A country singer comes home, to write
Wyatt Easterling grew up in Chapel Hill and spent 33 years in Nashville, Tenn., as a country music songwriter, singer, producer and a record label talent scout. Last year he moved back to his hometown to write for a while away from the Nashville scene. He has a new record and will perform at the Durham Armory on Saturday afternoon during Durham Art Walk Spring Market.
Easterling moved to Nashville in 1981 upon releasing his first album, and has worked in the music industry ever since, from head of A&R (artist and repertoire, which handles talent scouting and artist development) for Atlantic Records in Nashville in 1990, to writing “Modern Day Drifter” for Dierks Bentley and “Life’s a Dance” for John Michael Montgomery.
Needing knowledge of various music industry roles isn’t new.
“Even as a writer, especially in those days, you knew all aspects,” Easterling said. Now, it’s a “pretty fascinating time as a musician because the whole world is accessible at your desktop,” he said. Music is available immediately, and musicians aren’t limited to what a record label can accommodate as far as number of artists. “Now anyone can record an album using GarageBand on a Mac,” he said. “Anyone can make a record.”
What’s harder, Easterling said, is “getting the flag up” and attention for that record. He sees successful artists that are essentially one man plus a support team, and other artists who are successful regionally rather than nationally.
“I still believe it all starts with a song, if you’ve got a great song,” he said.
So what makes a great song?
“For me, I know it when I hear it, unless it’s way out of my genre,” Easterling said. “To me, if it resonates, it’s like finding an artist with ‘it’ factor.” That means universal appeal and feeling fresh and new. Earmarks of a great song is that it is memorable, feels familiar and is comfortable, he said.
Easterling remembers hearing “Rosanna” by Toto on the radio for the first time at a stoplight in Chapel Hill. He was so absorbed in the song he didn’t go when the light turned green, and drivers behind him honked.
As a writer, Easterling just keeps writing regardless of whatever else is going on.
His new album, “Goodbye-Hello,” was recorded in Nashville before he moved here to “get a different view out my window.”
Nashville is an hour’s flight or a beautiful drive, he said, and he’ll go back to visit in May. Nashville’s tourism is up, he said, with the network television show “Nashville.” He watches it now and again, and has friends who have appeared on it.
“There’s a lot of authenticity to it,” Easterling said. “I played the Bluebird the night [actress] Hayden Panettiere was in there with producers to experience an in-the-round [performance].”
Easterling considers himself a songwriter first, and encourages artists to let other people record their songs. He considers it a high honor if an artist – who he defines as a singer who also writes original material -- records one of his songs.
Back again in Chapel Hill after three decades in Nashville, Easterling said the town has changed so much and also so much remains the same. Franklin Street is the same but not as busy, he said, and his college job location – Spanky’s – remains.
“Durham has really become quite a foodie area,” Easterling said, and he likes what’s been done at the American Tobacco Campus.
Easterling doesn’t know how long he will stay in North Carolina.
“I told my friends I’d move over here for a spell,” he said. It feels comfortable, but he misses Nashville, too.
“The industry’s fun when I’m not in the thick of it every day,” Easterling said. He’s also interested in the reignited Americana/folk music scene.
WANT TO GO?
WHO: Wyatt Easterling
WHEN: 2:15-3 p.m. Saturday during Durham Art Walk Spring Market
WHERE: Durham Armory
220 Foster St., Durham