11 Questions to a Nashville Musician: Karen Ballew (The Deer’s Cry)

The Deers Cry (Photo By Barbara Potter Photography)Photo by Barbara Potter Photography

Music City’s The Deer’s Cry have recently released their second album, “Heal the Heart,” and lead singer/harpist Karen Ballew took some time out to visit 11 Questions. The band’s sound serves up a classy blend of Americana, Celtic and World music. It’s Folk music with a sophisticated style and a spiritual message and you’ll love it!

You can check out the entire new LP from The Deer’s Cry (named after a prayer of St. Patrick) here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR2K3MVZJ3A&list=OLAK5uy_nTycr63aduZDJmdF–WlBE89gSq1Mu9fg.

Thanks, Karen, for your great interview. Looking forward to seeing the band play live in Nashville!

Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why?

I grew up in Abilene, TX and graduated from Furman University in Greenville, SC. My husband Brad and I lived in Dallas for eight years before moving to Nashville in 2017. I’ve always loved the green hills of Tennessee, and my husband and I both were drawn to the creative community here. Brad is a cinematographer and was hired in 2016 for a documentary about songwriter Dean Dillon. After his plane landed in Nashville, he went straight to Kix Brooks’ house to film an interview and then to Acme Feed & Seed for dinner and music. That was his first experience here! I remember him telling me, “You’d find some awesome people to collaborate with in Nashville!” I had no idea I would end up moving here and forming a band.

What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?

At quite a young age, my brother Ryan read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as The Silmarillion. I remember him encouraging me to read The Lord of the Rings before the first Peter Jackson film came out in 2001 That Christmas, when my brother came home from college, the whole family went to see the film in theaters. The story, music, themes, costumes, and sets were so magical and transporting. As soon as the soundtrack for The Fellowship of the Ring came out on CD, I went and bought it at our local Hastings store (in Abilene, TX). One of the things I love about Howard Shore’s music for this trilogy is his use of leitmotifs to signify the different themes, characters, and places of Middle-earth. It’s wonderfully emotive, musical storytelling. I was 16 years old, and that experience was the initial spark that got me interested in telling stories through music. The last record I bought was the beautiful Oror ou Nani: Armenian Lullabies by Khatchadour Khatchadourian! I purchased a digital download from his website at khatchmusic.com.

First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?

I checked with my mom on this one, and we’re pretty sure the first live concert I saw was George Strait at the Taylor County Coliseum. The last big live concert I saw was Dolly Parton Celebrates 50 Years as a Member of the Grand Ole Opry on October 12, 2019 which was an amazing concert!

Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?

Alison Krauss! (On a side note, her performance with The Isaacs on the Grand Ole Opry a few years ago was one of my favorite live performance experiences.)

Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?

I just drink my one cup of coffee in the morning (at the house usually), but I recently went to Frothy Monkey and liked it. For pizza, we love Five Points Pizza and Mellow Mushroom.

What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?

I love everything Dolly Parton does, but I particularly love her Little Sparrow album released in 2001. There’s a beautiful connection between the music of Appalachia and Ireland, and Dolly’s collaboration with Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh on “In the Sweet By and By” makes me cry every time I hear it — It’s wonderful!

Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?

I honestly don’t know, but I’m sure there are some awesome places. I just go home and eat oatmeal because, for some reason, oatmeal is my favorite food!

The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.” Pick three local songwriters to join you.

I would definitely ask my friends Adam and Cherish Hamby (Dark Waters Project), and Quinn O’Donnell.

What are your favorite music venues to play in town?

I love McNamara’s in Donelson and Quinn’s Neighborhood Pub in Franklin for the Irish sessions. Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor in Franklin is great, and my bandmates Patrick and Bryan enjoy playing jazz gigs at Rudy’s Jazz Room in Nashville. We’re also just played at the Analog at Hutton Hotel on October 5th for our Heal the Heart album release show!

Name a musician who you’d like to see move here.

I would never wish Kate Rusby to leave her native Yorkshire, England, but it would be wonderful if she did a U.S. tour and hung out in Nashville for a few months. Her songwriting has been a great inspiration to me, and I would love to meet her someday and hear her perform in Nashville.

Finally, what’s in your musical future?

The Deer’s Cry will be doing a performance on the Today in Nashville show on December 6th, which we’re very excited about. We launched our band and first album in January 2020, two months before the Pandemic hit. It’s been a difficult past couple of years for everyone, but I’m thankful for the time we had to write new music. I’m not sure if we would have recorded a second album so soon if producer Nick Bullock hadn’t reached out to us, seemingly out of the blue. He encouraged each of us to be fully ourselves and tap into all the musical inspirations that were present there. My bandmates were also very open-minded as we were coming up with the song arrangements. I think that made for an interesting and unique fusion where each person’s voice was honored. I’m so thankful for what we’ve discovered together and look forward to doing more live performances of this music.


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