Playing solo: Local musician tackles business on her own

A sixth generation Memphian, 29 year old singer and songwriter Grace Askew has spent the past sevne years finding her voice in the local and national music scenes. Askew's unique sound, what she has dubbed "Bluntry" (a mixture of Blues and Country), is self-propelled.

A total do-it-yourself artist, Askew writes her own songs, books her own shows, and handles all aspects of being a full-time musician. And she takes pride in that. "We have the power to do it all ourselves and get really good at it. Labels only want you when you've done all the work -- attracted a huge fan base, gotten all the tour dates."

"I feel like as a musician I have to get more and more creative and find these different outlets and small avenues that keep things more interesting," said Askew. "In the music industry there are so many rules and guidelines that are just archaic. I'm bored by the music industry right now to be honest."
One outlet Askew has found is her weekly live streaming shows online. Broadcast through her Facebook page live from her house in Eads that she refers to as the "Tumbleweed Ranch,"  Askew invites local musicians for live performances and interviews. She uses social media as her primary method of marketing and while she has found success with it, social media also causes her to pause.

"I think social media has a little too much power; before the internet artists just focused on their art," said Askew. "It's like you're not legit if you aren't involved in the internet world. There's so much focus on social media which I fear detours us from producing really deep and quality work."

Askew books her own tours on a monthly basis, recently focusing on traveling out west to California and back. This year she aims to start heading east to New York City during her tours.

"All these people I meet on the road tell me 'I can't wait to go to Memphis and listen to some great music!'" said Askew. "Yeah, there's incredible music here, but we're very limited on the venues so I'm never sure where to send them." She misses the songwriters nights that used to be held at Neil's in Midtown and laments Memphis' lack of listening venues. Memphis is not lacking in talented musicians or crowds looking for shows, only a lack of live music venues.

But with opportunity often comes creative solutions. Askew's parents host regular concerts in their backyard, and other Memphians are opening up their homes for musicians to fill the gap that comes from a lack of live venues. Memphis House Concerts shares these DIY venues with the public.

Local musicians must propel one another, as well, to make sure the local music scene is vibrant and viable. "Memphis needs to develop a better network of local musicians who support each other." Her current favorite local musicians are Jeremy Stanfill and Star and Micey, who she has toured with.

Soon Askew will cut her sixth album. She has recorded at Memphis studio icons like Ardent and Sun, and she would love to record at Royal with recent Grammy winner Boo Mitchell. "I realize how incredible Memphis is; just the city itself is like one big museum. The fact that we have these historical resources means you can become part of the new legacy. Recording at Sun is such a haunting experience, it adds the whole history of the place on top of your songs -- you have to try that much harder to compete with the ghosts."

Askew has lived outside of Memphis -- Nashville, Mexico, Boston -- but Memphis has always brought her back. This remains to be her home.

"I love Memphis because it's so doable here. It's more creatively stimulating than say Nashville because of the lower cost of living. You don't have to raise a lot of money to pay rent like I had to when I lived in Nashville. It's just not stimulating there."

The next year will bring a new album, more touring, especially to the North as this self-described Tennessee Tumbleweed solidifies her brand, but she reiterates, "I will always return to Memphis."
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Amy Hoyt is High Ground News' Community Engagement Specialist, which suits her love of Memphis and its inhabitants.