1. How did you get into music?
I got a relatively late start in music, not picking up a guitar until I was 18 years old. Like any good Texan, I spent most of my youth outdoors playing various sports. While it had always been a huge part of my life, it wasn’t until I was nearly out of high school that I ever really considered trying to play music myself. When I first picked up guitar there were no career aspirations as such, I just wanted to see if I could learn to play, but it quickly overshadowed everything else in my life. Playing guitar and trying to write songs was all that I could think about, and virtually overnight it became my main focus.
In 2006 I moved down to Austin to finish college at the University of Texas, and it was during this time that I got plugged into the Austin music scene. I was playing clubs, bars and coffee shops in and around Austin every week, and that’s really where I cut my teeth as an artist. In 2008 I made my first record, and in 2010 I hit the road and started touring. Aside from this current brief pause due to the pandemic, I’ve been on the road pretty much non-stop for the last decade.
2. Who inspired you?
My early musical influences came from my Dad’s record collection. He was born in the ‘50s, grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so it was The Beatles, The Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, Jim Croce, Cream, Derek & The Dominos, ZZ Top, Neil Young, Tom Petty and others that made up his collection, and that’s what I was raised on. From there I discovered the blues. People like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan introduced me to Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and others. In my mid-twenties I got hip to the music of r&b and soul giants like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers and Nina Simone. Around the same time I also discovered Guy Clark and his masterful way of writing a song and telling a story. Obviously, this list could go on for days, but those are a few of my influences.
3. Toughest challenge on the road?
Aside from the obvious challenge of trying to make a living doing this thing, I think the toughest challenge on the road is creating time to explore and enjoy the places you are traveling through. For us anyway, when we’re on the road we are very focused on the job at hand. We wake up, drive to wherever we are playing that night, get to the venue, load in, soundcheck, play the gig, sell merch afterward, pack up, load out and then drive to wherever we are staying that night. The next day we do it all over again. It’s so easy for every day and every city to kind of blur into one. There’s often not much usable downtime when you’re on the road, so we try our best to create a little pocket of time each day where we can walk around whatever city we’re in, and at least see a little something beyond the dark club we’re playing and the hotel we’re staying at. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s something we try our best to achieve.
4. Favorite road story?
Oh man, there are lots and lots of memorable stories from the road! It’s virtually impossible to pick a favorite, but this one would have to be pretty high up the list…
In 2014 I was touring the US with a friend of mine named David Ford, who is a brilliant songwriter and performer from the southeast coast of England. We were playing small clubs up and down the east coast, and one of David’s fans wanted to promote a show for us in Charleston, SC. Neither myself or David had ever played Charleston before, so we were a bit hesitant. David told his fan to book the smallest room he could find, as we likely had virtually no fans there. For weeks leading up to the tour we were trying to get the gig details from the guy, and finally a week or so before the tour started we got word that the venue we were playing was called Charleston Music Hall. Now, the name implied that the venue would be rather large, but we were hoping it was like Rockwood Music Hall in NYC, where even though the name sounds like it belongs to a big venue, it actually only holds about 70 people. No such luck! Charleston Music Hall is a beautiful, historic 1,000 seat venue. Gillian Welch had played there a night or two before we did. It was utterly ludicrous for us to be playing a room like that, especially in a city we had never even visited prior to that moment. As we were loading in we kept saying in an apologetic manner to the crew, “We aren’t supposed to be here!” In the end, I think something like 25 people showed up for the gig, which was honestly more than we expected, but there still weren’t even enough people to fill the first row of this theater! It was both hilarious and humiliating. Suffice it to say, that fan has not been called upon to promote another gig!
5. Who are you listening to now?
At this very moment I have Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu album spinning.
I recently heard Nicole Atkins’ new album, Italian Ice for the first time the other day, and it’s fantastic. Really interesting and well-written songs, and she’s a fabulous singer. I’ve also been really digging the new Wood Brothers album, Kingdom In My Mind. The level of musicianship, the soulfulness and the grooves those three guys put out is just astounding. I’m sure I could list plenty of others, but that’s what immediately comes to mind.
6. How are you utilizing your “Stay at Home” time?
It’s been an interesting few months, that’s for sure! Like every other musician, we’ve had pretty much an entire year’s worth of touring wiped off the board, and there’s no clear end in sight. So obviously, there’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment. We’ve been trying to make the most of this unexpected time off of the road; trying to stay positive and productive.
My wife, Claire and I have been doing regular live streamed shows from our little house in Nashville. We did them every week for 14 straight weeks, and now we’re doing them every other week on Thursdays. That’s been a really great way for us to stay connected to our fans, and it gives us a way to continue playing music for people. It’s obviously not the same as playing a real gig in a packed, sweaty club, but we’ll take what we can get at the moment!
I’ve also been busy writing, and making demos of new songs to prepare for the next album. This is really the first time that I’ve had an extended period to focus on making really detailed demos ahead of a record, and I’ve really been enjoying the process.
7. What are your top 3 go to guitars?
Currently, my top three guitars are as follows…
1. 1956 Gretsch Silver Jet (aka: Bobby)
This guitar is pretty much everything I could want in an electric guitar. The chambered body gives it that airy, semi-hollow sound. The DeArmond Dynasonic single coil pickups are just superb. They’re big and clear with the spank and twang similar to what you’d find in a Fender, but beefier sounding, and they’ve got all the bark and bite you could ask for when you dig in. This one got a neck reset and a refret from Tom Stadler at Carter Vintage Guitars here in Nashville, so it plays perfectly. Oh yeah, and it looks outrageously cool! That silver sparkle wrap that Gretsch also used on their drums in the ‘50s is just the coolest thing on the planet. It’s called “Bobby”, because some previous owner had his name etched onto the truss rod cover. Bobby is a total babe.
2. 2008 Collings OM1-Mh
I’ve been playing Collings acoustic guitars for nearly 15 years, and I’ve had this particular guitar for 12 years now. It’s been my main touring guitar for the last decade. It features a mahogany top, back and sides, and very simple, understated appointments. It has such a warm, woody tone, and has been a faithful road companion and recording guitar. This is also the guitar for which I got my first Calton case!
3. 2016 Collings 02-12 String
This is a more recent acquisition, which was actually a staggeringly generous gift from a friend of mine. I had been searching for a 12 string for a long time, and I was obviously pretty blown away when my friend surprised me with it. This guitar is just exceptional. It’s a parlor-sized 12 string, which is fairly rare. You generally see jumbo or dreadnought-sized 12s, which are great, but the smaller body on this one gives it a focus and clarity that you rarely find in a 12 string guitar. It’s a truly phenomenal instrument, and has quickly become one of my favorite guitars to play.
8. Why Calton?
They’re the best! I’ve been using Calton cases for over a decade now. They’ve traveled with me to over 15 countries, and well over a thousand gigs at this point. My Calton cases have gone to battle with baggage handlers all over the world, and have come out victorious every time. I’ve literally watched from the plane as a baggage handler heaved my case into the air, the case landed headstock-first onto the conveyor belt, and when I got my guitar back on the other side, not only was the guitar still in one piece, it was still in tune! I wouldn’t dream of trusting my instruments in anything else when I’m on the road.
9. What’s next for you?
Well, as I mentioned before, since no one really knows when we’ll be able to start touring again, I’ve been mainly focusing on writing new songs and making demos for the next album. I don’t know when we’ll be able to get into a studio to make this record, but I’m really excited about the songs, and I’m itching to lay them down. Here’s hoping we’ll figure out a way to get into the studio with some other musicians soon!