“I believe that with love and encouragement we can change the worst of atmospheres,” says Brent Johnson. Born and raised on a farm in Wisconsin, Brent had a desire to see the world and travel at an early age. He began playing in bands at 17 and has since toured in over 40 states as well as all over Canada. His desire to create an environment and place of hope led him to start Hope Country in 2011. With an emphasis on strong songwriting and storytelling lyrics, Hope Country has developed into a prime example of modern-day Americana.
Hope Country has released two EPs in the past three years and has supported them with multiple headline tours, festival appearances, and support slots for Brandi Carlile, Ingrid Michaelson, Twin Forks, Joseph, American Aquarium, The Wild Feathers, Nikki Lane, Sturgill Simpson, Rayland Baxter, Andrew Ripp, David Cook, Soul Asylum, Martin Sexton, & more, along with a run of sold out dates with Judah & The Lion.
While Water, Land, & Sky is dynamic full-band record and Thirty One showcases Johnson’s softer singer/songwriter side, the self-titled Hope Country (2017) marries the two, calling to mind artists such as Jason Isbell and The Avett Brothers. Lyrically, the record continues Hope Country’s heartfelt stories of life and living. The album was recorded at Summer-Winter Studios in St. Paul, MN with Levi Stugelmeyer (The Cactus Blossoms, Caitlyn Smith) and mastered by Huntley Miller (Bon Iver, The Tallest Man On Earth). Hope Country’s purpose is to bring hope to our whole world everywhere the music goes.
KACY & CLAYTON
In Greek mythology, the sirens were mystical creatures whose magnetic voices and enchanting songs lured enraptured sailors to their doom. Kacy & Clayton’s haunting, evocative music has a similarly intoxicating effect on present-day listeners.
On their second New West release The Siren’s Song—produced by avowed K&C admirer Jeff Tweedy—the startlingly expressive voice and violin of Kacy Anderson combine with the intricate guitar work and warm harmony vocals of her cousin and musical partner Clayton Linthicum. They make music that seems to exist outside of time, tapping into centuries of tradition while effortlessly channelling fundamental human truths. Their 2016 New West debut Strange Country earned the Canadian twosome an enthusiastic following on both sides of the border, and The Siren’s Song looks likely to expand their audience further.
Kacy & Clayton’s music taps into a bottomless well of folk and country influences from North America and the British Isles, injecting centuries of musical and cultural history with youthful energy and a modern sensibility. Their vivid, character-filled songs explore the singers’ rural roots, often addressing dark and bittersweet lyrical subjects in a manner that counterpoints the joyous uplift of the pair’s musical chemistry.
Throughout The Siren’s Song, which Kacy & Clayton recorded with Tweedy in Wilco’s in-house studio The Loft, they extend and expand the spare sound of Strange Country, augmenting their emotionally resonant songcraft with subtly textured full-band arrangements that complement their distinctive voices and Tweedy’s organic recording approach, imbuing such tunes as “The Light of Day,” “Just Like A Summer Cloud,” “A Lifeboat,” “A Certain Kind of Memory” and the Clayton-sung “White Butte Country” with gravity and urgency. Meanwhile, “Cannery Yard” and “Go and Leave Me” harken back to the spare acoustic sound of Kacy & Clayton’s prior releases.
The critical acclaim and fan attention that have accompanied their album releases are a long way from Kacy & Clayton’s humble Canadian roots. Second cousins and friends since childhood, they grew up a few miles apart in the Wood Mountain Uplands, an isolated community in southern Saskatchewan, 12 miles from the Montana border and hours from the nearest record store. They both gravitated towards music early in life, learning about classic country and folk music from relatives and neighbors, picking up rare old vinyl when they could and discovering a world of vintage obscurities through the internet.
With a deep appreciation for the songwriting greats of his father’s generation, drummer-turned-guitarist Michael Gay has set out to leave his own mark with Almighty American. “I’ve learned a lot about empathy through songwriting,” Gay told City Pages. “I try to do the story justice and not always go for the easy rhyme.” His approach to songwriting pairs with a classic Americana sensibility and feel to breed earnest songs with melodies that stick with the listener. Influences such as old literature, cowboys, and the open road can be heard and felt throughout his debut full-length album, Somewhere Ride, available now.