Interview: Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue

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Currently in London for the UK leg of their European Tour, we caught up with Vanessa Niemann (AKA Gal Holiday) from New Orleans-based Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue to get to know them a little better ahead of their appearance at Maverick Festival next weekend.

NOH – Tell us a little bit about yourselves, let’s start with who you are and how the band came about:

GH – We started in 2004 when I placed an ad in the back of a New Orleans’ music rag, OffBeat Magazine in their “musicians seeking musicians” section. I’d been living in the city for about 4 1/2 years at that point, singing with other bands who didn’t perform as much as I wanted. Our current group is a fantastic lineup of talented, long time players; My co-bandleader, David Brouillette on upright bass, Izzy Zaidman on lead guitar, Greg Good on acoustic guitar and backup vocals plus myself, Vanessa Niemann AKA Gal Holiday on lead vocals.

NOH – For someone who is new to your music, how would you describe your sound?

GH – We play traditionally inspired Honky Tonk, Americana and Rockabilly.

NOH – Sounds fun, so what can we expect from a Gal Holiday and the Honky-Tonk Revue show?

GH – Lots of powerhouse vocals, thumping upright bass and explosive Chuck Berry, Chet Atkins and Django Reinhardt influenced guitar slinging.

NOH – Listening to your music, it sort of feels like a lesson in working class or blue collar American history. Your lyrics tell a great story. What inspires you?

GH – Mainly real life experiences and true stories. Also, Jameson whiskey.

NOH – We have to ask as you are a female-led band, and it’s a hot topic; do you have a view on the women in country / tomato-gate debate?

GH – You know, I don’t really have an opinion on it. Some people say things just to get media attention and while there are certainly issues regarding “modern country radio” and what they choose to play, I say ignore the haters and just do what you love. People will listen to and buy your music if it’s “good” regardless of your gender.

NOH – Well said!

NOH – You are from the Appalachian’s and as a band you are based in New Orleans, both areas that are steeped in musical history. How does this shape your sound? Why did you choose New Orleans over say Nashville?

GH – I never felt a pull towards Nashville, although there is a strong reason to be there, more so these days as it’s so close to the concentrated Northeast and Midwest touring routes. However, I moved to New Orleans at the time because I was singing jazz and big band and so that’s where the band started. The scene for trad country and old timey music has grown ten fold since we started our band and now we’re not so alone on the island. We definitely have more of a swinging sound as part of the New Orleans influence. It’s almost impossible not to have that, it’s so ingrained in our playing.

NOH – And what kind of music do you like to listen to? Anyone we should be aware of that perhaps hasn’t made it to UK listeners yet?

GH – I listen to all kinds of music, lots of old stuff, lots of new stuff and lots of music out of genre. One of our best buddies is a guy named Tony Martinez, who played pedal steel and did the harmony singing on our current album, Last to Leave. He’s touring with Whitey Morgan but is a great solo artist, too. Some of my personal favs are Elana James (Hotclub of Cowtown), Junior Brown, Wayne Hancock, The Derailers and Raul Malo (The Mavericks) as well as some you might not have heard of including Nocona (California), Beth Patterson (New Orleans), Jonny Kasher and the Hatchet Boys (New Orleans) and Crankshaft and the Gear Grinders (Minnesota).

NOH – Lots for us to check out then!

NOH – The US is obviously a big market, is it important to you to tour and promote yourselves internationally?

GH – I think so. It’s definitely nice to expand your audience and the European market specifically is so different than the U.S. market.

NOH – How so?

GH – The market is different in that the U.S. country music market is divided into Top 40/Modern Country stations (Clear Channel, etc) and the Americana market (independent/college/listener funded channels). In Europe where the audience for the genre is smaller it’s all lumped together.

NOH – And how are you finding your time in the UK, you were in Europe before too right?

GH – Yes, Germany and Switzerland where they are HUGE country music fans. We’ve been having a blast in the UK too and getting to sightsee a bit.

NOH – Do you enjoy being “on the road”?

GH – I love being on the road. I miss my furry babies though.

NOH – Dogs, cats?

GH – And I have four cats, Greg has a dog. Our wonderful house sitter takes care of our cats while we’re gone.

NOH – So to close, what is the most memorable moment of your career to date?

GH – For the band it has to be when we opened the stage for Willie Nelson at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and then hung out with members of his band in our trailer after the show. For me personally, a major highlight was performing a solo song with the Blind Boys of Alabama after which we were joined onstage by Charlie Musselwhite, Jamey Johnson and Jim Lauderdale.

Gal Holiday and The Honky Tonk Revue are playing the following UK dates:

  Tour Dates
  • June 26 – The Jamboree in Limehouse, London
  • June 28 – Woodland Creatures, Edinburgh
  • July 1 – Grateful Fred’s, Liverpool
  • July 4 – Maverick Festival
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In an era of country music made shiny and plastic, Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue stick to sincerity when they write with a sense of humor the real-life stories of broken down rigs and hard luck on the road. To some it may seem unlikely that this classic honky tonk band calls New Orleans home. To others who’ve heard them it may come as no surprise that they flourish in a town where tradition in every genre is paid respect with high caliber musicianship.

Since their inception the band has been led by the captivating Vanessa Niemann, an attractive songbird armed with powerhouse vocals and serious songwriting. Since leaving behind her childhood days of running barefoot with a tambourine in the Appalachians, Vanessa keeps true to her mountain roots in the swamps of New Orleans with her no-nonsense sound–albeit with a few more tattoos and better footwear.

The band keeps their country cadence with bass player and music director David Brouillette, once a small-town Louisiana boy whose first start in the music industry began with lobbying a local pizza parlor to let him play and promote shows on Saturday nights. Though his days in rural Louisiana are long gone, like Vanessa, Dave also stays true to his roots with his characteristic honky tonk-style rhythm that keeps the crowds dancing.

Armed with these real-life backgrounds, Vanessa and Dave have made Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue a vehicle to keep country dancehall culture alive while paying homage to classic honky tonk greats such as Hank Williams, Connie Smith and Webb Pierce. Their journey of almost a decade continues to evolve through their original compositions which dominate their most recent release, Last to Leave.

Last to Leave is their third album, funded by fan support and hard work. This grass roots spirit–combined with quality musicianship–have earned them the Big Easy Award (2008, 2009) and the Best of the Beat Award (2010). They’ve also placed third on the FAR Charts (Freeform American Roots Music) and top 100 on the AMA Charts (Americana Airplay, Americana Music Association).

Last to Leave was released for the first time nationally at the 2014 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where the band opened for Lyle Lovett. They also look forward to their first international tour in Germany in August. But you’ll still find them playing at various local haunts where you can buy a $2.50 beer and dance a honky tonk twostep.

Keeping alive a purely American musical genre deserving of tribute, with both their interpretations of classic country and original compositions of real life stories, Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue are not to be missed.

(Biography sourced from: Artist Website)

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About the Author

Amy

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I live for the experience of live music. Nashville is my kind of town and life feels pretty good at a country concert in the sun with a cold beer in hand. My appreciation of country came via my Dad’s collection in the 70’s and 80’s and I spent my teens listening to Springsteen. On a trip to the states about ten years ago I flicked to the CMT channel and Brad Paisley’s Whiskey Lullaby had me hooked. Since then my love of the genre has seen me travel to the US regularly to attend concerts, festivals and more intimate songwriter sessions in some great venues. It is terrific to see artists making the return trip this side of the Atlantic but equally refreshing to see some fantastic homegrown talent gaining recognition. This is an exciting time for “new country” and I am very happy to be along for the ride.