In the seven years they spent trying to launch their band, the members of country trio Stealing Angels developed some solid relationships with radio programmers. So when the group’s Caroline Cutbirth and Jennifer Wayne were looking to make a career change, an opportunity to work in record promotion was too good to pass up.
In January they joined Nashville-based HitShop Records with the unusual title “national promotion, special operations.” Even more unusual in a label promotion role that’s usually performed solo, Cutbirth and Wayne (who call themselves “the twins” despite not being related) share the job, traveling and working together 100 percent of the time.
Stealing Angels were signed to producer Paul Worley’s startup Skyville Records in 2010 and had three singles worked to radio, hitting the road hard on an extensive radio tour. They had talent, and a compelling back story: Wayne is the granddaughter of actor John Wayne, and the group’s third member, Tayla Lynn, is the granddaughter of Loretta Lynn. But their first two singles, “He Better Be Dead” and “Paper Heart,” were mid-charters. They’d just begun working the third, “Little Blue Sky,” when Lynn discovered she was pregnant. When she decided to marry and move to Seattle, the wheels came off the band.
While Cutbirth and Wayne were thrilled for Lynn, they struggled in the aftermath. While attempting to continue on as a duo, Cutbirth says, “Jen and I just weren’t getting along musically without Tayla. Once that piece was missing, it all kind of fell apart and we couldn’t piece it back together.
“We like to call it a perfect storm,” Cutbirth says of the band’s demise. “Everything just lined up for it to fall apart.”
Cutbirth ultimately moved to Austin, and was teaching music to children because, she says, “I kind of had a little bit of a breakdown after Stealing Angels broke up. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life and my music. I just needed to breathe, get out of Nashville, take a break and get my head on straight.”
Says Wayne of that time, “Of course it was disappointing, because we had worked so hard for seven years to try to make that band happen. But at the same time, Caroline and I just feel like we’re really open to our journey. It just really felt like that was our time with Stealing Angels, and it was a peaceful feeling in a way. We knew that we were just going to start a new path to something else, and we were kind of OK with it.”
“We’re going to sound like crazy hippies,” Cutbirth adds, "[but] we are so open to the journey of life. We believe if you keep your heart open and follow your soul, and give it everything you have, even if stuff falls apart, something else will pop up.”
That “something else” turned out to be CBS’s Emmy-winning "The Amazing Race." The twins were cast in season 22, where they traveled the world participating in often-dangerous adventures and finished in fourth place. They were so well liked that they were re-cast for the show’s current “All-Stars” season, which began airing last month. While they can’t reveal how well they ultimately do this time around, four episodes in they’re still going strong.
Between seasons of"The Amazing Race," Cutbirth got offered a song-plugger job at a new publishing company, Young Guns Music Publishing, and returned to Nashville to take it, a move she jokes represented her shift to “the dark side.” Young Guns parent company, Ramblin Music Group, had also opened label HitShop, headed by president Skip Bishop. Looking to staff up his promotion team, Bishop offered a job to Cutbirth, but she had a counter-offer: Hire both twins. He agreed. As Cutbirth recalls, “Skip said ‘This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done in 30 years, but OK, let’s do it.’ ”
“Jen and I feel very lucky to work with someone as innovative, creative and smart as [Bishop] is, and an outside the box thinker, because nobody [else] would have signed on with Jen and I doing this together,” says Cutbirth, who retained her job on the publishing side. “Basically what he did was hand us a list of all the stations and said, ‘Pick the guys you have great relationships with,’ and that’s really where we got our ‘region’ from.”
Interestingly, knowing the first group they’d be working would be fronted by a woman initially gave both women pause.
Says Cutbirth, “Jen and I are really jaded. We know what it’s like to be out there. We were in an all-girl trio. We know how hard it is. And we’ve seen so many girl [singers] come and go... It is so hard to break a female act. We know from experience.”
Adds Wayne, “When Caroline and I first started thinking about taking the job, I was like ‘Oh no, a female artist? My first job in promotion?’ ” But when they found out that act was the live-performing powerhouse Natalie Stovall & the Drive, they immediately jumped at the chance to work with the band.
They believe having been on the artist side of things themselves gave them a good foundation for their current gig. “It’s a tough job if you’re not cut out for doing all the work,” Wayne says. “Being an artist prepared us for how much work was going to be going into it.”
In their new position, “We do everything together,” says Wayne. “We just tag team... We travel everywhere together. We go to all the dinners together. We go to all the shows together.”
They’re happy with how their team effort is going so far. “Everything is more laid back when there’s two people,” Cutbirth says. “It’s not like a one-on-one, awkward situation. We can play off each other... so there’s a whole experience that’s kind of fun. It never gets too ‘worky.’”
They’ve also brought their unique attitude to the job, and their motto, which they say carried them through their time with the band, two seasons of "The Amazing Race" and, now, record promotion. Explains Cutbirth, “We just want to laugh our way through life, have a good time, try not to take it too seriously and keep it fun. I think you actually are more effective like that instead of getting all serious and stressed out. That’s probably why we ended up doing so well in "Amazing Race" the first time and, hopefully, the second time. You’ll have to watch and see.”
When not working, the twins still make music, but mostly now just for fun. “Surprisingly enough, because we were able to let go of the thought that we had to hold Stealing Angels together no matter what, with or without Tayla, Jen and I ended up actually finding peace within doing music again together and writing," Cutbirth says. "We’re always open to whatever could be there [for our music], but we’re just not forcing anything.”