When Talia Bryce picks up her guitar and sings, you sense she was born to play bluegrass, despite the fact she grew up on the upper west side of Manhattan. Wearing a summer dress and cowboy boots, she leans into the microphone and a wide grin breaks over her face. Bluegrass is happy music and playing it clearly brings her joy. Since forming The Lost Pines, named after thirteen miles of forest in Central Texas, Talia has shepherded her band to the stage, built a booking agency for other Bluegrass bands, and started a family. Those were the moving parts we had to work around to schedule a meeting.
Our interview was a full-family affair. When I arrived at Talia’s South Austin home, her two-year-old daughter, Celia, greeted me on the front lawn, Talia and her husband, Tym, following close behind. I had my daughter in tow that day as well. Recently returned from a two-week trip to France, I didn’t have the heart to leave Shira at home. Rachel Rosen, Shira’s former babysitter and now my personal assistant, met us at Talia’s house also, along with her husband Edgar Valdes, official Creative Mix photographer.
We met on July 1st when temperatures were well into the nineties in Texas. Talia wore blue denim shorts and a white summer blouse with turquoise paisley down the front. Her long dark hair hung loose on her neck. The house was clean and cleared of baby gear, except a green plastic rocking horse that seemed to be part of the furniture. While Edgar set up his gear, Celia spun in circles at the center of the living room. When it was time to begin, Shira followed her and Tym to the backyard where they played with the family dog.
I was impressed with Talia’s story, the way she fell into bluegrass and jumped into the Austin music scene, her generous spirit in building her business, Bouquet Bands, which supports other musicians, and the farm festival she created. Beyond that I fell in love with the way she was building her life around family and playing music, her creative partnership with her husband, and their shared vision of how they could make their lives work together.
Saundra: Let’s start by talking about your music, maybe how you got started, what drew you to bluegrass.
Talia: My group, The Lost Pines, is based here in Austin. We’ve been playing together for about eight years. Before then, I was playing guitar, folky type music, and met up with a banjo player from North Carolina who introduced me to the bluegrass world. I immediately responded to the upbeat, crowd-pleasing music.
Saundra: Did you come to Austin because of the music scene?
Talia: I did. I was 23 and had just started playing guitar. I had been in Denver, where I was in the AmeriCorps program working for on an Environmental Conservation Corp. Some friends there taught me how to play. They were from Texas and introduced me to country music. “Come down to Austin,” they said. “We can start a band.”
Saundra: You began playing in your twenties?
Talia: I grew up singing and also playing piano, because I thought I should, although it never resonated with me. I loved music and I did some musical theater, but the instrument didn’t happen.
The first time I picked up a guitar I realized I could sit on a porch and hang out and sing songs that I know and other people know them too, and can sing along. It was more communal and inclusive than sitting alone in a room playing piano. That carried me over to Texas and in a short amount of time, I met a few people and we started the band.
Saundra: As a writer, I spend so much time alone in a room and I always envy musicians because they collaborate and have other people around.
Talia: That’s a huge part of it for me. I moved here because I wanted to see what the music scene was all about. Austin is a place where you can start playing guitar and in less than a year you can form a band. If you meet the right people, and you have the right intentions and the energy to do it, it just happens.
Saundra: That’s amazing. Is your husband also a musician?
Talia: No. He has a banjo and he plays a little bit and he’s written a few songs, but he’s more of a writer than a songwriter. He’s also of a Jack-of-all-trades. He does a little bit of everything.
Saundra: So you started the band eight years ago when you moved here?
Talia: Yes, although we’ve had a lot of turnover in those eight years. The three core members that started it are still around, but we’re on our seventh fiddle player. People come and go, but the band keeps going.
Saundra: Do you write music?
Talia: I do. The last album we did has fourteen songs on it, seven of which I wrote, seven of which were written by Christian, our banjo player. Since the baby I haven’t been writing as much as I used to.
Saundra: That will come back. You’re still at the beginning with parenting. You’re not writing as much now, but you will.
Talia: Yes, I feel that.
Saundra: In addition to having the band and playing music and writing, you have a booking agency. Tell me how that began.
Talia: We started the band and for our first show, we wanted to play in a bar. We actually went to a bar that doesn’t usually have live music and said, “Hey, we have this band, do you think we could play here?” And they said, “Sure, why not?” We brought all of our own gear and all of our own equipment and made our own show.
As with so many things, especially with music and especially in Austin, you have to make things happen yourself. A lot of people want to pay someone to do it and it’s a nice thought that someone’s going to do all the booking for you and someone’s going to manage your band, and someone’s going to make the decisions, and you can just sit back and play music. But it doesn’t work that way unless you’re on American Idol or something and you get discovered and someone’s throwing money at you.
As time went on, we wanted to do more. The other band members are all guys and they have day jobs, so no one else was going to do the nitty gritty work to make it happen. Slowly, I started getting involved, making the shows happen, networking, meeting venue owners, and booking. Some of the venue owners realized how quickly I got back to them and that I was always on top of things and they started giving me more dates. We couldn’t do them all, but I would tell them that I knew a band that could. And that’s how it started. I would plug different bands into different shows at different venues. In the meantime, Tym was watching this whole process and said, “Why don’t you start a booking agency?”
I thought, “I don’t know how to run a business. I don’t know how to start a booking agency. That’s too much work. I don’t want to.” But Tym pushed me toward bringing on a few different clients and trying it out. He’s definitely been a motivating factor for all of my big business decisions and startups.
Saundra: So he has some entrepreneurial background?
Talia: Yes, but that’s also his spirit. He sees the big picture while I am the opposite. I see every little speck and detail. I can do the small pieces, but he sees ten, fifteen years down the road. It’s helpful to have someone like that in my life, because there’s no way I would have started a booking agency on my own.
Saundra: It sounds like you did start a booking agency, but he saw that it could be bigger and that you could make it more official.
Talia: The idea was to create a job for myself, start a business. I starting booking tours for other bands and realized pretty quickly that it was a whole lot of work and there wasn’t much money in it. For most touring musicians, if they can break even, it’s amazing, especially when they’re working on a small scale. And here I was taking a percentage, taking money out of their pockets, which I was not interested in.
I had to think about ways we could make actual money for everybody, where everybody wins. That’s when I started booking more weddings and events, and that’s what I’m doing now. I started Bouquet Bands mainly because The Lost Pines were asked to do a lot of weddings, and there was more demand than we had time for and people actually pay a lot of money for weddings. Everybody gets paid well, and they’re great gigs. Nobody wants to tour right now because five out of six of us have kids. We’re happy to stay in Austin and play music for extra income and for fun. We do a nice mix of making money by playing the weddings and then also playing in town for bars or places like Central Market.
Saundra: How are you managing with the band and performing, the booking and the baby? What does an average day or week looks like?
Talia: My whole morning involves getting my daughter as tired as possible. That’s my goal from the time we get up. We go to the Y, I work out, she plays, we swim, tire her out. Then I try to get her to fall asleep on the car ride home. She’ll nap for two to three hours, which is huge, because that’s when I’m upstairs on the computer getting as much done as I can.
Every day I have it in my head that today, maybe, I’ll sit down and play guitar for a bit. Maybe I’ll write something or practice a new song. And that happens maybe .1% of the time, because there’s always so much to do on the business side. Answering emails, making phone calls, bookings, contracts, dealing with brides, dealing with brides’ parents, negotiating. When people request a certain type of band for their wedding, I always try to find them one or make up a band if I need to. I’ll take pieces of bands and put them together. My goal when somebody asks me for a wedding band is to do everything in my power to not say no. It’s a lot of work and takes a lot of time.
Saundra: So you have to know the wedding planners and all of that.
Talia: Yes, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the wedding planners, a lot of the venues, and a lot of them recommend me now.
Saundra: Tell me some of the venues that you work with and that you like.
Talia: We work at Barre Mansion a lot. Red Corral Ranch in Wimberley. It’s pretty typical that we play country-chic weddings or shabby-chic and they’re usually in the Hill Country or a place like Mercury Hall or Barre Mansion if they’re in town. Often they’re held in a barn. Usually people are coming from out of town, and the couple wants to show everyone a Texas wedding. They serve barbecue and people wear cowboy boots. They want to see a banjo and a fiddle. They want that vibe.
Saundra: Do you dress accordingly?
Talia: Yes, when I play. I usually wear boots and I have country dresses. That’s kind of my thing, what I’ve always worn, because it’s fun. We definitely have the country look. The banjo player wears a big hat. Bluegrass has become popular I would say since O Brother, Where Art Thou? which was already ten years ago. But even in the last four years or so, pop bands like Mumford and Sons and Lumineers have banjos. And all of sudden people think that bluegrass is cool and have this idea that they want that at their weddings.
Talia: The word has gotten around about The Lost Pines because the core group has stuck together. Most bluegrass bands typically don’t have longevity or they aren’t organized. If you Google “Austin bluegrass,” Lost Pines is the first thing that comes up.
Saundra: What do you mean when you say, “not organized”? Is that typical for the genre or for musicians in general?
Talia: The genre. Bluegrass was created to be accessible to anyone who can play. In traditional bluegrass, people play the same songs for the most part and all the songs are so simple that anybody who can play an instrument can join in. It’s a matter of how you sing the harmonies, how you play your solos. Groups form and disintegrate all the time, because it’s a loose collaboration where people get together and jam. There aren’t too many bands in Austin playing bluegrass that have a history, references, high quality photos and videos, and a professional web presence, which is really important when you’re going to spend a lot of money on a wedding band.
Saundra: Did you build the website?
Talia: Originally I had someone else do it, but I got tired of not being able to update my own website, so I redid the whole thing myself. I’ve been using Weebly, which is easy. I put on a bluegrass festival last April, another big leap I made, and built my website with Weebly for that. I want to be able to control all the parts of things, because it’s hard to count on other people.
Saundra: Tell me about the bluegrass festival.
Talia: Farmgrass Fest took place in April. Festivals are a big part of the bluegrass world, and we’ve played a few here and there, but it’s hard to get into the big ones, especially because we’re not traveling much. We’ve always said we should make our own festival, which is how most festivals start. I have some friends who own a farm in Niederwald, which is between Buda and Lockhart, just east of I35. Wonderful people, the Simmons family. I used to work at Gardens, remember Gardens on 35th Street? One of my coworkers, Penel, and her family owns the farm. 130 acres where two of Penel’s adult children have an organic farm. A beautiful, beautiful spot. I went to a bonfire events there with a band and thought, this is amazing, the perfect spot for a festival.
It’s always nice when you do a big event, especially for the first time, to make it a benefit. People get involved then and you can get sponsors. I wanted to do something that would resonate with the organic farmers. They were trying to start an emergency medical fund, GroACT, or Growers Alliance of Central Texas, farmers trying to help farmers out. They wanted to raise funding for farmers who get injured on the job or have medical bills they can’t pay and that are inhibiting their ability to work. So we decided that would be the beneficiary of the festival.
The farmers were helpful in putting it together, especially Jane Levin, a chicken farmer out in Bastrop. She raised thousands of dollars in sponsorships from the people she delivers to. My brother lives in Austin and is also a musician and a sound engineer, so I got him involved on the production side and we invited other bands to play and volunteer their time. And they built this stage — this is the craziest part—with a flatbed trailer that they had at the farm. Christian, the other singer in my band, is chair of the art department at the Griffin School and teaches welding. He and my brother, Etan Sekons, welded this giant metal structure, which they hauled down there and put up over the stage as a cover.
The festival took place in the beginning of April. It was unseasonably cold, but we still had 300 people come out and we raised $5,400 for the fund. We’re planning to do it again this year.
Saundra: A lot of women I’m talking to are using the nonprofit model. People are willing to step up step up for a good cause.
Talia: It makes sense. In Austin everyone loves and supports local food growers. When we told people we were supporting the local farmers, they wanted in. And bluegrass and farms go well together.
Saundra: You’re originally from New York?
Talia: I grew up on 86th and York.
Saundra: That’s a big change.
Talia: It was. But I never felt like New York was the right place for me.
Saundra: Where did you go to high school?
Talia: Trinity on the Upper Westside. And I went to Vassar College upstate and then after that I traveled around and spent some time in Israel, which is where my father is from Israel. He just moved to Austin, so that’s been a huge help, because he babysits a lot.
Saundra: Where do you rehearse? How do you get to play music?
Talia: Often times we rehearse just like this, sitting around. The six members of my band live in different parts of town, so we rotate. We usually rehearse once a week, usually Wednesday nights at someone’s house. Last week we rehearsed at the one house without children, and it was so nice. “Marc” I said. “We should practice here more often. It’s so quiet, no dogs, no kids.”
Saundra: No brightly colored plastic items.
Talia: It was just calm and quiet. Usually rehearsal involves a lot kids running around.
Saundra: Do you guys all bring your kids?
Talia: No, it’s just whoever’s house we’re at. For the first six months, when I was still nursing, we had to practice here because I couldn’t leave for too long. Tym’s usually around evenings. He’s huge help watching Ceila when we rehearse, and when I have gigs on the weekends and evenings.
But there was one night when Tym wasn’t around and I asked my brother, Etan, to come to come over and hang out with Ceila during band practice. But he’s also a guitar player and instead of watching Ceila, he ended up playing my parts so I could nurse and take care of the baby. You do what you’ve got to do, but it was funny. It’s easier to practice outside of the house because if I’m not here then it’s out of sight out of mind. if I’m here, Celia wants to hang out and see what everyone’s doing. She’ll stand in the center of the room and spin around, as you witnessed.
Saundra: I remember those days. If you’re around, why aren’t you with me?
Talia: We play a lot of shows that are family friendly, like at Central Market, and I love when my daughter comes because she has so much fun dancing. It’s less fun for Tym, because he’s constantly having to pull her away from the stage while she’s crying, “Momma, Momma.” That’s why band practice is important. I know every week, no matter what happens, I have that window I get to go and be with my ban. We’re all good friends, too and enjoy hanging out and make music together. It’s huge for me. I know a lot of moms with young kids that they may work part time, but their work isn’t fun. I feel really grateful that I have that outlet.
Saundra: It’s a relief, because you get to do the thing that makes you you.
Talia: Even when we’re playing a five-hour wedding and we’re driving and we have to learn a lot of new songs. Because sometimes it’s stressful. We’ve got wedding planners breathing down our backs and we have to get everything right. But even with all that, it’s fun. We’re still making people happy. Everyone’s happy at a wedding. Everyone’s having a good time. It’s never a bad experience. Ever.
Saundra: Do you have any role models?
Talia: Honestly, my most favorite bluegrass female singer, who I think is just an awesome person, is Dolly Parton. I don’t know much about her, but I think she is an amazing singer. There aren’t many female bluegrass singers out there whose singing and attitude I admire. But Dolly’s awesome.
I don’t know that you’d consider him a role model, but Tym is definitely a big inspiration and a huge help when it comes to looking at what can actually be done and believing that I can do it. Eventually he sees us running our own venue. We’ve started looking around and seeing what’s out there. But I think hosting events and working weddings and organizing could eventually lead to a career of running an event space. I think that would be a really amazing thing to do.
Saundra: It makes sense. I love how one thing leads to another, how we’re always asking what’s the next logical move?
Talia: Tym grew up in Manchaca, on a ranch, so he has that whole ranching and working the land and building part of his background. He would love to have a place outside of town, in the Hill Country, a kind of a weekend escape for us as well as a place where we could host our own festivals and our own weddings and other events.
Saundra: In terms of working within the old systems of distribution in music, have the changes in the music industry been help or hindrance?
Talia: I’ve been thinking about this. I believe the fact that our music is just thrown out there on the web and anyone can find it for free anywhere is wonderful. I really do. I’m not trying to make money from our music, because I don’t think that’s what anyone does anymore.
Saundra: No one tries to make money recording you mean? There’s no money in recording?
Talia: Exactly. I have a garage full of CDs and I give them out more than I sell them, because anyone can get the music anywhere. I think if we make another album, we won’t make physical CDs, or not very many, because most people download. You can find everything for free on Spotify, which is great. It’s out there, and people all over the world can hear it. To me it’s more important to get it in front of people and have them spread the word and tell their friends.
Saundra: In terms of making a living, you’re taking middle management out of the equation and doing it yourself, which something I’m seeing a lot. The publishing industry is dying, going the way of the music industry, but writers, editors, agents are taking matters into their own hands. Mostly women, because it needs to get done.
Talia: I recently spoke to a large booking agent in town who is about to retire, and she has a lot of bands on her roster. I’m guessing a lot of them will of go out on their own now. Some will sign with other agents, but you have to be at a certain level for someone to be interested in booking you. When you’re starting out, if you don’t have people coming to your shows, you’ve got to build that first.
Another element of modern distribution involves crowdsourcing. We raised $8,000 to record our album from fans and through Kickstarter, which has become huge. People feel like they’re a part of something.The fans who like your music want to be involved and want to help.
Saundra: People feel good about supporting you. They feel empowered, like they can be effective as patrons.
Talia: And you make it easy for them. Just click and go, and then they get the album and updates. I’m all about embracing the technology, although I can’t really keep up with it.
Saundra: What are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced and how have you overcome them or not?
Talia: Songwriting has never been easy. I’ve written some great songs, but I don’t know how I wrote them. At some point I’ll sit down and the song will appear. I used to have a lot of time to let that happen, but now with the baby, I don’t feel like I can hang out and play guitar. That’s probably my biggest obstacle right now.
Saundra: No empty space.
Talia: And if there is, it’s usually at night after my daughter goes to bed. Who has energy to do anything at that point? I would love to figure out a way to carve out some more creative time. I’ve talked with Tym and we’ve come up with some ideas, maybe Saturday mornings. We’ll see if that materializes.
Saundra: There’s so much problem solving involved in this . I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to my husband and said, “This isn’t working.” It takes negotiation and can be hard to stand up and say, ” I need this and how can we make it happen?”
Talia: I have written songs in the last few years, but mostly kids’ songs. We’ve talked about making a kids’ album, because some of the other guys are on the same page, writing childrens’ songs also.
Saundra: Sara Hickman did it for years until her children grew up. I wrote children’s books when Shira was little, because you’re reading so many of them. You’re living in that world.
Talia: Exactly. I’m a literal person and write what’s around me. I’m inspired by what happens in my day-to-day life.
Saundra: There’s money in that, too, because the children’s market is perennial. As a parent, you’re always looking for something you can bear to listen to over and over again. How much Raffi can you take?
Saundra: What helps you stay grounded. How do you keep it together?
Talia: Weekly band practice is number one. The weeks we don’t practice I’m really sad. Even when we’re not preparing for gigs, we still need to get together, work on new material, just play, knowing we’re always getting better and we’re always creating and adding new songs. Even if they’re not original songs. Recently, we started playing a cover of “Wake Up Little Susie,” putting our own spin on it. I love doing stuff like that. And for weddings we started playing a lot of old country classics.
Saundra: That sounds like fun.
Talia: It’s wonderful playing music we don’t normally do, mixing it up. And as far as staying grounded, just being with the band helps. They’re good guys, reliable, nice people. We help each other out musically and in life. Of course Tym helps with everything, too, watching Ceila so I can do all these things.
Saundra: How long have you guys been married?
Talia: We celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary on Friday. We went to Wimberley for the night, my first time away from Ceila. Everyone was asking, “Oh, are you going to be ok?” Ha! Am I going to be ok? I’m going to be just fine, I told them. It was great.
Saundra: A little taste of freedom?
Talia: Yes. We don’t get out together very often and we always say we need to make more space for it, but it’s so easy to get caught up in all of the little things. Tym just moved to a new clinic in Dripping Springs. He barely opened in the last week or so, and I’m working with him to get that up and running. Every spare moment when I’m not watching Ceila, I jump on the computer and think, “Ok, well what do I have to get done now?” I’ve learned in the last few years that it never ends. You can never get it all done, so at some point you just have to take a break.
Saundra: What advice would you give to women trying to balance art, creating income and raising a family?
Talia: Something I discovered that helps a little bit for me, at least musically, is having my guitar on the wall. Otherwise it lives in a case in the garage. At least if it’s out and I can see it, and I have a minute, I might take it down and play.
Saundra: You keep it accessible. To me it’s also a reminder that you’re a musician.
Talia: Something else, I’d say: Don’t be afraid to do for yourself what you think only a professional could do. There are so many resources. Tym and I have this conversation on a daily basis. You want to learn how to write nonprofit bylaws, you can Google it and thousands of pages show up. It takes time. You have read through it and weed stuff out, but it’s all there.
Saundra: We live in an age where you can do so much yourself because so much information is available.
Talia: Also, ask for help. When you’re working nonprofit or you’re benefiting someone else or even if you’re just doing something creative that people are going to like, people want to help. They like to share their expertise. It never hurts to ask. The worst thing they can say is, “I’m too busy,” or “No, I can’t help you.” Asking for help in all aspects of life a really important. A lot of people with their own businesses have the tendency to want to control everything. But you can’t do everything yourself.
Saundra: A friend of mine who’s a life coach claims that the difference between people who are successful and those who don’t make it, is the ability to ask for help. Of course there are other factors, like showing up and getting the work done.
Talia: It’s hard to put yourself out there. Usually I have to process for a few days and then I break things down into tiny chunks, tiny steps, and then everything gets done in pieces.
Information about The Lost Pines here.
Information on Bouquet Bands here.