A trifecta of country music talent sharing their stories, dreams, and advice for aspiring musicians.
by Sophie Cino Publishing date: Sep, 20, 2023
BeatRoute attended the Canadian Country Music Awards and talked to Canada’s rising country stars. The weekend was nothing short of entertaining and discovering the stories behind these artists’ upcoming is something I am eager to share. The CCMAs were buzzing with country music enthusiasts, ready to celebrate with artists and industry professionals alike, who contribute to the country music community in Canada.
Winner of Breakthrough Artist of the Year, Josh Ross, joins us for some one-on-one time. Josh Ross talks to us about what it’s like having this full circle moment in his hometown, playing the Grand Ole Opry, and why he chose country music.
How does it feel being back in your hometown for the CCMA Awards?
Josh: I was born about 20 minutes from here and then I went to high school in Burlington, Ontario too. It’s a special feeling. I think it’s starting to hit me right now as I kind of start to see a lot of familiar faces, it takes me back to a special place.
Does it add to the significance of the CCMAs this year?
Josh: It’s unique that, you know, this year has been my biggest year and to get to come home and kind of do that and have a lot of family here and surrounding that. It’s really awesome.
What inspired you to start making music in the first place?
Josh: I’ve always liked telling stories and expressing my feelings. For me to have the opportunity to put that into lyrics and then turn it into music, fit organically.
Why country music?
Josh: I always grew up a country fan. I fell in love with an artist named Steve Rowe when I was four years old. I listened to other genres along the way just because of popularity, playing sports, and being around different influences. But it always came back to loving country music the most out of all of them. I think the storytelling in country music is so special, that I gravitate toward that.
Who were some of your other inspirations?
Josh: Steve Rowe is definitely one of my biggest influences and then, Jason Aldean and Thomas Rhett were some of my favorites when I first started out. Now, I look to other people like Morgan Wallen and Hardy. There is a lot of really great talent.
How does it feel to be one of the top nominees this year?
Josh: You don’t know what to expect and we’ve had a really, really great year and to be the most nominated is very special. We’ll see what happens and, regardless, it’s just the recognition that is awesome and that’s what I love the most.
What is the most memorable moment from your career so far?
Josh: Playing the Grand Ole Opry was super special. It’s just one of those historic, memorable places you dream of playing.
Since speaking to Josh, his song “Trouble” hit #1 on the Canadian Country Radio Charts. Listen here.
Next up, was an artist who never gave up on her dreams and ended up being nominated for Female Artist of the Year at the young age of 17—Tenille Townes. Spoiler: Tenille Townes took home the honor of Female Artist of the Year. For the fifth year in a row. She tells me about her first guitar, what it was like to move to Nashville, and how fellow Canadian artists supported her through the process.
What made you want to sing country music?
Tenille: I have always loved music—being able to sing for people and seeing their smiles, singing along, bringing people joy is the best feeling. I’ve been singing since I was a kid. I’m from Grand Prairie, Alberta and I used to sing the anthem at all our local hockey games, weddings, and all kinds of local events. Then, my grandparents bought me my first guitar at 14. I started writing songs and fell in love with that process, wanting to tell more stories. I’ve been chasing the dream ever since. It’s always good to be back here at CCMAs celebrating everybody coming together.
What was it like being a Canadian artist moving to Nashville?
Tenille: Nashville has a great music community and there’s actually a lot of Canadians there. They really helped make the transition easier for me. I wrote with a lot of Canadians when I first moved to town. Carolyn Dawn Johnson took me under her wing and I stayed at her place for a while, and Jason McCoy rented me his place for a while. I just love all those guys and it made moving 45 hours away from home a lot easier.
At the young age of 17, you were nominated for Female Artist of the Year at the CCMAs. How do you think that influenced your career?
Tenille: Oh goodness, that was such an exciting thing to get, to feel a part of the community, and to feel like the people who have been believing in the music are still on the ride is the coolest thing, truly. It’s really wonderful to feel encouraged by peers and celebrated by CCMAs. I think that the 17-year-old version of me would be freaking out of things right now. It’s really special to be back.
How does it feel when you get to go and accept that award and be recognized for your accomplishments?
Tenille: Those are the kind of moments that are so adrenaline-filled and honestly, nerve-wracking and terrifying. And also just overwhelmed with gratitude and encouragement to feel like the heroes and people I’ve looked up to and in this Canadian country industry are believing in what I’m doing. It’s been really fun to celebrate those moments with really beautiful people. It motivates me to just keep showing up and keep going.
Beyond the CCMAs, what are some of your hopes for your future?
Tenille: I look forward to just continuing to write songs that hopefully make people feel something real and to travel the world playing them, singing together. I can’t wait to see where we’re going next. I’m working on being able to do bigger shows and staying on the road longer. I can’t wait to keep seeing where this is gonna go. I’ve been writing, recording, and working on lots of new music and I’m excited. We’re gonna wrap up the year out on the Train tour, which is kind of a crazy, full circle moment—I got pulled up on stage at nine years old at a Train concert. That was a wild dream come true moment and I’m looking forward to that later this year.
To round out the day, I sat down with the new powerhouse couple of country music, The War and Treaty. Michael and Tanya fell madly in love before they even knew they could make music together. Their voices, together, transport you to a world where all the feelings will be felt. Michael and Tanya opened up about their journey into the music industry and all they’ve learned together, so far.
Michael, can you share your journey of discovering music while you were away in Iraq and how it unearthed your passion for singing and songwriting?
Michael: I discovered the ability to write songs while serving my country in Iraq and discovered playing the piano on Saddam Hussein’s piano—I taught myself. It was an emotional way to connect to what I was going through at the time and to connect my story to my battle buddies. It brought a lot of healing to the soldiers—that was my massive discovery. It brought purpose because I saw what my music could do to heal, connect, and unify. It felt really good to be able to do that.
What initially drew you two together and how did your shared love for music strengthen your connection?
Tanya: Honestly, music didn’t draw us together right away. It was really hard. I enjoyed hearing his music and I was smitten by what I saw on stage. I think one of the things that I’ve always tried to power my life out of is outside of people being extremely talented, but them having really good hearts being good people. When I met him [Michael], he was a good human being. I was doing a record with my brother and once I heard him perform, I asked him if he had ever written for anyone before. He told me no. He came over to our house and wrote some songs for my brother and I. A friend of ours heard us singing together and that was the first time when we realized that we could probably do that together but by that time, we’d already been married for three years. Our music found us in marriage, you know.
Can you speak to the influences of your unique sound? It’s hard to categorize you both into just one genre!
Tanya: I think it’s a testament to how I grew up, going to a Baptist church on Sunday mornings and a Catholic school Monday through Friday. My mother was from Panama and my dad was from the country fields of New Bern, North Carolina. I grew up listening to all different kinds of music and with all different lifestyles culturally. When I wanted to do music as a kid, I listened to Calypso and listened to pop and jazz music. I was just like this mixture of different sounds. At that time when I was doing music, you couldn’t do all of that, there was no such thing as Americana. I’m just grateful now that I met Michael and I was saying to him, “Hey, look, there are these people that are doing this sound, they’re called the Civil Wars and I think we can do it.” It was just like all the classical stuff that you grew up listening to; the love, the emotion, the honesty, the vulnerability, the patterns, and where their voices flow together. For us to be able to do that and add our gospel and classical influences, and the folk and country sound to it—it’s been amazing to see how, when you put all the sounds together, they work. And people hear and see love.
Can you describe the impact that you guys have had on the country music industry and how your musical journey has connected?
Michael: Country music has a famous slogan called “three chords and the truth.” I would say that we’re the truth part; the truth that we belong, that we were a part of its origins, and that country music can be united. What Tanya and I bring to the table is just that truth, we bring our soul. Tanya talks about how she was raised. Well, I was raised the same way. The floorboards of Holy Trinity Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, or the floorboards of Twinsburg 70 Adventist Church in Twinsburg, Ohio. They all creak the same way. I believe that the passion that we both were taught to have in our families and our churches inspires what we bring to country music.
Can you share the significance of your name and how it represents your music?
Michael: I think it’s just a natural tug and pull of life. Everybody goes through their own personal, private, or public wars, and at some point, you have to stop fighting. At some point, there has to be a treaty made and sometimes it’s just made with yourself. In our lives, of course, the war portion is about my service in our country, but also the different wars that we’ve both had to face in our own lives and how we became each other’s treaty during a certain time frame. I believe that that serves our relationship, our name, and our band.
Can you share your most memorable moment in your music career?
Tanya: Well, my mom has passed on but the moment that I can think about what set me on the path was signing my first record deal. My mom was in the office with me, my lawyer, and my family. I was 16 years old and I remember the joy on her face. If it was God’s will for her to be here, the moment would have been for her to be able to see Michael and I doing country music, it would have freaked her out to see that I’m able to do this.
Michael: My musical moment would be when we were on the stage at the ACMs. We were nominated, but we were performing as well. We were looking at each other and we were singing, we couldn’t hear anything in the room. So it just feels like it’s falling flat, and there’s a moment where we both speak kind of silently to each other and say, “Hey, I’m here. It’s just you and me.” When we were done singing to each other, we could finally hear there was a massive eruption. Garth Brooks said some things that moved our hearts and that was a deep moment. I’ve never been filled with that much fear before in my life and I’ve gone to war. War wasn’t even as scary as that moment because you’re looking out at a sea of people who don’t look like you, you’re alone. I felt that even yesterday, there was a moment where there was a young Black girl who came up to us at the end of a panel that we did. The panel was ‘Country Music: Past, Present and the Future’. This young Black lady was flooded with tears, trembling and shaking and she said, “I didn’t know that I was allowed to do this. I didn’t know that there would be others that look like me.” We grabbed her hands and we hugged her and I told her, “We know how it feels to be alone. That was that moment for us, but there’s a world of people waiting to accept you.” That to me is our musical moment.
You both have had very unique journeys in the music industry. What advice would you give to aspiring artists looking to follow their passions and create meaningful music just as you both do?
Tanya: I think most people talk too much and they don’t listen enough. Not to other people, but to their inner voice. There’s a thing called your gut, and I think most artists are looking for validation from other people to know if their music is good, if they’re good enough, or if they’ll fit in. At the end of the day, it’s all about the fan, and the benefit that artists have nowadays is that they can put something on the internet and let the fan decide if this is gonna work. So, my advice would be to follow your gut. I’m a very spiritual person. I believe that spirituality is the guide for most of the decisions, especially the hard decisions that you’re gonna make in your life. Not a human being on the earth can tell you what’s best for you. You listen to that inner voice and it will always guide you to what’s best for you.
Michael: I think that we all have something to say and I think you need to say it no matter how long it takes, no matter how it comes out—your voice needs to be heard. What you feel, how you think, and what you wanna say matters. What we have to do as artists—especially right now—is to speak. Whether it’s with our music, whether it’s with our voices, whether it’s in social injustice. I think that we can’t afford to live in a world like the nineties where you just did what you did to get the money. Nowadays, whatever you need to say, whatever you want to say, people are depending on it. There are Indigenous and Black people waiting to hear how you feel. There are LGBTQIA people just wanting to be loved and accepted and you’ve got a song that can influence that. I feel that whatever you wanna say, you need to say it and that’s my advice.