Alecia Nugent has been around bluegrass all her life, but it is only within the last few years that she has achieved notoriety outside her home state of Louisiana. Her father, Jimmy Nugent, led the Southland Bluegrass Band, and it was through this group's local and regional performances that Alecia first came to the public eye. Festival producer Johnny Stringer offered to underwrite a recording project, and Grammy-nominated producer Carl Jackson, an old friend, agreed to become involved.
Nugent's self-titled debut was released in 2001, and the following year, Rounder Records co-founder Ken Irwin was sufficiently impressed with what he heard to sign her to Rounder. Nugent's debut was re-released on Rounder in the spring of 2004 to popular and critical acclaim. Nugent just released her second Rounder album, "A Little Girl . . . A Big Four Lane."
CST:As good as the first record was, the new one seems to represent a major step forward. Obviously that's what you and (producer) Carl Jackson had in mind when you were setting out to get it going. Talk a little bit about the process of getting the record going and how it ultimately came to fruition.
AN:Well, I mean, it's so many months of trying to pick out material for the album, once you try to narrow down the songs...You go through so many great songs, and you have to try to narrow it down. You have to kind of see if they all fit together and to try to choose... uptempo material is the hardest for me to try to find. I really wanted to do everything...I didn't want to have to do any traditional songs...like Stanley Brothers stuff. I mostly wanted to do stuff that hadn't been cut before or not cut very much, you know. So we, between Carl and I both, we put our heads together, and whatever material I liked, he liked, thank goodness.
CST: This is the second project you've done with Carl, and obviously you feel a rapport with him, which is understandable. What is it specifically about working with Carl that enables the two of you to get the results that you get?
AN:I think it has to do with knowing Carl personally for so many years, 15 years. We've been close friends for probably seven or eight of those years, and having a producer who knows you and knows what kind of music makes you feel good, you know, and the music you like to sing, and he knows my weaknesses...in the studio and my strong points also. That really makes for a good combination...with a producer and artist. I think that's what makes it work so well.
CST:Now one of the more controversial decisions that was made with respect to the album was including a drummer on several tracks.
AN:When Carl and I first talked about putting drums on the record was I guess after I heard the Louvin Brothers project he had recorded or that he had produced...Of course, I loved it. So many of the songs that were on the Louvin Brothers project, I couldn't even tell that a drum was there. I said, "that's what I want on my record, to be able to have that percussion and that big sound." The decision in who the drummer is played a big role in that because there are not that many drummers out there who could do what Tony Creesman does on this project, you know, where he knows how to be tasteful and not be out front and just be the extra beat that we need.
CST:What are the two or three factors that draw you to a particular song?
AN:One of the huge factors would be a song that tells a story. I like songs that tell a story because when I'm listening to a song, it keeps my attention if I know there's a plot to it, or... there's going to be something at the end of that song that tells what happened through the whole song, and you have to listen to the whole song to be able to get it. Those songs are really my favorite. I really look for that a lot in a song. If it's not a story song, then I look for a certain groove that a song has...how it makes me feel in singing it...I have to be a fan of the song in order for me to be able to sing it. I feel like if I'm a fan of it, then my fans are going to be fans of that material. People like to be able to relate to songs and songs that tell stories they can relate to.
CST:Well, it's been an interesting year for you since the first record came out, and now the new one. Could you talk a little bit about the way the year has gone for you, as an artist and personally, since the release of the first record?
AN:It's been really different since the first record...having a sophomore release. The industry people kind of look at a sophomore release and want to compare it...To me it's always more of a challenge to come out with a sophomore record, and people are really wanting to review it that reviewed the first one and to compare and see if the challenge was met. The year's been really good. It kicked my year off with the new CD release because my first CD was released, self-released, in 2001. Rounder picked it up and released it in 2004, and it seems like it's been forever since I've had a new project out. So I think it's really kind of pumped up the volume a little bit on my show dates, and I've done lots of...I did two CD release parties this year. Both of those were so much bigger and better than those for the debut album. You know, it's nice to feel like there's more of a buzz going on with the second CD than there was with the first one. So, yeah, it's kept me busy for the first part of this year.
CST:You've talked at length previously about the sort of long and winding road between the time that the first release was recorded and the time that it came out. Obviously there were a lot of things that happened during that time, professionally and personally. Would you say that the process of recording and releasing the second album has been a lot more compressed?
AN: I was getting really anxious...in getting the second one out too and being impatient. I'm a very impatient person when it comes to knowing that it's time. When I've got the material picked out...I'm ready to go in there, cut it and have the CD out next week. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen that way, and with my tour schedule last year...it was tough to be able to find the time to get into the studio. When I recorded the first CD, I wasn't touring with the band at that time, so we were able to get in there four straight weeks or whatever and knock it out, and it was done.
CST:How many dates did you do last year?
AN:Probably between 50 and 60, which is not a lot, but between going home to Louisiana to visit with my family and being on the road, that makes it kind of hard to pick times to get into the studio. And the studio, they have other artists in there as well, so your timing is a little more limited. And I get a little impatient.
CST:And you of course have three daughters now ...
AN:Yes, I do.
CST:How old are they?
AN:14, 10 and 9.
CST:With your schedule suddenly getting a lot busier, over the last year, year and a half, how have you found the process of trying to balance your professional obligations with your family obligations?
AN:Well, it's not easy because, you know, I am divorced, and my kids are with their dad most of the time. It's not an easy situation, and there's a lot of bitterness over the divorce. It certainly makes it harder for me to work out time to get down there and see my kids. I spend as much time with them as I can because I don't have the free will of being able to see my kids anytime I want to. Anytime I come off the road, I can't just go and see my kids if I wanted to.And so many times that's the case..I do have the time, but because of custody issues it's not possible. So it really does make it harder. CST: How do you view the next year or so ahead for you? What do you anticipate that it will bring you? What do you hope that it will bring you?
AN: I hope that it will ease up on my time so I can get down to Louisiana and spend more time with my kids in between...it's kind of a catch-22 when you're a new artist, even though I've been out on the road - this is my third year now. If you don't have that many dates, you have to work another job in between. And that's something I've had to do, is work another day job in between my gigs. So that's another reason it makes it harder for me to get home and be with family, but that's what I hope to improve in the next year. I hope to pick up the number of dates that I've got so I can let go of the day job and be able to spend more time...with family, during my time off.
CST:What kind of day jobs have you had to take over the last couple of years in order to support your professional endeavors?
AN: Oh, I've had office jobs with real estate companies, and I've cleaned houses. That's something I'm actually doing right now is cleaning houses. That way it allows me to make my own schedule, and I don't have a boss to ask for time off.
CST: Have you noticed any change in the character of the dates you're going to be doing this coming year, as opposed to the last year or the year before? More festivals, less bars, anything like that?
AN: I really haven't had to do that many bar shows or anything like that. I play the Station Inn (in Nashville) pretty frequently, but I don't really consider that...I guess it is a bar, but...I can see a difference in the type of venues. We're going to be doing a lot of festivals and picking up new festivals that we've never played before, as well as having a great agency like CAA, which books a lot of country artists. They're allowing me to expand a little bit and possibly open for a country act here or there. So with new management and a great booking agency, I think that's a good thing for me to be able to stay with my bluegrass fan base and also hit other audiences as well.
CST:I suppose that raises the dreaded question about a possible move in a more mainstream country direction somewhere down the road?
AN:I can't say that that's gonna happen. I don't know. I certainly don't want to leave my fan base. I hope to always keep my bluegrass fan base because that's where my roots are. I've grown up around bluegrass all my life, so there's certainly no intention of leaving the bluegrass festivals behind. But it would be nice to be able to ride both sides of the fence and to be able to be marketable in other areas...and hit some of that country audience out there that is so hungry for real acoustic country music that you can't hear on the radio anymore.
CST: It's interesting that you're looking ahead in that direction as a possibility, but at the same time, your current record, even with the drummer, is still very strongly rooted in the bluegrass tradition.
AN:Yeah, I agree. I think I read a quote of Carl's in one of the reviews saying, "this album is not strictly bluegrass, and it's not strictly country, but we just wanted to make a great album." I think it's a little of both, and it's a fine mixture. I hope that it's enough of a mixture of bluegrass to keep the bluegrass people on my side, you know, and then bring in some of the country audience too.
CST:How much of an actual dividing line would you say there is between the "bluegrass audience" and the "country audience"?
AN:I don't think there is much of a divider there. I think the people who like the traditional bluegrass stuff are also big fans of the traditional country stuff. If it's good music, it's good music. That's the way I look at it.