Star De Azlan: First and Foremost a Country Singer
On her first radio tour in two years, momentum has been interrupted by the monster winter storm that hit most of the lower 48 states. Country artist Star De Azlan got turned around in Philly, barely catching a flight, and came back home to Texas to wait it out–only to be affected once again by Mother Nature.
“It’s actually snowing here in San Marcos… isn’t that crazy?” Located between San Antonio and Austin, her town just isn’t used to this northern-like weather, and as cabin fever sets in, the young Curb recording artist is fired up to return to finish her current leg of the tour.
“Really good to be out on the road! Some of the stations I’m visiting I’ve already visited promoting ‘She’s Pretty,’ so it’s good to see familiar faces, as well as seeing fresh faces. I’m getting great feedback on the song.” The song she’s referring to is her latest single: “A Man Who Can Dance.” This is De Azlan’s follow up release to 2009’s “Like a Rose” and her 2008 debut single, “She’s Pretty,” which peaked at #51 on the Billboard Country chart.
“Doug Johnson produced it, recorded it in Nashville. We took some time trying to find the right song–what we thought was going to work for radio and what was going to best represent me, while staying true to myself. Doug Johnson and Mike Curb found it and brought it to my attention, and said, ‘Listen to this–we think it’s going to be a good fit.’ So I did… and I liked it.”
The lyric tells the story of Carmelita, who uses dancing as her litmus test for a good life-partner. The song’s uptempo country production with a Tex-Mex flair of classical guitar and hints of Latin percussion is catchy and a little seductive. “We switched it up a bit from the original [demo] and kind of made it our own. We went into the studio and spent many hours on it. Doug Johnson is really, really good. He’s an amazing producer… and songwriter.”
Although Johnson did not have a hand in penning “A Man Who Can Dance,” he’s a songwriter who’s written seven Number Ones, including “Three Wooden Crosses” recorded by Randy Travis. He’s also producer to Hank Williams, Jr. and Lee Brice. “We were a perfect fit working together and it was fun. I feel blessed. Funny that a couple of guys wrote that song! [Laughs]” Hit makers James Slater (“In My Daughter’s Eyes”) and Tim Nichols (“Live Like You Were Dying”) are the writing team behind her current single.
There’s no getting around the fact that the South Texas sound is in her blood–she’s a product of her environment. “Born and raised in San Marcos–I’ve been here all my life. This has become such a music city over here. Austin is my neighbor–‘The Live Music Capital of the World.’ Tons of great musicians come out of here and great artists are developed here, so it was too hard NOT to carry on [with that music tradition] in San Marcos. All the Texas country artists play at venues in this town. They have songwriters’ nights here–San Marcos really lets you express yourself as a songwriter without being judged. Cheatham Street Warehouse is where I got started. You can go there and try out your new stuff and see how the people like it. Being it’s kind of a small town, you’re on still ground. At the same time, there are tons of cultures. Right next door is San Antonio, which has a huge Hispanic community, so I was able to sing mariachi–that’s my Hispanic roots. We also have Ace in the Hole Band in San Marcos, so we channel my love for country here as well.”
Very possibly the only Mexican-American artist signed to a major Nashville label right now, and almost certainly the first female Mexican-American ever signed to a Nashville major, De Azlan shies from riding on those laurels. “I think it’s pretty cool, but first and foremost, I’m a country singer; secondly, a female country singer; thirdly, a Hispanic female country singer. Obviously, it’s quite an honor to know all that, and hopefully it will pave the way for other Hispanic females to break into country music. I just want to let them know that they can. I guess I’m a role model and that makes me feel good, of course. My family is proud of me, so that makes me happier.”
Asked if there’s a pressure that comes with that honor, she says, “I think so. Of course, in the music business there’s always pressure. There are so many great and talented artists out there. There’s also the pressure of being one of the first [female Mexican-American country artists] because you want to make it a point to be successful.”
Forced to choose her bigger passion–singing or songwriting–the artist takes a few moments to decide: “Oh, gosh. That’s a tough one, but I would have to say singing because even though with songwriting I can express my own feelings, if there’s an amazing song out there I can relate to, I want to sing it to the world [regardless of who wrote it].” But songwriting comes in a very close second. Her early singles were self-penned and she’s proud of that. “’Like a Rose’ was the first song I wrote… ever. I was 15 years old. ‘She’s Pretty’ was a ‘real experience’ written song. I really did have a boyfriend and we broke up, and he did walk in with another girl–that stuff really did happen.”
Since her previous single was released, De Azlan has been collaborating with Nashville writers. “The past year and a half I’ve been introduced to co-writing. It’s definitely a different experience. It’s really fun, actually, because you get to feed off of each other’s inspirations instead of having just your own. You never know what’s going to come out of a songwriting session.”
Curb has her publishing, and in-house pairings has been the usual experience. “Yes, I have been writing with other Curb writers. Occasionally they’ll set me up with a few days of just going to Nashville for writing with mainly people at Curb, but the Warren Brothers have been a part of my collaborations, and I’ve written with Pam Tillis. We wrote a really fun song called “My Side of Town.” I’d love for you to hear it. She’s such an amazing songwriter. [During our sessions] there was no stopping her. It was an honor to write with her.”
Tillis, as a co-writer for De Azlan, was a savvy suggestion by the powers that be. It’s impossible not to think of her 1995 latin-flavored hit “Mi Vida Loca” when listening to De Azlan’s current single. That song was her only Number One.
Over the last three years, De Azlan has released three singles, but no album… yet. “We want to release an album as soon as possible. But really, the plan for me is more like to have a single climb the charts and to be at least in the Top 10 before I release my album, because I want to sell albums. I want people to know who I am, and then reach out and buy an album. Does that make sense? I want an album where people are wanting it–demanding it–and not to just make myself feel good. I want to do it because the fans want it and because they like my music, so we’re waiting to see how the single does [at radio].”
Back in 2009, Curb announced a release date for her album, but that came and went without an album. “Whatever we do, the record’s going to have my recent releases on there. All the other tracks will be new writes and new recordings, and a couple of things that are dear to my heart that I’d like to put in there, plus the new single, so it’s going to be a mixture.”
Although this release-date hesitation could appear to some outsiders that the Curb label is being unsupportive, De Azlan is certain of their belief in her. Asked who her champions are there, she’s quick to show her own loyalty: “Everyone at Curb [is rooting for me]. Mike Curb came down to San Marcos and he set up my showcase. He was the one who actually signed me and he’s been a good believer from the start. He came out of retirement to help produce ‘She’s Pretty’ and ‘Like a Rose,’ and for me–that really said a lot. He supports me 100%. He’s not a bad person to have on your side. Everybody at the label is really amazing. They’ve been doing all that they can to help me as an artist, to develop me and get my name out there. Doug Johnson just produced this new single and we’ve been pretty close ever since.” Besides being a songwriter and producer, Johnson oversees A & R at the label.
The last year and a half has been some of the most important developmental years for the young singer. The co-writing has helped stretch her creatively, and touring has added confidence, as well as fans to her arsenal. “I’ve been performing overseas. We went to Europe and I got invited to go to the biggest country festival there–The Country Rendez-Vous Festival in Craponne, France. Something like 30,000 people there! It happens once a year and I got to perform there. The fans were great. I performed a famous Piaf song and the crowd sang along. I played some other venues in Paris, too.”
The French press also loved her: “We must not be fooled by the small stature of the young singer Star De Azlan. Hiding behind it is a great voice. Nicknamed ‘The Edith Piaf of Texas’–she is the whole package.”
During this time, De Azlan also got married. The newlywed shared in this interview that it was a nice wedding by the river and that the couple’s “first dance” song was by Austin artist Jimmy LaFave called “Never is a Moment,” and even sang a few bars over the phone. “It’ll be two years in May. He is NOT in the music business. I was kind of staying away from that, although he’s been getting more involved with it, becoming way more knowledgeable about it and trying to help me with networking. Eventually, I think he’s going to take a huge part in it.”
Asked how important is it to have the support of a spouse in the pursuit of her artistic endeavors, the singer says, “I think it is very important–almost a necessity for them to be very supportive. You are on the road and you don’t get to see them, constantly talking to other people, having interviews… your attention can’t be on them all the time. This career is a lifestyle, so for him to be supportive is definitely important. If a spouse is not, it makes it hard on both people. They need to understand all that you have to do and all you have to give to make this thing work.”
Does her husband “get” that sometimes when she writes a song, it’s not necessarily about him? “[Laughs] That’s funny! Sometimes when I’m writing, he says, (her voice gets very small) ‘Are you really feeling that?’ [Laughs] You know, I’m just trying to write songs that hopefully other people can relate to–they’re not necessarily how I’m feeling, but maybe it’ll make a good story. There are songs written about him and songs to write just to write, you know?”
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