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An energetic pop-rock song with a country tinge that delivers a stinging rebuke to America’s political divide has won the ninth annual Reno Gazette Journal Best Local Song contest. 

“There are so many talented songwriters in the area, and to be awarded the top spot in this contest feels great,” said keyboardist-vocalist Eric H. Andersen, one of the three co-writers of “With Drawl” — the title track of his band the Novelists’ seven-song album released this year. The other writers are the band’s guitarist, Joel Ackerson, and bassist, Zack Teran. 

“We’re honored and humbled,” Andersen said. 

“With Drawl” earned top honors in a pool of 157 original songs released in 2018 and submitted from 101 artists hailing from the Reno-Carson-Tahoe area. Artists were allowed to submit up to three original songs. A six-judge panel graded the songs on composition and production, inventiveness and catchiness. 

Genres of submissions were wide ranging — underscoring that Reno doesn’t have a music scene, per se, but more a mishmash of overlapping sub-scenes, as well as songwriters working independently. The entries reflected a spectrum of styles: from dance pop, urban pop and dream pop, to country-rock and new country, bluegrass, folk, rap and hip-hop, funk, electronica, experimental and instrumentals, and a range of rock — including alternative, indie and hard rock, rockabilly, blues rock and jazz rock, retro-Brit and Sixties-tinged garage rock, punk and metalcore. 

“With Drawl” falls into several musical categories, including pop-rock, Americana and alt-country. And it exhibits key elements of a hit-worthy song. 

The chorus is catchy (Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton, one of judges, said he “loved the hook”) and the rapid-fire lead vocals from Andersen — whose tenor has a plaintive, resonant timbre —  are pleasing (Hamilton loved the singing, as well) with every word clearly enunciated and passionately emoted.  

The song clocks in at a radio-friendly 3 minutes, 24 seconds, and gets to its chorus in a swift 36 seconds. Speaking of “swift,”  “With Drawl’s” musical arrangement and top-line melody can easily be imagined as some chart-hitting Taylor Swift single from her country-pop heyday. 

Except, that is, for the politically conscious lyrics. Or maybe they are better described as anti-political. 

“With Drawl” delivers several double-entendres, including the title/tagline, which Teran came up with spontaneously as the bandmates brainstormed a name for the album. “With Drawl” is a reference to the semi-Nashville character of the song, as well as the songwriters’ earnest plea for Americans to make a withdrawal from the polemical politics polarizing the nation, and to return to civility and tolerance in discourse. 

RGJ Best Local Songs of 2018 results: The top 30 music entries

Addressing one side of the rift, Andersen beseeches: “If I sing with drawl, am I more American?/Will you care at all when you hear my despair again?” Addressing the other side, he asks: “If I sing with drawl, will you change the station/Back to NPR, missin’ ‘Talk of the Nation?’” 

The song issues this repeated appeal: “This is no party and there is no line,” and concludes with: “Why can’t we all party, like there are no lines?” 

(The lyrics for the band’s songs can be found on its website: www.thenovelists.com.) 

“I wrote the lyrics to this song as a plea more than an attack,” Ackerson said, explaining that “With Drawl” was written and recorded in spring 2018 “as an effect of feeling the mounting tension before an election cycle.” 

“The narrator is aware that something as simple as the presence of a drawl in his singing might cause a listener to pre-emptively identify with or disqualify his words,” Ackerson continued. “He asks the listener if feelings of despair or a desire for freedom are universal, or are only valid in those to whom we easily relate. He responds to each divisive mechanism with a sincere invitation to connect.” 

RGJ Best Local Songs of 2018: The past winners

For the fourth consecutive year, radio station KTHX-FM 100.1 (“The X”) will play the RGJ roundup’s Top 20 songs in January — one per weekday — starting with No. 20 and finishing with No. 1 on its “Local Spotlight” segment. The countdown will air at 6 p.m. beginning Jan. 4. 

Two KTXH disc jockeys — morning announcer Ian Sorensen and afternoon announcer Jamie Woodham — served on the judging panel that determined the Top 30 rankings of submissions. They were joined by one of the world’s most popular radio DJs — Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton, former Reno resident and current afternoon announcer on WKTU-FM in New York City, as well as host of the internationally syndicated “Weekend Top 30 Countdown” and “Remix Top 30 Countdown”; Brad Nelson, former Reno resident and now a New York-based music critic and contributor to Pitchfork.com and Spin.com; and Reno native Andy Schuon, who has held top executive positions with MTV and VH1, Warner Bros. Records and Sony Music, XM Radio and Live Nation, and is co-founder and president of Revolt digital-cable TV network; and Mike Sion, creator of this annual roundup. 

The ability to write a good song is the rarest talent in music. The writers of “With Drawl” have been collaborating for the eight years they have been bandmates. The song is one of seven originals on the Novelists’ fourth self-produced album, which is available in whole or by individual tracks for purchase on iTunes, and for streaming on Spotify and other major platforms. 

RGJ Best Local Songs of 2018: The almost winners and honorable mentions

The Novelists’ instrumental and vocal virtuosity shine throughout the album; their musical chops have been honed through constant performing and recording the past eight years. They packed the Nugget Showroom in Sparks for two previous album-release shows, which have concluded with rousing cover songs — including a rendition of Queen’s  “Bohemian Rhapsody” with four-part harmonies. The Novelists also were chosen by mega-selling pop-rock band Train for its annual music cruise festival in the Caribbean. 

Consistency has been a hallmark of the Novelists. Ackerman, Andersen and Teran have made only three changes in the band’s personnel over the years; the latest addition is multi-faceted drummer Miguel Jiménez-Cruz.

The Novelists are heading into a busy 2019, Andersen said. 

“We just finished recording some new tracks with acclaimed producer Matt Wallace — who’s worked with Maroon 5, Train, and John Hiatt — that we’ll release this coming year, as well as a slew of new live videos with the current lineup from our recent show at Bartley Ranch. We’ll also continue to push ‘With Drawl,’ as well as our 2018 music video, ‘Above the Hiding.’" 

Andersen said Reno has been a useful place to be based. 

“We’ve been fortunate to benefit from all the professional opportunities provided by the area, and we feel a sincere sense of camaraderie among the other artists here. Our travels constantly remind us how lucky we are to call Reno home.” 

And winning a local songwriting prize is validation for the Novelists’ efforts, Andersen said. 

“Our primary motivation in writing songs is to satisfy a desire for expression and reflection. That said, it’s always nice to be recognized by others for our work, and to know that it has an impact.” 

RGJ Best Local Songs of 2018: These artists are making it in the biz

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