A few years ago, lyricist Tom Siering approached Nashville stalwart Tim Carroll about putting some of his words to music. The resulting side project was The 81s. After recording and releasing their first record, Just One Word: Fin Del Mundo, they decided to keep the partnership going. For their second effort, Tom had a vision of a garage rock record resembling The Velvet Underground and Nico and suggested bringing in Tim’s girlfriend, Nashville songstress, Luella.
Big Man is a rock album full of grit and angst that showcases not only the powerful lyrics of Siering, but the contrasting vocals of Carroll and Luella along with the precision of the rhythm section of Cameron Carrus (bass) and Marco Giovino (drums). All of which are held together by the immaculate guitar playing of Tim Carroll. The subject matter covers doomed relationships, the current political landscape, navigating the music business, and even highlights the plight of so many of the 7 footers in the NBA over the years.
Despite being a side project for Carroll, Luella and company, Big Man is a cohesive album with the heart and soul that makes rock n’ roll a timeless art form. The tracks of the record will play perfectly alongside any Americana, Rock, Blues or Roots playlist.
Meet – The 81s with Luella
For those unfamiliar with your music, can you can you give us a little of your back history?
My most current solo record released and available is titled ” Love, Luella.” I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was born in 1982 and became interested in singing at the age of 4. My father was a singer and my mother was a figure skating coach all through my childhood so performing and having an itch to express creativity was in my wiring. I was drawn to many expressions of art early on. Most of all when I knew it was being presented with heart, true passion, and authenticity. From an honest place that is. I listened to jazz, rock and roll, r & b/soul, some old country but very little (didn’t have much country music played around me until I moved to Nashville in the year 2000 when I graduated high school). I did jingle singing in Chicago for work while living up in Milwaukee. For example being the exclusive voice for McDonalds during the “We Love to See You Smile” campaign years, a Home Depot spot with the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It” for the Summer 2000 Olympics, Minute Maid, many others. I began traveling to write and record at the age 14 and took many trips to Los Angeles. During my early high schools years I would have assignments for school fed-exed to me or emailed if I wasn’t home. In my later high school years I tool the train often to Chicago on the weekends to write and work on music with musicians I was working with there who also owned a jingle house. It’s through them I began doing jingles for more established corporations. I sang National Anthem for President Clinton when he came to Milwaukee during a visit he made there to speak (which was held on the Milwaukee Summerfest Grounds). I think I was 13 maybe when I did that. I began playing out around the age 12-17… more and more (obviously the older…. the more serious working with musicians double my age who I felt i related with) and by 18 moved to Nashville. Did some fun things prior to moving to Nashville musically. When I moved to Nashville I recorded under my birth name “Melissa Mathes” which some still call me Melissa. Aside of my solo music I formed a side project around 2007 with a pal named Bill DeMain in Nashville called Crackerboots. Thats a bit of a jazzier departure from my solo music. Around 2011 (I believe) I began a band with some guys in my neighborhood mostly called Luella and The Sun. Luella was my grandmother’s name. When this band was happening I went by the name Luella. Even personal friends call me that. Some still call me Melissa. Nevertheless I do prefer to be addressed as “Luella”. Both names ring true to me and keep me balanced. However when I hear the name “Luella” I feel it helps keep me get more tuned into to my higher purpose. More focused on my goal and inspirations as an artist and singer/writer/performer. Luella and the Sun made a decent humble splash when we released a single on an 10 in vinyl record which included a download card (available digitally). I very proud of my time/work and involvement with that band. All of us in that band when we came together really maximized our potential musically. We toured but in midst of flight we hit the rocks and dissolved. We seemed to make an impact on many during our time of playing live and through recordings. That music felt like magic to me while making it and performing it. I do believe we all have a sense of magic in us at all times though. It’s always there ready to shed some light. I never wanted that band to end but unfortunately it did as things sometimes do. Through it though I learned a great deal and grew and made my solo record. I started working together with Tim (with whom I’ve been with for a few years now which feels so great) and often writing and recording on things for not only for him, but for myself too (for my solo music that is -as Luella). Making music is truly one of my greatest loves in life. It’s a spiritual thing to me. I am currently still playing with Crackerboots too. There’s a self titled Crackerboots record available online and we are preparing a new one. Lots of fun things are happening musically. Lots of new music for myself, for Crackerboots, for Tim, and every now and then something else. I grew up making music and singing most of my childhood surrounded by parents who really supported my desire to do which I’m very thankful for. All growing up they did what they could to support me in that. Even if we didn’t have much money at times they found a way to fly me somewhere. Always supporting my creative ideas. Making me stage clothes, driving me to gigs. I did Star Search at the age 11. Ha. Since then I’ve recorded and released a solo record as Luella which I mentioned earlier. I recorded it at a studio in Nashville called The Bomb Shelter. The record features Tim on guitar, Cameron Carrus (on bass-who is on the recent 81s with Luella record), and Justin Amaral on drums. The Love, Luella record includes some covers, some originals written by myself and Tim, or myself and a guy named Bill DeMain, or songs Tim wrote for me. As far as Crackerboots goes… I write all the songs for that with Bill DeMain who plays guitar with Crackerboots. When I’m not doing my solo music as Luella or with Crackerboots I sing bgvs and play percussion in Tim’s band. Often times with my solo music or Tim’s when full band…we share a rhythm section often which is handy in the idea of traveling for music when a full band is needed. In more recent years of my career I’ve dug more into blues music. I love signing rock and roll ,blues, and even some opera funny as that sounds. 😉
Who would you list as your musical influence?
Most currently…Passages I’ve read and been turned onto for example from a book Tim turned me onto that a drummer turned him onto title “Effortless Mastery” by Kenny Werner. It has influenced me in my art serving as reminder on how to allow myself to be free when performing or working on my craft/art. I’ll say this…when I was a young girl ( 9 yrs old…11 yrs old…13…I met Mariah around then and told her I was her idol. I mean to say it the other way around but didn’t know what that meant. All I know is I’d heard my parents say that to people. But like many young female singers from my generation I did look up to her vocally. I went to a school where I was a minority and people called me Little Mariah. Ha. From my generation many girls looked up to Mariah as a singer. While I grew up listening to many true divas talent/gift wise as Billie Holiday, Aretha, Anita O Day, Ella, etc…I’ve found myelf drawn also to less technically good singers. As Neil Young , Jonathan Richman, vocals of Velvet Underground songs, many others…or just things that sound fun or rock and roll. As a singer I like music that isn’t always about the vocal. I like hearing guitar rock and sometimes wanna have songs that let me feel that. Or sometimes I do end up with a song thats gospel like and allows me to maximize my vocals. A melody and vocal doesn’t have to be acrobatic to be special. It has to be honest. I want the energy put out during recording to be heard in a recording. I’ve always been attracted by art that leaves room for imperfections. That sounds raw.Accepting flaws as beautiful and for what they are. Of course while always striving to be better nevertheless and grow. When I listen to Jimi Hendrix for example the rawness and openess rocks so much. I love that. I respect that. I once heard it put best. It was Miles Davis, or Louis Armstrong….I forget who…but somebody said the “relaxed is the meaning of cool.” When we are relaxed making our art, the “cool” can shine in a way with energy that is unguarded and it will strike a listener in a more guttural way. A truer way. The older i get in my art as a musician/singer….the more I grow and more relaxed I feel. I never want to sing like a diva because I can. If I ever sound like I got chops as one great…if not great too. 🙂 I want to sing in a way that makes sense for a song and do what I want when I want. Some songs are more simple and punk or something and don’t are not vocally maximizing at times and I like that….how different things can be depending on a song. Depending on what it took to get a message and feeling across. Long as it is coming from an honest place. I don’t perform something that isn’t honest in some way to me. Being an interpreter of a song to get a feeling across is not being an actor. Even with that you have to step into a character that isn’t you fully (perhaps in lyric or whether for a film) you have to channel a part of you that resonates with the song/part and through it you create an emotion that people react to and becomes real. Accepting flaws as beautiful and for what they are. Of course while always striving to be better nevertheless and grow. Thoughts as this have all become my musical influence in my current years more than any actual other music I think. I recently have been very much into blues or hill country as Jessie Mae Hemphill, R L Burnside. Gospel as Mahalia Jackson, Rock and Roll as Iggy Pop, But like many musicians….it’s a hard question to answer because my influences are broad and more subconscious now. Or perhaps I put out a more blase’ vibe when singing for fun. A real stone face/monotone feel…Even that’s making art from a true place. Like painting a piece of art. The root is the creator/the artist. The music may have inspired or influenced the desire to do this.
To answer the question in a simpler way: Blues, older jazz, rock n’ roll…even some classical. Electronica, some punk, pop, Brazilian, some old country, some hill country… Artists I’ve listened too a great deal include: Maria Callas, David Bowie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe,Mahalia Jackson, The Dandy Warhols, Led Zeppelin, I like music to move me whether its emotional or makes me want to shake my hips (like Chuck Berry’s music makes me want to)…sometimes I wanna have a song that I can sing and be able to maximize my tools as a singer but sometimes I like to sing something that’s simpler just because it’s fun or feels good just to rock. I don’t know. Many things. Sometimes a drumbeat or groove might be what inspires me. Maybe I’ll see a Max Roachclip with Abbey Lincoln and think I like how not traditional that was…the space or where musicians are even standing. Confidence is attractive and can sell almost anything. That inspires me. Or watching Chuck Berry or Rosetta Tharpe entertain, or maybe I hear a wild cool guitar riff that makes me wanna sing out something. A variety of things can influence a musical decision when creating. The way the wind is blowing. 🙂
What’s the coolest thing that’s happened to you since you started up?
Off the top of my head I can’t remember…but I will say that getting to sing “Ruler of My Heart” accompanied by Mister Allen Toussaint on the piano during a visit I took to New Orleans a year before he passed away was an unforgettable experience. . He was such an eloquent speaker, gifted thinker in music. A soul brother. He had a patience about him and gentleness. So direct with his intention/purpose. I think I’m attracted to that because I have a tendency to over explain things (obviously) at times and he had a way of being to the point. Never wasted words when speaking. He was heavy in soul and spirit and such a brilliant musician. Cool things are also just getting to travel anywhere which being a musician has created opportunities to go places that are like vacation. If I weren’t a musician I wouldn’t get a chance to do this as often.
What are your hopes and dreams as a musician for the next few years?
To be able to keep putting out new material, doing any style I want, when I want…all from an authentic place. Hoping to always feel
inspired and inspire others and sometimes if I’m lucky have it feel like magic. I want to travel with my fella (Tim) too and for us both to be able to travel and perform our art for my solo music and for his. Also with my side project Crackerboots to be able to get to
Europe….Paris, Italy,etc. To play in front of lots of people. In the meantime all we can do is focus on the art and maybe somebody will be inspiredto want to give us a hand in booking and a few other business things. I would like to also put out another vinyl again with a download card. But that’s all icing on the cake. The cake being the music itself.
What are some of your favorite albums from the past few years?
Past few years…hmm…hard for me to say. The band Tinarawen is one
of my favorite newer bands. I loved their record titled Tassili
and their record titled “Emmaar “. Joe and Vickie Price out of Iowa have put out records I love. Locally I would say I like recordings and things I’ve seen of The Blackfoot Gypsies. Most of all I listen to older things….Old blues as Robert Johnson….I do enjoy listening to Serge Gainsbourg’s record Histoire de Melody Nelson….Iggy Pop songs , Jesse Mae Hemphill, Modern Lovers, Miles Davis “In a Silent Way”…(Tim plays that nearly every day/night on vinyl). I get turned onto to new things and old things every day. But right now that’s allI can think of off the top of my head..what first comes to mind.
Do you see any real use for social media, or is it all just a pain in the ass to keep with?
It’s definitely another way to alert people to things that are going on gig wise….a way to share ontent…whether
it’s a new song, a video, (short or long clips), etc. I’m always trying to document videos I document (some from live shows/some not) when I can and social media provides a way to share it. Especially for people who can’t be at a show who want to be or simply haven’t yet. I don’t go on social media much to network so much outside of music though or play any politics. Through the world of social media you can paint a world in which you want on there (how you want to come off). I don’t think about that much. I just use it to promote gigs and art being made that I’m involved with 90 percent of the time I use it. For some it can be like watching the news…glimpses into what’s happening in places outside of where one lives.
What kind of gear are you all loading up in the van for your tour?
I prefer to sing through an SM57 mic. If time allows for more set up I like to have a clean mic running though the house board and one mic going through the guitar amp (small vox preferably like Tim uses to play though often which is just a pathfinder/non tube amp) and then having an equal blend of the two. Any guitar amp will usually do the trick though. That way I can have a little bit of dirt when I want but also have a pure tone coming through too. So that I never seem like I’m hiding behind an effect and so that my pure tone gets heard. I like my vocals very dry most of the time and pure as possible (with a little gain from the amp). I like to be in control of my vocal effects live most of all. Occasionally I may want delay or some reverb but little to never. The song “Lemonade” on the 81s with Luella record was an exception. Made sense in our minds for that to have a lot of verb on it.
Do you pay attention to reviews or comments from people about your music or do you just turn that noise off?
At times yes. Most of all it I just have to remind myself to just focus on the art and controlling only what I can and learn from things and always just do what I want to do musically. I have to be true to myself. It’s interesting to get wind of what a fan likes more than something else you might have but you can’t think about that stuff too much when making the art. You just have to do it and some people will dig it. Some people won’t. Not everything is for everybody. Its fun when you do strike it hot on one though! 🙂
If you could tour anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?
I’ve never been out of the states aside of Canada so anywhere would rock really. Especially if I or we were getting paid to play and do what we love there (to cover our expenses) But I’d be happy to go most anywhere….and everywhere. Especially Paris or Italy to see to architecture…or where some Fellini films were made…or to have a nice walk or cup of cofffe and dinner some place that feels different and nice. Or especially where it’s warm. It’s fun and educational to get any dose of culture aside of our own and have a chance to communicate through the language of music and connect with people that way.
Can music save the mortal soul or is just a good backbeat to your life?
I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s been my primary focus and intention since a young age. It’s kind of a spiritual thing to me to be able feel something and even be a messenger of the emotion and whatever the message is in a song. I want to make music because I’m moved and inspired. For that intention to be clear and come through. If I perform I hope for it to resonate with others in a place that feels true, passionate, or even primal at times. For it to be clear that it’s coming from a place of heart. Whether I wrote it or not. Whether a simple thing to sing or more complex. I don’t perform songs if I don’t see a way of making them my own in some sense.. if they don’t resonate with me at all I mean.
Any last thoughts for your fans?
Enjoy life and the little things around you. Maximize your potential. Or like I recently read in a Taco Bell (which I rarely eat fast food).. “believe 10% of your life is what happens to u and that 90% is your attitude.” Dream big or simple. Make things happen by being true. Relax. Be cool. Be silly…be real, be in touch with your childlike sense of self and “Rock it People”…haha!
I’m thankful to be a part of The 81s and for a lot. To be here on this earth and have good people around me. Flowers, sunshine, etc…to have music as my primary passion and through it I hope our paths cross.
The 81s with Luella