One 15-year-old isn't afraid to take bro-country head on. Melody Williamson, a member of the Nashville-based family band Williamson Branch, recently penned a song called "There's No Country Here," in which she boldly describes exactly what's wrong with mainstream country radio. She might be part of the target demographic Music Row continues to try to woo, but that doesn't mean she likes what's happening.
While the males were busy releasing songs about "tractors, truck and beer," it has been the females that have been pushing the envelope and examining the human experience. "If it’s up to me, they will," Melody tells NashvilleGab of the females doing the changing.
Of the song, she's quick to note that she had no intention of writing the song. It just sort of happened. She explains, "Funny thing, I didn’t actually sit down thinking I was going to write that song. I didn’t know what I was going to write. I just kind of started writing and that’s what came of it."
Kevin says that when she initially brought the song to him, he was overjoyed. "I smiled really big," he laughs. "I think some of the musical discussions we’ve had have gotten through [to her]. I will say her mom is the one who pushed for Melody to do a video of it. She kep saying ‘Melody, the song is going to impact a lot of folks.’ So, mom gets that credit, and she was right."
Being a part of the target audience, Melody clearly understands what's going on in the industry. "Well, I do think it is really trying to target a younger audience and trying to get more in tune with what’s going on in other genres," she says.
Kevin also weighs in, "It almost seems like they are selling younger people short. It’s like they’ve pre-supposed the only thing that young people are going to be interested in are tractors, trucks and beer, you know, with the formulated country.
He adds, "Then, they’ve eliminated everything that doesn’t fit that." And, he's most certainly right. Kacey Musgraves' self-empowerment anthem "Follow Your Arrow" failed to even crack the Top 40 at radio and has since fallen off the grid, despite a sensational Grammy Awards performance.
While Kevin offered Melody some advice on the song, he doesn't take a co-writer credit. "As with all of her songs, I’m more the editor than the co-writer. She brings the songs to me, and I’ll give her my honest opinion. I’ll suggest directions. I’ll say, ‘you know, I think this line is too cliche’ or I’ll say ‘this line is not what you’re trying to say.’ I might give her direction, or she might have direction herself. Again, my role is not a co-writer."
At a recent concert, "There's No Country Here" was actually a request from the crowd, something Melody could never have expected. "It’s been a new and exciting road. I’m excited to see where it takes us," she says, adding that the song's reception has been "really good."
Sure, Melody might be a teenager, but her musical tastes run the gamut. "I like a lot of different music. I really like to listen to a lot of older country…and some newer stuff, too," she says. "I love Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride, Vince Gill and I might have a little bit of a soft spot for Hunter Hayes. [laughs] And I also like Carrie Underwood."
As far as direct musical influences go, "I really love to listen to the Isaacs. I study a lot, vocally, on their stuff. Alison Krauss, and my parents records. That’s where I got a lot of my first impressions."
With most musicians, the journey begins at a very young age. For Melody, it isn't any different. "I started playing guitar when I was three," she recalls, "but when I started playing fiddle, I took a break for a while. I’ve been back playing solidly for over two or three years now."
But don't ask her to choose between the two: "There two very different instruments. I like to play guitar so I can accompany myself singing. Neither really can be considered favorites. They both play very different roles in how I express myself."
For Kevin's solo work, he recently scored a nomination for Entertainer of the Year for SPBGMA. He says, "It’s the oldest, I believe, of the Bluegrass awards. It’s been going on for a lot of years. They’re called SPBGMA, which is the Society For The Preservation Of Bluegrass Music In America."
On hearing his nomination, "Oh, man, I was really excited. I’ve never been nominated for anything as an individual. Up till the beginning of this year, I also toured with a bluegrass quartet. They’re up for several awards and have been in the past."
And sure thing, his family shared his excitment. He chuckles, "there was some running around the house.. They’ve been very supportive of what I’ve done in the past. Of course, we all are so immersed in music that we’re just excited for each other."
Coming from a musician's perspective, Kevin explains that he's tried to teach his children on the importance of developing their skills. "What I’ve tried to teach Melody is the difference between a singer and an artist," he asserts. "I feel like so many times that good singers come into a Nashville-type atmosphere and they have the music programmed to them. Then once their popularity dies or their songs don’t hit, then they are just out."
"What I’m trying to teach my kids is they should be artists. They should have their own music inside of them and that music should carry them. Even if they aren’t stars, they’re still artists and have their own [story]."
Melody adds, "Another part of that is being able to not only make your own music but be able to take other people’s music and make it sound like you wrote it or you composed it."
While the family band is in its infancy, it has been a long time in the making. "The family band has really been an ongoing thing," Kevin recoutns. "Debbie and I actually had a band before the girls were born. We stopped touring and performing when Melody was born. I tell people that she’s the reason we got off the road, and now, she’s the reason we’re having to get back on the road," he laughs.
"As our girls have grown, we’ve always played nursing homes and pre-schools, just other things where we are still involved in music. Even though Williamson Branch is really only six or eight months old, the family has performed together all along."
Melody describes touring with her family rather hilariously: "I’ve told people that you know how sometimes you feel like whatever you’re doing is a juggling act? Well, we’re the full circus. It’s kind of crazy, but at the end of the day, when you’re able to climb out of the car and brush your hair and bless people with your music, then it’s worth it."
How exactly does a family band balance their home life and career? Well, Kevin admits that it's definitely not an easy task. "The lines are definitely blurred," he concedes. "First of all, we’re like tradesmen. We’re all about making a living doing what we do. We’ve been blessed with the gift, and we’re blessed to share that with others. Our first priority is not to become stars. Our first priority is to do what we’re called to do as a family."
He continues, "We home school the girls. We will school on the road, and they do a lot of school work travelling down the road. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between a practice session and a jam session. We’re not terribly formal. We just try to make it part of who we are, and sometimes, parts of our lives (like the school part) take precedent and music has to take the backseat. Sometimes, the music has to take over. Everything ebbs and flows. That’s just the way it has to be."
"Sometimes, you have to sing while you do dishes. That’s how it is," Melody smirks.
Fans can now grab a digital copy of "There's No Country Here" on CD Baby.
Side note: In just over a month, her video has garnered over 100,000 views.
Photos courtesy of Williamson Branch