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Nashville Songwriter Nicolle Galyon Shifts Gears From Hit Tunesmith to Freshman Artist With Debut Album, ‘Firstborn’



For Nicolle Galyon — a BMI songwriter of the year honoree and co-writer of nine No. 1 country songs, including Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic,” Blake Shelton’s “Minimum Wage” and Dan + Shay’s “Tequila” — there was nothing automatic about making the shift from hit tunesmith to (basically) first-time recording artist. But two decades into her Nashville career, the Kansas native has a debut album in the form of “Firstborn,” an album of almost entirely new and autobiographical material (with the exception of “Consequences,” a song she co-penned for Camila Cabello’s first album).

“This is a way for me to take back true creativity for me, and not be at the mercy of anyone else’s process,” she tells Variety. “My whole career, I’ve been of service, to serving others in their art. And I felt like I owed it to myself to serve myself” — along with, she says, owing it to her two children, who she realized might have to piece together her real personality from the bits and pieces of it that snuck into the hits she wrote for others.

Galyon had some of her famous songwriter friends — including Shane McAnally, Josh Osbourne, Hillary Lindsey, Kelsea Ballerini, co-producer Jimmy Robbins and more — out to her hometown of Sterling, Kansas (or occasionally on Zoom) last year to help with the writing, but unlike the writers’ room situations she was previously accustomed to, all these collaborations were in the service of helping her craft a musical memoir. It’s clear these songs were crafted for her and her alone from the opening lines, which reference everything from her not knowing her biological father to the age she lost her virginity. Released on her own Big Loud-distributed Songs and Daughters label, which is otherwise dedicated to young female artists like Hailey Whitters, “Firstborn” is not aimed at giving her a tenth No. 1 but at putting her own lyrical voice in the top position for the first time in her career.

Galyon — a Variety Hitmaker of the Month a year ago at this time — spoke from her home in Nashville, right before getting on a plane back to her other home in Sterling, Kansas, where she summers with husband and fellow songwriter Rodney Clawson and their two kids.

People know your name and your track record, but not many people have really heard your voice. You had a featured appearance on a song you wrote for Walker Hayes a few years ago, but there’s not much more than that, at least in recent years, is there?

About 10 years ago, around the time of “The Voice” [Galyon was a contestant on that show, as she pondered a singing career], I had a handful of tunes that I released. It wasn’t really a project; it was more me in development, trying to figure out if I was a writer or an artist. I think I put four songs on Apple temporarily. But other than that, no, not really. It’s funny. Singing has always been the last piece of the puzzle for me. A lot of people move to Nashville because they want to perform, and so then they learn how to write so that they have something to go perform. And I’m more like, “Gosh, I don’t think I’m an artist, because I don’t really wanna go perform. I just wanna create.” And then I learned along the way that you can create just to create. You don’t have to necessarily want to go be an entertainer as well. And music can serve a purpose without you going on tour. [Laughs.]

It seemed like, as with a lot of the most successful Nashville songwriters, you had really set aside any desire to be a recording artist. When did it come to you that you needed to do something putting yourself out in front?

I always knew that I would make a record at some point. It was just a matter of: I needed a why. Because being a staff songwriter, you’re shooting in all different directions at all times, and what you’re writing for and how you’re writing can change day to day or hour to hour. And I really needed focus. So I think I realized — not as a songwriter so much, but more as a mother — that if anything were to ever happen to me, what are the things that I would want my kids? How would I want them to remember me? What would I want them to know about me, and why I was the way I was?

And that came from me observing over the last few years a lot of loss for a lot of people. It seemed like in that loss, what people would cling to are the stories about those people that they had lost, whether it was a grandparent or a parent or family member or friend, you even notice on Instagram. And I thought, gosh, if anything happened to me, what are the stories that my kids would tell? What do they even know so far about me? So that’s where the idea of “Firstborn” came from, which was: Before you were born, I had to be born. Before all these other things that I’ve made — the songs, the [Songs and Daughters] record label — I had to be born. And I’ve never gotten to write that story.

What was the specific impetus that really set it in motion?

Well, for some crazy reason, at some point in 2020, I realized that my birthday, 7/22/22, was a Friday [when albums are usually released]. And 22 is my lucky number. … And also, with me living in Kansas at that time, we all had a lot of time on our hands in 2020 that we weren’t anticipating. And so I remember I was like: “I’m putting out an album on my birthday. That’s when I’m gonna do it. It’s gonna be 20 years almost to the week that I moved to Nashville.” So that’s when the original idea came, in 2020, looking ahead on the calendar. I gave myself the whole year of 2021 to concept, write and record the album.

In January 2021, I was taking a car ride from the airport in Wichita, Kansas to my hometown, Sterling, Kansas, and in that hour and 15 minutes, I had this creative burst where I just started writing down words and phrases that meant something to me — words like “winner,” “sunflower,” “younger woman,” “self-care.” I made a hypothetical track list of titles, although I didn’t even have the concept. And then, with all that time that I had in my hometown, just really digging and brainstorming and going: What does that word mean to me?

Then once I had the concepts, I thought about, who in my life have I collected as a co-writer that might make sense to write that with? And I truly wrote out a track list and then names — writer credits —beside each song title. And then I started making phone calls to my friends and saying, “Hey, I’m making a record. I have an idea for you. Will you write it with me?” That’s really how I went about it, which is really backwards. I wrote out what I wanted the finished product to be, and then I went and made it.

One of the songs, “Sunflower,” is literally about being a tall woman, on one level, and you have the image of unworn high heels, which a subset of women will definitely relate to. But, of course, being tall is kind of a metaphor for sticking out in a lot of ways.

With “Sunflower,” I gravitate toward that because it’s the state flower of Kansas, but also because I’m tall. But then, why am I tall? Oh — because I have this biological father that is not the father that raised me. I don’t know a lot of the family history genetically on my biological dad’s side of the family. That comes into play as you start having your own kids and there are some question marks. And I think that goes back to the heart of why I did this album, because I don’t want my own kids to have question marks about me.

For me, “Sunflower” is really just about anyone that feels like they’re too much — too much of anything. Being tall was just one of the ways that I felt like too much in my childhood. And now I have a daughter that often feels like she’s too much in her own way: Maybe her feelings are too much, on top of the fact that she is the tallest girl in second grade now. And so Charlie, my daughter, was really an inspiration for that, because she reminded me of myself at that age. The sunflower, in all of its qualities, has kind of been a symbol of strength and pride for me, the way that it turns to the sun and basically keeps its head up and held high. The idea that you’ll become somebody that people look to, if you just hold your own, I think that’s what that song means for me.

You have a good amount of self-affirming or inspirational songs, like “Self-Care.”

Yeah, loving yourself is, especially I think for women, a lifelong journey. It’s a choice every day, and you have good moments and you have bad moments. But it seems that the older I get, the more I do genuinely like me. It’s hard for me to imagine ever wanting to go back to be a younger version of myself. So why would I try to make myself look younger, or try to pull off the illusion that I’m younger than I am? Because this version of me is probably my favorite so far. As I’ve gotten older, I wouldn’t trade anything.

It’s interesting how you sort of came into this in terms of wanting to leave your story behind. Many singer-songwriters write confessional songs, but not that many people are saying, “I created a memoir album.”

I think part of that is because most people aren’t putting out their first record at 38! You can’t put out a memoir at 18.

We’re all in the music business. How often do you hear an artist say, “This is my most personal record yet,” and then on the next record, “That wasn’t really me. This is my most personal record.” And the beauty of doing this for the first time now is that I feel like I got to work through all the rough drafts, maybe, of who I am in private, and now with the first public music that I really put out, I have a pretty good sense of who I am and what I want to say.

Are there certain songs you’ve done with or for other artists that you feel were particularly personal to you, even though they were intended to be recorded by someone else?

Oh, yeah. “Automatic” [a single for Miranda Lambert] was that. And “Love Triangle” [recorded by RaeLynn]. I’m not a child of divorce, but I married into a blended family, and that song is very, very personal to me. I don’t think I could have been a co-writer on that song had I not married into the family that I did.

“Half of My Hometown” [a Kelsea Ballerini/Kenny Chesney duet] is, most recently, probably the most personal outside cut. We wrote that song, and then I looked up a couple years later and I was truly living that song. I was spending half my time in Sterling, Kansas and half my time in Nashville, and kind of living two different lives at once. I felt like my heart had always been split in half between Nashville and Kansas, but the last few years I’ve physically been split in half between Nashville and Kansas. So that one is probably the most direct in my real life.

How did you decide to do a video companion piece for the whole album, shot in your hometown?

Well, that took on a life of its own that I never saw coming. The visual piece of putting out an album was the one piece where I had a bit of anxiety and a mental block. I could get behind being a storyteller and telling my story, but I couldn’t really imagine myself even in a picture on the cover of the record, because I think of myself more as an author than I do an artist. So I treated this record more like me writing a book, and authors don’t generally put themselves on the cover. I guess they do if it’s a memoir.

But the video components, I didn’t really know what to do. And so I set out with my creative team and we just kind of concept[ualized] this idea to go to my hometown and shoot these little abstract vignettes that wouldn’t really even show my face. We were just gonna call them visualizers, kind of in the vein of lyric videos for each song. We had three days and we took this small crew to Kansas and we had concepts for how to shoot each one. The first one that we shot was “Sunflower,” and the original idea was just to put me on this ladder out in the field, with tons of negative space in the sky, and do a lyric video in the sky. We had an extra 15 minutes at the end of shooting it, and so they were like, “Just do one take where you’re kind of mouthing the words,” and one thing led to another. By the end of the first day, I called home and said, “I think I’m shooting music videos by accident.”

I think being back in my hometown allowed me to feel really comfortable, and I didn’t feel like I was performing. I felt like I was the most me that I could have ever been. And so I really got outside my comfort zone and I had fun with it. Then when the videos were finished, I was thinking through how I would want to present these — like what would the Instagram caption for each song be? — and then I turned those into voiceovers. And then I was like, “Wait, I think we should just be able to hit play and watch this top to bottom. I think this is actually a different piece of content now.” So it continued to take on a life of its own.

My whole hometown, which is about 2000 people, all feels really connected to the project, because it felt like everyone in town, from the city manager to my next-door neighbor to ex-high school teachers, chipped in to make it all happen. I mean, it’s hard to source things out in rural America, you know? So we were calling favors in, like, can someone find us an old mattress? Can someone find a church pew? So they all feel a sense of ownership over the project, which is really cool. They’re also really proud that Sterling’s gonna get to be visible out into the world. I told them, this is like one giant commercial for our hometown.

You have a co-write on here with your husband, Rodney Clawson, who of course is also a hit songwriter, but it’s hard to remember anything the two of you have written together before.

That was the last song written for the project, and it was the one that I had probably the most pressure around, just because we have never written a song that was just the two of us, and we for sure haven’t written a song that was autobiographical about us. We’ve written together a handful of times with other artists or for other people, with someone else in the room, but this was a first.

I knew that there was no way I could write a record for my kids and not write a song with their dad, who is the most important person in my life, and an incredible songwriter. We kept putting it off because you would think when you live together, oh, you could just write a song any hour of the day, but it’s actually harder. [Laughs.] Because you can’t separate from your real life.

So what we did was actually rent a tour bus, because we were going to a concert in Lexington, Kentucky anyway, and so I was like, “OK. We’re both used to going out and writing with artists on a bus run. Why don’t we rent a bus just for us and task ourselves with writing this last song for the record?” So it was written in early December as the very last thing, because we turned everything in to be mixed Dec. 17. And I knew the title — “Five Year Plan” — and I just let it sit there for months and months. Then once everything else was done, I was like, “OK, now I gotta go get this Rodney song.” And it was so special, and so different. Because while I wrote everything on this record with handpicked writers that I felt so safe with and so close, with Rodney, in January it’ll be 20 years since I met him for the first time. I was 18 when I met him for the first time. So he’s been witness to my entire adult life. And when we started writing this song from a big picture of “Let’s look at the last 20 years of your life,” he’s the only person in my life I could have ever written that with.

I remember when we first started writing it and he said, “Maxima flyin’, I-70 Eastbound,” I got emotional, because I thought, “Oh my gosh, only you would remember that old Maxima I was driving when I was 18.”

A lot of people would think, “OK, two highly successful songwriters, married, the kids are in bed — maybe every once in a while they’ll sit down and go, ‘Let’s just knock one out,’ or ‘Let’s see what happens.’” But it doesn’t really work that way, it sounds like.

No, because that’s the last thing we want to do when we’ve been doing that all day long. ButI will say, I think through that process, I discovered that I really love writing just the two of us. That’s a really cool byproduct of “Firstborn” for me. There’s gonna be more where that came from.

Even though you haven’t really done that till now — writing with just the two of you — we could guess maybe there’s something about the relationship that works because you can relate to each other’s careers, even if you haven’t co-mingled them.

Yeah. For me, it’s all about the things that we don’t have to say. There’s an unspoken understanding of what each other’s day was like, without really having to describe it. We don’t have to say that much to get it, good or bad.

Now that you accomplished the mission to leave your story behind for your kids, did it give you the bug to want to do more records, even if they aren’t necessarily in this mode? Or was it a one-and-done deal?

I think I’m ruined forever in the best way, because this has been so fulfilling that I just want to continue to lean in to this kind of writing. Whether it’s for me or other people, I want to be this personal and this honest, always, in my writing.

So it spoiled you for going into a writers’ room with people you may never have met before, to do assignment writing?

Yeah. To not have to have the timeline of, “OK, we gotta write this kind of song for this artist who’s cutting next week.” To be able to just say it for the pure creativity of saying it, and really for the only metric to be honest. I felt I spoiled myself in that way.

And that’s a measure you feel like you can maintain for yourself, going forward?

I’m gonna try.

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Bobby focuses on creating higher margins while investing in society. He believes that our World has room for improvement, and one of his goals is to be part of the evolutionary process. What makes him successful is the collaboration with founders and partners. Bobby has a successful track record in envisioning and creating deals and opportunities from scratch in various industries.


Taylor Swift Switches Out Songs and Costumes for Night 2 of Eras Tour: Photos and Video



On the Eras Tour, Taylor Swift at one point plays a piano that appears to be covered in moss. But there are certain aspects of the show that are guaranteed not to gather that substance, judging from the second night of the tour, which, like the first, took place at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

One of those is the costuming, with the pop superstar trying out some different dresses (or, in the case of “The Man,” black or grey suit-dresses) in different parts of the concert Saturday than she had at Friday night’s tour opener.

But perhaps more notably, Night 2 was already allowing for two tour premieres among the setlist, where only one wild card slot had been expected. Near the end of the set, Swift took to the acoustic guitar to play a solo rendition of “This Is Me Trying,” from the “Folklore” album, following by a short trip over to the piano for a solo reading of “State of Grace,” from “Red.” (See video excerpts of those numbers, below.)

On the first night at State Farm Stadium, those solo-acoustic slots near the end of the three-hour-plus had been filled by “Mirrorball,” from “Folklore,” and “Tim McGraw,” from her self-titled debut. Anyone who caught the opening night expected “Mirrorball” to be making a one-time-only appearance, as Swift preceded it by explaining that this was a moment in the set where each night she would do a different catalog song, never to be repeated on the more than 50 U.S. dates (unless she messed something up, she added, in which case she reserved the right to try to get it right in another city). So it was no shock to get “This Is Me Trying” in place of “Mirrorball” on night 2 — but to the extent that the song pick itself was a surprise, it was a welcome fan, as many fans had hoped “This Is Me Trying” would squeeze its way into the regular nightly set.

“State of Grace,” however, was more startling to attentive Swifties — and again, mostly in a good way, as few will ever complain about getting a bonus from “Red,” a fan-favorite album. However, losing “Tim McGraw” meant that the evening went without any representation at all from the 2006 debut LP, in a show that had material from her other nine albums present and accounted for. Will “Tim” be back after it was put on pause, or are there going to be two wild cards each night instead of the previously announced one? On night 2, Swift did not preface the no-repeats slot with an explanation like she did the previous evening, so fans may have to wait till she performs again — next weekend in Las Vegas — to “see how this is gonna go,” to quote a lyric. The faithful were already champing at the bit of the prospect of 50 or more unique songs showing up along the American tour, so if there might be even more than one acoustic surprise a night, Swifties will really have extra reason to be attuned from afar to nightly setlists as they pop up online, to find out what they’re missing.

Taylor Swift on night 2 of the Eras Tour in Glendale, AZ (Chris Willman/Variety)

One thing that didn’t change Saturday: the lateness of the hour. Although the Friday night closing time of 11:12 seemed like the show might have accidentally drifted past an 11 p.m. curfew that many venues enforce, the show actually went even a few minutes longer than that on Saturday. And a leaked crew sheet showed that the weekend concerts were indeed deliberately budgeted to go until 11:15, making for a running time calculated to be right around 3 hours and 15 minutes.

Taylor Swift picks up an elaborate golf club in performing “Blank Space” on night 2 of the Eras Tour in Glendale, AZ (Chris Willman/Variety)

Although the show has many costume changes, Swift is only very briefly offstage during those roughly 195 minutes. Some of the changes even involve taking something off or putting something on while not leaving the stage, whether that’s in front of everyone’s eyes or, in one clever staging moment, behind a confluence of umbrellas that fit together to form a dressing-room shield. The fact that Swift is on stage for all but two or three minutes of the epic running time means that she’s more than matching the stamina of her fans, who have their own somewhat lesser endurance test — since there’s hardly a person in the building who’s going to sit down at any point in her set (and most also stand for her two opening acts, which this weekend were Paramore and Gayle).

Check out some of the overlapping or completely different looks Swift rocked at her second show, which largely involved different colors or textures or — in the case of “22” — a T-shirt with different lettering. (On Saturday, the shirt read “Who’s Taylor Swift anyway? Ew” instead of Friday’s “A lot going on at the moment.”) The only look that’s almost certain to remain identical from night to night — even if more than one of the pieces might have been manufactured — is her striking outfit for the “Reputation” segment of the show, in which one leg is laid bare and the other is black while her torso is all red-and-sequined snakes. That is something you don’t just sub out for the sake of doing the laundry.

Taylor Swift and company on night 2 of the Eras Tour in Glendale, AZ (Chris Willman/Variety)

Taylor Swift and ensemble member reenact scenes from a marriage in performing “Tolerate It” on night 2 of the Eras Tour (Chris Willman/Variety)

Taylor Swift performs material from “Red” on night 2 of the Eras Tour (Chris Willman/Variety)

Taylor Swift and company perform songs from “Reputation” on night 2 of the Eras Tour (Chris Willman/Variety)

Taylor Swift and band member on night 2 of the Eras Tour (Chris Willman/Variety)

Taylor Swift and ensemble “My Tears Ricochet” on night 2 of the Eras Tour (Chris Willman/Variety)

Taylor Swift and ensemble perform “The Man” on night 2 of the Eras Tour (Chris Willman/Variety)

Taylor Swift performs material from “Folklore” on night 2 of the Eras Tour (Chris Willman/Variety)

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Taylor Swift’s ‘All The Girls’ Set For Highest Entry On U.K. Singles Chart



Taylor Swift’s surprise four-pack should have an immediate impact on the U.K. singles chart.

The U.S. pop superstar last Friday (March 17) dropped a batch of recordings, including “All The Girls You Loved Before” a previously-unreleased song that didn’t make the final pressing of 2019’s Lover LP.

Perhaps it should have made the cut. “All The Girls” is on track for the week’s highest debut, at No. 7, for what would be Swift’s 22nd top 10 appearance, according to the Official Charts Company’ first chart blast of the week.

Swift’s fresh four songs included re-recordings of Swift’s The Hunger Games tracks, plus “If This Was a Movie (Taylor’s Version),” all dropping on the eve of her The Eras Tour opener.

At the top end of the First Look chart, which captures sales and streaming data from the first 48 hours in the cycle, Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” is on target for a 10th consecutive week at No. 1.

Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding could have a say in that. The pair’s latest collaboration, the ‘90s rave-channeling “Miracle” is set to lift 3-2 in its second week. Meanwhile, Pinkpantheress appears to have missed the chance for a maiden No. 1 with “Boy’s a liar,” which, after several weeks at No. 2, slips to No. 8 on the chart blast.

Further down the list, BTS’ Jimin could snag his debut solo top 20 with “Set Me Free Pt. 2.” It’s new at No. 14 on the chart blast, coming soon after bandmate J-Hope cracked the top 40 (and made chart history) with his J. Cole collaboration, “On The Street.”

Finally, Lewis Capaldi could crack the top 20 with his new tear-jerker, “How I’m Feeling Now,” set to arrive at No. 19, while Irish singer-songwriter Hozier is hovering just outside the top 20 with his comeback single “Eat Your Young.” It’s new at No. 21 on the chart blast, the OCC reports, and is expected to become the “Take Me To The Church” singer’s third first top 40 single and first in eight years — since “Someone New” hit No. 19 in 2015.

All will be revealed when the Official U.K. Singles Chart is published late Friday.

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Courtney Love Slams Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for Lack of Female Inductees: It ‘Reeks of Sexist Gatekeeping’



Courtney Love has taken aim at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, penning a scathing essay that calls out the dearth of women and Black artists showcased in the Cleveland-based organization.

“If so few women are being inducted into the Rock Hall, then the nominating committee is broken,” Love wrote in an op-ed for the Guardian. “If so few Black artists, so few women of colour, are being inducted, then the voting process needs to be overhauled. Music is a lifeforce that is constantly evolving – and they can’t keep up. Shame on HBO for propping up this farce.”

Love did not hold back when calling out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Barely 8% of its inductees are female. The canon-making doesn’t just reek of sexist gatekeeping, but also purposeful ignorance and hostility,” wrote Love, a musician, songwriter and actor who led the 1990s band Hole and was married to the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain (who was posthumously inducted).

Representatives for the Rock Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Love’s criticism comes on the heels of last month’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination class announcement where, ironically, the most woman were nominated in the hall of fame’s four-decade history: Kate Bush, Cyndi Lauper, Missy Elliott, Meg White (The White Stripes), Gillian Gilbert (New Order) and Sheryl Crow. Artists become eligible 25 years after their first record’s release. Founded in 1983, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley made up the first class, which included no women. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who Love thought should have made the initial class, was not added until 2018, after a groundswell of public support for her inclusion.

Love noted that only nine of the 31 people on Rock Hall’s nominating board are women and that less than a tenth of the inductees are women, and pointed to the difficulties Black artists face too.

“The bar is demonstrably lower for men to hop over (or slither under),” Love said. “If the Rock Hall is not willing to look at the ways it is replicating the violence of structural racism and sexism that artists face in the music industry, if it cannot properly honour what visionary women artists have created, innovated, revolutionised and contributed to popular music – well, then let it go to hell in a handbag.”

Despite her frustrations with the Rock Hall, Love recognized that the induction still holds great value. “As scornful as its inductions have been, the Rock Hall is a bulwark against erasure, which every female artist faces whether they long for the honour or want to spit on it. It is still game recognising game, history made and marked,” Love said.

On Instagram, sharing her essay, she also posted the names of the board of directors. Earlier this month, the singer blasted the Rock Hall sharing a tweet from writer Jessica Hopper and a text conversation screenshot with inducted member Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana with the caption “so over these ole boys.”

Nominations are sent out to a voting body of 1,000 members of the music industry, with an additional fan vote taking place through April 28. The inductees will be announced in May, with the ceremony taking place this fall.

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