Twangtown Paramours

An interview with musicians MaryBeth Zamer and Mike T. Lewis
by Tina Hall
July 2012

MaryBeth Zamer and Mike T. Lewis

MaryBeth Zamer and Mike T. Lewis

Comprised of MaryBeth Zamer and Mike T. Lewis, The Twangtown Paramours offer up music from the soul that is hard to put into any one genre. Their self-titled debut album reached #11 on the Folk DJ chart, Cashbox County Roots chart (remaining in the top 40 all summer in 2010),and was named one of the top 100 folk albums for 2010. Their latest release hits radio this very week.

Maximum Ink: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? How have your early days influenced you to become who you are now?
Mike Lewis: I’m from the Northeast – NY, NJ, and VT. My mom was a concert pianist and taught piano during my entire childhood. I heard a lot of kids, who didn’t bother to practice, banging on the piano every afternoon, but I also drank in a lot of great music – Mozart, Bach, and other composers you hear when you’re on hold with the phone company. I studied classical and jazz guitar from some of the best New York City had to offer, starting at age 8. I was around great music and great musicians and that influenced the bejesus outta me.
MaryBeth Zamer: I was born and raised in the DC area. I’ve been singing since I was a kid. Ella Fitzgerald’s singing has been the single most influence on me.I play several instruments (guitar, piano) badly and have been instructed to “step away from the tambourine” on more than one occasion.

MI: How did The Twangtown Paramours come to be?
ML: MaryBeth and I had been together for about a year. I had this one song called “Nowhere to Go” that I was preparing for a demo singer to perform in the studio in Nashville that I run. MaryBeth was working on her own jazz vocal project. She heard the song and insisted that she be the demo singer on it. Her voice and her ideas influenced the way I approached the production. Then we did two more songs in a similar way. After three songs, I realized we had a distinctive sound and that it was time to make a record and venture out into the world with it. That all started in 2009.
MZ:  I didn’t “insist” on singing anything. I just told him I thought I could sing it and changed the groove on it a little.  He wanted to go out to dinner because it was Valentine’s Day.

MI: How did you first come to sing professionally? What led you to move to Nashville from DC? 
MZ: By professionally, if you mean getting paid for it-that happened in college when I first started singing in bands. I started out singing background vocals for a few bands and then started auditioning and working as a female vocalist. I moved from DC to Nashville because my first husband was going to school in Nashville, and I was able to find a job here, so the re-location had nothing to do with music. 

MI: You also sometime tour with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and play upright bass. How does that differ most from your work with MaryBeth? Is it sometimes challenging to play in two bands as well as your pursue so your own solo work?
ML: I love wearing a lot of musical hats, as it were. It keeps life interesting. I love playing with Jimmie and I love his music. He’s been a big influence on me as a person and as a songwriter. For the last four years, he’s mostly been performing with the Flatlanders and the Wronglers, so I haven’t seen him that much. We’re about to do a trio gig though at the Towne Crier in Pawling, NY. I’m really looking forward to it. (That’s July 15th, folks at 7:30 PM)and…the Twangtown Paramours are the opening act. So, it’ll be an especially fun night for me. When I play with Jimmie, I just have to concentrate on playing the bass, and maybe singing a few background vocals. With MaryBeth, I’m thinking about every aspect of performance – what she’s doing, how our vocals blend, the guitar part, the tempo, what song we’ll play next, the clarity of the words, keeping the audience entertained. MaryBeth will tell you that I’m mostly concerned with what she’s doing.

MI: How would you describe the The Twangtown Paramours sound to those who have yet to hear it? What genre do you consider it to fall into?
MZ: This is a conundrum for us. It’s sort of like asking the question, “If all the players on the NY Yankees get traded to the San Diego Padres, which is the real Yankees team?”. But I digress… to answer your question in an even more confusing manner: the country guys think we’re folk, the folk guys think we’re country, the Americana guys think, we’ll I don’t know what they think. We fall in the cracks amongst those genres, you might say.

MI: Were you surprised at the success of the debut album?
ML: No, we had a promoter. 
MZ: I was surprised. Especially in folk, you tend not to get any credence until you have put multiple CDs out, so I was pleasantly surprised and pleased(but we did have a radio promoter.

MI: How does the new album differ most from that one?
ML: The first one was sorta reddish tan, the new one is kinda gray. Besides that, the first album had a bit more of a Nashville sound to it, but in a stripped down way, while the lyrics, hopefully were a lot more interesting than what’s on country pop radio these days. The new album is all acoustic. We took more chances with the production and with the songs. Some tracks feature dobro, washboard, and frying pan, while others sound rather symphonic and feature violin and viola.
MZ:  I have two co-writes on this record-“Widow of the Mountain” and “Chains” that mean a lot to me, because they deal with labor-related issues. I liked the songs on the first record, but I think overall the songs on “The Promise of Friday Night” are better written and leave more for the listener to think about than the songs on the first record.

MI: Are there any little known things about yourself that you’d not mind sharing with your fans?
ML: I used to be a very mediocre ski racer, but then became a very good race coach.
MZ: As a kid I was a majorette and can still twirl a baton.  I can also tap dance and I like to knit, though not at the same time. 

MI: What do you love most about touring?
BOTH: We love kidding around on stage, sharing our music with our audiences, and we love seeing new places and meeting new people. One of the great side benefits of touring has been forging friendships with some wonderfully nice folks who we would not have otherwise met. 

MI: Where do you hope to see your career go next?
ML: Hawaii would be nice.
MZ: We’d love to get our songs placed in TV and film. 

MI: Is there any one thing you’d most like to accomplish that you have yet to?
BOTH: Our goal is to write the most musical melodies and most interesting lyrics, either serious or humorous, that we can, and to continually improve. We write and perform to please ourselves and hopefully, to please others by getting them to feel something or think about something they hadn’t before. We would like ultimately to make a good living at doing what we love to do and to share our music with as many people as possible. Oh yeah, and we’d like to play the Ryman.

MI: Is there anything you’d like to say before you go?
BOTH: Yes, we’d like to say, Thank you, Tina, for giving your time and effort and for your help in bringing attention to our music and to the music of other artists who you are kind enough to interview. You. Rock.

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