JEN MIZE, ANGE TAKATS, GRETTA ZILLA - IN THE ROUND
Date Sunday 1st November
Monthly Songsmith sessions are just awesome and these three lovelies will take it to another level again!
First gig this year and only one on the coast.
National Folk Festival 'Vocal Excelence' award winning Takats has one of the purest voices on the Australian music scene – Ange Takats is able to coat with sugar, crush with sadness and cut through to the soul of a song. After releasing two albums and spending several years performing at folk festivals around the country, Ange took a break from touring this year and flew to Nepal for a three-month songwriting sabbatical. Unfortunately her plans were interrupted by April's devastating earthquake in the Himalayas which set Ange on a very different journey for the rest of the year.
Alt Country Roots Singer/Songwriter with an ever-growing list of musical accolades. Most notable are her highly regarded & memorable performance during the 2013 Telstra Road to Discovery Grand Finals at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, as well as her 2013 TSA/APRA New Songwriter of the Year award. A graduate of the 2011 CMAA College of Country Music, most recently she has been nominated as a Finals in the “Americana” category of the 2014 Unsigned Only songwriting competition and as a Finalist in the Independent Rising Star (Female) category of the Southern Stars Independent Country Music Awards. These have earned her well-deserved industry credibility, new fans and opportunities for more songwriting/performance. By late 2013, Gretta had the right mix of songs ripe and ready for recording, and so she began alongside industry powerhouse producer, Matt Fell (Love Hz Studio) on a new EP “Hell’s Half Acre”, released August 2014
“There's nothing quite like moving to another country and going through an extreme identity crisis to find out who you really are,” reflects American songwriter Jen Mize from her home on Australia's Sunshine Coast, a smile crossing her lips. Situated between the mountains and the sea, about an hour north of Brisbane, her adopted surroundings and the stress of relocating so far from her friends and family awakened something within her – paradoxically deepening her connection to her homeland and ancestors. “I moved to Australia to find myself – that age-old tale,” she reflects. “And, for the first time, who I am as a person started to dictate who I am as an artist.”
The ten original songs that comprise Mize's debut album Fear, Pride & a Few Stubborn Angels – which is available September16, 2014 – are elegantly plainspoken, made all the more luminous by their uncluttered, largely acoustic settings. With the bluesy twang of her nuanced vocals adding a simmering, worldly undertone, they are by turns playful, haunting, and enchanting. It's the first postcard from a winding journey – one that has taken Mize across America and around the world before setting her down more than seven thousand miles from home. Along the way, she has come to embrace the contradictions that define her: a wanderer with profound roots; a country singer with conservatory training; a compelling, defiantly American writer who found her voice in rural Australia.
A descendant of the Lumbee Tribe of native Americans, Mize hails from a family of Georgia cotton and North Carolina tobacco farmers, Appalachian moonshiners, and growers of what she of what she likes to winkingly refer to as “questionable crops.” She was raised on a ranch on the outskirts of Las Vegas, where, in her younger days, both of her parents worked at the Sahara Casino. In between their shifts, she remembers being looked after by hotel bellhops. Music was all around her, a mixture of her mother's folk-leaning favorites (James Taylor, Joni Mitchell) and her father's love of classic rock, southern rock, and the hard country sounds of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. “The first song I learned to sing,” she recalls, “was Willie Nelson's version of 'Blue Skies.' My parents would get me to sing it when they had company over.” She began violin lessons at the age of three before switching to cello and becoming, at age 15, the youngest cellist to sit in with the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra.
The casinos of the strip also nurtured her nascent gifts as a performer. She found employment at MGM, New York New York, the Venetian, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay in capacities ranging from a hypnotist's assistant to singing gondolier. She also enrolled in the Las Vegas Academy, a rigorous performing arts high school. While there, her choir was invited to sing at the White House and she performed as a soloist as part of a Christmas program for First Lady Hillary Clinton. Later that year, Mize received what was then the largest scholarship ever offered to a woman by Boston Conservatory's Musical Theatre department. Ironically, her voracious musical appetite was her undoing, as she admits to skipping class a few too many times to research her favorite jazz musicians in the library stacks of the nearby Berklee College of Music.
Her growing confidence and musicianship, along with a passion for a wide range of styles, helped Mize make the transition to professional vocalist at the turn of the millennium. In 2002, as part of the national touring company of the Duke Ellington review Sophisticated Ladies, she spent three months on the road with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and former Supreme Mary Wilson. In addition to eliciting positive responses from critics and audiences alike, Mize impressed the entire company with her command of colorful language. “I still owe Mary $200 for our bus's swear jar,” she says. “No one else even came close to that!”
Around the same time, Mize also began performing in cruise ships floor shows. The gig came with a surprising amount of downtime, which allowed her to begin teaching herself the rudiments of guitar. “And,” she adds, “I was truly able to see the world. I visited and performed in more than fifty countries on every continent but Antarctica. I quad biked across ninety-foot sand dunes in Namibia, rode horses in Iceland, held a sloth in the Amazon, and even drove a dog sled team on a glacier in Alaska.”
While working on a liner in New Zealand, she met an Australian man who eventually became her husband. They married in 2004 and settled in Australia together in 2006. It was there that Mize, after years of singing jazz and Broadway standards, began the search for her own voice as a performer and songwriter.
“All the raw materials were there,” she explains, “but the catalyst that brought me to this Americana sound was moving to Australia. Until my husband came home from work, I was all alone. So I just started to seriously hunker down and write songs. I can't say it was great at first, but I stuck with it. What came out organically was a bit of everything – a country song, a soul song, a folk song...and over time, it started to blend together.” What emerged was a natural, conversational hybrid, encompassing her early fondness for country and folk music, her teenage love of classic R&B, and a growing appreciation for maverick acoustic songwriters like Lyle Lovett, Patty Griffin, and John Prine. “The more I looked back into my past,” she said, “the more it made sense that this music is who I am.”
As her guitar playing developed, Mize began playing sets of cover songs in local restaurants. “After about three years of working on my own songs,” she explains, “I started to sneak a few into my sets. Slowly, people started asking, 'Who wrote that song?' I began to get more requests for my songs, then offers to play shows, and other local artists I respected started asking me to open for them.” A successful sideline as a session vocalist and jingle singer brought her in touch with a sympathetic team of musicians and engineers, who guided her through the process of recording Fear, Pride & a Few Stubborn Angels.
Australia proved to be an ideal for the ruggedly poetic, soulfully twangy sound Mize arrived at. “Here, the lines between country and folk get a bit more blurred,” she explains. “There's a rebel musical mix in Australia that's pretty interesting.” Recorded with a small group of like-minded musicians, Fear, Pride & a Few Stubborn Angels is a captivating debut that reflects both Mize's years of performing experience and the joyful release that came with discovering herself as a writer. “I started with forty-five tunes,” Mize recalls, “which my co-producer Garry Smith and I slowly whittled down to ten. But it's my first album, so introducing every possible part of who I am was very important to me.”
Enticing opener “Cottonwood Grove” finds Mize's halting vocal intertwining with Danny Widdicome's dobro and Brendan Radford's harp. “That one just locked in really easily,” she says. “It's slinky. It's a slow groove, but it's still a groove.” The more honky-tonk styled “Shame on Me” was one of Mize's earliest compositions. “It was a breakthrough for me to write something up-tempo and upbeat,” she says. “It's not necessarily lighthearted, but it comes from a strong place. That was the first song I wrote that made me think, 'I'm writing songs for an album now.'
“'These Woods' was a surprise to me,” she continues, referring to the album's first Australian single. “I had never played mandolin before, but I bought a mandolin on eBay from a dude in North Carolina. The first week I had it, I wrote that song. I'd never written anything with that kind of old-timey Appalachian feel before. It just came to me. I played it for a friend of mine, and he said 'That kind of music just lives in you – it's who you are and it's in your blood.' When we recorded it, I brought in some video of the area outside of Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, where my folks live now. There's a creek and an old moonshine still. I told them that this song needs to sound like these places look...” Mize's mandolin and Widdecombe's banjo give the haunting song a timeless resonance that evokes classic stringband forms while still packing a dynamic, contemporary punch.
From the resilient mountain gospel of “Oh, Heaven” to the smoldering, bluesy swagger of “Savannah,” Mize's gift for creating atmospheric worlds within her compositions is enriched by her ability to inhabit a lyric, bringing her songs' characters and emotions to life. Onstage, she is equally capable of entrancing an audience on her own, part of a duo or trio, or with the backing of her full band.
Through dedication, determination, and her own unique natural gifts, Mize has at last found her artistic calling. “There's been a music-shaped void in my life forever,” she concludes. “I've been trying to fill it with a multitude of things. I always felt like I was being fickle: I'd get good at the cello then quit, work incredibly hard in musical theater, then quit, and so on. But writing these songs became a big 'a-ha!' moment for me. It wasn't the accolades for my performance that mattered to me – it was the response to my songs. That made me feel like this is it, this is what I want to do with my life. It took a long time to get there – but that's my journey, and I couldn't have arrived here otherwise.”