We all know the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Fortunately, Missy Raines isn’t one for clichés. Despite immense acclaim as an internationally-renowned bassist (seven time Bass Player of the Year IBMAs, with her eighth consecutive nom happening just last night), her upcoming August 27 release New Frontier (Compass Records, produced by Raines, Ethan Ballinger and Ben Surratt) explores uncharted territory both musically and personally, with Raines taking the reigns, if you will, on vocals. Our August ARTIST OF THE MONTH sat down with BGS to talk about New Frontier, her eclectic inspirations, and how she got together with the cleverly named New Hip.
What made you decide to do a vocal album?
Good question. When I started this band it was always my intention to sing a lot, so it was really just a natural evolution for me to sing more and more with this band. It might have taken a little longer than I thought it would initially. I had already made my way as a bass player and that was still something that I felt strongly about, but it was always in my mind that I wanted to express myself vocally as well. For me, it was a matter of finding both literally and figuratively my "voice," you know, figure out the style of songs that would fit me and fit this band. And also just developing a style, and I'm still doing that, but just really trying to find where my voice lives, if you know what I mean. So it just happened over time. When I started working on this record specifically my head was just there, so I just went with it. I was just thinking of songs and songs and songs and I wasn't really thinking about the other part of it. When we do live shows the bass is still prominently featured, and I still love to improvise and do the jazz thing we have going for us, and the bluegrass thing to some extent, but these songs were really the ones in my head.
You mentioned your live shows. When you guys were pulling these songs together, did you have the live show in mind?
Well, first of all, I didn't write all of these songs. I wrote one of them (“Where You Found Me”) and the others were cherry-picked from writers that either had not been recorded before or were totally obscure. For this record we'd been working up a bunch of new stuff and we went into the studio and probably recorded a half dozen more tunes than we needed and then just picked out the ones that we felt worked the best together conceptually. There is definitely a theme, in my mind, an underlying kind of theme, with this record, so a lot of the songs, to me, tie into that.
And what is that theme?
Well, it was definitely a personal journey getting to this place with this music. A lot of it stems around the tune "Where You Found Me," which is the tune I did write with Zach Bevill. It's kind of about going through an intense period with life and then realizing later that you are not there anymore, and you don't want to go back but you also realize how much what you went through has everything to do with how you’ve gotten to this point. The bigger picture of that, actually, is a lot about going through finding my voice and experimenting and exploring. Working with this band, though, has been really great, but it's not been without its "Oh my God" moments, because I played bluegrass my whole life.
Yeah, I can see that being liberating but also a bit scary.
It was. In my earliest days of music, like in my childhood days, all I ever listened to was bluegrass. Of course that changed around my teenage years when I started branching out and listening to everything, and these days I listen to everything, and love everything. But what I most cut my teeth on was bluegrass so I relate to that at the deepest of levels, so this was uncharted territory.
You seem to enjoy eclectic inspiration. Who were some of your vocal influences on this record?
Well, I would have to say Shelby Lynne, Lucinda Williams, and Bonnie Raitt stand out as singers I've been listening to a LOT for the last few years. And their music, especially the music and singing of Shelby Lynne, has influenced me a great deal and that is reflected on this album.
On that same note, how did you choose the New Frontier’s guest musicians?
We wanted to keep the guests to a minimum and really focus and feature the band as it is. We wanted it to be about the songs, so the songs we chose really dictated who we asked to be part of it. In the case of "What's the Calling For,” we thought of Sam Bush as a perfect fit. Personally, it has always been a dream of mine to have Sam on a New Hip album. He is one of my earliest influences and one of my heroes. I remember seeing him perform with the Bluegrass Alliance (pre New Grass Revival days) when I was just a very little girl, and even as young as I was, I was aware that he was doing something different, and I was inspired by him. I continue to be a fan of everything he does, and have always admired his stand at staying true to himself. Zach Bevill has been a friend and I was always a fan of the Farewell Drifters. After hearing a live show of ours months before we started working on the record, Zach pitched a couple songs to me. It turns out I loved them and immediately asked to put them on hold. They were "I Learn" and "New Frontier.” I played them for Ethan and he liked them, too, and when we worked them up, they literally just fell together with the band. We were performing them that weekend on stage. Once we knew they were going to be on the album, Ethan had the great idea to have Zach sing on "New Frontier.” He's got such a beautiful voice and we knew it was exactly what the song needed. "When the Day is Done" has drummer Robert Crawford on it. Rob was in the New Hip for several years till he moved to New Orleans just before we started working on the album. We cut the track for that song really as a demo a while ago and it was so great that we decided to keep it for the album. It just completely clicked.
How did you and your band The New Hip come together?
I started the band several years ago. This particular configuration has been together for a couple years now, but Ethan has been in the band since the beginning. I met Ethan through mandolin player and friend, Matt Flinner. Ethan was studying with him at the time and joined the band as a mandolin player. At one point when we were looking for a guitar player, Ethan offered to fill in on guitar. We tried it and his guitar style was exactly what we were looking for. So I then started looking for a mandolin player. I had known Jarrod Walker as a young student at a music camp called NashCamp. It had been a while since I'd seen him, but we ran into each other at IBMA one year and it was just the right time for both of us. Josh came in as a friend of Ethan's and was a perfect fit.
Well, with that perfect fit in mind, what’s next for you and The New Hip?
Well, we're just looking forward to touring as much as we can with this new record. We've actually had a little time off so I've been doing some other things with another band, which is how I get my bluegrass fix these days. So The New Hip is really gearing up to tour a bunch this coming year and we're writing more together as a band. I've been doing a whole lot more writing on my own, so I'm introducing new tunes to the band so we can work on the next record. But we still have a lot of time we want to spend on this one.