Indie Artist Spotlight
Michael Lee Austin Celebrates The Hard Work Behind The Traditional Country Vibe Of "Labor Pains"
Witty Title Track From Raleigh Based Singer’s Debut Is Being Promoted Nationwide to Country Radio
Just a few years ago, Michael Lee Austin was singing country cover songs in bar bands across his adopted home state of North Carolina, dreaming of what it would take to become a famous country artist himself. The answer: Lots of charisma (check), vocal talent (check), an uncanny ability to write and pick great songs (check) and most importantly, Labor Pains—which not coincidentally, is the title of his eagerly anticipated debut album. Produced by veteran country producer Michael Wayne Edging, Labor Pains features songs written by many notable Nashville-based writers, backed by an ensemble of ace sidemen who have played with such superstars as Reba McEntire and the redneck woman herself, Gretchen Wilson.Labor Pains marks the debut release from Edging’s label, Alive Records, which will market its artists via both mainstream channels and through alternative and new internet marketing strategies. The second release on Alive Records will be Deeper, the debut recording from singer Brandi Valentine, due in January 2006.
Labor Pains’ clever and witty title track, an instant crowd-pleaser featuring the tag line “don’t tell me about labor pains, just show me the baby,” is currently being promoted to country radio stations across America, and building momentum for the album with positive feedback from radio programmers. Listeners who love the pop-country approach of modern cowboy heroes like Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and Toby Keith—and Austin counts himself among their fans—are sure to be knocked out by Austin’s more traditional country mindset.
One song on the album he co-wrote, “Fiddle in the Middle,” grew out of a whimsical question he posed to his co-writer about another tune they were writing. “I said, hmm, that’s pretty good, now all we have to do to make this a country song is to put a fiddle in the middle,” muses Austin. “I love the way country music is so straightforward and to the point, and the way it speaks to people, but the concept of this album is different from most of the country music I hear on the radio these days.
“I wanted to come out with an honest to goodness traditional country record, as instead of a pop album that has those countrified production touches,” he adds. “I grew up in Massena, a small town so far up in New York we were practically in Canada, and never listened to the radio. The music I heard came from spending a lot of time at my grandparents’ house, where they had an old record player and albums by Hank Williams and Charley Pride. I started playing the guitar along to those when I was seven years old. So I was playing traditional country music as a kid. I also listened a lot of Elvis records, so I had a unique mix of influences. I think what makes a strong country record is the sound and the feeling it brings out. You listen to it and don’t have to think too hard, you just enjoy it.”
Hooking up with Edging through a mutual friend helped Austin solidify his vision of the kind of artist he wanted to be. While most new artists trying to make a mark on the genre would opt to take the crossover route, Austin is firmly committed to the value of following his own muse—the one that tells him that old school is the way to go.
“From the time we decided to go ahead with this record and set about finding the best tunes to record, we kept asking, what makes me different?” Austin says. “But it’s not about what makes an artist different, because there are only so many ways to play country. It boils down to the song, how that song feels and makes you feel, how you deliver it and get the message across.
“When people listen to my music,” he continues, “they tell me it doesn’t sound like anyone else, and that’s because of the way I hear and interpret the songs. I love listening to a lot of the new pop stuff, but as an artist myself, it’s not my cup of tea. I want people who hear Labor Pains to feel like they’ve heard it someplace before, but they’re not sure where…offering them something comfortable yet completely fresh.”
In addition to the playful, tongue in cheek title track about people who make lame excuses, Labor Pains is chock full of songs that mine the genre’s classic lyrical territory, but in fresh, bright new ways. The “Fiddle In The Middle” concept was developed into an old-fashioned story song about a musician whose father taught him to play. “Another Fine Mess” chronicles the travails of a guy cheating on his wife who ends up in jail with both the spouse and the girlfriend showing up to post bail. And “Cold Window Pane” is a sweetly nostalgic romantic tune about a man reflecting on the time, years earlier, when his lover drew a heart on a steamed up window pane. No matter how much time has passed, every time the window fogs up, he sees the heart and remembers the time.
“Country songs are all about the story,” says Austin. “They make people feel good because they’re about everyday life and everyone can relate to them. Singing a great country tune is all about taking the listener’s mind off the troubles of their day for three minutes, giving them a release, and making them laugh, cry or feel something new. Thirty seconds into ‘Labor Pains,’ people hear the tag line and start laughing, and that’s when I know I’m connecting with them. But even though the song is humorous, naming the album Labor Pains made sense in a more personal way because after a year of hard work and energy we put into choosing songs, working on arrangements and recording it, it felt like we were giving birth to something special.”
Media & Marketing, Inc.
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