"If at first you don't succeed, try and try again" - that statement certainly rings true for one Belfast musician who has proved if you want something bad enough you won't stop until you get it.
Three years ago, Andrea Magee packed her life into a suitcase and left her job as a teacher to pursue her dreams of becoming a full-time singer-songwriter.
Having spent three years playing endless gigs up and down the USA with fellow musician Ben Jones, 34, Andrea's dreams finally came true when their band Beat Root Revival were signed.
The 32-year-old from Glengormley is currently on a flying visit back home where the duo are preparing to perform as part of Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds tour in Galway and Dublin early next week.
Andrea took some time out to chat to Belfast Live about life in the USA and following her dream.
She said: "I had been a High School music teacher and Ben and I had both written songs so we decided to just up and go and give it our all.
"We flew to Seattle first and we had a route planned from Seattle to Boston, so we thought we'd do 19 cities and play our songs wherever we can and just try and make something happen.
"We knew hard work pays off so we literally played every single night of the week, and from that everything just went from there."
Halfway through their journey Andrea and Ben, who hails from Kent, found themselves in Austin, Texas where things started to really happen for them.
She added: "We absolutely fell in love with Austin and through that we spent lots of time in Nashville and New Orleans, and from there got ourselves a little independent record deal which allowed us to stay on for the next couple of years with a visa.
"Last year I went out to visit my best friend from Belfast in San Diego, I decided to just take a few days off, so didn't bring my instruments or anything and have a little break from the music.
"So I went down and they were making dinner one night and they had a wee guitar in the corner and said to me, 'go on Andrea sing for your supper there', so I sang a couple of songs and my friend's father-in-law asked if I would go with him the next morning there was someone he wanted me to meet."
Andrea continued: "So I went in and from that we developed a relationship and they decided from what they'd heard and seen of us they would take a risk and put us on tour with Brian Setzer from the Stray Cats, so we ended up doing his tour which was from coast to coast, the best shows ever.
"And after that they decided to take us on board and sign us up along with CO5 management who are Brian Wilson's managers they just saw the potential in us and decided to take us on board.
"So after three years of working hard it's all paid off and we wanted to make sure we did it the right way, coming from a live music perspective, and we feel now it's all started to pay off now and it's wonderful."
Beat Root Revival will play two gigs in Ireland early next week as part of Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds tour in Galway and Dublin on July 23 and 25, something Andrea is really excited about.
She said: "When they first called us to tell us about the gigs here, I thought I was going to burst. We've been touring America and I love it but this is still home for me and I'll always come home two or three times a year.
"My family have seen us play in drips and drabs but they haven't really seen what we've become since we left so it's really important to me and all of my roots come from Irish music as well."
Andrea added: "Our sound is very acoustic and pop but we use the bodhrans and we use the whistles as well, so we come from a traditional background and kind of made it current, so I'm very proud to be from Belfast, so I've kind of taken that with me everywhere I've gone in America.
"As well as Glengormley I spent a lot of my years growing up in Donegal too, we would have spent our summers down there so that's where I've taken a lot of inspiration from as well for my music."
Combining elements of retro-pop, rock and blues with a bit of Celtic influence, Beat Root Revival is a high-energy, charismatic duo whose performances have been bringing audiences to their feet. Made up of multi-instrumentalists Andrea Magee and Ben Jones, the pair has been touring relentlessly in support of the heartfelt, hook-laden songs from their self-titled album (released in May) as well as their own uniquely infectious covers of songs by such artists as Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles.
Beat Root Revival is currently supporting Brian Setzer’s Annual Christmas Rocks Tour and I recently sat down with Andrea Magee and Ben Jones to talk about the tour, their music and what they love most about performing in this exclusive interview.
AXS: What’s it been like touring with Brian Setzer?
Andrea Magee: It’s been incredible. Brian is such a wonderful person and we’ve been so blown away by the reception his audience has given us. It can be daunting, because you don’t know how people are going to respond to an opening act, but they’ve really made our hearts sing.
Ben Jones: It’s great getting to tour with someone you really admire and respect and a lovely opportunity to play for people who have been so receptive and so gracious. To get to perform in a of bunch of places in the U.S. and to play in all of these lovely old theaters has also been a real gift.
AXS: How did Beat Root Revival come together?
AM: It began shortly after I had moved to England to become a music teacher. I did that for two years and at the same time was doing the circuit. Ben was really well known in the local area, so I went out to see a show. At the time, I remember just thinking, “Wow! This guy can really play and he’s got no inhibition!” From there, we started trading off songs and getting to know each other.
BJ: I really wanted to produce an EP for Andrea because I knew her songs were good and I knew I could help bring out what she was all about.
AM: I had never met anyone who was so driven and passionate as I was. We instantly bonded because for us, music is everything. We both knew there was nothing else.
AXS: What’s your songwriting process like?
AM: It’s different every time. Sometimes I can wake up in the middle of a night with a tune in my head. Other times, it might be something that someone says and I’ll instantly put it into my notes and develop it later.
BJ: It’s never the same twice. Sometimes something will come to me and be done in minutes and other times I may labor on it for months. Both of us write songs separately but really make a concerted effort to write for what’s going to bring out the best in each other.
AXS: Let’s discuss a few tracks from your self-titled album released in May. What can you tell me about the track, “The Revolution Starts Tonight”?
BJ: I remember watching the movie “V For Vendetta”. It’s a politically charged movie and I was inspired by it. There’s so much divide between the people right now and I wanted to write something that summed up the way I felt about the world we’re standing in right now. Whether it’s good or not is subjective, but if you’re feeling angry about something then you need to stand up and say something. We’re all that each others got and this divide isn’t helping. We need to unite, even if we have differences.
AXS: How about the song, “Forever”?
AM: “Forever” is a song that actually came out of comical thing. I was in Belfast and my dad was trying to make me a sandwich, but he couldn’t find the cheese. I could tell that he was flustered and I asked him what’s wrong. He said, “I had the cheese a few minutes ago and now I don’t know where it is.” The cheese turned up later that night in the cutlery drawer instead of in the fridge, but the incident started a debate/argument between my parents that escalated into something way bigger than it should have. It hit me right in the chest. It was one of those songs that was literally finished in ten minutes. And it all started over a block of cheese [laughs].
AXS: “Before It Gets Too Late”.
BJ: We had recorded a bunch of songs that were coming together from a song perspective, but we needed a song that really represented what we did live. I wanted an Everly Brothers thing and something that we could play with just the acoustic guitar and drum. By that point, we had been on the road for two years and we both realized that if we were to screw it up, we would be throwing everything away. The song is the story of our journey.
AXS: Andrea, you were once a part of X-Factor U.K. As an artist, what did you take away from that experience?
AM: I learned that it was ok to make mistakes and that you shouldn’t be afraid to take chances. It was a great opportunity to get exposure but I really pushed doing original material. I learned so much about the industry and also about how much drive I naturally have to keep going and to not let things define me.
AXS: What’s your favorite part of performing?
BJ: I love the performance but what gives me the most pleasure are the people who come up and speak to us afterwards. I’m just this guy from Kent and Andrea’s from Belfast, and for people to come speak with us after the show is amazing. If that’s what success is, then give it to me in droves.
AM: There’s no better feeling than when a song works, but when people come up and tell us that a song has moved them that’s when you realize you’re in the right place at the right time.
On a rainy May afternoon in Ohio, I pulled my van into the parking lot behind the venue. My phone rang and it was Andrea from Beat Root Revival. She let me know I could call her when I got to the front of the cue (line outside). We had scheduled an interview with her two piece band from Kent, England.
I found a large line outside the venue and navigated to the front to call the band. I was let in and led backstage to interview Ben Jones and Andrea Magee from Beat Root Revival. Tonightthey were opening for Jonathan Jackson + E Nation at the A & R bar in Columbus. The interview went well and the two band members were very cordial. They are signed to Sony and they are focused on an “organic” approach to the music business.
Ben Jones believes that the “day of the icon” is gone. “There will never be another Bob Dylan or Beatles or Stones” because there just isn’t enough money to put behind something like that.” Instead, he feels that “a song has made it when it no longer is yours. But instead, someone else has picked up that song and covered it to make it theirs.”
Andrea is from Ireland originally, and she piped in just as much as Ben, who is from Kent, England. She was teaching School when her students finally told her she should pursue music. “When I met Ben I got a fire in my belly and knew we could make it together,” she said. When I asked her what her song Instincts Talk was about she said, “It means your inner voice tells you things, and you can choose to listen to them or not.” After the interview I walked out and got my tickets and met my friend who had toughed it out in the rain.
Beat Root Revival started up with a fury. Ben Jones plays acoustic guitar while Andrea Magee plays an Irish drum, and both of them sing. The crowd cheered them on as they played Instincts Talk and a few covers. Their Fleetwood Mac cover of Dreams was amazing, with vocals on point and the song fitting for a rainy evening. “When the rain washes you clean you’ll know…” But the ending was what hit my heart, “Thunder only happens when it rains…” The crowd went ballistic. I also really enjoyed the originals from Beat Root Revival.
Although I don’t have a set list, each song had meaning and passion behind it. I highly encourage you to check this band out. They are on the rise and they work very hard at what they do.
Jonathan Jackson + E Nation was up next, and what a mind blowing show that was. He came out with a Gibson Hollowbody guitar and asked the crowd if they were ready to take off. He started the show with the first song off his new EP, Ascending. People had traveled from all over to see him play, and he plays the rock star very well. Another highlight of his show was Unchained Melody, although I hadn’t expected to hear this masterpiece. His voice is amazing, and he hits the high notes on that song with absolute precision.
Jonathan is an all around star, not only an actor but also a very talented guitarist and singer. Before the show he even did a Q and A with the VIP audience to make it even more intimate and exciting. I can see his band playing larger venues in the near future, and I hope he does well in his music career.
All and all the show was great. I met the merch guy too, and he was also from Nashville. He happened to play in a Southern Rock band that opened for Charlie Daniels, one of my favorite artists. Jason and I left to get a cup of coffee after the show, and this will always be a show I hold close to my heart. This was my first chance to interview a band, and I really enjoyed it. To be behind the scenes in the music industry has it’s perks, and I even got a free bottle of water from the backstage (lol) and a selfie with Beat Root Revival.
An Interview With The Folk Duo, BEAT ROOT REVIVAL on their Newest Album, Biggest Inspirations and More!
Ben Jones and Andrea Magee, the folk duo known as Beat Root Revival released their self-titled album this May through New Orleans based label Toulouse Records (distributed by Sony/RED). They are the label’s first signing and the album, which was recorded at Mesa Recording Studios in Austin, TX and produced by Jones (except “Fire” which was co-produced by Magee), will be its debut release.
Both multi-instrumentalists, Jones, who is from England, plays almost all of the instruments on the album including guitar, bass, piano, drums, bass harmonica, melodica, Hammond organ, ukulele, banjo and mandolin while Magee, who’s style is deeply rooted in her Irish heritage, plays guitar, bodhran, Irish whistles and flute.
Magee’s exposure to music came at an early age. “When I was ten, I started playing the flute, and began playing in bars in Ireland with my sister and my dad. A lot of my early years in music were in either classical or traditional Irish music.” She studied and received an honors degree in music, then became a music teacher in charge of the music department in a high school. For Jones, “I got started being interested in music relatively late,” he says. “I was about twelve.” His father was a guiding influence playing him music from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Neil Young. By his teenage years, he was able to put all of those influences together and start his own band.
Magee’s fate changed in 2013 when she wowed Sharon Osborne, Nicole Scherzinger and the other judges on X Factor UK with her original song, “Any Minute Now” during her audition making it through to the next round. After her experience with X Factor and all of the attention she garnered from it, Magee moved to Kent, England where she began teaching again while moonlighting on the local music scene. After opening up for Jones’ band, they found their chemistry undeniable. “We wound up sharing each other’s’ songs, and we were both fascinated by the fact that we were both pushing our own material. And we used this to drive each other forward,” says Magee.
After word of mouth spread about their live performances the duo decided to take a chance and see what musical adventures they could find in America. In 2014, they traveled to Austin, TX to their first SXSW where they experienced massive culture shock. “We were just a little bit shell-shocked when we walked up and down Sixth Street,” says Magee. “We were so much in awe, and thought it was incredible. We were trying to get gigs, and we thought it was going to be impossible.”
But thanks to the hospitality of a local taxi driver who was willing to show them some of the musical hotspots, they made some valuable connections, one of which led to a big performance. “We ended up talking to the owner of one of the clubs who asked us if we would be interested in opening for Dale Watson,” says Magee. “So, that was our introduction to Austin. He and his band were so taken with our sound that they asked us to come to the Continental to open for him – on our very first trip!”
The duo decided to stay in Austin where they continue to play in and around the local music scene. They’ve played at at such notable venues as the historic Ryman Auditorium, The Bluebird Café, The Continental Club and The Basement in addition to making frequent trips to Nashville and other cities. With each show they play, their fan base continues to grow charming audiences their impassioned concerts.
treating you so far?
Andrea- It’s been great, a real adventure. We are so excited to get our album out and to see what happens!
How’s your summer been going?
Andrea- All good, being from the UK and Ireland it usually feels like summer all round for us with USA weather so we are happy to share in the sunshine!
What were some of the highlights of 2015 for you and your music?
Andrea- Creating and completing our album at Mesa Recording Studios in Austin and meeting more wonderful people!
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
Andrea – I always wanted to be a performer. I started by playing/learning the classical flute in primary school and playing Bodhran and singing in my family folk band. My earliest musical memory is probably going crazy learning scales on my flute for an exam! (Laughter)
Ben – Yes. I always wanted to be a musician. My earliest musical memory (I think I was 4) was seeing Jackie Wilson performing “Reet Petite.”
How was Beat Boot Revival first formed?
Andrea- We went on the road 2 years ago to create opportunities for our music in the USA as two separate acts and it very quickly grew together. We then started playing together on each other’s shows and on each other’s songs and realized how much we enjoying singing together. And it all moved forward from there.
How did you first come up with the name?
Andrea – Beat Root revival was born in Roswell, NM…. We had been playing together and everyone kept asking what we where called. So we played around with a few ideas and really wanted something that sounded like our sound. We like to explain it like this – ‘We have got the BEAT and are ROOTed in old music, and the Revival is our journey.’
Why do you think that you work so well together?
Andrea – We both share a passion for creating music. Our focus and vision is the same. Our backgrounds may differ, Ben is more rock and roll/blues and I am a bit more folky but we both love what each other brings to the sound, so it fits.
What was it like being the first band to sign with the New Orleans-based label, Toulouse Records?
Andrea – Exciting! Being a first at anything is always a little scary and exciting. We love New Orleans and the rich heritage and music that lives there.
Why do you think they are right for your music right now?
Ben – They believe in us!
Andrea, can you talk about your experience on X-Factor UK? What was it like performing “Any Minute Now” on it? If given the chance, would you do it all over again?
Andrea – The X Factor was a great learning experience for me. It was a rollercoaster ride that I am glad I took but would not get on again. I got invited into the show and I saw it as an opportunity to get some exposure for my music. I didn’t expect to get as far along in the show as I did because I knew my focus was always on writing my own music.
Your SXSW experience in 2014 sounds like it might have been the catalyst to a big part of your music career. Can you elaborate on that particular trip?
Andrea- We are so grateful at the reception and kindness Austin, Texas gave us in our first visit. Yes, it was during SXSW (not intentional) but we got so lucky that we got to get a feel for the real Austin not just the SXSW part. It all came from a local taxi driver picking us up off 6th street and showing us the real gems of Austin. Our first stop being Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon and this lead to us connecting with our now USA family and some of our greatest friends. And that has been invaluable to our journey so far!
How’s your current tour been going with Enation?
Andrea- Being on the road with Enation has been Incredible! Not only are they greatly talented but they are amazing guys too! We are so grateful for the chance to share in their audience and fan base.
Any favorite venues or crowds yet?
Andrea- To be honest they have all been so warm and given us a great reception. I think to date Indianapolis has been the rowdiest 🙂 which always helps raise our energy too!
Where do you get the inspiration for your music?
Andrea – Mostly life and all my experiences so far. I love the sound of real instruments and driving rhythms so as long as we stay true to that I am happy!
Ben – The world around me
How do you go about writing a song together from beginning to end?
Andrea – we tend to write separately, Every song is different. Some come quickly and can be finished in about 30mins from picking up the guitar. Others take a bit for time and thought. I come up with a lot of initial ideas on planes and then develop them from there (using voice memo in my phone).
Ben – I feel inspired, I pick up the guitar and if it feels good it writes itself.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Andrea – Van Morrison, Paul Brady, Bill Withers, Tina Turner, Mary Black, Ray Lamontagne, Chris Stapleton, Vince Gill
Ben – The Beatles, The Beach boys, Bob Dylan, Neil Young , The Who, Tom Waits
Who would you love to work with one day?
Andrea – Any of above
Ben – I would like to work with Tom Waits.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message for your music? What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
Andrea – Honesty and truth. If any of our songs connect to a listener on an emotional level I feel the song has served its purpose.
Ben- I just hope they like it.
When UK artists Ben Jones and Andrea Magee sought out new musical adventures in the states, a passionate music connection lead to the formation of their bluesy folk duo, Beat Root Revival. “We came to America as two solo acts,” Andrea reveals, “but six weeks in we realized how well we play together so it seemed like the right thing to put it together, and the response has been positive ever since.” Together, Beat Root Revival provide an eclectic mix of sounds and styles stemming from a fusion of folk, roots, howling blues and classic pop.
The reaction from the audience helped reveal the on stage chemistry the duo had, leading to the inevitable formation of the group, “I think it was the fact that on the road the response that we were getting when we sang together, our harmony, the dynamic that we have and this energy that we have together and was connecting the audience more so than when we were just playing on our own at that point. So we just thought, ‘This is going to be a fun project so let’s put it together and see what happens.’" After the pair decided to join forces, Ben revealed that a growing fan base lead to the decision of their unique name from a lucky dip, “It was literally during our first trip here to the states. We got about halfway through because we had started doing a bunch of these shows together. People kept asking us at the end of the show, ‘What are you called?’ So we literally got together, we went to a diner in New Mexico and we put a bunch of names in a hat basically and just picked one from there.” As it happened, Ben’s blues, rock and roll roots and Andrea’s classical, folk Irish background, were blended to create their own genre defying style that was summed up perfectly in Beat Root Revival, “We find that the name kind of describes it so this actually came from a waitress we had and when we told her our name she said, ‘Oh, yeah, I get it! Your music – it’s got the beat and you’re rooted in your music and you’re kind of reviving it.’ We stole that little quote from her to kind of help people understand the sound that we’ve got. A lot of the time we also say folk-pop as well.” Coming from different backgrounds, the pairs writing process is fairly individualistic with Andrea speaking about her personal inspirations, “I think for both of us it’s different so we write separately and then we bring our ideas together. For me it usually comes from a core emotion and I try to develop that and always keep it honest – just the creativity and freedom to write about whatever you want really.” After listening to their distinctly passionate and earthy music, it’s no surprise that the duo reached number thirteen on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart with the release of their self titled album earlier this year. Despite their 2014 formation, they have already achieved so much in a short space of time and are continuing their successive journey with new goals, tours and collaborating projects, "We made two albums in just over two years so really it’s just to be able to spread out and as far as we possibly can. One of the main aspects of coming over to the United States in the first place is it has so many cultural benefits. In every state that you go to is like visiting 20 countries at the same time so to be able to soak in a lot of the input has inspired us from afar to actually experience them first hand. To be honest, it’s just to live out our music as much as possible and reach as many people as possible. We just finished a show with Jonathan Jackson + Enation, Jonathan is one of the stars from the ABC show Nashville, which went incredibly well. Hopefully a little more touring before the end of the year and before we go back into the studio in the early part of next year to record more songs."
When you think of the elements of solid folk music, it’s doubtful your mind conjures images of lush, green Ireland or rural England. Beat Root Revival is forever rewriting your expectations.
Comprised of multi-instrumentalists Ben Jones from Kent, England and Belfast native Andrea Magee, the duo has been taking American audiences by storm with their utterly original sonic amalgam of folk, rock, country, and traditional Irish sounds.
After landing in America two years ago, Beat Root Revival has stolen the hearts of captive audiences, most recently as support for the current Jonathan Jackson + Enation American tour.
“It’s been really great,” said Jones, “because there are no expectations.”
“No one knows who we are,” chimed in Magee. “All we can do is impress people. They’re mostly here to see Jonathan, so there are no expectations for the openers. Either they are pleasantly surprised, which is great, or they’re not, which is fine because we’re just sort of unknown openers. Luckily, the response has been mostly great.”
Based on the reaction at the Charlotte, NC stop of the tour, great may be an understatement. Jones and Magee’s soulful voices and folksy blues vibe took the crowd by surprise. Anxiously awaiting Jonathan Jackson, everyone’s attention turned to the stage as soon as Beat Root Revival started their set with the song ‘Instincts’ off their 2014 EP Waiting On a Miracle.
The unreal chemistry between Jones and Magee is undeniable. The two of them look to be enjoying themselves more than anyone in the room, stealing glances and grins at each other throughout their set. Their voices come together in a once-in-a-generation harmony unmatched by any other vocal duo since Stevie and Lindsay.
Along with original tracks from their EP and new self-titled album, Beat Root Revival incorporated a trio of cover songs, giving each a trademark spin with Magee’s traditional Irish bodhran and pennywhistle and Jones’ spell-binding guitar and vocals. Aside from the mystical rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ and up-tempo interpretation of KT Tunstalle’s breakthrough ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’, they executed a heart-stopping adaptation of the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ that elicited and pulled the souls right out of George and John.
Despite having only been in America for two years, the band has garnered respect and attention throughout the country due to their amazingly positive attitude.
“We always say yes to everything… Even on this tour, there have been a few times when we’ve had a few days between shows and Ben and I have gone to play a show completely out of the way, so we’ve been traveling and working while the guys get a bit of a break. But it’s been working for us… We wouldn’t be where we are without that sort of mindset,” said Magee.
Touring with Jonathan Jackson + Enation has been a huge boost to their career, giving them a solid crowd and fresh minds to impress. “We’re getting to see a lot of cities we’ve never seen before on this tour. I think we’re both very grateful to Jonathan and the guys for bringing us along,” said Magee. “It’s been such an amazing experience”.
When an unknown opener elicits every bit as much crowd reaction as the headliner, you know something great is going on. With their unique sound, hypnotizing live presence, and astonishing work ethic, Beat Root Revival is unquestionably a band to watch out for.