Canadian Pop-Country Artist Alex Hughes has recently released her new single! “After 31” can be heard here. “I was chatting with Lydia (Sutherland) and Parker (Graye) before my 31st birthday. Turning 30 felt fun but I was anxious about turning 31. In the end, age doesn’t really matter because everyone has different stages of life. We talked the through the whole song before actually writing it. It doesn’t matter what age or stage in life you are, you can always chase your dream”. Alex was born and raised in very multi-cultural family in Calgary, Canada. Her mom’s family from India. “Growing up, I have always surrounded by family and all kinds of music. My Great grandparents were in a Polynesian touring band. I remember I was 7 years old when my aunt showed me LeAnn Rhimes, and I haven’t looked back since” Alex picked up guitar in high school and it all fell into place.
Growing up, Alex sang in her school choir and her dad worked in web development and did some web design for a karaoke company. The company happened to be hosting an all-ages karaoke contest. Alex proceeded to enter the contest and ended up winning! She won a bike and plane tickets to anywhere that the Canadian airline WestJet flies! After high school, Hughes got sponsored by a local car dealership and made an EP! Alex took a chance and moved to Los Angeles for a once in a lifetime opportunity to work with Grammy award winning producer Walter Afanasieff. “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey are some of the songs he has produced! While they worked together on some material, Hughes’ heart was in Canada.
Alex dreams of playing the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. This past summer, Hughes played for a hometown crowd at the Calgary Stampede Festival on the Nashville North Stage with a full band. When Alex was 14, she saw Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in concert and went to the VIP preshow meet & greet! “I asked them what advice would you give an aspiring artist and they said you need to be crazy and want it more than anything. That similar what I would tell an aspiring artist today. I would say you really have to love it to do it and you will be told no even when your pour your heart into it”.
You can follow Alex on social media at @alexhughesmusic and find more information on her website here.
Allison Mahal has released her song “Superego,” you can check it out here! Mahal wrote this song while dog-sitting in 2018. “The events that inspired this song happened the night before. The first verse and chorus came out on paper, but It wasn't where I wanted it. I went back to it weeks later and it clicked”. In January 2021, Allison released her first EP titled Me Now. In 2022, Mahal will be releasing her debut album titled Not Over This Yet, which she worked on with her friends and collaborators Van Isaacson and Sam Roller of Lovegrove Studios. “I want to take it (the debut album) to every city I can. I am so proud of these songs. I had the best time working on this record. I want as many eyes and ears to hear this (upcoming) album”.
A major influence of Mahal’s is Americana and Folk superstar Brandi Carlile. “I started looking up to her (Brandi) at a young age. I had no idea who she was at the time, but my mom loved (her song) “The Story” from a movie soundtrack. I am super inspired by what she stands for. I love her voice, stage presence”. Allison does not want to be labeled or tied to a certain genre. “I am not a country artist or an Americana artist. I am a singer-songwriter. I love writing my own music.”
Allison grew up outside of Chicago, Illinois and took piano as well as voice lessons as a kid. Her parents encouraged her to sign up for local talent shows. 6 years ago, Allison relocated to Nashville to attend Belmont University where she studied Music Business. “I was 18 and deciding on colleges. I knew I wanted to pursue music creatively because I didn't really know anything else other than music”. Mahal is a master songwriter as you can hear on some of her live songs on YouTube like “Autopilot” and “Not Over This Yet”. “I Push myself to be as genuine as possible when it comes to songwriting. If it doesn't feel right, I don't want to do it. Songs sometimes pour out of me but other times it can take months and months”.
While Allison is a musician, she also works in PR in the music industry. Mahal got into PR after college and loves it because it allows her to write and be around other artists. “While I am pursuing music, I'm full time in both (careers). Artists are so creative in all different ways and we are in a world where there is no reason why you can't do both. Ageism is such a thing in this industry and people think that you have to get your music out when young, but you can have a beautiful flourishing career. I hope my 20’s aren't the best years of my life because I hope the best is yet to come”
Stay in touch with Allison over Instagram at @allisonmahal for all announcements about her upcoming album and live shows.
Lexie Hayden has released her song “Pretty Damn Close”; you can check it out here. Lexie wrote the song back in 2019 with artist Gina Venier. “The song is about a two-year relationship that I was in. That one relationship where that person was almost the one for me, but it wasn’t. This person wasn’t “the one” but we were pretty damn close”. When Hayden wrote the song with Venier, they were actually supposed to have a third songwriter, but they canceled last minute. Venier and Hayden ended up still getting together that day and chatting at a table and ended up writing this song.
Hayden hails from Herndon, Virginia. Her mom grew up on a farm and always loved country music. Lexie knew she wanted to be in the country music industry since she was little and that this was the full-time career she had dreamed of. While Lexie looks up to Shania Twain and Kacey Musgraves, she really looks up to Miranda Lambert because “she’s been here since the start. She’s been around when I was learning music and guitar when I was younger all the way to now. She is a bad ass female who gets it done. I love all of the bad ass females in this industry and genre”. Hayden attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia where she graduated with a major in Communication with a Music Business minor. During her degree, Lexie ended up getting a job as an intern on the national radio show, The Bobby Bones Show in Nashville which she enjoyed, “it was a really fun job and experience”.
Hayden wants aspiring artists to know that they should “Be really patient. Nothing happens over night or quickly. I’ve been doing this for 6 years.” Hayden goes on to reflect on how tough it is to really make it in Nashville. “it’s a tough town. The recent Walker Hayes Instagram post stuck out for me when he listed everything these been through in order to get a hit song. All the ups and all the downs that people don’t see. People like Ashley McBryde went 13 years before she was discovered”.
Recently, Hayden played the Carl Black Chevy Stage at a CMA After Party, an event she went two as a plus one a couple years ago. In addition, you can see Lexie perform at every Tennessee Titans home game at Nissan Stadium! The organization reached out to her before the current football season started. She was also hired by the NFL team for events. “I play right outside one of the gates in one of the corners of the stadium. Each corner has a different performer”. Make sure you go see Lexie perform before cheering on the Tennessee Titans!
You can follow Lexie on social media at @lexiehayden and find more information on her website here.
Amanda Shires has released her album “For Christmas” right on time for the holiday season! You can stream the album here. The project is her first solo album since 2018. Shires has been balancing a lot of emotions surrounding the holiday season as she didn’t get to see many of her family members due to COVID and there was a lot she liked about that. She was thinking how fun Christmas this year would be and then she thought about losing folks to the pandemic like John Prine, “I don’t know if I can go into this thing listening to the same Christmas tunes that we’ve heard a thousand times and I wanted to make an album that I’d like to hear”. Shires worked closely with the late John Prine over the course of her career. She toured with him in 2017 and 2018, contributed to his 2018 “Tree of Forgiveness” album, and was a close friend. “John loved Christmas. On tour he would buy ornaments or start humming Christmas tunes around June and was really into it”. The day before we spoke with Amanda, she held an album listening livestream over YouTube with John’s wife, Fiona Whelan Prine. “Fiona just texted me and said “would you like to play for me in John's office with his Christmas trees” because he left his trees up all year long and I said “hell yes” without realizing we both had so much to unpack. In the spirit of bringing john Prine’s [spirit] and Christmas into the world, it was wonderful getting Fiona’s blessing.” You can rewatch the livestream here.
The album is emotion filled, with both upbeat and slower songs, and even a chilling rendition of “Silent Night”. The album opens with “Magic Ooooooh” and says it’s Christmas Time in June. it’s about that new love feeling or any happy feeling really, it feels like oh! It’s Christmas! “Magic Ooooooh” was written with Brittany Spencer who Shires praises as a “wonderful singer, musician, guitar player and songwriter”. Spencer is also a writer on another song on the album. On her weary “Silent Night” rendition, Shires reflects by saying “Sometimes you just feel dark and gloomy, but the plus side is when you sing them out loud it gives them much less power and then you find a community people who feel the same way and then you suddenly have a community of people who are happy that they all felt the same way. Naming the beast always helps”. Another song on the record “Blame It on The Mistletoe” sounds like it could be a Highwomen Christmas song. The Possibility of a Highwomen Christmas album? Shires thinks a Highwomen Christmas album in the future would be a great idea. She wants them to do a LIVE record since they didn’t get to play last year. “Let’s go play some shows and record them and put a live record out. That’d be awesome.”
It's now been just over two years since Highwomen album came out. To Shires, “it feels like a confluency of energies, not just ours but everybody that paid attention and wrote about it and noticed it and are aware. Folks like (writer) Marissa Moss. It just feels like all of us all together in this industry have made some headway (on gender representation in country music) and there will always be the Highwomen as long as those conversation need to happen, but I do feel like the intention of the group and the results of the group were what we wanted”. Amanda and The Highwomen have been a part of some of the coolest and most important moments in country music like being the first all female headliner at the Newport Folk Festival in 2019. One moment that stands out for Shires is when Mavis Staples was listening to one of the songs that they wrote “and she adjusted a line we wrote “I was freedom rider” and she changed it to “I was a freedom fighter” and even when I say it out loud, It’s huge”.
While the group is made up of the 4 most powerful women in country music (Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Shires) it is without a doubt, a supergroup. Shires, being the founder of the group, does not think of it as a supergroup. “I don’t think of it as a super group very much because I feel like the ideas of the art are observations. I just keep myself open and do my best. I realize how much of a small part I play in this and I realize how many more hands and parts it takes to make a difference. It takes more than an idea to get someone from a seed to a tree”. The Americana and Grammy award winning artist says that she does see more female engineers, and side persons in bands and sees that part changing. As far as producers, “I think we’re still working on that part. It’s all about making room and it comes from the top”. As what is next for The Highwomen, Shires hopes to get a live album out and then a full-length album sometime after that but “all the ladies have albums out and folks have to tour and it’s tough to play outside in winter”. Shires concludes by saying “I can’t believe I get to do this for my job – that was my dream as a youth – to be doing it doesn’t matter where I live or who I run into every morning it's like “I’m still doing this, I must not have woken up from the dream”.
For more information on Amanda Shires, check out her website.
Stephanie Jacques has released a music video for her song “Because of That”, you can check it out below. Because of That was inspired by the preventable murders of black citizens in this very divided country. Just as she was judged by the color of her skin, she watches those on the news being judged, being accused, and ultimately being murdered because of their skin color. “This song conveys a real fear for the black community, where we are not judged by our values or personhoods, but singly for the color of our skin. I don’t want to be judged because of that, I don’t want to be accused because of that, and I certainly don’t want to die because of it”. Stephanie wrote the song with country artist Cassadee Pope and a portion of the proceeds from the song are going to the Color Me Country fund.
6 years ago, Stephanie’s long-time friend Mickey Guyton texted her saying that she needed to be in Nashville. “I did pop and r&b in California, but I started travelling to Nashville and writing a lot. Storytelling was allowed in Nashville. I’ve always loved it (country music) but I could now be public about it”. Growing up in the Bay Area, her immediate family was multi-ethnic: she and her older brother were raised by her grandmother after her mother died at the young age of 26. Her grandmother at the time had just adopted two children from South Korea with her third husband. In the 80s, Pleasanton, CA was very much white, and her colorful family stood out everywhere they went. “My grandparents were white, me and my brother were half black/white, and my two adopted siblings were full Korean.” Thus, the origin for much of Stephanie’s song writing stems from her unique but often challenged upbringing where race reminders were only a narrowed stare or sideways comment away. Artists like Faith Hill, Aretha Franklin and Julie Andrews are all inspirations for Jacques. “I came from a soul background singing gospel and I grew up watching the Opry with my grandmother. My music is very country soul. It's not traditional but it has all been influenced by early country music”.
In addition to her own music career, Jacques is the host of the IGTV show/podcast “Jacques Talk”. The show is self-described by Stephanie as the “little show I didn’t know I needed”. Jacques reflects that “the pandemic was tough but the blessing for me was I could come out of the dark being me. I kept my profile. I didn’t want to discuss politics. We talk about how to change''. The very first episode was Jacques alone discussing what Black Lives Matter meant to her. Since the launch of the IGTV program, episodes with guests have included Mickey Guyton, Dr. Jada Watson, Cam, songwriter Laura Veltz, Holly G of the Black Opry, and journalist Marissa Moss. You can check out all of the “Jacques Talk'' episodes here.
Another pandemic venture for Jacques is becoming Co-President of the Nashville Action Committee. Alongside Stephanie, singer Parker McKay and producer Alex Kline started the committee. “We wanted to create digestible content for people who wanted to get involved and make a change. It’s so hard to deal with some topics but if we create just one post a week, we can create a movement”. In addition to their own posts, the committee works closely with Hope On The Row, a charity helping out Nashville’s homeless population. You can check out the Nashville Action Committee on Instagram @nashvilleactioncommittee and Hope On The Row here.
You can follow Stephanie on social media at @stephaniejacquesmusic and find more information on her website here.