Gary James' Interview With Carolyn Routh Of
Out of Siler City, North Carolina comes a classic style of music with a new twist, or should I say a "Nu" twist. Known as Nu-Blu, they are putting Bluegrass music in the forefront of popular music. How are they doing that, you might ask. Well, for starters Sam Moore of Sam And Dave joins them as a special guest on their upcoming single release, "Jesus And Jones", a song that plays tribute to the late George Jones. And Rhonda Vincent is also featured on Nu-Blu's new CD, "All The Way". Carolyn Routh talked with us about Nu-Blu.
Q - Carolyn, how did Nu-Blu come together? Did you all meet while you were in other bands? Were you all playing a different style of music in the same band?
A - Well actually, Daniel and I, Daniel Routh is my husband now, we stated Nu-Blu in 2003 and prior to that we were playing Christian Rock in a Christian Rock band. We did some Classic Rock very briefly, not very long. We went back to playing Bluegrass and Daniel was playing banjo in a Bluegrass band. I'd always been around Bluegrass my whole life. Growing up in central North Carolina, it's all around you. (laughs) It's there. It's just part of the culture. I'd never been particularly fond of it actually. Then after we had played the Christian Rock and everything together, we went to a Bluegrass festival and I fell in love, I absolutely fell in love and that's when we decided to form Nu-Blu.
Q - As popular music goes today, just how popular is Bluegrass music in the United States today?
A - Surprisingly, a lot of more popular than I believe eleven years ago when we started. We've been touring full-time for three years and we go border beyond border because we play in Canada. We were just in Canada a few weeks ago. So, we're all over the country multiple times a year, every year. It's amazing to me how strong the Bluegrass listeners are across the country and how many of us there actually are. (laughs) You know what happened is, several years ago the movie Oh, Brother Where Art Thou made Bluegrass cool. A lot of people who had never heard Bluegrass or that avoided listening to Bluegrass because they stereotyped it, watched the movie and fell in love with it. George Clooney played the lead in that movie and Dan Tyminski actually did the singing. Dan Tyminski plays with Alison Krauss and Union Station.
Q - How many gigs are you playing?
A - We're playing 150 dates a year. We're on the road about 250 days. We just got in from Connecticut on Monday afternoon and I'm leaving back out tonight to go to Nashville for the next three days for work. I've been at home including today and part of yesterday a total of five days since June 2nd (2014). So, we're out. (laughs)
Q - Do you tour overseas?
A - We have not been overseas yet. Our 2011 CD release called "The Blu Disc", the single off that CD was a song called "Other Woman's Blues", which was Jolene's answer back to Dolly Parton based off the song "Jolene" that Dolly had a big hit with back in the early '80s. That song reached number two on the European main Country charts, mainstream Country charts and we were actually invited in November 2011 to perform on the British Country Music Awards and we weren't able to. It was so late in the game by the time we got the invitation, we couldn't make it work scheduling wise to get over there to cover the expenses to go. So, we had to turn that down. But we're looking at European touring possibly next year.
Q - Who came up with the name Nu-Blu?
A - I did that. It was something I came up with when I was much younger, elementary, middle school age. When my friends were sitting around doodling little hearts and flowers on their papers, little love notes to guys that really didn't care anything about 'em anyways, (laughs) I always knew that I wanted to be a professional musician. This is what I wanted to do. This is what I had a passion for. I was sitting around doodling band names and logos and Nu-Blu is something I thought of and the unique spelling. Something I came up with way back then and I kind of tucked it away in the back of my mind and never told anybody about it 'cause again I wasn't really a fan of Bluegrass, but something, I guess it was a sixth sense, told me this would be a cool name for a Bluegrass band. I hold onto it and sure enough.
Q - What can you bring to Bluegrass music that hasn't already been done before? Are you bringing new instruments into the mix?
A - We actually use what would be considered very standard instruments for a Bluegrass band. We have bass, guitar, banjo and mandolin and occasionally on our recordings we'll have a fiddle player come play with us sometimes. So, pretty traditional instrumentation by anybody in the industry standards. But what we do is we perform a lot of original material by various song writers in the industry. Country and everything has given us original material to record. We also reach outside of Bluegrass and pull in songs from other genres and do covers. Our last CD, the "Tan" CD that we released last year, we actually covered Pat Benatar's "Shadow Of The Night" and did it acoustically. The reason we did that is, I'm a huge Pat Benatar fan. I'm an old Rock 'n' Roll chick from my teenage years. I always loved that song. So we just started doing the chorus a cappella as a vocal sound check when we would get on stage. We had people coming up saying, "Where's the rest of the song? Aren't you going to perform the rest of the song?" So, we learned the song and put it in our set and people started coming to us saying, "What CD is that song on? I want to buy it." So we felt it behooved us to actually put it on a CD so that people could buy it.
Q - Has Pat Benatar heard it?
A - I don't know. Something else we pride ourselves on doing with our song selection, even though we are a Bluegrass band using traditional instrumentation, all of us collecting as a band have such varied musical influences. Our mandolin player loves Jazz. He plays Jazz and he used to play like French horn. He's a former drummer. So he has all of that in his background. Our banjo player loves the '90s era Rock and Pop and loves Hip-Hop. He listens to a lot of that stuff along with the Bluegrass and some shades of Rock 'n' Roll. Myself, I'm an old Rock 'n' Roll chick. I love older Country stuff. My husband is the same way. He's got varied musical influences in his background. All of us love the Bluegrass, but when we get a new song we pick out the music based on an emotional response. We want things that are well written. We want songs that are lyrically strong and bring a rise out of us whether it's depressing or whether it's really happy, it's got to have an emotional connection with us if we're gonna record it or perform it. In doing that we let the song tell us what it means. For instance, the new single, "Jesus And Jones", that we just recorded with Sam Moore, when you listen to that song, it doesn't scream Bluegrass to you. For us that song has more of an old Country feel than it does what most people would consider a "grassy" feel, but it works for that song and it works for us. We're not so genre bound that we feel like we have to fit into what most people would be a traditional Bluegrass mold before the stereotype. In fact, if I could go out there and just do what we do with our instrumentation and maybe add on a drum track on this or that and just play what we're feeling, I'd be just as satisfied if they didn't call us anything. If we could just be genre-less and go out and play our shows, that would be fine with me. Unfortunately in the music business you have to be defined in some category.
Q - Is Rural Rhythm Records your own label?
A - No, it's not our own label. It's actually been around for a very long time. They were a California based label originally. I think maybe five or six years ago they moved their offices to Nashville. They're just a great label. They're great folks to work with. Sam, the owner, used to work in the marketing department for M.C.A. Records years ago. So, he's been in the business, the major label business for a lot of years. He knows the water and understands the business. They've just been so great to work with. They don't put restraints on us. They give us complete artistic freedom to do what we want to do. They're there to advise us and help support us and do what they do as a label to get the music out there. In fact, their motto is, "It's all about the music." We couldn't ask for a better bunch of people to be associated with.
Q - What is the idea being bringing in Sam Moore of Sam And Dave on your record? Is it to bring in more fans to Bluegrass who might otherwise not listen to the music?
A - Well, the only real idea behind it is when we got this song, it was a George Jones tribute, we knew that it was a special song and that it needed something really special to go along with it because it was just that kind of song and Sam was actually good friends with George. So were were wanting to get somebody that knew George and was friends with him and that had their own fan base and their own following just like we pulled the Pat Benatar song in. It seemed appropriate. Sam has never done Bluegrass. He is the King of R&B and Soul. That's Sam. Sam is the Soul Man. It just kind of fell in our laps. Everything fell together really quickly. We made the connection with Sam. He was willing to do the song. He never recorded Bluegrass. That's a historical first for him. To my knowledge there's never been anybody from the Soul genre that has performed on a Bluegrass album before. Nu-Blu through the years has prided ourselves on being innovative and sticking our neck out. My husband, Daniel, who is the guitar player, is a real computer geek. His former job was in Wal-Mart management. So he's already on the cutting edge of marketing and Social Media and everything computer and reaching people on that level. Nu-Blu had the very first cell phone app, a Bluegrass cell phone app. We were the first Bluegrass group to have a cell phone app. We always tried to be cutting edge and on the forefront of technology any way we could. We tried to make history again and Sam Moore is just the best. They don't come any better than Sam Moore. He has been so gracious, so kind in working with us. The day that we went to the studio to record the vocals with him was one of the best days of my musical career. (laughs) I don't even know how to describe it. It was just absolutely awesome. Sam opens his mouth and that voice comes out and it just makes you giddy. (laughs) It was a great honor to record with Sam Moore. There is no easy way I can ever live long enough to be able to say thank-you to him for what he's done for us because this is going to help us. We have a legend that recorded a song with us. It's been a really special time. It's been exciting.