Smiley Asks: Matthew Rodriguez from Southern Ashes

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If you follow me on social media or have had a conversation with me about Texas Country, there is a 95% chance I mentioned Southern Ashes somewhere in our conversation. They are one of the first bands I came across when I moved down to the Valley, little did I know that they had only been together for a few months. Southern Ashes began as a band on February 14, 2015, since then a lot has changed, there have been bigger venues, growing attendance at their shows, among other things. Thankfully I had the opportunity meet up with Matthew Rodriguez frontman for the band, and reminisce on the past 2 and half years, discuss upcoming plans, and special dates for the band. Give it a read, and mark your calendars for the new music from Southern Ashes!

To begin, give me a quick recap of how the band came together.

MR: Honestly, after almost giving up on music having come back from an American Idol audition in Louisiana (short story of what my career was before the band). This dude reached out to me, and asked if I could play a gig, ended up being Rick (Band Manager), and Rick knew JC (Drummer), and a guy name Chendo (Guitar Player) and Orly (bass player). All of the sudden things started happening, we started practicing more and more. Then our original guitar and bass player left for work reasons. Red ended up helping us out randomly one day at London’s, and we liked his vibe. Then Chris came along, he is Red’s cousin and we all clicked. Ruby came before everybody, after us being without musicians; we needed someone who could help keep the music going since I was still growing as a musician. We were trying to find good people, not just great players, but good people that play great.

How has the dynamic of the band been considering everyone comes from different musical backgrounds?

MR: JC plays Metal, Chris likes the 90’s - 311 and all that good stuff, and we play a lot of 90’s during practice so I think we are inspired by that. Ruby is more of the traditional person she keeps us well rounded. It all just kind of meshes together somehow. We all listen to very similar a thing, that’s what we grew up on. We didn’t all necessarily grow up listening to country, we kind of rebelled against it, and then you just end up falling back in love with, so here we are now.

Y'all have been together now for 2 and half years now, it is crazy to think that you all have been able to keep the momentum going without having an album that says “THIS IS US”. Has it been difficult for you all to create a “fanbase”?

MR: Well, I don’t call them fans. I call them friends because at the end of the day that is what they are. It hasn’t been hard because we like to hang out with those that came to our shows. We start not knowing you, and then take the time getting to know you, and then I see their faces often. Many times I see them more than my Family. It has been easy here in the Valley to build those relationships, now when we go out of town it is difficult, we don’t always have something to leave behind, besides the memories of our performance and us acknowledging them. Simply hoping that they will remember you.

Southern Ashes Facebook
As a band, what has been the biggest lesson you all have learned in the past couple of years?

MR: I think the biggest lesson would be, don’t underestimate your crowd. I am a big pusher in playing random songs nobody knows. I know I may get some slack for saying this but we started playing Sturgill Simpson before anybody else in the Valley was playing Sturgill Simpson, we also play “Purple Rain” which nobody does, and that is our biggest thing. “Your weakness is being unique until it becomes your biggest strength”

Alright now, to what everyone has been waiting for. Yall have an album coming out, how is it coming along, is it finished?

MR: It's done! We’ve delayed it so much because it is our first album. We want to make sure we get everything done right, and then my marketing side kicks in and I become picky about certain things. But, there are no more delays, we have a date just waiting for approval which according to Itunes we should hear a response in 3 to 4 days confirming it. I am personally ready for it to be released, these songs that I wrote were a part of my past, and I am ready to move on.

This album will definitely be an introduction of Southern Ashes, what are you hoping new and loyal listeners will get from the album?

MR: I am hoping people will listen with an open mind, we didn’t shoot for a traditional or alternative sound, we focused on emotions. What we felt worked, is essentially what we did. If the song felt like it needed “that”, then we added “that” to it. I’m hoping people are open to it, the lyrics and the sound. I hope we were able to get the stories across. Many of the songs were based on the lives of people around me, what I interpreted their story to be. That is why the album is called “Back of My Mind” these are stories that have always stayed there since my youth.

What is one thing that you and the band wanted to make sure the album had?

MR: I just hope we were able to get the essence of some of these stories across. Some of the songs, I’ve had in my mind for a very long time; we wanted to make sure we were able to bring the stories to life in every aspect of it. The band knows who the songs were inspired by and we worked to get the emotions, everything together so the point could get across. That’s what we want.

What song are you the most excited for everyone to hear?

MR: I am excited for all of our songs, but I think the one that I am the most excited for is “Your Kiss”. It is a song almost a part two to one of the songs we are releasing first, and I am just excited about it. During the recording of the song, we added the use quinoa as a shaker, and that was fun and compliment the song. We have received positive feedback from our friends that heard it on youtube, and we’ve even seen them singing along at shows. I am excited about it because it is updated and people have told me they can relate to how they feel about someone else. The song is actually about someone missing somebody and seeing them around town, feeling like you are in a dream even their kiss feels real.

Lastly, describe the album in 5 words.

MR: Dark. Emotional. Transitional, because in the end, it does get lighter….what is that word, when you look back to the past and you….Nostalgic (laughs), for me since it takes me back to high school and college. Depressing. It is a depressing album, there’s a lot of heartbreaking in the songs.

There you have it, folks, the new and first Southern Ashes EP will be up for Pre-Orders this Friday, October 20, 2017 (link will be posted once available) and will be released October 27th, 2017. The band will be having their release party at Rinky Dinky's. Meanwhile, I will leave you with this exclusive listen at "Drive" the soon to be single by Southern Ashes and a personal favorite of mine "My Girl".

Follow Southern Ashes on social media:
Instagram: @Southern_Ashes
Facebook: www.facebook.com/southernashesmusic
Twitter: @Southern_ashes

Smiley Asks: Mary Sarah

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Last week I had the opportunity to have a Q & A with a very talented artist from my Hometown of Houston Texas, Ms. Mary Sarah. Many may know her from her time on The Voice, but Houston has known her since before that. Which is why it was no surprise that after Harvey, Mary Sarah was actively involved, like many other Texas artists, in doing their part and helping raise funds for those affected by Harvey through different shows and organizations. Thankfully, Mary Sarah squeezed in a few minutes in her busy schedule to answer a few questions I had for her.

I know you’re also a Houston native, so first of all, how’s your family doing dealing with the aftermath of Harvey? I know it’s affected many people in Houston and its surrounding areas.

I am! Texas is home for me. Thankfully my family is safe. I do have a lot of friends who were effected and that was definitely tough hearing and watching. My family and I are mainly based out of Nashville now so when Harvey hit, I was in Nashville. It truly was tough to watch. That is why we decided to head to Texas to support as much as possible. We did 3 different fundraisers and raised over $28,000 in funds.

How has it been for you to be a part of different shows that are benefiting those that were affected by the disasters that Harvey left behind?

I have been truly honored to be able to help in any way. As an artist, we are given a platform and it's up to us to use it in the right way. I am truly thankful for the parents I have because they instilled that in not just myself but my siblings also.

What are you hoping people will take from the last couple days here in Texas? What lesson have you personally learned from this (if any)?

Well, I hope people see that taking time to help others doesn't just benefit them, but yourself too. For me, I don't think I could go a day without giving in some type of way. Whether it'd be money or even just lending an ear for someone to talk to. I hope others will see what we have done and want to help also. A lot of people see that someone needs to do something and they never decide to be that someone. But, the thing is, someone has to start the change. And, why not you?  Ya know?

For me, it has shown me exactly that. That if I step forward to help, others will see and others will join.
Credit: Mary Sarah 
Now, switching to the music side of things how does it feel to have your new single “Without You” out now for people to enjoy?

AMAZING. "Without You" is a song that helped me through a very tough period in my life and I just hope it does the same for others. At the end of the day, that's what I hope my music can do.

“Without You” definitely has a more soulful sound than “Dress up This Town”, could we expect the next album to be filled with songs similar to it, or a mixture of styles? And when can we expect it?

I definitely think the next chapter of music in my life is going to have a mixture of influences in it. I feel as artists we are always ever changing and with that, our music is ever changing. I don't have a specific date for the next release of music but I'm definitely hoping we get some stuff out in 2018!

Okay, just a few more questions. I know you have some great albums, and they all have something unique about them, which one has been your favorite to record so far? And why?

My Bridges project. Why? Well, it's not everyday you get to learn from such Legends. I started that project at 15yrs old and I think it was a monumental growing period for me and my artistry. I still use the advice given to me then by those legends even now. It was an incredible part of my journey.

Which song/cover is your favorite to perform at shows?

Well, I always like to change it up. So, right now it'd have to be my own version of Tennessee Whiskey by Chris Stapleton!
Credit: Mary Sarah

Any new and exciting projects that you are currently working on or planning to do?

There is actually a very very big project I am in the midst of working on. I can't say much about it but I will be able to announce details come up here in November! :) So, keep your eyes peeled!

Thank you again for answering my questions, and from one Houstonian to another, thank you for doing what you’ve been doing to help out our hometown and state. There is a long road to recovery, so everything being done by our Texas artists will definitely help. Hope you will be able to make it down to the Rio Grande Valley soon!

Thank you so much for sending the questions!! And no problem. It is truly the least I can do to help those in need. :)

There you have it folks, now go out and enjoy Mary Sarah's new single "Without You" and while you are at it check out her other musical projects.

Mary Sarah's Social Media:
Website: http://www.marysarah.com/
Facebook: Mary Sarah
Instagram: @MarySarahMusic
Twitter: @MarySarahMusic

Birthday Trip: Austin Food Finds

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Whelp, I turned 26 a few months ago. I have never been one to set "Resolutions" or specific goals for an upcoming year, but for some reason things are starting to feel different. I wonder if this is a part of growing up. This time around, I would like to make it a goal and do more around the State of Texas, and celebrating my 26th birthday was the ideal starting point.

Since my friend had recently moved up to Austin and there was a concert I really wanted to attend the weekend of my birthday, the first destination was a given. Now, I'll be honest Austin never really caught my attention but it has definitely been growing on me, and after that weekend I have learned to enjoy it.

Food; Austin; Texas

We will start with this series with FOOD because that is always important.

Waterloo Icehouse (360/Capital of Texas Hwy)- We were looking for something where we could just relax, catch up and plan the rest of our weekend, and decided to stop by Waterloo Icehouse. The place was perfect for that, it wasn't crowded and our food was quickly served, the only downfall was that my friend was really looking forward to having sweet potato fries and they didn't have any. Although, our waitress did let us know as soon as possible and suggested we get the onion rings, which were delicious! The restaurant also had an outside area with a play area for younger kids and tables for adults to just hang out. It is a place we would go back to when looking for something more casual and some great food.
Credit: Waterloo Ice House Website

Kerbey Lane Cafe (Southwest) - The following morning we went to an Austin favorite. Kerbey Lane Cafe. This is a place that I had visited in the past for dinner, but I was looking to all of their breakfast options. One of the great things about Kerbey Lane is that they offer a variety of comfort foods and healthy alternatives. I ordered their Breakfast Platter with fruit and their "Weekly Special" pancake selection. I honestly don't remember which one it was, I just know that it had bananas in it. Everything was delicious and filling. As you can see in the photo, the pancakes were huge! We ended up taking one with us on the hike to Enchanted Rock that day.

Breakfast; Austin; Kerbey Lane Cafe
Breakfast Platter @ Kerbey Lane Cafe

Z'Tejas (6th Street)- My friend made reservations at Z'Tejas a few days earlier during the week. We were running late arriving at the restaurant and decided to give them a heads up. They suggested moving the reservation 30 mins to give us some time without us rushing. We got there in time, and the place was crowded, it was graduation weekend after all. Thankfully we did not wait too long, they had our table ready in less than 10 minutes. Shortly after ordering, my friend had to leave for a quick emergency and I stayed at the restaurant on my own. The waiter was very understanding and asked if I wanted him to hold off on our plates until she arrived. My friend arrived, and we received our order, everything was delicious. I selected the Baked Seafood Enchilada, and it was beyond amazing, the roasted red pepper sauce was the highlight of the dish.
Credit: Z'Tejas Menu Website "Baked Seafood Enchilada"

Counter Cafe- Ah, the Counter Cafe was quickly added to one of my favorite breakfast places. We came across this place by doing some online search. I am glad we took the time to do that, otherwise, we would have missed it. The location is small and can easily be missed, we even had to do a turnaround because we passed the entrance. My friend and I were able to sit on the counter and watch all the action take place in the kitchen. I order the Eggs Benedict, and although I fell in love with the whole plate their potatoes were my favorite, they were crispy and seasoned just right. I wanted to take some home with me. Now, the Counter Cafe is just a couple of blocks from 59 Diner another well received placed in the Austin area and one that we tried going to a few months back, however they told us the wait would be an hour +, I personally believe the Counter Cafe can be an alternative for those going alone or with small parties, and you don't have the time for the long waits.
Eggs Benedict; Counter Cafe; Austin
Eggs Benedict @ Counter Cafe

I will always try to make my trips filled with new places, and new foods, but honestly I wouldn't mind visiting these again. Places where I know the food is great and the service is even better. I hope this list helps you next time you plan your trip and restaurant visits, in Austin area.

Album Review: Hunter Rea Band "Lovin' Aint Free"

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New Music Friday is upon us, and a blog post is long overdue. Being the perfect time to share my review of the first full length Hunter Rae Band album released today! Buy: iTunes. Google Music

"Lovin Ain't Free" comes three years after the EP "Worrying Kind", I would like to say that I've know about the band since the beginning but truth is it wasn't until September 2016 that I first listened to their easy to jam out to breakup song "Memories". Since then, I have made it a point to add all of their songs the "Worrying Kind" EP to my playlist and their singles "Find A Way" and "Somebody Got it Wrong". 

Credit: Hunter Rea Band
From the moment I began listening to "Lonesome Traveler" I could hear the growth their lyrics and even vocally. The songs starts off with their blues, rock combination setting the tone for the rest of the albums. "Women To Hold" has a more soulful sound, relying on the vibrant vocal combination between Hunter & Jane Ellen Bryant. The band reels it back from the blues direction with their southern rock "Find A Way" song about whether or not you should give love another chance. The album follows with "Dark & Light" and "Whistlin Joe" two songs completely different to one another, both showing off the different tones the band has to offer.

I'll admit when listening to "Passing On" I had to take a break. As my grandma recently passed away. The song touches on many emotions and thoughts one has when dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Somebody Got it Wrong, Memories, and Freight Train. Keep the bluesy alternative country sound that their fans have come to enjoy. Songs, you can sign along to during those summer road trips across Texas.

I was excited to listen to "Done Me Wrong" because I'm a sucker of heartbreak songs. It didn't let me down, I loved everything about it. The lyrics were the right amount of angry, and a good combination between the music & vocals.

Lastly there is "Champagne & Roses", I honestly wanted to skip it. I'm not sure why but I had the impression it would be cheesy. The lyrics are simple, yet detailed as they describe a romantic proposal but without the clich├ęs that usually flood "love songs" like this. It was a decent surprise.

Credit: Hunter Rea Band
Personally I think the album was worth the wait, whether it was years or a couple of months. Hunter Glaske (Vocals, Guitar), Adam Rea (Drums), John Allen Davidson (Bass), Mason Hightower (Guitar) each showcase their talent in different ways throughout the album. There are more skills to be learned, and more stories to be told but in the meantime "Lovin Ain't Free" is good for now.