In a town filled with musicians, three UNA students are working, writing and recording to get their sound out of the studio and into the hands of listeners.
Blaze Lawrimore, Bay Simpson and Katlyn Barnes are all different artists with very different sounds but they all have one thing in common: they are all letting The Flor-Ala reveal information about their unreleased music. Songs from almost every genre come from these musician's repertoire. Soul, R&B, Country, Rock and even a little Jazz can be expected from these new artists.
Blaze Lawrimore said his music path has been pretty different compared to others in the area. The Neo-Soul musician is from Hartselle, Alabama and graduated from UNA with a degree in sports management. Now, he is back in school getting his masters in English language arts.
“I never studied music,” Lawrimore said. “I was always good at English and actually enjoyed writing papers. That eventually lead to songwriting and more creative outlets I guess.”
Lawrimore first picked up the guitar when he was 14 years old. He said he would learn and play all his favorite songs until he started dabbling into writing around the age of 20.
“I’ve written a ton of terrible songs,” Lawrimore said with a laugh. “The first song I wrote that I actually really liked is going to be on this EP.”
Lawrimore is releasing a new EP this spring titled In Retrospect. He has been working on the record for the past year with some friends and musicians around the Shoals.
“It was about a year ago when I approached my buddy Austin Motlow,” said Lawrimore. “I started talking to some of my friends about my music and someone said I should reach out to Austin and just ask about an EP. He was down for it.”
Motlow is a studio manager at Single Lock Records, an independent music label in Florence.
The two of them met at Motlow’s house and started writing. They eventually started recording in Motlow’s at-home studio and UNA’s studio, Noiseblock. Lawrimore worked with a handful of local musicians on the EP including R&B singer Thad Sijaad and singer/songwriter Mark Allan Falk.
“It was really collaborative,” Lawrimore added. “I’m not the type of musician to write parts and assign them. I wanted each musician to write their own part and contribute creatively. It has my name on it and it’s technically my project but everyone else is just as important on the album.”
Lawrimore said the whole process has taken about a year. Based off his work so far, Lawrimore said his music falls underneath an area of soul, taking inspiration from artists like Marvin Gaye and Tom Misch.
“This EP is very soulful but under that umbrella are different branches,” Lawrimore said. “Some of the songs are very introspective and heavy but there are also songs that are really optimistic.”
He said the title In Retrospect comes from a mixture of his own experiences.
“You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you came from. It’s important to reflect on your past and your experiences to know how to move forward,” Lawrimore said.
His first single, “In Your Company” dropped March 28. Lawrimore claims it to be an upbeat song he hopes will make people want to get up and dance.
Although his full EP does not have a set date yet, his goal is to have it out by the end of May.
“I’m just going to release my first single and see how it goes,” Lawrimore said.
“In Your Company” can be found on all of the major streaming services including Spotify, iTunes and SoundCloud.
Opposite of Lawrimore’s light and funky sound is an artist full of old-school grit, Bay Simpson. At just 20 years old Simpson is the lead singer of the Southern Rock band, Outlaw Apostles.
The five-man band is made up of Simpson, Evan Lane, Tre Srygley, Christian White and Aaron Stapler. Their gigs around the Shoals began to pay off as they recently started working with Keith Stegall, a producer in Nashville who owns Dreamlined Entertainment.
Although he is the youngest of the band, Simpson is no rookie to the music business. His mom, Angela Hacker, is a country musician from the area.
“My mother was a singer and my dad was a drummer,” Simpson said. “My mom does it for a living so I’ve kind of grown up around the music scene and the business. I’ve been in studios since I was a kid, hanging out at FAME, The NuttHouse and similar places. I guess it kind of became like a lifestyle.”
Simpson talked about how his mother has always had a big influence on him but they are completely different musicians.
“I grew up playing sports but I was always into music,” Simpson said. “No matter what I was doing I would still pick up a guitar and play. Music has always been there.”
The band is going back and forth between Florence and Nashville, working on cutting a record. However, this is not something listeners can hook up their aux cord to just yet. They are recording their music now and plan to send it to record labels around Nashville this summer. Their goal? To land a record deal.
“Everyone’s been writing,” Simpson said. “Sometimes we write with a couple of the guys at Dreamlined and they’ve been helping us through that process but everyone in the band has been involved. I’ve been writing for about a year before this whole process started.”
Simpson said he takes a lot of inspiration from Hank Williams Sr. and Neil Young. As for Outlaw Apostle’s new music, the band had a heavy influence from older sounds like The Eagles and The Rolling Stones.
“There’s a big variety,” he said. “Some songs may sound like a little more of your mainstream country while others have an old-school 1970s rock style. They’re all going to sound a little different.”
Outlaw Apostles play around the Shoals almost every week. Simpson said that one of their most common spots is an old dive bar in Littleville, Alabama which seems fitting for them.Wearing an old UNA T-shirt and his usual denim jacket Simpson started fidgeting with his dark aviator sunglasses thinking about the group.
“The name certainly goes with everyone’s style in the band,” he said with a smirk. “I think the name is perfect because there’s no question about who we are as a band. I think you get it when you see everybody.”
The name Outlaw Apostles came from one of their song lyrics, “From bottle to bottle, Outlaw Apostles who don’t give a damn what you say." The band was working in the studio one day when they were talking over ideas for a name. One of their producers overheard the song and mentioned Outlaw Apostles sounded cool. Now that name shows up on marquees where they play.
“An outlaw is someone who does what they want to do, ya know?” Simpson said. “The line in the song kind of sums it up. We do our thing and if you like it you like it if you don’t, you don’t.”
Another Shoals native who finds something cool and mysterious about the area is Katlyn Barnes.
The soul singer sat at her kitchen table finishing her lunch while she talked about her upbringing in Tuscumbia, a small town just across the bridge.
“I’ve had a lot of crazy things happen in my life,” Barnes said. “I’ve always said I need to write a book but instead I’ve decided that I can do that through music.”
Barnes started singing and playing the piano when she was in grade school and eventually learned the guitar in middle school.
“I never really wanted to be an artist, it just seemed so ridiculous to take something like that on,” the singer said.“After a while, I started getting a lot more confident with my music and people started telling me I need to do something with it. So finally, I decided to put my music out into the world.”
One of those people was Janna Malone, an entertainment professor at UNA. Malone heard Barnes play a few times and eventually reached out about her music. Malone talked to her about the possibility of studying music and entertainment at UNA.
“I think people can get kind of turned off by the entertainment industry because it seems so far off,” Barnes said. “But my dad has always been so encouraging and serious about doing what makes me happy. With him on my mind, it really made the entertainment path easy for me.”
The raspy singer is a junior at UNA studying music business and public relations. Through her major and playing local gigs, she has been able to make more connections for her music.
“I eventually reached out to my friend Collin, a music engineer, about the possibility of making an EP,” Barnes said. There’s a whole tech side of making music that I was not as familiar with. At first, we didn’t know if this was going to be serious or not but that first night we got in the studio I realized how beautiful it all is, making music. We would just record, listen back and decide what we wanted to do with everything. That’s when we really decided this can be something worthwhile.”
The recording process has come with a deeper understanding of music. Although she sings and writes, singer/songwriter is not her specific genre. She usually works with a full band that she said is very soul inspired.
The musician talked about how being in the Shoals inspires her. When she is not recording in Nashville she goes to local studios like East Avalon.
“The sound on this EP is very Shoals inspired,” Barnes said. “There’s something about it here, I can’t explain it. There’s a lot of funk, a lot of grit. Collin and Will, (Barnes’ engineer and producer) aren’t even from the area but when they’re here recording they feel it, they just pick it up.”
Barnes went on about how most of her music is based off her own experiences but does not want to fully give those stories away. She wants people to listen and find their own interpretation of her songs.
“I just want people to hear the EP,” Barnes said. “I think each song has its’ own uniqueness. Each song doesn’t sound the same yet there’s something in there that sounds familiar. I just kind of want to surprise people.”
Barnes said she is releasing her EP sometime early this summer but is still waiting on the exact release date.
While the historic towns that fill the Shoals have music playing around every other corner, these artists are doing everything they can to get their sound a little further. Although they all hope for greater recognition someday, they are grateful for where they started.
“The Shoals has always been a really good place for music, it’s kind of a mystery, no one can really explain it,” Lawrimore said.