A local singer-songwriter with a difference

Aubree Riley, photographed in front of the Main Auditorium at The Ridges, where her video, “Black,” was filmed.

It is not often that an interview with a new singing sensation has to be scheduled around her middle-school volleyball practice.

But then, one does not often encounter the likes of 14-year-old Aubree Riley, who mixes a career as a professional singer-songwriter and guitar player with that of a normal Athens Middle School eighth-grader.

Nor is the phrase "professional singer-songwriter and guitar player" an exaggeration. She mixes excitement over sports - she's on the volleyball team - with a serious knowledge of the music business, knowledge that surpasses that of many artists far older than she is. And unlike many who plan musical careers, she has a level-headed approach to what it will take to achieve success.

Now she has a new music video, "Black," recorded at the Ridges in Athens, the site of this interview. The video was directed by Tim Jackson, "and he has worked with Alanis Morrisette, REM and Steven Tyler, and a lot of others." The introduction got made through the booking agent at Donkey Coffee, she explained. Scenes were filmed at the Ridges Auditorium and the nearby grounds, all owned and managed by Ohio University. "We met, and I played the song for him, and he had an idea for the video," Riley said.

The resulting video depicts a young woman who seems closer to 20 than 14. Does she mind being portrayed as more mature than she is? "No - should I? Is that bad?" The questions are not defensive; she really wants the opinion.

And despite her age, she has years of experience.

"I played at a wedding, and then I played an open mic night at Donkey Coffee & Espresso," Aubree said. "They asked me back." She's been performing for audiences since she was 12.

She also writes her own songs. "I'm writing all the time," she said. "I've been writing songs since third grade." A better than average guitar player by any standards, she is self-taught. "Well, I had one lesson. The teacher taught me 'Mary Had A Little Lamb.'"

Polite and self-assured, she appears to have her career sorted out.

"I recorded an acoustic CD, but I want a record deal. I plan to go to Nashville and get a record deal," she declared.

Has she an agent there? "Don't give her ideas," laughed her father, Tony Riley. Nevertheless, she is quick to let anyone who asks know that she has always wanted to be a singer-songwriter and guitar player, and that's what she wants now. She will forge ahead until she has established a full-fledged career. "Oh, yeah, that's what I'm going to do," she added in a very serious tone.

Before descending on Nashville, though, Riley was slated to sing the National Anthem this past Saturday night to open the Tim McGraw concert at Legend Valley in Thornville. She's an old hand at those duties, though; she did the same for a Hank Williams Jr., concert earlier. And of course she will continue to perform at local venues.

At school she is active in sports, though this year she's cutting back a bit. "I've played basketball since third grade," she said, "but this year I'm not playing basketball. That will free up some time for writing." As "Black" demonstrates, her songs are not cute little ditties but works of complexity in both emotion and musicality. She is serious.

What do her parents, dad Tony, a biology teacher at Athens High School, and mom Rhawny, a stylist at Attractions in uptown Athens, think of her musical career? "They're supportive - very, very supportive," Aubree said. "There's no way I could do all this without their support."

She grinned, and there was a hint of… something.

Dental adornment is not unknown in the local music scene. For example, legendary guitarist Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna and Meigs County's Fur Peace Ranch sports an iconic gold tooth. But Aubree Riley takes it a step beyond, not with the "grill" favored by hip-hop artists but something perhaps unique to the popular music industry. When she smiles, if you look very closely, you might catch a glimpse of it.

Braces.

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