Sonia Tetlow has been a constant on the Atlanta music scene since the mid-1990s, growing from an “angsty Gen-X’er” to become bassist for Cowboy Mouth, fronting beloved local band Herman Put Down the Gun, playing with Roxie Watson and carving her own path as a solo artist.
On her new solo album, “Now,” Tetlow showcases her love of pop and rock – she’s an unabashed child of the 80s – with a collection of 10 songs that grew out of a moment of family crisis. The grooving, buoyant sound of the album, produced by Ben Williams, is the result of “wading through the past so you can be present and live in the moment. And embrace it.”
Tetlow said the genesis of “Now” came after her father was diagnosed with dementia and then suffered a debilitating stroke. She was going back and forth from Atlanta to her native New Orleans to see her dad, which gave her plenty of time to reflect on mortality and life.
Those trips home also put Tetlow in a reflective mood about her beginnings as a musician. It was a Melissa Etheridge concert at the historic Saenger Theatre in New Orleans that cemented Tetlow’s future in music.
“I left that concert saying, ‘that’s what I’m going to do.’ I went and bought a guitar and a chord book and asked my friend, Brian Perry, if he wanted to be in a band.”
She played around New Orleans for a couple of years while finishing college, but then heard about the growing indie scene in Atlanta spearheaded by the Indigo Girls.
“I came to Atlanta and saw Kristin Hall, Wendy Bucklew, Shawn Mullins and I was blown away by the caliber of songwriters. I wanted to come to Atlanta and be a part of that scene.”
Atlanta gave her the opportunity to hone her skills, since she readily admits, “I didn’t know what I was doing yet.”
“I was very angsty – mostly yelling versus singing. I felt confident with the lyrics, but not so much with the music. I wasn’t 21 yet, so I had to use my sister’s driver’s license to get in to the clubs. Then I got busted at Eddie’s Attic with the fake ID and they took it away.”
(It’s worth noting here that all has been forgiven at Eddie’s: Tetlow has since played the famed Decatur music venue many times and will launch “Now” there on Nov. 3. Get your tickets at this link.)
Tetlow would eventually form the Sonia Tetlow Band (STB) and release two acclaimed albums, “Spit” in 2000 and and “Swerve” in 2001. The band didn’t last, but their swan song was pretty epic: opening for Patti Smith at the Atlanta Civic Center.
After the band’s demise, Tetlow went back to working odd jobs (including plenty of manual labor jobs like window washing mansions in Buckhead) before eventually landing a more stable gig at Earthshaking Music shop. She recorded her music at home and continued to play gigs.
One of those gigs would lead to filling in as bassist for alternative rock favorites Cowboy Mouth. The band invited her to become a full-time member and constant touring ensued, along with high profile gigs on the “Ellen” show, performing at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and at race car driver Danica Patrick’s wedding. She also co-wrote songs and performed on the band’s “Voodoo Shoppe” album from 2006, which was a tribute to New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Tetlow spent three years with Cowboy Mouth, but then felt that gig had ran its course, so she came back to Atlanta and back to her job at Earthshaking Music. She would go on to form Herman Put Down the Gun and play with Roxie Watson and Paul Sanchez and the Rolling Road Show, but also decided to go back to school and get a masters degree in public health. Four of the songs that appear on “Now” were written in the backseat of her car during lunch breaks while she was on a research fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control.
Tetlow has had a taste of fame, but says it was never her goal as an artist.
“Fame fans the flames of ego, which is dangerous and counterproductive to an artist. My goal is to connect with people through my work and it’s easy for fame to becomes this bubble world where you’re not connecting with anyone.”
The writing and recording of “Now” gave Tetlow the opportunity to reflect on past and present. “The arc of this album is about time and memory and being okay with where I am now. Music saved my life, and I still find so much joy in music. I love it so much.”
For more about Sonia Tetlow, visit her website at tetlowmusic.com.