A Conversation with Steel Magnolia’s Meghan Linsey
Steel Magnolia took a decidedly modern media approach to breaking into the country music business. A victory on the second season of CMT’s Can You Duet–a reality show that also helped launch the career of Joey + Rory–helped land them a record deal and launch their first single onto country radio.
But it is the relationship between the two band members, Meghan Linsey and Joshua Scott Jones that really lies at the foundation of the group. A native of Ponchatoula, Louisiana, Linsey formed the duo with Jones, her boyfriend, whom she met while serving as a karaoke host in a Nashville bar. (This meeting would become a loose basis for their first music video.)
With Big Machine Records President Scott Borchetta as one of the judges of the CMT show, their signing to his label was a natural step. In August of 2009, they released their debut single, “Keep on Lovin’ You,” which eventually made it all the way to #4 on the Hot Country Chart. A second single, “Just by Being You (Halo and Wings),” followed almost a year later in July of 2010, and “Last Night Again” is currently running up the charts. Their first album was released in January and they’ve already been nominated for an ACM award in the Best New Duo Or Group category.
Linsey sat down with The 9513 to talk about the new album and the dynamics of working day-to-day with the love of her life.
For those country music fans that are out there that haven’t heard your new album, what can they expect?
I think there’s a little bit of everything on the record. Josh and I come from different backgrounds musically and collectively, there’s a lot going on. The one common thing that we share, though, is that we’re both grounded in country music. I grew up in New Orleans and so my music is very soul-influenced. I listened to a lot of soul music growing up. Josh got into rock and we both dabbled in pop so I think there are those little influences all over the record. If you listen to the first song on the record–it’s called “Ooh La La”–and it’s kind of a new pop-country type of sound. And if you listen to the last song called “Glass Houses,” it’s a very acoustic broke-down throwback of a song. And that really speaks to the whole record. All the songs are very different and what makes it all work is the vocal blend that we have. It kind of ties it all together.
It’s funny because I always fear that we’re revealing stuff too personal. I think all of them come from a very real place. That’s kind of the common thing with all of them is that they’re very honest. Some of them are a testament to what we were going through as a couple at the time. And that can be up for interpretation and you can sometimes make that apply to what you want it to be about. But for us, they’re very personal.
You mentioned influences in terms of locales and genres, what other artists have inspired each of your styles and sounds?
For me, my first loves were Dolly Parton, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Tanya Tucker–artists that were all very different from one-another actually. They are all very powerful in the way that they sing. There’s a way they make you feel when they sing. That’s what always drew me in as a singer.
While they are all different genres, they are all certainly commanding personas up on stage.
Exactly. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Josh has always been attracted to artists with that same thing–all artists that sing with feeling. He was very into Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash in his country music influences. The Stones were a big influence. Even the Beatles were an influence. He got a copy of The White Album as a kid and learned every song on that album. I think the cool thing is that we’ve been able to introduce each other to different kinds of music because we come from such different places. I think we’ve learned a lot from each other. The duos we look up to now are obviously ones like Johnny and June, George and Tammy and Bonnie and Delaney. They’ve been huge influences on us. We’ve pulled up a lot of old YouTube videos of them singing because I think we’re very similar in how we go about singing. We pull from a lot of different places.
How was the experience working with Dan Huff in the studio?
Dan is the one that made it all work. He brought it all to life. I think he does such a wonderful job with that. I think going in, we were a little nervous. You have these songs that you write that are kind of your life’s work. You want them to be able to be heard. You want to make sure that your stamp is on the project and that it doesn’t blow it up. He did a great job of working with us and making sure that it sounds like a Steel Magnolia record. He’s so tasteful in the way that he brings things together and I don’t think we could have found a better producer that we would have agreed with more, gotten along better or brought out the best in us more. There were things he had us do that we, at the time, were like, “Really?” But in that process, he brought out a lot in us that we didn’t know that was there. We have a great relationship and he made sure we had a great time making the record.
Your big break came in a unique way through the television reality show Can You Duet. What have been some of the positives and/or negatives that came out of that win?
The definite positive is that we won the show and that platform allowed us to be seen and allowed our music to be heard. And it led us to our record deal since our record label head was one of the judges on the show. And he ended up signing us. I don’t think we could have been signed to a better record label, either. Everyone there works so hard and they just totally believe in us. It’s been a wonderful relationship thus far. The one negative might be having to overcome the stigma of a reality show. You have to wait and see if they’re going to treat you like just another reality show artist or a true artist musically. I think it’s been pretty easy for us. I don’t think we’ve had as many problems with that as we thought we were going to have. I think that’s a testament to the right first single and a really hard-working team. That goes for the whole label and all the management team. Country music radio has really embraced us and has played our music. That’s really played into where we are right now.
Seeing as you guys travel together non-stop these days on the road, how does that always work in a relationship and as a couple?
It can have its challenges and its days. I think relationships in general are really hard. And when you put on top of that all the working and living and being in each other’s space all the time, it can be hard. I think if it was easy, there would be something wrong with us. (Laughter) I think at the end of the day, we don’t hold grudges. When we fight, we fight. And when it’s all over, we let it go. I think we’re really good at differentiating our work relationship and our personal relationship. That’s not always easy. I think we’re better and distinguishing between that work relationship and our personal relationship. Although it’s that personal relationship one that’s hard to turn off. I think we’re always talking about something musical. But that is something we live to do and that’s probably the one thing that’s kept us together. It works for a reason. I think there are a lot of people who have spouses that go out on the road and they’re not doing it together. That would be hard being apart for that long. It’s nice to have someone to do this with and that you have someone to do this with.
I guess just as in real life, under those glamorous lights of show business, there’s still those I’m-not-going-to-last-the-rest-of-the-day-with-this-person moments.
The two of you have had some ACA and ACM award-nominations early-on already. What has that early acceptance at that level meant to the two of you thus far?
I think it’s always nice to be nominated and recognized with awards. We’ve been working like crazy for the last year and a half. It’s been non-stop. It’s hard to look down and see what’s really happening a lot. Those types of things allow you to wake up and have that opportunity. You’re surrounded by people like Keith Urban, Sugarland and Miranda Lambert. You realize you’re sitting among all these big artists. It feels really good because it feels like your hard work is paying off. It’s such a great thing to be recognized by the industry and your peers. And it’s been cool being nominated in fan-based awards because that’s really why we do what we do. We play for fans. It’s just a huge honor.
What is country music to Steel Magnolia?
I think country music has become a state of mind. I think the genre’s become so vast. And while it’s still rooted in tradition, I think there are different sounds coming out. I think the thing that holds it all together is the values. It’s the ground behind it. It is very family-oriented. We go to church. We believe in God. We love our fans. We love the people that come to our shows and that we meet after the shows. And I think that’s what country music is. We’re just trying to keep that alive.
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