INTERVIEW: Margaret Durante
Margaret and I sat in the studio on Music Row recently to visit about the release, what it took to get where she is and where she hopes to go from here.
Bev: Do you know when you realized that you wanted to be in the music business and how old you were when you first performed in public?
MD: I started singing at a very young age. My parents noticed that I was singing before I was talking. I was really intent on listening to music. My favorites were “Little Mermaid” and “Fine Young Cannibals”. (What a combination!) I would make them play it all the time and sing along with it. Because of their encouragement, it made me want to continue to perform for people. My love for singing and music evolved because they were always supporting me. At sixteen, I was introduced to the Bruce Springsteen cover band called The B Street Band. They have been together for thirty-five years and let me do my own set before they played. The songs I performed consisted of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Melissa Etheridge, Shania Twain, and Linda Ronstadt, all these artists that I have enjoyed covering. It got to the point that we became such good friends that I started writing my own music. They would learn it and they were backing me and I got to perform these original songs before a live audience. I caught the bug and became addicted to performing live.
Bev: How old were you at that point?
MD: It was before I left to go to college; probably about seventeen or eighteen. While I was attending college I went to clubs in South Carolina and I traveled back to the Jersey Shore whenever I could to perform. I was studying music and music management, I knew wanted to work in the music industry ideally as a performer. That was all I really wanted to do. Through six degrees of separation, I was heard by Tommy Mottola, who invited me to visit him in his office to sing some of the songs I had written and I made a fan out of him. I always wanted to sing country, as that is where my heart was. He introduced me to James Stroud. Tommy is in the pop world and worked with Laura Stroud when she was with A & R at Sony. He also worked with the Dixie Chic’s on the Fly album. After meeting James, we just totally hit it off. He loved my music and I loved working with him. It was an honor to work with him. I have been recording all my music with him ever since.
Bev: Have you ever thought of revisiting some of your first songs that you have written? Perhaps tweak and rewrite some of them?
MD: I have given some thought to that actually. The first song I ever wrote was called “One Way Love”. Being totally biased, my parents still love that first song I wrote. There is a lot of sentimental value attributed to that song. I wrote the songs when I was at Clemson, by driving in my jeep around campus holding a hand held recorder. I lived in a sorority hall where it is very noisy. But all my friends knew this is what I wanted to do, it was no mystery to any them and they were all so supportive of me. Looking back I think it is sort of funny that that is how I had to craft my first song. Then I came to Nashville where there are places to write like houses on Music Row, and people whose job it is to help you. It has helped me to evolve as an artist and as a writer.
Bev: What has been your best writing experience?
MD: I have had a lot of those memorable writing experiences. The first song I ever wrote was with Stephanie Smith and Shelly Fairchild. It is going to be on the full album which should come out later this year and the song is called “If Love Will Let Me”. I think what makes it so magical is that it was the first time I had ever met them. I had heard their music and been fans of theirs before we met. It was the first time I had ever written with anyone who had already accomplished so much in their careers of music. It was very humbling. The friendship that came out of it, the song that came out of it, the sense of pride that I felt after writing it, was all an incredible experience. And then, there is “Like Tonight”, where one afternoon of light hearted fun, a natural process where we all just tapped into that place where you are in the beginning of a relationship where you are falling in love, where everything is perfect. The song just came together. Then there are the times where you struggle through it and it emulates the pain you are writing about. “Paper Chains” took a few times to hammer out. I think it was because it was about such a distinct pain that I was going through. I wrote it with Connie Harrington and neither of us wanted to just settle. There were so many things we wanted to fine tune. The whole thing is a metaphor about how this guy behaves like a child. We use paper chains because it is a child’s arts and crafts. Every lie he tells is one more link in this paper chain. Once we finished it, it was very therapeutic to get it off my chest.
Bev: Are you the type of writer that has a methodical way of writing?
MD: I usually have a lyrical idea or a melody in mind before I start. But because I co-write all the time, it is usually one or the other. We usually work together to find that marriage between the two.
Bev: Do you play any instruments?
MD: I play the guitar. I started playing after moving to Nashville. I have been playing about three years. I took piano early on. But nothing other than singing has clicked with me as much as guitar. I play guitar when I perform.
Bev: You mentioned melody earlier. Do you imagine a guitar playing or your voice when you write?
MD: The melody and my voice because I have been singing my whole life. I really struggled when I first started writing with people to make the chord structures with the song.
Bev: I know you have you been busy on the road doing radio tours, what is one of the most memorable things that has happened to you on the road?
MD: One of the most memorable experiences was when I played WYCD in Detroit for their Ten Man Jam. It was the first time I played on a big stage with other artists, like Chris Young and Gretchen Wilson, people I have listened to and admire. There were thousands of people in the audience. This is how you reach people.
Bev: After you have performed and you talk with the fans, what stands out in your mind as to what they are saying about you?
MD: When I was playing at the St. Jude’s show in Charleston, at a place called The Wind Jammer, I was taken by surprise at a meet and greet afterward when a listener came up and mentioned how much she loved “Paper Chains”, a song I had not released yet. They were so touched by it that they went and listened to other music. It showed me in that one comment the power of music. Everything you put out there is another way to communicate with your audience. She took it upon herself to find out more about me. There was something she related to. I felt like I had a friend in the audience.
Bev: Do you enjoy contributing to the social media of Facebook and Twitter etc?
MD: I enjoy it. Especially now that I have my iPhone. It is like second nature. It does not scare me. I think it is a great way to learn about an artist’s personality. Maybe their music will mean more to you because you know a little bit more about where they are coming from as you are getting exposed to that side of their life. I think it is great and something the artists should take advantage of.
Bev: Do you think there is a line that should be drawn as to how much information is too much information?
MD: Twitter, to me, is an opportunity for me to talk to my listeners and my followers about everyday life. I do not want them to feel like I am soliciting them for help every time I Tweet. I want them to feel like I am checking in. Sometimes I vent on Twitter. Sometimes I tell them about someone in my family having a birthday. Twitter can sometimes make or break the fans’ perception of that artist. If you like someone’s music, but their personality stinks, does that mean that you cannot like their music? That is for the listener to decide for themselves now. And the social media contributes to that.
Bev: Just this morning the four song digital EP was released? Where were you when you heard it, what was your response, how did it feel?
MD: Actually my little sister texted me last night about two minutes after midnight. She said excitedly, “I just bought you new EP!” I said she beat me to it. She is the first one that I know of that officially purchased it on ITunes. As far as how I feel, it is over whelming. It is really fun for me to be able to release multiple songs at once because I feel like any person that you meet when you are learning about their personality, there is not just one note, there are dynamics to a personality. And I feel that in getting to know an artist, you want to hear more than one song. And I think this EP is a great way for me to give listeners an idea of what is to come on the full album.
Bev: How did you or management decide to release using The Boot instead of another avenue?
MD: The Boot has been following my music and have been fans as well as supportive of what I have been doing. They wanted to feature the video and since they have so many people who follow their site, I felt like it was a great opportunity. When you go to The Boot clearly you want to learn more of the genre’s you enjoy listening to.
Bev: How much involvement and participation do you still have in the creative part of your music career?
MD: Being involved with Stroudavarious I am in a very wonderful and unique position. It is a very tight family here. They respect me. They let me have my artistic and creative vision, but I respect them as well. I am glad that I have someone to filter my ideas who will work with me to make these ideas a reality. I do not feel like my creativity is stifled in any way. Quite the opposite, they are motivators. It is a big happy family. They are very supportive and are true believers not only in what I am doing but in what we are doing. It is a joint effort, a big collaboration.
Bev: So, what is next? What else do we have to look forward to?
MD: The full album comes out later this year. That is what this four song EP is meant to do; create anticipation for the album and to introduce myself to my listeners. I would call it a “getting to know you EP”. Also, I am going to start touring. Not just radio tours. I want to connect with my audience. I am anxious to get out there and start doing some live shows.
Bev: Do you have anything set up yet as far as who you might be traveling with as part of the opening act?
MD: Nothing officially is set up as yet. We are working on that.
Bev: Talk about the video a little bit. Talk about making it; was it the first video you have ever done?
MD: It was the third video. I did a video with Universal Republic called “Use Somebody” which is a cover of The Kings of Leon and I also did one for “Mississippi’s Crying” that I co-produced with my friend Ben Charles. We had a crew of five people, but it is beautiful! It was really fun because I got to write the story with Ben and to hold the auditions for the casting. It was a very different experience for me. It was very fun to do. I feel like listeners want to see how an artist would visually interpret this. I felt like I had to do it for “Mississippi’s Crying”. “Maybe Tonight” was a two day video shoot downtown Nashville. We were fortunate in that the weather was beautiful. The whole premise is that I am a cupcake vendor driving around the city in my school bus, which is my bakery on wheels. I am engaging with kids hop scotching, old couples and young couples. Everyone is outdoors enjoying the warm weather. It is supposed to be about spring or summer love feeling. Kristen Barlowe is the director of the video. She wrote this great treatment and then I came back and said I wanted to incorporate dancing into the video like in “Five Hundred Days of Summer” when he finally got Zooey Deschanel and he is on his way to work and he just busts out dancing with everyone. And he makes them all start dancing with him. It is totally unrealistic, but you understand what they are trying to achieve by having that in there. So we have that sort of flash mob thing going on in the music .video. I want to make people feel good and I think that video does that.
Bev: If you could only send out one message what would you want to make sure to let fans and listeners know?
MD: At this point I just want to direct people to the music, the video, and to find me on Facebook. I love interacting with fans.
Bev: Is there any part of the business, such as the interviews, that you are uncomfortable with?
MD: No, I think it is totally part of it. It is why you sing, why you perform. You want to reach out to people. It is just another way of communicating. Here is your opportunity to say what you want. By Nashville standards, my being here three and a half years, I am considered a new artist. But so far, there is no aspect of the business that I do not like. The one thing that makes a radio tour hard is the conference room performances. When I perform for the program directors in the conference rooms, they are always happy to welcome new artists. They are excited to get that exclusive sneak peek if you will. I guess it is the challenge of transforming the conference room setting into performance space.
Bev: What about bloopers? Have you had any onstage times when something has gone wrong?
MD: I do have some dumb blonde moments when I forget to plug in my guitar. In Detroit at the Ten Man Jam I was talking about earlier, I did not plug in the guitar. I was like “There is no sound! Ha ha”. Trailer Choir was playing with me on stage and Chris Young and these are my peers and I am going “Why isn’t my guitar working?” How many times have I plugged my guitar in and played my acoustic on stage? Plenty! I should know to do that. In Wichita I played at a birthday bash. It was in the same sort of stadium setting. My tuner battery was dead and I was so out of tune. I seem to have little mechanical difficulties here and there.
Bev: Margaret, I think you have a great career ahead of you, the current single is great and you have a wonderful personality. I look forward to seeing you again.
MD: Thank you so much, it was wonderful to visit with you!
For more information on Margaret Durante visit http://www.margaretdurante.com/