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KB Massey’s “The Wildwood Sound” Captures Dade County in Folk Songs

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Photo by Chase Cannon – Wildwood native KB Massey released a four-song EP after years of playing guitar, writing songs, and friends encouraging him to record.

After years of playing guitar and writing songs, KB Massey released his first EP this November, thanks to friends who encouraged him to record. Having grown up on a chicken farm in Wildwood, Ga. and calling Wildwood home to this day, Massey felt that “The Wildwood Sound” was a fitting name for this collection of songs.

In the current era of endless sub-genres and articles pondering “the death of the genre,” Massey noted that it’s difficult to categorize music, but he describes himself as a folk singer/songwriter, with a touch of Americana. The EP features topics common among country/Americana music: heartbreak, old trucks, alcohol woes, and descriptions of the everyday surroundings we call home.

Compared to Dade’s other recording artists, Massey’s EP is less “driving around town in a pickup truck with the music up” and more “sitting on a front porch pickin’ with a friend or two.” While Chris Shupe and Camden Smith feature the Nashville, rock, country mix that’s popular on the radio and The Forester Sisters take listeners back to the 80s/90s country era, Massey’s sound opts for simplicity over studio production or vocal harmonies.

He said, “I think there’s a lot to be said for that organic sound. It tells a story, and it may not be flashy, but I want people to hear me play live and think, ‘He sounds just like he did on his lil’ record.’ That raw, acoustic guitar sound is making a comeback lately.”

Massey’s down-to-earth disposition was quickly apparent during his interview with the Sentinel. Now a full-time electrician with Tennessee Valley Authority, his life is not unlike the lives of many who’ve grown up in Dade County.

After graduating from Dade County High School in 2011, Massey attended Georgia Northwestern Technical College. “I studied just about everything you could study over the course of five or six years without graduating,” he quipped. Massey eventually found an appreciation for electrical work and completed a five-year apprenticeship at IBEW Local 175.

While he doesn’t plan to pursue music as a career, Massey will continue the hobby in his spare time. He has another recording session planned for the spring which will likely result in another EP. He said, “I enjoy the process more than I enjoy listening to my songs. It’s a neat experience to take your songs and sit with a group of guys and give them a fuller sound.”

He began playing guitar around age 15, picking up the guitar his brother had used for lessons but eventually abandoned. Massey taught himself to play using YouTube videos. The first full song he learned was “Wildwood Flower” by The Carter Family, taught to him by his grandfather.

Massey plays a small body Martin, which features a softer, quieter sound than dreadnoughts and grand auditoriums. Massey plays acoustic and electric guitar, a little bit of bass guitar, and he’s dabbled in drums. If he were to focus on another instrument, he would choose drums. For this EP, though, he said, “Drums just didn’t seem fitting for the songs the way they were.”

In his early 20s, Massey played a lot of open mic gigs in Chattanooga. He said he was very nervous at his first-ever open mic, but over time, he settled in and became more comfortable playing and singing in front of people.

Over the years, his friends heard him play many times, and without their encouragement, Massey says he would never have recorded or released his music. “They’d say, ‘I love that song. I wish I could listen to it without you having to play it for me.’”

While he holds copyrights to 30 songs, Massey selected four that he wrote about eight to ten years ago for the EP. When asked how he knows when a song is done, Massey said “These just happened to land where they did when we recorded.” He typically returns to songs again and again to tweak them. “I’ll go sit back down with them months later and change them. If I play a song again and again, I’ll realize I don’t like this or I’m tired of that, and I’ll put something new in.”

Preferring to write in major keys, Massey begins a song with chords and music before adding lyrics. However, to him, lyrics are the heart of songs. “Kind of like poetry. I’ll lay them out, AABB or another form and get my rhythms and my rhymes. Then, I’ll just apply it to the music.”

Massey enjoyed poetry and English in school. “Even in college, I was better in English than I was in anything. I always liked freewriting, compositions, and rhetoric.”

He chose to record at The NuttHouse Recording Studio in Sheffield, Ala. (adjacent to the musically renowned Muscle Shoals) because of the owner, Jimmy Nutt. “I went to him because he recorded a lot of my favorite guys’ early stuff, like Jason Isbell, American Aquarium, Chris  LeDoux, and he helped on some Buffett albums. His sound is more focused on songwriting and less on a big noise. It’s not overdubbed a lot.”

Massey sent demos to Nutt who agreed to record and connected him with Will McFarland. McFarland, a long-time Muscle Shoals session musician who toured with Bonnie Raitt for about eight years and recorded on some Forester Sisters albums, added the steel guitar on one of Massey’s songs after only listening to it twice. 

Nutt, who Massey described as incredibly patient, played the bass, and Randy Steele, a Chattanooga native, added the banjo. Massey met Steele years ago at a songwriter expo and became a big fan and considers him a musical influence.

“There’s so much good musicianship in Muscle Shoals with these session musicians,” reflected Massey. “You can go there and efficiently cut a record and have world class guys on it. It’s amazing to me how well-versed those guys are.”

Some of Massey’s other favorite singers, songwriters, and musicians are Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers, John Prine, Jason Eady, Brent Cobb, Drake White, John R. Miller, and Jim Croce, “Guys like that made me want to write songs. I used to drive around the farm in an old Jeep where my dad had an old Jim Croce tape and an Eagles tape. I wore them out.”

In the last year, Massey became a husband (to Haleigh) and a father, and his music will change just as his life changes. He said, “Ten years is a lot of time. From 20-years-old to 30 is a big difference, you know? I’ll probably use less curse words in future songs.” (Two songs on the EP, “Beer in July” and “Bible Belt,” are marked explicit.)

Of the third song, “Daddy’s Been Drinkin’ Again,” Massey explained, “My dad’s a great person, but he struggled with drinking. I witnessed that at a young age and wrote a song about it. Before I cut the song, I asked him if it was alright, and he said yeah. He loves the song.”

The last song on the EP, “Bible Belt,” has a partly frustrated but not entirely negative feel to it. Perhaps that’s because the lyrics capture the angst of wanting to escape where you grew up, but they’re sung by an older man who is now content in his home. Massey said, “I love it here. I’ve traveled for work and seen a lot of different places, but this is home and always will be. I wrote that song when I was young and thinking about moving out.”

Massey said that writing from personal experiences and then releasing the songs for all of his friends, family, and neighbors to hear is a little scary. However, “The local support is unreal,” he said earnestly. He appreciated that instead of general affirmations, people reached out with specific questions about the songs and lyrics. “A lot of people around here showed a lot of love to me. I’m thankful for that.”

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