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{20 Questions} Zach Jennings of Lone Star Music

LoneStarMusic.com was founded as a tiny internet start-up company by Chad Raney in 1999 after he attended a show at Gruene Hall featuring Jack Ingram, Charlie Robison and Bruce Robison.  The passion he found for the music made him want to create an outlet to get it to fans.  A few years later, Michael Devers took over the operations of LSM and fostered in a new era that included a magazine and retail store.  Last year, Zach Jennings purchased the company with eyes on expanding the LSM brand.  In this edition of 20 Questions, Zach tell us about his plans for Lone Star Music and humorously explains how he once thought Townes Van Zandt was from California.

1.   Y’all always have so many cool things going on, what’s new and exciting at LoneStarMusic?

You mean other than getting to play 20 Questions with Galleywinter?  (laughs).  Well, we’ve got the 3rd Annual Lone Star Music Awards coming up March 27th at Texas Music Theater in San Marcos.  Really cool venue and we’re getting to help them break it in…it’s going to be very exciting.  We’ve also teamed with Freebird’s and Gibson Guitars to stage our first SXSW showcase on Saturday night March 19th at Antone’s.  We’ll also have day parties at St. Vincent de Paul on South Congress on Thursday-Saturday March 17-19.  Our official showcase lineup is Sons of Bill, Cody Canada & Seth James, Joe Ely & Carolyn Wonderland.  Throughout the year, we’ll be looking to branch out and form more strategic partnerships with artists, labels, and other industry folks to really extend the LSM brand.

2.  In the changing music retail market, LoneStarMusic has done a wonderful job of staying relevant and one-step ahead of the competition.  How important is it for you, as a mom and pop operation, to outwit the corporate competition?

Oh boy (laughs)…it’s not so much a matter of outwitting corporate competition as it is simply reinforcing the positive aspects that LSM brings to the table.  We are, after all, a mom & pop retailer that is 100% dedicated to the Roots/Americana/Texas Country scene.  Kind of like the Amazon.com of our expanding music community.  Unlike Wal-Mart or Amazon, we have a presence at shows/festivals.  I mean, this is our livelihood and we’d be going out to shows regardless, but we get excited for shows.  We know we won’t be able to ‘outwit’ the big boys, but we also know that we play a vital role in helping up & comers and established artists alike.  We actively promote this scene and the music it generates.

It’s difficult to really hammer home the notion of “please buy locally from people who support the scene” but the Texas/Red Dirt/Americana music scene is thoughtful enough that I think consumers understand the importance of supporting us while also being mindful of the inherent difficulties of matching up with Wal-Mart or Amazon.  “Big Box” stores can take losses on key CDs because they know people will come into their store, buy the CD and browse around the store.  We can’t afford to make a key CD a loss leader so all we can try to do is bring more value with autographed copies and other value-adds.

3.  Name association:

-Mattson Rainer – The Lester Bangs of Americana.  Omnipresent also comes to mind.  I think he’s been cloned!

-Drew Kennedy – Conan O’Brien in that he’s excessively tall, red-bearded, and utterly hilarious.  I want to hate him because he’s a Phillies fan, but he’s just too nice.  Also, love his tweets, photo-journals & blogs from the road for all their quirkiness.

-Bart Crow – Kleenex…man, they can tell some tearjerker stories on par with Clapton or Neil Young. Primed for a breakout on March 1st, I think.

-Willie Nelson – Buddha…or even, Miniature Buddha covered in hair.

-Wade Bowen – Real.  Period.  Wade’s a legit dude.  Nice, no pretense, humble and still better than 99% of those around.  Always around to listen to his buddies play. That’s camaraderie and it should be praised.

-Javi Garcia – Blackened Voodoo, my old favorite beer, had  bottle label that is spooky and ominous like Javi, but it’s actually one of the freshest, smoothest beers around…also like Javi.  Dude has a Kerouac-level of generosity.

-Sean McConnell- Please don’t strike me down for saying this, God…but John Lennon.  There’s just a unique understanding of words,phrases, rhythm that feels Lennon-esque at times.  A song like “Mr. Whoever You Are” is just one of those songs that is flawless.  It’s the type of song that many veterans aspire to write.

-Randy Rogers- Alpha-status.  If there’s a pyramid and only one artist gets to be at the top of that pyramid, it’s RRB right now, right?

-Josh Abbott- Misunderstood– probably even by me.  Josh and I had a Twitter-battle of sorts because he thought that Lone Star Music’s Award Nominations “missed” some talented acts.  Initially, I was pretty damned steamed about it because we’ve taken great care to get as wide a cross-section of nominators and we were actually pretty pleased with the diversity of the nominees.  But Josh does have a point:  the talent pool was so deep (including his own album from earlier last year) that many worthwhile candidates were left out.  I think it could have come across as self-absorbed or putting other artists’ hard work down but I think that would have been misunderstanding his intentions.  As his participation in the songwriter’s workshop showed, Josh has a good sense of his duties as a front-runner in this scene.

-Ray Wylie Hubbard- A wizard.  Really, Ray’s just a cool, smart guy.  I don’t know him well but the fact that he reads Rainer Maria Rilke says a lot about Ray.  I had lunch with Judy and Ray after taking over the business, and I think they thought I was in over my head, which was slightly irritating until I realized that meant they gave a crap about me and about LSM.  The fact that Ray has taken protégés like Lincoln Durham under his wing speaks volumes about how much music really means to him.

-Townes Van Zandt- California!  Richard Skanse will get a kick out of this.  I’ve been a Townes fan for, jeez, a decade or so…even when I was listening to Jane’s Addiction, Pearl Jam and The Pixies and only rarely listening to anything that LSM would carry.  I was under the impression that he was from California.  I’d watched the documentary on Townes but must have been drinking heavily and came out of it thinking he had been from Cali, when in reality he had no real ties to Cali.  Skanse called me out on this and thought it was hilarious.  He’ll never let me live that one down.  Also I must add that Towne’s “Rake” and “Heroin” by The Velvet Underground are probably the two bravest songs ever written.  Dark, haunting, foreboding with a don’t f**k with me edge.  Had to be said (laughs).

4.    Since you’ve come on board with LSM, y’all have extended the work Michael Devers started in highlighting and promoting new bands and giving them a platform to compete.  He was instrumental in helping release the earliest records of Ryan Bingham.  What has been your most proud success story thus far?

It may be too early to call anyone a success story, particularly when the reference point is Bingham, who merely won a Golden Globe and Oscar last year.  I’m very proud of the work we’ve done with a number of artists who’ve made a great album that we’ve helped push.  That said, one album doesn’t qualify anyone for Bingham status quite yet and I don’t want to get the hype machine rolling.  We’d like to really get behind as many bands as we can and help get the word out but ultimately, it’s the artists that jump out on first listen & stay in contact that we feel the strongest connection to.  It’s much tougher to form any kind of a bond with artists who we don’t actually know as people, outside the LSM realm.

5.  Related to that, what is a band that not many people may know about yet, but should keep their eyes on?

Turnpike Troubadours, Drew Kennedy & The Trishas…although I think the secret is out with all three of them.  Lincoln Durham, Ryan Beaver, Dirty River Boys, Mike Ethan Messick, Sons of Bill, Javi Garcia, American Aquarium, Six Market Blvd, and about 100 others that aren’t on the tip of my tongue but I will inevitably regret not naming in a day or two.

6.  You have an MBA…how disappointed were your parents when you let them know you were using that expensive education to run off to the circus of the music business?

You know, I was very, very fortunate to have parents that steered me towards my own happiness rather than some pre-determined idea of what they thought I should become.  After getting my $0 MBA…come on, I got a scholarship…I worked in Public Relations/Government Relations but realized I wasn’t adept at handling the stress and was horrible at separating business from personal life.  I just honestly wasn’t equipped with that on/off switch, though I have nothing but respect for those who do.  Again, I know I’m extremely blessed to be in a situation where my parents and wife were all looking out for my happiness, and ultimately the music business finally sucked me in.  The music industry is just chaotic enough to keep me happy. (laughs).

7. How did you develop your passion for music?  Was there a certain band or song or person that turned you into a diehard music fan?

I’ve always been a music freak.  Always.  Started with Waylon & The Marshall Tucker Band and even Alabama when I was a little kid.  Like most kids, I went through phases but unlike most kids, my phases were exhaustive.  After grunge kind of died out, I launched myself into a full-fledged metal & punk phase.  I didn’t act like a buffoon and really didn’t dress or act the part at all…  but I dissected the music.  I thought Sid Vicious was a hack which was later confirmed by nearly every Punk memoir and couldn’t get enough of the early ‘90s underground punk scene.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered Nick Drake, Karen Dalton, Leonard Cohen and the great Townes Van Zandt.  In college I went through an electronica-music phase that threatened to derail everything I had previously learned.  And when that kind of wore off, I was back where I started:  Pearl Jam, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Townes, Dinosaur Jr., Dead Kennedys, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie.  It wasn’t long before I was into Indie Rock and then Americana and Bluegrass.  As far as songs/artists go, I’d have to say “The End” by The Doors had a pretty profound impact on me.  Same for “Ten” and “No Code” by Pearl Jam.  There’s no more triumphant song than “Release” off of “Ten”.  Just a watershed moment of optimism on an otherwise bleak album.

8.  What is the best-kept secret in New Braunfels? Be it a restaurant, dive bar, vintage store or whatever.

You know, my wife and I thought about this for an hour or so.  New Braunfels is such a small town that there aren’t too many well-kept secrets.  Certainly no restaurants or dive bars qualify because they’re all well known.  I would’ve said Mozie’s several months ago but it’s way to crowded to be considered a secret…still awesome grub and drinks though!

We came up with two.  One is the New Braunfels Children’s Museum.  It’s a blast for those with kids, complete with a mini-grocery store experience. Two would be Catie Offerman. Yep, had to dip back into music briefly but hear me out.  I believe she’s 17 years old and a sophomore or junior in college already.  Along the lines of the Ruby Jane or Sarah Jarosz prodigal talents.  She played an in-store will Bill Whitbeck and floored us with her poise and ability to control a room.  Sky’s the limit for her.  She could be the next Marnie Stern or Gillian Welch or she could be the next Mandy Moore or Natalie Portman.  She’s got the talent, looks & intelligence, but most importantly she has a presence that exudes personality and likeability.  She just has that “it” trait that is extremely hard to define.

9.  Chad Raney founded LoneStarMusic.com in 1999 as a small internet start-up company and in just over ten years it has grown to encompass so much more than that, as it now features a store and magazine too.  With the first ten years behind you, where will LSM be 10 years from now?

One thing is for certain:  we won’t be a retail CD store!  In 2021, CD’s will be relics.  What we hope to be is a key identifier in this Texas/Red Dirt/Americana scene; a cultural icon on some level.

For this scene to truly prosper there has to be a core group of people, businesses and artists all 100% committed to making sure that, at some point, we coalesce and recognize this scene for what it truly is: a one-of-a-kind brotherhood/sisterhood of like-minded people who value authenticity in their arts.

Todd Purifoy and I had about a 2-hour conversation over the phone the other day and we seemed to be in complete agreement on one thing: The artists have to look out for that next generation coming up.  What Josh Abbott and those guys did with the songwriter’s workshop is to be commended.

10 years from now, I just hope that LSM has evolved to exceed even those expectations laid out by Chad Raney and Michael & Clair Devers.  I hope we’ll all be proud that we built something that remains relevant 20 years and many, many technological advances later.  Oh, and I hope we have a Lone Star Music venue at a Vegas Casino.  Gotta have a couple unrealistic dreams, I suppose.

10.  What five albums should every Texas Music fan own?

I’m going to go a different way with this because I’ll assume that 80% of people reading Galleywinter already own Honky Tonk Heroes, Live at the Old Quarter, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Red-Headed Stranger and Viva Terlingua…so I’ll go a little different route.

1. Gram Parsons- Grievous Angel
2. Rolling Stones- Exile on Main Street
3. Lightin’ Hopkins- Lightin’ Hopkins…if you don’t own this, get it now!
4. Stevie Ray Vaughan- Texas Flood
5. Steve Earle- Copperhead Road

11.  LSM has broadened the definition of Texas Music to incorporate and include works from all manner of artists who aren’t from here.  People like Paul Thorn, Jason Isbell, Will Hoge and more.  What criteria do you use when determining adding an artist like that to the LSM inventory?

If it’s authentic and appeals to enough people that our LSM family knows live, breathe and sleep Texas Music, then it’s in immediately.  Texas can be a state of mind as much as a geographical designation.  The boys from Oklahoma showed us that and upped the ante in some ways.  But artists like Scott Miller, Sons of Bill, American Aquarium, even Ryan Adams… Ryan Adams may be the best songwriter of the past 20 years.  Who are we at LSM or more importantly, who are we as a music community to tell people that Ryan Adams sucks because he isn’t from Texas?  Without Gram Parsons , there’s no Whiskeytown.  Without Whiskeytown, there’s no “alt-country” movement.  Seems like a big deal to me.  And the artists you listed Thorn, Isbell and Hoge…those guys are just killing it out there.  I think Americana/Roots is a nice overall label but the common thread of Texas/Red Dirt/Americana is authenticity.

12.  You are a proud University of Texas graduate.  Why did you choose to go to school there?  What do you miss most about your time in Austin?

Well, I turned down a partial baseball scholarship to Texas Tech because my friends, and girlfriend at the time were all going to UT.  There was also a bohemian aspect to the city and campus that I really dug.  I was an English Major there and there were literally hundreds of hidden spaces where you could plop down with a book and just kind of blend into the surroundings. I was a partier, but nothing compared to really digging deep through some good books in a shaded area of the UT campus.

As for what I miss…  I miss that feeling of “I’m missing out on something special” that hit me every time I didn’t go out.  There was really nothing that was out of the realm of possibility in Austin, musically or otherwise.  You could see a snow leopard in a thong riding a unicycle on 6th street and hardly bat an eye.

13.  On the flip side of that, what do you enjoy most about living in New Braunfels?

This is easy to answer…having a yard.  Our backyard is so peaceful that I’m actually looking for excuses to take my daughters camping out there this spring.
14.  I’m sure you are inundated with submissions from new bands.  Do you personally listen to all the stuff submitted or does someone on the staff weed out the bad stuff for you?

We have a listening panel of three of us.  When possible we throw on a new album and try to get four songs in.  If none of the first four catch us in any way, we move on.  That said, we have a box that probably runs 80 deep that we need to get to.  I think that’s a good thing though, as that means the well isn’t drying up any time soon.  If an artist comes heavily recommended from, say Gurf Morlix, Mike McClure or Walt Wilkins, then we obviously don’t have much thinking to do.  As long as the basic criteria for new artists are met: some connection to Texas/Americana, tour regularly, have at least one album that is 75% original tracks…then our goal is to get the artist on LSM and let the listening community decide whether or not they sell.
15.  Favorite memory from the local New Braunfels music venues:

-Gruene Hall —This one’s tough but Drive-By Truckers were phenomenal in that setting and Patterson Hood came in to Lone Star Music and shopped, beforehand.  Well, he came in, used the restroom, and then got hounded and forced at knifepoint to sign vinyl copies of “Southern Rock Opera” (laughs)…okay, not exactly, but he did sign some copies and made several peoples’ day.

-River Road Icehouse — Hmm…other than the various rowdy fights I’ve witnessed, would have to be Aaron Watson’s show last September-October.  Seemed like a really cool crowd and the weather was just right.

-Tavern in the Gruene —Hayes Carll and Ray Wylie playing during Roots & Branches.  I’m not sure I even sipped my beer because I was so captivated.  Also had some sick ping-pong matches at Tavern.

-The Phoenix Saloon – Our Phoenix Sessions, Season 1, that we did last fall was full of moments, and I’m not sure if any one moment stands out more than the rest but Mike McClure and Javi Garcia teamed up for an encore and led off with “Five to One” by The Doors and “Dead Flowers” from the Stones… that was pretty damn memorable.  There was a bacchanalian revelry among those in attendance.

-Lone Star Floathouse – My favorite memory will be the next time I go.  I was supposed to go last year and always had something come up…I’ll blame it on the kids!  Really looking forward to making it out there this summer.

16.  I know from being so immersed in this music myself that at times, I just want to get as far away musically as possible from it for a while.  Who are your favorite artists not in the Texas/Red Dirt/Americana realm?

So many! I’ll limit myself to 20 and won’t include the obvious Beatles, Stones, Doors, Gram Parsons, The Who, et al.

Pearl Jam, Sun Kil Moon who I can’t recommend enough, Arcade Fire, White Stripes, Ryan Adams, Okkervil River, Songs:Ohia…and anything else Jason Molina puts his name on,  a fairly obscure band called British Sea Power that my wife and I first saw in front of 15 people or so—total showmen, Broken Social Scene, The Black Keys, Neko Case, Flogging Molly, a killer Scottish band called Frightened Rabbit with best drummer I’ve ever seen, Radiohead, The Jesus Lizard, The Tallest Man on Earth, Sigur Ros, Pixies, Destroyer and, of course, Dinosaur Jr.

17.  What was the first album you ever purchased with your own money?

First records I remember picking out were the 45 of Waylon’s “Good Ol Boys (Theme From Dukes of Hazzard)” and Michael Jackson “Thriller”…  I assume my folks bought them for me.  First record I bought had to be N.W.A. “Straight Outta’ Compton”, which I know I bought for obvious reasons. (laughs)

18.  Rapid fire:

-Walkman, Discman or iPod?  Walkman?  Come on, now (laughs).  iPod. Absolutely.

-Guadalupe or Comal?  Comal

-Backroads or highways?    In Texas…highways.  Anywhere else, backroads.

-Favorite Beatle?   The Dung…  oh wait: John Lennon…hands down.

-Keen or Lovett?  Keen, though Lovett is gaining ground as I get older.

19.  What’s your favorite George Strait song and why?

Here’s where you get me in trouble.  (laughs)  Full disclosure:  I’m not sure I’ve heard a George Strait album that was produced after 1989.  And this is such a copout since it was a cover, but “Amarillo By Morning” is just a very vivid piece of nostalgia for me.  My dad was a Waylon guy and I have a VHS tape somewhere floating around of me belting out “Women Do Know How To Carry On” when I was 5 or 6 and thought falsely that I was alone in my bedroom. But “Amarillo By Morning” and Steve Wariner’s “Kansas City Lights” were songs that I heard, oh, no fewer than 15,000 times each in my childhood.

20.  In your opinion, what makes Texas Music unique?

The blend of personalities…the fact that you and I are having a 20-question discussion about a genre of music that really isn’t clearly defined.  The camaraderie amongst the artists, fans, venues and other businesses who work to support each other.  The fact that we have a blogger, Rita Ballou, who is basically a wittier Perez Hilton for our little scene… and perhaps most importantly, the list of artists that have continually paved the way for the next group to follow seems to be unending.

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  1. Tweets that mention Zach Jennings of Lone Star Music | Galleywinter -- Topsy.com - Thu, February 24, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by LoneStarMusic, Mike Ethan Messick. Mike Ethan Messick said: RT @lonestarmusic: Zach Jennings of Lone Star Music http://t.co/C5OXa5T via @galleywinter […]

  2. Willie Nelson to Appear on Next Snoop Dogg Album; The Civil Wars Perform for Paste; Grammy Performances Boost Sales | The 9513 - Thu, February 24, 2011

    […] In Galleywinter’s latest 20 Questions feature, Zach Jennings, owner of Lone Star Music, says you should check out Catie Offerman (MySpace). I believe she’s 17 years old and a sophomore or junior in college already. Along the lines of the Ruby Jane or Sarah Jarosz prodigal talents. She played an in-store will Bill Whitbeck and floored us with her poise and ability to control a room. Sky’s the limit for her. She could be the next Marnie Stern or Gillian Welch or she could be the next Mandy Moore or Natalie Portman. She’s got the talent, looks & intelligence, but most importantly she has a presence that exudes personality and likeability. She just has that “it” trait that is extremely hard to define. […]