Ready for Local Explosion
By Rebecca Scott
Photo by Josh Matthews
The Information Age has been proof positive that the adage “too much of a good thing” is accurate, and this is especially ubiquitous in the ways we listen to and filter our music. We just want to listen to what the cool kids are listening to – music that’s fresh, soulful, and relevant. Well, if you live in Birmingham, it doesn’t get much more relevant than the music that’s being written, performed, and even produced right here, locally. And that’s what Local Mash is serving up. They’re the cool kids, and every week they let the rest of us listen in on their playlist.
Local Mash, co-hosted by Brad Lyons and Daniel Long, airs weekly on Birmingham Mountain Radio on Sunday nights from 7-9 pm. For an hour and a half, Lyons and Long showcase regional music, music written and performed by Alabama artists, most of whom live and work in Birmingham. This bastion of local talent has two formats; the first is long sets of music curated and arranged by Lyons and Long. The alternate format is long-style interviews with regional musicians, punctuated by selections from their new or upcoming album releases. If you’ve never heard Local Mash live on BMR or delved into the treasure trove of 170 podcast episodes, and you’re surprised to hear that enough local talent exists here in Birmingham to fuel a weekly radio show, think again.
“The caliber of musicians, songwriters and artists- I’ll take what’s going on here any day of the week,” says Lyons, and he would know.
Brad Lyons is an all-rounder on the music scene. In addition to writing and producing Local Mash for Birmingham Mountain Radio, he’s a music producer and a musician himself. Originally from Homewood, AL, he spent almost a decade in Nashville, but he came home to Birmingham because something was missing in Music City.
“I felt like my soul was gone because I wanted to create things and be artistic and creative.”
His talent for recognizing and producing local musicians often landed him on BMR’s Southbound Radio.
“I was friends with David and Michael Seal, I had a solo record out and was starting to work with other songwriters in town, and every time someone I was producing an EP for was finally going to release, they would always have those people on the show, and he would want me to come in and talk about making the record.”
Brad became a familiar face at the station, and when Southbound
Radio had run its course, BMR tapped Brad to fill the void. Tentative, but intrigued by the possibilities, Brad “grabbed” his opportunity.
“At first I was like, “No way!”, but then I thought, well, it might not be a terrible idea because of the experiences I’ve had with the people that I’ve worked with here at Boutwell, as far as making records. I’m not ready for it right now, but I can go ahead and grab it while it’s on the table, and take my time with it. It’s not like I’m walking into a listenership of 100,000 people every week, right? It kind of gives me some room to learn, and screw up, and figure out a good way to do it, and figure out what the end goal for all of it is, down the road.”
Brad met Daniel Long at Auburn, and their first working relationship began with a band.
“We were called ‘Waiting for Daniel,’” Brad laughs as Daniel’s eyes roll affably. “We didn’t have a band name, and we were going to be taking pictures, and someone asked a question, and I said, “We’re waiting for Daniel,” and they said, “That’s our band name, because it’s true all the time, anyway.”
“I don’t think I had a cell phone then,” Daniel adds, “and so by the time
I found out where they were, it had been two hours and they had come up with a band name and they were all sitting around, probably having a beer or something.”
Daniel has been hanging out in studios with Brad for years, but he officially joined Local Mash in 2017.
“He’s super-passionate about it,” Brad explains. “I can’t keep up with the output of a radio show every week, and I have a separate podcast from all of this that’s weekly. I have work, I have friends- or I did at some point -,” he laughs, “and I’ve got a kid that I love more than anything, and I want to be around.”
The duo trades off weeks hosting the radio show, which gives them both the flexibility to pursue something that’s both personally satisfying, but also deeply important to what they do on Local Mash: scope out the local music scene.
“I felt like I was really disconnected for a while, because I was either playing, or I was in here when bands were playing at night, and I just couldn’t go to shows,” Brad explains.
One listen, and you’ll quickly realize that Lyons and Long are good at research. Their playlists are expansive, and their interviews are a rumination on the songwriter and the songs, alike, but there is no carbon-copy playlist. Every song, every artist, every weekly show, is unique.
“Birmingham doesn’t have a sound, and I think that’s important,” says Brad. “Yes, we’ve got the Shoals, and Florence, and that genre, and it’s amazing. Some of that is my favorite stuff. But there’s a lot of stuff, not like that stuff at all, that’s killer. I’m just trying to get people’s voices out there, past just the music.”
“We are always trying to walk the line to make sure we represent everything as well as we can, but we have some standards on the writing or production. There’s a vetting process that has to go on between us and the between the station, at large,” says Daniel.
“I play things I don’t like, but I know it’s good,” adds Brad, “[It] is something that people should hear, but it’s not my bag.”
And with a hand in a ton of locally-produced music, Brad certainly has an ear for what is good, but he makes a concerted effort to maintain impartiality where his two jobs overlap.
“I try to keep them as separate as I can in the sense that if I play something on the show that I produce, I will typically not mention that because it doesn’t matter. I’m doing Local Mash stuff during my day, and that’s how I’m thinking about it. Then I have to turn that off and come in here and help someone make music that people will want to listen to on our radio show, and buy, and go see them play live, all of which go hand in hand with the radio show.”
And while much of the show is a playlist of tunes you can search out for yourself and your own playlist, the show also offers some unique material, evidence of the special relationships and access that Local Mash has developed over the years with Birmingham’s local artists.
“We’ve even got some of the cool, rarer stuff,” Daniel intimates. “Jeffrey Caine sent me Never Tear Us Apart, a cover he used to do, the INXS thing. We’ve got a really cool cover that Preston Lovinggood did of a Paul Simon tune. We’ve got some little tidbits like that, that you can’t hear anywhere else.”
Daniel and Brad say that they still meet people who don’t know that Birmingham has a local station, BMR, or that Local Mash exists, but that is definitely changing. In fact, bringing a sense of unity to Birmingham’s local musicians, and to the community at large, is one of the goals Lyons developed almost immediately after starting Local Mash. He frequently found that local musicians knew of each other, but didn’t really know each other personally, and were reticent to reach out. Feeling alone as an artist was something that Lyons could identify with, and he has worked passionately to foster conversation and to bridge those gaps between local artists.
“I found that through having conversations, if I had a weird feeling about someone coming in, or they had one about me, it was gone in thirty minutes. Conversation helps, in general. That’s a bigger idea than just what I am talking about… It’s cool to hear a local artist that doesn’t know another local artist, and sometimes I’ll ask, “Who’s someone here in town you dig or who you’re listening to?” And they always have someone, but eight times out of ten, they don’t know each other. All that to say, I felt like maybe conversation could be the starting point for building some sort of infrastructure for what all of us do here and care about.”
“It’s always been a huge dream of mine to help create that infrastructure,” Daniel adds.
“There are many facets to what’s started to grow out of the radio program, which includes the podcast, all of the more extensive interviews, getting the voices out, not just the music but the stories behind the music, and all of the businesses that are supportive locally.”
Bringing the music community together is a reliable recipe for a stronger Birmingham community, Lyons asserts. “You take music, or any of the arts, out of the community, and it gets really bleak, real quick. People might not value the music monetarily, but I think it is literally part of this part of the country. You can’t get away from it.”
Maybe that’s why Birmingham is such an exciting place to search out local sounds, but it could also be the relaxed pace of a more intimate city. Another reason Brad was willing to “grab” his spot on BMR was his experience working with local musicians.
“Working with people here in town is very different from working with people in a city like Nashville, Austin, New York, or wherever. [Artists] have the room and the time in a city like this. There’s no pressure, and they can learn their chops.”
Birmingham’s music scene is ripe with talent and energy at the moment, a facet of our community that many are just beginning to realize. It would be a testament to the strength of our broader community if we could cultivate this spark, supporting our local musicians and fostering their ability to create. Thankfully, Local Mash exists to fuel this movement.
The goal, Brad says, is for local musicians to attain success, not necessarily fame, and the freedom to be creative. “I’d love to get to a point where Birmingham people were selling out at the Alabama and the Lyric, and that was a normal thing… It’s hard to do something like art or music for a living. In some ways, when I say I am going to work, I feel like I should have a different word. I have to be honest, I love what I do, and yes it takes work and discipline, but, man, I’m still just making music during the day, for the most part, and that’s not lost on me. I’m making a living doing music in Birmingham…I would love it if it were a little bit easier for musicians and artists in town to be able to do the same thing.”
Check out Local Mash on BMR Sunday nights from 7-9pm, or listen on-demand to their weekly podcast, and see if you don’t think the talent in Birmingham is worth keeping around. We’re on the cusp, and as we navigate these uncharted waters, Local Mash is a reliable guide, and perhaps even a catalyst for what’s been happening here over the last several years.
As these longtime friends and co-hosts ponder Brad’s instinct to start the radio show without a roadmap or radio experience and fortune’s benevolent hand on Birmingham’s local music scene, Daniel ruminates on the future. “I think when people look back on this time in history, this will look like some sort of golden age, some sort of bloom. I hope it’s only going to grow, but it’s definitely going to be a spark. And if it dies out again, then it’ll be like, man, we were around for that!”