Maiden Dixie on Songwriting, Touring and Band Growth

“It’s about drinking—like a lot of country music.”

Those are the words of Jon Krentz, a guitarist and singer for Maiden Dixie, an up-and-coming band based in the Twin Cities, as he was talking about the song “Shoulda Gone Home.”

Despite Krentz’s description of the song, the lyrics for Maiden Dixie’s tracks are generally quite sophisticated.

“Good songwriting is the rarest thing,” said Kevin Bowe, a well-known figure on the local music scene. “Especially country songwriting. Especially around here.”

Two members of Maiden Dixie—Krentz and lead singer Channing Himes—were at the downtown Minneapolis campus of the Institute of Production and Recording on April 21 to talk about the creative process and making music, and to perform a few songs. The event was part of a recurring series at IPR called Inside Tracks, which brings in experts from various creative fields to discuss with students how their industries work.

Bowe, who produced Maiden Dixie’s second album, “Unsafe and Sound,” hosted the session, which touched on everything from the process of recording an album to the energy the band brings to the stage for its performances.

Writing Songs

When it comes to penning lyrics, simple doesn’t mean easy—it’s like running a 4-minute mile, Bowe said.

For Maiden Dixie, a group that started out doing strictly covers, the songwriting process can go a number of different ways, Himes said.

“The first song Jon and I wrote together was ‘Smooth Talkin Man’ from our first EP, ‘Little Black Dress,’ and I came to him with the chorus lyrics/melody and we went from there,” she said. “Other times, we just start from scratch—brainstorming different lyric ideas, chord progressions, etc. I don’t really think there is a right or wrong way to do it.”

Inspiration, according to Himes, comes in many forms, even something as small as one line.

“We just take an idea and run with it for a while and see what happens,” she said. “We’ve written some duds for sure. Ha! But that’s all part of it.”

Krentz, meanwhile, said that even after they get the melody and lyrics together, it takes time to get it to a place “where you feel 100 percent about it.”

“Once we think we got it we bring it into the band,” he said. “From there we mess around with different tempo, feel, arrangement. The more we rehearse and play it live the more we come up with different ideas. It is constantly changing, right up to putting it on a record.”

The Nashville Process

Maiden Dixie’s first album was recorded in Nashville, widely regarded as the epicenter of country music in the U.S.

There, in the fall of 2013, the band looked to recreate the energy that is synonymous with their live shows. The process was eye-opening, Krentz said.

Jim “Moose” Brown (co-writer of “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere”) produced Maiden Dixie’s debut album, which the band says is rooted in country rock.

During the Inside Tracks presentation, they talked about the compartmentalization of music production in Nashville. Songs are often written by specialists, pitched as demos and possibly recorded. There’s more of a focus on solo artists in the Tennessee city, Krentz said, and the process reflects that.

Still, Krentz said he found that the refining of lyrics was very serious in Nashville, though a song can come together simply from a riff on a cellphone.

When it comes to recording in the studio, producers and engineers need to know a musician’s preferences and how they relate to the technical side of things, such as which microphone will work best in certain situations, Bowe said.

“The artist comes first,” he said. “(A producer is) supposed to be supportive when necessary and invisible when not.”

Stage Presence

Formed in the fall of 2011, Maiden Dixie is comprised of:

  • Three music/composition majors
  • Two Iraq War combat veterans
  • A former Division I basketball player

So maybe Bowe’s theory about good bands being like a cartoon program is apt.

“That is totally the case with your band,” he said.

Added Himes: “All six people bring something different to the table.”

-Beginnings

Krentz and bassist Drew Sherman served in the military together, playing in an Army band. People think of an Army band as playing trumpets and bugles, but, as Krentz says, “They also have pop music in the military.”

When they returned stateside, the two worked to put together a group.

“We recruited friends that we thought would be a good fit and shared the same vision,” Krentz said. “It can take some time to make sure you get the right members, after a few changes we finally got it right with our current lineup.”

Himes was asked to sub one weekend.

“The show’s over. (Krentz said), ‘All right, we’ll see you next week,’” Himes said.

It didn’t quite work as smoothly as that, but Maiden Dixie was starting to come together.

“It was a lot of randomness but somehow we were lucky enough to put six musicians together who believed in our product, so I’m very thankful for that,” Himes said.

If you want an entertaining look at the band, check out this Brady Bunch-styled YouTube video, which includes comedic interviews and clips with the members.

-‘Run around like crazy people’

The energy Maiden Dixie brings to the stage isn’t lost on Bowe, who asked Himes how she maintains her passion during their busy touring schedule. (You can find them throughout the Midwest during the spring of 2015.)

Himes said it took years to get to the point where she could feel totally comfortable on stage. Now?

“We do run around like crazy people,” she said. “We just have fun on stage. People like to see that you’re having a good time.”

Krentz said he was once told that “people hear with their eyes,” and it’s rare for a musician to be able to simply sit on a stool with a guitar, ala B.B. King, for a show.

-Story time

With such a busy touring schedule, it’s not surprising that Maiden Dixie has had its share of mishaps.

“I remember when (singer Jesse Becker) ripped his pants and had no idea,” Himes said. “He just continued to rock out, and finally I was like: ‘Jesse, you ripped your pants!’”

There have been falls on stage and good times while filming a video during WE Fest, she said.

“We all rode around on golf carts and rode through all the camps,” Himes said. “We would jump off and sing a couple songs, hop back on, drive to the next group of party people, sing some more tunes. I had an absolute blast doing that.”

As for Krentz, his story from their time on the road was more succinct:

“Once upon a time at 3 a.m. I stood on the side of the road and watched our band van burn,” he said.

Water That Plant

For Krentz, consistent growth is the key to success. He offered an analogy:

“Trying to monitor your success is like watching a plant grow—you aren’t going to see the results overnight,” he said. “The only way you will eventually see results is by tending to that plant night after night after night. It will slowly grow, but you can’t neglect that plant at all—not for a single night. Focus on small goals, and over time things will fall into place.”

Seeing how far the band has come—moving from being a cover band to creating their own music—has been a highlight for Himes.

“Night after night we would do the 4-hour shows, playing all the crowd favorites. We started getting a following and we realized we really saw potential for this group to push into the original scene,” she said. “That’s exactly what we did and the turnout at our recent release shows and the feedback we’ve gotten on the new record, ‘Unsafe and Sound’ is something that you appreciate as an artist.”

Maiden Dixie has played the main stage at several major music events—Winstock, Country Fest and WE Fest—performing alongside musicians such as Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Randy Houser and Rascal Flatts.

“Those experiences are ones that we won’t forget,” Himes said.

The goals now, she said, are to build the fan base, refine their live performances, hit the summer festival tour and write new songs.

“At the end of the day, we just want to reach out to as many people as we can and show them who Maiden Dixie is and what we’re about,” Himes said.

Krentz said he just wants to take a step in the right direction every day.

“Whether it is arranging a new song, learning a new guitar lick or having a business meeting. Do something every day to help your plant grow,” he said. “Keep watering the dang plant!”

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