I can.” He acknowledges the power of excuses—not having the right tools, not having enough time—but never lets them overpower his motivation. “Every day, there will be something keeping me from doing this, but I’ve learned I can’t accept any excuses, even my own—especially the belief that I’m not good enough. That’s not a good enough answer for not doing something.” “You have to do something a lot—and f*ck up a lot—to get good at something,” he convinces me. “What it comes down

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to is what you can live without.” He reflects on his almost-career as a nurse and the benefits that would have afforded him. “Ultimately, security is the enemy, and it’s what everyone is trying to sell you. At first, my parents didn’t get it. They kept saying, ‘You were about to have a job with benefits and a guaranteed salary.’” His voice gets louder as he replies to his parents’ resistance, “I said f*ck that.” His energy simmers as he smiles, telling me about one of his favorite musicians, Roger Miller. Quoting “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd,” Nate sums up what he gets so energized about—working wholeheartedly for a chance at success. “All ya gotta do is put your mind to it / Knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it.” .


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A HYMN TO THE HUMAN CONDITION Gary McDowell is a thirtysomething dad who enjoys football, beer, trucks, fishing, and writing award-winning poetry by charlie hickerson | photography by kate cauthen

Gary L. McDowell does not look like a poet. Or

he at least doesn’t look the beatnik caricature often associated with literary artistes—you know, the tortured starving artist in a black beret and turtleneck, sitting in the corner of your favorite coffee shop, writing twelfthgeneration Ginsberg rip-offs while an obscene amount of nicotine pumps through his cynical, pseudo-intellectual veins.

Gary McDowell isn’t that guy, but he’s one hell of a poet. He’s been featured in publications like The Laurel Review, MidAmerican Review, New England Review, Poetry Daily, Third Coast, Quarterly West, and Verse Daily; he’s released two chapbooks; he’s co-edited The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry with grad school colleague F. Daniel Rzicznek. And now, Gary is about to follow his critically

acclaimed American Amen with the release of a second collection of poetry, Weeping at a Stranger’s Funeral. But on this particular fall afternoon, he’s taking a break from his prolific poetic output to grade essays in his office at Belmont, where he serves as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and English. The door to his second-floor study is open most days and covered in

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poems such as Charles Wright’s “After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard,” Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s “Wren,” and Peter Gizzi’s “Apocrypha.” And it’s not uncommon for students and faculty walking by to hear Gary’s keyboard softly intertwining with music such as Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea, The Band’s eponymous ’69 classic, and even Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. Ambient candlelight brings a blue Stratocaster, a minimal desk, and an old armchair into focus. There’s a bookshelf that would impress anyone with the slightest interest in poetry (or any form of writing, for that matter). And the bulletin board overlooking his desk is a strange patchwork of photos of his friends and family, shots of Faulkner at home in Oxford, and


Chicago sports memorabilia— Born and raised in suburmost notably, a ’90s Michael ban Chicago, Gary was indifJordan pin. ferent to poetry until he was The office is equal parts introduced to creative writman cave and Zen poetry lab, ing in grade school through a and Gary sits at the desk in program called Young Authors. distinctly non-poet garb—a Every year, he would write and Dri-FIT polo, khakis, and run- illustrate original stories, and ning shoes. The closed-mouth while they weren’t exactly smile poking through his goa- “hymns to the human conditee is understanding, medita- tion” (as reviewer Amy Newtive, and faintly melancholic, man would later write about parallel to the overarching his work), they established the tone of his work. roots of what would become His poems are accessible his lifelong love affair with stoyet labyrinthine, contempla- rytelling. “We’d put them in tive yet visceral, and somehow little binders, and everybody soothingly unnerving. And it’s would come look at them,” he this complexity that defines recalls. “It was probably one Gary McDowell as a poet. of those things where every

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A POEM FROM DR. GARY MCDOWELL: THE AMERICAN SONNET America, I tried to wake you, change your dreams: duck fat in a frying pan. Cumulus or cirrus. I can never remember which is heavier—sometimes I worry about the weight of the rain on the roof. It’s better sometimes to stay indoors. But of leaf lettuce and collards, radishes and powerlines, the burial grounds behind the hedges, sunflowers before the yellow, cucumbers and dirt, or God is a day begun, the shifting breeze across the patio. Inside, the carpet squares that don’t match; the room, then, a giant puzzle, one you have to walk through to solve. I love you like the door.

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kid gets a ribbon. But I got a ribbon, and it made me feel good about being able to tell a story.” From there, Gary continued as an average Middle American ’90s teenager. Creative writing was left somewhere in that hellish limbo of middle school adolescence, and cultivating his (still very prevalent) love for the Bears and Bulls took priority over poetry. But as he entered high school, tragedy struck—Gary’s stepdad began a strenuous battle with brain cancer that would take his life two years later. “My parents got divorced when I was three, and my mom got married when I was five. So, he was pretty much a father figure for me from the time I had memory.” The writer pauses, looking to the corner of the office before breaking from his gaze, adding, “Well, a father figure—I was still close to my dad.” Gary coped with the incident the

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only way he knew how—by fishing. Since “When my wife was pregnant, I was and Gary was one mostly-finished disserhe was still too young to drive, the future writing poems about potential or pend- tation away from earning his PhD. The poet would ride his bike five miles to the ing fatherhood. But when Auden was only problem—he still hadn’t landed a Fox River, where he’d cast a few lines and born, I was in the middle of three genera- teaching job. reflect on the nature around him. After a tions, so this ‘trinity of fatherhood’ came “I went through the job ads and applied while, he began tucking a pen and paper about,” he explains, pointing to a picture to three or four dozen jobs—everything beside the bait in his tackle box. of the “trinity” at what appears to be a I had a remote chance of being competiRemembering those trips, he gives into family reunion. “I could finally see the tive for,” he recalls. One of those blind a loose smile, “There’s this quote from things I didn’t understand about father- applications happened to be for an asKate Greenstreet: ‘Making up a poem is hood from a different angle but still had sistant professor position at Belmont, a a way to share a secret without telling it.’ so many questions about what it meant.” school Gary knew only for its impressive So maybe I was trying to tell my secrets Luckily for Gary, unanswered ques- basketball program. He forgot about the about this thing I was going through. I tions translate into good poetry, espe- application, but a few months later, he was young—I was into Nirvana, I wore cially when paired with the jarring, natu- was (inopportunely) reminded of the flannel, and I had long hair—so I needed ral imagery rampant in his lines, such as opening after returning from a family vasome outlet to deal with the stressors of “My son is stronger than he weighs, / like cation to Illinois. my stepdad’s illness.” a fish / Both concave and flexed / And we “We’d driven four hours with two baFatherhood and nature would con- buy bread we know we don’t need / We bies. One needed a bottle, one needed tinue to permeate the professor’s life fly a kite down the smooth abdomen / of a nap—typical wrangling of two chiland work as he earned a BA in English a valley.” dren,” Gary begins. “The phone was ringfrom Northern Illinois, started the MFA After American Amen was published, ing, and I pick up, just thinking it’ll be program at Bowling Green State, and got the rising poet was living the literary a telemarketer that’ll piss me off. But it married. It was at Bowling Green that dream: his collection won Dream Horse was Belmont, and as soon as I hung up the roots of American Amen took shape, Press’ Orphic Prize for Poetry in 2009; the phone, I turned to my wife and said, but it took the birth of his son Auden for his daughter Jorie was born on the same ‘Where the f*ck is Belmont?!’” the book to become what it is today. day the first copies of it were shipped; A smartphone search, three rounds

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“WHEREVER AND HOWEVER YOUR IMAGINATION IGNITES, YOU JUST HAVE TO GO WITH IT.”

of interviews, and a trial lecture later, the McDowells packed the minivan and headed south in April 2011. Inspired by his new surroundings, the newest addition to the Belmont English Department began to work on his upcoming collection, Weeping at a Stranger’s Funeral. But he knew writing a book of poems while teaching full-time and raising two kids would be tough, to say the least. Expounding on the frantic conception of Weeping, Gary says, “I would wake up in the middle of the night and start writing with Jorie screaming in my arms. I would write on anything—backs of envelopes for the gas bill, boxes of diapers, whatever I could get my hands on.” Planning to expand each line into its own poem, he saved the scraps in a notebook. But where other writers might have seen disconnected phrases on pieces of garbage, Gary saw a finished collection. “I thought, What if that’s the poem—just those images without any connection between them?” he explains, excitement in his voice. “I asked myself, What if I just

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put them all together and title them to set some kind of semantic register, or play with syntax in a way that I find interesting?” The result is a collection of “short, disjunctive, associative poems that don’t lend themselves to much cohesion,” Gary defines. They sport surreal and cryptic titles like “Catholic Parking Lot” or “My Wife and a Little Math,” and they’re the product of a year and a half of diaper changing, bottle-feeding, and lullaby singing. When asked how he survived this exhaustive period, the professor shrugs, “Wherever and however your imagination ignites, you just have to go with it.” While the individual titles may not have everything to do with the poems themselves, the title, Weeping at a Stranger’s Funeral, intentionally tackles one of the collection’s major themes: gender roles. “I think it’s tough for men to weep in general,” Gary says solemnly. “I’m not one to see something beautiful and cry, but I know poets who are overwhelmed by beauty and do weep. So what I started

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“I LIKE FOOTBALL, BEER, TRUCKS, AND FISHING, BUT I’M A POET.”

thinking about with those associative images was beauty. I was trying to find those little moments that make you weep because they’re precious, beautiful, or sad.” Coming from a guy who dons a Bears jersey most Sundays, the search for the world’s inherent beauty might seem a little unexpected. But as one review for American Amen aptly states, “In gutting a fish, Gary can find the sublime. Gary L. McDowell’s big-shouldered poems house both self-doubt and a bottomless well of kindness.” In other words, Gary may focus on Dad-esque pursuits (i.e. fishing, camping, etc.), but in doing so, he forces readers to reevaluate the seemingly mundane nature of everyday life. Unintentionally, Gary’s work breaks the divisions between masculinity and sensitivity, caregiving and providing, strength and weakness. Addressing this aspect of his work, he begins, “In America, the male poet is perceived as the sensitive, vegetarian hippie—all those things people unfairly characterize as vulnerable or maybe even weak— that’s the image that people who aren’t familiar with contemporary poetry have of poets.” He scans the eclectic blend of academia and sports culture around him before adding with conviction, “I like football, beer, trucks, and fishing, but I’m a poet.” With a goatee, half-inch buzz cut, and Nikes, he doesn’t look like a man who’s published multiple collections of poems, earned a PhD in literature, or devoted his life to the art of words—but he definitely writes like one..

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Cory Basil has cast himself into a revision of his own life’s script. Just as a wild child is often birthed from the strictest of households, the Nashville artist has undergone a dramatic transformation. Once a creatively-stunted pastor in Phoenix, Cory now takes full advantage of his avant-garde lifestyle in a work-againstthe-clock frenzy. “I always had this weird idea that I wasn’t going to live past twenty-five,” he muses. “I don’t know if it was a fantasy or what. I could never see myself growing old.” This paranoia led Cory into a life of constant creation. To call him an overachiever is an understatement; he’s a polymath in the truest sense. Cory constantly alternates between author, animator, filmmaker, musician, and painter, and only hosted his first public exhibition in 2011. From bohemian pirate getups to his own taglines like “The Imagination of Cory Basil,” meeting him is like glimpsing underneath a hood—the hood of a hermit who often holes up in his Printers Alley studio for weeks at a time, too engrossed in his work to ride the elevator back down to Earth. When he does venture out to his local coffee shop, his purpose is purely voyeuristic—to observe the habits, mannerisms, and ticks of passersby for inspiration. In Nashville, Cory is most well-known for his Tim Burton-esque animation work in music videos such as Amanda Shires’ “Ghostbird” and The Civil Wars’ “20 Years.” The artist taught himself Flash while recovering from a car wreck injury, mastering from bed the language that would lead to his paper doll videos. “I have a bizarre drive, and one thing I observed from my dad throughout childhood was that he never turned anything down or said, ‘I can’t do that.’” To make a threeminute animation (under his moniker, Imaginebox Films), Cory spends about 400 hours painting, building, assembling, and transforming his physical creations into 3D. That’s a lot of time for three minutes of footage, but the animator affirms, “It’s in my wiring—I look at everything as a challenge.” Now, Cory is in the pre-production

and development stages for a fully-animated short co-directed by Michelle Steffes, The Heart Dirigible. Similar to the divide between his past and present lives, juxtaposition exists between his fine art and animation series, titled “Whimsy.” He uses oil and watercolor for his fine art portraiture, and ink, pencil, and paint for animation. The “Whimsy” characters’ enlarged heads, long limbs, and sadeyed countenances explore darker themes through expressions of childlike naivety, offering Cory catharsis for a life shaped by religious fervor and heartbreak. “I created my first ‘Whimsy’ painting after a failed attempt at a relationship. I drew how I felt, which was that I had given someone my heart on a string, and they’d blown a hole through me. After I finished, I stood back and felt much better.” In his studio, classical music plays in the background as canvases brushstroke with striking portraits stare at me from every direction. I begin to notice that as the artist speaks, he articulates every word carefully, peppering in phrases like “pardon” and “I digress,” as if adhering to some kind of elevated, passé dialect. Cory’s artistic identity was undiscovered until the age of twenty-nine, a result of his strict conservative upbringing. Yet he credits this repression as the catalyst that motivated him to leave the church, look outwardly, and embark on exodus to Nashville. Family photos capture him as a toddler applying watercolor to brown paper bags, proving that artistic expression has always been a magnetic force for Cory. He recalls growing up in Phoenix, remembering one of his first experiences with artistic censorship: “In kindergarten, one of my classmates had a Transformers folder,” he begins. Cory had replicated the image in his notebook and couldn’t wait to take it home to show his parents. Later that day at school, the kindergartener climbed a barbed-wire fence and cut open his drawing hand. His mother rushed over to take him to the hospital, and, much to her dismay, found herself appalled by the drawing (and his trauma). She yelled in front of his class: “This is why you hurt your hand. God is punishing you for taking part in this evil!” He shakes his head and takes a

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deep breath. “Not only did that solidify my image of God, but it also kept me from growing or stepping out of my bounds artistically.” As scarring as the experience was, Cory doesn’t fault his mother for her response, saying it was the direct result of her efforts to find her place within fundamental Christianity. He amends to say that their relationship has since grown since the incident. I remark that the story is an ironic religious symbol in itself as he rolls up his shirtsleeve to display a tattoo of Edward Scissorhands. Describing the first time he snuck over to a friend’s house to watch the famed Tim Burton film, he remembers, “It was the first time I felt like there was somebody out there like me, except it was this guy in a castle with scissors for hands and no one around him.”

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But the Transformer incident didn’t stop Cory from pursuing his passion throughout grade school and later college. He attended a Christian university in Missouri to study art, though he resisted the curriculum’s regimented subject matter and strict style guides. His frustration with the system led him to drop out after a year and a half and head to seminary, interestingly enough. Soon after, he married and became a youth worship pastor. Despite his efforts to stay on the straight and narrow, Cory’s personal life suffered—his marriage was failing. Conservative Christian communities do not sanctify divorce, but in the face of this trial, the then pastor decided to redirect his unhappiness and devote his life to art. Relocating to Nashville in July 2007, Cory put most of his despondency to rest. Themes of love, romance, and women span throughout his mediums, and when he tells me that he finds women both tortuous and irresistible, he reaffirms, “I see women as works of art. Attraction works in strange ways. Sometimes there’s something about a face that you can’t get enough of.” He points to a canvas across the room to describe the origins of a watercolor painting of a woman, explaining, “I don’t know where she came from; she was just in my head.” But it’s writing that comes easiest to Cory, from penning songs as an accomplished pianist and guitarist to publishing his first book last December, Skinny Dipping in Daylight. The unedited collection of poetry and prose is a raw, personal account of the heartbreak and melancholy that accompanies being misunderstood. Comprised of journal entries, poems, and stream-of-consciousness writings, the collection spans nearly two decades. “When Skinny Dipping came out, peace came over me because I was so vulnerable.” He says of the therapeutic experience, “It was like holding

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my breath. And as soon as it was out, I closed that chapter. From there, I could transition into anything.” Most recently in October, Cory released his first children’s book, a project that’s been in the works for a while. The Perils of Fishboy: A Tale Split in Two, marks parts one and two of a five-part series that came about while painting. He explains his process, “I sat with no directive and let my mind go. And that piece came out,” he says, gesturing to the black-and-white canvas displayed on one of his easels. The painting, done with watercolor and India ink, portrays Fishboy sitting against a dead tree looking distraught. On the opposite side of the tree, a fish-hook dangles from a high branch. “Afterwards, I thought, Why does that fish have legs, and why is he so sad? There’s never a moment where I’m not thinking.” Or, never a moment where he’s not looking for an answer. Despite his prolific, perfectionist nature, Cory believes in fate and mistakes,

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and his artwork reflects his fascination with the spiritual underbelly of life. And part of understanding is realizing that not all things go as planned. In fact, when things derail, Cory prefers to make light of them, as he learned when his first children’s book was suddenly knocked off the radar. “We were in production with The Kite Tree last December, a thirty-page book written in the style of Dr. Seuss. A couple of my publishers came over,” he points to the canvas again, “and the painting enamored them. Two weeks later, they wanted to abandon The Kite Tree, and go with Fishboy.” Not only did the publishers love it because it was quirky and outside of the box—it was timely. Fishboy was about not fitting in, and bullying was everywhere in the media. Despite Cory’s initial aversion to scrapping The Kite Tree, his publishers convinced him of the potential in the Fishboy concept. “I realized that this character could provide a

lot to culture.” Scrapping the nearly completed picture book, Cory went back to the drawing board to conceptualize a narrative from the canvas that started as a free-form painting project. With a twomonth deadline looming over him, he relived his own dysfunctional childhood and experiences being bullied. The artist channeled his angst into this alter ego, Fishboy—a highlyevolved aquatic specimen with legs. Like Cory had experienced all throughout his youth, the character is trapped in a conformist society where he is chastised for simply being himself. Cory wrote around the clock for forty-five days developing the character and brought him to life with illustrations, resulting in a 400-page adventure series. When describing the artwork, he explains, “It was a journey through my sketchbook.” The loose drawings kept in stacks of Moleskines were the framework for more than sixty drawings, two


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full-panel paintings, and a detailed map to further elucidate Fishboy’s world. Just as readers matured alongside J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Cory sees The Perils of Fishboy as offering a similar literary experience. Though he cherishes his journey of self-discovery through Skinny Dipping, he relishes the art of storytelling through multiple voices and personas. Describing Fishboy, he explains, “He doesn’t fit in and he’s spat on, but what people don’t realize is that he’s going places. It was difficult to write at times,” he pauses, “and I know I’ve evolved with him. I’ve been able to recreate myself.”

A poem from Cory Basil’s Skinny Dipping

in Daylight: these strange days i let you in close enough to watch me sleep and you left a hole in me i let you dance close enough for skin to blend and you left a hole in me i let you look close enough to see the love i hide and now i watch the smoke rise from where you left a hole in me.

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DANI JOHNSON

BALANCES HER CREATIVITY. By day this triple-threat creative is a hair stylist. By night she’s Grins Vegetarian Café’s baker. And in her spare time she’s creating recycled clothing designs – or perhaps making sushi. “They all balance themselves out very well,” she says. “Some of what I do is very social, like at the salon. I also like being creative in my own little space, which is what I like about being alone in the bakery.” Together, hair styling, baking and designing allow her to be fully creative. “I like the freedom of creativity it allows,” she says. Bongo Java’s Ethiopia Sidamo gets her through late nights baking and into the creative flow. The unwashed roast tastes like blueberries and oats. She also likes mixing Bongo’s coffee in her cupcake and brownie recipies. Taste Dani’s baked goods at Grins Vegetarian Café. Make a hair appointment with her at Dandelion Salon. Check out her clothing designs when she finds time to create that link.

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OFTENTIMES, THE QUALITY OF A YOUNG ARTIST’S SONGWRITING ISN’T RECOGNIZED UNTIL A RESPECTED PERSON APPRECIATES IT. BUT HOW DO YOU GET IT INTO THE RIGHT HANDS? FOR ANGEL SNOW, IT TOOK A SPECIAL INTERVENTION

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ANGEL SNOW

JAMESSnow: COX: Angel angelsnow.net jamescox.bandcamp.com Follow on Twitter native.is/james-cox @ImAngelSnow & Instagram @therealangelsnow native.is/angel-snow 94 / / / / / / / / / / / / / ///

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WHEN ANGEL SNOW CAME TO NASHVILLE SEVEN YEARS AGO, SHE NEVER HAD ANY INTENTION OF BECOMING AN AMERICANA ARTIST; SHE WAS CHASING LOVE. But this isn’t a

story about romance; it’s a story about a woman who decided to focus on herself, and eventually caught her break. It’s 10 a.m. on a muggy, gray morning. We’re having breakfast—Angel has ordered yogurt parfait; me, a vanilla latte the size of a cereal bowl. We start from the beginning in Chickamauga—a sleepy, backwoods town (population: 3,121) in Georgia that thrives on Friday night football and was once a farming haven for Native American tribes. “My brother, Canon, used to watch Saint Elmo’s Fire, and there was this instrumental song on the soundtrack I’d play over and over and over. I liked singing along because it had no words; I could make up my own story.” Angel is the youngest of three, born to a politician father and a teacher mother. Although she was raised in a traditional Christian home, which meant attending church and singing in the choir every Sunday, her name was not a product of her environment. She was supposed to be a Daisy. “When I was born, my brother, Jonas, said to my parents, ‘You don’t need to name her Daisy; that’s ridiculous!’” A smile illuminates as she mimics her brother. “‘Let’s call her Angel,’” she mirrors. “So my dad insisted that we change my name.” But like most people who meet her for the first time, I was convinced the name Angel Snow was for show. “Wait, that’s not your real name,” I balked. “It’s actually my name,” she insisted (with a laugh). But Angel suits her much better than Daisy would have—the latter tends to be overwhelmingly disappointing (see Buchanan, Duke, that one Switchfoot song, et al.). Angel Snow is no Daisy—she’s a cross between Mari-

lyn Monroe and a Southern elementary school teacher, both sensual and nurturing. As a kid, singing was her thing. And seeing as her family spent every Sunday in church, the choir provided an outlet to develop her voice. “I just wanted to sing,” Angel plainly states. Apparently, her choir instructor was thinking the same thing, because she picked Angel for solos, mostly of old gospel songs. Another passion that she cultivated at a young age was poetry. She finishes a bite of her yogurt parfait and clears her throat. “I’d like to call it poetry. It’s just thoughts and rhymes here and there.” But her songs don’t sound as if they’re strung-together thoughts and rhymes, rather emotive and complete thoughts. Perhaps that’s due to starting as early as third grade. She remembers, “My teacher would make us write a poem every week, and I thought, I can actually do this: create a storyline with a beginning, middle, and end.” The two—singing and poetry—is the recipe for a singer-songwriter, though she didn’t exactly envision a career in music. Angel has navigated much of her life thus far as something of a nomad—both in her pursuits and destinations. When the Chickamauga native left home, she went to a small school in Chattanooga to pursue a twoyear degree in psychology. For some, college is a place to “discover yourself” or

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an opportunity to “expand your horizons.” Or it’s a place to get distracted—at least it was for Angel. “I went through some hard times.” She explains, “I had been struggling with the fact that I wasn’t very close to my dad.” Her parents had divorced when she was fifteen (also when she picked up guitar), and whether she knew it then, she realizes now that having a present father is especially pivotal growing up. She explains, “You need his approval, telling you how special you are.” She doesn’t say this with disapproval or shame; she’s simply stating the truth of her upbringing, recognizing that certain pains from the past can present themselves in the future. Once she finished her degree, Angel stayed in Chattanooga but veered off in another direction—she attended a theater school to become an actor. “It’s a whole other level of creativity.” Acting offered her a way to not only channel another

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person, but to explore her own insecurities in doing so. Like poetry and singing had stuck with her, so did her new hobby. She elaborates, “I’d even love to direct or write screenplays. And when I tell people this, they say, ‘You just need to play music and that’s it.’” As her range of interests implies, Angel disagrees. “We’re supposed to venture into many things in our lives.” Venture she did. She set off on a cross-country trip from Chattanooga to the West Coast, landing in Yellowstone National Park, where she worked for a short stint as a pastry chef. All the while she was still writing songs, and it was here that she really started to entertain the idea of playing music. As soon as she arrived in Chattanooga after the trip, she packed up and moved to Philadelphia, where

she had friends and a city that could kickstart her career, seeing as there was a much more diverse music scene than say, a place like Chattanooga. On the plus side, it was that much closer to New York, where Angel would often visit to play open mic nights. As Angel started to focus more on songwriting and playing live while in Philly, her love for song and lyric grew, as did a budding romantic prospect in Nashville. Despite the relationship not working out, Angel was determined to take on Nashville. Music City is home to some of the most successful female artists (Dolly, Loretta, Patsy, et al.), and it continues to establish itself as a haven for up and coming women in the industry (Caitlin Rose, Nikki Lane, Tristen, et al.). Not to mention, it’s a city that cherishes and bolsters the # NAT I V ENAS HV I L L E

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“THE WHOLE AMERICANA THING, I NEVER REALLY WANTED TO GET INTO THAT WORLD.” art of songwriting. So, Angel left Philly in 2006 to plant her roots in another historic gold mine, where she began to flesh out songs for her debut. But like so many people that come to Music City in pursuit of their pipe dreams to become musicians, Angel was simply another fish in a sea of plenty. She would play the smaller venues around town, small enough so people could hear her acoustic guitar and deep, delicate voice. And up until 2010, she wasn’t gaining much traction. Those small shows were not going to pay the bills. So she opted for a different kind of gig—caretaking. Angel found random jobs as a nanny and caregiver for those with special needs. Specifically, she enjoyed the act of selflessness: “As a musician, you’re constantly feeding your ego.” It turns out that this act of selflessness would soon lead to an opportunity for her music career.

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Angel had been nannying for a woman named Nancy. While Nancy was at work, Angel would pick up the kids from school and would make sure they were fed and busy. On one particular morning when Angel went to the house to pick up the kids, Nancy’s friend Alison stopped by. Their kids went to the same school, Nancy told her. She had just gotten off tour with Robert Plant, for their album called Raising Sand. When Nancy introduced Alison to Angel, Angel already knew who she was; she was an Americana icon, she was the voice behind bluegrass legends Union Station, she was a woman that Angel revered— she was Alison Krauss. Naturally, Nancy mentioned to Alison that Angel was a singer-songwriter, which turned into Alison leaving with a copy of Angel’s debut album, Fortune Tellers. Angel left the house that day feeling at peace with a decision she had made two

weeks prior, kind of a big decision, that is to move to South Korea. Of all the places, why South Korea? She wanted to teach English, and the experience in the country came highly recommended from her brother Canon, who had previously returned from the program. And, nothing was tying her down to Nashville—no successful music career, no relationship, no strings attached. Moving somewhere drastically foreign intrigued her, and Angel was at a place where something had to give, in other words, she was ready to enter the next chapter of her life. And marking its beginning was this serendipitous encounter with someone she respected. Angel recalls her sentiment at the time, “I felt that if anything, at least I got to meet Alison Krauss on a completely human level.” But this meeting was more than a serendipitous encounter. “It was a special intervention,” Angel says.


That afternoon, Angel went to the Union Station, two in particular, school to pick up Nancy’s children. “California” and “Holiday.” Mind you, the same school that Alison’s As Alison envisioned, Angel’s deep son was attending. Angel walks through voice, emotive nature, and honest the front door of the school; Alison storytelling complemented Viktor’s comes out with her son; they stop each instrumentation. Within a week, the other to say hello. As Angel tells it, “She two had written “Lie Awake,” which grabs me by the arm and says, ‘Angel, I made it on to Union Station’s 2011 was just listening to your CD all the release, Paper Airplane, along with way over here, and I love your songs; I two of Angel’s songs, “These Days” want to sing your songs. Come over to and “A Place Outside,” on the demy house tomorrow, and we’ll talk.’” All luxe edition. From there, they beof a sudden, South Korea didn’t sound gan working on Angel’s sophomore as appealing, because Angel and Alison self-titled release (which Viktor were gonna write songs, sing together, produced) as well as recorded a few and they were gonna be in a band. And songs from Fortune Tellers. this is where the story ends… well, not As Alison took Angel under her exactly. To Angel’s disappointment, Ali- wing—introducing her to musison did not offer any of those options, cians and songwriters, playing her but instead suggested that she start songs, inviting her to open at The writing with her brother, Viktor Krauss, Ryman—Angel Snow became Nasha talented multi-instrumentalist. Alison ville’s up and coming Americana had a feeling the two would work well artist. Like many musicians chasing together. And as she said in the door- their dreams in Nashville, the quality way the day before, she wanted to use of Angel’s songwriting wasn’t recogAngel’s songs for her next album with nized until a respected person appre-

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ciated it. Alison’s endorsement could not be ignored by the music community, though it did not define Angel’s career entirely. “The whole Americana thing,” Angel begins, “I never really wanted to get into that world.” It’s not that she’s not grateful; she just didn’t see it coming. In fact, she notes her biggest influences as Radiohead (specifically, Thom Yorke’s songwriting), instrumental ambient music such as Brian Eno, emotional, gritty electronic such as Aphex Twin, and most notably, Trent Reznor. “He’s not afraid to do what he wants,” she says—something she identifies with. Right now, she’s working on a side project that more closely resembles Reznor or Radiohead than Raising Sand. “It’s gonna be called Yuki,” she tells me, “which is ‘snow’ in Japanese.” Yuki (pronounced “you-key”), is a collaboration with producer and guitarist Jonathan Trebing, employing percussion-driven electronic tracks married with guitar, and of course, Angel’s vocals—leaping far and away from Americana. But for all her fans, there’s no need to worry: “I’ve got another Angel Snow record coming out in the next year,” she assures, though she says the sound has evolved into ambient rock. As you might infer, that’s not all that Angel Snow is doing these days. For the past few months, she’s been touring solo and alongside local singer-songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones as his opening act. She plays a lead role in an indie psychological drama, Rock Creek, which will be entered into the Nashville Film Festival this coming spring. Angel Snow didn’t always know what she wanted, but she did always do what she wanted. Could you say that the story of Angel Snow is one of coincidence, fate, or divine intervention? Perhaps. Whatever it may be, it took her over miles and through darkness to catch her break.


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YOU OUGHTA KNOW: BLANK RANGE

PART OF HAVING YOUR OWN RADIO SHOW DEDICATED TO PLAYING LOCAL INDIE MUSIC IS KNOWING ABOUT ALL THE UP AND COMERS. of having a weekly morning show byPart Wells Adams, Lightning 100 that starts at 6 a.m. is knowing when to get the hell to bed. This poses a problem for me now. I can’t pound beers at The End till 2 a.m. anymore. I’ve found that my best resource for finding new music is talking to people, more specifically, talking to local bands whose opinions I trust. And I trust Big Mike Harris from The Apache Relay. A couple months ago, I was sitting at 12 South Taproom’s patio, drinking off the weight of my day and welcoming the Nashville dusk as I gazed at the parking lot. Enter Big Mike in a flurry of beard and flannel on a ’70s Honda CB. I settled

in for a long night of somewhat unintelligible conversation about music, motorcycles, and duck hunting. Mike’s one of those guys who’s passionate about everything and being guitar player for | Photo by the JRlead Joleno one of Nashville’s biggest bands, music is always number one on his docket. “What’s your favorite local band right now, Wells?” he asked. I had to think; there were so many—Great Peacock, The Delta Saints, Moon Taxi, The Gills, The Wild Feathers, Rayland Baxter, The Weeks, The Future, Judah & the Lion, The Rouge, Nava Hotel, Commitment Bells, and many more. Mike nodded, stroked his beard, leaned in as if to tell me a secret, and said, “Dude, have you heard of Blank Range?” In an age of ripped mp3s, burned CDs, and reinvigorated vinyl, Blank Range opts

for cassette tapes. Perhaps it’s a commentary on their music—a throwback to a time when music was much purer: guitars, bass, keys, and vocals in all its analog glory. Blank Range keeps a genuinely vintage Laurel Canyon sound with piercing guitar licks, moaning organs, and reverb-laced vocals. Maybe it’s the album artwork or maybe it’s my affinity for Louis L’Amour, but “Last Crash Landing” could be the opening song of a Clint Eastwood Western. The cassette, Phase II, features handdrawn artwork and an extended intro to the fourth track, “Neon Sign.” To those who no longer have a Walkman handy, the cassette comes with a digital download. If you’d rather have that plastic goodness, visit blankrange.bandcamp.com.

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ANIMAL OF THE MONTH

By Charlie Hickerson

LET’S GO AHEAD AND STATE THE OBVIOUS, FOLKS: WE LIKE TO EAT TURKEY AROUND THE HOLIDAYS. We consume up to forty-six million gobblers every Thanksgiving season (up to three pounds of meat per person), and we spend an average of $875 million a year to do it. To quote A Christmas Story, “It is wellknown throughout the Midwest that the Old Man is a turkey junkie. A bona fide golly turkanis freak.” Replace “Midwest” with “nation” and “Old Man” with “we,” and you’ve pretty much described this country’s freakish obsession with bird. But where did this tradition really start? Sure, pilgrim settler William Bradford was the first to mention roasting the bird with his Native American “friends” in the early seventeenth century’s Of Plymouth Plantation, but was anyone chowing down on turkey down South? Or, more precisely, was anyone frying up turkey in early Davidson County? Enter Dr. Artemus Higginbottom, a Puritan who came to the uncharted South in 1743 to “spread the word of the Lord.” And while he was a pious man, Jesus wasn’t 112 / / / / / / / / / / / / //// 112 // / / / / / / / / / / / / //

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his only reason for leaving New England. Read his unearthed diary found somewhere along the Cumberland River: Wretched sin! Blasphemous mongrels! Everywhere I traverse, I am swallowed in the tempest of inequity that is this “New World” which we inhabit! We, once God’s people, once the few believers under the Crown, have lost our way! In every corner, the Natives pillage, young women roam unaccompanied, holy men ignore their vows, and—perhaps the worst of these transgressions—Christians gluttonously hoard and devour God’s finest creature, the Eastern Turkey! Because of their shameful plunderings, I am forced to relocate to the barbarous Southern region of this desolate continent in order to procure unlimited amounts of the morsel! But alas, my poultry pilgrimage will prove worthwhile, when I gorge myself with mouthfuls of that sublime bird! Oh, what is thy secret, divine creature? What in your godly meat leads me across this vile countryside, in a saliva-inducing journey? Perhaps it is your notable stature; in some instances, I have seen you towering over

the plains at four feet tall, weighing nearly thirty pounds! Perhaps it is your gobbling head, which takes on a curious hue of blue when excited and red when faced with a carnivorous foe like myself! Or is it the sleep your succulent meat induces, which is certainly a product of black magic? [We know today that this “black magic” is actually Tryptophan, an amino acid with a seriously soporific effect.]

But no matter the cause of my hunger for this delectable fowl, I will continue to engage in ravenous revelry as I pluck all five thousand of its feathers in preparation for a proper roast! However, I extend a word of warning to future Turkey hunters: if feathers are not bright red, purple, green, copper, bronze, or gold and have instead transmuted into a rather dull brown, know that the beast is infested with parasites and therefore not ripe for the taking! As of now, I must retire—today we are frying the bird in pig fat, a tradition I hope to instill in this otherwise Southern region devoid of culinary merit! Praise be to the Merciful Lord Almighty, Dr. Artemus Higginbottom, Southern New England, 1743


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Native | November 2013 | Nashville, TN