We caught up with lead vocalist of Thrift Store Cowboys to discuss a couple of their more signature and identifiable songs: “Beneath the Shoes,” from 2006’s “Lay Low While Crawling or Creeping” and “Morning Weekend,” and “Can’t See the Light” from 2010’s “Light Fighter.” (We’ve previously discussed “Nothing” as well with Fluitt which you can read here.).
TSC, for as long as I’ve been in Lubbock, have been the quintessential Lubbock band. They’ve been the ones to capture all of Lubbock’s elements–quite possibly better than any other band in the region. Ever. Their music–specifically “Lay Low” and “Light Fighter”–capture what it is to be in the Lubbock Bubble. Desolation Row. Cold, stark space. Grim, gloomy wandering. That tension in the air. It’s something few have been able to put into words. Maybe in a way, it’s simpler to understand it in music.
Fluitt and company are currently on the second week of a two week tour that’ll end this Thursday (June 28) with a showcase at the Buddy Holly Center as well as The Blue Light later that night. The Buddy Holly Showcase starts around 5:30 p.m. Hey Mavis will open for TSC at The Blue Light that night with the doors opening at 9 p.m.
New Slang: I guess let’s start off with “Beneath the Shoes” on “Lay Low.” I think it really sets the album up. Would you agree?
Daniel Fluitt: Sure [laughs]. Yeah, the way it starts, it’s kind of the way we wanted it to be. We knew it was going to be the first song on the album…I wrote that song, my cousin Drew, he was working cattle in New Mexico and he kind of gave me the idea of the song. He was working cattle and he was kind of out by himself in the middle of no where and the grass, it was probably about two foot tall. Something ended up spooking his horse and the horse bucked him off. He landed on his leg and totally screwed his knee up and couldn’t stand up. And the horse, he’d never get close enough to him where he could grab the reins and be able to try and pull himself up. But he also never ran off or anything. So the only way they found him was because of the horse. When they went out looking for him, they found the horse and him. Had he ran away, who knows how long he would have been out there, because the grass was so high. I liked the idea of how the horse never left his side the whole time. But me being the morbid asshole that I am, I made it where they were crossing a river in a downpour and something spooks the horse and he falls off and the horse never leaves his side. And the river just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Then there at the end, it just washes the horse and him away and they both die.
NS: Just that whole album, it sounded like you guys knew exactly what you wanted each song to sound like. You knew exactly the feeling and atmosphere you were wanting to create. I think you really saw a jump in maturity with “Lay Low.” Know what I mean? Felt like everything was so precise and exact and everyone really raised their game up.
DF: Yeah. We worked really, really hard on that album before we even recorded it. A lot of the songs, like “In the Clear,” we had written for a while. It was a song that never made it onto “The Great American Desert.” We’d been playing that song for like three years. So we had a lot of songs written that we played live [between albums]. So I guess that really helps for the recording process. Some of the songs, we didn’t get finish with until a month or a couple of weeks beforehand. And we just practiced and practiced and practiced. And on the last album (“Light Fighter”), we didn’t get finished with a bunch of them until the very end.
NS: Also though, I think the lyrical content grew. I mean, I like “American Desert” a lot, but it feels like the lyrical content grew and matured extensively.
DF: Yeah. I mean, that was the first album where I basically wrote all the songs–other than the ones Amanda wrote, where she sings. One of the first two, me and Jeff wrote them. Basically we’d do about half and half on each album. I really like the way Jeff writes songs too. It fits. We kind of write in a similar way so a lot of people can hear a song and then the next song and they kind of sound like they’ve been written from the same perspective and as if they were written by the same person, but really, they were written by two different people.
NS: Yeah. Going back with “Beneath the Shoes” and “Lay Low” in general, there’s this uneasiness vibe throughout. There’s a certain amount of eeriness. Some tension. Trepidation. There’s a feeling of being on edge.
DF: Yeah. That’s why I’m so glad we went to Wave Lab [Studios] to record it. We were able to get all those eery sounds that we wanted. Like when we recorded “Great American Desert,” I really liked the songs, but that album was never how I wanted it to be–even now, [It’s different from] the way I heard it in my head and the way I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be upbeat and all these things. I mean, it is, but the recording quality was not as good. Just the fact of going into an actual studio that has tons of guitars, amps, pedals–so you can basically get any sound you want where as when we recorded here, Caldwell doesn’t have hardly anything compared to that. They just have the studio and you have to bring your amps and everything.
NS: Yeah. Moving on to “Morning Weekend,” what’s that all about? When did you write that?
DF: I started to write that when we were messing around at Tugboat’s house. Colt had his looper and he was playing this part with his guitar, just kind of messing around with something–it wasn’t even something that he really even wanted–he was just messing around and had it looped. And then his girlfriend called so he went outside talking on the phone with her. That thing just kept going though. It just kept going over and over and I just started singing. It was at a time when I was living with Tugboat and it was just like party central every single day. It’s basically about how everyone gets so fucked up in this town and where you going to go party the next night. And it’s just like, after a while, it can get really old. That’s basically what it’s about. You won’t remember tomorrow so you’re going to go ahead and do it again the next day. And the next day.
NS: There’s a moment in that song–you know, it starts off I guess acoustic and just your vocals, then the drums come in–but then, there’s that moment where everything just hits together.
DF: That was the coolest one to work on because it starts pretty basic. That one, it was really hard to do. It took multiple practices and trying different things before we finally got it. When it call comes in, it starts off–well, it’s weird because the guitar and the bass are playing in like, almost 3/4 time, but the drums and everything else are like in 2/4 time. So it has a really weird feeling to it. And then when it breaks off at the end with the two guitars and the pedal steel and just straight 4/4. I love that part about it. It just starts off so simple, builds into this other thing, but it’s always kind of uneasy and has this weird feeling because it’s together, but it’s not at the same time. And then when it all comes together in the end, it makes the song. It just keeps building and building and then the pedal steel.
NS: Yeah. Definitely. I really can’t get past the uneasiness of everything. It feels like you’re listening to a Coen Brothers film.
DF: Yeah. That’s just kind of how we write. I was actually listening to some new stuff that Colt recorded. It’s even more that way. Even weirder. He’s throwing all these guitar parts on each other. And they don’t really fit, but they do fit. It’s a conscious effort for sure. We try to write and create things like that. Trying to make a feeling of how it feels to live here. You know, like the dirt, how dry it is, try and keep everything open.
NS: It feels like, on a lot of songs, there’s a lot of space.
DF: Yeah. Colt’s guitar playing, he’s definitely one of those people who plays so tastefully that he doesn’t have to play a ton of notes. He can play one note and just hold it out making that open feel for a song. And like when we really rock out or there’s a bunch of things going on, it’s important to take that and just kind of like drop it off. Like “Nothing” on the new one. Wait and let it build and at the very end, just let it off where it’s just me and my vocals.
NS: Yeah. And like on “You Can’t See the Light,” there are moments where you feel you’re alone.
DF: Right. That’s another good song to talk about. I want to do a concept album eventually one day about these three books that I read. I can’t remember the name of the series…but they’re these books about the Spanish Civil War. It’s historical fiction, so a lot of the stuff happened, but the main characters aren’t real people. The first book is leading up to the war. The second is during the war, and the third is called “Peace After War” and that’s exactly what it is. It’s (“Peace After War”) written about a character who in the first book, he was the brother of the main character of the first. He’s his little brother and is named Ceasar. He was always a very spiritual person and ended up trying to become a priest basically. That song is about whenever they came–it’s a war between Nationalists and the communists–in the town they were living in, it was controlled by the communists. They were burning the churches, killing the businessmen. He happened to be taken into custody with this older man. Two soldiers from the communist group went to his house to tell them (his family). They went to go find him. When they went to the prison, they were calling out his name. The older guy thought they were trying to take him out and kill him though and he puts his hand over his mouth so he can’t answer. They never find him and he eventually gets executed in a firing squad. That’s what the song is about. And the “You can’t see the light,” is about how he was so spiritual and everything else…Most of what I write, they come from either a story that sparks my interest or something I’ve read. Occasionally it’s a personal, but most of the time it’s something that I’ve read or heard that I think is an awesome story. Sometimes though, it’ll be like this: Colt will say, “OK, I wrote this song and I want it to be like in the fall when the birds are coming in and a dad and a son our in the fall weather. Go.” And I’m just like…alright. That’s actually “Lubbock Lights.” I’ve literally written 10 versions of that song [laughs]. I would just ask him, “anything else?” and he said, “Oh no. That’s great.” But most of the time, it does take quite a while to write. It’s a feeling you get. If it doesn’t flow really well to me, it’s not going to be enough for me or the band. I’ll rewrite stuff over and over until I finally get it. And by that time, I can normally sing it without looking at the paper.