You’re basically a part of the last generation of songwriters that didn’t grow up entirely on the Internet. Are there some roadmarks or moments from your childhood that you can point to that helped put you on this path? What bands were you into as a kid?
One of my earliest memories is of my mother singing “You Are My Sunshine” to me, which is, I think, one of the greatest sneakily sad songs of all time. I remember it giving me the feeling that I look for in songs to this day. Even as a small, small child having no knowledge of music or the world, that’s how primal an effect songs have. I’ve just always responded to them. From that point on it I was kind of off to the races, and I was lucky that my mom always had good stuff around when I was growing up– Neil Young, Roxy Music, country stuff, all over the place. So I had a pretty good foundation for when I got to be the normal age for a kid to start figuring out music, like 12 or 13.
I grew up in Greenwood, Arkansas before the internet, as you mentioned, so there was basically pop radio, country radio, and classic rock radio aside from what was around the house. I remember buying Green Day’s Dookie and Nirvana’s Nevermind and In Utero at around the same time and just literally wearing them out. From there I would just track down every piece of reading material I could find about punk rock, indie rock from the 70’s and 80’s and just really trying as best I could to educate myself about this mysterious fascinating world that I wanted to be a part of, Rolling Stone (hahahaha) Maximum RocknRoll, everything. Black Flag, Minor Threat, Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., Minutemen, Husker Du, all of the great touchstones that was just an incredible rabbit hole for me. And that was what first made me think that I could start a band, write a song, play a guitar without being shown how, play a show, book a tour, is those punk records and the stories I read about the bands.
I’m grateful to have grown up in a time and place where I had to really WANT to track down the music that moved and inspired me. There was only the cassette/CD store at the mall in Fort Smith a half hour away, where I would spend any extra money I could get every couple weeks and then pore over every detail of what I’d bought– liner notes, art, everything. It was magic to me. That, or the catalog advertisements in the back of magazines. I really loved those. That was my daily bread. Then in my late teens and early twenties I really listened to Hank Williams for the first time and that was like another punk revolution for me. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Water Liars is probably the hardest-working band I know right now. You’re currently working on your fourth album in 4 years and you tour constantly. Is it important for you to stay busy? Are you folks at a position now where you can support yourself playing music?
Staying busy is a cornerstone of who we are as a band and as people. Without work on something that you care deeply for, I’m not sure what else you have. For both Andrew and I, I think it’s safe to say that when we got together on our first record and started this band in earnest it was a kind of watershed moment for both of us, like, “This is it, this is what we are doing no matter what.” There’s a lot of talk in the music industry about cycles and timing, and to a certain extent that makes sense, but I can’t understand the point of being a working musician who isn’t always either working on something new or touring.
The corollary to that is, for a band like us who has so much room to grow, there’s really only money coming in to live on when you’re touring, so the only way for us to squeeze a living out of this is to be constantly on the road.
Where are you at in the recording process right now for the next album? Did you approach this album any differently from the first three?
Right now we’re getting ready to start recording the next album in June at the Echo Lab in Denton, Texas with Matt Pence engineering. This time around we’ve done some pretty extensive demo work on every song for the record, as well as rehearsing and playing them live, which we really didn’t have an opportunity to do with any of the first three. I think this record is going to be a relatively big step forward for us in a lot of ways, just having so much time to work on it and to bring to bear things we’ve learned over the last few years of recording and touring so heavily. We’re really excited for folks to hear it.
It’s very obvious that you and Andrew care deeply about the craft of songwriting and serving the song as best as possible. There’s a huge swath of musicians and listeners that seem to care very little about lyrics. Why do you folks care about that?
Words and music are two of the things that give me more pleasure than anything else in the world. Trying my best to use them well seems to me to be one of the highest tasks I can aim to finish.
I hope it’s not ridiculous of me to ask this, but do you feel part of a tradition or a lineage of songwriters? Do you feel like your songs are adding to an ongoing conversation in the American South?
I would hesitate to ever place myself in any line or company. I don’t know where I would fit, and I don’t think it is or would be my place to say. I know the writers that move and inspire me, but it would never occur to me to place myself anywhere near them. I think that would be a dangerous mistake.
Last great book you read?
Last great book I read was “Fourth of July Creek” by Smith Henderson.
Sodas or cigarettes?
Both sodas AND cigarettes. And coffee.