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Hi David. We’ve had the pleasure of reading your book,MuzikMafia: From the Local Nationville Scene to the National Mainstream . As we told you earlier, your book is captivating – instructive from a business perspective (a should read for those considering a career in music). On the one hand, the book is a case study exposing the high ups and low downs of the music business. MuzikMafia is also entertaining (if we might say so), telling of the Nashville scene, the story of MuzikMafia – and some great anecdotes along the way.
We know a bit about your academic background, tell us a bit more about yourself and your interest in music.
DP: I was pretty much raised on country music. My first exposure to old-time and bluegrass was through my father Ronnie who grew up in Mount Airy, North Carolina, where he worked at the small, traditional music radio station WPAQ. He would tell me stories of interviewing Andy Griffith and seeing Flatt & Scruggs perform live. I spent my formative years on a farm in rural upstate South Carolina where I learned to sing almost every Hank Williams Jr. song by heart. I took pride in my southern roots and the country music that reflected my upbringing. My formal musical training began when I was in sixth grade, and I have been performing ever since. Along the way, I have gained a love and appreciation for listening to and performing musics from many global cultural soundscapes, including those from the Middle East and India.
What motivated you to write the book. How did it come about – was it a clearly defined project from the get-go or did you “discover” the book over time?
DP: I have to admit that serendipity played a large role. I was in the right place at the right time. I was teaching at Middle Tennessee State
MuzikMafia, the godfather (l-r): Kenny Alphin, Jon Nicholson, Cory Gierman, John Rich (Photo: Deanna Kay)
University in spring 2004 when one of my popular music students mentioned that I should see this “new thing” called MuzikMafia in Nashville. I decided to give it a shot and attended my first MuzikMafia show on June 14, 2004—a night that changed my life. I was blown away by the high degree of talent among the MuzikMafia’s roster of diverse artists and the feeling of closeness among audience members at that show. It was like being around family. While there, I also met John Rich who was enthusiastic to idea of me writing my doctoral dissertation on the MuzikMafia, documenting their forthcoming rise to national stardom. And the rest is history…
The project was clearly defined from the get go, although I did have to modify my approach and methodology during the MuzikMafia’s growth in popularity. In just a few months in summer 2004, I went from videotaping shows and interviewing artists in small Nashville clubs to national tours in front of tens of thousands of fans. The MuzikMafia, especially Big & Rich, have been great in granting me full and unfettered access since the beginning. They invited me into their lives and allowed me to tell their story from a rare, insider’s perspective.
What was the biggest (or what were the biggest) challenge(s) in writing the book? Tell us a little bit about the high and lows for David Pruett while writing the book?
DP: One of the major challenges was getting the whole story from each artist. It’s human nature for artists to want only the best things written about them. As a result, I found myself having to consult multiple sources to get the complete story, cross-check all facts, and to follow-up numerous times with each artist to insure the book’s integrity. I was clear with the MuzikMafia from the beginning in that I was not their public relations representative and that the book was not intended to be a promotional tool. I emphasized that I was a serious scholar wanting to produce an accurate account of the MuzikMafia’s birth, growth, and development during a specific time in popular music history.
Backstage All Access Passes (Photo: David Pruett)
It was my honor and privilege to work with the MuzikMafia 2004-2009. These were the taste-makers of the industry if even for a brief time, and I had the fortunate opportunity to see life from their point of view. The MuzikMafia included the best of the best that Nashville has to offer, and I’ll always remember those many conversations on the tour bus before and after shows, the back stage antics, the parties at the Fontanel Mansion, the roar of the crowds, and the many MuzikMafia artists who made my research such an intimate, deeply fulfilling experience.
The greatest disappointment for me was to witness first-hand the gradual downfall of the MuzikMafia 2006-2008. Performances during this time gradually became awkward, and die-hard fans, many of whom I had befriended, had become scarce. I slowly watched as the MuzikMafia seemed to implode amidst the tension brought on by its various commercial endeavors. I decided early on not to interfere with the MuzikMafia’s trajectory but rather to document the collective as a significant cultural phenomenon. Sometimes I regret that decision.
How do you summarize the book in a nutshell? What’s it all about from your point of view?
DP: The book is a story of Nashville’s commercial music industry, using the MuzikMafia as a case-study. I provide rare, behind-the-scene insight into not only how, but why the MuzikMafia became a national popular music phenomenon and how MuzikMafia artists changed—almost single-handedly—the sound and image of commercial country music in 2004-2005.
For me, the book is about Nashville as one of America’s great music centers and how the MuzikMafia is but a reflection of the city’s diverse music scene.
Great. What is (or are) the key take-away(s) for your readers?
DP: What readers should realize is that the music industry is not a Utopia of quick record deals, national tours, and quickly fulfilled dreams. It’s a very real place full of real people with real problems. There is a reason why some artists make it to the top, while others do not. Seldom is luck involved. Usually it is because opportunity meets years of preparation and hard work. Unfortunately, fun, fame, and fortune are frequently accompanied by greed, jealousy, and pain. The book examines the music industry from a well-rounded, more realistic perspective rather than from an overly positive or negative point of view.
More importantly, the book serves as a veritable how-to manual for any musician wanting to make it big in the music business. MuzikMafia artists were masters at working the system. The book reveals how they did it.
Can you tell us about current projects underway? Any follow-ups to MuzikMafia planned for the future?
DP: I am working on another book project at the moment. Everyone will have to stayed tuned for details, though. Revealing too much at this early stage always brings bad luck! However, I can say that has something to do with Nashville’s music scene.
The optimist in me hopes that the MuzikMafia will one day reunite, making a follow-up book necessary. However, there are still some hurdles that MuzikMafia artists need to overcome for that to happen. A free, Tuesday night show in Nashville for a few local friends and fans would be a good start. That’s what MuzikMafia was like in the beginning. That is what it was supposed to be all along.
David, thanks so much for you time and willingness to talk to us. Much appreciated and we wish you the best of luck going forward. David B. Pruett is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. A native of North Carolina, he has been widely published in scholarly and popular books and journals.
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