Los Angeles-based rockabilly-roots musician Kim Lenz and The Jaguars are no strangers to Atlanta, having played heard numerous times since she launched her career in 1998, but her return to Smith’s Olde Bar on Wed. August 14 is more than a little bit extra special. Her current US Tour supports a new album FOLLOW ME, due for release on Aug. 20 from Riley Records, which has received considerable advance budge beyond the roots community including from Country Music Television’s “Edge” Website.
Reflecting the impact of some recent life challenges for Kim, the new LP’s lyrics are a bit more serious and emotionally heavy and like so many great rockabilly and country women before her, a nice dose of female empowerment. The title track, “Follow Me,” is being compared to a range of amazing vocalists from Wanda Jackson to Amy Winehouse. The scarlet-tressed songstress also has some serious musical muscle behind the scenes since it’s produced by roots music icon Carl Sonny Leyland and recorded by Los Straitjackets bassist Pete Curry. In other words, despite some serious subject matter, it still puts the rock in rockabailly.
Kim has always been a mighty Kool Kat to ATLRetro, so we decided to catch up with her this week to find out more about her new songs and why you should follow her to her and The Jaguars’ Atlanta gig, which incidentally is opened by Chickens and Pigs with special guest Mark Johnson of Delta Moon.
Kim Lenz: I love American roots music and that’s what I’ve been doing via rockabilly for a number of years. My new record goes a little further into the roots and I also stretched myself as a songwriter… digging deeper into personal places.
You opted to record FOLLOW ME on vintage tube gear to two-inch tape in mono. Why stay retro when there have been such advances in recording technology?
There is a certain magic when dealing with tubes and tape and plate reverb and such. Modern technology has its place, but starting with yummy ingredients is important in my opinion.
The title track, “Follow Me,” is one amazing female empowerment anthem. I understand it comes out of a recent dark time for you, including learning that you were adopted and the death of your long-time guitarist Nick Curran last fall. Can you talk a bit about the genesis of the song and what you hope others will take from it?
Most of my life I felt like I was so tough. But the last couple years knocked me down. So far I wasn’t sure I could get back up. Music has always been the best way for me to cope with life in general. I dealt with quite a bit of abuse growing up. This song is about taking back the real power of being a woman.
“Follow Me” is not the only song on the album that deals with life challenges. There’s a long history of female country vocalists who met hard issues head-on. Was there any one who has especially inspired you recently?
Strangely I rarely think of myself as a “female” musician. I think all artists use what they do to deal with life head-on. The ones I respect anyway. If I had to list he people who inspire me, it would be too many to print.
I take it, however, that this album is hardly a downer. You’ve said that producer Carl Sunny Leyland “took these sad songs and put a sparkle on them.” What was it like to work with him and can you expand on what you mean by that?
Carl is a genius. One of the if not the best roots musician on the planet. I brought these songs to him. He easily was able to see my vision but brought them out of the dark.
Any other songs on the album you’d like to single out for listeners to especially look out for?
We just finished making a video for “Pay Dearly.” It’s really dark and cool!
Do you and the band have anything special planned for this tour and/or your Atlanta stop?
You’ve toured through Atlanta quite a few times over the years. Do you have any favorite must-do things when you’re here?
We usually rock out and drink too much!!!