It stands to reason that Music City should have an all-local music library library, right?
That’s the thinking behind Boombox, a new initiative by the Nashville Public Library. The project allows you to stream local artists’ music by entering your library card number into the site. Once you’re in, you’ll find playlists curated by a rotating cast of local musicians, journalists, business owners, and more.
The second curator in said rotating cast is NPR music critic and correspondent Ann Powers. Since 2011, Powers has written for NPR’s music blog, The Record, and before that, she was the chief pop music critic at the Los Angeles Times, a pop critic at The New York Times, and a senior editor at The Village Voice. Powers is also a published author: she co-wrote Tori Amos: Piece By Piece (with Amos), wrote Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America, and has new book out in August called Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music (for which NATIVE cover story Jessi Zazu did the cover art).
To mark her BoomBox playlist, we talked with Powers about Nashville music, getting noticed among a sea of local talent, and the importance of libraries. Read the interview below, and starting July 1, you can listen to local music curated by Powers here.
How has your time in Nashville—a city that is saturated with musicians and artists—affected the way you consume and approach new music?
I’ve lived in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, all music cities in their own ways. What’s different about Nashville is that here the everyday lives of working musicians are much more visible to the audience, and to writers like me who act as intermediaries between artists and fans. In L.A. there are plenty of studio musicians and songwriters, but they’re not out playing residencies and regular “writers’ nights” in neighborhood clubs; there are stars, but few of them start out playing the local tourist spots, as have some of the biggest country stars living here. Here you can walk into almost any kind of venue and see someone who’s top-tier. The only other town where that happens is New Orleans, where there’s a huge tourist industry based around live music.
So, being out in the clubs, I’ve inevitably gotten to know more musicians and music scene than I did in other cities. I can see how music communities work, firsthand, which is really useful for my job. Musicians really support each other in Nashville and help each other attain the spotlight. I’ve discovered some of my favorite emerging artists because other artists have told me to check them out—in country, Americana, punk, R&B, all the scenes.
We know you probably receive countless submissions from artists eager to be heard. Aside from those artists, how do you find new music?
I do get hundreds of emails a day, mostly from publicists, trying to get me to listen to something new. It’s overwhelming, frankly. I check out as much as I can while also writing about more established artists—I’m on the pop beat as well as the discovery beat, so there are times when I have to put aside my explorations and just focus on the new Beyonce or Harry Styles album. I do also try to look around on Soundcloud and Bandcamp, and again, to be out in the clubs, hearing new stuff.
Do you have any suggestions for new and emerging artists trying to get the media’s attention?
Find your community of fellow artists. It takes time to establish yourself and to do something genuinely meaningful. The slickest press kit or website means nothing if the music doesn’t have any depth. And you’re going to learn from other musicians and surprise yourself by trying new things in collaboration with them. Be interesting before you try to convince someone in the media that you are interesting.
What excites you about the collaboration between Boombox and the Nashville Public Library?
The Nashville Public Library is proving its dedication to music—there’s a working recording studio in the Teen Center downtown, and the main branch also has a great collection of music books. I actually used the library a lot while writing my new book, Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music, which is coming out in August. So I feel a personal attachment to the library. I also think as libraries have moved into the 21st century that they’ve become community centers as well as archives, providing important services to the people who use them. Since this is a music town, it’s great that the library is curating music too.
Who are some of your favorite up-and-coming artists in the Nashville area?
There are so many! I’ll just focus here on some of the excellent women who’ve caught my ear: Erin Rae, Molly Parden, Ariel Bui, Kyshona Armstrong, Becca Mancari, Adia Victoria. Ruby Amanfu’s always on to something new and interesting; she collaborated with the duo Steelism on some great stuff recently. I also really love this band Little Bandit, led by Alex Caress. There’s a ton of great rock in this town too—bands like Idle Bloom and Mom and Dad. There’s cool classical-connected music happening with Chatterbird and Poly. And my forever favorite is Jessi Zazu from Those Darlins—she’s also a gifted artist and she did my book cover! She has been recording some new stuff. I can’t wait to hear it.
For more on BoomBox and other Nashville Public Library music offerings, visit library.nashville.org.You can also submit your own music for consideration for the next round of BoomBox.