Interview: Dianna Maher on “Naked Sessions” Series Featuring Mark Selby, Raw Songwriter Footage


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Powerful Nashville singer songwriter Mark Otis Selby recently passed away after a difficult bout with cancer, and his new posthumous release Mark Otis Selby: Naked Sessions (Moraine Music) came out a few days ago. (Give it a listen by clicking this word in bold, here.)

This release is part of a series, the result of a very special vision involving Dianna Maher of Nashville’s Moraine Music. Maher had an idea, inspired by Selby’s fervent, expressive songwriting style, that would carry Selby’s zeal to a wider audience through a highly innovative documentary-style tv series. And thus, the Naked Sessions series was born.

Americana Highways had a chance to chat with Dianna Maher a couple days ago about Mark Otis Selby’s release and the Naked Sessions project it is part of.

Tell us a little about what this series is? “Each segment of the television series is a live performance, maybe 5 songs, speckled with interview footage that tells the story of that particular artist, which will be 30 minutes and will be very different for each artist. So far, the artists for the first part of the series have been finalized: Mark Otis Selby, of course, was a celebrated singer songwriter who wrote songs like “There’s Your Trouble“ made famous by the Dixie Chicks, and “Blue On Black” pushed to prominence by Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Selby grew up harvesting wheat and playing music in Oklahoma.

“Real…is the first word that comes to mind when I think about Mark Selby’s guitar playing. He had an uncanny way of choosing just the right tone and phrase to serve the song, lift the groove, and enhance his bandmates’ contributions.”  –John Jorgenson, Guitarist – Grammy-award winner with Desert Rose Band and The Hellecasters

“Other artists in the series are Michael Logen, a singer-songwriter who has had a couple hit singles. He grew up as a Mennonite, and now he’s in Nashville having songs cut by Kelly Clarkson. Chuck Mead is from BR459 and has a lot of stories to tell; Steve McKeller was in an South African band called Civil Twilight, it was a rock band, this might be his first acoustic release. The band named SHEL defies generalization. Joe Robinson is a guitar virtuoso, I have no words for how great he is. I met him through Mark Selby, and he is a 25 year old prodigy from Australia, he was the Australia’s Got Talent winner when he was 15. He’s here in Nashville, has a fascinating story growing up with beach bum parents. The videos will be a combination of back stories and footage of these amazing artists performing live.“

Naked Sessions is going to be an ongoing series, with episodes each season, to launch in 2019. Mark’s passing prompted us to start a little early so his family and fans could have access to his portion of the project in advance. We released his as only the posthumous cd, because he didn’t get to record the video portion. Mark was sick, and we were hopeful that he’d get better, and he kept saying “I’ll do the next one,” but he wasn’t able to. At a certain point, Mark did realize he would never do the video portion or the television documentary-type portion.”

“Every artist of the Naked Sessions will have an audio companion release to the video.”

Where did this idea come from? “This project came from a love of the musicians playing their songs live, in person. I have had the luxury of hearing that my entire career, but not everybody gets to have that experience by the time albums are in their final stages. I worked with Mark Otis Selby for many years, and he would frequently play songs for me, live versions of the songs.   Sometimes a guy like Mark would say “you just love my guitar vocal, you’re never gonna like my record.” And I’d say: “I’m going to like your record too, but, my favorite version was the first day you played me “The Scheme of Things” or “There’s Your Trouble” (made famous by the Dixie Chicks) or “Back Door to My Heart.” Those first songs, he would play like he was onstage for a thousand people, even though it was just for me to hear. And so do a lot of people, they play with that kind of passion right after they’ve written a song.”

“I thought more people would enjoy seeing, and hearing, these artists perform this way.   Especially when you’re used to seeing someone in a rock band or a blues band.”

“We started with artists who are known here in Nashville for their extraordinary live performances. But we have plans to expand, in the spirit of the passion of wonderful singer songwriters who create. The goal is to have it be a mix between people who are known in a niche market and folks who are known more worldwide.”

What’s your production process? “It’s all recorded live in one take. In Mark’s case, he is singing and playing harmonica and playing guitar all at the same time.   “Rise Up” was Mark and Kenny Wayne [Shepherd] together. That was the day they wrote that song and they have a couple mics up to record, and they just hit record and go. If the musician has a partner in crime, they might be on the recording too. Michael Logen recorded with upright bass player Chris Donahue for a couple songs. And SHEL was a full band.”

“Roger Pistole is our director now, beginning with the SHEL video. It’s still “naked” but that one is a bigger band, so I realized it’s not quite as naked. (laughs) We are recording on location in an old house in Franklin, TN that was built in 1914; you can see the remnants of the original wallpaper in the footage.”

At the heart of it, what do the sessions reveal? “There’s something magical about hearing a musician playing the song with every note just they way they wrote it, whether it’s on a piano or guitar, in all of its simplicity, and without hearing a huge record around it. And I love produced records, but the magic of just a song and the way that particular songwriter interprets it, reveals something that’s unique to that songwriter, that performer.”

“That is something I find other people are captivated by as well. They get to hear artists like Steven McKeller or even Chuck Mead, who is so funny that the way he performs is a very unique experience. And his records are great, with the whole band. But when it’s just Chuck and his guitar, it’s just so much fun. Or in Steve McKeller’s case you are transported to some other place. This project showcases each person’s individual identity as a singer songwriter. That particular uniqueness that is attached to the songwriter when they are first playing their song is something that you do still hear when they record it later on, but it’s different from that original version. And since those original versions are not typically released, along with the nuance of that particular writer that are presented in a different way than in the final product.”

“Every time I’ve played them for people, every body has loved them, everyone has been captivated. There’s something special about being able to shine a light on the really unique talent of each singer.“

“We here at Moraine Music are lovers and supporters of Americana music. As things grow it makes me so happy.  For example, you know that Kevin Welch put out records with Steve Earle in the late ‘90s. He and Kieran Kane were considered some of the founders of Americana. Just to prove the validity of the Americana format has come full circle, Kevin Welch had an album out that won awards 15 or so years ago, and Chris Stapleton has a new single out right now with Kevin, this is such an Americana classic now, making those connections about the format. It is one of those things that speaks to the beauty of the format.”

“As for the project, we’ve got some pilot episodes together and we’re slated to go back in and so some more shooting in June, we’re finished with these first 3 artists, so we’re going to add the rest of them.”

Check out Mark Otis Selby’s Naked Sessions release, here

Keep track of the series, here

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