Singer-songwriters Rylie Bourne and Damon Atkins have joined forces to become Lonehollow, and they sat down with Loud Hailer to discuss it.
Lonehollow recently released their first single as a duo, “Stones” and there’s plenty more where that came from. Rylie and Damon took some time out to discuss how they came to be performing together as a two-piece, how they got into music in the first place and the flavor each of them bring to the table to create the duo’s unique sound. Let us introduce you to Lonehollow.
LH: So starting off with you, Rylie. Did you grow up in quite a musical family?
Rylie: Yeah. So my dad started bluegrass in his thirties, so that’s mostly where I got my start because I was always going to festivals with him when I was a kid and then I would jump up on stage or be forced to go up there and sing. But his mother played in square dances when I was a kid and her dad also played music. So yeah, it is definitely a family thing. I just didn’t really think it was like as cool back then, you know, but looking back on it, it’s pretty awesome to have that experience.
LH: Yeah. I think having any musician in the family helps a lot, right?
Rylie: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I wish I would’ve asked my dad more because he’s a guitar player so I should have asked him more stuff, but it was just a situation where it actually worked better for me to have a different teacher and kind of find my own way.
LH: Yeah. Well my granddad was a bass player. He was the only musical person in my family and I never realized just how great that was when I was growing. He was in the Royal Marines’ band, but then he was a bass player and he used to play in these clubs in Sunderland where I grew up with whatever musicians and bands came through. So he played bass once for Tom Jones when he came through and people like that.
Rylie: Oh that’s cool!
LH: It was awesome. And like I say, I was the same back then. I just didn’t realize how great that was.
Rylie: Yeah. I feel like it was so, like few and far between back then that I didn’t realize that my grandpa had kind of done the same thing because he was a radio personality back then in the mid west and so then my grandma sang with him and when bands would travel through Illinois, they would be the house band for like Hank Williams and stuff.
LH: That’s pretty cool.
Rylie: Yeah, it was pretty cool.
LH: What age were you when you began writing and playing?
Rylie: So I was like 17 or 18 when I started guitar and then I would go out to like open mics and just do covers and stuff. But then when I realized I thought that I would have a legitimate chance, I was probably like 21. So that’s when I first started writing. Well probably 20 because I had written for about a year before I recorded that first record. So yeah, I guess four, five years ago.
LH: I remember we first saw you at the Key West Songwriters Festival a few years back. I remember walking past the Smokin’ Tuna and hearing someone play a Jeff Beck song and it turns out it was Guthrie Trapp. And then I think you were on afterwards and playing with him and you did a great set.
Rylie: Yeah. He played that day too. That was cool.
LH: Yeah. And I wanted to talk a little bit about Segue 61 which I know Guthrie is also involved in, but Damon, in terms of you growing up, I couldn’t find as much online about you. Were you from a musical family?
Damon: No, I’m a little off the grid. I’m from Mount Airy, North Carolina. And I just grew up in the standard southern family, you know, my parents were blue collar and most of the people around there either hunt or play sports and I was never really good or interested in either one. A cousin of mine got a guitar for Christmas and I thought well that’s kinda cool, I should get one of those. So then I asked for one the next Christmas and my dad does enough to play around the campfire, you know, just enough to impress women pretty much. And then he showed me some chords and I kind of just started doing my own thing and learning more and more and it got to the point where, you know, he didn’t have time to practice and he couldn’t really show me anything else. So I took some lessons and had like a teen band in high school. And that was like, you know, we would play dances and bars and stuff. Then it was time to go to college and I really had no other interests. So then I studied music and kind of just kept progressing in the same way and then played a bunch in college. And that led to me joining Segue 61 because that’s from the college that I went to – Catawba College. So that’s what brought me to Nashville and that’s kinda how Rylie and I got connected in the long run.
LH: Were you obsessive once you got that guitar? I love getting to interview guitarists, and I got the chance to interview Steve Vai recently, and he and Paul Gilbert, and those types of guys were just obsessive. I think that’s what makes them so great. I think they’ve obviously got natural talent but they’re literally just sat in their bedrooms for like 12 hours a day practising. Was that you or did you take a break now and again?
Damon: Yeah, you know, I never got serious about it until college. I mean, I knew it’s what I wanted to do, but I didn’t realize the level of musicianship in the world. It was a small pond and I was a big fish and it looked like I was very good and I kind of just let that be. And then I went to college and then traveled to Nashville for the first time, I was like, oh, okay, there’s a whole different level. And living in Nashville can be that way. I mean, you go out to see a show, and you can either get discouraged or try to get motivated. And keeping the motivation. I mean there’s always going to be someone better than you that goes for anything in life, but the motivation hit in college and yeah, I’m obsessive about it in spurts it seems. I think it’s beneficial to take a break from anything, you know? I play probably four or five hours a day at this point. That’s pretty good progress. I can play more, but you know, I try to stay sane a little bit.
LH: Yeah. The first time we went to Nashville, there’s nothing like that in the UK. I’d honeatly never seen anything like it. I was walking down the street, and I was thinking like, these guys playing on the street are better than you’d hear plaing live on stages selsewhere, you know. It was absolutely nuts. And we go there all the time now because I just enjoy being in that environment so much and seeing all this live music. I think it’s fantastic.
Damon: Yeah, no, I get that. It’s inspiring for sure.
LH: So you, Rylie, in terms of you playing once you started, was it any kind of obsession for you around the guitar?
Rylie: I wouldn’t say there was an obsession with guitar. I was just mostly inspired by people like Emmy Lou Harris and Ashley Monroe and people that were able to play what they would write. And that was something my dad always tried to get through my head was like, you know, you need to be able to write these songs but you need to play them well as well. So that was kind of my goal there for a while. Whenever I first started guitars I wanted to learn all the chords and make the songs like come to life basically. But you know, I was obsessed with singing for sure and stuck in my room like with my karaoke machine when I was like ten.
LH: And then both of you went to Segue 61, which I guess is where you met. I didn’t really know what Segue 61 was. I was looking online and it seems like it’s kind of like a hands on music course, right? Like a really practical with music industry professionals rather than a more theoretical course.
Rylie: Right, yeah. We were basically like the test dummies for the first run, anyway. I mean it really is hands on and it was amazing, but we kind of just got all of it. I mean, there were some lecture formats also, but you know, I think our favorite was getting that time to record in class or getting time to write and stuff because that’s when we really realized that we were on the same page.
Damon: We had no intentions of this, to be honest. We were friends and I enjoyed the music that she played and I think she respected the way that I played, but we would have to do these collabs in class and, you know, anybody in the class could do it. But everybody kept saying, well Damon, your voice goes good with hers. You should try to harmonize with her or she should sing on your song or you know, you should play guitar on her songs. And we kind of got pushed into a corner a little, not in a bad way, but we kind of just said, well, I mean we keep working together, we might as well try to write a song or something. And that just, you know, it worked the first time and I think we were like, okay, let’s try it again. And then she had a few shows in Nashville and she needed a guitar player, so I played on them then and then I knew some of her words and we had written some songs so then we started playing songs that we had written together and playing around together and we said screw it, let’s try to make some money. I mean, you know, if we’re in this together, you know, it’s easier to do it with someone else driving or working stuff out. So I mean it kinda just happened out of nowhere. I don’t think either one of us was moving to Nashville dying to try to be in a duo.
LH: So it was literally just born out of oyu two playing together and people actually saying to you, you guys sound great together.
LH: Because it does. I mean it really goes well. I like that on “Stones.” I think your voice Rylie, over that riff and just the tone of Damon’s guitar for that, it fits perfectly. So if there’s more to come of that, then it’s going to be great. So with Segue 61, did you learn recording as well? You had access to the studio so was it more than just the music, was it recording and the business and things like that?
Rylie: Yeah, for sure. I had gotten that experience a little bit with recording my record. And what was so funny about that though was that I came in pretty scared of everything that was about to happen because I didn’t have a music degree. And like most of the people there had come from Catawba or like just more music background that I had. Well at least like on paper, but after a while, once we all got close, I had a few people tell me like, okay, well I was really nervous around you because you had a record. And no one had released a record before. And I was like, oh, well that’s so interesting because, you know, I was intimidated at first, but I mean we all had, I think a lot to learn when it comes to that and we definitely did learn everything about the studio, but I really enjoyed the business portion a lot too as far as publishing. And I mean that stuff is like crazy in depth and I don’t think people realize that.
LH: Yeah, I think in the industry today, that kind of thing, that’s one of the positives. I hear a lot of people get worried about what’s going on with the music industry. But I also think, you know, out of everything that’s happening, there’s a massive opportunity for artists to own their own music, to own their own publishing and record music. It’s easier to record music now than it probably was in the past, right? You don’t have to have an analog studio or anything like that. With this song, how did you record it? Did you track it? Was it live or did you record it using digital equipment?
Damon: So the first thing that we ever really did together legitimately was a Rylie Bourne tune called “Shoot To Kill” and you can find that on Spotify. So that was a day that half of the class didn’t show up. It was a Monday. So half of them were probably hung over. We probably were too, but we just showed up. But we got there and they said, okay, well let’s just, you know, it’s kind of a free day, do whatever you want. Rylie wanted to record it and we set her up with a microphone and we did a four fourteen. So there, there is an analog board at Segue, and you know, we have you know, 500 series racks of different API and SSL inputs or whatever. But we run ProTools and everything’s kind of in there and there’s a lot of in the box stuff. But our engineer, Silas Boyle, he was in the class as well and he’s kind of become part of our team. He’s great with equipment and in the studio he’s a great guitar player and singer, but we kind of just recorded it straight, I mean it’s digital, but we recorded a straight to it and then I recorded some electric guitar, but it’s relatively simple. It’s in the box, we use nice outboard gear, but mixing and all that stuff is pretty much in the box.
LH: It’s interesting because loads of the people I’ve spoken to, there’s a lot of people seem to be going back. There’s a guy who plays out in Chicago. He’s actually from the Isle of Man originally, called Davy Knowles. I don’t know if you know him. He’s a blues player.
Damon: I’ve heard that name, yeah.
LH: He’s actually playing at the moment with Band of Friends which is the bass player and the drummer from Rory Gallagher’s band and he’s playing all the Rory Gallagher stuff. He’s unbelievable player. He, for his last album, went back to just playing live in the room with the band and a lot of people seem to be going back to that rather than the digital. Do you have a preference for one or the other? Or do you not really feel it’s a huge difference?
Damon: Well, I think the benefit, you know, and I was going to say this, the one thing that, and I’m not saying that we were alone in this and Segue, but Rylie and I had so much time performing live before Segue, you know. I wasn’t a studio musician and I still don’t consider myself that and Rylie had recorded a record but she wasn’t just hanging out in a recording studio every weekend. But you know, we were gigging, we were playing and I think we had a lot of stage hours compared to a lot of the people there. And you know, I think we were recording live because we know what it’s like to create a moment or capture a moment because we try to do the same thing live. So most of our stuff, you know, we take a few passes, I’m not saying we’re one time and nailing it, but most of it is, it’s live, you know, we don’t tune anything. We try to get good sounds for the drums, the bass, etc. and our network of musicians, you know, she meets a new person everyday just like I do and you know, we try to work those angles and say, well this guy’s great and got a good bass tone, let’s get him on this and we’re back and forth with that all the time. But most of it’s just capturing the moment. That’s what spoke to us, I believe.
LH: I think I prefer that. I like those albums where everything isn’t perfect, you know. I like going back and listening to Led Zeppelin albums where you can hear the scratch and the odd bum note and things like that. But it kind of adds to the records. I think in a way it’s better than having everything totally perfect.
Rylie: I agree. Yeah.
LH: And so in terms of writing, what’s the process like for you guys? Do you each bring ideas and then one of you will feed into someone else’s idea or you sit together sometimes and come up with stuff?
Rylie: Sometimes, mostly for me, I feel like it is that lyric and for Damon, I’m speaking for you, but mostly a riff, usually comes to your head. Maybe the lyric first, but we’ve had kind of all of the experiences. “Stones” though, that was one where I had had this idea and had this melody and he had the riff as well and it just so happened to blend seamlessly. So I guess that’s the cool part about being on the same page as someone and trying to find the right sound. Because I think everyone’s had that experience where you just don’t click with somebody. I mean, I know I have and some of my ideas haven’t really worked out like I thought they would. But yeah, I mean usually, you know, we haven’t liked every song we’ve written either, but we usually contribute equally, you know, I mean you have a lot of ideas for lyrics.
Damon: It’s hard to explain. We come from such different backgrounds that, you know, I’m learning about bluegrass everyday from her and her family and the things that she shows me to listen to and I’m really big into like jam bands and southern rock and bands like Little Feet and all these funky things that I show to her and there’s a lot of meeting in the middle when we get into a studio. Sometimes I go in there and I’ll want to be hardheaded. Like for instance, we have a song that we wrote and I tried making it a southern rock kind of upbeat Lynyrd Skynyrd song. It was cool, man. I mean it sounded all right. But the more and more I listened to it, I was like, you know, this should be more of a bluegrass thing. And Rylie said, you know, I’ve been waiting for you to say that. But that’s the thing, like we’re not limited to anything, which is kind of the beauty of it and it can be scary because you want to have a unified sound, but I think our sound is our sound, no matter whether it’s acoustic, if it’s electric, if there’s a mandolin, if there’s slide guitar….. And that’s kind of where we’ve gotten, you know “Stones” is kind of an airy rock song. Our next song is going to be a bad ass three-piece rock band and then we’re going to release the bluegrass songs. We’re seeing what catches, you know.
LH: Yeah. I think you probably need that in today’s music industry. I mean, I think if you both come in from exactly the same place, then it is going to sound a certain way, but when you get people from such different backgrounds then it’s probably going to create something more unique.
Damon: Yeah. It’s like they’re completely different in ways, but then again, it makes perfect sense in other ways.
Rylie: I agree. I just think the whole thing has been so organic for us that we didn’t like move to Nashville and think, okay, I want to be in a duo, who can I be in a duo with and what could our sound be and all this stuff, like we just magically found it and I mean I think that you pull a little bit of like the Rock vibe out of me as well and I love like any of the like creepy rock country type of stuff. And we’re just somehow figuring that out.
LH: It seems like it’s working for you. So in terms of the album, have you got a date for when you think you’re going to be putting anything out?
Rylie: We don’t at the moment. Ideally we’d like to have this next single out next month and then the EP probably I’d say summer would be a safe bet for that. But we’ve had these songs for a while, we get free studio time through Segue, which is amazing. But also we’re working around two different schedules and then also like trying to get other people to come in. So we haven’t really been too strict with it so far.
LH: You’ve been out on the road quite a bit as a duo.
Rylie: Yeah, we have. We played a lot in the Illinois/North Carolina area just because of our connections there, but this year we’re looking to kind of branch out a little bit and then Damon’s been on the road with a few other artists as well. So just trying to make it all happen.
LH: So are you both still playing separately a little bit as well?
Rylie: Well, I think it’s something that we’re still trying to figure out a little bit because we’re not at the stage as a duo where we are signed and we’re making enough money and traveling enough and all of that. So we’re still kind of doing it on her own, which means I still have to do some separate things and have a part time job and Damon was out on the road and then he was working a part time job. So we’re kind of just all over the place and we can’t really be like, you know, all our eggs in one basket. Yet.
LH: And again, I think it’s kind of part of the modern music industry I guess, isn’t it? One of the things we’re going to do on Loud Hailer is have a couple of podcasts about working songwriters and working musicians and what they have to do to make it happen. You know, if you want to make a living, if you want to be a musician as your primary focus, often it means doing some stuff that maybe you wouldn’t have had to do in the past when the industry was different. In terms of Nashville at the moment, what do you think about the state of music coming out of Nashville? I’ll preface that by saying that coming from the UK, a lot of the music I listen to now or I’ve had been exposed to in the US, people just didn’t listen to it so much in the UK. And now guys that I listen to like Jason Isbell, John Moreland, Sturgill Simpson and people like that – these people coming out of Nashville that are kind of changing the way things are done a little bit make me feel like its really good time for Nashville / songwriters in genral at the moment.
Rylie: Yeah, I agree with that. I don’t know what you think, Damon.
Damon: So it’s interesting because I can’t compare it really. I mean you can, you can look at things at face value and compare it to like the time whenever singles were big I guess like in the fifties or whatever. But there’s so many artists that are making it cool to not be arena level right now. You know, I mean there are artists who are making a living who have to tour 24/7 and you know, they’re not living in mansions but they’re surviving, they’re making good music and they’re doing it. I think people like Sturgill and people like Jason Isbell, I mean Jason Isbell says I don’t want to play the Bridgestone, which he could in Nashville, but he’d rather sell the Ryman out for six nights. You know, I think those kind of artists not only do I love them more because of that, but they’re giving it an opportunity for people like us to do the same thing if it’s real. I mean I think there’s more bullshit music now than there’s ever been, but also think there’s probably more real music than there’s ever been. I’m not discouraged in any kind of way. I just…staying true to myself has always been beneficial and it’s hard to do that whenever financial things come up. But staying true, Rylie and I both, we’ve had to do different things at different times and it’s been hard. We both had to sacrifice and give and take, but we’re staying true to what we do and we’re still here and we’re just as pumped now as we’ve ever been. So I think the state of music is okay. I think real musicians are getting some credit.
Rylie: Do I love everything that’s on the radio? No. Do I love everything that’s coming from Nashville? Probably not, but it’s still so inspiring to think of everybody that still lives here and still performs here and it’s just, I don’t know. I mean there is always going to be that good stuff.
LH: Yeah. There are some sides to it. I read a lot about music and I was reading about a guy who’s a songwriter in Nashville and he was talking about his life as kind of a professional Nashville songwriter and how he goes to this not a shed, but some kind of office space he’s got in his garden and he goes in there at 9:00 AM in the morning and he finishes at 4:00 PM and writes songs and I’m like, how can that be conducive to creating good material?
Rylie: I agree.
LH: It just doesn’t sound right to me, but you know, then talking to people like you and some other people we’ve talked to for Loud Hailer, it gives me a lot more hope that, you know, there are still musicians who are doing it for the right reasons I think. I guess that’s what I’m trying to get across and I like that. We went to see Jason Isbell when he was in Chicago at the Auditorium Theater and actually John Moreland, who I love as well, opened for him that night. It was like my dream lineup and I was excited that there are people still writing stuff that matters. And I really think there are, and I’m kind of optimistic that it’s going in that direction.
Rylie: No, I am too. I completely agree. I think it’s just finding that happy medium. Because when I first came here, you know, people had mentioned that to me like, well aren’t you going to try to get a publishing deal? That was like the major thing, well are you going to try to get signed? And then it’s like, I think staying true to who we are and speaking through our music means more to me because I just don’t think that specifically would work for me. I don’t think I could do that where I could trap myself in a room because all my ideas would be shit. We have our own things that come to us and then we can meet up and kind of just talk about like, do you want to write this one or do we want to skip it? You know?
LH: Do you know a guy called Matthew Perryman Jones? He’s a songwriter out of Nashville as well, and his last album he did it as a Pledge Music campaign. But the way he did it, he said he was going to travel to these different places to try and get inspiration and he went to these really weird places like he went to this old abandoned asylum in the middle of Texas and stayed there and he went and stayed in the middle of the desert in New Mexico. And when I was talking to him I asked, so what came to you when you were there? And he’s like, honestly? Absolutely nothing while I was actually there, so he was worried because he’d funded it through the Pledge stuff. But it wasn’t until he came back to Nashville and he said he had forced move to back to an old place that he used to live and it all just poured out of him then when I guess when he wasn’t under the pressure to try and create it. That’s what I can’t get with the guys who do the publishing deals and just sit and write. I don’t know how it can come through doing it that way.
Rylie: No, I agree. I’ve had a few co-writes like that where the other person is signed and then kind of just take over the whole writing and they’re like, no, I think we should do this because there are certain rules and the whole thing is very scripted, like, well I think this would be better because this would be good for radio. I guess my brain just doesn’t work like that. Like I’m trying to write from my heart and not necessarily what people want to hear. So I guess that’s good and bad in a way.
LH: Yeah, I think ultimately it’s got to be the right way. It has to be, right? I think when you think about any artist who’s ever been successful, they never really cared about what anybody else thought about what they were writing, I don’t think. Like the Neil Young’s and those kinds of people. It was never about that for them. They were just doing what they wanted to do.
Rylie: Yeah. No, I agree.