by: Thomas D. Mooney
There’s something really comforting about Walt Wilkins voice. It never feels like he’s in a hurry. Never rushed. Just going at his own pace. It’s not just how individual songs feel, but entire albums–or, his entire career for that matter.
Imagine Wilkins walking down an Austin sidewalk or West Texas dirt road while an album plays, his latest efforts “Plenty” for instance. You’re not sure if he’s just taking it all in enjoying life as the time passes or if he’s actually pondering the meaning of life. Is he enjoying the little things or trying to determine why they’re significant in the first place? It’s probably a combination of both (or are they really the same thing?).
The Tao of Walt.
I’m sure that’s a for sure “New York Times” bestseller. Maybe part of Oprah’s book club.
In all seriousness (while I do think it’s a great book idea), Wilkins has been able to strike a chord as a songwriter who doesn’t just deliver a great chorus and melody. He’s able to capture every day human emotion and weave it into pensive, sober songs. He writes songs you find yourself coming back to over and over again. Songs that you find new meaning in with each listen as you grow older and wiser.
Walt Wilkins and The Mystiqueros are playing Wednesday (Sept. 5) at The Blue Light Live. We caught up with Wilkins earlier this week to discuss what he’s been up to this past year.
New Slang: Let’s go ahead and start off with how your Viva Big Bend experience was. You enjoy yourself?
Walt Wilkins: I thought it was fantastic. Thought Stewart Ramser just did an awesome job because, that was the first year of his festival and it all worked really well. We had a great time. Played one of our favorite venues, The Railroad Blues in Alpine. It was really good.
NS: Who else did you catch down there? Anyone catch your eye?
WW: Playing before us was Jay Boy Adams, who is an old friend. And I saw Drew Kennedy play at another view that same night. Drew Kennedy has become one of my absolute favorite songwriters and performers.
NS: Oh yeah. I’ve listened to that last record (“Fresh Water in the Salton Sea”) a few times. It’s really great.
WW: That record, I think it’s my favorite record of the last couple of years.
NS: You also have a new record (“Plenty”) out this year.
WW: I do. It’s been out since June 12.
NS: Yeah. Can you talk a little about the album? What’s the thing you would say people should expect from the album?
WW: Well. What would I say expecting…It’s one man’s viewpoint on a lot of stuff. As I get older, I write more about the things I’m at peace with, family, love, and making a good life. I turned 50 last year, so I suppose I get a little more reflective. It’s a pretty country record. It’s kind of like what I grew up on. That ’70s country in some way.
NS: One of the tracks that I really liked was “Rain All Night.”
WW: Thanks so much. I wrote the lyrics when I was playing in Luckenbach the first Saturday night of December of last year. It was kind of when a drought broke and finally got some real rain. And it literally rained all night. We stayed up all night listening to it and old records. I wrote the lyrics, the whole song, just laying there in Brian’s–one of the guys in the band–in Brian’s RV. We were sleeping there behind the dancehall. Then I had my friend Ron Flynt, write some different kind of melodies for the verses that I would normally not do. I’ve been real happy with it. It’s been one of the songs that’s been playing on radio.
NS: You’re originally from Central Texas. To me, one of the biggest keys in music is landscape and settings. It’s one of those things that shape a band or musician more than most people probably realize. With you being from Central Texas, I feel like you really sound like what it is to be a country singer-songwriter from the hill country area. How has Central Texas shaped you as a songwriter?
WW: It definitely has. I grew up here in the ’70s in Austin when there was just this great collection of songwriters. They weren’t famous nationally, but who were in their own kind of way–in a cult style way. Like Steve Fromholz and Willis Alan Ramsey. Michael Martin Murphey, who went from here and became pretty famous. Jerry Jeff. I saw those guys play a lot as a young man. I’m sure they had a great influence on me. Fromholz and Wills particularly.
NS: You’re also a guy who has been involved in three large phases–or elements–of music. You’re a singer, write songs, and you’ve also done a good chunk of producing. What’s proven to be the most difficult you think?
WW: They all have their own special challenges and their own special rewards. They all require a completely different set of muscles. Writing is one thing. Performing is another and so is production. I like them all. I try and make it where one feeds another. I like working with young songwriters because I can occasionally help them out with some editing and working out the last bits on some of their songs. Performing, I began to play because no one else was going to play these songs I was writing [laughs]. I had to learn how to do it and have really grown to love it. I love performing solo and performing with the band and I perform a lot with my wife.
NS: What are you currently working on now as far as producing goes?
WW: Yeah. Just this week, a record (“Circles”) came out by Greg Reichel. It’s his first solo record. He’s from Dallas. I’m really happy with it. He’s a very interesting writer. I was really drawn to his voice when I heard it. I’m in the middle of a record with the Mystiqueros. We self-produce. This record, it’s a lot of fun and different from my solo records. More plugged in, electric, a free-er sound. We’ve cut most of it live in the studio. And I’m in the middle of a record with Jed Zimmerman, who grew up in Memphis and has lived in Texas and Taos. He’s currently living in Arkansas. He’s one of the most interesting writers I’ve ever heard. I’m thinking that record will be out near the end of the year or the first of next.
NS: You play with your wife, you play with The Mystiqueros full band, and then you play solo as well. Is that just all about having balance?
WW: There you go. I think you said it perfectly. It keeps everything fresh. My solo stuff is fresh. The band stuff stays fresh. We have so many songs. We have so many great songs, musicians, singers, and songwriters we never play the same kind of show twice. We always have fun. And then the shows with my wife that tend to be a more reflective show.