1. Welcome back to the Grand Ole Opry! What are some of your best memories from the Opry stage?
Cruz: It’s always an honor to perform on the Opry Stage! I’d have to say our first performance will always be the most memorable. We were all waiting in our dressing room and I figured I better scope out the stage before it was actually time to play. I walked down the hallway and came around side-stage. I got close enough to look out at the audience, the lights, the sound, the energy…and then without any warning, all the air in my lungs was involuntarily pulled out! Hello, nerves! I hurried back to the dressing room and told everybody they ought take a look at the stage before we actually played – we didn’t need anyone passing out in our debut performance! When we walked out on stage, my nerves weren’t much better. I couldn’t even plug in my own guitar! (Thank you, Opry stagehands…!) Well, Little Jimmy Dickens introduced the “Americana band from Knoxville”, and we got our shot. I think we shook ‘em up, and now I believe The Black Lillies are pushing on twenty performances at the Opry! Every performance has been a wonderful experience, but the first…well…you only get to do that once.
There was also the time Vince Gill poured water in my mouth in the middle of a song … that was definitely memorable! I mentioned, just before starting a song that my throat was dry – just making an offhand comment – then launched into our song “Whiskey Angel.” I didn’t realize that Vince, who was hosting our segment, had heard me and had run backstage searching for a bottle of water. He came out on stage, ready to hand the bottle to me … but I was in the middle of playing guitar and singing. In between verses, I kind of stepped toward him and somehow, I ended up opening my mouth and he poured the water in … the audience went wild! It was one of those completely unplanned moments that ended up being incredibly memorable for everyone there (but probably sounded really strange on the radio!).
2. How did the five of you find each other to form The Black Lillies?
It must be destiny when you think of what it takes for any good relationship to form. Try getting five musicians on separate paths in life to converge and dedicate their talents and energy to one common goal. Well, we’ve done it, and it has been a process. I began singing and writing the songs that have become The Black Lillies repertoire in 2008. I’d been looking for an opportunity to collaborate with Tom Pryor, our guitar player, and Jamie Cook, our drummer. We booked a show at The Preservation Pub in Knoxville, which became the beginning a year-long process of creating material and finding the right band and sound. It was another year before we found the lineup to perfect our chemistry, and pursue the musical dream full time. In 2010, Trisha Gene Brady and Robert Richards joined the band and we’ve been a five piece chicken dinner ever since!
3. You have a busy performance schedule ahead of you this year. What are you most looking forward to about the tour?
Doing what we love. Performing music all around the country, meeting great people, seeing the countryside, and hopefully making a positive impact on peoples lives through music. Festivals are most enjoyable. They’re much like reunions, and very welcome when you’re on the road away from friends and family. Touring is hard work, but we give it all we got and do our best to make everyone at home proud.
4. How do you keep each performance fresh and exciting in the midst of a relentless tour schedule?
Energy, focus, and spontaneity. Luckily, we don’t have a set show. I usually make a set list five minutes before we go on, and we try to custom tailor each show for each individual audience. We may not always have the most polished show, but its honest, real, and sincere.
5. What’s your favorite thing to do when you have downtime while on tour?
We do a pretty good job taking in the local color. We often stay with friends or family – which sure beats staying in a hotel. We love checking out local restaurants … of course we spend a lot of time staying in touch with family back home, sight seeing, hiking or other outdoor sports or activities, and thrifting…you can’t have too much polyester.
6. What was your favorite moment of recording Runaway Freeway Blues?
Recording “By the Wayside” acoustic and live with the whole band. It’s a bluegrass-style gospel song. We sat around in a circle and performed it a couple times till we got a take we were happy with. That, and singing the vocals for “Glow.” It’s a lullaby-type love song. I wrote it with my son Cash in mind. It was the last thing I recorded for the record. It was just Cash, our sound engineer, and myself. Cash got to play producer, and I got to sing the song to him in person. He sure looked satisfied through the glass.
7. Your career thus far seems to be the dream of every independent artist. What’s it like?
It is extremely gratifying. We’ve tried to create our own good luck. I think the songs are the most important thing. Then the best recording you can make … and then, you just have to get out there and deliver. Without a “machine” behind the band, you have to make one fan at a time. We’ve been patient, and as a result we get to make the music we want, and how we want. Our fans love and respect us for this, and we let them know that we could not do it without them.
8. You have performed in a variety of settings in the past year, from large-scale music festivals to small, intimate venues. Which setting do you prefer and why?
The variety is key. I always want our band to be flexible musically. We should be able to perform at a bluegrass festival acoustically as well as a rock festival turned up to eleven! An intimate venue is great for telling stories and cutting up, a big stage is great for rocking out and creating that magical musical experience. We love both.
9. Trisha, how does your background as a visual artist influence how you create music?
Trisha: The creation of music is not unlike the making of a sculpture or a painting, you start with a clean canvas and one stroke, one note, and it sets the tone for the entire piece. I think that with every new song you must open your yourself to new ideas and know that there are any number of ways, or mediums, to approach it with… and that it can evolve time and time again during its creation.
10. What is it like to spend so many days on the road together?
Cruz: It is a most excellent challenge. You become family. You learn to look out for each other, how not to get on each others’ nerves too much. You learn to share silence, excitement, nervousness, doubt, hope, humor, and stinkiness!
11. Describe the group’s dynamic in 5 words.
Cruz: Melodic Magical Country Carpet Ride … or Classic American Mountain Country Jam
Trisha: We’re gonna bring it! (I guess that’s four with the contraction.)
Tom: Homespun wholesome conservative improvised mayhem
Robert: “Everything’s fine when we’re rested!”
12. As Tennessee natives and veterans of the Opry stage, what are your favorite things to do in Nashville?
Cruz: Check out music at Roberts Western World, go to the 5 Spot Old Time Jam, perform in studio on WSM, catch up with family and friends, hang out in East Nashville, thrift shop, go to the YMCA, eat at La Hacienda, and check out Cheekwood!
Trisha: The Opry is my all time all time favorite!! How can it not be?!
I also love to try and catch a show, take a summer stroll through Centennial Park, or hit one of the many amazing restaurants. And really I always try to catch up with friends because as a musician I am always traveling and you have to make those moments happen when you can!
Tom: Disc golf at Seven Oaks Park.
Robert: Gruhn Guitars is a must-see!
Jamie: Definitely the Opry itself.
13. What song would each of you recommend for the perfect road trip playlist?
Cruz: “Driving My Life Away” by Eddie Rabbit
Trisha: There are many songs that come to mind, you gotta have some CCR & The Band, but If I have to choose just one I think (today) I’ll have to go with “Would You Go With Me” by Shawn Camp…
Tom: “Truckin’” by Dwight Yoakam
Jamie: “It’s a Beautiful Day Today” by Moby Grape
Robert: “Highway Child” … Jimi Hendrix
Runaway Freeway Blues will be released on March 26, 2013. The Black Lillies will be returning to the Opry stage on Friday, March 29. Buy your tickets here.