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Country Music Explosion:Thanks for doing this interview.Let's first start off by giving us a little background of your life,cthen we can proceed to the rest of the interview.


Derrick Mears:I am a singer/songwriter and part of the Americana/Folk Band Route 358 which is based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I grew up on a farm in Southwest, Missouri and I remember music was always being a part of my life. My mom and grandmother have pictures of me standing on the ottoman at age five singing into an extension cord and playing my toy guitar and I learned to play guitar on my Dad’s 1954 Gibson acoustic he restrung left handed for me when I was about 12. I began performing as part of church choir and progressed to high school choir and stage choirs before attending college at University of Central Missouri. After finishing college, I began to pursue music as solo and duo performer playing small clubs and venues in the Kansas City, Missouri area and started writing, recording and performing songs. Then in 2002 I took a total break from music and returned to college to pursue my doctorate degree and my current “day job” as a professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. In 2010 after a long break from songwriting I began to write and perform new material at open mics and coffee shops until in 2015 on a crazy whim my wife, daughter and son-in-law decided we would form a band and Route 358 was born. Currently we perform throughout Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri and are looking to continue to grow and expand our following. There is nothing more fun than making music with your family and we have a blast doing what we do.
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Country Music Explosion:When did you start writing about music—and what or who were your early passions and influences?

Derrick Mears:I started out as a huge Jim Croce and Dan Fogelberg fan growing up. But my Dad introduced me to the classic country of Hank Williams, Earnest Tubb, and the one that had me hooked on playing music Johnny Cash. I have always been what I would call a “genre hopper” and listen to a little of everything. Currently I have music on my play list ranging from the new country of Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw to the Dixie Chicks, Jason Asbell, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men and the list goes on and on. I always feel as a writer that pulling from all different genres strengthens not only the quality but uniqueness of your sound. If you listen to just one genre everything you write sounds just like everything else out there. I have always tried to write what a feel and not be confined to one style or genre. This is why in a single Route 358 show you will hear banjo, guitars, ukuleles, mandolins and about anything e
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Country Music Explosion:What are your main impulses to write about music?

Derrick Mears:Impulse is a great way to describe it. I have an impulse or idea and it merges with a melody and I go from there. I tend to write about relationships (good or bad) but lately I have been exploring interesting stories and events. For example one of the cuts on our new EP is entitled “Lantern’s Light” a banjo driven Country, Bluegrass, Folk, Americana crossover song based on the stories behind the Hornet Spooklight a paranormal phenomenon outside of Joplin, Missouri.
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Country Music Explosion:What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments and pieces in your journalistic work and/or career?

Derrick Mears:For me the formation of Route 358 was a major turning point in my writing. The expansion of being a solo/duo performer to a two vocalist band has expanded my writing immensely. Having my daughter Jade as a second vocalist has led me to explore writing songs with a female vocalist in mind. Some of the turning points also have come with success with song placement through my A & R agency, gaining some airplay through indie radio stations.
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Country Music Explosion:How would you describe and rate the music scene of the city/state you are currently living in and how important is it in terms of what you're actually writing about?

Derrick Mears:Fayetteville, Arkansas has a booming music scene. George’s Majestic lounge was just recently named one of the top 100 music venues in the country and the expanding microbrewery craze has produced numerous venues for live music. Each year in the area there is a huge Roots Music Festival, Blues Music Festival and Folk Music Festival all in the area allowing a growing scene which supports original music. I am not sure the scene locally really impacts what I write about as I always look large scope when I write songs. I try not to make the commercial songwriting marketing mistake of getting too highly specific on the location. Most of my writing is fictional with a non-fiction inspiration. But the supportive local scene has allowed me to introduce and build a fan base for our band with a focus on incorporating a large percentage of original music into our live performances which is rare in many places.
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Country Music Explosion:When it comes to music journalism, what are your criteria for quality? What are currently your main challenges and ambitions as a writer?

Derrick Mears:For me my criterion is based on studying the craft and applying my training as a professor and researcher in teaching to the art of songwriting. When you study teaching you look at how to help students remember the content you are teaching. In music journalism I feel the same principles apply. Keeping songs of an appropriate length that your listener doesn’t lose interest, using contrast, figurative language, rhyming schemes and structure appropriately but always keeping in mind not to over use them as well. For me the key criterion for quality has always been to bounce a song off of a live audience and pitch it to music publishers, placement agencies and really listen and apply their feedback. A live audience can tell you pretty quickly if you have a good song and pitching your music to those involved in the industry lets you know if you are writing something that is potentially marketable. The biggest challenges for me as a writer is continuously looking for new topics and not writing just another song about a dog, truck, girl, beer etc.
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Country Music Explosion:What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?

Derrick Mears:I have always had a very difficult time with “I am going to sit down and write a song” as a strategy. About everything I have ever tried to write that way turned out terrible. Usually I hear a phrase or read a story that inspires an idea which is combined with what I call “noodling” on either the guitar, banjo, mandolin or ukulele which are the instruments I write songs on and something comes together (or doesn’t). Some songs are written in 10 to 15 minutes and some take months and float around in my head.
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Country Music Explosion:Tell us a bit about the selection process for deciding on what to write about, please. What sources will you draw from for research purposes and how much time goes into research, information gathering and fact-checking in general?

Derrick Mears:I usually find a story, phrase or situation that inspires the story. If I am writing something based on non-fiction, I look at resources that provide a history for what I am writing. Earlier I mentioned the song “Lantern’s Light” from our latest EP. For that particular song. I went to the historical society web-pages from the Hornet Spooklight and other similar unexplained paranormal phenomena and read the legends which have been passed through generations on what the light represents. I tried to merge some of those into the fiction of the story of the song. I tend not to write many songs that are non-fiction by nature so extensive fact checking is usually not required. One thing I usually do look at is modern society. For example, having someone “sit by their phone” doesn’t really happen anymore. Most people have cell phones so they don’t “sit by their phone” but “stare at their phone”. I am constantly looking to be sure what I write reflects what is happening in current culture. However, I have hear the phrase “blowing up my phone” way too many times recently Ha!
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Country Music Explosion:How do you see the role of music journalism in the creative process? Should it amplify public taste, distinguish the good from the bad, inform, promote artists, or, as Howard Mandel put it, “illuminate, educate and entertain” readers? Do you feel that, as part of your work, music needs to be explained or should it retain its “inexplicable nature”?

Derrick Mears:Music journalism can be a way to inform the public but I feel the reality is that just as the pitch of a song to a publisher is really just one person’s opinion on the song, an article on a band is one person’s opinion on the band. I have read articles on albums that talked about how the album wasn’t that good and then would hear songs on that album that I thought were some of the best out there. Also I have heard critically acclaimed albums that when you listen to the structure and melody seem to have merely been lifted from a previous popular song and the words changed (the aka “Ghost Song” writing method). Music journalism can be a powerful tool for introducing music and writers we may have never heard of because they don’t hit the mainstream media For my writing and Route 358’s work sometimes background is necessary to help promote the song. Sometimes I think it is better for the listener to interpret. For us the biggest struggle we have is we are a “family” and we are a “band” but trying to navigate the balance so we are not perceived as a “family band” or “mom and pop” operation (when in reality we really are a “mom and pop” operation). I think that music journalism allows the avenue to provide insight into the songs and musicians performing them. The back story. Not sure that the critique portion of journalism helps or hinders the artist as musical tastes of the listeners vary so much and one person’s opinion sent to hundreds of thousands of readers might be helpful or hurt the artist. The jury is still out on that one in my opinion.
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Country Music Explosion:In which way does writing and reading about music change the way it is perceived by the public?

Derrick Mears:Many times I feel writing about music helps to bring to the public eye the behind the scenes story of many of the performers and writers as well as helping the public learn about bands and artist they may have not yet discovered.
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Country Music Explosion:Whom do you feel your obligation is to—the artists, the readers, the publication you're writing for? In how much do you feel is music journalism restricted by external factors?

Derrick Mears:I feel as an artist it is important to understand that the publication is providing you a service by promoting you to their readers. So in many ways being humble and grateful for the opportunities that a publication gives for your music to be presented to a new audience is a huge obligation for the artist. However, since in reality many times journalism is driven by ad based revenue at times those factors may have an impact on what and who is promoted by the publication.
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Country Music Explosion:Journalism and writing have changed considerably over the past century. What, do you feel, could – or should - be new forms and formats for music journalism?

Derrick Mears:With the launch of YouTube, streaming Instagram, Live Facebook and other easy to use formats journalism can now have a face and voice through the use of video. These new formats are greatly expanding the capabilities of putting names and faces with the words and transforming the medium
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Country Music Explosion:Music-sharing sites and blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today?

Derrick Mears:This is a difficult question. As an artist I am always grateful for airplay, streams, and distribution opportunities for getting my music heard by listeners. However, for example there is a large what I feel is exploitation of the artist by many of the streaming sites. As I write this I just received a report on the streaming revenue from last month. In looking at the summary one song streamed 30 times on various venues produces an artist revenue of $.09. This really hurts the independent artist.
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Country Music Explosion:When and why did you start playing?

Derrick Mears:My Dad had a 1954 Gibson J-41 he bought when he graduated from high school and used to play when I was a little kid. I started playing when I was about 10 on Dad’s Gibson that he strung left handed for me so I could learn to play. Shortly after I got a job helping the neighbor who owned an egg laying chicken house pick up eggs and saved money to buy my first guitar. Been hooked ever since.
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Country Music Explosion:Which instruments do you play? Do you play any instruments,if so which ones?

Derrick Mears:Currently I play Guitar, Banjo, Ukulele and Mandolin. We mix most of them as a band in our sets and do a lot of genre hopping as well.
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Country Music Explosion:What was the first tune(s) you learned?

Derrick Mears:Playing with my Dad I remember learning “Your Cheating Heart” by Hank Williams and “I’m Walking The Floor Over You” by Earnest Tubb and the list goes on and on.
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Country Music Explosion:Is your family musical? Describe your family member's musical interests and abilities.

My family is my band. Route 358 consists of my wife Jodi on Bass, our Daughter Jade on Vocals, Guitar and Ukulele and our Son-In-Law Grant on Drums. We have too much family fun time.
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Country Music Explosion:Which famous musicians do you admire? Why? Which famous musicians have you learned from? Who are your favorite musicians? Groups? CD's?

Derrick Mears:I was a huge fan of the classic singer/writers growing up (Dan Fogelberg, Jim Croce, John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot) and also a huge Johnny Cash fan. The list of current artists includes everything from Ryan Adams, Mumford and Sons, Zac Brown, Jason Asbell, Coldplay etc. etc. I listen to multiple genres and have always had difficulty with the idea of “genre”. Good music is good music and I admire the lyricist who combines meaningful storylines with great melodies.
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Country Music Explosion:What are your fondest musical memories? In your house? In your neighborhood or town?

Derrick Mears:For me my fondest memories are playing classic country with my Dad. At the time as a pre-teen I hated having to sit and learn to play these old Hank Williams songs and such. Now after my Dad passed a little over a year ago. Those memories are some I cherish. Right now my best memories happen every weekend (and a couple of evenings a week when we practice) playing music with my family. It doesn’t get any better.
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Country Music Explosion:Were you influenced by old records & tapes? Which ones?

Derrick Mears:My wife’s Dad collected classic country cassette tapes that he kept in a hard shell case and traveled with him everywhere. There is so much great music on those tapes and I remember the rides in the car listening to them. Thank you Time Life Music! Also I wore out Dan Fogelberg’s cassettes, in the 80’s the Joshua Tree, Gin Blossoms, The Bodeans and the list goes on and on. I feel all of those memories help shape how and what I write and perform.
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Country Music Explosion:Have you been in competitions? Any prizes?

Derrick Mears:I was a finalist in the Texaco Country Showdown, shot a video audition for Be A Star TV show in the 1990’s. More recently I was a winner of the Paramount Songwriting Contest, and a two time semi-finalist in the Song of the Year competition.
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Country Music Explosion:Do you perform in public? Describe those occasions? Concerts, radio, TV.online? Are you currently doing gigs? if so where? Are you in a band or a solo artist, if you’re in a band, what is the name of it.

Derrick Mears:My band Route 358 plays regularly all over Northwest Arkansas where we live. We are looking to expand out radius and tour to a larger region. Our favorite venues are local microbreweries and wineries as well as some of the larger music venues in our area. Recently our music has been picked up by IMP Productions and broadcast on all of their affiliates as well as TBJS Radio out of Oklahoma.
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Country Music Explosion:How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

Derrick Mears:They happen, we laugh about and realize it is part of the process as we continue to develop our “stage legs”. Probably the biggest way to help prevent them is to continue to practice regularly even if it is a song you have played a 1000 times. Always refine your craft and performance. The more we stay with that mind set the fewer of those we are making.
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Country Music Explosion:Do you get nervous before a performance or a competition?

Derrick Mears:Not as much anymore as I was a solo artist for many years before we formed the band. However, sometimes the rest of my family (aka Band) get nervous, but the more we play and the bigger the stage the less nervous we are.
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Country Music Explosion:What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

Derrick Mears:Keep sticking yourself in front of an audience as much as you can. Play every open mic regularly and whatever gig you can get. Experience calms the nerves.
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Country Music Explosion:Do you attend sessions? What makes a good session?

Derrick Mears:I used to attend sessions but have found it more difficult to balance time that is involved in doing so with working on our craft as a band. Good sessions I think are made up of players and writers who are at or above your level. It is very difficult to be in a session with a new writer or a writer who isn’t thinking about the scope about their music. In other words they don’t ask the question when writing “Could I hear this on the radio?”
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Country Music Explosion:How often and for how long do you practice?

Derrick Mears:We practice as a band two nights a week for a couple of hours. In between I am always working on writing. It is hard to tell when “practice” ends many times as if I am not playing I am writing something in my head. ====================================================
Country Music Explosion:What do you practice - exercises, new tunes, hard tunes, etc.?

Derrick Mears:Our practice sessions focus on reviewing tunes we have been playing to warm up. Followed by working on tunes we are playing but feel we need to tighten up. Then adding new music.
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Country Music Explosion:How do you balance your music with other obligations - friends,family, job?

Derrick Mears:Family balance isn’t an issue since the band and my family are the same (Ha!). It does become harder to balance around work but our occupations as teachers allows us to have great flexibility in the evenings and weekends and of course summers we play every chance we get since we have a lot of flexibility.
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Country Music Explosion:Are you currently looking to be signed to a label? Do you sell your music?

Derrick Mears:Yes, we are looking to potentially be signed and develop and expand our following. We finished our first EP in 2015 and completed two music videos. Also I currently market music to publishers as writer as well. We are also going to work on our first full length album and are hoping to add a couple of new music videos soon. Our album is available through our website route358.info and through iTunes, Google Play, and other on-line distributors. We also sell physical copies at our shows.
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Country Music Explosion:Do you have social media accounts where fans can reach out to you?

Derrick Mears:Yes! We are on Facebook (Route 358), Instagram (route358) and Twitter (@Route358info) as well as our website Route358.info
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This Concludes the interview,We hope you enjoyed it.