Interview with Derek O’Dell, Picker Magazine
“Welcome back, I’m Derek O’Dell with Picker Magazine. Today on the show, I’m playing excerpts for you from my interview with Rome Graham. As you’ve all heard by now, Rome is up for the Studio Musician of the Year in this year’s CMA Awards for his amazing work on Brianna Jane’s latest album, The Beach is Back. So up next, here’s an excerpt from my interview with Rome.”
DD: Rome, thanks so much for joining me. You’re joining by Skype today. Where in the world are ya, bud?
RG: Thanks for having me, Derek. Well, if you can believe it, I’m in Glasgow, Scotland.
DD: Wow, well that’s a long way from home, isn’t it? <laughs> You’re from right here in middle Tennessee, aren’t ya, Rome?
RG: Yes, sir. Murfreesboro born and bred. Yeah, Scotland’s a different world from back home. It’s nice though. The people are great, at least I think so. I only understand about half of what they say.
DD: Now Rome, your sister is Georgia Graham – we all know and love Georgia from BITE TV. You guys are twins, is that right?
RG: Yeah, I’m older by fourteen minutes. We have another sister who’s four years older, but Georgia and I are twins.
DD: Is it true twins have a psychic bond?
RG: Well, I don’t know about psychic, but she sure seems to show up when I’ve got food I don’t wanna share. <laughs> Seriously, though, we always know what each other needs. Like if I reach for somethin’, she’s already handing it to me – that sorta thing.
DD: That’s pretty cool. Maybe a little freaky.
DD: So, tell me about working with Brianna Jane on The Beach is Back. What was that process like?
RG: Well, ya know, Brianna hasn’t been in the business all that long, but she knows her stuff. We put a lotta hard work into that record, and I’m proud of the end result. The bossa nova and flamenco breaks in the songs on that album were Brianna’s idea, and when they called to ask if I’d be interested, I was excited for the opportunity.
DD: So, tell me about that – the flamenco – that’s not your typical Nashville riff.
RG: No, definitely not. I rarely get to play that sorta thing, but I love flamenco. I don’t think people realize how complex it can be. It’s beautiful.
DD: Well, you nailed it, brother. That’s a great record, and your riffs really added a lot. Now, Rome, you know our listeners and readers at Picker Magazine and The Picker Podcast wanna know, so I gotta ask. There were some rumors swirling around town about you and Brianna. Any truth to that? Are you and country music’s hottest beach babe an item? <chuckles>
RG: Well, Derek, I’m a professional. Music is how I make my living, but more than that, it’s my life’s work. I’ve never been involved with an artist I’ve worked with. Brianna’s a professional too. People give her a hard time but she’s a good person – she wants to make music her fans will love. So, are we datin’? No, absolutely not.
DD: Well, okay, I think guys across the country just breathed a sigh of relief. You heard it here first, fellas. Brianna’s not off the market just yet!
So, Rome, what are you working on right now?
RG: I’m touring with Lauren Kinnear’s band. We’re doing a UK tour right now, and there may be an extension in Europe next year.
DD: Now, she’s not a country artist, so tell us a little about the music you’re playing.
RG: Lauren’s a classical and Gaelic musician. We do a lot of traditional pieces, and she writes original classical pieces as well. Her work is complex and compelling… truly inspired.
DD: Well it sounds like you’re enjoying the tour. Are we going to see you back here for the awards ceremony next month?
RG: I’m going to try to make it back, but it depends on the tour, so if I can’t make it, I’ll be watching on satellite. I appreciate everyone who nominated me. It’s nice to be recognized for work you’re proud of.
DD: Thanks for joining us today, Rome.
RG: Thanks for having me.
“That was an excerpt of my interview with Rome Graham, Nominee for Studio Musician of the Year at this year’s’ Country Music Association Awards, which are coming up on November 14th. For more of my interview with Rome, pick up a copy of Picker Magazine, or subscribe online at PickerMag.com. I’m Derek O’Dell, and I’ll see you on the flip side!”
It was a typical late-night recording session. I had laid down the same track six times already, and every take was exactly like it was written. It was the last track we needed to get Brianna Jane’s newest album, The Beach Is Back, in the can. Every time, though, she complained about something and we had to run the take again.
It was nearly two in the morning. I’d been there since six. I’d grown up on a working farm, and I knew what hard work was. Playing music was nothing like tending to livestock, plowing a field, or hanging tobacco. Every time I ever felt like quitting college, I thought about all those summers I spent hanging tobacco on our cousin’s farm, and knew I’d do anything to not have to do that for a living. That is hard work. Playing music is not. Not in the same kinda way, anyhow.
Playing for hours on end, though, is tiring in another way. When you put your heart and soul into a piece, when you’re giving it your best, it’s draining. Even worse, though, are the hours sitting around waiting for your next take. There are few things as mentally exhausting as sitting around waiting for something.
On this particular night, or I should say, morning, I was getting really tired and frustrated, in part because I knew there wasn’t a damn thing wrong with the previous takes.
“Char-lie!” Brianna whined, “Can’t we please, please, pretty please just do one more, teensy weensy little take? It’ll be fast, I promise.” She swiveled her body back and forth with her feet planted firmly in place, her skirt swishing around her as she moved.
This girl is gonna be the death of me. I am never, ever working with her again. No wonder this job paid so much.
“Brianna, I think we’ve got several we can put in the can, but if you want another…,” the sound engineer, Charlie, replied.
“Oh, goodie!” She squealed, clapping her hands together. “I’m gonna sit on the sofa in the sound booth while Rome does this last cut. You won’t mind, will ya, Rome?” She looked at me, batting her eyelashes.
She wasn’t my boss, exactly, but I was there because she wanted me there, and she could just as easily tell her manager to replace me.
“Whatever you say, Brianna. We can do it again.” I forced a smile.
“Awesome. And hey, Charlie, since you’ve got everything set up, and it’s just us still here, why don’t you run up the road to Krispy Kreme and get us some donuts and coffee? I like those ones with the maple stuff on top.” She smiled sweetly, but the look in her eyes told us both it wasn’t so much a request as a requirement.
Brianna stepped into the recording room, plopping down on the sofa that was beneath the window to the sound booth, which faced the sound setup where I’d be sitting.
“Look, Rome,” Charlie’s voice was low. “Everything is all set up here, and every track you play is identical anyway. We can use anything we got tonight and it’s gonna be great. Don’t sweat it. Just get through a couple more and make her highness happy.”
He patted me on the shoulder, and I stepped into the booth. I did the sound check, and he gave me the thumbs up, then held up his keys to show me he was running out and would return shortly.
I sat down and began to play. Brianna was looking at me intently, her legs splayed wide, her boots flat on the floor, and her elbows resting on her knees.
This particular set of songs was slow, and like I often did, as I got to the refrain, I closed my eyes as I played. A moment later, when I opened my eyes, I saw something I never would have expected.
Briana had kicked one foot up onto the sofa and hiked her skirt up to her waist. She was leaned back on the arm of the couch, hand between her legs, stroking the thin fabric of her panties.
Somehow, and I’m not sure how exactly, I got through the take. When I finished, I put my guitar on the stand and walked over to her. “What are you doin’, Brianna?” I asked.
She pulled her t-shirt up exposing her bare breasts and turned to face me. “What I’m doin’ is wastin’ time touchin’ myself when I could be touchin’ you.” She arched up an eyebrow and hooked her finger into the waistband of my jeans, pulling me toward her. She smiled up at me coyly, and unbuttoned my jeans, and unzipped them.
She licked her lips and took my already swollen cock in her hand, fisting it up and down, twisting her hand around the shaft as she did. “Damn, Rome. I thought you’d be big, but this is a nice surprise. I wonder if you taste as good as you look?”
She opened her lips and took me in, her mouth warm and soft against my aching cock. She moved up and down a few times, and I knew I couldn’t take it much longer. I grabbed a fistful of blonde curls to stop her movement.
“Brianna, if you don’t stop I’m gonna come right now.”
Giving me a devilish grin, she reached down into her bag and pulled out a condom. She looked up at me, eyes full of lust. She opened the wrapper and rolled the condom down my shaft. A moment later, I was behind her on the sofa, ramming into her. It was raw, but her enthusiasm more than made up for our lack of connection. I was a single guy, after all. I’d never hooked up with an artist before, and I’d never, ever betray her privacy, but when one of the hottest girls in country music wants you, well, I’d have been an idiot to say no.
We finished, and when Charlie came back, Brianna told him, “Rome did it, Charlie. I’m finally satisfied.”
She grinned at me, and we headed out for the night.
“So, you wanna come back to my place?” Brianna asked once we were outside.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Brianna.” I shook my head as we walked toward the cars.
“Rome! Come on…,” she whined. “I’ve got some really good blow! Or, if you’d rather have weed, my guy sells the best shit!” She smiled.
I shook my head and kept walking toward my truck. She took a few fast steps to get in front of me, walking backward as she faced me. “Come on, Rome. Let’s get fucked up and spend all night screwin’! Or, wait, or how about this? You know I’ve got a jet, right? Let’s go to Cabo! We’ll leave right now – buy clothes and shit when we get there. What about that, huh?”
By that time, I felt like a complete asshole. I shouldn’t have fucked Brianna. I had a feeling she might be a handful, but I had no idea how bad off she was.
I stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. “Brianna, look, we had a good time tonight. I think we both know that’s all it was. I don’t do drugs, and I’m not lookin’ to party. I just wanna go home and get some rest. It’s been a long night.”
She nodded quietly. “I’m sorry, I just… I get tired of coming’ home by myself. You’re so different. I thought… I don’t know. I thought maybe you were just what I needed.”
“Brianna, you’re a good person, I know that. You’re just off track is all. Maybe you think about straightening up a little… start thinking about what you want instead of trying to give people what you think they want from you. You deserve that.”
I kissed her on top of the head. “Goodnight, Brianna.”
She nodded, giving me the faintest smile and hopped into her convertible, driving off toward her million-dollar neighborhood.
“What happened to textin’ me?” I asked my brother-in-law when he got out of the car and walked around to open Georgia’s door.
“Sorry, Rome, I was trying to keep your sister from carrying anything, which was harder work than wrangling the luggage itself.” Lucas opened the car door, and my sister stepped out of the back. “There was also an inordinate amount of stopping for snacks… and for the toilet.”
“Damn, Geo, you’re as big as a house!” I laughed and ran over to hug her.
“Yeah, thanks!” She rolled her eyes. “Good to see you too, Ro! Punk!” She hugged me tight, then punched my shoulder for good measure.
I walked over to help Lucas with the bags. “Good to see you,” he said, giving me a one-armed slap on the back. “I’ve missed you, mate,” he smiled. “Oh, and maybe cool it on talking about Georgia’s size, would you? Touchy subject – I’ve got the bruises to prove it.” He nudged my arm.
“Ya’ll must be tired after that long flight, huh?” I asked. Georgia walked through the front door and we followed her, each of us with two large suitcases in tow.
Georgia and Lucas’ house was on the property that had been in our family for generations. Daddy gave them the tract of land as a wedding gift, and Lucas had the house built for Georgia, so she could be close to us when they were in town.
“We napped a little on the flight,” Lucas replied, lowering his voice. “Georgia snored the whole time. The entire first-class cabin was giving us daggers.”
“Where’s Daddy?” Georgia asked.
“Out terrorizing the ranch hands under the guise of helpin’, I reckon. I just got home a little bit ago myself,” I replied.
“Where you been on a Saturday?” Georgia asked, walking into the living room and sitting on one of the wide, overstuffed chairs. I instinctively pushed the ottoman closer as she sat down, so she could put her feet up. That was the good thing about being a twin. You almost always knew what each other needed at any given time.
“I had a gig,” I said, plopping down on the sofa beside Geo’s chair. “Backup on some redneck pop album.” I rolled my eyes.
“Well that’s good,” Georgia replied. “I mean, I know you don’t like it, but at least it’s payin’ work, right?”
“It is. I shouldn’t complain I don’t guess. There’s guys in town who would kill for a gig like this. I just wish it was what I want to be doin’, that’s all.” I said.
“Speaking of,” Lucas walked into the living room with a bottle of ginger ale for Georgia, and two beers for us. “I might have some good news for you there,” he smiled at Geo as he handed her the ginger ale and sat beside me, handing me the beer.
“One of my mates in London – he’s a chef too – has a restaurant in the Docklands. Anyway, his sister-in-law is a musician. She has a tour coming up and is looking for some backup musicians to take on the road with her. I can get you in touch if you’d be interested.”
“A tour? Yeah, I think I might be interested. What kinda music does she play?” I was very interested, in fact. I had to get out of Nashville where I had the chance to play on something besides twangy odes to the redneck Riviera and country girl revenge anthems. There were some great bands doing that stuff, but it just wasn’t for me.
“It’s sort of traditional and classical fusion, actually. It’s really good. She plays violin, and has a keyboard player and a drummer, apparently, but she’s still looking for a guitarist. I told my mate that you were the best, and I’d ask you as soon as I saw you.” He said, taking a swig of his beer.
“When you say traditional…,” I looked at Lucas and raised my eyebrows.
“Oh, sorry! Yeah, so she plays a lot of Celtic pieces, and then some classical composers as well. We went to a fundraiser a couple of months ago and she played there, it was great, didn’t you think so, darling?” He looked to Georgia for agreement.
“Yeah, she’s really good, Ro. She’s pretty young– maybe twenty-four? But I got the impression she’s a pretty big deal over there. People went nuts when she played at the gala.” Georgia put down the ginger ale and shifted in the chair.
Lucas was on his feet in a second. “What do you need, darling? Pillows? Ice pack? What can I do?”
She smiled at him sweetly, then looked to me. “He’s been like this for months, ya know. I couldn’t ask for a more attentive husband. On the other hand, he hasn’t left me alone for one second either. He hardly lets me pee by myself. I so much as roll over in my sleep and he leaps outta bed – scares the crap outta me.” She laughed.
Lucas shrugged. “Oh, well, do excuse me for being worried about my wife and son!” He feigned indignance. “Besides, Rome here said he’d kick my ass if I let anything happen to you or the baby. And don’t even get me started on your Dad. You know he still sort of terrifies me.” Lucas winked at Geo and she giggled.
“Oh? Is that right?” Daddy said as he walked in the front door and pulled off his shoes.
“Daddy!” Georgia exclaimed as she went to get up before he stopped her.
“You stay there and rest, baby girl. I’ll come to you.” A smile crept across Daddy’s face as he walked over to Georgia and hugged her. He then turned to Lucas, “How you doin’, son? Your flight okay?”
“Yes, sir, it was great, thanks. Really good to see you,” Lucas replied as he half-hugged Daddy while he shook his hand.
“Rome, you heard from Celia?” Daddy asked. Our oldest sister was supposed to be coming to the house to see Georgia.
“Not a word,” I replied. “I’ll text her,” I said. Just as I slipped my phone out of my pocket, the front door opened, and Celia walked in.
“I’m here! We finally made it!” Celia said, walking in. Mike was in tow with the twins. Nothing Lucas could do would have been able to stop Geo from hopping up and running over to hug Celia, let alone fuss over our niece and nephew. Since she and Lucas got engaged, Geo had gotten a lot closer to Celia, like she was when we were little. Whatever made them grow apart was over, and I was glad.
“You guys made it!” Georgia said, reaching up to hug Celia. “Oh, and there’s my gorgeous niece and nephew! Come give your Aunt Georgia a hug!” Georgia sat back down, and Cate and Jae jumped up into the oversized chair, flanking Georgia on either side. Dad leaned over and kissed both of the kids on the head before walking over to hug Celia.
“Good to see you, Daddy!” Celia said. “You been out with the livestock?” She asked.
“Do I smell that bad?” He asked.
“Well, you…,” Celia started to respond, and Georgia cut her off.
“God, yes! Daddy, I love you, but you stink to high Heaven!” The sound of three-year-old giggles immediately filled the room, and Georgia put her arms around the kids, hugging them close as they all laughed.
Mike walked over by Lucas, putting an arm around his shoulder in greeting. “How you doin’, brother? I see you got full-blown dad-to-be jitters. Don’t worry,” he pointed to the kids, “You’ll survive… probably.”
“He’s right,” Dad added. “When I found out their Mama was pregnant with twins, I didn’t sleep for the whole seven months until they were born.”
“How is the livestock coming along, Adam? I saw the last financial reports, and everything looked really great.” Lucas asked my Dad.
“Yeah, it’s real good. If I’d known how well this could work, I’d have moved to livestock years ago.” He chuckled. “We just got a contract for Palm Green, the steakhouse chain? They’re using our lamb exclusively in all twenty-five locations.” Dad patted Lucas on the shoulder. “Now, if you fellas will excuse me, I’m gonna head home and get cleaned up before these girls make me eat outside.”
“Okay boys, that’s your cue,” Georgia said. “The pregnant girl is starvin’. If ya’ll could go ahead and fire up the grill?” Georgia looked at Lucas, Mike and me and batted her eyelashes.
“Right!” Lucas said, clapping his hands together. “Let’s get to it, shall we?”
“And honey, don’t even think about bringing me a burger without cheese on it,” Georgia said looking at Lucas from under her brows.
“You aren’t supposed to have dairy, though, darling. Fish, sushi, dairy, caffeine…,” Lucas started naming off all the dietary restrictions as precautions for pregnant women, touching his index finger to the fingers of the other hand as he counted off. Georgia had been complaining to me about the restrictions for months.
“Honey, I promise not to eat pâté, or pufferfish but if you don’t put a piece of cheese on my burger, this will be the last child you get to make, ya hear me?” Georgia said.
“Damn, Geo! And here I thought you were scary before!” I said, giving her a head nod and a wink before heading out through the kitchen to the back deck with Lucas and Mike.
“So, how ya been, bud?” Mike asked when we got to the outdoor kitchen on the back deck.
“Not bad,” I said. “I finished a pretty crazy gig last week.”
“Oh yeah? Who was that, then?” Lucas asked.
“Well, you ever hear of Brianna Jane?” I asked.
“Ain’t she the girl that sings Life’s A Beach?” Mike asked.
“That’s her! So, listen to this shit… I did some of the guitar riffs on her newest album. I been working with her for about two months. That girl is crazy! The first session I showed up for, she was drinking Jack right outta the bottle at ten in the mornin’.” I shook my head.
“That’s pretty hard-core,” Lucas added, patting out the burgers. “And that’s me saying that.”
“Well, that ain’t the half of it. Last week, we were recording the last couple of tracks, and she insists she’s gotta be in the booth while I’m playin’. So, I’m playin’, givin’ it my all, and she sits on the sofa under the sound engineer’s window, so I can see her facin’ me. She had sent him out for coffee. Anyway, I look up, and she’s layin’ back on the sofa with her skirt hiked up, and her hand between her legs.”
“Holy shit!” Mike said. “I knew things got kinda crazy in some of those sessions, but that’s some next-level shit.” He shook his head and took a swig of his beer.
“That’s mad! So, what happened? Did you…?” Lucas trailed off, raising an eyebrow, but I knew what he was asking.
“So, yeah, after the cut, she pounced on me.” I laughed, thinking back to how wild the experience had been.
“She pulls me over and grabs my dick – starts givin’ me a blow job. Dude,” I tapped Mike’s shoulder with the back of the hand that held my beer. “Let’s just say her talents are oral as well as vocal. Anyway, she pulled a condom out of her purse. Girl came prepared.”
Mike tapped his beer bottle to mine. “So, you seein’ her, or was it a one and done?”
“One and done, for sure. After we hooked up, I started to realize it was a mistake. I didn’t realize until we started talkin’ afterwards, but she’s got lots of problems. I ain’t got room for that much drama, ya know? Besides, she had moved on to the bass player in within a couple of days. I was kinda relieved, to be honest.” I shrugged. “I mean, sex with a pretty girl is never a bad thing, but I almost felt like she could’ve had as much fun without me.”
Lucas had given my contact info to the musician in the UK, and a week later, I was in a buddy’s studio downtown, doing a preliminary audition via webcam.
The artist whose band I was auditioning for was Lauren Kinnear. I’d done a lot of research on her music. She was one of the top selling artists in Europe, as it turned out, and her music was spectacular.
She played a lot of traditional Gaelic pieces, but also classical composers, and her own classical compositions. I watched a video of her Albert Hall performance a couple of years before, and the way she managed the set list, opening with energy, bringing the tone down to a more serious one, and then slowly edging up to a crescendo in the final piece, was masterful. Her execution on each piece was superb.
Her manager, Edward Carlyle, had set up the virtual audition as a first step after watching some performance videos I had sent them. If the virtual audition went well, I would fly to London for an in-person audition with Lauren and her band.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been nervous in an audition, but I was that day. I took two guitars with me to the audition. The first was a Taylor 814 electric-acoustic. It was a high-fidelity instrument that was light and translated the nuances of a piece with deftness.
The second was my baby – my favorite guitar. It had been a gift from Georgia and Lucas on my twenty-third birthday – a 1937 Martin D28. The Martin was responsive and fun to play. It was the best instrument I’d ever had in my hands.
Edward introduced himself on the video chat. He said that Lauren was off-camera on a headset and would introduce herself after my performance. I found this kind of annoying, to be honest. Rude. It was her band I was auditioning for, after all, and I felt like she should at least acknowledge me. I had been excited about the audition, but if she was some sort of diva, this might not work after all.
They didn’t give me a set list beforehand, which I presumed was in an attempt to make sure I was as well-versed in the classical style as I had said. The first song was Bach’s Air, on a G string. I could play that piece in my sleep. Next, The Skye Boat Song, a traditional Scottish piece, that gave me no trouble. They put me through the paces with a few more modern pieces by Hans Zimmer and Alan Silvestri. I played each piece flawlessly and was proud of my performance.
Finally, as we were wrapping up, they gave me the option to play a piece of my own choosing. I chose Etude 11, Villa-Lobos. It was one of the most technically challenging and interpretive pieces I knew.
After I finished the piece, Edward looked off-camera to the direction that I presumed was where Lauren was sitting and nodded.
“Rome, we’re going to converse for a moment or two. Please stay on the line. We’ll be back in a moment,” Edward said.
“Okay,” I replied, even more annoyed and feeling kind of like I was being played, or at least not taken seriously.
After about ten minutes, the camera stream went live again. Edward sat off-center to the left of the screen. To the right, a woman, young, with long, dark, auburn hair sat beside him.
I had seen photos of Lauren online when I was researching her music, and she was pretty. On video, though, she was more than pretty. She had fair skin and pale blue eyes like mine, which were sexy as hell against her dark red hair and porcelain complexion. She was pretty quiet, letting Edward do most of the talking, but when he talked about my playing of Villa-Lobos, she flashed a little smile, and her eyes lit up briefly, garnering my full attention.
After chatting briefly, Lauren, who had barely spoken a handful of words to me throughout the interview, looked directly at the camera and said, “No drugs.”
She sounds kind of American. I thought she was British.
“I’m sorry?” I wasn’t sure whether it was a question or a statement.
“I don’t allow anyone in my band to do drugs while we’re on tour. No non-band members are allowed in at any time and I abhor lies. If I catch you lying to me, or if you break any of my rules, you’re out.” She narrowed her eyes a little. “Is that clear?”
“Well,” I uncrossed my legs and leaned forward resting my elbows on my knees as I looked right at the camera. “I don’t do drugs, ever. I do drink, but not while I’m workin’. I also don’t pick up women while I’m workin’. I take my music seriously. As for lyin’, well, I got no reason to. So yeah, we’re clear. Crystal.” I arched up an eyebrow and nodded once as I sat back and crossed my ankle over my knee.
I had read that she was a little quirky, but this girl was kind of a hard ass for a musician.
Lauren looked back at the camera, narrowing her eyes more as if trying to determine if I were telling the truth, then she turned to Edward.
“I want him. Make it happen,” she said, then she stood and abruptly left.
Edward looked off camera for a moment in the direction of the door I heard slam, then turned back to me.
“Right, then,” he said, slapping his hands together. “How soon could you get here to meet the rest of the band?”