Don’t be fooled by the name- Roxie Watson is more than a woman- in fact, it’s actually 5 women who make up this mandolin-picking, guitar-strumming, harmonious quintet. The bluegrass group is made up of longtime friends- Beth Wheeler (mandolin), Lenny Lasater (bass), Linda Bolley (acoustic & electric guitar), Sonia Tetlow (banjo) and Becky Shaw (lap steel, harmonica, button box, acoustic guitar). You may have noticed that no one member of the band is listed as vocalist, because each member of the group takes a turn singing lead in different song. Lenny Lasater and Beth Wheeler were the catalysts that initially united this gang of bluegrass lovin’ gals back in 2007. In March, the band released their third full-length album, “Songs From Hell’s Hollow.”
Earlier this week, AMG got a chance to chat with Lenny Lasater, Roxie Watson’s bassist. Lenny’s warm demeanor and infectious chuckle perfectly compliments her ability to tell stories in a way that makes the listener feel like they’re there. Lasater’s stories ranged from the band’s origins to memories made while working on their most recent album. Read on to get the scoop on these Atlanta locals and then go see them live this Saturday, May 24th at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur. And if you just can’t get enough of Roxie Watson, make sure you stay up to date by checking out their website.
AMG: The Roxie Watson Website bio mention that you were longtime friends before you started the band, what made you want to start a band?
Lenny Lasater: You know I’ve never been in one [a band]. Everyone else in the band, the other four members, at one time or another have been professional musicians and been in bands for several years in the Atlanta area as well as New Orleans. I’ve never been in a band before and my old friend Beth Wheeler and I knew each other, I actually was her older sister’s roommate in college up in Tennessee, so I knew her when she was just a kid, but we hooked up here in Atlanta and we started messing around just for fun to learn some new instruments. She was an accomplished bass player and learning to play the mandolin. And I played some keyboard growing up and taking lots of piano lessons and played trumpet in band. She stuck in bass in my hand. We were just drawn to the bluegrass music at the time. Dolly Parton had just realized Little Sparrow and The Grass is Blue. We were just attracted to the energy and beautiful harmonies of that music so we just started messing around just for fun.
AMG: Who is Roxie Watson? Where did the name come from?
LL: Roxie Watson is not a person. Roxie Johnson was my grandmother, my maternal grandmother. And Mary Watson was Beth Wheeler’s paternal grandmother so when we started the band, just the two of us, and we got our very first gig in Birmingham, Alabama- out of town, on a weekend and we got payed two hundreds! Good Times! But we didn’t have a band name and we thought about goofy names and different names but both of our grandmothers were very important for us to be around and were music fans so we just wanted to honor them and putting both those names together, Roxie Watson, was a pretty cool band name, at least I thought.
AMG: Describe your music in three words.
LL: Organic. Accessible. Authentic.
AMG: What is your favorite song to perform live?
LL: Well the Beer Song is very popular. But right now with the new album, we’ve got some new songs that Sonia wrote. My favorites being Fly Honey Pie and Double Wide, both of which Sonia wrote and are really high energy. We’ve actually been ending our sets with Fly Honey Pie, its just got so much energy and the crowd loves it. I’m a big softie and I like a lot of songs, I write a lot sad songs but the high energy songs are always a lot of fun and when the crowd is involved and clapping and smiling- we even have some folks just up and dance from time to time. So I guess, right now, my favorite to perform is Fly Honey Pie.
AMG: Do you have any particularly funny or crazy moments you’ve had as a band that you’d like to share?
LL: Hmm.. I don’t if I want to share any of that stuff [laughs]. Well we got to open for the Del McCoury Band in Birmingham back in March. And he is amazing, of course, vocals and the band are amazing, just a bluegrass legend. And you’re backstage and milling around in the same area and you’re not supposed to act goofy or starstruck, act like you’ve been there before so they say, but I just had to walk up to him and shake his hand and tell him how much I admired his songwriting and that some of his songs were in the early Roxie Watson repitoire when we were just a duo or trio. I mentioned that we did a particular song his called My Love Will Not Change in the same key that he did, just hoping he’d say ‘why don’t we all just do it together…’ but, hey, that’s just one of our moments that I can actually share.
Also, we actually did a gig for a birthday party up in North Carolina, where they actually gifted us all pints of moonshine as a sort of a gift. Well I’m on the wagon so I actually got a box of moon pies since our second is called ‘Of Milestones & Moon Pies’- so it was fun that they gave us all some moonshine.
AMG: What artist do you think had a hand in developing the sound of Roxie Watson?
LL: Well I mentioned Dolly Parton earlier- she’s a brilliant, simple songwriter, I say simple in that in very few words, she can get so much across. I love Joni Mitchell but she’s very verbose, but that sound, that authentic kind of bluegrass sound with really tight intricate harmonies, that energy, I heard that and I would say that we are influenced by people like Dolly Parton, Rhonda Vincent, Allison Krauss, Del McCoury, Doyle Lawson, Ricky Skaggs, as well as Johnny Cash and so many other classics. But I think the real sound we were going for was a real authentic harmony sound and pure sound that was accessible. We had one writer say that ‘you feel like with Roxie Watson, they’re sitting on your front porch or they’re sitting in your living room with you, sharing their music.’ Three of the five of us do sit down during our performances and I feel like that’s an accessibility thing for the audience, it draws the audience in. Those kinds of sounds that are like authentic and real were the sounds that influenced us, those kind of artists.
AMG: ‘like sitting on the porch with you,’ that’s an interesting why of describing your music, what does that mean to you?
LL: You know back when was just radio and not a lot of TV, folks who lived up in the Appalachian, up in the hills, they didn’t even have TV and the way they learned to sing was as a group, sitting around on the porch obviously in churches but I always thought was so wonderful about that time was we didn’t self censor. We didn’t have The Voice or American Idol or MTV, we didn’t have all this other sound and input coming in so that we would censor our own voices. We have so many kids today and everybody sounds the same and that authentic sound and those true rare voices came out of that time when you didn’t hear anyone sing but your neighbor, your friend or older siblings, and so everybody wasn’t trying to sound the same and there was so much more original, pure sound. And now we self censor so much because young artist, I hear them want to mimic the stars, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to sing like your favorite singer but if your voice has an authentic vibrato or resienence that makes it seem beautiful and pure, don’t censor that to sound like Lady Gaga or Rhianna or whoever.
AMG: You just released your new CD “Songs From Hell’s Hollow” back in March. What do you think makes this album different from your previous two?
LL: Definantly the maturity of the band. Our first CD came out in 2010, this is four years later, we’ve been performing a ton and had lots of opportunity to learn and mature as individual performers, singers, pickers and also the band itself has matured and begun to really gel. Our relationships with each other have matured and grown and our comfort level with each other, performing and in studio, has increased. So I think the biggest thing would be maturity as far as writers, singers and performers. We were so blessed to have the opportunity to record the Music Shed studio in New Orleans for this third CD with amazing engineers. Our first two were wonderful records, of course, but with this one it just sort of feels like we bumped it up a notch with Music Shed and the production crew there. But Scott Trinh who recorded our first two CD’s at Earth Shaking music was wonderful. I just think that our music growth was pretty clear with this new record. You could just tell that we’ve been working together, we’ve been growing together and its evident in this new record.
AMG: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
LL: Yes- Eddie’s Attic. We love, love that venue- a true listening room. We kind of call that home base. We do 3 shows a year there pretty much every year at Eddie’s Attic. The staff is wonderful, the venue is wonderful so we love that. That venue has survived and folks keep supporting and I just would say how important it is for folks to go to the trouble of turning off the television, shutting down the laptop, getting dressed, getting in your car, going through the hassle of parking or being on Atlanta roads and go to a live music venue and support local, live, independent music- it’s important. And we appreciate the audience so much. And we appreciate venues like Eddie’s Attic for giving us the opportunity to be able to perform here in Atlanta. The thing I’d say is thank you folks, theres so much media available to us in our living room, with our robe on, to go to the trouble to get out and come hear us, so thank you. As Eddie’s Attic says ‘live music matters’ and I reiterate that.
Did you know that Roxie Watson has been nominated for a Georgia Music Award? Well they have! You have until June 2nd to vote for them as Best Country Group/Band for 2014. Vote here.