POSTED ON JULY 10, 2013:
A Twist in the Path
Unexpected maturity shines on debut disc
Sometimes, you hear about the guy with an "old soul." Whether it's from acting older, or displaying a preternatural wisdom and maturity, or simply having a connection to something that extends beyond generations, we know the old souls when we see them.
When sitting down with Kristen Hemphill, Tulsa's latest emerging female voice, you can sense there's something going on beyond the surface, but it's hard to pinpoint. Once you listen to her debut CD, however, all the pieces fall into place.
Still in her early 20s, she still contains all of the bubbly energy of a girl her age, but there's a weight behind her words -- especially when talking about music and the arts -- that few here age possess. It should come as no surprise that she admits to being drawn to the theater her entire life, ever since she could walk, and that she has always been drawn to the performing arts.
Although her debut album, Forever Man, has touches of modern country in the mix, it's far from your standard, contemporary-country fare. This isn't the glossy pop of Taylor Swift or The Band Perry. Sure, there's a melodicism and pop sense that loosely ties her to the vocal country pop of groups like Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town, but by boldly opening with "White House Waltz," she makes it clear that her influences run far deeper.
Touches of bluegrass simmer just under the surface, and her songs -- although just current enough to still sound contemporary -- sound more like classic Nashville country fare. Hints of Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, Allison Kraus, Tammy Wynette and LeAnn Womack flow through her work while she manages to retain her own voice amidst a forest of influences. Just how did an artist of this age become so versed in classic country, though?
Perhaps a telling sign came when Hemphill was still young. "My mom was a hairdresser and really into '80s music and pop," she shared. "Somehow, one day I got hold of an old walkman and it was tuned into 106.9 -- which was an oldies station at the time. I remember hearing 'Yellow Submarine' for the first time and thought it was just about the coolest thing I'd ever heard."
From there, she was set on a path, admitting that she loved all kinds of music, but specifically older music. After getting involved in theater in high school, she went to OSU, majoring in theater and immersing herself in performance and production. Her path wasn't quite set, however, as there was a curve in the road ahead that even she didn't expect.
"I started getting interested in bluegrass and went to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival the year before I went to college," she admits. "That really won me over as I got to see and hear all of these great musicians that I'd never heard of before, like Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas."
When Hemphill arrived in Stillwater, she fell in with a different group of friends, connecting with a group who held weekly "campfire jams" with mandolin, banjo and fiddle.
"I'd spend my weekdays in theater, but when the weekends came, I'd go to these jams instead of going out with my theater friends. That's when I started singing more," she shared.
After graduating from OSU, Hemphill decided she wanted to learn to play guitar and enrolled at South Plains College in Levelland, TX, which she knew had a bluegrass program. After attending for a semester, she had learned the basics of playing. "I learned about 10 songs," she says with a sly chuckle, but that was enough to have her off and running.
The telltale sign came when she auditioned in Dallas for a part in a Shakespeare play, but turned down the role because she had a concert already planned that would conflict with the production.
"I realized when I was willing to turn down a role for the summer for one concert that was really my decision point: this is what I want to do," she explained.
After that, she was on her way. Following her muse led her to move to Boulder with her boyfriend at the time, who was a mandolin player, and the two played as a duo as she soaked up the Colorado music scene. Hemphill didn't really begin to come into her own until they broke up, however, which is when she started writing her own songs.
Iím Your Biggest Fan. Kristen Hemphill blows into the Jazz Hall this weekend for a CD release party. While it probably wonít be as comfortable as an open, airy, country-ish bedroom, it will still be a pretty great night.
Living alone for the first time opened Hemphill up and gave her the time to focus on her own music, resulting in her new album's title track, "Future Man" as she wrote about the man she would eventually find.
"It's kind of embarrassing," she said with a laugh, "but I made up this person that I wrote about. I just thought, he's out there, I don't have to find him -- and that ended up being the first song I ever wrote."
From there, the creative floodgates opened for Hemphill, for whom the lyrics started flowing once she started taking her guitar with her and playing and writing with new people.
"Once I made that decision: I want to make music and I want to write songs, things just started falling into place," she shared.
The next big step came when Hemphill told her father about her experiences with a new writing partner, Sylvia Murray, and how everything was falling into place.
"He called and said he had an old friend that was involved in a recording studio in Alabama and asked if I'd be interested in going down and recording an EP," she explained. "Of course, I said yes!"
After returning from a summer trip she had already planned to Europe, Hemphill and her father promptly turned around and drove to Alabama where she recorded an initial three songs. Little did she know the other partner and owner of the studio was Gary Baker, who co-wrote the song "I Swear", which was a hit for John Michael Montgomery (and All-4-One) in 1994.
Hemphill fed off the creative spirit in the studio, which is located in the legendary Muscle Shoals region. After a successful initial visit, she returned a couple of months later to write with Baker and Matt Johnson again and the three wrote eight songs in four days.
The results of those trips to Alabama come to fruition on Hemphill's debut album, Future Man, which she is debuting with a release party at the Jazz Hall of Fame this Saturday night, July 13. Backed by a full band that includes Stephen Lee Rickey and Miles Ralston on guitars, Matt Hayes on bass, Jay Lesiker on piano and John Conrad on drums, it's a show that will let her songs take on even more life than they have in the acoustic shows that she has been playing around town for the past nine months as she has begun to establish herself as a musician within Tulsa.
Although Baker and Johnson had an undeniable hand in helping Hemphill with finding her direction, what is most impressive is the confidence that shines through in the songs and her performances. There is a comfort in Hemphill's voice that allows her own personality to come through while still hinting at influences like Allison Kraus and a lineage of classic country and bluegrass performers.
Now that Future Man is ready for release, it's time for Hemphill take the next step along her artistic path. This weekend's release party is being held at the Jazz Hall of Fame on Saturday, July 13 with Desi & Cody opening at 8pm and Hemphill taking the stage at 9pm. It's a free show open to all ages, making it a great opportunity to catch one of Tulsa's promising new talents in the early stages of what should be a long and evolving career. CDs will be available for purchase at the show, and doors open at 7pm.
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You might think that the local music scene would take a breather after a hectic Independence Day holiday and before Center of the Universe sets in, but that's not the case. We've still got a busy week ahead with a great mix of big tours and local shows, so make the most of this great weather and get out to listen to some great tunes. As always, we've got your full listings in the events calendar, but here are some highlights to get you started off in the right direction.
Thursday, July 11
It's a great night to check out the young guns with the Next-Gen Music Showcase at Vanguard with Zeke Duhon, At Long Last, Grant Wiskaver Band, Summit, Bloomfield and Lost Things. You can also hop down Main Street to catch Rockwell at Hunt Club or Fabulous Minx with Loaded Dice at The Yeti and if you find yourself at 18th & Boston, check out Steve Pryor & Friends at Shrine or Emily Bell and John Evans Band at Mercury Lounge.
Friday, July 12
Mercury Lounge hosts Bright Giant while Loaded Dice and FM Pilots play Hunt Club and Larkin plays the anniversary party at Lot 6. And if you're looking for the most bang for your buck, stop in at Shrine to catch Sleepwalking Home with Hey Dollface, For the Wolf, Decomposed and Something Devine, all for a $5 cover.
Saturday, July 13
The big rock show of the night is Slash & the Conspirators at The Joint, but it's still busy elsewhere at Kentucky Knife Fight lands at Mercury Lounge, Nappy Roots and Josh Salle play at Shrine, The Yeti hosts Johnny Badseed & the Rotten Apples, Hey Judy and Dirty Creek Bandits and Whirligig plays its monthly stand at Colony.
Sunday, July 14
House Concerts Unlimited welcomes Ellis Paul to the Hardesty Arts Center for a 7pm show that you can check out after you relax at Guthrie Green with Jimbo Barton & the Tri-State Coalition, Wink Burcham and John Moreland & the Dustbowl Souls. The BIG show of the weekend, however, is the SOLD OUT show at Cain's Ballroom with Alabama Shakes and guests Fly Golden Eagle and Hooray for Riff Raff. Afterwards, you can get your nightcap with The Big O Show at Hunt Club.
Monday, July 15
Whitesnake kicks off at 2 night stand at River Spirit Events Center for a killer one-two punch of 80's hard rock.
Tuesday, July 16
You can enjoy round two with Whitesnake at River Spirit Events Center or get a completely different fix with Big Sandy at Mercury Lounge.
Wednesday, July 17
Wrap up your week with Hockey at Cain's Ballroom with Saint Motel and SWIMM opening the night.
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