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The WDVX Blue Plate Special – 6/24 – Julia Sanders / Billy Droze & Gary Nichols
June 24 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
With the wry, evocative opening lines of “Woman in Between”—“Call me tender, call me weathered, call me green / Call me shifter, I’m a woman in between”—Asheville singer-songwriter and Americana artist Julia Sanders distills both the spirit and sound of her upcoming record Morning Star.
Produced by John James Tourville of New West Records band The Deslondes, Morning Star unfolds a meticulously arranged musical landscape, anchored by Sanders’ transfixing vocals and a compact but thoughtful narrative style that calls to mind forebears like Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris. Much of it autobiographical, Morning Star finds Sanders exploring the complexities of transitions: from woman to mother, partners to parents, and freewheelin’ musician to an adult with roots and responsibilities. The result is a poetic, often dark, yet silver-lined portrait of transformation and growth. “We’re used to thinking of adolescence as the only big transition, from child to adult, and it’s full of intense emotions, changes, angst and searching,” Sanders says. “But as a mother, I discovered you go through a second adolescence, and Morning Star reflects that.”
After the birth of her first child, a daughter, Sanders began seeking out songs about the complicated, often contradictory feelings she was experiencing, but save for Brandi Carlile’s “The Mother,” she kept coming up empty. “For a long time, when I sat down to write it felt like I had nothing to say anymore, but that was because writing songs about partnership, or being a mother and raising kids felt like something I wasn’t allowed to do,” Sanders says. “It’s not seen as ‘cool’ enough or ‘rock & roll’ enough.”
Pushing back against this mentality, Sanders began creating her own soundtrack to the experience of matrescence—that physical, emotional, hormonal and social transition into motherhood. With each track on Morning Star, she explores different facets of her life—her career, her partner, her children—and the range of emotions they carry with them, from pure joy and fulfillment to less acknowledged feelings that walk hand in hand with the bliss of having kids; feelings like struggle, loneliness and self-doubt. “Woman in Between”—a wide-open Americana ballad dusted with dreamy wurlitzer & synth flourishes, atmospheric electric guitar and some beautiful harmonies courtesy of singer-songwriter Erika Lewis—is a perfect example of this. The song serves as the thematic cornerstone of the new album, wrestling with the loss of autonomy and the fracturing of identity.
“All of a sudden, you have an enormous responsibility to this other being,” Sanders explains, “and you can’t fathom caring about anyone as much as you care about them. That said, your sense of identity is simultaneously being shredded, and you do have this grief over losing your former life, which can be sort of taboo to talk about. There’s this sense that parenthood has to be all sweet gentle magic, and it is, but the times when it isn’t— you feel like you need to push that away or you feel guilty about it. The question is, ‘How do you hold on to yourself and your creative spirit and still work within this new normal?'”
Sanders was born in Philadelphia, raised in New Jersey and attended art school in New York. But it wasn’t until later, in New Orleans—immersed in the Big Easy’s gritty alt-country and R&B scenes—that she found her sound and her voice. “I’ve been playing music since I was 9, but it was mostly other people’s music,” she says. “In New Orleans, that all changed. Sitting around a fire trading songs, seeing them evolve—it made me realize that writing songs for myself was possible. It no longer seemed like a foreign thing that only happens in recording studios far away.”
In New Orleans Sanders met future collaborator and producer Tourville, along with fellow Americana artist Esther Rose, an early supporter in whom she found a kindred spirit and plenty of encouragement. “Esther always showed genuine excitement in what I was doing,” Sanders says. “She pushed me to keep writing. To this day, she’s still the first person I’ll send a new song to.”
Her confidence bolstered, Sanders continued to grow as a songwriter, eventually leaving New Orleans behind for her current home of Asheville, N.C. A picturesque city of less than 100,000 nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, it’s a fitting home for a folk singer. Sanders’ 2018 debut album, On the Line—which drew inspiration from the classic country of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline—was recorded there in three days in a wooden chapel on the outskirts of town. A couple years later, amidst the claustrophobic pandemic winter of 2020, a follow-up began brewing. Spurred by the solitude, her Jersey roots, and Bruce Springsteen’s austere Americana classic Nebraska, she cut a lo-fi, home-recorded EP of Springsteen covers called Jersey Girl.
Now, with multi-instrumentalist Tourville at the helm for sophomore LP Morning Star, Sanders’ honest, unadorned self-reflection sounds as refreshing as an autumn breeze. Supported by Tourville’s empathetic arrangements—acoustic and pedal-steel guitars intertwining beneath her wistful vocals—she paints an alternately glowing and desolate portrait of new motherhood. “I knew that JJ could help me create the sound I wanted for this record,” Sanders says. “He has this unique way of listening. I really trust his ear.”
Working out of Tourville’s home studio in Asheville, they were able to take their time with Morning Star, slowly developing the songs over weeks and months, taking breaks to reflect and reevaluate; adding, subtracting and layering as they went. Tourville employs a vast collection of sounds on the record, from the traditional instrumentation of country and folk (acoustic guitars, pedal steel, banjo, mandolin) to more unexpected additions, including synthesizers, organs, Wurlitzer, vibraphone and strings, adding musical depth on par with Sanders’ contemplative, bittersweet lyrics.
In the end, Morning Star emerges as an act of self-reconciliation. By finding creative rebirth and rejuvenation in the experience of its making, Sanders seems to make peace with the conflicting fragments of her identity, finding a path forward for herself as both a mother and a musician. “This album is about learning to elevate everyday experiences into art,” she says. “That’s what captures my attention—art that takes everyday moments and transforms them into something poignant and beautiful, and helps me to see my world in a different way.”
Born in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1986, the 10th of 12 children, Billy Ryan Droze grew up in Alabama knowing that music was his life as far back as he can remember. “It’s as if I was inserted with a computer chip that made my life revolve around music.” But the reason is just as likely the influence of his father, Bob Droze, a dedicated country, gospel, and bluegrass musician, even now that he is in his 80s. Billy was on stage with his dad by the time he was 4 years old, and spent his childhood singing with him everywhere from churches to bluegrass festivals to honky-tonks, developing a passion for traditional country, gospel, and roots music that has influenced him ever since.
He learned to play guitar when he was 12, and as a teenager would perform anywhere, anytime, for anyone who would listen, sometimes walking miles down country roads, carrying his guitar, just for the chance to play a few songs.
By the time he was 16, Billy’s dad had moved to Texas and he followed him there, spending a year or so playing with his band. Then after rambling around Texas for a while, Billy decided it was time to move to Nashville, where he has lived ever since. Continuing to play anywhere he could, and constantly honing his skills as a song smith and musician, Billy steadily expanded his ever-growing fan base. Singing lead for Grammy-winning Shenandoah (using the name Billy Ryan) for several tours, dramatically increased awareness of his musical talents in the Country, Americana, Bluegrass and Roots music industry.
Though signed by RCA/Sony BMG as an artist shortly after arriving in Nashville, that never developed into what he’d hoped for, Billy then focused on his songwriting while pursuing a solo career. He has also been a staff writer, with publishing deals that resulted in several significant cuts that include “You Never Know” – Darryl Worley, “Free Again” – Shenandoah, “That’s Why I Run” – Billy Yates (#1 in Europe), “Sunday Clothes” – Randy Kohrs,”Big Pain” -Marty Raybon, “Bottle Was a Bible” – Junior Sisk, “Her Memory Again” (#5 Bluegrass Today Chart) – Flatt Lonesome, “Like I Do” – Jamie O’neil, “I Know Better” (#1 Bluegrass Today Chart) – The Grascals, among others.
In response to a family tragedy and the need for a change of scenery, Billy decided to expand his horizons by booking a thirteen-city, nine-country tour of Eastern Europe to promote his third independent album, “Ready For The Ride.” Extremely well-received by fans and reviewers alike and earning him three #1 singles on the European Hot Disc charts, this tour also led him to Lithuania where he found his soul mate. And when he returned to the U.S. it was with his new wife, Marija (whose lovely voice blends perfectly with his). In addition, he has appeared in Country Weekly numerous times, as well as other magazines and Web sites in the U.S. and Europe and has had 4 major-network country music videos.
At only 35 years of age, Billy Droze has acquired the title of “hit songwriter” and has been touring and making music non-stop for more than a decade. This truly unique artist and highly prolific songwriter, with lyrics that dig deep into the heart of life, melodies and a guitar style that combine his traditional roots with a modern twist that’s all his own, and a voice so beautiful, earthy and sincere that every song gives you goose bumps, has already been solidly received by both fans, industry leaders and musical peers. Droze was considered for the prestigious 2018 Grammy Awards along with the IBMA and ICMA Awards. Together with bluegrass superstar Rhonda Vincent, he hosted the 2018 ICMA Awards at the historic Grand Ole Opry House. His name is becoming synonymous among Folk, Americana, Country, and Bluegrass listeners alike. Added to his many musical accomplishments, he is now President of RBR Entertainment. Billy is one of the fastest rising stars in roots music of his generation.
Gary Nichols will also perform with Billy Droze. He is a former Steeldriver and they are performing as a duo together.