An Interview with Bri Bagwell

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Bri Bagwell - YouTube

Some of the best and most authentic music you will ever hear tends to range toward the indie side of things, and Country music is no exception. As far as authentic, talented singer/songwriters go, it doesn’t get much better than Bri Bagwell. Bri has been touring, recording, and writing non-stop for the past decade, and while she misses the road, her fans and the highs (and lows) of touring, she’s staying humble and being patient, for her time will come, as it will for the rest of us; we’ve just got to wait it out.

Today, I’ve got Bri Bagwell with us. We walk about her roots as a songwriter, teaching herself guitar by mistake, the importance of Miranda Lambert as well as the OG Texas crew on her sound and much, much more. If you would like to learn more about Bri Bagwell, you can head over to her website here, her Facebook here and her Instagram here. Once you’ve got that all wrapped up, dig in here and enjoy. Cheers.

Andrew:
Bri, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough, right? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever -raging dumpster fire?


Bri:
Ha! It has been rough in so many ways, but I’m definitely a “silver linings” type of person. I have had over 150 shows per year, for over 10 years. I think I really needed the break and the forced hard reset, to be honest. We got back at it in October/November, and I was SO ready to be back on the road! However, now that everything has been canceled and shut down AGAIN, I’m not taking it as well in round two. Ha! It’s hard to not be able to do what we love to do, what we know how to do, and the livestreams/how we have had to adapt just don’t give you the same heart fulfillment as an actual show. But, I’ve been hiking in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and I’ve spent extended time with my family and my boyfriend that I never would’ve been able to have with our usual touring schedule. Like I said, silver linings.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway so to speak? You’re a self-taught musician, right? Tell us more about that.

Bri:
I am from a musical family; not all professionals, but everyone can pretty much play something and/or sing a bit. I have two older brothers who are identical twins, and we started our first band when I was only 14. Although, my mom wasn’t sure that I should be gracing the honkytonks at such a young age, I was hooked on performing – especially my own music. I found a dusty keyboard in my parents’ garage when I was about 12, and I started picking out the notes and matching them to sheet music, thanks to sight reading lessons in my choir class at school. The piano just clicked for me as an instrument. Although, guitar is still mostly a mystery to me, I found out that it is much more portable than a keyboard! I taught myself guitar, on accident, by watching my brother play guitar all of those years in our band. I knew what to play on piano by looking at his fingers, and then when I picked up a guitar, I was already well on my way. I always wish I had stuck with more than two weeks of piano lessons when I was a kiddo, but I also find it encourages others that you don’t really need expensive lessons to learn an instrument…especially in the era of all the free Internet info you can imagine.

Andrew:
As an artist, who are some of your earliest and most important influences? How did you develop your signature sound?

Bri:
Growing up, we listened to the weekly country countdown and watched CMT music videos like our lives depended on it. I loved the ladies of the 90’s: Terri Clark, Faith Hill, Jo Dee Messina, the Dixie Chicks…my family has always loved Vince Gill and Dwight Yoakum as well. That, coupled with my parents’ love for Cash, Willie, and Waylon, equals why I play the style of music that I do. I lean more on the traditional side of things. Also, I will never forget my mom pulling me out of my room to the TV to show me Miranda Lambert singing “Kerosene;” I said to her, “Okay…I want to do THAT.” It took me awhile to figure out my signature sound, though. I wasn’t born knowing what “my voice” is. I would imitate people to a fault, until I sang so many shows, I just finally fell into my own. Especially when I started writing so many of my own tunes, my voice and me just “clicked!”

My Boots by Bri Bagwell and The Banned | ReverbNation

Andrew:
Let’s jump right in and talk about your newest single “As Soon As You.” What was the inspiration? What more can you tell us about the recording?

Bri:
For a long time, I was writing one song per week, prompted by a word or a phrase. My producer Rachel Loy encouraged me to do it; you’re basically in an email group with other writers (that are so talented you feel almost unworthy), and you all write your own song inspired by the “prompt.” The theme for the week was, “I’ll do the honors.” My first thought was, “I’ll do the honors of leaving you, if you want me to put this guitar down and only be a wife.” So, true to Bri fashion, I wrote the song with no censorship to my feelings. The song is not bashing marriage, as one blogger suggested. It’s more about being able to be in love AND pursue your dreams, which I think we all deserve. We made this video during quarantine on a very low budget, and it got picked up by CMT, who played it for 9 weeks!! It also was my 7th number one single in Texas on the Texas Regional Radio Report, so I really think many people relate to it. 

Andrew:
You’re music has a really old school quality about it that I really like. Your last album In My Defense had a lot of raw emotion behind it. Tell us more about the recording of that album. Where did you draw in inspiration for the lyrical content?

Bri:
I appreciate you saying that my record has an older sound – *sigh of happiness.* I actually had five songs picked for the record that I had written while I was a songwriter at Sony ATV – I had a publishing deal there for three years – but Rachel said they didn’t feel current or like the Bri I was in this very moment. She pushed me, saying that I had more to say. I was at first a tad frustrated, but I have thanked her so many times since then; I took a break from recording and wrote new, current material, and it paid off. I know the record is totally me, which is why I titled it In My Defense! Track 1-10 explains why I am the way that I am. Even “Feel Like Home,” which a reviewer said didn’t match the message of rest of the record, is actually about me. I’m singing it to myself!

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the production side of things. Do you work with outside producers, or do you self-produce your work? What goes into the decision either way?

Bri:
I’ve always worked with producers. I am very honest with myself, that although I write the songs, I’m not the best at foreseeing the finished outcome of them (aka how they should be produced). I do have a clear vision of what I like and don’t like, so I feel that finding a producer who will take my tastes and use them to create the sound and feel of a record is of the utmost value to me. Rachel Loy produced In My Defense and really dove into the project, even helping me tear apart and rebuild songs (when necessary), and pushing me to do everything to the best of my ability. I think it’s worth every penny to find a producer who won’t just take your money and tell you that you’re great, without trying to elevate each part of the record (AND also listen to you!). I envy people who can produce themselves – I’m just very aware that I am NOT that person. 

Bri Bagwell - Music Audience Exchange

Andrew:
As an artist, how do you feel you’ve evolved since your early records such as Banned from Sante Fe and When a Heart Breaks? What’s changed. Conversely, what’s the through line within your work?

Bri:
A lot has changed throughout my records, especially my budget and how I record them. The first record was done in a home studio, one instrument at a time (as I could afford them). The next was a studio in Houston, with players in Texas, and the last was a studio in Nashville with some of the top players in the country. However, I love each and every record as if they were three independent children. They all have their own unique blood, sweat, and tears – mine, and whoever was producing/on my team at the time. I think it’s great to evolve and change and grow, but now it’s scary because I’m asking myself, “Okay, now what?” There’s so much pressure to be better from one record to the next, and that includes the pressure that I put on myself. I have always written most or all of the songs on my records; that remains true throughout my catalogue of albums. I think I have only recorded 2-3 outside songs! So, they bleed BB. 

Andrew:
What is the artist vision for your music going forward? How has it changed since you started? How has COVID-19 changed that at all?

Bri:
Going forward, my vision remains the same: to make music that I love and that I (mostly) write, and to get that music to as many people as possible. I do dream of stadiums and world tours, but also of intimate theater performances. Wherever I land, I know it is where I am supposed to be. COVID-19 has just delayed all of those plans a bit, but it has afforded me time to do so many things that I haven’t had time to do. I’ve written a children’s book, for example. So, who knows what is next, to be honest? The possibilities seem endless and exciting. I am trying to dwell on that instead of the 100+ shows that I’ve had to cancel due to the pandemic. 

Andrew:
Tell us about your songwriting process. Do your lyrics come from a personal place, or are you merely telling stories so to speak? You’ve been writing poems since you were young, right? Do you still write poems? If so, have any made it into your albums as lyrics?

Bri:
Most of my songs are stories that are deeply personal. I can write a song very quickly if it is about me. I have told stories about other people through song, or co-written songs that aren’t about me; but they don’t come as easily (although some of those tunes are among my favorites). I write lyrics and melody at the same time, so writing poems and turning them into songs is very hard for me. Nothing is impossible, I’m just saying that is not what comes naturally or easily to me. I adore writing poetry, and have since I was a little girl. I wrote a poem the other day about Santa Fe, NM, and shared it with some close friends who have plans for it. It’s freeing to write without also having to sing. I will probably release a book of poems at some point in my life. 

Bri Bagwell | Waylon's and Ray's Place | Outhouse Tickets

Andrew:
You’ve got a reputation as a incredible live performer. Touring is usually a huge part of a working artist’s proverbial machine, but as we know, COVID has disallowed it. What do you miss most about touring?

Bri:
That compliment brought tears to my eyes, thank you. Performing live is such a high, and like any addiction, when it gets stripped away suddenly…there has been intense withdrawals. Performing over 150 shows per year for ten years, my identity is in performing; it is who I am, and it is how I make a living. I do miss the money, Lord knows, but I miss most the connection with the audience when we have those magical moments on stage. I miss my guys. I miss long van or bus rides. I had one show in January that didn’t cancel – it was acoustic in a listening room, and it sold out. I cried three times, and could’ve cried thirty.

Andrew:
On the subject of touring, indie venues were in trouble before COVID and they definitely are now. I’ve seen and heard about places shutting down for good all over. With companies like Ticketmaster strangling the market and bands unable to tour and generate revenue for these places, what do you think the post-COVID landscape is going to be like out there?

Bri:
I’m not sure how the live music venue landscape will look in the next few months, or even the next few years. I know some venues will not return, and some bands/indie artists won’t either. I believe there will be more acoustic and intimate shows for a long time, which isn’t a bad thing for live music lovers and artists. However, when I can’t hire my full band and crew, who don’t have other jobs besides touring with me, that is simultaneously heartbreaking. It will obviously be awhile before big festivals are back to normal, too. We are booking shows, but not counting on them, because we know venues are struggling as much as us. All we can do is hope that when things open up, people make it a point to support the places that support us. 

Andrew:
One disturbing fact I’ve learned over time is that Spotify doesn’t pay artists well, if at all. What are your thoughts on that issue? How do we as fans do our part to help?

Bri:
The Spotify thing is interesting, because I’ve had so many people discover my music through that platform. I’ve made fans I never would have made without things like Playlists and Suggested Artists/Songs. The music business has definitely changed, and instead of fighting it, I have chosen to embrace it (now). I will release singles more frequently on Spotify/Apple Music/Pandora instead of an entire record at once, but I can still make records. I think we’ve always had to adapt, and this is no different. When CD sales dropped, I made vinyls. I have made most of my money by touring and selling T-shirts. The biggest way to support an artist like me is buying a ticket and some merch. But of course, streaming our music helps too. Record labels look at your streaming numbers before anything else. Mine aren’t great right now, so feel free to click on me. Ha.

Front Porch Sessions | Featuring Bri Bagwell - Austin Monthly Magazine

Andrew:
In a world dominated by capitalism and social media, can artists really, truly get ahead? How do we keep the playing field level so that everyone has a chance to succeed?

Bri:
I’ve given up ever feeling like I am “getting ahead.” It’s a full-time job to just understand the algorithms of social media platforms. Until recently (thanks COVID), I had an entire team that was doing that for me. I think it’s best, if you can, to outsource things like understanding Facebook ads, because there is just no time. I wrote with someone a few weeks ago that got a record deal because he got famous on TikTok! Should I have maybe dove into TikTok and perhaps got a record deal? Maybe, but there’s no guarantee that it would’ve worked like that for me. Now more than ever, we have the ability to get our content out there, which is great. It’s just a lot of work to Snapchat, Instagram story, Instagram post, Instagram Reel, Facebook post, Insta/FB Messenger (no way), and then….oh! write songs, run a band, make a record. I’m not complaining, I’m just confirming that the workload is heavy, and you never really know the payoff. It does seem that anyone and everyone now has a shot at the music business, so I just try to be uniquely me in everything I do. I’m not posting to trend, I’m posting to show who Bri is.

Andrew:
Are you into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music?

Bri:
I have a record player that I love to play. When I was in LA for the blind auditions for The Voice, there was a man selling vinyls in a tent. All of the country ones were $1, because he said nobody was buying them. I think I bought 35 of them, and started a pretty neat collection. I do have streaming, because when I need to listen to any song in the world (or a true crime podcast), it’s at my fingertips. But, I would say I most enjoy a vinyl (which the proceeds help the artist tremendously), or watching live performances on YouTube (which the artist can get paid for as well).

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Bri:
I think we attach meaning to records based on where we are in our lives when they come out, if they make sense. Miranda Lambert’s Revolution came out when I was having a revolution of my own (starting to sing live, going through a breakup), and that record means everything to me. Randy Rogers Live At Billy Bob’s turned me into a Texas Country super fan. Paul Eason’s Black Horse Mesa made me fall in love with him before he knew I existed (my boyfriend of over a year now).  

Andrew:
Who are some of your favorite artists? Ones that mean the most to you.

Bri:
Johnny Cash and my grandmother were second cousins. Him and Elvis are my favorite singers and performers. Miranda Lambert made it real for me – she’s everything that I want to be as a performer and songwriter. I am a huge Willie Nelson fan. I also LOVE the Texas greats: Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen, Pat Green. Okay, how much time do we have to talk about this? Ha. I have a lot of favorites.  

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for young artists just starting out? How do they stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?

Bri:
This business, and this scene especially, is all about perseverance. Many people don’t realize that I’ve been doing this full time for over ten years. There is so much to be said for just sticking it out. A lot of the bigger artists have told me that same thing, and given me that same advice…and I know that it’s true. It’s not easy, because a lot of people think if you’re not Carrie Underwood, you’re not successful. Create your own benchmarks of success, and realize that this business is truly like no other. You can be very talented, and not get a record deal. You can sell out a venue one night, and play to nobody the next. But, riding the rollercoaster is so worth it, if your music is truly what you love and desire more than anything in the world.  

5 Questions with Bri Bagwell - Texas Music Magazine

Interested in diving deeper into the work of Bri Bagwell? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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