Hey y’all! Today I have the honor of interviewing The Family Sowell! Welcome y’all! For those who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit about yourselves?
We are an acoustic band from Knoxville, Tennessee. Our band consists of us six siblings—Jacob on banjo, Joshua on guitar, Naomi on bass, Abby on mandolin, John-Mark on fiddle, and Justus on dobro—with Jacob, Joshua, and Abby doing most of the vocal parts.
Most recently, we released our single “Love is the Key”, produced by Grammy-nominated producer, Ben Isaacs. We wanted to bring some hope in these crazy times with this beautiful song and are super excited by all the support and love it’s gotten virtually.
Cool! So how did y’all get into playing music?
Our momma grew up listening to her Grandma Clara play the piano. She always wanted to learn, but never did. When she had children of her own, she knew that she’d be the happiest momma in the world if the only instrument we learned was piano. So we all started on piano at the age of five, but God had even bigger plans. In 2005, Jacob and Joshua joined the Allstars Youth Banjo Band, learning ukulele, tenor banjo, guitar, mandolin, and bass from the teacher, Buddy Griffin. Naomi, John-Mark, and I also joined when reaching the age of seven. The Youth Banjo Band performed on quite a variety of stages, including churches, theaters, and conventions. We learned to love music and became accustomed to the stage. We officially started performing together, just our family, in October of 2010. Mr. Buddy and the banjo band couldn’t make a gig, so he told the lady to call us. Because of the banjo band, our music was mainly Dixieland Jazz at the time. You may wonder how we got into bluegrass and other acoustic music. Well, rewind a few years to 2006, when we attended the Bluegrass & Barbecue festival at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. There, we all got our first true taste of bluegrass music listening to Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, and Jacob announced his desire to learn the five string banjo. A few years later, a man showed up at one of the banjo band’s rehearsals offering free five string banjo lessons. Jacob jumped at this opportunity and bluegrass gradually took over our music making. Over the years, we’ve all settled into our favorite instruments and our favorite music. We play bluegrass instruments, but we like to pull from a wide variety of genres such as country, Americana, and yes, even pop. Though we began as the band that’s family in 2010, it’s been a road with lots of turns. We like to say we’ve been full time for about 3-4 years.
That’s really cool! So once you got into bluegrass, did you take bluegrass specific lessons, or just learn as you went?
Both. We learned some things by trial and error, but mainly we sought after guidance. John-Mark and I took fiddle from various bluegrass or country fiddlers, but most recently, John-Mark takes from Deanie Richardson who performs on the Grand Ole Opry and with Sister Sadie. Jacob takes from Kristen Scott Benson of the Grascals, and Joshua takes from Jake Workman who plays with Ricky Skaggs. Whenever our schedule allows, Justus takes from Matt Leadbetter who performs with several different artists, including Dale Ann Bradley. Our vocal learning was a wild ride with several singers giving us their tips here and there. In late 2015 things started looking up. We began lessons with Mrs. Vicki Wehmeyer, a vocal coach out of Brenham, Texas. She helped reconstruct our shaky foundation of singing, showing us proper technique and teaching us how to match each other when singing together. We’ve worked on and off with her for the past four years. We’ve also worked with band coach, Stephen Mougin, who performs with Sam Bush. He brought tightness to our band and helped us reach the next level in our music. Lately though, we work mainly with Ben Isaacs, producer of our latest music. Working with him has really pulled more out of us then we ever knew was there. We’re excited where the road leads and intend to keep growing and reaching for higher levels in our music! -Abby
Awesome! So what are five of y’all’s favorite albums, and how have they influenced you musically?
Great question! But, it’s so hard to pick just five albums, and we’re more inspired by artists then specific albums, so five artists that have inspired us are Alison Krauss & Union Station, The Isaacs, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, and The Grascals. And all albums by those artists are awesome!
Those are all great artists! Speaking of which, who are five musicians who you think deserve more recognition?
Hard to pick a few. But, definitely Jake Workman, Deanie Richardson, Matt Leadbetter, Jake Vanover, & Terry Smith.
What’s your favorite album you’ve been part of making?
Well, we haven’t done a lot of those. So, definitely “Same Kind Of Different”!
So, the only thing that I don’t like about family bands is that they grow up. Where do y’all see yourselves in 10 years? Do you think you’ll still be together or off starting your own family bands?
Unless we feel called to a different path, we see ourselves still playing music together. It’s more than a hobby for us, music is our calling, and we mean to give our best and keep growing and inspiring whoever God places in our lives. I honestly don’t know if we’ll start our own family bands… not really at that stage yet haha.
And I understand that playing music has taken y’all on some adventures overseas?
That’s right! We’ve had the privilege to travel and perform in Serbia, Hungary, Romania, & Montenegro! Another life changing experience was teaching music camps over there and ministering to many children.
Awesome! So were those trips basically just part of your touring, or were they more ministry focused?
They were more ministry focused. We met a family from Serbia who came and shared their ministry with the church we were attending at the time back in 2012. They hosted all kinds of camps in the heart of Serbia as an outreach to children. We were excited to hear about what they were doing, and that evening, our mom proposed the idea of teaming up with them to put on a ukulele camp. We wanted to share our gift of music with the children and plant seeds of the Gospel, for as we were giving them a free ukulele and lessons, we prayed they would come to understand and receive the FREE gift of salvation. It was such a beautiful opportunity that worked out amazingly. The Lord provided our funds to go back each summer for six years in a row. We got to introduce the kids to our acoustic music as well, and many were inspired to learn other instruments besides the ukulele. We toured the country of Serbia and played a few concerts in Hungary and Montenegro. In 2016 and 2017 we hosted camps in Romania and shared our music there as well. We’ve built lifelong relationships with precious people over there, and even though we have not been back in coming on two years, we still see the fruit that ministry produced. We are wowed by how the Lord used our time overseas to grow us and prepare us for where He has us today.
That’s awesome! So if you could give some advice to anyone trying to make a living playing bluegrass, what would it be?
Take it one day at a time. Enjoy the journey. Just as failure is an event not a person, so is success. You are not defined by either. So practice hard, be willing and looking to grow your unique gifts. Be who YOU are, not anyone else. Your time will come at the right time. Outside of that, other one-liner pointers we go to — be wise in who you trust; get out of your comfort zone; connect with your audience; build relationships; be humble; always grow; pray for success; then wait… and keep on doing what you do.
What are y’all working on right now? Anything big coming down the pipes soon?
We have a lot of ideas in the works right now. However, nothing has been confirmed yet. We are still doing a lot of videos on YouTube tho, and if you folks want to subscribe, that’d be awesome!
I’ll stay tuned! Where all can y’all be found online, and where can we buy your music?
You can find us at our website, thefamilysowell.com, where you can purchase our music as well as other cool stuff, and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and other streaming services by searching The Family Sowell.
Is there any question you wanted to be asked, or that I should have asked but didn’t? And any question that I should ask in future interviews?
Not off the top of my head…
Cool, well thanks for taking the time to chat with me! And y’all be sure to go check out the Family Sowell at all of those links!!