By Owen Hahn
Garden & Gun magazine released its first album, G&G Vinyl Vol. 1, in April. Issued exclusively as a limited-edition record, it was pressed at Asheville’s Citizen Vinyl. The compilation embraces a variety of music from up-and-coming Southern artists, including Asheville’s own Julia Sanders.
After 15 years as the authority on music for Garden & Gun, contributing editor Matt Hendrickson put together ten tracks on the record by artists he has covered before and others less familiar. He wanted to shine a light on more obscure names in the compilation and show listeners the next generation of musicians from the South. “Our readers are always looking to us for guidance,” he says. “They’re always open to being informed about new music.”
Most of the performers on the record are recent arrivals to the spotlight, though some are more established. The track by Tommy Prine, “Ships in the Harbor,” is the first release by the Nashville native—fans of country music, however, will know him as the late John Prine’s son. Kelsey Waldon, John Moreland and Larkin Poe have all been releasing music since the early 2010s, but none are as renowned as the Blind Boys of Alabama, the venerable gospel collective that performs the album’s closer. “I look at them as the benediction of the album,” says Hendrickson. “It’s nice to close out the album on something uplifting.”
From the spritzy jangle pop of The Prescriptions to the magnetic rhythms shaped by ambient producer Rich Ruth, the record is difficult to thematize. Although the compilation was meant to be eclectic, one point of similarity between the artists on the compilation is that they all write for themselves. This approach brands each song with its own authenticity and emotional force, something lacking in mainstream musicians who do their writing by committee.
Sanders contributes the compilation’s fifth track, “Three Leaf Clover,” about a girl whose perceived shortcomings inhibit her from making music. “It’s about getting in your own way,” she says, and is reminiscent of her sojourn in New York, before she made her home in Asheville. She remembers playing music but not feeling any different from the crowd in the city’s already congested music scene, like another three-leaf clover in a patch. Taking the step from playing to writing music did not seem comfortable to her then, and it wasn’t until moving to New Orleans that she felt free enough to try.
After the birth of her daughter last year, Sanders came out with her second album, Morning Star, which shows her simultaneously concerned about the loss of her old life and humbly grateful for a new beginning. The fragmentation of her once whole self is mourned in the song “Woman In Between,” which places her amid being a mother and being a poet. Morning Star sounds more like the combination of these roles than an alternation between them, but this result did not come without sweat. Sanders found herself at a loss for material after becoming a mother, wondering if she could set out on a different course from the pervasive songwriting tropes of breakups and youth-affirming escapades. “Can I write songs about being a mother?” she remembers asking herself. “Is anyone going to want to listen to this?”
The music that emerged from this dilemma shows her as a plurality of selves: the carefree singer and the attentive mother, the capable poet and three-leaf clover, all at once.
The vinyl release of Morning Star was pressed by Citizen Vinyl, NC’s first record pressing plant and one of just over 30 in the country.
Down the street from the historic Flatiron Building, parts of the Citizen Times building began to be repurposed into recording studios and a pressing facility in 2019, once founder Gar Ragland gathered backing from angel investors. The building has been rooted in music and manufacturing since it was built in 1939 to house the city’s twin newspapers and the WWNC radio station.
WWNC had its studios on the third floor, which were on the verge of being demolished and converted into office space before Ragland intervened. The building’s architectural brilliance, standing as a symbol of Asheville’s industrial power, has been meticulously preserved by Citizen Vinyl. And preservation is essential to a company producing what was not long ago a critically endangered sound medium. “This building’s history became part of the Citizen Vinyl project,” he says. “This building asked us to be here.” On the other side of a glass window surveying three vinyl presses, the building has a record store, along with a café and bar called Session.
Citizen Vinyl had a rocky start—it opened its doors in 2020 during the pandemic—but now attracts artists from all over the South, pressing around 50,000 records per month, and shows no sign of slowing down. In the record store on a top shelf, the newly pressed G&G Vinyl Vol. 1 can be found prominently on display.
Citizen Vinyl (CitizenVinyl.com) is located at 14 O’Henry Avenue in downtown Asheville. Learn more about Sanders’ music at JuliaSandersMusic.com. G&G Vinyl Vol. 1 is available for purchase at Citizen Vinyl and at GGFieldShop.com. Owen Hahn, The Laurel’s summer intern, is a student at UNCA and a music enthusiast.