by: Thomas D. Mooney
“They’re begging me to change everything that I am
but it ain’t who I want to be.”
–William Clark Green, “Old Fashioned”
By now, it’s a pretty cliché, worn out way of saying success has had a negative impact on one’s principles and character. Musically speaking, calling someone a sellout cuts to their core. It’s calling them out and trying to revoke any and all street cred they may have had. Long story short, it’s probably overused and rarely are there complete sellout transformations.
Yet, it’s a quick way to cut to the chase about an individual and let them know how you really feel about their latest endeavor. It cheapens it.
If there was ever an ample moment for William Clark Green to cross into “selling out,” it’d have been between Rose Queen and his upcoming fourth album, the juggernaut, Ringling Road. Essentially, right now.
With any songwriter or band, there’s always going to be a bit of anxiety–even if it’s the ever slightest–when they’re following up a successful album. Even when you know the artist and would like to think they’re artistic integrity is untouchable by greed, corruption, and the appeal of fame.
At the very least, you’re hoping the follow-up isn’t a letdown.
Ringling Road isn’t a letdown. It isn’t a surrender. It’s not a rehashing of previous WCG singles. It’s not just regurgitated shit.
Where Rose Queen was a coming of age and maturation of a songwriter and a band, Ringling Road is a statement that one can be both 1) Clever, unconventional, honest, unfiltered, and ballsy, and 2) Be a commercial success and championed by the masses. You can be both.
In an age where the majority of radio artists and singles sound more like duplicates and indistinguishable between one another, Ringling Road doesn’t follow the typical protocol we’ve grown accustomed to.
Yes, there are songs from this album that will make their way onto the radio. They’ll make their way into the Top 10. But, there’s not a “Summer Song,” a “Dirt Road Song,” a “Drinking Song,” and a “Love Song” on this album. Green didn’t have to meet a quota.
As a songwriter, Green has continuously expanded his grasp on the English language. His vocabulary is as varied and diverse as ever. But, where Green excels most as a songwriter is his uncanny ability to present familiar expressions in often in unconventional ways.
For example, if you look at song title alone, you have “Next Big Thing,” “Sticks and Stones,” “Creek Don’t Rise,” Fool Me Once,” and “Old Fashioned.” In many cases, Green (and co-writers) are able to make something exhausted new and fresh.
Additionally, look at lines such as:
“Smoke and mirrors, truth and lies,
To tell the truth, I don’t mind you whispering to me,
‘You’re the next big thing'”–“Next Big Thing”
“I ain’t gonna listen to them bitch and moan
Ain’t nothing but sticks and stones.”–“Sticks and Stones”
“The monkey on my shoulder has a monkey on his back
Could I bum a cigarette, he done smoked my last pack.”–“Ringling Road”
“I’m a standup sucker standing my ground.”–“Hey Sarah”
Vocally, Green continues to harness his raspy growl in the best ways imaginable. It’s never forced, nor does he desecrate the English language to sound more “country” (There isn’t many times he uses nothin’, ’em, coulda, gotta, etc). His singing accent isn’t contrived, but rather, natural.
On songs such as “Still Think About You” and the duet with Dani Flowers, “Final This Time,” Green’s vocals maintain their rootsy grit while also showing he’s more than just that identifiable rasp. A delicate tenderness we rarely see and hear in Green’s voice highlight both songs. In particular, Green and Flowers’ vocals on “Final This Time” create a beautiful, yet uneasy tension on the somber, simple break-up ballad.
Of course, it’s not just William Clark Green when it comes to expanding and honing in on a sound and style. Guitarists Steven Marcus and Josh Serrato, bassist Cameron Moreland, current and former drummers Ryan Garza and Jay Saldana, and producer Rachel Loy have much to do with Ringling Road being a bold and satisfying listening experience.
Even though it’s much of the same cast as Rose Queen, they didn’t look to make Rose Queen Part Deux. That was not the desired outcome. To reiterate what Green says further down in our interview, everyone involved were more confident and fearless this time around.
In many ways, Ringling Road is much more of an expansive guitar record than previous works. The guitars are at times gritty and dirty (“Next Big Thing,” “Ringling Road”) while at other times, they’re crisp and piercing (“Old Fashioned,” “Still Think About You”).
It’s one of the underrated (and probably not talked about enough) aspects of Green’s overall sound. As much as Green is championed as one of the up-and-coming voices in “Texas Country,” the influences of folk, modern indie rock, and roots rock are still a part of the William Clark Green formula–just as much as the Texas singer-songwriter country influences.
I’d go as far to say that if Green’s Texas growl was a southern howl, a Jersey croon, or a California roar, William Clark Green would, dare I say, be called Americana or straight up rock. Basically, if anywhere outside the reach of Texas, Green and company wouldn’t necessarily be pigeonholed as only a “Texas Country” band.
Still, that’s the beauty of it all. Isn’t?
For the better part of two years, since the release of Rose Queen, you could argue that Green and company have been the most buzzed about artist within the country community, especially in Texas. Ringling Road has been one of the most highly anticipated albums for quite some time. Understandably, often the buzz of an artist reaches an altitude too high and demanding for them to actually meet, let alone surpass.
As great as Rose Queen is, Ringling Road transcends its’ predecessor in many–if not all–ways possible. While I wouldn’t claim Ringling Road as an absolute game changer of an album, it is one that can’t be ignored. Green and company took the best aspects of their sound and writing, then refined and perfected them while still giving just enough experimentation to remain fresh and fearless.
We caught up with the former Lubbock singer-songwriter to talk about all things Ringling Road, songwriting, and his upcoming album release show in Lubbock this Saturday. William Clark Green will be joined by Crooks, No Dry County, and Dalton Domino this Saturday at the first street show of the year at The Blue Light.
For presale tickets, click here. Tickets are currently $20. Gates will open at 7pm. For more information, click here. To preorder Ringling Road on iTunes, click here. For physical copies, check out Green’s official online store here.
Watch/Listen the promo preview on Ringling Road and the “Sympathy” below.
New Slang: Rose Queen was a major album. I guess you could call it an arrival moment. You must have felt some pressure following up a successful–both critical and among the masses.
William Clark Green: It was ridiculous. There was absolutely ridiculous amounts of pressure. I think with Rose Queen, we found out our sound and this record, we knew what we wanted going into it. We kind of honed in on that. There were different co-writes on this record so that definitely changes things up. I feel like the co-writes improved the writing. You know, sometimes you hear a record and it’s filled with co-writes and you think about how those changed the way that artist used to be. Obviously, records aren’t supposed to be the same, but you know what I’m saying.
NS: Yeah. There’s a difference between making different records and evolving and changing completely as a band.
WCG: Yeah. I think with these two albums, Rose Queen we had a really good product that we were proud of and Ringling Road, we knew more going into it, we knew what we wanted to say and how, and we just kind of refined it. We’re pretty proud of it. We worked our asses off on it. It’s a little out there. There’s some more commercial stuff and there’s some stuff that’s just out there. There’s some that’s hard to listen to. That’s what we’ve been kind of doing for the last six years or so.
NS: Yeah. One of the more noticeable things on this album is that you have two really great guitar players. Just on the first track, “Next Big Thing,” how the record starts, the guitars are a little bit dirtier. This record probably has a little bit more of an edge to it when it comes the guitars–it’s more of a guitar record than Rose Queen.
WCG: 100% [laughs]. I don’t know if you know the whole story, but Steve [Marcus] broke his arm a week before we went into the studio. So half the album, it was all studio musicians. We’re booked at the studio. There was nothing we could really do, our hands were tied behind our backs. I couldn’t afford to lose money on that. So when we went and recorded. Then Josh [Serrato] filled in for Steve while we were on the road. By the time Steve came back, we liked Josh so much, we just signed him on too. Then we went and recorded the rest of the record. And then we also kept the guitar player we had used in the studio too because we liked him so much too. So those songs that are so humongous, that’s all three of them. You’re listening, thinking “Holy shit.” They killed it.
Steve, Cameron [Moreland], and Jay [Saldana], on Rose Queen, we were all so nervous and timid. It was our first time playing with these amazing musicians, producers, and engineers. We watched our Ps and Qs and tried to play simple, really good stuff. This record, they came in with a vengeance. I think they all went back and listened to Rose Queen and really saw how timid their playing was. They had a lot more confidence–I think we all did. We really did know what wanted to sound like. Rose Queen, we really didn’t. Confidence affected this album in all aspects really. Writing, playing, vocally, just everything. It was a lot of fun. With Rose Queen, Rachel [Loy] really guided us in the right direction. On this record, she gave us a little more leash. She let us explore a little more in the studio. It was a lot of fun.
NS: This record, there’s still a good amount of songs that are about hometowns–either you’re trying to get out because you’re tired of it or you’re wanting to go back home.
WCG: Yeah. I think that’s just part of being out on the road. “Sticks and Stones” is definitely like that. That’s a song I wrote by myself. It’s kind of who I am as a person. That’s kind of the lifestyle. Kind of has that Steve Earle kind of vibe. We didn’t go into this record thinking, “OK, we need a song like ‘Hanging Around.’ We need one like ‘Dead or in Jail.’ Like ‘Let’s Go.'” But it sort of just works out like that. There’s some rock songs, some country ones, and some folk songs on the record. It’s something that we’ve always just done.
This was a pretty stressful record [laughs]. You’re right on that. I’ve heard that a lot about Rose Queen being so well received. You’re almost freaking out. Every little detail on this record had to be better than Rose Queen. When we got the final mixes back, we listened to it and Rose Queen and we all thought we made a better record. The writing is better, the playing, my singing, the production, it’s just better. Now–my opinion doesn’t mean a damn thing as you know [laughs].
NS: [Laughs]. One of the song on this album, “Old Fashioned,” there’s some really great lines throughout.
WCG: That’s probably my favorite.
NS: Yeah. Some of my favorite lines from it are “They’re begging me to change everything that I am but it ain’t who I want to be,” “The interstate’s pumping just like a vein full of California license plates & my heart is thumping, going insane They turned Austin into L.A.,” and “No one else knows because they’re staring at their phones, the whole world’s going to hell.” You’re really saying a bunch of stuff on this song.
WCG: Yeah. You say that–the original second verse, it was pretty harsh [laughs]. So Jared [Mullins] and I wrote it in Nashville. East Nashville, it’s sort of like Austin. Everybody it seems is a pretentious asshole. People are just rude. Jared is kind of like me. That song is 100% me in regard to how I feel and think. That song is me. You know, there’s so many agencies moving in to Austin. Austin is changing whether people like it or not. In West Texas, you don’t see it as much. That’s what was so difficult. Coming from a town like Lubbock and being thrown into the mix in Austin and being offended by people. It’s weird. You know, in West Texas, you still have that politeness regardless of someone actually likes you. Course, there’s assholes in every town.
But the song, it’s kind of self-explanatory [laughs]. So Charlie [Stout] and I sat down to write–a different song–and he started bitching about something. I mentioned the song and played it for him. He was like “Holy shit.” I said that I hated the second verse. He did too so we ended up writing the second verse together. I was happy to get something with Charlie on here because I’m such a fan of his. Still have a couple of Lubbock guys on here with him and Ross Cooper–which last one had Kenneth [O’Meara] and Brandon [Adams]. Having a couple more Lubbock songwriters on here, that was just awesome for me. Obviously I don’t live there anymore, but I still have a lot of pride about being a Lubbock songwriter. That’s where it all started. I think those guys are as good as anybody.
NS: Yeah. Everybody knows you’re still a Lubbock guy. For all intents and purposes, you’re really releasing Ringling Road here–even if there’s a couple of shows before it that weekend.
WCG: Yeah. The fist big one. We’re doing Wichita Falls and Amarillo before. We’ll have physical copies there too. But yeah, that’s the big one. I just hope the fucking weather holds up. We’ll see what happens.
NS: No kidding. Spring time in Lubbock.
WCG: Yeah. It’s a bit of a gamble, but hopefully it becomes an annual tradition.
NS: Yeah. Another song on the album, “Still Think About You.” It’s the last track on the album. It also was co-written with Kent Finlay. Obviously, as a songwriter, he was a very important person and a mentoring voice. Was this the last song you wrote with him?
WCG: Yeah. It was. I think we tried to get together and write one, but I can’t remember if it was before or after “Still Think About You.” We wrote that song in Steamboat. It was the Steamboat before last. He was going through his second round of chemo and he didn’t have much energy so we just held up in his room. That’s all Kent ever wanted to do. Write songs and talk about songs. He never asked me about my personal life or anything. He just wanted to talk about songs. How my relationship with songs was going. He cared whole-heartedly about it. That was a good thing. So when we wrote that song, I had the chorus to it, but I never had any luck getting anyone else to help out. I tried getting Randy [Rogers] to help me write it. Tried getting Sean McConnell to help me, but nobody wanted to. They both said that the song just wasn’t them–which I can respect. The song is pretty brash. So with Kent, he asked if I had anything and I showed him the chorus and told him nobody liked it. I played it with no confidence whatsoever thinking that it sucked. Everybody else had told me to just let it be. Ditch it [laughs]. He said that he liked it and I had to make sure he wasn’t just saying it. He pretty much wrote all the verses. Writing with him, it was such a joy.
The hardest thing with the loss of Kent Finlay is not our friendship. Our friendship was very close and I loved him to death. He did likewise. But people like Dalton [Domino] and other newcomers–guys like Dolly Shine–those guys won’t get the chance to be mentored by him. As a young songwriter, that was probably the most important thing. That was a huge deal. That’s what sucks the most; these young songwriters will never get to experience that. There will never be another Kent Finlay. There won’t be another person like him ever.
I still haven’t been to Cheatham Street. It still hasn’t really sunk in with me yet. We’ve been so busy and I haven’t been down there. This Tuesday [April 14], we’re going down to his studio and recording some songs. I’m fortunate enough to be a part of that. Like I said though, it’s been easy to be disconnected and unemotional because I’ve not been down to San Marcos, but I have a feeling as soon as I walk into Cheatham Street, it’s going to hit pretty hard. That make sense?
NS: Yeah. I understand completely. Out of place, out of mind. Sometimes when you’re elsewhere and you’re busy with other things, it doesn’t really sink in until you do have that trigger.
WCG: Yeah. Exactly.
NS: The title track on this album, to me it does have a real Ross Cooper feel to it. Obviously, it’s a co-write with him and Randall Clay, but that doesn’t always happen where you see and feel the fingerprints of someone’s work and style.
WCG: Oh yeah. It definitely does. That’s really why I called Ross. When I came up with the title track, I called him. Of course, he has that circus song on his last record, “Running Away.” So I told him my idea for the song and about Ringling Road and all that stuff. I said, “Don’t get mad at me, but I want to write a song like yours and that’s why I’m calling you.” I wanted him to guide the song in that direction. He’s so good at that funky kind of stuff. He said, “You’re not going to believe this, but last night, I met this guy in Nashville who is a songwriter and he was a roustabout for the Ringling Brothers Circus for about 10 years.” It was fate.
I’ll be honest with you, I have the story of Ringling Road. I told the story about the elephants and the water and all that stuff, and they ran with it. It was one of those nights where I sat back, had a smile on my face, and said, “Keep going.” I’m not going to fuck this up. They were doing such a great job between the two of them. I’m not saying I wasn’t a part of the writing, but if you were measuring the percentage line for line, mine would be pretty low [laughs].
It’s been amazing. When we wrote it, I didn’t think it’d be received that well because it was so out there. It wasn’t something viable on the Texas market. And my mom hated it too [laughs]. But it’s been crazy. It’s so popular right now and it’s not even been released yet. For me, it’s incredible because it almost got dropped from the record. It’s crazy to think we almost cut it while we were in studio.