Some of us have this romantic notion that when artists record at a legendary studio there is a sense of history that inspires and finds its way into their music. Celia Woodsmith of Della Mae says that’s not just a romantic notion; that when she and her bandmates recorded their new album, This World Oft Can Be, at Johnny Cash’s Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee, that was a reality.
“That’s exactly what it was like,” laughs the New Hampshire based vocalist and guitarist. “There’s the old part of the cabin, which he (Cash) built in 1978 for him and June (Carter Cash) to have a place to relax at, and then there was a newer part that was added on that had the whole console, and there were all these different rooms that had animal heads and fish, and it was a strange place to be. But then something would happen, like you’d sit down in this old rocking chair and look down and there were Johnny Cash’s initials carved into the hand rest. And then one of the engineers would be like ‘oh, by the way, that was Mother Maybelle’s rocking chair.’ This music just permeated the whole place. Everywhere you looked there were little interesting things and cool instruments to play and we really did have that giddy feeling the whole time we were there, and I think it rubbed off and into the music.”
And if the late, great Man in Black was around to hear the Boston group’s second album, odds are that he would have not just liked it, but would have been honored to have the five piece band recording in his studio. Simply put, this is good American roots music infused with top-notch musicianship, songwriting, and harmonies. In other words, there’s a lot going on here, but they make it work, a testament to the chemistry the group (Woodsmith, Kimber Ludiker, Courtney Hartman, Shelby Means, Jenni Lyn Gardner) has built over the last few years, especially on a US State Department trip to Central Asia as part of the American Music Abroad program.
“We do a lot of traveling and it’s been trips like the one to Central Asia, where we were together in a foreign environment for so long, that I think the camaraderie in our band became really strong and we really try to be supportive players for one another,” said Woodsmith. “We try to do what the song needs and not anything more than that. We’re not trying to be overly flashy or these entertainers on stage that have a shtick. We want to be as real and honest as musicians as we can. So we’re lucky that we were able to get these women together who can shred on their instruments, and when it’s their time to shine, they do that. And then they come back into the group and back into the song, and I like the fact that there’s no one outstanding player in this band, that it’s really a group effort. It feels really nice to be part of this larger entity.”
And if the quality of This World Oft Can Be is any indication, Della Mae is about to get even larger in terms of reaching a mainstream audience that is starting to come back to roots music and acts that are actually going out there and hitting the road to support their albums.
“It’s just a pendulum,” said Woodsmith. “It swings really hard one way and then it starts to swing back another way. I think people have been listening to really heavily produced pop music and autotuned voices and I think a lot of them are going ‘wait a minute, can this artist do that on stage, and can I go to a real concert with this artist without it selling out in 30 seconds and having to buy these tickets on Craigslist or something? How close can I get to feeling what this artist can do, rather than just hearing this overproduced version of their music on the radio?’ Then when people are realizing that, they’re sort of turning back towards ‘who are the people that I can go see live? Who are the people who are making real sounding music?’ So I do think we have hit this stride at the perfect time. We work hard, but I have to say maybe we’re in the right place at the right time right now. And I will give credit to people like Mumford and Sons for bringing that acoustic music sound back and being able to make that sound big and exciting and lyrically interesting.”
On their way to New York City for a stop at Brooklyn’s Rock Shop on Tuesday and Manhattan’s Pianos on Wednesday, the gals of Della Mae are gearing up to do everything in their power to make sure everyone who wants to see them on the road gets their opportunity to do so. In other words, they’re doing things the old-fashioned way, and while their first album, 2011’s I Built This Heart was well-received by fans and critics, now with the muscle and support of Rounder Records behind them, it’s a whole different level of anticipation and a whole new world of opportunities open for them.
“This is a different feeling,” she admits. “For me, this is my sixth album that I’ve released, and I’ve never done it with someone like Rounder before. They’ve all been self-released up until this point, so it is quite a different feeling. We have this whole wonderful team of people who are working their butts off right now trying to do all this promotion and really helping us.”
Being on a supportive label can make all the difference between “making it” in this business and getting lost in the sea of music (some good, most not so much) that is everywhere you look on the internet. Woodsmith has been in that sea before, and after years of toil, she’s happy that someone else can focus on the logistics while she sets her sights on the music.
“There are just so many people out there,” she said. “It’s full of artists, and, like you said, some of them are very good, some of them aren’t so good, and as an independent artist, you work so, so hard to get such minimal attention. I remember making a list of a hundred radio stations and sending it out to each DJ that we wanted to play the CD, but it’s a shot in the dark because an unsolicited package from an independent artist is most likely not even going to get opened. So it was so frustrating, but at the same time, there was the fact that you own everything yourself and you have the satisfaction of doing it yourself. But I think for us at this point, Rounder has done way more than we could ever do, and they really have let us be ourselves, let us play what we want to play and do all these quirky things that we want to do. So the feeling of having that team is so overwhelming. They have done everything in their power to really make this work for us, and for that I really do appreciate them.”
Now it’s off to the road to support This World Oft Can Be, and if you’re curious about their sound and want to check them out, that’s cool with them; just get ready to throw any pre-conceived notions out the door.
“I’ve heard a lot of times, ‘Della Mae, more than just pretty faces,’ and sometimes I get aggravated at that, but other times I’m like yeah, maybe they are at first coming to the show for the novelty of ‘oh, an all-female group, how often do you get that?’” said Woodsmith when asked if there are still misconceptions about all-female groups. “But then when they come and they get to experience that we’re not trying to play up looks or sexuality and that we’re trying to promote songwriting and togetherness and just being a unit and being powerful as musicians more than anything else, I do think some biases still exist, but quite honestly we don’t really run into a lot of that stuff. I think there’s a tremendous amount of respect for us as musicians and I have felt very equal and appreciated and loved by our male counterparts.”
Della Mae plays The Rock Shop in Brooklyn on Tuesday, May 28 (click here for tickets) and Pianos in Manhattan on Wednesday, May 29 (click here for tickets).