"A record deal pours money into an artist for an album, promo, radio, etc. I have to make that money myself" We chat with Bri Bagwell
After spending time in Nashville, Bri Bagwell moved back to Texas ahead of releasing her current record, the fantastic In My Defense. If you want an idea of it, think Carrie Underwood but better. We had a chat with Bri about her album, her songwriting group, and Austin and Nashville.
Hey Bri, how’s your day going so far?
Hey! Well, it’s 4pm and I’ve had two glasses of champagne. Who can complain about that???
What have you been up to today? Anything fun?
Oops - I ruined that in the last question. Haha! I’ve been on the road for two weeks straight; so, as soon as I got back home to Austin, I headed out for a nice afternoon work session downtown. When I need to work, it’s hardest to do when all I want to do is crawl in bed!
What can you tell us about In My Defense in two sentences?
It’s cliche and it’s cheesy to say, but it’s the thing I’m most proud of in my entire career for so many reasons. We tediously dissected and rebuilt each song to make it perfect, and it’s 100% honesty about where I am at, at this exact point in my life as a songwriter and as a person.
There’s a real variety of songs on the record, but there’s an overarching theme of heartache. What stories from the songs are based on your experiences?
All of the songs are about me, or are about someone close to me… Even 'Feels Like Home' sounds like it’s about a boy, but it’s actually about me. I find it easiest to write about heartache, so I tend to write more about those moments than the happy ones. I would say that the overall theme is: I am the way that I am, but in my defense, here’s why… *play any track*
I honestly love the album, so am finding it tough to ask what songs to ask you about, but I’ve got to choose, so… What can you tell us about ‘As Soon As You’?
Hey, thanks for loving the album!! Seriously. I wrote 'As Soon As You' about being 30 and having every girlfriend I have get married, have babies, etc. I think some of us take a little longer in the settling down process, especially if you have a guarded heart and a crazy job like I do. Also, I think it’s worth mentioning that I am a part of a songwriting group that writes one song a week (individually, but you turn it in to the group); and, if you fail to turn in a song, you get kicked out of the group, no exceptions. There’s a prompt or “inspiration” for the week that you’re supposed to incorporate into the song somehow. 'As Soon As You' was a product of the week where the theme was “I’ll do the honors.” My first thought was, “I’ll do the honors of leaving you, if you try to make me stop playing music for a living.” Ha.
That's a great story to that song. And what about ‘Graffiti’?
I’m so glad that you asked. I wrote and re-wrote this song probably 10 times before my producer said it was ready. She said, I get your point, but the song doesn’t explain it well enough. She made me tell her the story behind it, which was: I went to daycare when I was younger that either had A) fresh paint that didn’t match the existing paint color or B) graffiti. From even a young age, I understood that even though there was fresh paint, it was due to the damage underneath and HELLO WHY CAN’T YOU EVER MATCH THE PAINT COLOR AFTER 100 TIMES of painting over it. I really wanted to relate this concept to a breakup, which proved to be the most difficult song that I’ve ever written. But, for example, I think my mama can always tell when I’m sad, even though I put makeup or a smile over it… that’s the point I hope people get from this song. Heartache is my graffiti, and I’m so glad Rachel Loy (my producer) made me get it right.
I know it’s hard to choose but what’s the one song you want people to hear from the new album?
'Empty Chairs', hands down. It’s the rollercoaster of the business summed up in a tune.
OK, that was easier than I expected... Tell me about Austin, Texas, why’s it so great?
Well, now that I’m a dog mom, I think that’s a big reason. I’m in a bar/restaurant and she’s asleep on my lap. Not only did they welcome her, but they gave her treats and a water bowl. Ha! Also, the live music scene here really is insanely amazing. And, unlike Nashville, you can go anywhere and not have people ask if you’re a singer. I roll everywhere in yoga pants with my dog, and people are like, “Cool. Want the wifi password and a local beer?”
And what’s the place to go to hear great music in the city?
The White Horse is a newer place with great jams… I used to play at Shiner’s Saloon on 5th and they still have a ton of great music. The ultimate is the intimate Saxon Pub. Music anytime you go in, guaranteed. It is my fave place to listen and play in ATX and actually where I shot my video for 'Whiskey' at 6am, because it was the only time they didn’t have live music playing.
You lived in Nashville for a bit; how come you didn’t stay too long?
I had a songwriting deal with Sony ATV for three years. After my first contract with them, they told me they thought I wasn’t there enough and needed to move there. So I did. I think I did over 40 round trip flights in one year, because I was still playing in Texas every single weekend… It was killing me, but I didn’t know it. But after I moved there and it still wasn’t working, Sony didn’t renew my contract - I told mom to get her booty to Tennessee and we put everything in a Uhaul and I moved back to Texas. I do very much love Nashville though; it’s got an Austin “feel” and it’s full of the most incredible talent.
I believe you’re an independent artist, honestly, how difficult is it to be independent?
I just hired management last year after Lord knows how many years of doing it myself. I will say, that it is MUCH easier having a booking agent as an indie artist; I’ve been blessed to have a booking agent since I started in Texas. I cannot imagine being independent and not having that. Now I have management, but no PR or record label - so, I guess that still makes me independent? I think what’s hardest about it (besides everything), is the money aspect. A record deal pours money into an artist for an album, promo, radio, etc. I have to make that money myself, or raise it all on my own (which is crazy because I have to still pay the same prices, just with no backing). I think that’s why an independent artist has more of a slow-moving career. It takes a big push to “make it” and we usually only can afford little jolts at a time.
And what’s the best thing about doing your own thing?
I love that I am 100% in control of everything, especially the songwriting. I chose a producer that challenges my writing to make it better and doesn’t accept anything mediocre; but ultimately, it is still me who creates the content and releases it completely free of anyone telling me what to do and when and how! That’s a very big responsibility, but if it was taken away, I couldn’t imagine being happy while feeling restricted in my creativity.
What’s coming up in the rest of 2019?
I’m still promoting this last record, so I have more singles coming out to radio, more music videos, and of course as much touring as possible (prob 175 shows including a cruise and a trip or two overseas). I’m still in that songwriting group that I mentioned earlier, so that means writing one song a week for the foreseeable future. My producer wants to start on my next record, and I told her I’ll get right on that when i find that money tree.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
This one is so tough, because I have had so many great men and women play an amazing role in my career without treating me different from a man - or if they treat me different, it’s not worse or better, it’s just different. I think that’s an important point… I’m so thankful for that; but, literally every part of this business is different for a woman, and in many ways it is more difficult. I think that male and female fans don’t latch on to and/or dive in to support a female artist the way that they do a male one, especially when it comes to live music in Texas. You won’t find my front row full of dudes, because that isn’t “cool,” and females are so much harder to win over when you’re a woman. Sounds crazy, but that’s the truth I’ve found for my career.
I think things are changing, though, and it’s had a lot to do with the women in Nashville being complete badasses (Miranda, Maren, Kacey). Radio is playing more females, too. I don’t have a thousand horror stories about being hit on/wrongly treated, but I do have a few. When you’re a female in a male-dominated industry, things like that are inevitable I think, and that sucks. At least it’s acceptable and even encouraged now to be honest and open when there is wrongdoing, so heck yeah to that. I believe in working harder than everyone else, putting on the best show I can, and letting that be the change this industry needs. From what I’ve seen, I think that works. I’m as busy as I want to be and have played 90% of the venues/festivals I have always dreamed of, and many that I’m the only female on. I do hate when festivals just put me on stage as the first act, solely (seemingly) because I’m a female. But, I just go out with the intention of making the festival owner go “Damn, putting her first was a mistake.”
Do you find yourself treated differently from the guys you’ve played with by tour managers, sound people, etc?
Maybe early on in my career, but not now. I think I’ve earned respect from people in the industry. There have been some instances where a sound man treats me like I don’t understand my own gear, but 99% of the time, everyone is nice and respectful. I do find that sometimes when people talk about me, the first thing they’ll say about me (or even to me) has nothing to do with my music. One of my favorite musicians kept commenting on my looks, and I finally said, “do you think I write good songs or sing well or is there anything else you want to say about me?” Sometimes that happens with radio DJs as well.
Tell us something that no-one ever asks you about.
Yes, I want to get married and have a baby. I feel like so many people avoid the question, because it seems such a sensitive issue. I feel that people really think I will have to quit music to have a family, which sucks. There’s a whole thought process about losing momentum when you take time off to have a baby, too, and I agree there’s a legitimate trade-off. I definitely saw more of this when I was in Nashville; people will comment that “you better hurry” as if I’m running out of time to have a baby or have a music career. There is a “sands through the hourglass” stigma when it comes to female artists. I’m just saying that I want it, when I’m ready, and I think that’s all pretty dang fine (and shouldn’t evoke a negative response from managers/labels/fans when I talk about it).
Tell us a charity we should support, and why.
I have had the opportunity to become really close friends with a family that has THREE Make-A-Wish kids. I mean, I am tearing up over here typing about them. The parents are these magical people, thrown in a heartbreaking situation; they make the best of it, but the Make-A-Wish foundation has done so much for them that they couldn’t do, since they spend so much of their income on health insurance/bills. It’s so humbling and inspiring to be around both the parents and the children.
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
Copper Chief, and see them live if possible. They are my favorite humans to drink whiskey with, and they are so insanely talented. The bass player was in my band for three years, and Copper Chief as a band was also on the show Real Country that I was on in 2018. They are great guys who have been grinding for a long time - they deserve all the success in the world.
I saw your tweet about a drive-through-less Starbucks, it’s not right in this day and age is it?
I mean, when I’m on the road, I try hard to not look at my phone. My drive-thru time at the Bucks is when I scroll through texts and emails. If I have to park and go in and actually use my legs to get my $4 coffee, what's the point?
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
Well, I’m just surprised you haven’t asked me about Mama B. My mom seems way more famous than me! Haha. She is lovable, though… I get it.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
If it’s cold outside: Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte
If it’s hot outside: Venti Iced Coffee, no liquid sugar, add almond milk
To find out more about Bri you should go check out her website. You can also follow her on social media.