Brian Pounds – Season 5 (Team Blake)
It’s a classic Austin story. Every night, unsuspecting tourists stumble onto the Saxon Pub on North Lamar in the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” Some have heard about the venue’s reputation for showcasing the best local talent for almost three decades. Some are just thirsty. But any that come on a Monday night, maybe for the big weekly Bob Schneider show, will find themselves treated to one of the best up and coming singer-songwriters in town, Brian Pounds. “This is my favorite song I’ve ever written,” Brian says ruefully, leaning into the mic.
As the night progresses, you’ll hear that phrase several more times. It’s an inside joke. The truth is that any one of Brian’s songs could be his favorite, and yours too. Those outside the world of Austin songwriters may know of Brian from his appearance on Season 5 of NBC’s “The Voice,” where the young artist was handpicked by Blake Shelton. Brian’s voice is unmistakably strong; landing somewhere between the stylings of James Taylor and Chris Stapleton. It’s the kind of voice that gets strangers to perk up from behind their drinks at the bar. But his secret weapon is his songwriting. After the initial impact of hearing that voice for the first time, it starts to dawn on you that the songs themselves are really, really good.
That secret weapon may not stay so secret for long. In addition to being an official selection for the 2016 Dripping Springs Songwriter Festival, Brian was just named as a finalist for this year’s Kerrville New Folk contest, one of the longest-running and most prestigious songwriting contests in the world. Hundreds of songwriters from multiple continents submit their best work every year in the hopes of being chosen. Only a few join the ranks of Steve Earle, James McMurtry, Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, and other storied songwriters. Brian’s being singled out is a clear hallmark of his future.
A new father and already an industry veteran, Brian is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of the life a touring songwriter. He’s spent years on the road, playing countless venues across the country, occasionally opening for the likes of Blake Shelton, Sam Hunt, Bob Schneider, Hayes Carll, and John Fullbright. With a debut release and EP already under his belt (2010’s “After You’re Gone” and 2014’s “Strikes and Gutters,” produced by Brian Douglas Phillips), Brian will soon be releasing a full-length album showcasing his depth as an artist.
Self-produced and tracked to tape in Nashville, the album is titled “Southern Writer” in honor of Brian’s Texas upbringing. Acoustic guitars and vocals are at the forefront on songs like “Odessa,” which tells of a complicated love affair with a West Texas town and “Death of Me,” a stark and unsuspecting gem, wrestling with coming of age and the loss of a close friend. The production of “Southern Writer” marks a musical as well as a geographic return to roots. Like a classic Ryan Adams or James Taylor record, the spotlight never veers away from the singer and the song. Funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, fueled by scores of devout fans from Brian’s near decade of touring, and hard on the heels of this summer’s Kerrville New Folk graduating class, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Lex Land – Season 2 (Team Blake)
Lex Land is a singer-songwriter and jazz vocalist originally from Southern California currently residing in Austin, TX. She has released two albums with a third to be released in 2017, and was a member of Team Blake on Season 2 of NBC’s The Voice.
Originally aspiring to a career in classical music, Land dropped out of her vocal performance program at a university in Orange, California to pursue her pop ambitions. In 2009, she left Los Angeles to make Austin her home.
Lex began recording her debut album, “Orange Days on Lemon Street” (which critics deemed “a fantastic mix of honey sweet folk and dense, beat driven folk-rock”), at age 19 . In 2011 she followed it up with a more eclectic, electrified, and genre-hopping sophomore record, “Were My Sweetheart To Go.” Both records earned “Best of iTunes” honors and also received several featured song placements on television programs, including “Private Practice”, “Castle”, and “Bones.”
In the midst of supporting her two previously released albums, Lex represented Austin, TX as a Team-Blake-finalist on NBC’s “The Voice” in 2012. She has also been invited to perform multiple times on late night television’s “Last Call with Carson Daly,” as well as over the radio airwaves on tastemaker stations such as KCRW’s venerated “Morning Becomes Eclectic.”
In Texas Lex has truly blossomed- taking the state by storm with her solo Jeff-Buckley-esque cabaret performances, hitting home-runs with her band, or stealing the show sitting in at jazz clubs.
Nakia – Season 1 (Team CeeLo)
Austin-based, Alabama-raised singer/songwriter Nakia has a heart that beats to the rhythms of Muscle Shoals soul, pumping blood infused with Stax funk to cells lined with Chicago blues grooves. His vocal talent is the kind that instantly turns listeners into fans — among them CeeLo Green, who invited Nakia to sing on his Muppets Christmas special. Nakia was a Top 8 Semifinalist on CeeLo’s team during the first season of ‘The Voice‘ on NBC.
Nakia moved from Chicago to Austin in 2002. After a brief stint in the Small Stars, a tongue-in-cheek lounge act fronted by Fastball’s Miles Zuniga, he formed Nakia & His Southern Cousins, got booked to perform at the 2008 Austin City Limits Festival, and wound up singing with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. Alejandro Escovedo heard him at a Rolling Stones tribute, which led to him singing backing vocals on Escovedo’s Street Songs of Love album, and to a second recommendation — this time by producer Tony Visconti — for Nakia to front his own Blues band. So he formed the Blues Grifters. A YouTube video of the band led to The Voice producer Mark Burnett recruiting him for the pilot, which resulted in his relationship with CeeLo.
Nakia is a active member of the Austin music community. He is an outspoken advocate for organizations such as Black Fret, HAAM, and The SIMS Foundation. He has served as the Chair of the Austin Music Commission and as a member of the Board of Governors for the Texas Chapter of the Recording Academy. Nakia is a two-time Black Fret nominee. Nakia also recently performed at the Austin City Limits Music Festival with the Barton Hills Choir.
Rebecca Loebe – Season 1 (Team Adam)
Blink was born one summer night on the way home from a gig in South Texas when a song that Loebe had put on about a million high school mix tapes came on the radio. She says, “Suddenly I was transported back in time to the summer I was 17… Before I got home, I’d written Forever Young Forever and the rest of the songs that would make up Blink started spilling out.”
Blink is the fourth full-length studio album from the songwriter who has spent the past decade on the road performing in 44 states of the U.S., as well as Canada, Europe, The U.K. and Japan. Along the way she has honed her voice as one of the Americana music scene’s most exciting new songwriters and earned a place on Alternate Root Magazine’s annual listing of The Top 10 Female Singers in America.
Since quitting her job as an audio engineer, Rebecca has received an armful of songwriting accolades, including the prestigious Kerrville New Folk Award, as well as praise from the mainstream pop world (“I just love listening to you sing”~ Adam Levine). Recently relocated from her hometown of Atlanta, GA, she now lives in Austin, TX, where she tries her best to keep a garden growing between an average of 150-200 tour dates per year.
On one stop at home, Loebe learned that her tiny independent music empire was up for a routine audit by the IRS. During the many subsequent hours that she spent contemplating the nature of money, time and a decade spent traveling the world armed only with songs and her trademark relentless optimism, songwriting was the only distraction she would allow herself. She describes it as “one of the most prolific musical periods of my life…so, thanks IRS!” (In case you’re wondering, she represented herself in her audit hearing and there was no change to her taxable status.)
Blink reunites Loebe with producer Will Robertson for their first collaboration since 2010’s Americana Top 40 Album, Mystery Prize, which landed on many year-end lists including the Americana Music Association’s Top 100 Albums of the Year. The 11-song collection of new originals is equally inspired by soul, folk and southern rock. Heavy on vibe and light on overdubs, Loebe’s award-winning voice, both as a singer and a songwriter, is masterfully supported by the nuanced real-time performances of a close-knit five piece band.
In 2017, she’ll be touring the world to share the songs of Blink, embarking on her eighth international tour and hoping to cross the final six states of the U.S. off her list.
Suzanna Choffel – Season 2 (Team Blake)
Having a sixth sense is something Pisces people take for granted. But March-born singer-songwriter Suzanna Choffel’s latest album, Hello Goodbye, contains one song that proved remarkably prescient even to her. When Choffel wrote “Go Forth,” an inspirational ballad whose lyrics seemingly impart advice from a loving parent, she thought the only thing she was trying to hatch was the album. A week later, she learned she was pregnant with her first child.
Several of Hello Goodbye’s songs could be associated with major events in Choffel’s life. She’s had many in the last few years, from appearing on season three of The Voice and moving from her Austin hometown to New York for three years, to earning a major grant from Black Fret, an Austin artist development group, and performing before thousands of January 2017 Women’s March participants at the Texas State Capitol.
But just as that song predated knowledge of her pregnancy, many tracks on this album — an earthy, lush folk-funk mélange of blues, jazz, soul, dreamy electro-pop and her unique vocal colorings — predated those experiences, along with such events as a scary brush with mortality after leaving her baby for the first time to perform in France. (Fortunately, only possessions were lost when the chateau where she was staying burst into flames.)
Ironically, those post-recording experiences serve as detailed illustrations of the album’s central theme: How to reconcile the push-pull of opposing desires? For Choffel, that manifests as a struggle to balance the seemingly conflicting pursuits of family life and musical adventures. But swimming in opposite directions is what Pisceans do.
Even the album itself reflects that duality; its vinyl-oriented sequencing creates a distinct mood shift from side A to side B.
“Side A is more low-key, sweet and soft, and side B is more of the funky dance tunes,” Choffel explains. It’s not a concept album, but she notes, “As we laid out the tracks, I realized it kind of told a story — not intentionally, but that’s how it fits together. You want to take people on a journey.”
Without her journey to New York, it would have been a different story musically. “I think it took me moving away to embrace some of the rootsier, funkier sounds that found their way on here,” Choffel says. “Especially in ‘Sinkin’ Down,’ ‘Lately For You’ and ‘Keep on Movin’ — some of the grittier, bluesier ones.”
On that last one, a swampy rocker, the Greyhounds’ Andrew Trube slithers slide guitar riffs around Tedeschi-Trucks Band drummer JJ Johnson’s cymbal taps and New Bohemian Brad Houser’s bass notes as Choffel casts a spell with her breathy alto. She starts low and slow, but as she sings Your blood is hot from your head down to your soul/It’s hard to stop a fire once it’s out of control, her smoldering passion intensifies. As syncopated hand claps and Johnson’s relentless rhythm strokes finally send her over the edge, her voice explodes into Patty Griffin territory.
Boyle, who’s worked with Griffin, Bebel Gilberto and several other Choffel favorites, encouraged her to connect with her rawer blues/soul/R&B side. “I absolutely adored R&B and hip-hop in high school,” she recalls. “I really do feel like that’s my roots — from ever since I heard Stevie Wonder when I was a baby, to getting into Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu and so many others.”
She taps it further in the flowing pop-soul groove of “Hello, Goodbye.” Like “Continental Drift,” the opening track, it examines that afore-mentioned conflict.
“It’s what a lot of what my lyrics end up being about,” Choffel admits. In the title tune, a Beatles nod only in name, she reflects on love and transition, and how some doors must close before others can open.
We never even had to start it, we knew there was a fire there all along.
Laughing late into the night on a stage of changing lights and even now that it’s all gone,
Oh you are the light I’m trying to find, the sight inside my blind blind mind.
Oh you are the hello hello hello to every goodbye.
In that one, her decision is clear. In “Continental Drift,” she’s puzzling it out, her poetic lyrics sounding like an inner voice insisting, And so you have to decide on which plane will you reside/One will rise an empire and the other one will fall. Here, Choffel’s vocals float on the dreamily ambient vibe created by Charlie Sexton’s mando-cello, David Garza’s acoustic guitar and backing vocals and Johnson’s brushed skins. That atmospheric, Zero 7 quality also permeates “Inspire Me,” on which Choffel plays lead ukulele, and “Go Forth,” which also addresses ambivalence.
Side A ends with “I Could Be Loved,” also written when her relationship felt less certain. “It’s basically, ‘Hey man, why are we beating around the bush when we could both be loved?’ Or we could both be gettin’ some, whether that’s a relationship or sex or whatever,” she explains. “Let’s just give each other something. Let’s reciprocate.”
Producer David Boyle kept it uncluttered, with light jazz guitar and understated drum taps. There’s also a slight Bob Marley-inspired reggae inflection that’s drawn some friendly ribbing from pals who recall her Voice stint; her final song was Marley’s “Could You Be Loved.” (Her elimination earned loud protest from Rolling Stone, which praised her as “one of the only singers on anyone’s team … who had the sort of voice you’d want to listen to for an entire album.”)
She began using that voice at a young age, writing songs and playing piano before kindergarten. She played sax in her high-school band, then added guitar, and performed in various bands while attending Texas State University before earning a degree in musical technology from the College of Santa Fe. After a sojourn in Brazil, Choffel released Shudders & Rings, her first album, in 2007. In 2008, the track “Raincloud” earned 350,000 YouTube hits in 24 hours, causing the Austin American-Statesman to crown her the city’s first YouTube superstar. In 2009, she was named Indie Artist of the Year at the Austin Music Awards; she’s also scored several songwriting competition wins. In 2011, Choffel released Steady Eye, Shaky Bow; it was later released in Europe as Archer.
Hello, Goodbye flows naturally from those works while exploring new territory. Case in point: “New Word,” the product of a writing-group exercise in which participants must use a particular phrase in a song, is rendered as sophisticated, Madonna-influenced club-pop.
But the album ends on a different note with “Wish You Well,” a lovely benediction in which Garza’s harmony vocals and acoustic guitar counterpoint Choffel’s dusky alto as she sings, Oh we are the hearty and we are the weak/We are only as good as the words that we speak/If my heart is a temple, my tongue will be the bell … And I wish you well.
With a spare, yet elegant arrangement in which every note, every breath has its place, the gorgeous duet is both a gentle lullaby and an enthralling finale — one that leaves you thinking, So what if Hello, Goodbye took its sweet time getting here? Like that other bundle of joy, its arrival is certainly welcome — and unquestionably worth the wait.
Tje Austin – Season 1 (Team CeeLo)
Tje Austin is an ambitious Austin-based R&B singer-songwriter. Tje’s personal brand of soul derives from various influences that include John Legend and Lenny Kravitz. Introspective and passionate, Tje uses life experiences to explore the sensitivities and nuances of loss and broken relationships. He strives to create and perform the quintessential emotive experience, with touches of optimism and authenticity.
Originally, from Hawaii, Austin was adopted at four days old, by a loving Mormon family with military ties. He was raised in a multicultural family, which includes five brothers and three sisters – with six kids being adopted from other families. The accidental vocalist eventually made his way to the University of Texas at Austin. Initially there to complete a political science degree, Tje flipped a hobby into a full-fledged career, with some encouragement from some friends.
Tje was a contestant during the first run of the North American adaptation of The Voice. He’s co-written songs with three-time Grammy award winner Taj Jackson (for his Xperience album.) Amongst his received honors, Austin was a Semi Finalist in 2015 International Songwriting Competition – R&B Category and was featured at the 2014 ASCAP Expo for Pop Songwriting.
Tje Austin recently released his EP “I Belong to You” on January 20, 2017, peaking at #25 on the iTunes R&B charts. Hailed as a “a rich and varied release” with a ” brassy blast of classic soul” by the Austin American Statesman, the album is a celebration and open love letter to life and the little things that get twisted in the mix.