Turnpike Troubadours have taken the Texas/Red Dirt scene by storm the last couple years with a mix of excellent songwriting, superior musicianship and a killer live show. Turnpike frontman Evan Felker displays wisdom beyond his years in his lyrics and has garnered well-deserved attention from respected writers for his process and dedication. This edition of 20 Questions finds Felker and the rest of the Troubadours on the cusp of recording their highly anticipated follow-up album to Diamonds and Gasoline and continuing to play for growing crowds. Check out the interview to find out about Evan’s karaoke song of choice, playing a gig during a riot, why to avoid root beer shots in Amarillo, what to expect from the next Turnpike Troubadour album and probably the best explanation of Texas/Red Dirt music I’ve ever heard.
1. 2010 and the first half of 2011 saw a dramatic rise in the popularity of your band with increased radio play and an ambitious touring schedule through Texas, Oklahoma and beyond. What’s on tap for the rest of 2011 and beyond?
A new album, that’s always the next step. We have been touring on this one for a year and a half. With a new album comes a certain necessary vitality to the live show. Other than the new record it’s just shows. We are going to play shit-loads of shows…I might even grow a mustache too.
2. Your music and songwriting has a very cool old-school vibe without sounding dated. You’ve managed to take arrangements featuring fiddles, harmonicas and banjos and have them sound very contemporary. What inspired you to create this type of sound?
We were in a pretty interesting predicament when we started in that, we were writing our own music and trying to play it in these rough old bars and dance halls. There wasn’t any sort of a comfortable singer/songwriter environment where we could share our thoughts with like-minded people, it was either somebody’s porch or the bars. As a band, we became a product of both our influences and our environment. It wasn’t something that we sat in a room and dreamed up in one day. The process has taken years and it is still ongoing.
3. Name association:
-Jason Boland- Honky Tonk Hero
-Jason Eady-Good friend and great singer/songwriter
-Roger Ray- Solidarity
-Mike McClure- Prolific
4. How did y’all come up with the band’s name? Was there ever any thought to just going with your name?
I honestly never wanted to be a solo artist. I had always wanted to be in a band. Casey Sliger (original Turnpike Troubadours guitarist) and I spent every Friday driving from Okmulgee back to the places we grew up and the route generally involved the Indian Nation Turnpike. The Troubadours part of the name came from an unnatural love for Steve Earle, and from the fact that we were an acoustic duo playing folk music in beer joints. We didn’t know then that the word troubadour is the most commonly misspelled word in the English language (laughs).
5. Y’all are definitely the latest torchbearers in the Red Dirt scene that started with Bob Childers et al. Is having the weight of that tradition and influence of all those who came before you an honor or a burden at times?
Not at all. Bands like the Great Divide, The Stragglers, and Ragweed made it a hell of a lot easier for us to get our music out there. I just hope that they like what we are doing.
6. As a new artist in this scene, you’ve had plenty of opportunities where you’ve had to win the crowd over and been successful at it. What has it been like to get in front of crowds who have been unfamiliar with your music at the start of your set, but have them dancing and screaming for more by the time you walk offstage?
It doesn’t always happen that way. We have had to deal with our share of assholes. That being said, it always feels like a win if people enjoy what we do and have fun. It always feels like a job well done.
7. Favorite touring memory of the following towns:
-Austin- Other than Nashville, Austin is the town that has a reputation for kicking more people’s asses than any other. It has been really rewarding to be able to go and do well for ourselves there.
-Ft. Worth- Billy Bob’s was great. We always try to go and see Barry at Cooper’s BBQ. It’s the best pork chop on earth. Dinner? Huh, Barry?
-Tulsa- Our early gigs at the Mercury Lounge. We met Brandon Clark, Rodney Parker, and Jason Eady there. Also, headlining the Cain’s Ballroom was a highlight in our career.
-Amarillo- We were loading in at Hoot’s Pub and the early crowd kept sending us root beer shots. They insisted that the shot was only a half and half mixture of root beer and beer. After ten or twelve shots, no shit, they told us that it was root beer schnapps. By that time we were hammered…that time being 7PM! Lucky for us, they decided to record the show and send it home with us. Lucky for them, we didn’t have the energy or tools to kill ourselves (laughs)
-Stillwater- There are too many to count in Stillwater, two years worth of living there. After the shows we always would go back to our house and play songs with all of our friends there. I really miss those days.
8. With the rising price of gasoline, it will soon cost as much as diamonds. Which would you recommend stocking up on?
Neither…go with gold. Gold is a sound investment.
9. Let’s talk a bit about your playing. When did you first pick up a guitar? Who taught you to play? When did you add harmonica to the mix?
I started playing guitar when I was around fifteen, I learned from books and from high school friends. I initially started playing rock songs and that progressed into bar standards, which in turn progressed into Townes and Steve Earle. I started playing harmonica for accompaniment to solo acoustic songs. The cross harp stuff I started doing during shows and it was too fun to stop.
10. Your band is comprised of some very seasoned and gifted players, could you tell us a little about each member and what they contribute to the Turnpike Troubadour sound?
R.C Edwards, bass – He’s extensively educated, his nickname is “The Rooster”
and he can throw the absolute hell out of a baseball.
Ryan Engleman, lead guitar,- Ryan’s an absolute computer wizard, he grows arguably the best beard on earth, and he has a brother, Patrick, that’s a bit of a wildcard.
Kyle Nix, fiddle- Obsessed with diet and fitness, into MMA and he’s our resident demolitions expert.
Giovanni Carnuccio, drums- He’s Possibly Sicillian…I’m not sure. He consumes an entire large pizza for lunch daily, and he has the ability to strike up a conversation with any living human being regardless of sex, race, or language
11. The music business is moving away from the business model it clung to for nearly 60 years and is in the midst of an ongoing transition that is geared to benefit independent, touring musicians as revenue is almost solely touring based now. That obviously is good for your band…what do you think about that?
I try not to concern myself with that part of the music business. I’m glad that people can get their music out there easier, but when it comes to keeping up with business trends…I’m out.
I know it’s naive but I still operate on two key principles:
1) If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is…don’t be an idiot.
2) Money is the product of a job well done…work your ass off.
12. Stories behind the following songs:
-1968- There are many people in this country who are capable of great things. The entire concept of the song is someone recognizing that potential in a person that they know.
-Every Girl- John Fullbright wrote most of it and hit a wall. He was gracious enough to let me finish it instead of throwing it away. I owe him one.
-The Funeral- The song is the summation of all the funerals that Mike McClure and I have ever been to. Mac came up with the prodigal son thing. Jimmy is just a shit head guy. You love him and you get a beer and catch up a few times a year, generally at a wedding… or a funeral.
-7&7- Everyone gets into the situation sooner or later that involves the ex-love of your life and a public display of how great their life is without you. The lyrics are comprised of a thousand different moments and scenarios that run through his head from the time he sees her up until he reacts. You know when your life flashes before your eyes before a car wreck? It’s like that but in a grocery store, and boring.
-Whole Damn Town- Don’t date the prettiest girl in town; if you must, don’t lose her. If she leaves you, I suggest relocating.
-Diamonds and Gasoline- The main character loves a woman whose tastes are more lavish than his salary.
-Down on Washington- That song is about a Mike Hosty show on the strip in Stillwater, OK, and the events that transpired thereafter.
13. It is often said that an artist has their entire life to write for their debut album, but has to write for the second one in 6 months. You’ve already released two albums, so have you already started writing for the next record? And, what is your general writing process…melody or lyrics first?
The next album is already written, unless we stumble upon another good song between now and then. As for the process, to be honest, it always varies. I am constantly compiling phrases, idioms, and stories, basically anything interesting I come across. I do the same with melody and arrangements. There can be years between the moment that a set of words or melody inspires me and the time that I finally finish the song. Luckily, I have six or seven years of back catalog to lean on.
14. If you were forced at gunpoint to sing karaoke for one song…what’s Evan Felker’s go to song?
No gun needed…just maybe a few shots. “Much Too Young” by Garth Brooks every time.
15. I’ve heard it said that load-in is like buying the groceries, performing is like cooking the meal and load-out is doing the dishes. What’s your least favorite musical chore?
Sound check sucks…not compared to the shit that I would have to do if I didn’t play, but yeah, sound check sucks (laughs).
16. You can’t play music for a living in the honkytonks of Oklahoma and Texas and not see some really crazy stuff. Share a story of one of the craziest thing you’ve seen at one of your gigs.
Once during a show in Duncan, OK, there was a small-to-medium sized race riot. I don’t have a huge frame of reference on the subject…but the moral of the story as I saw it is don’t do meth kids!
17. If you had to be locked in a roadside motel room with one of the following until you co-wrote a song…who would it be and why?
-Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, or Bob Dylan?
Woody Guthrie is my favorite of the three. His songs shed light on real situations of the time that many people weren’t aware of and, in doing that, he was able to positively impact the lives of his fellow man. Also, we were born in the same town. Everyone I know is sick of me talking about that.
18. Rapid fire:
-Favorite shot? Cheap tequila…dressed.
-Favorite vintage clothing store? Our trailer
-Guadalupe River or Illinois River? The Glover
19. What’s your favorite George Strait song?
“Amarillo By Morning”…no contest.
20. What elements do you think make Texas and Red Dirt music different than mainstream country music?
I believe that, at its best representation, this music can come from a very honest place. I doubt seriously that Jerry Jeff Walker or Doug Sahm ever wrote with a target demographic in mind, and I know for a fact that Townes Van Zandt didn’t. This music, at its best, can put into words what we have been thinking for our entire lives, and at its shittiest, it sells beer and makes people happy. Either of those is fine with me.