Tuned Up’s Nashville Bands to Watch – 2021

By Ryan G

We at Tuned Up were super impressed at how often you referred to our 2020 rendition of this list last year. While we couldn’t have predicted how the rest of 2020 will go, we still had a blast compiling it. And the same can be said for this year. This year, we’ve expanded the list and brought on board the expertise of Nashville-based Morgan Fisher, who has extensive experience in band management, hospitality, marketing and more (Check out Mozy Management online). Few are more qualified than her to give us an inside look at “who’s next” in Music City. Enjoy the list below (Ryan’s picks are noted “RG” and Morgan’s are “MF”). A playlist for your convenience is included at the end.

allie – To say Allan Cuva is multi-talented would be the understatement of the year. As a member of indie-rock outfit The Pressure Kids, a raucous rock band filled with heart, and Cuva, a pop-tinged duo they started with their brother Jacob, Allan Cuva never ceases to deliver. In the midst of these gigs and projects, Cuva quietly began making an EP of their own: Junior Coder’s Experiment, which released on March 6 under the name “allie.” -MF

Allistair – This artist is well positioned to take the scene by storm, putting forth a sound that exists at the intersection of several trending scenes. The vocals have a pop punk sensibility, which tugs at folks’ nostalgic leanings. He also touches on EDM and the Soundcloud “is it hip hop or pop” sound in newer singles. Basically, if you’re a fan of screaming “Fat Lip” and rocking to Machine Gun Kelly, you’ll probably enjoy this dude. -RG

Alyssa Trahan – I’ve found this country artist’s approach to be accessible and authentic. She runs from the clichés but does so in a very down to earth way. And, I enjoy her Tik Toks. As a self-described Jill of all trades, she certainly lives up to the moniker with her genre traversing. She owns and drives her entire presence—authenticity is the name of the game, here. -RG

Anna Eisch – Anna brings to the table a brand of quirky pop that is full of attitude and a refreshing dose of honesty. Her EP I Doubt He’ll Ever Hear This brings to mind songstresses like Caroline Rose and the softer side of Lorde. She refers to herself as a dark pop artist, but this sound is so much more than that. -RG

The Arcadian Wild – The Arcadian Wild is an indie folk 4 piece that marries their academic studies of music with a passion for pushing songwriting and genres to their limits. Aside from their streaming success with hit singles such as “Hers” reaching over 19 million streams to date, the Nashville group has built a loyal following by hosting intimate shows across the country in homes, coffee shops, etc. -MF

ARRO – Most synthpop seems to have an aim to get you moving. However, as I type this ARRO is easing some political tension for me. I live in Columbus, where some armed protests are planned (we’ll know what happened by the time you read this). Both his original material and cover songs (I love his take on “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”) has a therapeutic, dreamy quality to it. -RG

Band of Silver – This band released one of my favorite perseverance anthems of this past year—which is saying something, since last year was 2020. Their sound will appeal to fans of PVRIS, Metric, and Icon for Hire. These songs are made for the arena and a ridiculous light show. Perhaps Muse and Panic! At the Disco should pay attention. -RG

Beau Turrentine – From his bedroom in Quail Creek to playing out heavily in Nashville, Turrentine continues to develop his craft. The first demo he released in 2016 titled “The Best Days” racked up more than 200,000 plays on Soundcloud. His two new singles, “Already Gone” and “My Old Friend” have over 50K streams and gained attention from fans in over 56 countries. Ear to the Ground Music writes, “He sings with a… colorful nonchalance. I can see him being an indie sensation.” -MF

Beshootin – Okay, my mind is a little blown right now. Out of many submissions, I had narrowed down Beshootin— a vibey, psychedelic hip hop artist as a pick for this list. Further digging yields other entrepreneurial outlets, including a production company called THiRD i MEDiA, which I noticed is followed by unknwn811, formerly known as it’s (i), the artist who kicked off our Ohio Bands to Watch 2020. Beshootin is on a journey of whimsical self actualization, and we’re intrigued. -RG

Birdtalker – Birdtalker is an alt-folk band compared to artists such as The Lone Bellow, and Shovels & Rope. Birdtalker is the creation of Zack and Dani Green, who decided to start their recently married life by writing songs. Dani & Zack’s stunning harmonies bring a less melancholy ode to those of The Civil Wars. Their 2016 single “Heavy” has over 22 million streams on Spotify. -MF

Blood Root – Achingly evocative and unapologetically vulnerable, Blood Root’s debut EP Crux is a tender ten-minute journey through ethereal indie folk and inviting, immersive dream pop. Don’t call it a quarantine record: It’s so much more than that. -MF

Bryant Taylorr – Watching the music video for “Space Boots” will tell you everything you need to know about Taylorr—a driven, goofy hip-hop artist who mixes serious art with not-so-serious performance. I also noticed Taylorr’s link with RXSongs, a prominent publishing entity. It’s nice to come across an artist who feels down to earth and like he could suddenly be everywhere at the same time. -RG

CAMDEN – With cuts through Dim Mak Records, Delicious Musique, and Sony Music Germany, Camden has made a global name for himself. CAMDEN is influenced by jazz and hip hop and is a great listen for fans of Tom Misch, Jordan Rakai and FKJ. His song “Problem” with Prince Fox and NBC Songland’s Bridgetta received instant playlist support from Pit Bull, Steve Aoki and Marshemello. CAMDEN is making a name for pop music in Nashville. -MF

Candace in Wonderland – The artwork for this pop artist’s aesthetic looks like something out of a Wes Anderson meets Tim Burton fever-dream. And the pop songs are not quite as weird as the look might imply. But the character is nonetheless charming and alluring. I have to give props to this underground pop artist for carving her own lane. -RG

Caroline Dare – At the time of this writing, I had read recently that Caroline signed with a major management group (also known for their work with Fleetwood Mac and ZZ Top). Her EP Dive has been streamed millions of times, and her sound is by definition pop but has a rock-and-roll attitude in her delivery. Her name is beginning to appear alongside A-listers on various virtual events… -RG

Chase Tremaine – This dude has been a regular in many music circles of my 2020, and also released an impressive solo debut at the start of the year. He is following up this hook-laden emo with noodling release with another one early on in 2021—actually out now at the time of publishing (titled Development & Compromise). This sound is equally appealing to music nerds and those just looking for a catchy chorus. -RG

Chey Rose – This pop artist is part of the uprising that is sweeping Nashville and the country—the next big thing is no longer just an LA or NYC thing. I would describe her sound as a little like Lorde, but a lot less pissed off. I’ve been following this artist for over a year now and have been very impressed with how she’s been able to gain momentum as a young independent. -RG

CJ-0 – This artist might be low in Spotify listens for the moment, but I felt her debut single (and accompanying visual) was strong enough to warrant placement in this feature. “ANMLS” is light-hearted and haunting at the same time. Look for her to release her debut full length later this year, with plenty of placements in TV and film to follow. -RG

The Criticals – The Criticals are a Nashville-based rock band formed by Parker Forbes and Cole Shugart in 2018. The band focuses on energy, first and foremost, looking to The Stone Roses, Jane’s Addiction, and The Doors for inspiration. Parker and Cole had played music together in a stream of bands in the Nashville DIY scene for nearly a decade before deciding to join forces. Since the release of the band’s first single, “Homebody,” The Criticals have been able to attract global attention. With articles from Earmilk, Popdust, Brooklyn Vegan, and Come Here Floyd, the band has not only been able to captivate their DIY roots but also music critics alike. -MF

danny G – This artist seems tailor made for the current moment. Hooks abound, and a voice you’ll swear you’ve heard before stands out immediately to yours truly. He’s gathered over 160,000 followers on Tik Tok and gotten press in the likes of Forbes, The Source, and more. Wow. Again, why haven’t I heard of this dude already? “Lose My Cell Phone” is a “deep song with a mundane title” that is particularly enjoyable. Who needs “Drivers License” when you have this? -RG

Drive!Drive! – I have to respect this band’s hustle. Their name just keeps popping up on the periphery of various emerging pop circles. Notably, they once shared the stage with Ohio Band to Watch alumni 90’s Kids at the Exit/Inn. “Like You,” the band’s newest music video, mixes humor with a bouncy pop rock ditty. Expect to see them on the road as soon as they’re able. -RG

Drumming Bird – I don’t recall the first place I heard about this artist, but I do recall the day I heard him for the first time. I was multitasking, and using music discovery as the backdrop to my day job work. I remember going outside to take a walk on a sunny fall day and Drumming Bird’s new album just hitting the spot perfectly. It was slick—but not too slick. Lightning 100 likes this guy, and I suspect everyone else will too. -RG

Early Humans – I don’t recall exactly how I stumbled across this act. But Holy Kiss (formerly known as Good Enough, an Ohio Band to Watch alumnus) and Hannah Weir (an Audiofeed Festival friend of ours) both follow them, so that’s a good sign. The self-described “anti-pop” band crafts a sweeping indie sound that fans of groups like Little Image, Hot Mulligan, and old school Everyone Leaves (remember them?) will enjoy. -RG

Eddie Island – Before auditioning for Season 17 of American Idol, Eddie Island gained social media notoriety thanks to his Instagram handle @NashvilleMayor. He has more than 30,000 followers on the site. Eddie explained during his Idol audition that he got the “Nashville Mayor” handle after a bet, and the idea skyrocketed from there. Eddie is the Indie Mayor of Nashville, dedicated to building community through quirkiness, one merch button at a time. -MF

Emily Clement – With her soulful, bluesy sound it is hard to classify Emily into any one genre. You can hear her Country, Alternative and Americana influences mixed into a modern, artful sound that is a refreshing alternative to much of today’s repetitive popular music. Emily Clement is one new artist that you’ll definitely want to follow in the future. -MF

Foundation Mecca – Endorsements go a long way with yours truly (Ryan), and I checked out Foundation Mecca in part because of Quiet Entertainer, an alumnus of the Nashville Bands to Watch list (and Mutemath superfan). So, Mutemath fan + a dude that drops sick beats = a winning combo in my book. “Stranger Thingz” is delightfully angry and jarring. It made me uncomfortable on my first listen. -RG

Friendship Commanders – When listening to this band, I instantly knew they were one to watch. There are few sludge bands in Nashville that put themselves out there in the way that the sea of country, Americana, and pop artists do. They had a big 2020 planned but, well… ya know. Instead, they released a rather satisfying pair of singles that landed them on this list. “Stonechild” is haunting, loud, and soaring. -RG

The Great Palumbo – This is a bit of full circle moment for me, as a music blogger. Digging back into the Tuned Up archives, I wrote about a certain Peter Campbell, a songwriter from Clintonville, Columbus, Ohio (where yours truly currently lives). This guy is now based in Nashville, and seems to be meshing in really well. I mean, he wrote a song about Tennessee and the Americana tinged down to earth song sounds about as genuine as it could be. I recommend watching the Forty-One Fifteen Sessions on YouTube to familiarize yourself. -RG

The Ivins – This band is no-holds-barred rock and roll. They add no frills or Instagram-ready branding. They just lay it out there. I like that their sound seems to be versatile enough to fit on bills with the likes of Breaking Benjamin or Silversun Pickups. Were the singles dropped last year precursors to something bigger? Time will tell… -RG

Jen Miller – Few people in Nashville that we know are as driven as Jen Miller. Her humble roots as a singer songwriter in Ohio have morphed into something much bigger than that, as Miller is seeking to apply what she has learned to give other artists the resources they need to succeed. Exhibit A: The Indigo Incubator—a firm that we will be featuring for you in much more detail soon! Be on the lookout for more music from Miller this year, including a single February 19th. -RG

John Louis – In 2020, one of the standout records of quarantine came from John Louis, a bright sounding emo-pop-rock artist. I’ll Be Fine was a fitting, if unplanned, coping record for a tumultuous time. With a new podcast launch and a Genius appearance under his belt, it appears John Louis is poised for even more momentum. -RG

Jon Reynolds & the Aches – “Sometimes it takes a long time to sound like yourself.” – Miles Davis 

The concept has been a muse for Jon Reynolds since moving to Nashville in 2015. Following his well-received grass-root singles “Undertow” and “Tomorrow’s News,” Reynolds buckled up for a challenging year and a half. “Most of my song ideas came to me while driving in the car, because it was the only time I had to think.” But over-extending himself forced him to be honest with his music. “I didn’t have time to self-sabotage. I just wrote what came naturally.” Rebalancing his life and signing with the UK’s Frictionless Music, Reynolds buried himself in the studio with engineer Owen Lewis and drummer Matt Singler, settling into the producer chair with a clear sense of purpose: sounding like himself. -MF

Jon Worthy – Take Ron Gallo, White Reaper, and a heaping dose of Americana and you end up with Jon Worthy. In our last stint of the Tuned Up Podcast he sought us out—which is impressive, given that we were mostly limited to Columbus-based acts at the time. It was an enjoyable interview, and his latest single “Shake Shake” is pretty enjoyable as well. When festivals return, I nominate Jon for events like Nelsonville, Forecastle, and Shaky Knees. This dude hustles! -RG

Kaki – I’m a tad biased here, since Kaki has Ohio ties, but I would be remiss not to include her on this list since we’ve covered a couple of her singles in 2020! Her wholesome sound and image is probably just what the doctor ordered in 2021. Also, like others on this list, I’ve enjoyed her Tik Tok content. -RG

Kelley Losinger – Kelley Losinger made her debut in 2020 with her single, “Daylight,” which quickly made its way to indie pop playlists! For fans of The Japanese House and MUNA, Kelly is a dreamy, pop artist that is already making us feel like our heads are above the clouds. -MF

Lone Wild – This group takes big inspiration from groups like Young the Giant and Mutemath and pulls off a sound that is accessible yet not derivative. They’re relatively new to the Nashville market, but have livestream and touring plans in their future. They are one of the groups I personally find most intriguing on the list. -RG

Mad Wave – Part indie rock, part cinematic rock, part Americana influence… all heart. That’s Mad Wave for you. They can be quiet and loud. But their aim is to draw you in. Plus, JT Daly’s influence makes this name a shoo-in for inclusion on our list. “Caroline” is also a straight thriller. Their formal EP release show in 2020 was derailed by COVID, but I’m sure they’ll return with a vengeance. -RG

Nehoda – For  as long as Patrick Nehoda has been alive, people have used words like “taciturn” and “melancholy” to describe his disposition.  Nehoda’s latest release, “But Anyways…” includes amped-up full-band versions of Nehoda solo songs like the angsty, bluesy opener “I Don’t Know” and flannel-flying rave-up “Shakey Pop.” There’s also headier newer material like the standout “Just Another Season,” a Southern Gothic murder ballad in the vein of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” Nehoda’s debut full length album, But Anyways, is now available to purchase on vinyl and digital and is streaming on all platforms! -MF

Olivia Frances – In addition to being a prolific songwriter, Olivia Frances is a team player and a loyal friend, from my observation. I haven’t had the chance to meet her yet but have heard nothing but great things from Nashville Artist to Watch alumna Salina Solomon. Tuned Up had fun premiering one of her visuals in honor of National Honeybee Day. Her songwriting is wholesome pop with substance. -RG

Ornament –  Ornament gets you in touch with a past you never got to experience but always felt connected to. Reminiscent of the nostalgia that comes with putting the needle down on vinyl, the film photos you want to jump into, and half-stoned conversations where you swear you were born in the wrong generation. Out of place in the internet age, Will Mann and Ryan Donoho have the ability to make the past collide with the present, creating some space in between where you can live out your groupie dreams. -MF

Paola Proctor – This pop starling has an eclectic background, which she weaves into everything she does. Her latest single, “How Can I” could just as much be a breakup anthem as it is an exhortation not to neglect your mental health. When I first discovered Paola, she was looping cello into her songs, and though her whimsical flair is still very much present, more recent outings are becoming more streamlined. I’m looking forward to what she does next. I could see someone like Mitski or Lorde taking her on tour. -RG

Robert Gay & the Alarms – Nashville native Robert Gay is known for his work with artists like Matt Thiessen (Relient K), Josiah Johnson (The Head & The Heart), and Darren King (Mutemath), as well as working with local artists like LUTHI, Smart Objects, and Kyle Cox.

Robert’s work as a writer and producer combines the sounds of the British Invasion with the formalism of the Brill Building. Influenced by acts like The Zombies, Big Star, Harry Nilsson, and Elliott Smith, now Robert Gay and the Alarms are ready to share their timeless songs and teach you “How to Make a Memory.” -MF

Rock Eupora – Clayton Waller, the Mississippi-raised, Nashville-based artist known as Rock Eupora, creates a unique blend of gritty rock and shimmering pop. Waller has developed his fuzz pop sound over the course of three full-length albums and an EP—which he wrote, performed, and produced himself. -MF

Royal South – A quote I stumbled across on social media from Royal South’s Glen Mitchell struck me tonight. Paraphrasing, he made note of President Biden’s perseverance to achieving his goal relatively late in life, and noted the parallels of the grind in Nashville. This trio certainly does not come across as “washed up” at all. Their audience will certainly be older, but their sound is polished and engaging. They have a Grand Ole Opry performance on their resume, as well as backgrounds spanning Kentucky, the UK, and Texas. -RG

Sam Johnston – Sam is an indie/Americana artist of sorts. Emphasis on the “sorts.” His sound is one that is classic and all encompassing yet fresh. His full length album is being produced by Drew Long, whose credits include Judah and the Lion (also engineered tunes by Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton, among others). Johnston has been working hard behind the scenes, crafting his next release, which will no doubt be pushed by someone big. -RG

Shelby Elle – “HVN,” the debut single from electronic pop artist Shelby Elle, communicates a sense of optimism and openness—awakening to a reality. Or, perhaps becoming in tune with a reality that was always there. This positive message is one element of the allure of Elle, who has also notably collaborated with Vesper—an artist I had on repeat in 2019. There’s much to come in 2021, and Shelby Elle is only just starting to explore the possibilities of her sound. -RG

Steel Ivory – This country duo have been a regular in my Tik Tok feed the past few months. These gals know how to make quality, genuine content. Most of their posts are them harmonizing in their home bathroom to a song by request. They put out a well-received EP in 2020, and I predict they’ll capitalize on their momentum in the year to come. Oh, and did I mention they have Ohio ties? -RG

Stephie James – In walks Stephie James, her music like a smoky, dimly lit back alley bar—standing as a sultry embodiment of the past, but also as a reflection of the current cultural climate and the blooming resolve of the city from which she hails. Embracing the grittiness of yesteryear’s garage rock productions and also the bittersweet timelessness of artists like Amy Winehouse and Roy Orbison, this is unmistakably the music of countless romantic fantasies and of widescreen Lynchian aura. -MF

Stillman – Stillman started his musical journey when he led worship at his church and began songwriting. After blindly emailing a famed producer based in Franklin, TN he was introduced to a community of artists and creatives, including Seth Talley, David Leonard, and Brad King of The Creak Music Team. It was through these relationships that he released his first single, “Crooked Heart.” A few months later he followed up with “Keep Movin On”, which at a press time has broken more than 1.4 million streams on Apple & Spotify. -MF

Sweettalker – Sweettalker’s forthcoming EP titled Paradise is piled high with ear candy and irresistable melodies. Swirling harmonies, groovy riffs, horns, and string ensembles all contribute to an EP as dynamic as the genre of Rock n Roll itself. The highlight, however, is the songwriting and craftsmanship displayed on this release. Each song is delivered in a unique, clever, and thoughtful way that will surely keep the listener wanting to listen again and again. -MF

TARYN – What does a jazz inspired hip-hop group from Columbus, a Nashville by way of Brooklyn pop artist, and a Columbus by way of Cleveland hip-hop artist have in common as fans? If you answered “TARYN” you’re correct! Her brand of pop meets soul is set for all the vibe cravings you might have, and she also features on one of our favorite hip-hop singles from the past year – “Rossi on the Deck” by Joey Aich. -RG

TAYLS – Breakout Psych-Pop project TAYLS is a lighthouse to guide your heart home. An East Nashville Supergroup created by vocalist/writer/multi-instrumentalist Taylor Cole, TAYLS is a rebellion against the Nashville standard. After almost a decade of performing in various Nashville-based bands (such as Creature Comfort and Chalaxy) Cole is molding a new marketplace and musical sound for the city. -MF

Teddy At Night – I’ve seen this guy pop up in various Nashville circles, but it was a review on my favorite blog Indie Vision Music that finally made me perk up and research what he was all about. It almost goes without saying that his music is fun to listen to. It’s modern dance music with a nostalgic flair. He is not a copycat of the minimalist, overproduced dance pop flooding the market. His sound is full and sweeping. -RG

Thad Cockrell – Thad is hardly a new name to the scene; his old band LEAGUES was a favorite at Tuned Up and even put out our favorite single of the year back in 2013 (“Spotlight”). However, recently he has come into his own as a solo artist, collaborating with Brittany Howard with a solo record. But, COVID got in the way. Though Thad was ready to throw in the towel, a happenstance encounter of Jimmy Fallon hearing his new single in a hardware store led him to pull some strings, and invite him to the Tonight Show in late January. Who knows what other “chance encounters” will happen to this soulful dude this year? -RG

Touma – Local indie artist Touma is back with a poppy and dance-primed ode to heartbreak, “Fading Out (Epilogue).” Touma has stayed busy throughout the pandemic as part of local emo/indie outfit Early Humans, and even co-founding something of a Nashville indie supergroup, No Dancing. Throughout it all (and despite the music industry upending pandemic that has thrown 2020 plans awry) though, we’ve been eagerly anticipating more Touma, and today Kacie has delivered just that in the form of a stellar brand new single, “Fading Out (Epilogue)”! -MF

Trella – This pop artist began in the publishing world as strictly a songwriter for others, before deciding some songs were for her alone. Her airy voice well complements a thunderous sound. With Trella, I get a sense of “what you see is what you get.” Clearly, playlist curators and streaming audiences are resonating with that notion. -RG

Trulah – This worship leader has vocals that are arresting. She made our top albums of 2020 and were talked up by our contributor Casey consistently. She blends soul and gospel with shiny polish reminiscent of the glowing pop scene she’s surrounded by. Who’s to say 2021 can’t be a huge year for the songwriter who originally hails from Charlotte? -RG

Uncle Knuckle – Uncle Knuckle sounds like what might happen if Johnny Cash or Tom Waits joined a heavily produced indie/alt project. And it works. Just listen to it. I know I kind of sound snarky—but the sound is gorgeous, and the payoff will be worth it, I promise. Old Nash meets New Nash in an unexpected package. -RG

Vian Izak – Vian Izak is a South African American singer/songwriter, producer, and audio engineer. He created an animated alias to maintain his anonymity online. Izak’s artist project is part of the virtual band movement popularized by acts such as the Gorillaz and The Archies in which the members of the group are portrayed as animations.

He has worked with artists Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Keith Getty, and Kristyn Getty. He is known for his songs “The London Air Raids” and “Revolver.”  He also owns and operates his own independent record label called Vohnic Music LLC in Nashville. -MF

Willis – This alternative/blues/soul influenced band had a single go viral on indie music Tik Tok last year—which more and more is becoming a leading indicator of mainstream pop success. Willis is incredibly multifaceted in their sound, and reminds me of acts like Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers, the alternative soul instrumentation of Brittany Howard, and the math rock indie of Ohio Band to Watch Sounds May Swell. Many eyes will be on them in 2021. -RG

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