60 Bands to Watch: Tennessee

By Ryan G

Early this year we did a bands to watch article for our home state, Ohio. It did so well we thought “ya know, we should do this for other states too.” So we started with what’s familiar to us. Tennessee, to no one’s surprise, has lots going on. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve been into that hails from that state. Entries denoted “RG” are picks from Ryan Getz, and entries denoted “RM” are from Ray Moore.


[photo credit: Danielle Holbert]

*repeat repeat: I’m honestly at a loss at how to classify this band, other than just calling them “rock” which isn’t doing them any justice. A quick glance at their bio reveals a classification as “surf rockcandy” and “flower pop.” Very punny, guys. A bit too airy to just be power pop, but not outright dream pop either. All I know is their latest single “Plugged In” is as fun as all get out, and that this band is touring the country and somehow it took me until a couple of weeks ago to hear about them. -RG

aave: I heard about these guys via Mountains Like Wax last year. Their blend of psychedelic and post rock is infectious and oddly high energy. They demonstrated their drive to break out of the local scene by agreeing to a Tuned Up show early this year and scheduling a weekend run around it. They won over the affections of several in Columbus and they are currently writing their follow up record to last year’s There’s Nothing. -RG

Alicia Michelli: You might be wondering why a contestant that made it to the live shows appears on a “bands to watch list.” Hasn’t she already been discovered? Well, what I dislike about shows like AGT is that most singers stick to covers and they get reduced to how well they can perform songs everyone know. During this show, I remember streaming her full length on Spotify and thinking how much I preferred it to the live covers. Even so, the show gave her a boost in popularity and hopefully that gets folks out to hear the original material. -RG

Ashley Monroe: I know Ashley might be known by a few of you but she should be known by more. She has been kicking it around Nashville for a while. She started as a songwriter like many do in Nashville. Since that time she has released 3 solo records and one with Pistol Annies, a group which also includes Miranda Lambert.  It’s only a matter of time before she breaks out. -RM


Bandit: This band released an excellent record called Of Life that appeared to gain some momentum with the NPR crowd before inexplicably fading away. Maybe the market is oversaturated. Maybe the band needs to tour more. Whatever the reason, Angela Plake has a gift and her band has a reputation of being quietly badass. -RG

Bogues – This Murfreesboro alt-emo act is a solo project that happens to be a concept idea that is centered on Northeast living and everyday life. An idea that I embrace as I am intrigued by the Northeast. If you are a fan of Julien Baker, Turnover or Pinegrove, I would check this this guy out. -RM

CAPPA: Chill electro pop that manages to be dark and bubble-gum-ish at the same time? That’s CAPPA. I mean shoot, she put out a cover of “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls. And, she nailed a cover of “No Scrubs” by TLC. Her original stuff is gnarly too, or we wouldn’t have her on this list. Apparently Matt Wertz agrees, because she’s supporting him on his fall tour. -RG

Cardboard Kids: We’ve written about these guys before, but they bear a mention because they pulled off a reinvention of sound just about seamlessly. Blues influenced rock into indie pop/rock. Plus they’re pretty much endorsed by Relient K. If that isn’t a solid argument I don’t know what is. -RG

Civilian: Big announcement coming from this band soon, I hear. Noisetrade founder Derek Webb is obsessed with this band and numerous other Nashville friends have told me to check em out. Jordan McGee from Advent and The Ember Days has been known to drum with them and Bandit. Anything else I say is speculation, but I’ll say that the words I’ve heard from friends carry enough weight to put Civilian on this list. Update: when I first drafted this article I knew there was an announcement, and now everyone knows that they’ve signed to Tooth and Nail Records. Congrats, dudes. -RG


Clay Cages: When friends of yours book a band over and over, pay attention. Such is the case with Clay Cages. Post Modern, who appeared on our Ohio Bands to Watch feature have played with these guys multiple times (even going on tour with them at one point) and I feel like Clay Cages are Post Modern’s post rock brothers from another mother. The overall sound is a little less foreboding, but accomplishes a similar all encompassing sound. -RG

Constellations: I could have sworn these guys were an Ohio band. Did they move? Oh well. I keep bringing up endorsements in this write-up; here are a couple more. Jeremy Claudio from Pardon the Band and John Beach who runs our podcast both enjoy these guys. These guys perform an earnest brand of pop rock and they have more tunes coming soon. I have to assume a Midwest tour will be involved. -RG

Crowns: Well, we booked these guys at our favorite dive, Donato’s Basement, so what does that tell ya? The turnout wasn’t awesome, but those present told me the sound was amazing. A listen to the band’s kinda grungy yet ambient brand of rock ought to make you concur when you experience their unique form of beauty. Word on the street is they have another record coming out soon. More touring will surely follow. -RG

Crown Vox: What does dark soul pop from Memphis sound like? Listen to Crown Vox and then you’ll know. When I watch the music video for “No Loving But Yours” I’m little creeped out, but the catchiness overwhelms the creep factor. Besides, who doesn’t love being creeped out a little bit from time to time. -RG

Daisyhead – This Nashville emo unit has been making sad boy tunes since 2012. They may not have achieved the success or recognition as their Nashville counterparts but they are slowly making their way there. And when it happens beware. -RM


[photo credit: Josh Collins]

Daje Morris: This singer from Chattanooga and I have a band friend in common – Julian Henderson from the Bon Iver meets Dave Matthews sounding jazz/funk group Cardinal Harbor. Morris is powerful and poignant, yet in a more subtle way than some of her counterparts. She could easily fully indulge her powerful voice, but chooses to keep things simple. Less can be more. I have no clue where Morris is headed, but thought she was worth mentioning as a TN artist making moves outside Nashville. -RG

Danger Scene: The electropop duo just released a killer new EP called Futures. With a hit single under their belt they’re hitting the touring circuit this year. I saw em perform this spring complete with their own lighting rig which they constructed on the cheap by themselves. DIY doesn’t have to mean unpolished folks. These guys are fun and polished. -RG

Daniella Mason: Vocal sample synth electropop. I just made that phrase up. You like? The bubble gum aesthetic of Cappa without the airy vocals. Also more lighthearted. The Warner Brothers artist seems to be keeping quiet on the touring front but just released an EP called, rather appropriately I might add, Technicolour. -RG

Dead Horse – This alt-country act based out of Savannah is one that has a loyal legion of fans in their area and soon the rest of Tennessee and then the region and then the United States. They are slowly working on their second EP. Fans of the band can expect a few changes as the band has gone through a few since the first EP. But not too many, you can probably expect the elements that made them, them. -RM

Dead Soldiers: The bluegrass/rock group is an extravaganza of sounds in many senses of the word. Many people performing. Many layers. Does this band take a traditional ska band set-up and give it a swamp rock vibe? Yes, yes they do. The tempo is a bit punk, even. Draw your own conclusions about the band’s sound, but this group is hitting the road and undoubtedly making an impact wherever they play – shattering any expectations that might come with their morbid sounding band name. -RG


Dynamo: Last week Tuned Up published an editorial on Brothers Drake Meadery. Well, one thing that this venue has in common with some of our friends in Nashville is a love of the jazz collective Dynamo. Their accessible brand of jazz blends in some funk and classic R&B influence as well. I haven’t seen these guys live yet, but I have to imagine it’s a polished, classy spectacle. -RG

Edward & Jane: The Giant and the Tailor, one of our other picks below, maintain that Edward and Jane making it in the music industry is a virtual certainty. A bold prediction, but the Chattanooga duo definitely makes a warm slice of folk that people should enjoy. I haven’t heard electric guitar and mandolin complement each other this well, maybe ever. -RG

Eza: Eza, like Cappa is electropop from Nashville. Eza is a little less tentative in her vocals but neither better nor verse. Her aesthetic is all her own. She isn’t afraid to trailblaze a new path through familiar territory. I like the way the song “Alive” stretches out the mood of the instrumentals instead of just ending when she’s done singing, like most pop songs. -RG

Fable Cry: This is by far the most theatrical band on this list. After months and months of PR emails begging us to check out this band I finally caved. Sometimes persistence pays off. The band’s publicist calls Fable Cry “scamp rock.” I’m not sure what scamp rock is, but this band blends southern rock with bluegrass and a love for the macabre. I’m tempted to book these guys for a Halloween show. Also, this band would be great alongside both Maylene and the Sons of Disaster and White Collar Sideshow. -RG

Faux Killas: Blues meets garage meets classic rock and roll is the name of the game for these Memphis boys. This is a really obscure reference, but the guitar tones make me think of a band called Thieves and Liars that were once on Dreamt Records (indie rock imprint of Facedown Records). The music is in your face and unapologetic. They opened for Day Creeper recently, so there’s that.


Free Throw – They are the last band in my Nashville bevy of sadness. Of the three, Free Throw might be the most known. Like Daisyhead, they have been making people feel feelings they didn’t know they had since 2012. Over the course of their time they have toured the country numerous times and left a trail of sentiment in their wake. -RM

The Giant & the Tailor: I JUST wrote about this band on a single premiere so I’m not sure what to put here. Well, if some other band in this write up shared this article and you’re new to Tuned Up, I’ll elaborate – The Giant and the Tailor mix a bit of emo and indie rock with passionate hip hop and spoken word. Their single “Hurt Someone” is killer. That is all. -RG

The Gills: My friend Ben Taylor of Riley Wildmen name dropped these guys to me once when I saw Abandon Kansas perform with a fill-in guitarist. That guitarist is in this band – and what a band they are. Groove heavy rock and roll at it’s finest. They smashed through a set at SXSW when their drummer was battling mono – I mean geez. AND they are playing Austin City Limits. -RG

Great Peacock – Do you have those bands that your friends talk about all the time? That one band you aren’t into yet. But your friends talk about them like they are the next great thing. For a period of about 8 months that band for me was Great Peacock. I just couldn’t bring myself to listen to them. When I finally did, I was transported to a happy place. A place that I like. I love bands that can do that. This Nashville folk/southern rock/indie band is the latest to that. -RM


[photo credit: Errick Easterday]

Hanging Moon: What do you get when you mix doom and hardcore? Hanging Moon of course. I love the song “Drag Them” and how it has two distinct halves – practically making me beg for that higher energy level to kick in through out the first half. Hanging Moon thunders and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if they made it up to Tuned Up’s little corner of Ohio hardcore soon.

Harper: Emo. Hardcore. Post-harcore. If I have my way Harper will be a band that comes to mind when I drop those genres in a sentence on this blog. I got to see these guys absolutely own the stage at Audiofeed Festival this past year, and was surprised at how intense of a frontman the normally laid back Matthew Penfound is. At one point he chucked the mic off stage and stomped around the edge of the tent for a minute. Plus, they’ve toured with Comrades, so that should be enough of an endorsement for anyone.

Husky Burnette – When I think of cities, there is a certain sound that I associate with that city. Nashville is country, Memphis is Soul, Chicago is pop-punk and Atlanta is Rap. When I think of Chattanooga I do not think a blues based rock band. Well that’s what Husky Burnette is and they do it well. This is the type of music I want to hear in a dirty smoky bar on a Friday night. -RM

I Can Japan: I’m bummed that one of my early favorites of the Tuned Up days, Rigoletto, is no longer a band. At least I have I Can Japan, the new post-punk/pop project from ex-Rigoletto bassist Chris Williams. The Chattanooga band has a low key online presence as of now, but I suspect that will change soon. The band mixes slightly unpolished undertones with a sugary sweet melodies.

Joey Kneiser: I discovered this Americana songwriter on my own and later found out that another Tuned Up contributor was already hip to this guy. That’s always a good sign. Especially when said contributor and I have vastly different preferences when it comes to our favorite genre. Joey Kneiser certainly doesn’t compromise authenticity for accessibility though – he proves that both are possible.


Keeps: This psych-pop duo has toured to Columbus and played with Turtle Island, a young band of similar sound, multiple times. I can hardly believe that these guys pull off a sound like this with only two of them – always testament to a solid two piece. The band ought to appeal from fans of Temples, Glass Animals, and even The Black Keys. And, I recently heard that they are managed by Jacob Merrit from Pomegranates, another band that broke up too soon. -RG

KiND: Anyone that knows me is probably sick of me talking about this band by now. But, I mean, Paul Meany endorses them. When my favorite band (any of their members) vouch for an unknown artist’s quality I pay attention. And they’re usually right. For fans of Mutemath and Foster the People, the group recently hit the road with St Lucia. They are also playing a Tuned Up show (in Columbus OH) at Big Room Bar on August 26th! -RG

Kphonix: If you want a trip and a catchy pop tune and don’t mind weird cadences, Memphis’ Kphonix is for you. For some unknown reason, MGMT and Flaming Lips come to mind when listening to the song “When It’s Tasty.” One song will make you want to dig deeper into the odd world of the Memphis artist. -RG

Lions: We take a break from the mountain of Nashville artists to show some love to Lions, a math rock/emo band who really loves noodling and catchy melodies. They just released a split with Sports. and PALTH, two other buzz bands at this time. Sports. toured with Turnover and I don’t see why Lions can’t hop on one of those tours as well. Lions would also be at home opening for Title Fight or Chon. -RG

Local Sound: I’m including this project on this list because Lauren Strahm of Fleurie (she doesn’t appear to be an official member at this time but she gave me the scoop on this band) is involved and I’ve NEVER heard of a band taking an electropop approach to worship before. The closest thing to this concept being executed in my memory has to be The Echoing Green, but their brand of electronica gives me a vastly different feeling than most electropop being released to day. To say I’m curious about the final product of the first Local Sound record would be an understatement. If the lead single “Wild” is any indication, expect something that sounds like a combination of Hillsong, Walk the Moon, and The Chainsmokers. -RG


Matt Woods – This Knoxville singer-songwriter has eluded me for years. Whenever he plays this area, it’s always in Circleville. What the poop is in Circleville? Matt if you by chance read this, please play in Columbus, Oh. You have fans here. Matt Woods is that guy that writes really good songs that you wish you wrote. He is that guy that deserves to be heard. So in a few years when he is mentioned alongside with Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton remember you first heard about him here. -RM

Mountains Like Wax: This is another band we’ve discussed at length on this blog, but recent moves to amp up their touring schedule along with winning Nashville’s prestigious contest to open the Live on the Green series of summer shows obligates us to include ’em on this list. Emotive post rock making waves, yo. -RG

Movie Brain: Dream pop and “jangly” along with their derivatives are trendy words in the indie music scene these days. Movie Brain from Kingsport, TN takes the sound and creates an atmosphere of storm clouds rolling in. At times this kind of reminds me of the sludge meets post rock sound of O’Brother. The vocals are mixed in a very shoegazey way though. So, needless to say, there is quite a cornucopia of sounds at work here. -RG

The New Schematics: Chillax to the pop rock of the New Schematics. This band rests comtorably in mid-tempo pop rock territory designed to make you feel good. I have never seen this band live, but I get the sense that crowd participation is encouraged and obliged by fans who watch these guys. I’m sure they’ll play a city near you soon. Plus they’ve won the hearts of a couple more casual music fans I know here in Columbus. -RG

The Orchardist: When Timbre’s violinist who also happens to be friends with Julien Baker chooses to go on tour with a folk rock band, do not take that decision lightly. I didn’t, and I’m enjoying the old-timey spiritual meets current folk rock in the vibe of this band, and wish I would have been able to book them when I had the chance to earlier this summer. -RG


Pocket Science: Fun emo-tinged rock that sounds like the result of a Foo Fighters and Tiny Moving Parts love-child? Yes please. This is another under the radar touring act that enough friends have shouted out on social media such that I could no longer ignore them. Plus, they have a very interesting analogy for who Jesus is in the song “Cult of My Own.” -RG

Tiger Drive: Jeremy Claudio of OceanSpeak packed up his belongings in Columbus, Ohio and relocated to Nashville with the intention of continuing OceanSpeak there. Little did he know that a complete reinvention of the band was at hand. Early previews of new tunes call out influences like Young the Giant, Coldplay, The 1975, and even MUTEMATH. With a new crew at the helm, you can bet that Claudio is already making moves behind the scenes in Nashville and that it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing some major moves. -RG

PJ North: I had the chance to see PJ perform with Jacey J onstage at a DIY festival once, and even in a room that was mostly empty the dude exuded positivity. While in his previous homebase of Columbus Ohio he was known to frequently collaborate with the pop-leaning Jacey J, and the pair had an undeniable chemistry. A quick listen of PJ’s new release Part Time Cowboy ought to put to sleep any reservations about his ability of fusing country and hip hop or his abilities as a solo artist, especially the latter. -RG

Quiet Entertainer: MUTEMATH’s #1 fan does a DJ set with his own compositions and mash ups of songs he likes. He opened MM’s whole tour last fall. And he has a band too! Come on now, that’s pretty awesome. I want to see Quiet Entertainer, band version, go on tour pronto. Greg’s a chill dude too – so get to know him if you’re okay with the “no-talking” stage persona getting distorted. -RG


[photo credit: Tyler Babin]

R.LUM.R: Hearing the falsetto in this dude’s voice get some distortion and reverb sent something like chills up my spine. I honestly have no clue what this dude’s plans in the music industry consist of, but his sound made such an impression I had to include him on this list. I also recently learned he’s a good friend of Jake Germany of Cardboard Kids, and is helping him cook up some stuff under the new moniker PHANGS. -RG

Riley Wildmen: Last of the Wildmen were one of the first bands “under the radar” to ever be featured on Tuned Up, and nearly five years later amidst some lineup changes the Fremont, OH boys find themselves in Nashville ready to embrace a new sound. If it’s anything like “Get Your Head Right,” the most recent single to released by Last of the Wildmen, expect a bit more pop and a bit less Americana. -RG

Secret Club: This is a rock band not to be missed. This is no nonsense rock and roll featuring AJ Babcock from House of Heroes and Angela Plake from Bandit. The power trio (also featuring Nate Moran – I don’t know what his musical history is – sorry) is great at writing catchy tunes and not giving a rat’s you know what what people think about them. What started as a joke band is quickly becoming very serious and I’m stoked. -RG

Secret Stuff – This Nashville emo band is one that I personally feel needs more exposure. This is the Brainchild of Michael Pfohl, who is one of the nicest, sincere people in the scene. It is an honor to call him friend, I’m still not sure that he knows how much his band means to me. But it’s all good. -RM

Side Affect: This Chattanooga artist is slightly subdued dreampop. If we’re going to use a dream analogy, I would position this as the musical equivalent of what’s often on my mind in the not-quite-asleep-but-not-awake state. It appears this artist is just getting started, but the music, branding, and aesthetic indicate someone who takes his art very seriously. I’ll be curious to hear what happens when he gets his name out there enough to really scale up the production. -RG


Them Vibes: After the killer performance I saw at SXSW, I have to shout out these guys and girl once more. Their frontman puts his all into stage presence and they have the rock chops to back it up. A friend recently tipped me off to Hollis Brown, a buzzing Americana tinged artist and I just read that Them Vibes were tapped to open for this artist at the Exit/In, one of my favorite venues I’ve been to. I wish I could have been at that show. -RG

Three Star Revival: Man, this band WOULD have a fun song called “Chicken Fried.” Not as much twang as you would expect from a band singing about one of the south’s token foods, but there’s plenty of vocal acrobatics and nifty jam sections that are expansive but not self indulgent. It appears they are keeping their live presence stateside for now – but hopefully that changes. -RG

Timbre: I’m cringing a little bit at calling Timbre an Artist to Watch since she’s been at this for awhile, but she is world class and last year’s release of the concept double album Sun & Moon is her crowning achievement thus far. The mix of classical and folk music combined with the sun/moon duality (in part inspired by George MacDonald stories) is ethereal calming music at it’s finest. I think I may sit in the dark for awhile and listen to the “Moon” side of the record when I get home later. -RG

Vas – If indie-pop is your poison, then this Memphis 4 piece is for you. Out of the things I’ve heard about this band, the most common is their live show. I have heard it be compared to that of Gungor. And that reason alone was enough for me to look into them. I really liked what I heard. I might be finished booking shows but this is a band I would bring to Columbus. Pair them with Vesperteen and man you are in for a great night of music. -RM


What We Do In Secret – If you follow Tuned Up then you know one genre we are a fan of is Spirit-Filled Hardcore. If there is any band that is on the up and up then it’s these guys. They have been making noise since 2012 and are presently working on their first LP. So keep your eyes open for that. Who knew with all the soul that comes out of Memphis that that city could produce something this chaotic? -RM

The Winter Sounds: What the heck does “indie new wave dance folk and punk anthems” sound like? Listen to The Winter Sounds and you might have an idea. Apparently these guys have been at it for quite awhile, which makes it a tad shocking they aren’t more well known because the song I’m listening to right now (“Meteor”) is one of the freshest things I’ve heard in quite some time. Keep an ear out for a new record from them. -RG

You the Few – So if I look at a bands Facebook page and I see Underoath, Being as an Ocean and Artifex Pereo listed as your influences I may just give you a listen. That was the case with You The Few, the Memphis unit formerly known as Eleutheria. When I think of Christian metal bands with female vocalists, there isn’t many that come to mind. And I like that. Don’t get me wrong Lacey, Dawn and the girl from Skillet are good at what they do but Nao Glover is ready to take the world by storm. -RM

Youth – The musical alter-ego of Julian Dente is poised to take the US by storm. He has had his hands in a number of projects, and when I ran into him at SXSW he was performing as a part of Liza Anne’s band – another quickly rising project that recently toured with The Oh Hellos. His EP Start Again is a cool collection of indie pop songs, and he is teasing some black and white promos that I have assume are previews of music to come. -RG

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  1. Matt

    I have this page saved. gonna stay connected with these bands!! thanks


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