Kye Fleming: Keeping Her Edge, Part 2

In this week’s issue of CW (Jan. 4, 2010), we catch up with Kye Fleming, the songwriter whose songs you know . . . even if the name doesn’t ring a bell. Below, we continue the story and introduce you to the new country trio Kye now manages—Edens Edge.

When hit songwriter Kye Fleming first heard Edens Edge, she didn’t know that she and the rootsy country band had a home state, Arkansas, in common. But she knew they had something special, regardless where it came from.

“We are all from Arkansas,” Kye confirms, “but that’s not where we met. I was judging a song contest for NSAI [Nashville Songwriter’s Association International] and heard them three years ago, when they were a family band based in Arkansas. The song they turned in was a little bluegrassy, and I love that kind of music,” continues Kye. “But really, what I heard was just beautiful voices. That’s what got me. I thought, ‘Wow, these guys are really good.’”

Kye went on to contact Edens Edge and arrange for a Nashville performance so she could see and hear the band in person. During the period that transpired between her initial call and their decision to work together, Edens Edge had become smaller and more distilled, focusing on the vocal interplay of Hannah Blaylock, Dean Berner and Cherrill Green, as well as on the instrumental prowess of the latter two members, who cover guitar, mandolin and banjo between them.

“The three of us moved to Nashville with Kye’s encouragement,” says Dean, “and we began developing our songwriting and our direction as a trio.”

Lead vocalist Hannah, who says “Kye has become like a mother to me,” describes the nurturing process their manager has followed. “Kye decided she wanted to wait to expose us to the music business, so we wouldn’t have the disadvantage of being judged during our developing period. As we kept writing and growing and getting closer to our goal,” explains Hannah, “Kye was there helping to lead us in the most gentle way to where we said we wanted to go.”

Kye’s successful songwriting career, which includes memorable hits recorded by the likes of Barbara Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap and Steve Wariner, put her in an excellent position to open doors for musicians in whom she believed. But she didn’t just provide a writing opportunity or a passageway to possibilities—she’s walked alongside the band as a manager, using her experience to advise when to wait before walking through some of those doors.

“My focus is not really writing with them,’ Kye notes. “It really is in developing them as artists—and as writers, but not necessarily writing with me, because I want to stay objective. And it’s easier to be objective about other peoples’ songs when you’re not involved in them.”

Still, the matter of songwriting—which, after all, was the ground on which Kye first became acquainted with Edens Edge—looms large in her legend. And not surprisingly, songwriting figured in one of the most exciting opportunities to date for the trio she helped bring to Nashville. The band was invited to perform a medley of Kye’s songs at her recent induction into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, performing for an industry crowd that was on hand to honor Kye as well as Tammy Wynette, Toby Keith and Taylor Swift, among others.

Edens Edge: (from left) Cherrill Green, Hannah Blaylock and Dean Berner

“We feel so honored to have been part of her induction. It was very special for us,” declares Dean. “We had to figure out which songs we were going to do, because there are so many. That was fun, and then we figured out the five songs we were gonna do: ‘Give Me Wings,’ ‘Nobody,’ ‘Sleepin’ Single in a Double Bed,’ ‘In Times Like These’ and ‘I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.’”

When the trio recently opened a show for Ronnie Milsap—who made No. 1 records out of Kye’s “Smoky Mountain Rain” and “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World”—Dean says the test run of the medley went extremely well. “The crowd just loved it. They were singing along, and they clapped when they recognized each song . . . it was just great.”

Cherrill chimes in on the subject of Kye’s songs, and how relatable they are to a new generation of country—and even non-country—fans. “A lot of these songs came out when we were . . . either not born yet, or just really young [laughs]. But a lot of our friends know her songs really well. If they don’t know them word for word, they definitely know all the choruses. For me, I knew a lot more of her hits than even I realized I knew, once we actually started digging through her catalog. I think [younger listeners] love to see people their age singing a classic hit a little bit differently than it was recorded originally.”

That’s certainly in line with the reasoning of forward-thinking Nashville publisher Hearts Bluff Music, the company that recently acquired a major share of the publishing rights to the Kye Fleming catalog and has an eye toward finding contemporary outlets for those classic titles—titles that defined country for a time in the 1980s.

“The other thing about her songs,” notes Dean, “is that, as we’ve grown in our development with Kye, we’ve really tried to learn a lot about the past of country music—where it’s been, and where it’s gone, and what’s changed it—and looking back at all of it, her music, her songs, were some of the first things that introduced the pop element you hear that’s a huge part of country today.”

Hannah nods, emphasizing that the cycle now seems poised to turn in a different direction as country music heads into the second decade of the 21st century. “Around the time Kye’s songs were hitting big, country was going through a change in style,” she says, referring to the “countrypolitan” phase that country music entered after the success of the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy and its soundtrack album. “Today, it seems like another kind of change is starting to happen.”

If the sparkling-clean vocal and instrumental sound of Edens Edge has any influence in the matter, the stylistic shift of which Hannah speaks may end up being driven by organic, harmony-driven music like theirs. And, judging from early industry response to the band, it’s a transition Nashville wouldn’t mind at all—Edens Edge, as it turned out, wowed the music-biz crowd at Kye’s induction.

“That was the first glimpse the industry got of Edens Edge,” Dean points out. “And it worked!—label offers started coming in that night,” he enthuses. And Kye couldn’t be more thrilled to be upstaged—well, almost—at her own induction ceremony. Kye’s award-winning list of hits comprises a career that she wouldn’t have missed for the world, but the music business veteran says she prefers to look ahead to new challenges. And no wonder—she’s currently busy, she says, fielding record company offers that have come in for the band, and notes that Edens Edge is already booked for a slate of festival and college appearances in 2010.

“Looking ahead, it’s all about these guys. I love everything we’re doing together, I love where we’re headed. And I get to be a part of it, and that’s what keeps me kickin’.”

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