After setting themselves up for success in the music and writing industry, Katie Cook and Adam Shoenfeld set themselves up for success in their personal life. Finding the right partner with the same passion and love for music helped in their work as well. In this episode, they share how they individually started their journey in the music scene until they eventually met. They talk about the current relationships between writers and artists as notable changes begin to happen. Katie and Adam also touches on the different opportunities and possible scenarios that could unfold that can signal your first step towards becoming a successful musician. Learn all about grabbing every opportunity that presents itself as they had, even if you have to fake it to make it.
We’re coming to you from Nippers Corner, America. As always, I have my co-host, my co-producer, Jim McCarthy. How are you doing, Jim?
I’m doing well.
As always, this is the show where we talk to songwriters, musicians, producers, comedians, thought leaders. We have a nice open-ended conversation. Jim, I’m so excited because we have a marital powerhouse. We have Mrs. Katie Cook. You know her. She is from CMT for eighteen years as the face of CMT, but also a singer, a songwriter, an actress and an author. Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you, Rich and Jim.
Your husband, who I have known a very long time, Mr. Adam Shoenfeld, singer, songwriter, fronts a band Digital Brains, and also has played on 200 records here in Nashville. He’s always nominated for Guitar Player of The Year. We have been in many recording sessions together. We’re going to have so much to talk about because everybody is such Renaissance people because you’re total creatives and you guys are married. This makes me think about music education. I’m a product of music education. I started playing drums in 1976 when dinosaurs roamed the earth. If only the School of Rock were around when I was coming up, but we’re so happy to have our first sponsor, the School of Rock, and my friends, Angie and Kelly McCreight over at the School of Rock.
There are two locations, School of Rock Nashville and School of Rock Franklin. Of the 250 locations in the world, they win all the time, best school of rock. They’re cranking out these amazing musicians. They have performances all the time where the kids are like, “We’re going to learn the music of Billy Joel. We’re going to do Motown. We’re going to do all Pink Floyd, all Rush.” They kick butt and it’s incredible. If your kids don’t even go on to become professional musicians, look at some of the benefits of music education. It improves the kids’ reading, writing, and math skills. It makes their brain work harder. It relieves stress. It boosts their creativity and it increases their self-esteem, most importantly.
At the end of the day, if they come out and they’re great singers, bass players, guitar players, keyboards are drummers, it’s a win-win for everybody. If you’re interested in getting your kids into the School of Rock, I got some email addresses for you. It’s Franklin@SchoolOfRock.com or Nashville@SchoolOfRock.com. Big thank you to School of Rock. Check them out. Let’s dive in deep with our guests, Jim. I don’t even know who to talk to first, but the commonality with you kids is that you have a group together, a husband and a wife duo called SunKat. You have a new song out called I Love Tom Petty. I miss Tom Petty too. Maybe we should hear it. We don’t spoil our listeners with this right away. We’ll do a verse and a chorus.
“The streets are paved with gold. The sun was always shining. We were never growing old. We were too busy flying so many miles. You were there for the smiles. Could always count on you when things got heavy. I miss Tom Petty. What’s a dream without a friend? Sitting right beside you. You write the book but not the end. You just hope the good parts come true. So many miles, you were there for the smiles. Could always count on you when things got heavy. I miss Tom Petty.”
This is like watching the movie with the commentary in the background, Mystery Science Theater 2000.
It’s nice. You guys switch off doing leads on some songs?
We do. I don’t think we ever sit down and go, “Let’s write a song that’s going to be my vocal or your vocal.” We start writing and sometimes it’s so obvious where it starts who’s stronger on it. Some of them we’re singing from the top to the bottom of the song all the way together and switching off verses here and there. We’re making it up as we go along.
It’s so well recorded and the songs are great and it’s well-produced. There are some Beatles influences in there and Americana.
We have a lot of influences. As you know from being with me through the years playing music, it’s all in there.
You always had your own creative outlet. You had luvjOi.
I let it take a back seat once I started making a living playing music for famous people, as we do, but now I’m full in, diving back in to that stuff.
For those folks that don’t understand how that’s structured, of all the music cities, Nashville has the most structure. It’s like, “We’re going to be making music at 10:01 AM. You better get there at 8:45 to get your coffee and get your drum sounds and plug in your pedalboard.” Everyone’s talking, “How’s the boat? How’s the kids?” 10:00, click track, red lights on, “We’re making hits.”
They’re your friends. Those are our closest friends because we spend most time with them. When I get home, I’m back down to my own studio working on this stuff. She comes down, does a vocal track with me and then she’s up working on her podcast. I’m sitting down there playing with a Dobro or a mandolin or an amplifier.
You’ll have your own podcast eventually. Everyone’s doing it.
No, it’s all you and her. You guys have it.
I don’t even know who to start with. Katie, you’re originally from London, right?
Yes. I was born in London and my dad is a songwriter and he had a band that was big in the ‘70s in England called Blue Mink. As Blue Mink was winding down and he wanted to focus full-time on songwriting, he came to Nashville on 1 or 2 trips and was like, “I got to get my kids out of London into Nashville. It’s going to be such a good place to raise the family.” We moved to Nashville. That was ‘76, if you can believe that. He fell in love with the songwriting community here, the way records are made. There are the best musicians in the world here and the best writers here. We’re biased but Nashville has the richest concentration of amazing musicians on the planet. That’s what brought us here and he’s still writing and I’m so glad I ended up being raised here.
He was not only a songwriter but a Hall of Fame songwriter.
He is a Hall of Fame songwriter. In fact, he’s the only Englishman to maybe make it into the Country Music Hall of Fame, I believe. I should know this about my own father.
I was Wiki-ing Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again and Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, and then one that everyone of my generation will know, I’d Like to Give the World A Coke.
I Like to Teach the World to Sing and yes, of course, it was used for the Coke commercials. It’s pretty interesting growing up having people go, “I sang that in my class when I was a kid,” and literally people all around the world learned how to sing that song. I’m proud of him.
Was that born of the Coke brand first and then?
That’s an interesting story and it’s a long story, but I’ll make it super short. His songwriting partner at the time, Roger Greenaway, had written a song called True Love and Apple Pie that had the melody. Maybe it was a single for somebody but didn’t do anything. Coca-Cola approached them to write the Coke jingle and they ended up finishing it with two other people from Coca-Cola. That’s when they added the, “I like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,” and all that stuff.
I could have sworn Barry Manilow had something with Coke years later.
He wrote a lot of jingles. He might’ve had a Coke one. I don’t think any Coke one was ever quite as big as I Like to Teach the World to Sing.
When I saw that commercial for the first time when I was five years old, I was like, “I’m going to snag his daughter one day.”
Adam, you’re a New Englander, like an upstate New Yorker. We’re both from Connecticut.
I was born in Long Island. I grew up in Jersey, but I had family strewn through New England, New York.
What that’s a town in New Jersey?
Blairstown. Have you ever seen Friday the 13th? She saw it this weekend. The diner, the streets, the lake from that movie.
Is that where it was filmed?
Kevin Bacon’s first big role, I think, or Johnny Depp.
Johnny Depp was in Nightmare on Elm Street. That was his first role. “I’m your girlfriend now.” Robert Englund. What brought you to Nashville? I remember when I met you in ‘99 and we were touring with a guy named Big Kenny on Hollywood Records. We were touring in a van down by the river. That was 1999. You were working at the iconic Woodland Studios over in East Nashville.
At that point, what the heck was I doing? I was getting gigs here and there, sometimes working at the studio. It’s all a blur. What brought me down, I was in a band and the bass player that played on our recordings was friends with the drummer. He was already down here gigging with an artist and showed the band’s music to a manager. That guy wanted to make us stars. We all moved down. Justin and I came down on our Nissan Sentras. He had a silver one. I had a black one. I had it packed to the gills. I remember tossing my mom’s chocolate chip cookies out the driver’s side window to him trying to give him cookies while we’re driving.
It was nice to have a friend.
In the same kind of car too.
When I moved here, I had Lonnie Wilson and he was the first guy to help me. I didn’t have a lot of guys. Jim Riley, we started living together pretty quickly. We were both playing for tips down on lower Broadway.
Did you sleep in your minivan?
I took the seats out of my Plymouth Voyager and made a bed for him. It’s a real rags to better rags story.
Jay and Gary do that for them too. They don’t let them ride on the bus. They got a van with no seats in the back.
I like to talk a lot about commitment, relationships, and how that helps in life. It seemed like when you met Big Kenny, I remember it being very cohesive. You guys had a good relationship and you grew that into the birth of the MuzikMafia thing with John Rich. That was a core for you because you ended up writing songs with these guys and producing records with these guys.
Kenny took care of me as a brother because honestly, we had our rock band luvjOi before Big & Rich and it broke up. Shortly after him and John got the record deal and they invited me along. I was kicking myself for quitting the band. I was like, “I could have been maybe part of this record deal.” He always supported me, gave me a huge publishing deal, probably larger than he could afford at the time. He gave me a big publishing deal and made sure I was invited on songwriting adventures and was a bro and always had my back. He still does. We don’t see each other that often, but I know that he would take a bullet for me and I would too.
I didn’t keep in touch as good as you did, but I remember that would have been many years ago and I’ll see him backstage at the ACMs and he and his wife will be in the elevator. I could tell he’s like, “You did good, kid. You took the ball and you ran with it.” It’s always good. You’re here at 5 or 6 years old, coming to America, and your big dream, like every chick singer, you want to be a singer.
I always knew I’d be in music somehow. I was a little too shy to do it in high school. I was into punk rock and it’s weird. I was into country and punk rock. There wasn’t a lot in between for me and I wasn’t sure where to go musically, but after high school I started getting more into writing. I ended up forming a band with my brother back in England, but ironically, we got a deal back in Nashville.
Was that Reno?
It was Reno. We got signed to Curb Records and we put out a couple of singles. We almost went Top 40. We got pretty close and then the band broke up, which sucks. I feel terrible because they spend a lot of money on us and then we fell apart. I was finding my way as a solo act basically when I got the CMT gig. I didn’t mean to stop doing music or anything, but I got so busy. I’ve had eighteen years of traveling somewhere almost every week and interviewing all my heroes and being on the other side of the music business. I’m coming home at night and being like, “I don’t have a whole lot in me to work on my own music,” but I did keep writing. I didn’t totally give it up. I tried working on a couple solo records and they never got finished. Once we got together, he was in a similar boat because you’ve been writing all these years and having projects, but not pulling them together.
I had started the Digital Brains stuff when you and I were dating. Us getting together gave each other the confidence. I started going gung-ho on the Brains stuff. All of a sudden, her and I started writing together and we tried a couple of writing together to write and they were cool. The songs were okay, but there was one that happened. All of a sudden, there was this magical two weeks where we wrote five songs. It came out like that. We weren’t trying to write.
You can’t force that. Even though our culture of Nashville, you have the traditional publishing deal. You’re writing two songs a day. We got a 10 and a 2. We got a quota, which I guess we do pretty good with that creative restriction.
There’s a lot of opinions on that.
I do think it’s a muscle and you’re going to the gym every day in this town. I do think it can get strong, but there is something to still be said about that. You’re trying to fall asleep, but you got this melody in your head and you’re like, “Let’s see what it turns into,” then this magic happens. It is nice when you live with your writing partner and it can happen over coffee in the morning. You could wake up in the middle of the night. It sounds so corny and cliché, “I woke up at 3:00 AM and I have to write it down,” but we can live that way. That’s pretty beautiful.
We’ve had a little differing opinion on that whole structure of Nashville songwriting. One thing that sucks for songwriters now is more artists are writing their own songs. If you’re not in with an artist, your chances are that much less of getting a cut. They’re still taking outside stuff. We know there’s still a lot of outside stuff, but you do have a good shot if you’re writing with the artist. I’ve always thought these artists aren’t writing their own songs. To me, that put less weight on the artist a little bit in a way, no offense to anybody. I thought, “True artists, shouldn’t they write their own stuff?” Her take on that is the ‘90s country. You listen to those songs and some of the best songs in the world. That’s the thick of when they were cutting the best songs written by other people.
When writers were making money. We had more writers here and they could make a living. An artist would have their pick of so much rich material. We could go down a whole road on that, but I still think you can be an amazing artist and never write your own song. It’s the way you interpret something, just like an actor doesn’t have to write a script, but they can get into that and relate to it and turn it into something absolutely amazing. I miss a little bit more of that artist/songwriter relationship, old school. It made for excellent music.
McGraw didn’t write Live Like You’re Dying and Humble and Kind and they’re two of the biggest songs in the planet. I’m not sure who could deliver them like he did.
Aldean based his entire career on finding the best song. We’re talking about songwriting, which Adam, this makes me want to brag on you. I can’t believe it’s this many years ago, but 2005 SESAC Song of the Year, Mississippi Girl. Was it a nomination or a win? You won, right?
Yes. It was Song of the Year. It was a shock, but it was cool.
That was right after Hicktown hit the airwaves. All these years later, we’re still with that team. Michael Knox, Pete Coleman, the same players and same studio. It’s like the time has stood still at Treasure Isle. We go and we pick out our coffee mugs and it’s highly predictable, but it’s awesome. That’s a nice feather in your cap.
That was an amazing time. To watch the whole thing happen was amazing. From John saying, “Come help me write the song on the bus,” and I walk up there. He had the idea for the song, the title and thoughts and we spent 30 minutes on it writing and he had to go do something. Maybe the next day, we spent another 30 minutes tweaking it. He said, “This is awesome. She’s going to freaking love it.” I thought it was good, but I didn’t know. I didn’t write many country songs at that point. I’m like, “This was cool.” We were opening for McGraw at the time and Faith was on the road with him a little bit. I’m sitting up in the bus and I’m looking up on this hill. He’s sitting there on the hill playing the song for Faith and I’m in the bus watching out the window. A live pitch. He comes back in a bus. “She loves it.” I’m like, “Whatever.” Next thing, “She wants to cut it.” I’m like, “Whatever.” “It’s going to be the first single.” “Whatever.” “It’s going to be number one.” “Whatever.” I hadn’t even had time to be jaded. I saw the first check and I’m like, “Whatever.” It was awesome.
That’s a nice feather in your cap and you know that’s completely possible and it could happen.
It is possible, but here’s the problem. Now, I want it to happen every time I write a song and it’s never happened like that again. I had it cut, which is nice and another feather in the cap. It wasn’t a single, but it was nice to get that cut. Every time you write a song, it’s like, “Man.” There’s so many people that have been writing in town for years and they’ve never even gotten that. I’m so blessed, so lucky. I guess maybe that’s part of the drive. Every time you have a success like that, it makes you want more because it feels good.
You have to figure out why we do it and that’s not why we do it. It needs to be a byproduct of it occasionally.
That’s why we do what we do with our own stuff now. We’re getting back to the heart of it.
Did you have the “Ride my kids around piggyback,” in line? Is that yours?
The one I remember that was mine was the ball cap line.
I had the naivete of me moving to town back in ’05, I thought Faith wrote that song. It was made for her.
She delivered it like she wrote it. A good artist does that.
John had that Star, Mississippi opening line and the idea of the chorus.
Is that where she’s from for real? Star, Mississippi?
Katie, tell us a little bit about your journey. You’re in the band Reno, and then the band breaks up. You’re regrouping. Is this Wiki right where it says in 2001, you went to an open casting call to be a host of CMT?
Yeah. Before I was doing music full-time, before I was paying my bills with music, I was cutting hair. I knew all the salons in town, all the stylists. When my band broke up, I’m still signed to Curb because of the Reno deal and still had the publishing stuff, but it was dwindling down. I was like, “What do I do?” I didn’t want to get back into cutting hair again. That’s a commitment. You’re building up a following and all that. I was like, “What do I do?” I called a hairdresser friend of mine. I was like, “I will literally come sweep hair, answer the phones, wash hair, wax eyebrows.” I got to make literally a few hundred dollars a week for the next few months until I figure out if I’m going to stay in this record deal or what I’m going to do. I was in between. One of those stylists that was at that salon said, “I hear CMT needs VJs.” They used to call it VJ’s. His name was Tony and he’s like, “I wonder if I can get an audition.”
I had put together a new band since my band had broken up, some backing players, and the drummer was dating a girl who worked for CMT. I called her and said, “How do we get my friend Tony an audition?” She’s telling me what agent she used and all that. She’s like, “They need a girl too. Why don’t you come along?” I was like, “I’m a musician. I’m a singer. I’m a writer. I don’t know anything about TV.” She’s like, “You talk about music with people that you probably already know anyway, “and I did know a lot of artists. She’s like, “I met Dolly Parton this week.” I was like, “Hold up.” She told me what she got paid, which it’s funny because back then, I think of it now and it wasn’t a lot of money, but it was ten times more I was making right then. I was like, “Okay.” I went with no attachment and no TV experience and no journalism experience. What I brought to the table was I could talk music. Since there was no attachment, I wasn’t very nervous. Everybody else had their headshots and their resumes.
They wanted it bad. You’re like, “I’ll check this out.”
My hair was like the color of a wall. It was fire-engine red and I used to have my lip and my nose pierced and rocking my tattoos and I was dressed real funky. I thought, “There’s no way they’re going to go for this.” They liked something about me. They called me back a couple of weeks later and they were like, “You’re on our shortlist, but we hate the way you look.” I was like, “I got to stay this way because I’m an artist at heart. I know you wouldn’t use me for more than 1 or 2 months.” That was my attitude.
You had that short blond hair forever.
The short version of the story is they were like, “Please reconsider your look and we’ll keep letting you audition.” I blew it off for a couple of weeks and I called back, then they were like, “You’re in our top ten. We’ve interviewed a couple of thousand people. We’ve looked at tapes from around the world.”
What was it, a cold read like, “Just read this copy?”
No, it was going in and there was somebody with a camera and they held up cue cards. I was pretending I would toss them back to the countdown. I’m like, “Here’s Tim McGraw at number nineteen.” I was trying to act like someone on TV. I was pointing at the camera and winking. I had no idea what I was doing, but I acted like someone on TV. They did talk me into bleaching my hair and pulling the piercings out and covering the tattoos and dressing normal. I’ve been fooling people for years.
The edgy girl in the Connecticut clothing.
I seriously thought I would do it maybe six months or a year and they would be like, “You need to move along,” but then I don’t know. I fell in love with it. I’m curious. I like to talk to people. I love musicians and it’s perfect.
You are in so many things. CMA Live from the Red Carpet, ACM Live from the Red Carpet, CMT Live from the Red Carpet, all the countdown shows and that grew into other things. Did you host the Miss America live from Las Vegas?
Yes, that’s right. I forgot all about that. I wasn’t the main host. I can’t remember the actor’s name now, but I was his sidekick backstage and then I ended up doing a Nashville Star with Billy Ray Cyrus. It was ten weeks of that live when that was in Nashville. I’m getting asked to do odd appearances. I was on the show Nashville a couple of times and One Tree Hill.
When did CBS’s As the World Turns happen?
I forgot about that. I probably hadn’t even been at CMT more than a year or two and they were like, “We need you to come.” The cool thing is, I’ve been asked to do these things and get to play myself for the most part and that’s cool. My bio says I’m an actress, but I’m being myself. It’s not a stretch. Yes, that’s right. I was on As the World Turns. I’m a natural at being myself.
I’ve been studying this craft for years and you’re always going to bring your own essence to it. I have no desire to do period pieces and wear white wigs and talk in a British accent. I’m always going to play the fun husband, the music producer, the douchey best friend. I’m going to be the cop, the detective. I’m going to do that stuff because it’s in my lane.
Can you do a good British accent still?
If I get drunk.
That’s funny you should ask. We were at her nanny’s house the first time in England and she’s the only one without the English accent in her family and we jokingly will go into it. I don’t know what possessed us to go into it.
No, we do it all day at home. “A cup of tea,” but we do it bad.
Her cousin, in a real English accent said, “Who brought Dick van Dyke?”
It was so bad, but we do it all the time with the kids and we’re joking around but I’m the only one in my whole family that lost the English accent. They all make fun of me.
You have a little bit of a Southern accent now. Did I ever tell you my story about my British accent? I was hired to do a pool company out in Vegas. They wanted me to do a British accent. At the time, we had a guy living with us. My wife and I took him in. He was from England and I did this British accent that was God awful. Renaissance Pools. It was a Robin Leach. That’s what I was trying to pull off. This guy’s out there. He’s like, “That’s awful.” I’m like, “I know it’s awful, but they’re paying me $800.” It was pretty much like a fart.
For the readers, Adam is holding up my CRASH Course. It only took 48 years to write.
You have the audiobook up now.
The book is available in the Kindle. They can have it delivered to your house in a physical dead tree version or you can listen to me read my own book, which is fun. For all the kids that are coming to Nashville, they’re like, “I got $250,000 of debt. I went to the Berkeley College of Music or The University of Miami. Everyone’s telling me to go to Nashville.” Look at your pedigree here. Of the 200 records, you’re playing guitar on Luke Bryan records, Keith Urban records, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Lee Brice, all the Aldean stuff. What is a session musician these days? How does it work? How do you get the work? What are the expectations?
The easiest part is the expectations. The expectations are you playing well. You’re a good hang. You enjoy what you’re doing. You respect what you’re doing. You respect the fact that it’s not your record. It’s the record of the person that you’re playing for. Your opinions sometimes should stay to yourself, knowing when your opinion counts and when it doesn’t.
Knowing how to read the room.
Have you ever spoken up when you shouldn’t have?
Not really. I like to tell the story and it’s funny because we all know Michael Rhodes is the most badass bass player on the planet. When I was feeling like I was accepted by Michael Rhodes and playing with him, I’m doing this guitar part, I said to him, “It’d be cool if the base doubled that thing.” He looks at me and he goes, “I don’t want to do.” I love him. He loves me. We’re buddies. That was the only thing I could think of where I felt like I overstepped the boundary. I don’t mean to make him sound bad. He does what he does. He knows where he’s at with it.
Have you ever guys ever been in a position, you guys having the pedigree that you guys have, where you’re in a studio and have a guy in the studio and you’re like, “No, stop?”
Without mentioning names, tell us what comes to mind.
I would never call anybody out. Some people can talk too much and offer too many ideas and you need to know when it’s your time to do that as a musician, especially when you’re a young musician coming in and you’re accepted into the fold here in Nashville. To get there, I tell everyone, “You have to be a good hang, but if you’re not in the right place at the right time, it’s never going to happen.” The only way you can be in the right place at the right time is to do every darn thing you can think of to do it. Play for free. Play for nothing. Go do that gig you think is crappy that you are looking down on. That gig might be the gig where so and so is out in the audience and goes, “I want that guy to play for me.”
It’s like when people say, “Rich, what clubs did you play in Nashville back in the day?” I say, “All of them.”
Do you think that people are willing to do that these days?
There’s a strong force of young guys and girls in town now that are going after it. I honestly think, with the exception of you and our generation, it was a little more of, “I’m a musician. I’m going to do it and try to make it happen and something’s going to happen.” We all did it, at least the people I hung with. All of a sudden, we were there. We’re where we are now because of how popular Nashville is and how it’s one of the last places you can make the living you can make making music. People are coming and going, “I want that gig.” It’s a little weird. I was getting used to it, seeing these young guys that are kicking butt or coming in. Years ago, I was like, “How do you get the gig? You leave, let me have it.”
You share your information freely.
I do. Back in the day, it was nothing. When I was coming up, it was nothing for somebody to call me or anybody else and say, “Can you do this session?” “No, I can’t, but you should call my friend.” Now it’s turned a little more where it’s like, “No, I can’t. Sorry.” I don’t think as many people are willing to hand the gig off to somebody else. We’ve done this. I’m not saying we’ve plateaued. There’s more for us, but we’ve done this. We’ve gotten to that point of we’re there. Now we get this.
I know exactly how you did it is because you always had the full package. You were always a great hang. You always had a nice image. You were approachable. You’re easy to work with. You always had the sounds. Katie, I get to see this guy do these guitar overdubs on Aldean’s records. He goes in and there’s a perfect Keith Richard’s guitar solo. There’s a perfect like, “More cheap trick,” “Like this?” “Now, a slide.” “No problem. You want some more of that?” The people-pleasing business. In the end, you end up pleasing yourself because you have pride in your job and your craft. There’s an art to it, but you’re mixing art and commerce and craft altogether. You’re wonderfully 0.00001% of the people on the planet that have a piece of wood with six strings on it that can go in and do that and then hear themselves on the radio ten million times a day. You did that. It’s incredible.
Also, to be such a sought-after touring musician as well. You know how hard it can be to do both. A lot of people have to pick one or the other and you are two of the guys in town that still get to do both.
I told myself, “I will not pick a lane.” I can’t. I like the visceral impact and the sweat of a live performance and that’s why we get into it. At the same time, I love the craft of creating something that changes someone’s life, the artist, and also is around forever. It’s a snapshot of performance caught in time that we’re a part of. Why would I want to choose between those two things?
There’s such a different thing from both lanes or all the lanes that 20,000 to 50,000 screaming people to the ten of us sitting in a room, “Is that okay? Did you record that take? Did we waste it?”
Katie, what do you think about paying it forward and you have to give it away to keep it? Do you get approached by kids all the time like, “I would love to do what you do, Katie. How can I host on a television show? How can I do this?”
I talk to people all the time about it. The one thing I feel bad about is they always say, “Where did you go to college to get your journalism degree?” I’m going like, “I grew up in clubs.”
You faked it until you made it. They loved your essence. I’m sure they were like, “Don’t use your arms so much.”
I wish they had told me more. They threw me out there to the wolves and I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m still here, so maybe I’m doing something right. I talk to people all the time and like you said, you have to be in it to win it. You have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along. You have to be in this town if you want to do country. I try to give people the best advice I can. When I can do something, I have a whole list of people that I recommend. There’ve been a few people that have reached out and said, “Can I take you to lunch and pick your brain?” I’m like, “Absolutely. I’ll tell you everything I know.” If I’m not right for the job and somebody else is, it’s not supposed to be my job. Somehow, I’ve been blessed enough to be right for the CMT job, but sooner or later, it’s going to be somebody else’s and I hope they do great. I’ll share whatever I need to share so that they can step in and take right over and be great at it. You have to know where you’re supposed to be, do your best and when it’s time to move on, you move on. There are so many other things I love doing with my life anyway. I’m so glad nobody stopped me from getting the gig. You got to pay it forward. That’s super important.
You would crush it. I don’t know if you would need to do this or have any interest in doing it, but there’s so many resources now for online training programs for people that want to teach pro tools or teach drums or teach studio guitar or teach TV hosting. With your pedigree, you could create a program one time. It’s there evergreen forever. More people would want to learn how to host a television show than play drums.
There’s probably a lot less jobs available for somebody that wants to host a TV show, but you’re right. People would want to hear from somebody that had done it. I have been doing some media training and I’m working on a guide for people how to handle the media and how to understand both sides of it. I come from a music background. Maybe that’s helped me in my job all these years. I know when I’m talking to somebody. I know what it feels like to be an artist being interviewed by somebody who’s done no research on you and doesn’t care. I’ve been there. I’ve been on both sides of it. A lot of artists, they can get out on stage and be a total rockstar in front of 100,000 people, but they’re horribly shy when they’re one-on-one with somebody. It’s awful. I can interview people all day, but I’m still learning how to be interviewed. It is a weird thing. Maybe I’ll do that sometime.
You can tell somebody how to be interviewed even though you’re getting used to being interviewed. That’s interesting because you know what you want as an interviewer to hear.
I can tell them, “Here’s why you’re being asked the same question 100 times today. It’s not because the interviewer is stupid. It’s because they have an audience and there’s information that has to be delivered. Here’s why you need to know what a soundbite is.” I have been working with artists quite a lot with media training and I have thought about coaching. I’ve been approached by a lot of people about putting together programs to teach that, but we can’t even find enough time to record the songs we’re writing. There are many things I want to do. I’m writing a couple of screenplays right now. I have ideas for more books. There are not enough hours in the day for all the things I want to do.
What are your children’s books? Tell us about that.
Little Big Benny. It’s the boy who didn’t know he was the universe. He is very curious about the world around him and very curious about outer space. What he doesn’t know is he is the host to all these little beings that live within him. It’s all macro-micro and on this microscopic level are all these worlds and they don’t know that they are part of him. They too are curious about the universe and where they come from, if there’s a higher power and who else could be out there, just like we’re curious about are there aliens in outer space? Are we being watched? That can go on for infinity. I want kids to open their mind and think about, “I could be living in a universe that is under the toenail of a giant,” or, “I’m so big, I shouldn’t step on that ant because I’m big.” It’s endless. It goes in both directions and what has the grander field division.
Those are for fifth graders, did you say?
It’s middle grade. Depending on the reader, it could be as early as seven, probably maxing out around eleven, but I’d like to see it animated. I also want to do an audio version because that would be a lot of fun, but it’s a trilogy and you can go to LittleBigBenny.com to find it. Thank you for asking.
I know that that that market is very segregated into the age groups. I want to write The Adventures of Little Richie the Drummer. He goes on his journey and he’s playing drums and the world’s teaching life lessons. It could be for probably the little kids K-3 maybe, but then you’re relying on the power of the illustrator. Any illustrators out there that wants to do a co-venture here, we will split 50/50, The Adventures of Little Richie the Drummer.
That’s a good idea, but you’re smart to do some research beforehand. I get downloaded with ideas. They come to me so fast and furious, I can barely even write quickly enough. I almost sit back and go, “Who wrote that?” This whole idea for the book came to me that way and I put it out. I took a couple of years to write it. It is a lot to write. They’re over 100 pages each and it’s a trilogy and I had to keep editing and everything and do all the artwork. It is a lot to do it, but I did it all and then thought it would find a home. What I found talking to publishers, they’re like, “If you come to us and asked what void we want to fill.” I’m like, “That’s not how you make art.” I don’t want to sit and write a song and go, “Who’s looking this week and let’s try to hone in.” You can do that, but the best art gets made when you’re like, “Where did that come from? That flopped out of nowhere.” That’s how Little Big Benny was for me. I feel like it will find its home, but I didn’t do the research ahead of time. I got a feeling you will. I think you’ll know what you’re doing. That’s smart. The book world is very smart.
My first book, a children’s book, I published through a major publisher. I make $1 a copy. It’s not a good deal. I decided to self-publish. You’re front-loaded with all your costs. You’re like, “A logo, the photography and then the editor.” You get hit left and right, but it’s a modern-day business card is what it is. We’re not going to retire like Stephen King. You have a wider audience. That makes me think of you were talking about the universe and everything and you have a podcast.
Wide Open Wonders, the W.O.W Podcast, is my new podcast. It’s called wide open for a reason. I want to cover all things paranormal. I lump everything into the term paranormal from UFOlogy, crop circles, consciousness, ghost hunting, cryptozoology, all of that stuff.
What are your thoughts on the pyramids? How did we make them without machinery?
There are a lot of things around the world that we had help with. I am a big believer in that.
From the aliens?
That’s the million-dollar question. You look back, it’d be pretty dang hard to sling those rocks around. I don’t care how many slaves you had and I don’t care how many years you had to build it, that’s a lot. The way they’re fit together. There are so many places around the world. We couldn’t build that now with those natural stones and you’re telling me that people did it years ago from hundreds of miles away where this rock would have been cut from. I don’t think so.
I haven’t seen a lot of things. I still haven’t seen the Grand Canyon, but I’d like to see that. I still haven’t seen the pyramids. Maybe some Chichen Itza. That would be fun to see.
I climbed that pyramid. That’s pretty cool. It doesn’t look that big from the ground, but then you get up there and you have to come back down and you on your butt scooching.
The Amazon sounds like something that would be fun because that jungle is so alive, but it’s teeming with things that can kill you every square foot.
Take pictures and send it back home.
Adam, tell me about Digital Brains.
In a slightly darker period of my life, I started writing some very angry metal songs. Not really metal, just rock and roll. It’s my rock side. With SunKat, I call it my light side and Digital Brain is my dark side. I started embracing my rock roots and writing songs and got together with my friend, Corey Boise. He’s an amazing drummer. We started putting the songs together. We gradually started by doing some with some friends and hired session guys. We finally found our bass player, Danny Faillo, who is an amazing bass player and an amazing singer. He’s a better singer than I am. I keep saying that one day maybe he’ll sing, but he sings with me. The music’s getting grungier as we become a band. The stuff that we have out isn’t as grungy as we’re getting.
There are some beautiful Foo Fighter melodies, very memorable. You sound great. There’s a lot of anger and there’s not a lot of stuff to get in the way. It’s three guys.
We try not to do too many over dumb things. I have one friend that was mixing one of the songs for me and he did this stuff on it. I’m like, “It’s a little much.” He goes, “You’re making a record.” I’m like, “We’ll make it a record, but I want people to come and see us and not to have it sound that much different.” It’s getting cool. Some of that darkness, there’s a couple of songs where you were about to put out that have little political overtones. I’ve always been a little angry at how the world is run. Let’s be frank. There’s a lot of BS going on no matter what side you’re on.
If you’re Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t matter, but nobody’s coming together and they haven’t for years. It’s an age-old thing. I don’t know if they ever will, but it pisses me off, frankly. A lot of the lyric, I dig into my darker side. We write some of the lyrics together. Self-Destruction and Shut Up, they were two of the first ones. It’s cool to watch it grow. If you were sixteen and getting in a band, it would grow and get better. It’s the same thing now, we started as a band together and it was like we thought, “It’s going to be fricking great. We know what we’re doing.” It’s good from the start. It’s okay. As we see it get cooler and cooler, you still grow no matter how old you are when you do a band.
We did that fun show together at the Mercy Lounge and Nashville came out and supported. It was you and this band, The Fell. It’s super involved and a lot of crowds. It’s highly produced, tons of little layers of keyboards and loops. I had this mixer and we dialed in the ears all afternoon. You guys went out there and like, “Don’t do that.” It was great.
It’s a true band in that sense.
If I had to play one of these songs, what would it be? Is there something new that’s coming out that I can see here?
If you want to give a little hint of something that’s coming out, I sent you a little link. We have a song called The Itch that is coming out on November 15th.
Self-Destruction is a good one. This is one of my favorite ones. For me, you hear Stone Temple Pilots influence. You also hear us as a true rock band. You get some of those melodies. This was one of the first ones that we came together as a band.
It’s very Alice in Chains either way.
Does it go back to the old tempo?
That’s a rule breaker.
There are no rules in rock and roll.
That is great music. I was so impressed.
I can’t wait for the people to hear The Itch. We’re going further. It’s getting better and better. We have a song that I’m going to have a friend start playing on his podcast called It’s Killing Me. His podcast deals with military and the police PTSD. We had the song Resurrect Me that fit perfectly for that calls and those people, then he’s going to start playing it. That song, while it’s an older song that started with me before the guys got their hands on it, it’s going even further in the rock land. The Itch, which is coming out, it’s further. It’s becoming such a package. It’s the three of us now. It’s pretty rocking.
You record that at your home studio?
Yes, right underneath the living room.
I love that you guys are two creative beings that found each other in the second act of our lives.
I got a couple of years and then I’m going to call it the second act.
I would say there’s three acts, don’t you think? What I consider the third act is colostomy bags and extreme arthritis and stuff like that. Katie, you and I are about the same age.
Once you’re 35 like you guys, it hurts.
I think it’s so impressive. It’s so great to see two people so in love and combining their talents to create something special. What’s on the agenda from SunKat? You did Petty festival.
That was so great. We have the song I Miss Tom Petty. Steve Ferrone, drummer that was a heartbreaker for 25 years after Stan Lynch. He’s got his own radio show on Tom Petty Radio and he heard the song because of our wonderful friend, David Santos, who played bass on it. David tipped him off to it. Steve played the songs. Some Petty fans heard the song because of that radio show and threw our name in the hat of people that ought to be able to come play the Petty Bash and the organizers heard about us. We gently bugged them a couple times and said, “We’d love to do it.” They said, “Yes.” We were like, “Really? Okay, we’ll be there.” We played it. We met all these amazing Petty fans. To be in one place with all these people that love Tom like we did and get to play that song for them was great. The weather did not want to cooperate, but I tell you that rain, it dried up five minutes before we went on and the sun came out halfway through and we felt blessed to get to do it.
Our first full-length album came out the day before that show and that’s out now. I don’t think we have a plan. We both can’t keep our minds from moving. It’s the way we roll.
We have to create. We go crazy if we don’t create.
It would be nice if we could make a third of the living we make at our main gigs doing the stuff that’s totally in our hearts and art is our art. That would be amazing. If we could achieve that goal with any of these things, whether it be SunKat or Brains or podcast or Little Big Benny writing books, that’d be amazing.
We all have our hands on a lot of things. Jim’s got a lot of things. He has JimMcCarthyVoiceOvers.com and he has a lighting company, BigDotLighting.com. I’m assuming there’s the Instagram thing, which is where all the kids are.
Guitar players can find you on Instagram too?
I’m @TheKatieCook. I also have a Little Big Benny. There’s a lot of Katie Cooks in the world. I had somebody helping me a few years ago set up socials and they were like, “Throw a ‘the’ in front of it.” I said, “That sounds a bit pompous.” They were like, “Everybody does it.” I looked it up and it was like TheRyanSeacrest. I was like, “Okay.”
The next iteration of that is “The real.”
Hopefully, I won’t have to go there.
I learned so much and I was so inspired.
What did you learn?
I learned that I have the greatest friends in the world and they’re all very Renaissance people and they’re making their lives work in a special way.
Might I say how proud I am of you for always following all your dreams and doing it all.
You inspire a lot of people.
We try to do it unapologetically. You only get one life.
There’s nothing better than doing those records with you and always looking over and I always know there’s going to be a smile over there.
I’ll take it. You can see Katie on CMT and you can hear her in your Spotify as the voice of SunKat. Of course, Adam, you can hear him on all the Aldean records. You could see him on tour with Tim McGraw. You can catch him with Digital Brains and with SunKat. Check them out on the socials. Big thanks to School of Rock for being our awesome sponsor. If you have suggestions for guests, get us with an email address. The email address is TheRichRedmondShow@Gmail.com. As always, thanks for subscribing sharing, commenting rating and reviewing. We’ll see you next time.
Katie Cook has gained great success as a television host for CMT; beginning her broadcast career with the MTV Networks channel in 2001. Since then, she has become a go-to expert in the field of country music and for celebrity interviews in all genres.
Katie has interviewed top names in entertainment like Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Gwen Stefani, Susan Sarandon, Dolly Parton, George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Willie Nelson, Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks, and many more.
Notable television appearances include “A Conversation with President Obama,” Co-hosting “Nashville Star” for NBC with Billy Ray Cyrus, and playing herself on ABC’s “Nashville.” She has also been called upon as a country expert for CNBC, MSN, and CNN with Anderson Cooper.
Katie currently co-hosts CMT Hot 20 Countdown with Cody Allan, a weekly show airing Saturdays and Sundays at 9amE/8amC.
Katie is also launching her very own paranormal podcast this Fall 2019 called the W.O.W (Wide Open Wonders) podcast www.wideopenwonders.com
THE STUDIO MUSICIAN
Featured on hundreds of albums in his 20 years as one of Nashville’s go-to guitarists. Jason Aldean, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Big & Rich, Marc Broussard, Dan & Shay, Kid Rock, and more. Click HERE for full discography to see some of this guitarist songwriter’s work!