46 Nashville Artists to Watch – 2020
These list articles are so fun for us to put together. If you know me at all, you know that Nashville has become my music second home whilst traveling for business, and later on friendship hangs. Along the way I’ve gotten plugged into their fascinating scene in more ways than I expected. Here are 46 of the artists I’ve come across that I expect to have a big 2020 in one way or another. Check out a playlist of all the artists at the end of the article.
Adara – One of the most intriguing artists in Nashville has to be electronic pop songstress Adara. Adara is a true artist – she has many loves that she incorporates into her brand and songwriting, most notably a love of all things space. Watching her music videos feels like getting absorbed into a Blade Runner uptopia (“Face In the Crowd,”) or a sci-fi dreamworld fantasy (“Oasis,” “Alien.”). Watching her perform “Wasted” live with full production and backup dancers made me feel like I was at an Empire of the Sun show with the gender roles reversed.
andrews‘ – Sometimes there isn’t much to say other than an artist makes anthemic pop and makes it well. andrews’ is one such artist. What sets him apart from many of his Nashville peers is his experience. Still early in his music career, he already has experience hitting the road as the keyboardist for Vesperteen – I first met him at a showcase at SXSW during one such performance. This, and consistent, savvy single releases and regional shows make him one to watch.
Annie Lawrence – When a friend in a post-hardcore band (Bloom) on the east coast and a songwriter friend (Heather Evans) on the west coast both endorse an artist, that’s a good sign. Annie Lawrence is neither pop, folk, nor country. She sings an accessible, familiar band-driven singer songwriter style that is still all her own.
Arts Fishing Club – One of the most satisfying EPs I listened to in 2019 came from this band. They hosted a release show at one of my favorite clubs, True Music Room. They got further notoriety in Lightning 100’s contest to play Live on the Green. Their sound mixes Americana and indie pop rock and it’s oh-so-nice. Here’s hoping they hit the road in a big way this year.
Basic Printer – You remember that kinda weird kid at school who everyone didn’t quite get, but wanted to be friends with anyway? That’s Basic Printer in a nutshell. “Gloitchpop” is his music genre, according to him. You’re never quite sure what he’s going to do next, but you know it’s going to be fun. He also genuinely wants to be friends with you. Not just a guy with fans.
Betcha – Just a few seconds into listening to their newest release, I have a feeling Betcha is going to sneak up on America the way The 1975, LANY, Coin, and The Band CAMINO have. It’s polished. It’s upbeat. It’s fresh. And they have a fresh record deal with Atlantic Records (really key).
Beyond Here – I know little about this band other than my friend Jon Wisecarver of Raviner semi-recently began playing guitar with them. Now, any musician is going to think their own project is the next big thing, of course. However, when a seasoned touring guitarist gives high endorsement to a new project, I pay attention. Their debut EP New Dangers is complete and will be out soon to bring some alt rock with big hooks to your ears.
Brave Holiday – I have high respect for Nashville acts that release a polished product, and then opt to take the road less polished to get their craft in front of new faces. Brave Holiday is an indie folk duo who have paved their own way, via old fashioned house touring. This personal interaction has built them a loyal fanbase who are helping them to rack up the streams into the hundreds of thousands – not something you often see with a DIY band.
Brianna Harness – What happens when you’re the great-granddaughter of a country legend? You collaborate a bunch with your country-rapping dad Struggle Jennings and then prep your own bluesy release, that’s what. Brianna Harness isn’t content to just be another country artist while carrying on the legacy of Waylon Jennings. Tuned Up got a sneak peak at some of the stuff she has coming down the pike… it’s pleasant and accessible, but still has the attitude of her father’s releases. That vibe is strong as blood.
Caleb LaDuke – Caleb LaDuke has some big collaborators in his corner, and he’s only lived in Nashville a short period of time. His sound is a poppy hip hop that at times leans over into emotive, nothing,nowhere-like territory. And he prefers to keep his focus spiritually inclined, while remaining authentic. His ability to seamlessly transition from smooth melody to a quick flow and back again is impressive.
Charlotte Sands – When two of our favorite indie bands cross paths with an artist, you pay attention. A couple of summers ago, I got to see Charlotte Sands play direct support to Tiger Drive at The Cowan. More recently, I noticed she was doing some recording with my friends in VEAUX. Her recent single “Life of the Party” stacks up her unassuming vocals against a steady backdrop and theatrical harmonies. It’s hard to believe she only has 3 singles released – her presence in the scene feels pretty prolific already.
CITY SILOS – This married couple is also an alternative duo that writes big rock songs with big choruses. They’ve been grinding it out DIY style for a long while, and they’ve exploded onto the scene with their debut full-length album, Happy Thoughts. They standout from the crowd with their liberal use of synth-bass. It gives their sound an ear grabbing dose of polished attitude.
Couchsurf – How fitting that two rock artists with big hooks and polished bass sounds would be next to each other on this list! I’m talking about CITY SILOS and Couchsurf. This sounds like what might happen if 30 Seconds to Mars hung out with Royal Blood for awhile. Like many artists in Nashville, splits his time between music cities – LA, Nash, and NYC.
Creature Comfort – I’ve been hearing this name off and on for the past few years (not to be confused with the inactive Creature Comforts from Columbus). I have a habit of associating this band with the pop scene, but in actuality they play pleasantly pensive indie rock. 2020 looks like it will include regional touring to promote the release of their LP, Home Team. This is music good for zoning out.
Elle Azar – One of the biggest surprises for me in 2019 occured when I clicked on the music video for Elle Azar’s “Mess” on a whim. I believe I was scrolling through Instagram stories and came across Jeremy or Jane Claudio’s admiration of a very unique album release party. I thought to myself “that set looks cool, I’ll watch that music video.” Sweeping, ethereal pop would then hit my radar in a way that made me name her self titled one of my favorites of the year.
Empty Isles – This artist might be the most under-appreciated artist signed to Tooth and Nail Records at the present moment. This isn’t written to throw shade at the label, but to hopefully get some chill rainy day music on your radar. Copeland is the most obvious comparison – the vocals are very Aaron Marsh-esque at times. I’d like to see Empty Isles tour with the likes of From Indian Lakes and Washed Out.
Gabrielle Grace – When I press play on the song “Prone to Wander,” my mind goes to sitting on a porch at sunrise, looking at some beautiful vista. This music is made for self-reflection and nature as well. It’s also a unique kind of worship that would fit nicely on CCM radio. I’m reminded a bit of The Ember Days and some tracks I’ve heard from The Belonging Co.’s live worship albums, but with a more organic, down to earth effect.
Galxara – This newly minted Atlantic Records vocal powerhouse is poised to have a big 2020. “Waste My Youth,” her debut single, showcases her rich, strong range with earworms of melodies and lines. As her moniker indicates, Galxara is themed by the cosmos, and wants your mind to head that way when thinking of her potential.
GAYLE – Step 1: Be recommended by opinionated pop artist Salina Solomon. Step 2: Be booked for a Young Entertainment Professionals of Nashville (it’s a heck of a networking group, let me tell you) showcase. Step 3: Absolutely kill it with stage presence and vocals with a cover of “House of the Rising Sun.” Step 4: Be signed by Kara Dioguardi. Step 5: Get on this list. Convinced yet?
Ghost Town Remedy – This emo-driven rock group deserves a spot on this list for their sheer grit. This side of the Nashville scene goes largely unheard by the masses, but GTR isn’t afraid to put their money where their mouth is – both in songwriting and in persistence. I hope to catch them live this year.
Jon Worthy & the Bends – Only a few touring acts graced the basement of Joe Leppanen and met his dog, Gaston, for the Tuned Up Podcast in 2019. One of them was an americana act called Jon Worthy & the Bends. Jon Worthy is one to watch because in one year he’s managed to hit up the festival circuit and open up his home to a different kind of house show. Kudos, man.
Kara Frazier – Kara Frazier built a reputation as a regular performer at True Music Room, one of my favorite spaces in Nashville. She has a presence and sound I would describe as “pleasantly powerful.” Her appeal is going to be an older crowd not necessarily looking for the next big bop, but are looking for something to move to and be moved by.
KB & the Idyllwilde – This is the quirkiest form of soul influenced music, let alone rock I’ve heard in a hot minute. Frontwoman Katie Burke’s vocal presence is borderline Joplin-esque at times, and not in a karaoke way. This sound’s attitude is unique; I’m unsure if it makes me want to party with Katie and company all night long or worry about getting on her bad side. I jest… but maybe it’s both!
Lackhoney – This hip hop artist is getting ready to play his first headline show in Nashville, at the High Watt – no small feat for an indie artist in town. He’s also signed with Mint for management – which have built a reputation for working with artists that put out nothing but fire – Andreas Moss was an early Nashville discovery of mine who blew my mind with his vocal range. Lackhoney isn’t here to show off his pipes but a flow all his own, uniquely inspired by his Indian and Pakistani background.
Lost Stars – We are repeating one artist from the last time we put this together, which was in 2017. Lost Stars in the past few years have grown in their songwriting and overall presence in the scene. They have a year of touring ahead of them, really making this pop rock band one to watch. Their sound falls somewhere between Imagine Dragons and COIN. It’s bombastic guitar-driven pop rock. “Once in a Lifetime” is a good place to start with them.
Michael Farrar – The temptation with this artist is to compare to NF at times, but that simply wouldn’t be fair. He raps with a bright, unashamed outlook, which is present even when the subject matter isn’t so bright. His songs go hard in a smooth, pleasant way – which shouldn’t make sense, but here it does. He recently relocated to Nashville from his hometown of Richmond, VA and he played a showcase in Atlanta showcase sponsored by Rapzilla, a prominent faith-based hip hop site.
MOLLĒ – I knew that this was artist is establishing herself in Nashville, but when I go to her Facebook page and the first thing I see is a show at the famed Saint Andrews’ Hall in Detroit – that demonstrates hustle. Her sound is nostalgic yet modern at the same time. I’m reminded simultaneously of early 2000s R&B and shimmering futuristic alt-pop. Rich vocals meet edgy minimalist instrumentals.
Nightbirde – Nightbirde is a unique entry on this list. I’m blown away at how consistently Jane Claudio is a vessel for the encouragement of others. People seem to naturally gravitate toward her music and service. Jane’s story is one of hardship and perseverance, and faith in the providence of One she loves through it all. She has beat cancer once, however her remission appears to have come to an end at the time of this writing. I believe there’s much more yet to come from this artist, whether it takes the form of her earnest pop songs or her warm presence and encouragement. Recently, Nightbirde traveled to London, UK for a series of outdoor shows. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if something huge happened between the time of this writing and our publishing of the article. In any case, I’ve been noticing the music community and beyond rally around Nightbirde in a way that’s truly inspiring.
Notelle – Notelle’s sound is bombastic and compelling pop. “Beyond the Grave” is huge and really fun to listen to. It’s as club-ready as I’ve heard in a hot minute from this scene. She had a big 2019; she has songs getting in excess of a million streams. She’s getting shout outs by major Nashville outlets. Add this Ohio outlet to your list, Notelle. Seriously, y’all – I’m in love with this sound.
Pacific – I noticed on Spotify that this band has been added to a playlist titled “Indie Poptimism.” I can’t but think of how accurate that is. Something about their sound is nostalgic to me. The feelings I’m encountering remind me to being at youth group growing up. This isn’t worship music, but something transcendent is happening here. If the goal is connection with young fans, Pacific are on the right track.
Pet Envy – When a pop band has collaborators in common with Prince, Bela Fleck, Glen Miller Orchestra, and Dave Matthews – listen the heck up. Their sound I would describe as synthpop for the beach. It’s for the fans of Phoenix and MGMT as much as it is for those nostalgic for 60s surf rock. Sounds like a recipe for a great show, doesn’t it?
Poster Child – This band’s exact genre is hard to pin down, but it’s so distinct and it makes so much sense. Sometimes they’re just soul. Sometimes just funk. Sometimes just disco. Usually, a fusion of the three. I have no idea if their 2020 includes tour dates, but it should. Lots of people in Columbus, OH would love them – I could see them on a bill with MojoFlo.
Oginalii [photo credit – Matt Blum] – One of the best shows I attended all of 2019 was an Oginalii show that featured Columbus favorites The Cordial Sins and WYD. Their earnest brand of psych-rock has moments of beauty and moments where your eardrums are straight up throttled; often those moments are one and the same. They’ve racked up some touring experience that’s nothing to sniff at – a tour last year included an appearance on the sought after live session channel Audiotree.
Rival Summers – This, the pop project of Leo Bautista, will warm your heart. Leo has a naturally sunny disposition, even when he’s not in the best of moods. Last time I saw him perform he was a bit under the weather, but he went on that stage and put a smile on everyone’s face, with a grin on his the whole time. Of course, all of this happened with the help of piano driven upbeat pop songs.
Robyn Harris – This artist came at the recommendation of Jane Claudio (also known as Nightbirde). Not only is Jane a phenomenal artist, but she has great taste as well. This folk pop originated in the uncannily music rich town of Denton, Texas before relocating to Nashville and releasing the Look at You EP in 2018. I was struck by the richness and depth of the carefree song “Love Me, Easy.”
ROY3LS – When have you heard a sister synthpop trio make tunes that are faith inspired? You probably haven’t. Move over, BarlowGirl and Superchic(k). Although, if I’m being honest most of ROY3LS’ future fans probably have never heard of those projects. They only have 3 singles and a Christmas song out, but 2020 is looking mighty promising with industry connections and touring set to make their name known.
Sad Baxter – The friendship of Columbus act Van Dale has had a not small influence on our decision to include Sad Baxter on this list, to be honest. It’s honestly hard not to fall in love with the sludge-pop sound of this duo, though. It’s a compelling dichotomy of sounds they’re able to put out with just two of them.
Safari Room – Honestly, I could just say that this band is friends with Ghost Soul Trio and that should be enough reason to include on this list. Add to that the friendship and respect of Ooko Studios and Mozy Media, two entities that collaborate with Steadfast Festival, and you have more of an argument. Still not convinced? Listen to their soothing cousin-of-Local Natives sounds, and catch them on tour. They also remind me a bit of Milo Greene.
Saint Pressure – Ready for straight dirty beats? Pop on some Saint Pressure. I started playing “Glossa” and I forgot it was January. It reminds me of the music video for “Turn Down For What” when people involuntarily start dancing in ways that are comically over the top. Saint Pressure sends my mind to that place – but in a way that’s a bit more wholesome. I hope.
Sansol – If you know, you know. Sansol is Soundcloud only for now, taking a break from making cinematic pop to churn out bangers in a realm somewhere between Kanye and Posty. On Instagram, he says he’s gonna inundate us with music this year. We’re ready.
Stephanie Owens – This artist strikes me as a down to earth, girl next door kind of country artist that seeks to win the hearts of America. She isn’t going to do so while faking it til she makes it – she’d rather be authentic. TV appearances have allowed her the opportunity to share her story of struggling with body image and perform the title track of her 2018 EP Little Girl in the Mirror. Her latest single, “Slingshot,” takes a more pop direction, but staying in that heartwarming lane those that have gotten to know her thus far love.
Sycamore – With bright vocals and melodies, Sycamore plays a brand of rock that is more off the beaten path than you’d guess. “You’ve Got a Thing” melds together influences that sound like a 90s hit mixed with present day arena rock. Think Matchbox 20 meets Foo Fighters. Raise your whiskey in the air and bounce to this band. I’m actually drinking whiskey as I type this!
Tummyache – Tummyache melds together an interesting hybrid of sounds, that ought to both appeal to fans of sad/thoughtful indie rock (see Snail Mail, Better Oblivion Community Center) and pensive indie pop (see Half Waif). This is the sort of sound that would equally lend itself well to a DIY basement gig or a House of Blues. Odds are pretty good you’ll see Tummyache in either of those venues at some point. She’d be a great opener for Japanese Breakfast
Vacay Nick – I’d be remiss to leave out the debut solo project of Paper Route’s Nick Aranda. I haven’t a clue what his live plans are for this year, but sound is as polished and cool as you’d expect. It’s polished in a different way, though. “Good Riddance” reminds me vaguely of The Pixies – you know that ethereal melody in “Where Is My Mind?” mixed with reverb and guitar? That effect is here (not the melody), but brought into the present, and given more of an ambient twist.
VEAUX – There are a handful of acts that, over the years, have come to be “Tuned Up bands” in my mind. What makes an act a Tuned Up band? It means a long friendship, killer tunes, and usually an appearance on one of our events. VEAUX hits all of those requirements I just pulled out of the air. This ambient pop group is going to have a big year with many music releases and much touring. They told me early last year about their goal to appear in certain cities as often as a local band. Gosh, I hope that happens in Columbus.
The Weird Sisters – With this band’s grunge-like sound, I did not expect to read that one of their vocalists also plays synth and saxophone. I’m getting some influence from Queens of the Stone Age and Royal Blood peaking through, with their own quirky, almost art-rock influence peeking through. Pretty harmonies sometimes give way to a vocal style that almost sounds like the singer is lecturing the listener. “Can’t Stop This Sound” is an interesting juxtaposition of noises that helps to explain why they won best rock act at the 2019 Nashville Industry Music Awards.
Yacht Money – It feels wrong to talk about this duo without mentioning Solomon Olds of Family Force 5 fame is at the helm – but know this. I was considering writing about this duo when I had zero clue they had that pedigree. All I knew is that cinematic pop juggernaut Sam Tinnesz has plugged this group, along with several contacts in Nashville. There’s gotta be a good reason for that, right? Yacht Money unsurprisingly makes a crunk version of pop and hip hop. Listen and don’t you even think of calling it a guilty pleasure because these vibes are here to entertain you.