Did you ever know after just about 15 seconds of listening that you were going to absolutely love a record? Well, that’s what happened after I pushed play and heard the opening track “Honey” on Bambi Lee Savage’s upcoming indie LP “Berlin-Nashville Express.” Little did I know that this remarkable record of twangy guitar and rockabilly/country would lead me to learn about one of the most interesting musicians to move to Music City in years.
I’ll let you do some of the research yourself, but before realizing that she had what it took to be a lively and highly-engaging singer-songwriter, she (as Shannon Strong) worked as an assistant audio engineer most notably on U2’s “Achtung Baby.” And, as the title of her new record implies, the American born Savage spent a good chapter of her life in Berlin where that LP was recorded.
While this new album is actually her fourth, it’s her first real foray into the countrified Americana genre she has learned to love. Another brush she has had with greatness was her song “Darlin’” that was prominently featured in the 1996 Billy Bob Thornton classic film, “Sling Blade.”
Thanks Bambi for letting me and my readers learn about your incredible life. Can’t wait to see you way out in Madison at Dees Country Cocktail Lounge on May 10 on the same day the world can get to grab a copy of your great new record. “Berlin-Nashville Express” is an early entry on my best Nashville LPs of 2019. Bambi has put some fun back into country!
Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why?
I grew up in Denver, and lived Europe for about 15 years, where I discovered my country roots. All those summer trips to visit our cousins in the South had a subliminal impact. So, I started writing country songs and performing them in Berlin but eventually decided I needed to go to Nashville and got here in 1995. I was very naïve and didn’t realize that Nashville had been taken over by Corporate Country, and that wasn’t going to work for me, So, I tried Austin, then New York and Los Angeles before finally landing back in this new, more musically open Nashville in 2015. I had been working on my record for years all over the place but came here to finish it and start this new chapter. Nashville has so much going for it, not least the fact that songwriters and even performers are allowed to be over 35 years old.
What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?
The first record I bought was The Beatles’ Let It Be, and now I can’t quite imagine why, since they’d broken up years before and it wasn’t exactly a current release. But I went on to buy nearly all of their records and studied the liner notes intently, becoming intrigued with the title “Engineer” in the credits, and wondering what exactly did this Geoff Emerick fellow do? As a teenager, I was just as obsessed with mixing consoles as I was with the electric guitar.
I just got a CD set called Jesus Rocked the Jukebox, a collection of some of the black gospel music that was so influential on rock & roll. I’d love to get back to vinyl but there are downsides to moving as much as I have. I stopped counting after the 45th move. You learn to travel light and that’s a hard habit to break. And my car has a CD player so they’re not quite obsolete yet. I don’t really like plugging my phone into the car to listen to music because of the alerts that come in. It’s such a pain to switch all that off!
First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?
My first live concert was Paul McCartney and Wings in Denver. The last concert I saw was U2 at the Bridgestone Arena, but the last show I saw was Jim Lauderdale at the Station Inn. People who have not seen him live may not know he’s very funny between songs.
Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?
I’ll say Kitty Wells. Born and bred.
Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?
Coffee I get all over the place, but I think Bongo and the Post have a particularly tasty decaf, and I have to limit my caffeine, or I get too stressed out by the 3,000 things on my to-do list, half of which are unfinished songs. I love a simple cheese slice from Five Points now and then, but I mean to start investigating the vegan pizza options popping up around town.
What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?
Apart from a general awareness of Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, I didn’t really discover country music until I was nearly 30 and living in Berlin, so I got it in small doses, mostly on mixtapes. The first voice to “speak” to me while I was abroad was Hank Williams Sr., followed closely by Loretta Lynn. Once they got my attention I went back, and revisited Johnny and Dolly and the list has just been growing ever since. I’ve been listening to the Cocaine & Rhinestones podcast and it’s just incredible, the stories and the talent to come out of and to Nashville. The more I hear, the more hard-pressed I’d be even to name a single favorite artist, much less record. It’s funny, because if you asked me what’s my favorite record to ever come out of Berlin, it would be easy: Einstürzende Neubauten’s Fünf auf der nach oben offenen Richterskala. Ha! I guess I’ve got some catching up to do over here!
Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?
Sorry, I’m not really a late-night eater so you’re asking the wrong person. But there are a couple of all-night diners downtown I kind of want to find an excuse to try at 4 am.
The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.” Pick three local songwriters to join you.
I moved to Nashville to work on and release indie music. I’m not really an in-the-round kind of songwriter, and I guess most of the handful of musicians I’ve met here generally aren’t either. I went to one in-the-round evening, not at the Bluebird, and this would surely never happen at the Bluebird where one guy just kept tuning his guitar while the others were playing. Live can be such a bizarre minefield.
What are your favorite music venues to play in town?
I am looking forward to playing my first live show in Nashville at Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge for my record release party on May 10th.
Name a musician who you’d like to see move here?
Lo Carmen. I met her through Mick Harvey and got to sing backing vocals on her last record, which she recorded in Nashville. She’s from Australia and currently lives in Los Angeles but I think her song “Nashville High” makes her an honorary Nashvillian.
Finally, what’s in your musical future?
The near future will be all about promoting Berlin-Nashville Express with videos and live shows. For me, it’s more than a personal story of coming face-to-face with my country roots while living abroad, it’s also about celebrating the European love and appreciation of American roots music and the power of music to inspire people of different cultures. Long-term, I’ve got tons of unrecorded, unreleased and unfinished songs to attend to, and they would keep me busy until I die. But, I hope to do a bit of co-writing in between working on my own material.