Before we get into the meaty part of this issue, I just want to make a note about country music media. It’s a bit meta, I know, but where you get your news from matters. For example, Saving Country Music, which has gained notoriety for featuring rough-and-tumble outlaw country and Americana artists. But this is the least of their sins:
Of all the dumb things I’ve seen on the internet today, and it’s a very competitive group, this is by far the dumbest. pic.twitter.com/DBPaZbmmXK— Trey Wilson (@treywilson757) June 29, 2022
This is the least of SCM’s sins. Kyle, who also seems to post under the alter ego Trigger (someone correct me if I’m wrong), has set the site’s fans against feminist journalists Lorie Liebig and Marissa R. Moss. His followers have doxxed Lorie and routinely send hatemail to her and her family. I should note that Trigger did this way before Trump was cool – maybe a prophetic backlash against progressive values in otherwise conservative spheres. Kyle took the post down after a number of people (I guess people he actually listens to) told him to fuck off.
To be fair, Kyle has covered a wide variety of artists, including LGBTQ+ artists. But I also have it on good authority that he doesn’t think these things “matter” when reporting on an artist. And then he writes this.
If you didn’t already know, I feel glad that you’re not terminally online – especially on country music twitter. Things may seem to be getting better, but this is still what queer country artists are up against. So who you support matters.
On an exciting note, Sara Gougeon is throwing a whole 3-day queer music festival in Nashville THIS WEEKEND! Read more about it in our interview in The Nashville Scene
Now onto an excerpt of CJ Surbaugh’s interview with Semler.
To read the rest of this interview, buy your copy of Rainbow Rodeo #2 or subscribe to our Patreon for as little as $4 a year! Semler is reclaiming Christian Contemporary Music in much the same way your faves are for country music – and there’s a good deal of overlap of the genre in her songs. This is only a small part of the interview.
CJ: I know you had a dog named Willie Nelson who recently passed. Rest in peace to your dog, Willie Nelson, but not yet the human Willie Nelson, thank God. So obviously you have some like country influence, at least in your music fandom. So I was wondering if you could just start by talking about where you see country influences in your music.
Grace: I did not grow up listening to country music, really. I grew up listening to Christian music. But when I was able to download music on my own and find my own music, and it wasn’t just the music that was in the home, I really wanted to expand my horizons and not write off any genre. And growing up in Belgium—overseas, country was always kind of like this joke genre that existed predominantly in the United States. But I felt, for whatever reason, especially called to not write it off. When I started my musical exploration, I’d never listened to Metallica really before. I was a metal head, but it was Christian metal. And it was nu-metal at the time. And I remember going over everything, like: I want to listen to Nirvana. I want to listen to all this stuff and make a concerted effort to broaden my horizons. And I didn’t want to write off country music. I was like, there’s gotta be more than just the hokey stuff that I would hear almost as the butt of a joke. And so I remember looking up country records. And I came across Redheaded Stranger by Willie Nelson, which is a concept album, and the storytelling and how blunt it was—I just resonated with it so much because it packs a punch lyrically. And I liked how you could either be irreverent about your own life, or you could make up a whole different life and write to that. I love that escapism.
So I loved that in, like, I remember listening to “The Pill’‘ by Loretta Lynn and being like, “this is so good!” Having that sort of whip smart, cutting lyricism is something that I really gravitated towards. In Christian music, Relient K was one of my favorite bands, and I liked finding that same lyricism in country music. I think the tradition of storytelling really, really resonated with me. And what would it sound like if I tried telling my own story, with that same instinct for lyricism?
And of course, Dolly Parton. I was just thinking about her the other day, as we all do. I think we all have a moment in our day when we think about Dolly Parton. I was really inspired listening to how she writes every single day when I was trying to get more serious about my songwriting. You look up the most prolific songwriters and you try and learn from them. Dolly Parton was one of those people that I read a lot of interviews about, and how she just is writing constantly. It never turns off. That was really inspiring for me and something that I try and practice as a songwriter now.
CJ: So you came out of this CCM tradition. I think “Good Man” might be your most classically country song. It’s also a little thematically different from the rest of your EP. What led you to include that sound and that song as part of the narrative on the album?
Grace: Yeah. I love that song a lot. I say this with every degree of humility in me, but I think that’s my Johnny Cash moment, that’s what I was going for. It was really difficult to produce that one at home because I produced Preacher’s Kid on my USB mic. So all the outside sounds were MP3s that I could find for free. So like the sound of a bullet casing hitting the ground—I wasn’t able to record that and actually have pure audio. I had to find that on YouTube.
But I did want that to have this very distinct Western, outlaw country type of flavor to it because that song is about people that continue to betray us people in positions of power. It speaks to individuals specific to me, but I imagine that people could find these figures in their own life. And yet I have this bad habit, I suppose, of rooting for someone or—I really believe that we are good. But we do bad things. And I root for the good person. I root for the good man, the good woman, the good person, in each of us, despite certain people proving that they’re not interested in engaging with that side of them over and over again. And yet I still come back to making excuses. It’s like this lament: I’m not even angry about who they are. I’m just so sad that they choose to continually let me and others down. So that’s what that song is about for me.
It’s definitely one that is close to my heart. It’s something that I needed to get out of my system, because I think those people know who they are in my life. Sometimes that feels good for me, when I write a song where it’s like, “I didn’t have to say this to you cause I know that you heard it on Preacher’s Kid” and that’s all I have. Let that be that, you know; we have nothing more to talk about, really.
-Jake Blount’s gorgeous new video got a writeup in Rolling Stone! Mazel! You can listen to it on the Rainbow Rodeo playlist! - Sarah Shook has an indie rock project coming up called Mightmare. You can also hear it on the Spotify playlist! - write for Bible Belt Queers - Lots of people everywhere need help, but Color Me Country could use some cash to support BIPOC country artists - You can get almost 50% off the book Queer Country using this code: F21UIP - This thread gives advice on self-managed transition in Alabama and other states that restrict our bodily autonomy
Updated every two weeks!