Mackenzie Shivers: Welcome to Neverland

Record Jacket from Mackenzie Shivers' NeverlandThis was an interview that almost didn’t happen.

Last week, I was looking for music to play while subbing for Steve Klinge on WVUD‘s All Tomorrow’s Parties, when I discovered Neverland, an album by Mackenzie Shivers.

The first track, “Hey Marie,” was a fun invitation to follow the singer, a modern version of a calling on song, if you will. I found I was rocking along with the second track, “Nothing to fear,” while noticing how the lyrics painted the relationship between the singer and her guy. By the time I got to the third track, “Eire,” I was hooked. Three songs. Three different moods!

All the lyrics on Neverland are interesting and well-crafted. Mackenzie’s voice can soar above the music or fit in as part of an ensemble sound, expressing a variety of emotions and feelings as she varies her voice’s tone and volume. The songs have different orchestrations and vibes. Sometimes lush and hopping, sometimes spare and introspective. Sometimes building up, sometimes with different instruments coming and going to emphasize the emotions in the song or to comment on the lyrics, if you will. Sometimes the songs are celebratory, sometimes wistful–almost intimate, like someone taking you into her confidence. And I realized that the piano work was some of the best I’ve heard in pop or alternative music in a long time.

By now I was convinced I had to try to get this artist on The Music Room. So I went out to Mackenzie Shivers website to find her contact info…. Poking around, I learned that she was the pianist. And no wonder the piano and the arrangements were so good–she’d studied piano and composition at Vanderbilt University. And no wonder her voice is so expressive–she’s an actress, too.

We got things all set on the 28th to go live that night. Cool.

6:10pm, I tested the phone line. All loud and clear. Got on the air at 6:30, started playing “4th of July,” and the phone line into the board didn’t work. I started scrambling around, trying to make things work, and then Mackenzie Shivers, trouper that she is, called the station. I put her on speaker phone, moved a mic over the speaker, and the show went on!

She talked about how her songs are often a way that she works through a sense of loss, for example, if someone close to her passed away, or her sister moved to the left coast. But we also had a blast talking about a rock opera she just appeared in, her songwriting, her appearance in a Phil Collins video when she was a teenager, incidental music she’s written and writing for live theater plays, the differences between singing your own songs on stage, performing in a play, or being part of a musical cast.

Check out our conversation at the link below. This was an interview that almost didn’t happen. But I’m very glad it did….

The Interview

Mackenzie Shivers
(Recorded live 10/28/14; host: Mandorichard), 26:54, 25.8 MB.
Note: Full version of all the tracks were played in the radio broadcast, but, due to copyright considerations, two of the tracks are excerpted in the podcast version.

The Music

The following music is heard in this episode of The Music Room:

  • Artist / Song / Album (or note) / Label (or source) / Date / Notes
  • Mackenzie Shivers / 4th of July / Neverland / self-produced / 2014
  • Mackenzie Shivers / Orphan Song / Neverland / self-produced / 2014 (Excerpt in podcast)
  • Mackenzie Shivers / Nothing to Fear / Neverland / self-produced / 2014
  • Mackenzie Shivers / Below the Meadow / Neverland / self-produced / 2014 / (Excerpt in podcast)

Too much fun with the Squirrel Hillbillies

Jenny Wolsk Bain and Gary Crouth: The Squirrel Hillbillies

Jenny Wolsk Bain and Gary Crouth: The Squirrel Hillbillies

On May 10, 2014, I had the privilege of sharing my morning with Jenny Wolsk Bain and Garry Crouth, the Squirrel Hillbillies. We met up at Gary’s house in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh (get it?), where we all kicked off our shoes and had a blast talking about a wide range of topics including performing as a duo, song-writing and arranging, the “local music scene” wherever they go, DIY music, and the modern music biz.

We visited for over an hour–leading to quite a challenge for editing a 30-minute radio show! But their joy in making music with each other and for folks to listen to comes through loud and clear. I had such a good time visiting with them, that I definitely plan to look them up on my next trip to Pittsburgh!

If you didn’t catch the interview on WVUD, make sure you check it out here. How else are you going to learn why Gary has his head wrapped up in a towel during the making of one of their CDs and why Jenny is trying to sing and laugh at the same time!

Gary with his head wrapped so the click track won't bleed through.

Gary in a natural pose.

The Interview

The Squirrel Hillbillies, (Recorded 5/10/14; original broadcast date: 6/3/14; host: Mandorichard), 30:00, 28.8 MB.

Jenny at the mic during the making of Goody Shoes

Jenny at the mic during the making of Goody Shoes

The Music

During the interview, Jenny and Gary performed three of their songs for us:

    • Artist / Song Name / Performance / CD Source / Label / Year
    • The Squirrel Hillbillies / Bless you, man / live for WVUD, May 10, 2014 / Goody Shoes / self / 2014
    • The Squirrel Hillbillies / The Carny / live for WVUD, May 10, 2014 / The Squirrel Hillbillies / self / 2012
    • The Squirrel Hillbillies / Goody Shoes / live for WVUD, May 10, 2014 / Goody Shoes / self / 2014

Nora Jane Struthers: Singin’ the Party Line


“When you go to a Carnival, you go into a sideshow tent, and on every stage you find a different person with a different story,” says Nora Jane Struthers. “That’s why I’m trying to do with this album – craft vignettes, and in some cases more developed narratives, about imaginary people’s lives.”

This was the mission statement for Nora Jane Struthers’ newest album, Carnival, the follow up on her award-winning self-titled album from 2010, which further displays Nora’s skills as both a vocalist and a songwriter of Americana music. Carnival also marks the recorded debut of her touring group, The Party Line, consisting of Joe Overton (clawhammer banjo and harmony vocals), Drew Lawhorn (drums), Nick DiSebastian (upright bass and guitar), and Jack Devereux (fiddle).

While Nora is rooted in the country tradition, through a combination of her songwriting, her voice and her presence both on and stage in recordings, she has advanced traditional country in great new ways. We discussed the song “I Heard the Bluebirds Singing,” a song from an album she recorded with her father, and the process behind the creation of Carnival, as well as her song-writing and use of imagery–rooted in the tradition, but contemporary, too.

For more information about Nora Jane and her music, view her website, which includes links to her discography and her touring schedule.

The Interview

Nora Jane Struthers (Recorded 3/05/14; original broadcast date: 3/18/14; host: Mandorichard), 26:48, 25.7 MB.

The interview will re-air on WVUD on Tue 4/01/14.

The Music

The following music is heard in this episode of The Music Room:

  • Artist / Song / Album (or note) / Label (or source) / Date / Notes
  • Dirt Road Sweetheart / I Heard the Bluebirds Singing / I Heard the Bluebirds Singing / Blue Pig Music / 2009 / Nora Jane and her dad, Al Struthers
  • Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line / Bike Ride / Carnival / Blue Pig Music / 2013
  • Nora Jane Struthers / Mocking Bird / Nora Jane Struthers / Blue Pig Music / 2010
  • Bearfoot / Tell Me a Story / American Story / Compass / 2011 / (Excerpt in podcast; full version when aired on WVUD)