Shannon Sanders and Drew Ramsey have amassed numerous impressive credentials during a professional partnership that dates back to the early ’90s. The list of hitmakers they've produced, played with and/or written songs for ranges from Heather Headley and India.Arie to Jonny Lang, Robert Randolph, Jesse McCartney and Marc Broussard, and they've amassed enough hits and industry honors (multiple Grammy nominations and awards) that these days they carefully pick and choose whatever projects they want.
In fact, it was their desire to try a different challenge that led Sanders and Ramsey to do something both admit they'd never previously even considered: form a label. Thursday night, Cutty Stang Records (the name celebrates classic cars they each own)will highlight their first two artists—Rachael Lampa (Human) and Britten Six Strings and a Drum Machine—with performances from each at the Hard Rock Cafe.
"Well, we'd normally put their projects together and take them to a label," Sanders says. "But labels are downsizing now and it's gotten to be a real battle getting them to even look at new artists, or for that matter established artists who haven't had a bunch of hits lately. So Drew and I started thinking about it and we decided, Hey, why don't we just go ahead and do this thing ourselves."
Lampa and Britten also fit the profile of the type performer Sanders and Ramsey insist they will seek for the label: versatile types who write as well as sing, have influences that cut across genres and have no interest in mimicking flavor-of-the-month industry tendencies.
Initial signee Lampa had been a powerhouse figure in Christian music, winning a Dove award and garnering four No. 1 singles for her 2000 debut Live for You. But after becoming a star doing religious fare for most of the last decade, Lampa desired a change and proved an ideal performer for Sanders and Ramsey to build their label around.
"Rachael approached us to do a pop thing," Ramsey says. "She didn't want to be limited. She has a world-class voice and a great gift, and as things began progressing it just seemed right for us to take what she was doing and launch it ourselves."
Henderson native Britten has been writing songs and playing guitar since his teen years, and he grew up in an environment equally influenced by rock and soul. He cites Prince, Michael Jackson and Al Green as particular favorites, but is especially enthusiastic about the abilities of Prince and Jackson to straddle different musical worlds and audiences. While he's frequently compared (in terms of vocal sound) to people like Robin Thicke or Joss Stone (whites doing what's normally deemed "black" music), Britten's quick to downplay that notion. Instead, he touts his stylistic flexibility—a quality that in turn was what hooked Sanders and Ramsey.
"What we heard with Britten was a guy with real heart and soul, an original sound and a conception that featured him as an individual rather than some type of production," Sanders says. "He's genuine, and you can hear that in his lyrics and his sound," Ramsey added.
As longtime music industry veterans, Sanders and Ramsey are under no illusions they'll immediately unearth the next Kings of Leon or Taylor Swift. "Both of us know what's involved in terms of getting this label up and running," Sanders continues. "We know that it's going to be a battle in terms of getting the word out, doing the little things, refining their music and expanding their audience. But both of them already have solid followings around town and the buzz on them throughout the industry is good, so we have a solid foundation."
Sanders and Ramsey also say they'll eventually have EPs available both at retail and online (some singles from Britten's release can be heard at myspace.com/brittenmusic) and also on their website (drewandshannon.com).
Though starting a label alone would seem like enough of a task to occupy their time for the foreseeable future, Sanders and Ramsey have no plans to stop their productive collaborative and session endeavors. "We really see all these things as part of the whole," Sanders says. "We love the entire business, writing, producing, playing, putting projects together and touring."
"Both of us get up in the morning and start thinking about music," Ramsey adds. "This is really just the next logical step in the process. There are so many truly gifted people in Nashville who don't want to be pigeonholed and have something fresh to say. We envision Cutty Stang as a place where they can bring their ideas and we'll be happy to help them develop them into something unique."
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