by: Thomas D. Mooney
This is the best I’ve ever heard from Wade Bowen.
I just had to get that out of the way. I just think that when Wade Bowen comes out on October 28, you’ll see and hear exactly what I’m talking about. Years from now, we’ll look back at this as a milestone record in not only Bowen’s career, but very well in what we consider “Texas Country.”
There’s a weight off Bowen’s shoulders in a big way. He sounds more relaxed and comfortable as a songwriter, singer, and performer.
He’s always been considered more of a storyteller than a bunch of his contemporaries, but now he’s also exploring more territory musically.
I don’t want to say Bowen’s other albums have been “paint by numbers” or something like that, but you knew what to expect. They were going to be solid songs, but he wasn’t going to go too far from a certain sound.
Wade Bowen does exactly that though. Now he’s not gone off and made something where you’re questioning who went and replaced Bowen, but it’s just enough to keep the album from ever going stale.
There’s a crisp, crunchy feel to the lead electric guitars. There’s more detail and attention to highlighting mandolin, acoustic guitar, and fiddle that give the entire album a folk-tinge that we’ve not seen before.
At the same time, there’s a handful of songs that are just begging to be radio dominating singles.
By this time, you’ve probably become familiar with the lead single “When I Woke Up Today,” which when I initially heard thought “WHERE HAS THIS BEEN ALL SUMMER?” but it’s truly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to “single-worthy” songs–or at the very least, anthem-worthy songs.
“Sun Shines On a Dreamer,” “West Texas Rain,” “When It’s Reckless,” and “Honky Tonk Road” all beg you to join in on a sing-a-long.
It’s going to be an album in which everyone will have a different “favorite” song, but won’t feel like skipping over the others. It comes in at a hefty 12 tracks long, but doesn’t feel too long or filled with filler. It’s at that just right spot.
I caught up with Wade Bowen last week to talk about the new album. He’s playing Wild West this Friday, Sept. 12. Wade Bowen will officially be released on Oct. 28. Listen to the first single from the album, “When I Woke Up Today,” below.
New Slang: You have this new album coming out and it’s titled Wade Bowen. You usually don’t see self-titled albums by artists with a few of them under their belt. Really seems intentional. What’s the reason you decided to go with Wade Bowen?
Wade Bowen: Yeah, it’s definitely intentional. I feel like this record is kind of a reset button for me. I used kind of a different mindset and different theory going in with it. I want to say it’s kind of a selfish record. Every studio record I’ve done, there was always these moments where I’m trying to prove myself. It always felt or seemed like I was trying to prove something. As a writer, as an artist, or that I belonged on a major label. This one, the reason I went into the studio in the first place was out of frustration and wanting to vent. I went into the studio with the guys who I chose and said, “this is the record we get to vent. This is the one where we get to play things we don’t typically get to play and say the things we don’t get to say. No one’s telling us to not do that because it doesn’t sound like something on the radio or won’t sell.” There was no rules or boundaries. It was very free. I think you can hear that on the record. There’s energetic, raw emotion that I’ve never captured before. I think people are going to enjoy it for that reason. It might be selfish, but I think somebody else will like it too.
NS: Yeah. I like that you said it was a really freeing experience. Listening through the record, I felt there was something that I couldn’t really put my finger on, but that’s certainly it. You can tell. It’s like some weight had been taken off and you can hear it in your voice.
WB: Yeah. We were holed up in this studio outside of Nashville in the country and in the middle of no where. All of us just relaxed and played music. It kind of went back to being a 19-year-old kid again when you’re playing in garage bands with your buddies. Just have fun. There was no time limit on this or questioning if it was going to fit on the radio. None of that came up. There’s two songs on there that are over six minutes. That’s been unheard of for Wade Bowen. I think what you’re getting from this record is the real Wade Bowen; the guy who I’ve tried to discover and find over the years. It’s been the process of being in the studio and learning how to capture that and how to write songs that I’m proud of. Is this my “masterpiece?” I don’t know. I hear artists say that all the time. I do think it’s the best I’ve ever done, but mostly, I think it’s the most “me” record I’ve made.
NS: Yeah. I think this record also has some range to it. There’s some really great rocking songs and then there’s some great ballads. How many songs did you have at your disposable for this album? How many did you have to choose from and give consideration to?
WB: Oh, probably around 30 when I narrowed it down. And then I kind of put what I felt the record should be. Then in typical fashion, two weeks prior to going into the studio, I had a cram session where I ended up cutting five old songs and replaced them with five brand new songs that I had written two weeks before going in. I guess you’re never really done until it’s done [laughs].
NS: What’s the oldest song on the album?
WB: “I’m Gonna Go” is probably. I wrote that three or four–five years ago–maybe.
NS: Was there anything that you were a little disappointed in not being ready or just not being a good fit with the others?
WB: Oh yeah. You always have those. You either just don’t have time or they’re just not quite there as a song. They don’t fit into the concept. That happens every time.
NS: OK. So the song “Honky Tonk Road.” How does a song like that come together? Because I imagine that takes some planning to get that many people on the same page and on the same song (The song features Randy Rogers, Cody Canada, and Sean McConnell).
WB: Yeah. “Honky Tonk Road” I actually first heard from Walt Wilkins, who is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. Then I found out Walt didn’t write it and another guy had named Ray Stevenson. I had loved Walt’s approach to it. I always liked the early outlaw days of Willie and Waylon where if there was a good song, everybody cut it. It didn’t matter if it had been cut three or four times, if it was a good song, multiple artists did it. That’s kind of what I took with this song. It’s one that makes me feel good. It’s different from anything I’ve ever really done before. Then I just got my buddies to come in because of the subject matter. The lyrics just seemed to fit a bunch of guys singing it. I could have gone so many different directions bringing in people, but it came down to me wanting three of my best friends.
NS: Yeah. That song really just begs to have multiple people singing it. Another song on the record, “Welcome Mat,” it has this Spanish flare to it. How’d it develop and start going into that direction?
WB: I really don’t know. It just kind of came out. I was thinking of ideas before going in and was at my place in Nashville with my guitar. Sometimes I wonder where the crap comes from that I write [laughs]. I sometimes write things that I can’t play. It’s just funny how that happens. “Welcome Mat” is one of those where I ask myself where in the world did this melody come from? But that’s really the beauty of songwriting. You’re holding the pen, but something else is writing it for you. There’s a higher power helping you out. It’s a really good example of me opening the floodgates and saying “alright, no rules here. Let’s just see what happens.” I really wanted an Americana feel on this record too. I really love that sound. I’m sure that’s where “Welcome Mat” came from.
NS: Yeah. I was going to mention that actually. A lot of them feel like at their roots, they’re folk songs. There’s obviously electric guitars and everything on the record, but it felt like there’s some highlights on the acoustic guitar and when there’s mandolin being play and things like that. Who’s on this record who we’d be really surprised to know unless you told us or we really dived into the liner notes?
WB: Vince Gill is on this record singing harmonies on “West Texas Rain.” Audley Freed played guitar on it. He was an original member of The Black Crowes. Fred Eltringham played drums. He was in The Wallflowers. Sean McConnell is singing on there–not just on “Honky Tonk Road”–but on harmonies as well.
NS: These last couple of months, you’ve had your name in Rolling Stone headlines. There’s been a couple of articles. Has that just been surreal seeing your name underneath the Rolling Stone banner?
WB: For sure. It’s crazy. It’s something I thought I’d never see, but it’s cool that that writer has really latched on to our music.
NS: I guess it was last week when Jay [Saldana] posted on Instagram a photo of you and Randy in the studio working with Lloyd [Maines]. I know you guys have recently finished up that acoustic tour together and have been working on a joint record together. I’ve heard and read various things, but what should we expect from that?
WB: Man, it’s really even too early to tell. I really don’t know. Randy doesn’t really know. But we’re just recording a bunch of music and seeing what happens. We’ll probably have a better idea and plan early next year. As for now, we’re just cutting some songs. We’ve only recorded three so far.
NS: If you were going to record a duet record with a female singer, who do you think you’d want to do it with? I’ve always liked those albums.
WB: Well, I’ve always loved Lee Ann Womack. Always have loved her voice. She’s a good friend. She’s the first person to come to mind. I think Miranda Lambert would be my first choice. I think she’s phenomenal and just always been good to me. I think it’d be a lot of fun to work with her.