Cy Winstanely and Vanessa McGowan of Tattletale Saints are no strangers to working as musicians abroad, having spent time living in the UK before returning home to New Zealand in the late 2000s. Their alt-Americana-country-folk leanings, often delivered with the impressive sparsity of acoustic guitar, double bass, and two voices in harmony, earned them a loyal crowd and several awards, including a Silver Scroll Award finalist spot in 2013, and a Tui for Folk Album of the year in 2014. But America's "music city" came calling, and they found their strong musicianship and classic songwriting skills much in demand in Nashville. Winstanley and McGowan have each spent the last 18 months touring heavily with many different artists, sharing stages with Aubrie Sellers, Ashley Campbell, Brandy Clark and Sugarland, and opening for Miranda Lambert, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Willie Nelson, and here they share some of the wisdom they've gleaned in the process.

When and how did you come to decide to make the move to Nashville?

We recorded our first Tattletale Saints album in Nashville with Tim O’Brien in January of 2013, and it wasn’t really until we were actually here making that record that we started to ponder the idea of relocating. That winter January spent recording, going to gigs, jamming at house parties, and making friends with so many amazing musicians really made an impression on both of us, and soon after returning home we decided to try to make the move permanently.

Tell us briefly about the music industry in Nashville and a few key ways in which it differs to New Zealand, and/or the rest of the world?

Vanessa: The music industry in Nashville is different to NZ mostly in the sheer numbers of musicians, writers and industry folk who are based here. It’s the music capital of the States (many people say the world), and just being immersed in a city that is so incredibly devoted to music is an experience you really don’t find anywhere else. Having so many wonderful people to perform with is very inspiring musically and the plentiful work opportunities are great as a session musician.

Cy: Nashville is a ‘music business’ town - meaning the creative opportunities are matched by the potential for paid working opportunities. That can be as a side player working with different artists in town or on the road; through songwriting and publishing; or nurturing your own project with industry contacts in town.  In summary, being a musician in Nashville is definitely considered a real ‘job’, and not the hobby bracket it can fall into elsewhere, an affirming feeling!

What have been 3 important things you’ve learned in regard to your music during your time there so far?


1) as a working musician in Nashville being good musically is a given. Everyone is good, so it’s important to have your house in order with all the other aspects of being a working musician. Being punctual, prepared, having good gear, traveling well, maintaining a good attitude even when faced with long travel days and unexpected gig problems.. In Nashville there’s a long line of great players waiting to for a shot, so just being a good player isn’t enough to keep you working if you’re lacking in those other aspects. No one wants to spend 10 hours in a van with a sour puss.

2) playing music is a joy and getting to do this for a living is a privilege. That said, having balance in your life and other things that make you happy is very important, and will allow you to enjoy making music for a living all the more.

3) no-one makes money in Nashville playing original music. Play gigs in town for fun, and to nurture your creativity, but be prepared to play covers downtown, travel out of town to make money performing your own music, work for other people as a hired gun, or have a non-music side hustle in town to pay the bills.

Cy: (Basically I agree with everything Vanessa said)

1) Though there is a lots of work here, being broad in your skillset is helpful.  Having multiple irons in the fire (Original gigs/sideplayer gigs/covers gigs/session gigs/publishing things/teaching) will make for a more stable existence.  

2)Have interests outside of music - Because it’s such a deeply personal thing, it’s easy for you whole life to revolve around it.  I think having some non-music friends and pursuits are healthy for balance.

3) #progear #proattitude !  Detestable hashtag thought it is, you gotta have your shit together. If you slouch on a gig or rehearsal you won’t get called back.  

Do you think there’s room for more Kiwi artists to pursue a music career in Nashville? And do you need to be a country/folk artist?

Absolutely! There’s so many great pop, rock, jazz and classical musicians here as well as country/folk. Certainly Nashville has a lot of music being made with (at least) one foot in country, but that’s not to say musicians here not involved in country aren’t doing great things and making the most of living in such a great music town. The necessary VISA to move to the States is expensive, complicated and hard to get, and  I wouldn’t want to make it sound like it’s an easy process to just pick up and move here. That said, it’s totally worth it if you’re willing and able to make that happen!

What have been a couple of highlights of your time spent in Nashville / the US so far?

Vanessa: It’s been an amazing ride the last 5 years here, performing all over the US/Canada with Tattletale Saints, playing in town with a huge variety of insanely talented people and getting to jump in and tour with some awesome bands as a bass player and backing singer. A huge highlight for me this year was getting to stand on stage with Willie Nelson. I opened for him with Brandy Clark and at the end of his set he asked our band to come on stage and sing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” with him. He’s truly a living legend and looking across the stage to see him standing there barely 2 metres away, with his red bandana and signature braids, was an amazing moment.

Cy: Touring out west and over the desert landscape is always such a highlight for me. On the road, running is a huge part of my existence and the keeper of my sanity. The runs that I've had in canyons of Nevada, salt lakes in Utah, and jagged cliffs of Washington state were mind blowing. I also love 'radio tours’ which I've done a few of. You bump around between local radio stations, play a song and chat. They're often such backwoods little joints in places like Mississippi and Louisiana that you see some wild wild things.

Tattletale Saints are back home for a 14-date tour of NZ this December, celebrating the release olf two new singsle, which you can listen to below. Head to for tour info and tickets.

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