By Lisa Morgan
You may have first seen Vanessa Olivarez on the second season of American Idol. Her vocal skills and personality got her into the televised finals only to be controversially eliminated, much to the disappointment of many Idol viewers. However, MY first introduction to Vanessa and her kickass, guitar picking, songwriting band mate Elizabeth Elkins was on a Stageit concert, streamed live from a living room in Nashville. She and Elizabeth were a surprise, added musical element introduced to a concert hosted by one of my all-time favorite Nashville singer/songwriters, Travis Meadows.
Sitting in a living room before a simple, laptop camera, Elizabeth skillfully strummed the original melodies on guitar. Vanessa opened her mouth. Out poured a voice like warm honey, that effortlessly and immediately inspired those “Holy crap, that’s gorgeous” kind of chills in all of us as she delivered story after heart gripping story surrounding the American Civil War. While I’m generally critical of female voices, hers absolutely owned me as she and Elizabeth painted beautiful, nostalgic pictures and stories, some of which can only be found within the generations of families who have protected their family histories, honoring the blood sacrifices that were foundational in making our country what it is today.
A Stageit concert is a fantastic venue for musicians to promote their music, as they build new and grow existing relationships with their fan base. For the enthusiast, it is a very cool, “unplugged”, personal forum in which to experience an artist’s music. But if an artist is not truly personable, likeable or talented, a Stageit concert has the capacity to exploit all that an artist may be lacking as there is no smoke and mirrors to hide behind. I have to say that the only thing exploited in this performance was Granville Automatic’s natural fluid ability to make beautiful, meaningful music and their down to earth sense of humor and absolute likable nature. Now, thanks to the musically renowned venue, Pappy and Harriett’s, these ladies who spend much of their time between Atlanta, Georgia and Nashville, Tennessee will be performing their collection of story-songs with a full band. This will be a show that promises to leave a delightful impression on all in attendance.
This will be their second booking at Pappy and Harriett’s. Last time out, the ladies made the decision to drive cross country to the show and found themselves in love with the high desert area. “There’s just something about the land out west; it’s just different,” shared Vanessa. “Last time, after playing at Pappy and Harriett’s, I insisted on seeing Joshua Tree National Park. We took the two hour detour inspite of a lack of sleep and having to make the long drive back at 5 am the next morning. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There’s just a certain magic. You can feel it in the dirt. You can feel all of this creative energy. We’re very excited to play Pappy and Harriett’s again. The people there are such big, live music supporters. It’s amazing to play for a community of people who are so supportive of live, local and independent music. Everybody there just makes you feel so welcome.”
Elizabeth and Vanessa took the time between shows at the recent South x Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas to give me a phone interview. As Elizabeth drove, Vanessa shared their story and ambitions for their music. “We’ve always been around town doing our thing as musicians; She (Elizabeth) did rock projects, I did country ~ mostly mainstream, commercial radio country. But I’ve always been drawn to the old beautiful sounds from the Bakersfield days, Gram Parsons, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris. Both of us have always had a certain romance with that time period and that era of country music. We finally got together and wrote a song. It ended up NOT sucking,” she laughed. “Sometimes you get together with people to write and it ends up like a bad blind date. It either works or it doesn’t. So we continued writing every week. The project didn’t start out as being solely based in history and stories from times past. It was more about writing story songs, like Willie’s ‘Poncho and Lefty’. Then the first history song happened – ‘Blood and Gold’, a song about the history of the Mustang in the west. It became sort of an addiction to find these little hidden gems in history and write songs about them. We always try to find things buried under other things. We don’t want to write a general song about the war of 1812. That’s not what we do. We’ll try and pick out a specific event, like a tornado that helped end the war. We’ve both been writing the same bad relationship song for years and years and years and it’s so nice to do something so unique and different.”
These talented ladies are constantly working because they make a great team. Elizabeth is the force of nature behind the business aspect of Granville Automatic. “I’m not the best with booking shows and not very good on the management side of things,” admitts Vanessa. “Elizabeth is an incredibly professional person with a marketing degree and knows how to do all that stuff. I’m very fortunate to be in a band with someone who is so skilled with all of that. I’d be like, ‘Uh, I booked us a show! I don’t remember when it was!’ We try to be really good about social media. That’s really important. That’s what a lot of legals and management look at ~ how on top of it you are, how many friends and ‘likes’ you have, what you’re doing, what shows you have, who you are playing with; all of that has to be taken into consideration. We just do the best job we can. We work our asses off, I’ll say that! You have to do music because you love it and if you don’t, then you’re in the wrong business because chances are you’re probably not going to make any money.”
Of course, these talented artists hope to make money in the future with their music. They are constantly going to Nashville and do a lot of cowriting with other people in hopes of having their music cut by a major act. Their first, self tited CD is a fantastic historical collection of stories that really tattoo themselves to your heart. These include “Comanche”, a song written from the perspective of a horse that survived the Battle of Little Big Horn. “The Grounds Keeper”captures the tale of a Civil War ghost seen at the Camton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee. Other songs capture the timeless spirit and character of the south like “Never on a Sunday” and “Don’t Come to Tennessee”. This album was produced by Ted Russell Camp, a long time musical partner in crime with Shooter Jennings who will be joining Granville Automatic at Pappy and Harriett’s.
Currently, Granville Automatic is working to record their second album; a double disc project. One disc will have music and video recorded at the actual battlefields where their story-songs come from; the other will be the studio version of the songs. Meanwhile the ladies have their other musical adventures. Both Elizabeth and Vanessa are part of a group called Mama’s Blue Dress, something of a female version of the Zack Brown Band. Elizabeth gets to express her alter ego and kick ass rocker self as the front to The Swear.
Wherever these ladies are performing, whether recognized by a world stage or a high desert one, they guaranteed to leave their musical mark in history and in your hearts. To follow Granville Automatic and learn more about their award winning members, visit the following web links: