After she cultivated the songs for her most recent album Morning Sun, Judy Blank partnered with Chris Taylor (Elle King, Miranda Lambert, The Wood Brothers) to produce the project at Southern Ground in Nashville. After that release, Blank has been storming the Americana scene from her native Netherlands. In a few weeks, Blank will make history by becoming the first Dutch artist ever to play AmericanaFest. And tune in this Wednesday at 10 p.m. CDT to The Curve to catch the Ditty Debut of Lucy Blank’s video “Mary Jane.” In our ongoing series of Americana Around the World, DittyTV Senior Editor Tim W. Jackson hopes to give you better insights into this captivating Dutch singer, songwriter, and musician.
My hometown is a very old, quaint place with a lot of history. I live in the old city center, which allows me to walk or ride my bike anywhere I need to go.Utrecht looks a lot like a mini Amsterdam, but without the tourists (and a lot more friendliness). There are a lot of cool spots I like to visit for my morning coffee cravings, my favorite one being Koffie Leute, a real nice cafe that looks like it came straight from the ’70s. I like to go there and meet friends, or work on new lyric ideas. There’s also a super old canal that runs through the city called Oudegracht, and my friends from the band DeWolff have an analog studio in one of the wharfs. I like to go there, sit outside and play guitar on sunny afternoons, and then get Thai food at a place called LemonGrass. Utrecht, to me, equals being home, relaxation, and a bunch of great, likeminded musicians to inspire you on a daily basis.
It’s not great. It’s tiny. But the good news is that the genre has been growing over the past couple of years! There are some really cool Americana festivals popping up, like Once in a Blue Moon Festival, which has headliners like Hiss Golden Messenger, David Crosby, and Dylan LeBlanc, and there’s been a little more attention for the genre thanks to awesome venues like Paradiso Amsterdam, which promotes Americana events through a separate platform called Sugar Mountain. The only thing is that Americana is not yet seen as “cool” amongst a younger crowd, and most people have no clue there’s a subtle difference between straight up “country” and Americana music. I always bite my tongue when someone who’s never heard my music before goes: ”I never knew I liked country!” or ”Where are your cowboy boots? Yeehaw!” To me, it’s just timeless music, real songs, influenced by a lot of different genres that started out in America. It’s not just one thing. And that’s what makes it so rad! So yeah, I’m glad it’s a growing genre in the Netherlands, but being able to travel to the U.S. and not having to explain that to people is what truly makes me happy.
My mom would listen to one single cassette tape in her car: Tracy Chapman’s debut record. I still remember holding that little orange case as a little kid in the passenger seat. I think that album unconsciously inspired my perception of what an album should be. I remember thinking Tracy was a guy because her voice was so low. I had no idea what she was singing because I didn’t speak English, but I was phonetically singing along and somehow, I could feel it. Feel her pain. It was just so raw, so real. That always stuck with me.As soon as I bought a record player at a yard sale at age 11, I started spinning old Dixieland and jazz records. After that, I saved up for an iPod, because I wanted to be cool in high school. It was then I discovered the great bands from the ’60s and ’70s and started listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, and a bunch of punk and fuzzy indie rock. My classmates thought I was a weirdo. But I loved it all. Mostly The Beatles. I liked their songs. They were simple, but clever, and whenever I tried to play them, they turned out to be harder than I thought. I liked that. And I still do. Morning Sun was heavily inspired by The Wood Brothers; they do the same thing.
I started playing the piano when I was 13. I grew up in a house on the levee (”dijk”) and a few doors down was a piano teacher. I wrote her a little note and asked if she could give me piano lessons. A few years earlier, my dad had bought a decorative piano that was horribly out of tune, but I somehow managed to learn a few songs on it by ear, and then decided it was time for lessons. It was my main instrument for a few years. Until I traveled to southwest Louisiana and interned as a music teacher at Welsh Elementary for a few months. The kids sang folk songs, and they got to me. The simplicity of them. There was no piano at the house I was staying at, but someone loaned me a guitar. I played every day and I improved rapidly. At the end of my trip, I got asked to play a Sunday afternoon gig at a coffeehouse in Lake Charles called Stellar Beans—a 45-minute set of just playing guitar. The whole room was quiet, and it was a magical moment to me. When I got back to Utrecht, I bought a Gibson J-45 with my last savings, and I haven’t brought a piano to a show ever since. Changing from piano to guitar changed everything I knew about music. Singing while playing the guitar adds so much emotional depth. You can feel the sound resonate in your body, and not just in the room. The guitar feels way more natural to me and I’ve never regretted making the switch.
It’s been pure bliss so far. As I write my songs in English, it’s been extremely nice to play my songs for a native speaking audience. People in the States pick up on the subtleties in my lyrics way more than people over in Europe, which is amazing. That’s the kind of recognition I want to have, and I love the fact that there’s so much appreciation for good songwriting. And from my experience, Americans are way more expressive during shows. At least in Nashville. People are yelling “Yes girl!” or laugh when they hear me sing a funny line or something they can relate to in the middle of a song. I love that! That doesn’t happen in the Netherlands.
I wrote that song after watching a shared bill show with Mandolin Orange and Chatham County Line in my hometown. The harmonies really got to me, and as I was walking home the line “don’t know why I’m tangled up in you” popped into my head. (I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan, so the title is a little bit tongue-in-cheek, haha.) I wrote it right after the show. Funny thing is that I had almost not recorded it because I felt like I had enough slow songs for the record. But when I was at Southern Ground, tracking it anyway, because Chris told me he loved it, I had to take a few breaks because I kept tearing up while singing it. All of a sudden, I realized this song was a summary of everything I never had the guts to tell my first love, who, obviously, broke my heart into a million pieces.
Playing AmericanaFest is so special. I still can’t believe it’s actually happening. The recognition from the Americana Music Association is a huge deal to me. For them to book me and to basically say “Hey, we like your stuff, you matter!” is just the biggest compliment I could get right now. Nashville feels like my second home, and to be able to rock that city with a band for the first time feels pretty amazing. I hope to meet people who can help me further my career in the U.S., since I do need some help if I want to achieve my ultimate goal: being able to release albums and tour stateside. Music City has welcomed me with open arms, and has inspired me on so many levels. I’ve seen many magical performances at The Basement East, and now I get a chance to play there myself?! Pinch me!
After AmericanaFest, what’s next for you and your musical career?I’ll be playing a few songwriter festivals in the U.S. with my friend Sarah Peacock, like Dripping Springs in Texas, and Island Hopper Songwriter Festival in Florida. After that, I’ll be releasing my next EP, Morning After, which comes out Nov. 1. This winter I’ll be touring the Dutch clubs with a Nashville NOW!-show, where I sing my tunes and talk about the role Nashville had in my career, together with a few other Dutch artists who have found inspiration in the city. Early next year, I’ll be doing a Bob Dylan stories tour in Europe, and I should be back in the States in the late Spring of 2020. I can’t wait.
First of all, get breakfast at 30ML, their blueberry pancakes are the bomb. Then, walk around the old city centre and climb the medieval Dom Tower, which is our most important historical landmark and gives you a stunning view of the city. Go for a boat ride on the canal and see what Utrecht looks like from below. Get some Italian ice cream at Luciano’s: the Key West Lemon Pie flavor is my favorite. And then your final stop: the Louis Hartlooper Complex, my favorite place of all time. It’s a movie theatre and restaurant located in an old police station from the ’70s. They serve great food, craft beers, and my favorite: weird indie movies.