by: Thomas D. Mooney
We caught up with Wade Bowen a few weeks back. He’s hot off the release of his latest–and best–album to date. Simply self-titled, Wade Bowen, is sort of a going back to basics exercise for the Texas singer-songwriter. You simply hear a looser, laid back Bowen who’s seemingly found that sweet spot as an artist (Read our last interview with Bowen here for more on the album).
Peeling those layers back and getting back to those roots as an artist–getting to the truest form of a song–is something inherently vital to songwriters from the lone star state. There’s something very Texan about hearing Texas singer-songwriters perform their songs acoustic in small listening rooms.
Where a full band show can cover up weaknesses and mistakes, the acoustic setting doesn’t; it amplifies them. Where the Saturday night barn burner helps create the larger than life “rock star” persona, an intimate acoustic endeavor is humanizing. That’s not to bash full band shows or anything–but it’s undoubtedly refreshing to see and hear the other.
That’s what Bowen’s upcoming Cactus Theater show will be. The song, the story, the musician, the songwriter, and the performer in their most vulnerable state. Wade Bowen, along with Jamie Lin Wilson (read our interview with Wilson here), will be performing at the Cactus Theater tonight (Wednesday, Dec 10).
Note: We are currently having our 2014 Panhandle Music Giveaway Contest, in which we’re giving an individual a bundle of our favorite albums released this past year by Lubbock-related artists. Wade Bowen’s Wade Bowen is included in said bundle. Details here.
New Slang: Some news that broke this week was that you’ll be performing on Conan. What went running through your head when you found out?
Wade Bowen: Nervous as can be, but also excited. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do my whole career. I’ve always wanted to play one of those late night talk shows. Conan has always been one of my favorites. He’s hilarious and seems like a great show to be a part of. Hopefully it’ll be the first of many, right?
NS: Definitely. Conan has also been someone who’s had really great music on his show. That’s probably a good sign for you.
WB: Yeah, seems like that. Him and Jimmy Fallon both seem to be big music fans. I’m just really excited about it.
NS: This album, it’s been doing really well for you. It’s been getting a bunch of great reviews. A lot of folks really like it. Are you someone who reads reviews? You ever go down that rabbit hole?
WB: Oh you know, it depends. Some of them I do, some I don’t. I try not to concern myself with it too much. I’m sure there’s always some who will like it and some who won’t. I learned a long time ago that you can’t please everybody. That’s been kind of the theme of this record from the get go; just try and stay happy and not get too worked up if somebody doesn’t like it.
NS: I was speaking with Jamie Wilson earlier and she mentioned a duet you guys did for her upcoming album. How was that?
WB: It was cool. I think she’s incredibly talented. The song, we wrote it together a while back. It’s a love song. I was kind of joking around with her about it being a duet and she took it serious. I was glad she did [laugh]. I love singing on other people’s records, but don’t get asked to do so a whole lot.
NS: Yeah. She was saying that she wasn’t sure if you were being serious or not so she just said yeah to the duet idea. I’m excited to hear her album. This next show you’re playing here, it’s at the Cactus Theater. You ever played there before?
WB: No I have not. I’m really anxious to get on that stage. That’s a historical place. It really fits into what I’ve started to more of lately. I used to do it a lot back in the day, but kind of got away from it. It’s going back to me and my guitar. Sometimes I have a guitar player with me, but it’s nice to break the songs down and talk to the crowd and tell some stories. It’s a show built for the small listening rooms. It always makes for a different night.
NS: Yeah. That’s something I do really like about Cactus. It’s theater seating and every show I’ve been to there, all eyes are locked onto what’s happening on stage. You have everyone’s full attention.
WB: Yeah, me too. That’s why I do this. I play enough shows where it’s rowdy and crazy. It’s nice to just play music, tell stories, and really, just hanging out. It’s really me showing people why I do what I do.
NS: There’s also, I guess pressure, to play the “hits.” With it acoustic, you’re able to really go into the catalog and play some of the deep cuts.
WB: Definitely. That’s what’s it’s all about. Last year, there was stuff that I hadn’t played in 10 years. I also played some songs that people hadn’t ever heard–new stuff that hadn’t been recorded yet. It’s really all over the map. I really don’t know what’s happening until I get on stage.
NS: You have any specific acoustic live album that does that that you’re a fan of?
WB: The first one that comes to mind is that Guy Clark live record Keepers. It’s really good and has a little different presentation of the songs. I also love the Jackson Browne solo acoustic records that he does. If there’s any solo acoustic records out there, I usually like them.
NS: Oh yeah. I think Jackson Browne is really one of the best songwriters who isn’t talked about nearly enough. I was going to bring up Guy Clark too. There’s this new documentary being made about him. He was on your last record, The Given. The man is by all means, an institution. For you, what makes Guy Clark important? What’s the most important aspect of Guy Clark’s songwriting?
WB: I think Guy is this artist who separates himself as a writer. It really is hard to do that. I can’t think of anybody who is better at creating images when you’re listening to songs. Great imagery. There’s a certain style to his songs. It’s almost like no matter who the singer is, if it’s a Guy Clark song, you can almost feel it. That’s hard to accomplish as a writer.
NS: Yeah. If you were taking the best parts of various other songwriters to build a “perfect” songwriter, you’d probably end up with someone close to Guy Clark. He’s never too wordy with a song either. It’s always just enough to create the image without being over the top.
WB: Yeah. He actually told me that Townes Van Zandt wrote too many lyrics–which I find funny because Townes too is just phenomenal.
NS: [Laughs]. Yeah. That’s great. There’s been a few famed songwriting friendships that have happened between the “veteran songwriter” and the “newcomer songwriter.” Like the ones where the younger went out and found them because they wanted to pick that person’s brain and learn. Great example is Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. Was there ever anyone like that for you that you tried to seek out?
WB: I think that person for me was always Robert Earl Keen. I didn’t ever really seek him out or track him down though. I now just try and pick his brain whenever I can. I try not to bother him too much. That’s really not my personality, but I do think “what would Robert do in this situation?” Someone who I do talk with on a regular basis and ask and get advice from is Ray Wylie Hubbard. He’s been really good to me. I feel pretty comfortable in any situation being able to pick up the phone and call him. He’s very honest. He always has really sound advice.
NS: Yeah. I can’t wait until Ray gets a book out. I was going to get your opinion on something that kind of was a debate of sorts. I think it kind of goes further back than most people realize. We wrote about Kevin Fowler’s last record being really pandering and then of course, the pieces on Josh Abbott’s Maxim interview. I’m hoping people understood it wasn’t just specifically about those two individuals, but rather, about how the Texas music scene has a lot of cronyism–at least in my opinion. There’s not really any checks and balances. Every Tuesday, everyone kind of rushes to tweet and Facebook about whoever’s new record coming out and it’s partly because they’re hoping everyone will do that when theirs comes out. Everyone supports everyone without any kind of criticism. A little blind faith. What’s your thoughts on that?
WB: I think that criticism can be OK. I don’t we all have to agree with each other all the time. We do disagree with each other. We do talk and make fun of each other for some bad songs or whatever. Most of the stuff is done behind the scenes though–which I do think is where it should be when it comes to us. I’ve never been one who’s up for starting controversy or anything. I think the reason we do have that good ol’ boy system is because we understand that we don’t make the same kind of music. When we play festivals together, I am playing with Kevin Fowler and Dirty River Boys and Jamie Wilson. That’s the beauty of Texas music. I’m not just referring to music like us either though. It’s always been like that with guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Ely, and ZZ Top. It’s so spread out to be called a specific genre. We let everybody do their thing and understand that’s what they do. There’s no reason for me to say what’s right or wrong. I’m just going to support a good guy every now and then. Behind the scenes, off the camera and record when we’re just hanging out, I can think of very few who aren’t sweet, good people.
NS: I do think the support system is overall a good thing. I do think it’s a good thing where everyone is generally pushing towards the same goal–where everyone is trying to show more people the music and artists coming out of Texas–I do think that’s good. But on that flip side, it can create a climate that makes it OK for blind faith and unquestioned loyalty. I mean, there are artists who cheapen that image of Texas music. I’ll agree with you that it’s probably not in the best interest of songwriters and bands to speak out publicly. But, the people who are supposed to be journalists, radio DJs–the media if you will–they have an obligation to their audience to be critical. There’s a bunch of those who are more interested in hanging out after the show than actually having a genuine music opinion.
WB: I agree. I don’t see there being anything wrong with the controversy if it’s meant to be. Some people, you guys, you’ve stirred the pot and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s that kind of stuff that will keep this scene honest. I do think it can get better as a scene. There’s nothing wrong with someone calling us out every once in a while. If I ever make an awful record or something, hopefully someone will call me out and let me know.