TCB Interview – Roger Wallace

Roger Wallace is as steady as a rock when it comes to making great honkytonk music. An Austin mainstay – he shows no signs of wavering. Here’s a few full length MP3’s from Roger’s new cd and my interview:

It’s About Time
Everloving Sunday
If It Wasn’t For Me

ROGER WALLACE: IT’S ABOUT TIME

Laurie: Let’s have some fun!

Roger: Sure, if you call listening to a windbag like me prattle on for paragraphs on end “fun”, let’s do it. Thanks for the interview, and thanks for keeping Take Country Back alive and well!

Laurie: Although the title of the album is also an album track it seems as if it’s a little autobiographical isn’t it? We’ve waited a long time for this record…..

Roger: Hey, so have I! I never planned on that one being the title cut when the whole idea started several years ago, but since it took so long to get out I figured it was an appropriate album title. The content of the song itself is really just a “leavin'” song, though.

Laurie: You’ve written with a couple of my favorite people for this album DB Harris and Dallas Wayne. Are they recent collaborations?

Roger: Not really recent, I guess it was two or three years ago. I sat down with D.B. for a day or two when he still lived in Austin, and we goofed off and listened to a bunch of stuff, and eventually came up with a tune or three. By the way, if you want to hear two completely different takes on the same song, listen to D.B.’s version of “All By My Lonesome”! That’s just one of the many things to love about country music. D.B.’s a helluva talent, and I’m glad to see he’s still working and doing well in Nashville now. With Dallas Wayne, I always thought it was dumb that we had done a fair amount of road work together and had never written a song. So, I have this Dixie-mafia-Southern-epic story idea that I’ve been working on for a while in my head and on paper, and I wanted to put a song about one of the characters on this CD. I had Dallas come by, I told him the overall story and what I wanted the song to be about, and he just came up with the title and hook line right there on the spot! The jerkass. Great songwriters like that really irritate me. It just ain’t fair! Dallas is such a talented guy in so many facets of the business, I’m lucky that I’ve gotten to work with him as much as I have. Laurie: There’s no mistaking this for anything other than a country album but yet its very diverse. Was that intentional or is that how you just happen to view country music? I know your background includes dabbling in other genres of the business right?

Roger: Again, that’s one of the many things there are to love about real country music — it has such a huge umbrella of musical styles, and I love the challenge of taking all the genres I love and trying to create a singular sound with them that’s still definitely honky-tonk music. Some artists/corporations abuse that umbrella to justify making pure pop music — but you can’t take a crappy Richard Marx or Air Supply song from the ’80’s, put a steel guitar on it, and call it country. I feel privileged to be making country music, and to see people abuse that privilege (and take advantage of the loyal country fans along with it) is pretty painful. Country music can include elements of rockabilly, blues, jazz, Southern rock, and even funk, but you have to draw a line somewhere.

Laurie: When you first came to Austin you hooked up with an amazing group of other struggling artists/songwriters. Most of you have gone on to have solid regional support/success. Have times changed in Austin since then? Do you struggle more? Less? Has the music scene changed?

Roger: Wow, how much time ya got? Quite a loaded question, but one that needs answering. I’ll try to keep my rantings to a minimum, though! I’m so lucky to have been part of that huge wave of roots artists in the early-mid ’90’s who came to Austin to make music. There are several other strong roots scenes around the country, but it seems that Austin sort of became ground zero for a lot of it, and it’s been my good fortune to have been around some of the best players in the world for the last 10 years. But to answer your question, the music scene has definitely changed in Austin. With tourism, the dot-com boom (and subsequent bust), and things like Austin giving giant corporations absurd tax breaks to get them to move here, our population has grown exponentially. The result of that is that Austin’s great live music audience has been diluted, and more and more venues cater to the “mass media” crowd instead of trying to keep good, cool, loyal fan bases. The most basic thing from a musician’s standpoint is the actual number of small/medium-sized venues that are doing our kind of music has decreased drastically, so it’s really hard to get good gigs if you don’t draw 200-300 people every single time you play. When I started playing in the mid-90’s, gigs were plentiful — Ginny’s, The Continental, The Spoke, The Black Cat, Carousel Lounge, Henry’s, The Hole In The Wall, Gruene Hall, Babe’s on 6th, Jovita’s, Threadgill’s, La Zona Rosa, Stubbs BBQ, Under The Sun (during SXSW), and probably several more I can’t think of right now — all were viable venues for quality roots country acts to play, no matter what size crowd you could draw or not draw. Those places had built-in crowds of regulars, who were two-steppers and true country music fans, so it didn’t matter. Nowadays it seems like that list has dwindled down to a half-dozen or so decent gigs, and many of them have a regular rotations of acts that have been playing there forever, so it’s difficult for new acts to get in. Other places like Stubbs and La Zona Rosa have turned into giant concert venues who only book touring acts. Hell, the Broken Spoke even charges you for water now! I could go on (obviously), but yes, Austin has changed.

Laurie: It floors me when I visit Austin how many talented musicians are playing for simply tips. I’m also hearing that travelling on tour outside of here would usually mean paying out of pocket from an artist perspective…thoughts?

Roger: Well, playing for small money is the nature of the beast in a city that’s as flooded with artists as Austin. Basically, the deal is, “If you don’t play for peanuts, we’ll find somebody who will.” Between Austin’s reputation as an “artist’s town” and the fact that it’s also a college town, there will always be some young crappy garage band willing to play for nothing. And of course, there’s always karaoke, which (soulless) club owners are doing more and more of. It sucks, but there’s no real way to change it. The upside is that by playing here you get to play with so many great people, and it’s still a pretty vibrant scene overall. As far as touring, it’s true that most of us are lucky to break even if we tour in the States, and you’re likely to actually lose money. The same thing that has happened to Austin is happening everywhere — urban sprawl and corporate America, not to mention ungodly gas prices (we have to drive gas-guzzling vans to tour) and a war have changed the entire country. The good clubs and good scenes are getting harder to come by, and because of the aforementioned “karaoke syndrome” and rough economy, club owners are less willing to spend money on quality music. And those that are willing have a core set of 5 to 10 acts that they’ve been booking over and over since 1995, and other acts are relegated to opening slots and other cash-drains. You end up basically playing for rooms and a meal, unless you’re lucky enough to get a good crowd that’s buying CD’s and t-shirts and stuff. Selling “shwag” is about the only way to make money on the road in the States. 

Laurie: It’s About Time (according to a family member of yours I’ve spoken with)  also seems to refer to your former status as a single man. You’ve gotten married since your last record…has it changed your music? I’m hoping your music isn’t going to become “Tim McGrawed”

Roger: No problem, as long as my lovely bride doesn’t turn into Faith Hill. Which would be my worst friggin’ nightmare. But no, Mrs. K is a super-cool gal, so I’m not too worried about that. It’s true that being in a good relationship can take away some of that pent-up angst that makes for some cool music, and I do find myself doing more fun and generally less embittered stuff. But then again, I just recorded a song about a guy who offs a priest with a religious symbol. Nah, I’m not going anywhere.

Laurie: I noticed one song in particular that pulled on my heartstrings – Ever-loving Sunday which I’m assuming was written for your bride…..What a great song!

Roger: Thanks! Here comes “Cornball Country Love Story 7534”: I wrote that song for her birthday a couple of years ago, because I didn’t have enough money to buy her an actual present. She loves that laid-back Haggard “half-time two-beat with a 2-minor” style (you music geeks will know what that means), so I wrote it with that in mind. And Sundays are always good for us, especially in the fall, because we grill and watch football and gorge ourselves on queso for about 10 straight hours every week. Sweet stuff. 

Laurie: What no Harlan Howard cover this time?? But I am very pleased if not intrigued by the Jim Stringer number “The Confession”. What were you thinking when you included that one?? What’s been the reaction?

Roger: The decision to write all but one of the songs (as well as the no-drums decision) was about 90% artistic, and 10% economic. Artistically, I wanted this CD to be more personal and intimate in sound and content than my other stuff, plus I’ve been playing and touring as a three-piece without drums more often over the last few years. I really do love that sound, and it also allows me to take a stronger role on acoustic guitar. Economically, since I had to pay for this whole record myself, I couldn’t afford to pay a drummer, or to pay royalties on cover songs. It’s the old “art-reflects-life-reflects-art, I guess.

As far as “The Confession” goes, I hope folks have the same reaction I had the first time I heard Jim perform it — I came out of my seat! I thought, “Wow! What a cool, creepy, brutal story, and it has a catchy hook to boot!” You just don’t find that every day. Jim did that at Ginny’s, and there was a crowd of people that came in whenever he played just to hear that song, and they always sang along to the chorus. Quite a bizarre scene, if you know Ginny’s. I found myself walking around singing it for days, so I knew I had to record it. Jim’s written so many great songs, I guess it’s kind of weird that I picked that particular one to record. But I asked him, and he said OK, so there it is. I doubt I’ll ever do that one live though — it’s got a million words, and Jim has way more brain cells than I do. But for reaction so far, I think my folks may have had some sort of “meeting” about it, but otherwise it’s been pretty positive. If that song truly offends you, you really need to lighten up.

Laurie: For those who peruse your myspace blog you have a well established reputation as an excellent journalist with an outspoken mind. I’ve spent many hours there smiling — sometimes nodding my head in agreement and sometimes shaking my head at what direction you’re taking the topic. I’m assuming Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em is an offshoot of one of those editorials?

Roger: Wow, I’m a journalist? I wish somebody would’ve told me, I’d write better crap! But thanks for saying so, I appreciate that. It’s good to hear that you don’t always agree with me, too; that’s way more fun than preaching to the choir all the time. But yes, “Smoke ‘Em” is definitely a direct shot at the smoking ban nonsense. I wrote that one the day before the smoking ban went into effect in Austin bars, and hopefully it’s the first and last “protest song” I ever write. I won’t editorialize too much here; if folks want to read my thoughts on the subject, they can go to my blog. Suffice to say that smoking bans in the workplace and other public places are good, but banning smoking in bars is just stupid. Don’t let fascist do-gooders like Smoke Free “Your-City-Here” (a group who goes from city to city trying to ban all smoking) do it to your town!! 

Laurie: How’s the scene looking for independent artists these days? With the proliferation of avenues of promotion (myspace, digital downloads etc) it also seems to have flooded the market so to speak….where the good gets lost in a sea of mediocracy. Anyone can make a record these days in the pj’s in their living room.

Roger: Yep, any shmoe with Pro Tools (a recording computer program), a couple of microphones, and Photoshop can make a CD now. And if you’ve got another three or four grand to spend, you can print 1000 of them, hire a publicist and a radio promoter and make people think you’re for real. The digital age is a blessing and a curse — it gives a lot of people the opportunity to make music, as well as “distribute” it digitally with places like MySpace, iTunes, and Napster, where they never would have had the chance to be heard before. There is plenty of great music that has come out of that. So, on the one hand, hundreds of thousands of acts have been able to “release” their music this way. On the other hand…. hundreds of thousands of acts have been able to release their music this way! There’s lots of great music out there, just not that much. It’s gotten to where a person who wants to get into a new genre of music — namely modern roots country — has no idea where to start, no way to know what’s good and what’s not without slogging through hours of mediocrity. It seems like word of mouth is really the best way to make a name for yourself and get people into your music. How’s that for irony? Because of the tidal wave of new music through hi-tech digital means, folks now have to rely on word of mouth to really get heard.

Laurie: Where’s Roger Wallace at now in his life? Where does he want to head next?

Roger: Right now he wants to head over to Hoovers for some ribs and beer, but they’re closed at the moment because it’s the middle of the night. Otherwise, I just want to get myself (and other artists if I can) to a place where I can make a real living playing the music I love. I can get by, but making a true living, the kind of living where you can at least provide for your family and have decent place to live, is virtually impossible for an independent artist. I’d like to get back on the road soon as well, but like I talked about above, that’s got its own hurdles. Yeah, yeah, boo hoo, right? I really can’t complain much. I just got married, I put out a new record that I’m pretty proud of, and for some reason good folks like yourself want me to keep typing stuff. It ain’t so bad I guess. Laurie: Where can folks looking to catch you live find you? Any tour plans?

Roger: If you’re in Austin, you can find me at Ginny’s Little Longhorn, the center of the honky-tonk universe, either drinking or playing a couple of times a month at least. Otherwise, various places around town like The Hole In The Wall and Brentwood Tavern, picking with Teri Joyce, flying solo, or havin’ at it with my own band. No big tour plans at the moment, but I’m hoping that will change soon. Know any good booking agents?

Thanks for the interview, and sorry again for my verbosity. And thanks to Laurie and Take Country Back for doing what you do!

Laurie Joulie TAKECOUNTRYBACK

_________________

As a bonus here’s a handful of great tunes from Roger’s previous album:

Blow Wind Blow
The Lowdown
Rose Marie

You can connect with Roger via www.myspace.com/rogerwallace or www.rogerwallace.com

One Response to “TCB Interview – Roger Wallace”

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