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Stars on the Horizon By Tricia Despres


n the surface, these five artists don’t have a lot in common. Some have already begun to experience widespread success on the national stage, playing or performing in front of thousands, while others are content with a smaller stage for now. Yet the bond that unites all of them is their deep roots in Kentucky. No matter what success they have seen or will see in the near future, each of them agree that Kentucky will always be home.

The Beauty from Beauty Angaleena Presley


Kentucky Monthly • SEPTEMBER 2011

A stretch of Kentucky’s U.S. Highway 23 is designated the Country Music Highway, which was created to recognize the birthplaces of some of country music’s biggest stars. “It’s always been one of my career goals to see my name on one of those signs,” admits Angaleena Presley, a member of the hot new country band Pistol Annies. “I want it … really bad.” Rest assured, if Pistol Annies’ explosive entry into the country music arena is any indication of the group’s future success, chances are Presley’s dream is going to come true. Made up of Presley, Ashley Monroe and country megastar Miranda Lambert, Pistol Annies is fresh off the debut of its first album and chart-topping first single “Hell on Heels.” Born and raised in Beauty (Martin County) on the Kentucky-West Virginia border, Presley recalls a childhood where family and music always seemed to go hand in hand. “My mom and dad both had eight brothers and sisters, so there were always a ton of cousins around,” says Presley. Perhaps the porch of the family home was where Presley first discovered that she was innately drawn to music. “My mom’s uncle sounded just like Willie Nelson, and he would always be out there singing and playing his guitar,” she recalls. “After everyone left, I would still be there begging him to play more.” At 16, Presley got her own guitar and taught herself the ever-important chord trio of G, C and D. While she admits that she went to college to “pursue a degree for her mother,” it was at Eastern Kentucky University where she met and collaborated with artists and creative types similar to her. “I was in my dorm room listening to college radio and Patty Griffin came on and sang this song called ‘Sweet Lorraine,’ ” Presley remembers. “I literally rose up out of my bed and a light went off in my head. I realized that I could tell my truth through music.” Soon after, the budding songwriter threw her guitar into the trunk and her musical dreams into

The ladies of Pistol Annies, from left: Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe

her suitcase and headed to Nashville. She spent some time as a solo artist, with limited success. “Maybe I was more edgy and honest than what most people could take,” she says. She then went behind the scenes, making a living as a songwriter. “I could just never quite get where I wanted to be.” Until now. Pistol Annies is on a roller-coaster ride of country music success that shows no signs of stopping. “These days, I have this ‘sixth sense’ thing going on where I feel like I always saw myself doing exactly what I am doing right now,” Presley says. “The life I always wanted is now happening. Miranda (Lambert) and Ashley (Monroe) have been such wonderful friends, and Miranda especially has been the best type of mentor for us through it all. She is so unaffected by her fame. We are just three country girls from east Texas, east Tennessee and east Kentucky. When the singing is over, we will all go home and go fishing. It’s that simple.”

Speaking the Truth through their Music Cage the Elephant

With never-ending accolades from publications such as Rolling Stone: “They are one of rock’s best young bands,” and SPIN Magazine: “They can whip a crowd into a moshing frenzy reminiscent of the Golden Age of Alternative Nation,” it wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise if Kentucky rockers Cage the Elephant let the praise they are receiving go straight to their head. Don’t count on it. Made up of Kentucky singer Matt Shultz, guitarist Brad Shultz, bassist Daniel Tichenor, guitarist Lincoln Parish and drummer Jared Champion, the members of Cage the Elephant still are rooted deeply in the musical ideals that made them enter the punk rock arena in the first place. “It’s all about making music with pure intentions,” says Shultz, who has found his way alongside his band mates to the stages of late-night shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel Live! “Don’t play music because it’s a cool thing to do or a way to make money. Doing this kills the music’s artistic value,” Shultz says. With the release of the 2009 self-titled debut album and hit “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” Cage the Elephant assembled a crazy loyal fan base that continues to follow them on the road and on the charts. After spending two weeks writing in total isolation in remote Kentucky cabins, the members of Cage the Elephant released their latest album, Thank You Happy Birthday, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart earlier this year. Yet members admit it has been a slow grind to success. “There are a bunch of kids out there playing and using the term ‘indie’ in an attempt to be trendy, but it’s never been like that for us,” explains Shultz, who moved to London with his band mates in 2007 when things weren’t moving as fast as planned here in the States. Their success story began in Bowling Green, where the

rockers attended Greenwood High School. Soon, they would start playing together in some local bars, such as Tidball’s. “We would often catch live music in town and once we started playing together, people started rallying around us like crazy,” says Shultz, who considers Government Cheese one of his latest musical favorites coming out of Bowling Green. “It was amazing to see this town of 60,000 people getting so into our music. The great thing about a town such as Bowling Green was there was no one certain music scene to cater to. You didn’t have to fit in. It’s always been filled with bands playing music they loved— just pure and honest music.” This fall, Cage the Elephant will hit the road with Foo Fighters on the next leg of their North American tour, appearing everywhere from the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., to The Forum in Los Angeles. “We still have family spread all over Kentucky,” Shultz explains. “It’s always going to be a special place for us.” SEPTEMBER 2011 • Kentucky Monthly


Ready for the Ride … and Goin’ Solo Chad Warrix

For country rocker Chad Warrix, growing up in eastern Kentucky was “the perfect childhood.” It was a place where kids rode their bikes across town and doors were left unlocked. “There was this pizza place in town called Variety Pizza, and I specifically can remember being 10 years old and my friends and I riding our dirt bikes there for lunch all of the time,” recalls Warrix from his current home in Nashville. “I have always had a sense of pride about where I come from. When I’m driving down the Cumberland Parkway and get a glimpse of those mountains, there is nothing like it.” Formerly of the duo Halfway to Hazard, Warrix was born in Hazard and raised in Jackson. He attended Jackson City School, where his future musical career begun to unfurl in front of him. “Back then, Mr. Jim Yount

was the band director, and he suggested that I try playing a few new instruments in the school’s jazz band,” says Warrix, who has spent the last year out on the road with the likes of country rockers Randy Houser and Keith Anderson. “To be honest, I always thought I would play basketball, but I had bad ankles. Mr. Yount was open to letting us explore a little, whether it was playing the drums or the electric bass guitar.” After earning a business/music business degree from Nash­ ville’s Belmont University, Warrix joined the alternative rock group Sodium. Once the group disbanded, Warrix officially made the move to Nashville, where he hooked up with fellow Kentucky-bred singer/songwriter David Tolliver. Soon, Halfway to Hazard was born and in 2006 the duo landed a deal with Nashville’s Mercury Records. They would go on to release their debut album and tour with country megastar Tim McGraw. Yet in 2010, the pair announced that they would take an indefinite break as a duo. Warrix now says he is ready to put all of his attention toward a solo career. “Music is all I know, and going solo is my last card to play,” says Warrix, a huge University of Kentucky basketball fan. “I enjoy getting into the behind-the-scenes details like strategy and branding and merchandising. Especially in the music industry, you don’t always get a fair shake. You must have a thick skin and listen to a lot of people telling you ‘no’ to your face and behind your back. But I’ve never been afraid of hard work. I was raised that if you work hard, good things will come to you.” Warrix also puts in an extraordinary amount of time into his Crockettsville Charity Concert and Trail Ride, an annual charity event that brings together people from all across the country for a concert and an ATV ride through Kentucky terrain. Thanks to the support of multiple country music stars, the event has gone far in raising thousands of dollars for a number of Kentucky-based charities. “The country music fan base is so loyal,” Warrix says. “They will follow you and take the ride with you no matter where you land.”

Louisville’s Tyler Perry Ericka Nicole Malone Actor/director/producer/playwright Ericka Nicole Malone vividly remembers the day when her 9-year-old self was sitting in the audience at Moore High School’s rendition of The Music Man, watching her brother perform on stage. “This is the moment the seed was planted,” says Malone, who grew up in Louisville. “I remember feeling so alive in that audience, and watching their reactions to every moment.” The now 38-year-old talent would eventually go on to attend the acclaimed Youth Performing Arts School in Louisville, where teacher Pat Allison first suggested the idea of taking a playwriting class. “I could fill up a whole notebook in three hours,” Malone explains. “It’s always been like a wave that comes over me, and the words just come out.” Malone then attended Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. “I was writing plays and charging $3 a ticket that I would put toward paying for tuition,” she recalls. “This was at a time when there were very few women in urban theater, and I knew that it was going to be quite a challenge to succeed.” Malone’s 10th gospel stage production and most current play is In Love with Tyrone, a story of denial, pain and rediscovery as a woman is betrayed by her first love and best friend—her husband. “It’s all about how women who can be fierce in the world can somehow become quite vulnerable in their own personal relationships and can have a love so deep with the wrong man,” says Malone, who in October will take the production 50

Kentucky Monthly • SEPTEMBER 2011

on a seven-city tour throughout Ohio. “It’s really a snapshot of urban theater today, whereas the play can include everything from comedy to music to drama to faith in God.” Not only is Malone working on In Love with Tyrone, but she also is hard at work writing a book of the same name for a launch date later this year. Her first book was The Heart and Soul of Mothers, a collection of poetry published in 2003 and written alongside her mother. “There are no limitations for how far In Love with Tyrone may go,” says Malone, whose previous stage plays have included I Feel Like Praising Him and You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down. “Only a woman can tell the story of another woman, and that will be what draws attention nationwide.” Currently a resident of Burlington (Boone County), Malone spends her free time watching musicals and sitting and writing in the parks of Kentucky. “I may travel all across the country, but I will always be a Kentucky girl at heart,” Malone says. “There is just this overwhelming strength about Kentucky and its people. We are a tough bunch, but we find a way to endure and keep our Southern manners no matter what. Kentucky exemplifies who I am at the core.”

Armed with a Cello … and a Bike Ben Sollee

Growing up on the east side of Lexington, Ben Sollee spent countless afternoons sitting on the porch of his grandpa’s home, listening as the man he admired played the fiddle for anyone who would take the time to sit and listen. So when Sollee got the opportunity to play the cello during his time at Yates Elementary School, he recalls his grandfather’s stopping, staring and saying, “Well, it looks enough like a fiddle to me.” “I was attracted to all of the strings and noises the cello could make,” says Sollee, a classically trained pop cellist. “I never felt like I was working when I was playing music. Yet, I soon realized that there was no short way around really studying the cello. The fact is that it uses all of your muscles and memory to take on such an instrument.” Now armed with a cello and often atop a bicycle, Sollee is canvassing the country sharing his love of music, art and community with others. “It’s been a very communityoriented growth,” says Sollee, who is on the road supporting his current album Inclusions. “I have been out here independently and not using the likes of some big record label. People have always been a part of my story, and ultimately, they are really all I ever need.” Sollee first emerged on the music scene with his 2008 debut Learning to Bend, which he describes as “classically influenced folk with leanings of R&B and soul.” In 2010, he collaborated with fellow Kentuckians Daniel Martin Moore and My Morning Jacket front man Yim Yames on the Sub Pop Records released album Dear Companion. These days, the songs from Inclusions continue to delight his loyal fans. “I love this record,” says Sollee of Inclusions. “I love it for all of its meanings—explicit and incidental. I love the people I got to work with and the sound they helped create. I love how challenging it was to excavate some of the musical ideas and how others washed up in conversation. In these songs, I can hear the city I grew up in and the people that lived down the street.” In October, Sollee will perform at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort, and he regularly works with a number of regional nonprofit organizations, such as Appalachian Voices and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. “I still have a lot of room to grow,” he admits. “At the end of the tunnel, I hope to look back and think I have done it the right way. Of course, you want to grow and tell your story, and if some record label came along that would be willing to give the time, love and energy into my music while supporting the communities that I play for, while also supporting my bike riding and environmental issues, I would definitely listen to what they have to say. But for now, I’m fine with my cello, my bike and the chance to slow down and experience the rich communities of this country.”

SEPTEMBER 2011 • Kentucky Monthly


Ericka Nicole Malone one of Kentucky's 5 Up-and-Coming Artists  
Ericka Nicole Malone one of Kentucky's 5 Up-and-Coming Artists  

Ericka Nicole Malone on how she got her start, what inspires her plays and why she'll always be a Kentucky girl at heart.