Backstage with Kelly McCartney
Meet Kelly McCartney, producer and host for the Americana music podcast, Hangin’ & Sangin’, syndicated on radio stations in Nashville, Boston, Denver, and elsewhere. She’s already interviewed the likes of Béla Fleck, Ani DiFranco, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and so many more, with others still on the docket. We recently caught up with Kelly, who records her podcast inside our Writers’ Studios, about the genre, some favorite artists, and where she likes to go in town.
Hutton Hotel: How did you get your start?
KM: In the summer of 2016, I was editorial director at Bluegrass Situation and Facebook was just starting up their live streams. We decided to throw something together. I asked Ani DiFranco if she’d sit with me for fifteen minutes inside the lounge at City Winery and the idea was born. After a few months, we moved to the legendary Hillbilly Central Compass Records and upgraded our technology. At the time, the engineer was Gordon Hammond and, after about a year, he switched jobs, landing at the Hutton, and lured me away. We now record two shows, every other Friday.
HH: What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
KM: As a kid, whatever was on FM radio in the ’70s: Linda Ronstadt to the Eagles to the Bee Gees. Nobody in my family was particularly into music, although my sister was in the Barry Manilow fan club. As for records, I listened to the Stylistics, Bread, and the Fifth Dimension. For a long time, I thought “Super Freak” was the first 45 I bought with my own money, but I recently did the math and found out it was “Macho Man” by the Village People. I guess you could say I had super eclectic taste.
HH: Can you talk about the Americana genre and what it means to you?
KM: For me, it’s a broad, big tent genre. I see it encompassing folk and rock—from the ’60s and ’70s with artists like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell through Bruce Springsteen and into now. I think Rhiannon Giddens and Pete Seeger would be Americana artists on the folk side. It’s hard to define, but you know it when you hear it. There’s no sheen or commercialization. Jed Hilly at the Americana Music Association said it best: “If you can taste the dirt through your ears, that is Americana.”
HH: For someone looking for an Americana primer, who are a few artists you’d tell folks to start with?
KM: Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, and Rhiannon Giddens.
HH: How do you prepare for interviews and decide who you’re going to talk to?
KM: Really, it’s about who I personally resonate with. Because I’m going to go deep into their music and then spend 30 minutes or an hour on a sofa with them, I look for those willing to go into deeper places than most interviews dig. When I get to the end of an interview and the artist says how thoughtful the questions were, I’m happy. If I’m pleasing the artist, that’s the ballgame.
HH: Who are you favorite guests to interview?
KM: I always love talking to Ani DiFranco because she’s so thoughtful, and I know her catalog so well. Same with the Indigo Girls, we can have conversations that most people can’t have. I’d never met Mary Chapin Carpenter, but we bonded straight away. Abner and Amanda of Johnnyswim were delightful, inviting me over for dinner by the end. And it was fun when Vince Gill and the Time Jumpers came to the studio. There are 10 of them and they only make appearances when all of them are available, so it took months to pull together, but they showed up and it was one of my proudest feats.
HH: Who are you most looking forward to talking to?
KM: I’m looking forward to talking to Katie Pruitt, the 22-year-old phenomenon I discovered at AmericanaFest last month. A couple of my wish list folks are Rodney Crowell and John Prine—I think that would be one for the ages. I’ve also been pushing the boundaries with what is considered roots music. I recently had Katie Herzig and Matthew Perryman Jones both on, neither of which are necessarily Americana, but I see them as folk singers at heart. I’d love to talk to Michael Franti, Phosphorescent, and other artists who I feel fit that broader description. It’s called “roots” music because it’s where most of popular music started.
HH: You live in Nashville. Can you share some of your favorite stops around town?
KM: I would say Chauhuan Ale & Masala House is doing amazing things with food. I’m a vegetarian and my favorite dish is the paneer poutine with masala fries and makhani sauce; it will change your life. For tea, go to High Garden; there’s a wide variety of loose teas and a back bar with kombucha. For music, I love going to the Ryman. It’s a special thing to feel that history. After recordings, I take artists up to check out Analog because it’s such a beautiful space and sounds great.