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Talking Bluntry, The Voice

With Grace Askew

Grace Askew singing "These Boot's Are Made For Walking" on the TV show, The Voice.
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Photos courtesy of Grace Askew.
Memphian And Veteran Of The Reality Hit The Voice, Grace Askew Talks About The Changing Musical Landscape, Her New Music And A Possible Return To TV

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By Joey Hancock
Special for Modern Times Magazine

May 28, 2013 — The old soul of the south is making a comeback in today’s music. Artists like Joe Bonamassa, Ana Popovic and probably the most popular, Jack White, are bringing the blues back to the charts as more people are remembering the sultry sounds that made Tennessee a mecca for music.

Grace Askew is another name to add that list of fast growing artists with her own unique sound of blues and country, or “Bluntry” as she calls it.

Askew is a sixth generation Memphian and was recently a performer on NBC’s The Voice, joining Blake Shelton’s team after singing a “Bluntry” style version of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking.” Thought by many to have been sent home way too early Askew is making the best of her experience and has many new and exciting things coming in the near future.

Askew spoke with Modern Times Magazine about her passion for music, how she found her unique sound, new projects, and her experience on The Voice.

MTM: You have a pretty diverse background in music, ranging from jazz, to country and blues. How did your interest in these styles of music come about in a time where Top 40 is the predominant style?

Grace: I'd say I've just always been a nostalgic, maybe even to a fault...an old soul, if you will. The music of the "good old days" has always felt more near and dear and comforting to me growing up. Old blues artists, like Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin' Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf all sang such simply composed songs and that simplicity is so hard to find in the complexities of modern-day music. I find it so refreshing and therapeutic.

MTM: On your website you list a few singers/songwriters who have influenced you. Who is your biggest influence and why?

Grace: I'd say my biggest influence songwriting-wise has been Lucinda Williams. Her Southern-Gothic storytelling has always just blown my mind in all it's twisted, tender, bittersweet glory. Each and every song also feels profoundly familiar and relatable, which is hard for me to come by in modern-day music.

MTM: Other than singers/songwriters who is your biggest influence and why?

Grace: The things that fly by my mind when I'm living out my suitcase and truck for months at a time, and the things that keep me grounded when I'm at home ...
country starlight, backroads, junkyards, barflys, Memphis, ma 'n' pa, coffee, ghost towns, tombstones, New Orleans, western flicks, bukowski, airports, dive bars, bad luck, good luck, no luck at all, a good Kentucky bourbon, bad habits.

MTM: I can hear in your songs the influence of the blues and it seems more artists are leaning towards this older blues sound these days. Take Jack White for instance, who has essentially turned the blues into a modern form of rock. What is your take on the blues and how influential the genre is on todays artists, and if you think that older more sultry sound is something that needs to be returned to?

Grace: I don't want to tell the artists of today what to do, especially because I can't stand being told what to do myself. Ha. But I do have a particular partiality to the music that came before my generation ... gospel, real country, delta blues ... I think that those roots are way more important to keep alive and pumping in the veins of our culture. Especially our youth. We CANNOT forget the predecessors of American music and all that came before us, when then things like AutoTune and Clear Channel and iTunes and ProTools didn't exist. After all, it's the ONE and ONLY thing that NO OTHER country can replicate and make better. You'd never want to see a guy from Japan trying to be a country star, or a gal from Holland trying to be a modern-day Jesse Mae Hemphill. It just doesn't work.

MTM: You got your first guitar at 13. Many times when kids are introduced to an instrument it is a platform for releasing emotions they can't otherwise express. Was this the case for you, and how did you end up learning to play?

Grace: I don't particularly remember why I liked guitar so much, I think it certainly was due to my need to share my passion for writing. Guitar was the perfect tool. My mother had also just gotten me into Joni Mitchell and I think I fell so in love with her music that I thought I'd try and be her for a little while. Ha. Mostly though, I just remember really loving the way having that guitar felt in my lap and in my hands. It just felt like home ... as cheesy as that sounds. Something just clicked inside and I was from then on with six-strings and a piece of wood.

MTM: How did you come about appearing on The Voice?

Grace: I went through a private audition in Memphis at Ardent Studios and honestly I didn't take any of it that seriously in the beginning because I was doing it all for my momma. She's the one that kept prodding and pushing me to just "try it out," so I wasn't nervous at all for any of the preliminary auditions...which I suppose is what helped me in the end. But momma knows best, right? Sure am glad I got to experience The Voice now.

MTM: You've received a lot of praise and there has been a bit of anger about you being sent home from the show. The Examiner said, "We can't wait for your new album." How do you feel about the response you received during and after the show?

Grace: I try not to read many of the press responses or read people's comments on the internet. That's not why I did the show. It was mostly to just make my family proud and to prove something to myself ... maybe that I had "boots" enough to walk the national stage and be myself, no matter what kind of response that meant I was gonna get. Felt great to be a part of The Voice from day one, representing Memphis.

MTM: After your audition you called your sound, "Bluntry," obviously country and blues, but how did you come up with that sound?

Grace: I'm a 6th generation Memphian, so coming from a town that is historically a melting pot of musical influences, it was only natural that I came on to the show with a mixture of my two favorite Memphis pastimes, blues and country. It's basically another expression for Americana or rockabilly ... just with my own personal twist on it.

MTM: Something I've been wondering about this entire season of The Voice is the song choices. A lot of repetition of songs from last year have been on this season. The songs you sang on the show, were they your first choice or do you think you may have gone a different way if more songs were available?

Grace: Not sure what I can legally say about the song-picking situation but I will say that I definitely chose my blind audition song.

MTM: After you left the show how has your view of music, and the music business changed in anyway or has it just made you want to work that much harder?

Grace: Me perspective has changed, mostly of Hollywood and the way things have to work at the end of the day. Because let's face it, at the end of the day The Voice is a TV show, making purely TV show decisions. It's not necessarily about "the voice." Which is ok! It's just nowhere near the un-reality I'd like to be surrounded by for the rest of my career. I wasn't out there in some kind of fantasy, la-la-land state. I knew that reality that exists in being an actual FULL-TIME musician and artist, so I feel grateful to have experienced the show with that wisdom and experience in my pocket already.

MTM: Not sure of the rules of the show but is there any chance for a return to The Voice?

Grace: It's a possibility....they are allowed to ask me to come back at any point.

MTM: Who is your pick to win this year?

Grace: Michelle Chamuel. She's good peoples, SO unique, girl can sing, and just a general badass.

MTM: Do you have any projects coming up? New songs, albums etc.

Grace: I'm about to release a new single entitled "Empty Rooms." Along with two other tracks to create a mini-EP, if you will. SO excited for folks to hear the new stuff, I've never felt so excited about my material before! We're cutting it down at the same studio I've cut the past several albums in Oxford, Miss., at a joint called Tweed. Lots of slide resonator guitar, dobro, a Bobbie-Gentry style string section and lots of swampy Bluntry goodness.

MTM: Are you planning on touring anywhere outside of Tennessee any time soon?

Grace: I have got festivals, tour dates, and my newest and latest exciting thing - an interview/in-studio performance at my ALL-TIME favorite music blog called Daytrotter - this month! Lots of exciting tours to come. The upcoming dates can be found on my website, www.GraceAskew.com.

Joey Hancock is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to Modern Times Magazine.
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