The Backstage Sessions at Signature Sounds: Joe Pug & Courtney Hartman

Photo By Lynne Graves
Entertainment + Music
The Backstage Sessions at Signature Sounds The Backstage Sessions at Signature Sounds: Joe Pug & Courtney Hartman Brilliant songwriter, musician, and The Working Songwriter podcast host Joe Pug interviews writer and rising star Courtney Hartman Sunday, January 31st at 8pm, ET One of the luckiest things about working in music is the unforgettable life of backstage conversation. The off-handed chat of musicians and old friends, crossing paths out on the road, of radio personalities interviewing stars, of promoters chatting with players in green rooms, well into the small hours. This winter, on all the cold and locked-down Sunday nights, we’re bringing you behind the scenes for a new online series called the Backstage Sessions. We asked some of our favorite industry friends—dj's, music writers, podcast hosts, festival promoters, even musicians and dancers themselves—to choose an artist they'd love to talk to. Each Sunday is a different pairing, with conversation and unexpected music.The series is online at It’s by donation. So if you’re broke, come for free. Rolling in it? Throw in a $20 or more. The majority of the income goes to the interviewer and artist, or to a cause of their choice. The rest goes to keeping the Sig Sounds crew working till we can reopen our doors. The Backstage Sessions will run from January 2021-March 2021. Stream it here: To Tip: Venmo: signaturesounds PayPal: Guest Interviewer: JOE PUG We know Joe Pug first as an American touring musician — a packer of houses, a favorite artist for the crews backstage — and then as an insider interviewer on his podcast, The Working Songwriter. Here’s more: A singer-songwriter known for his lyrical acumen and plaintive harmonica style, Joe Pug dropped out of college and moved to Chicago where he worked as a carpenter before breaking into the city’s music scene. Since 2008, he has released a string of critically acclaimed albums and has toured heavily in the U.S. and abroad. Paste Magazine wrote, “Unless your surname is Dylan, Waits, Ritter or Prine, you could face-palm yourself to death trying to pen songs half as inspired.” Joe Pug has toured with Steve Earle, Levon Helm, The Killers, Justin Towns Earle, Sturgill Simpson, and many others. He has appeared at the great festivals Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and The Newport Folk Festival. His music has appeared on NPR’s “Prairie Home Companion” and “Mountain Stage”. His music has been released by Lightning Rod Records, which features an alumni roster of Jason Isbell, Billy Joe Shaver, and James McMurtry. Additionally, he is the creator and host of The Working Songwriter, a monthly podcast on Apple, Soundcloud, Stitcher, and Pocketcasts, whereby JP interviews everyone from Lucinda Williams to Hiss Golden Messenger. And during 2020 JP also hosts the weekly livestream Sunday Songs, on Sundays at 9pm ET. We encourage you to come first to the Backstage Sessions at 8pm, grab a beer at a quick “intermission,” and head to Sunday Songs to hear whatever JP is bringing that night. Guest Artist: COURTNEY HARTMAN Most of the staff at Signature Sounds heard Courtney Hartman live for the first time on a night at the Parlor Room, where she wrapped up a weekend of Signature Sounds’ Back Porch Festival with one of those never-to-be-forgotten sets. CH and Robert Ellis were just off their record release, Dear John, a tribute to John Hartford. They brought a magic to that night. This year CH released her solo Ready Reckoner. Here are notes: The debut album from singer/songwriter Courtney Hartman, Ready Reckoner, opens with the understated yet undeniable glory of “Hollow,” a track whose title traces back to her recent fascination with the concept of resonance. “The definition is perfect: ‘a resounding from the sides of a hollow instrument of music; a sound returned,’” says Hartman, who wrote “Hollow” while walking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage route across Spain. “This whole record comes from a hollowing-out within myself—from being quiet and learning to listen again, allowing space for a resonance.” Born from purposeful self-examination, Ready Reckoner finds Hartman taking the helm as producer transforming her most private ruminations into songs both bracingly intimate and magnificently vast. In that process, the Loveland, Colorado-based artist worked in collaboration with co-producer Shahzad Ismaily (a composer and multi-instrumentalist known for his work with Lou Reed and Tom Waits) and assembled a close-knit community of musicians, including a number of her friends as well as renowned guitarist Bill Frisell. Recorded mainly at Figure8 in Brooklyn and mixed by Tucker Martine (Neko Case, My Morning Jacket), Ready Reckoner unfolds in extraordinarily detailed textures, a nuanced yet wholly unpredictable sound equally given to moments of hushed simplicity, improvisatory freedom, and flashes of symphonic splendor. With its endless shift between moments of exquisite stillness and delicate chaos, Ready Reckoner is a work of constant movement, its deliberate wandering a sonic parallel to Hartman’s 40 days on the trail. Carrying a Bourgeois guitar along with her pack and abstaining from music-listening for the extent of the voyage, Hartman walked from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, and soon began a routine of periodically stepping off the trail to write. Although many of Ready Reckoner’s songs first emerged while walking, Hartman wrote much of the album in her former home of Brooklyn, sometimes in days-long solitude in her old apartment. Penned on New Year’s in 2017, the gently lilting and elegantly guitar-heavy “January First” sprang from one such session, with Hartman musing on the improbably weighted significance of the day. Another track from that same writing period, the brightly hypnotic “Belfry” was inspired by Hartman’s meditative trespassing onto her building’s rooftop, in addition to her reading of the prophet/poet Amos. “For me that song is an acknowledgment of feeling led to do or to be something, and then feeling the terror of walking toward that,” she notes. On the revelatory centerpiece to Ready Reckoner, Hartman further contends with fear, carefully questioning her place in the world as an artist. Written toward the end of her time on the pilgrimage, “Too Much” threads its sparse arrangement with recordings of her footsteps and walking stick, its lyrics speaking to Hartman’s realization that—in her own words—“If I could not write and listen in that near-to-perfect place, then I need not write at all; my life energy would be given elsewhere.” But while her vocals channel self-doubt with unguarded honesty, “Too Much” steadily telegraphs a quiet courage, a subtle determination to move forward in the face of the unknown. Elsewhere on Ready Reckoner, Hartman drifts from the soulful urgency of “Won’t Be Satisfied” (a defiant and harmony-driven outcry for protection of our earth-home) to the mesmeric reverie of “Neglect” (her intricate guitar duet with Bill Frisell) to the otherworldly and often-unsettling tension of “Koyaanisqatsi” (a piece drawn from the experience of creating a live-score performance to accompany Godfrey Reggio’s film of the same name). And on “Here’s to the Ones,” Ready Reckoner ends on a tender benediction for those who have journeyed in and out of her life, closing out its wide-eyed reflection with a transportive synth melody from Ismaily. For Hartman, the making of Ready Reckoner was inarguably shaped by the support of others, despite the profound solitude that informed its creation. During her time on the trail, for instance, it was the companionship of her fellow pilgrims that abated her fears of the task ahead. “I’d never walked with a pack before, never hiked as far as I needed to go that first day—let alone for 40 days in a row.,” she remembers. “I didn’t realize how afraid I felt.” By the same token, Hartman’s collaborators in the studio helped guide her through the daunting prospect of producing for the first time. “Initially I thought that Shahzad would be producing, but as we talked more, he told me, ‘That’s not my role here,’” says Hartman. Seeking solace prior to the first session, Hartman unearthed her walking journal, and stumbled upon a recurring theme. The fears I faced on the trail were no different than what I was feeling in that moment, the weight of doing something that you feel led to do, and being shaken by it,” she says. “In both cases, I felt very much alone, but at the same time surrounded by people who I knew would care for me.” Describing the recording process as a transformative learning experience, Hartman gradually discovered a deeper self-assurance through certain directorial responsibilities assumed in the studio. “Working on the album, I realized that I often know exactly what I want to hear in my songs, even if I can’t always articulate it,” she says. “There was so much growth in acknowledging that I really do know what I want, and in being perfectly honest when I’m at a loss.”Hartman’s finely-honed musicality has firm roots in her upbringing, which included taking up violin at three, learning to play guitar at 11, and writing her first song at 12. She spent much of her childhood immersed in the bluegrass world, a factor that eventually led to her seven-year stint in Grammy-nominated band Della Mae. During her time with the band, Hartman also released a collaboration album with Robert Ellis (2017’s Dear John) and another with Taylor Ashton (2018’s Been on Your Side). With Ready Reckoner, Hartman ultimately provides the listener with a conduit for self-exploration—a factor that fulfills one of her greatest hopes in sharing the album with the world. “If you listen to any of these songs and step away feeling lifted or carried to a different place, that is a real and true honor,” she says. Indeed, for Hartman herself, the process of creating Ready Reckoner helped bring about a newfound devotion to deep listening, as revealed in the truly singular sound and sensibilities of the album. “Slowly I am allowing myself to be completely who I am, with whatever sounds and stories that stirs up,” she says. “If I can claim all those things as my own—without shame or fear—then maybe it will begin to take away any need to be someone else.” The Backstage Sessions will run from January 2021-March 2021 January 10 Master of American letters, music writer Peter Guralnick, whose most recent book is Looking to Get Lost, interviews Grammy Award-winning guitarist, songwriter, producer, wild man Colin Linden January 17 Songwriter multi-instrumentalist, festival promoter Ruth Ungar Merenda (most recent recording Nonet with The Mammals) interviews Tony and Grammy awards-winning Anais Mitchell January 24 Boulder, Colorado KGNU DJ and Planet Bluegrass VP (and musician himself) Brian Eyster interviews the King of Bluegrass Soul, Larry Sparks January 31 Brilliant songwriter, musician, and The Working Songwriter podcast host Joe Pug interviews writer and rising star Courtney Hartman More TBA