Owen Temple has quite the unique tale to tell in the realm of Texas Music. Along with his own stories, he’s been around just about everyone who’s anyone in country music at one time or another, and has lots of fun anecdotes to share. Such as, he was at ground zero of the movement spurred by Pat Green, all while becoming a rising, respected star in his own right. Yet, at the height of his acclaim, Temple walked away seeking a bit of normalcy away from the rigors of the music business. Little did he know, that the music biz would be the best fit of normal he’d ever encounter. So, after forays into “real life”, Owen Temple is back with a brand new effort entitled Two Thousand Miles.
Check out one of the most insightful editions of 20 Questions to find out everything from what it was like being a groundbreaker shoulder to shoulder with Pat and Cory to coming back music as a career after being in the 9 to 5 world….and much more….
1. What’s new and exciting in the world of Owen Temple, both musically speaking and on a personal level?
Exciting to be back home in Central Texas after a few years out of state and enjoying a Texas winter in short sleeves, mostly, and reconnecting with old friends and fans. Family is good, my son Bond is turning four at the end of the month, so we’re planning a birthday party.
More and more folks are hearing the new record so we’re starting to see some exciting reviews and airplay on some cool programs here in the U.S. and overseas. A really good review came out in No Depression this month. We’re having a lot of fun playing these new songs out at shows- doing about 18 shows a month.
2. Around 2002, you took a multi-year break from doing music full-time to concentrate on the 9 to 5 life and finishing your Master’s Degree in Wisconsin. How did you end up in Wisconsin of all places? And, how hard was it to give up Texas and music simultaneously?
I have always been interested in psychology and I got an opportunity to go to grad school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. UW-Madison is consistently one of the best ranked graduate psychology programs in the country, so I was lucky to be accepted. I had a few other choices too, one on the west coast and one on the east coast. I visited four schools and looked at the programs and people and Madison and UW was the best fit. Friendly people, great town, great graduate advisors doing work on the brain and emotion.
They like cheese and beer in Wisconsin, I like cheese and beer.
Leaving Texas was hard, but luckily I didn’t have to give up music with the move up there. There are small but strong folk, country and rock music scenes in Madison, Chicago, and the Twin Cities so I kept performing and writing while I was in Wisconsin so I didn’t have to give up music per se – just music in Texas venues for awhile.
3. Name association:
-Hayes Carll-Popularity comes and goes, but the songs are forever. That is something Ray Wylie Hubbard told Hayes that gives him a sense of focus and purpose in the music business. Hence, Michael Jackson peaked at Thriller!
-Walt Wilkins-Gentle, catchy, and beautiful songs from a great person. Walt’s songs shine like diamonds in the sun.
-Max Stalling-Smooth Max, one of the most loyal and thoughtful guys you’ll ever meet. I love his new record Topaz City.
-Larry Joe Taylor-The model for the do-it-yourself music career. He writes great songs, makes quality records, and then throws a big party a few times a year, invites fellow independent artists, and plays songs to thousands of like minded friends and fans. Who needs a music videos or focus groups to help pick songs? He lets thousands of people know about our kind of music every year . I’m personally very grateful to him for introducing me to a lot of my fans. He is a major architect of the Texas Country / Red Dirt Music movement.
-Adam Hood-Very glad he decided to make his home here in Texas for the time being and glad the folks from Alabama share him with us. The dude’s got soul and great songs
-Josh Grider-Insightful songwriter, great guy, one of the best singers I know
-Jack Ingram-Proves that commercial success and artistic integrity are not mutually exclusive. There is a hard road where the two things can happen together and he has taken it, town by town, night after night, without pandering or looking for shortcuts
-Randy Rogers-A songwriting kindred spirit of mine. He gets as excited about a new song he is writing as I get about some new lyric I may be working on. Glad the audiences agree with me that his songs are some of the best around
4. Two guys I didn’t include in that list are Pat Green and Cory Morrow because I was wanting to look at your relationship with them on a more in depth level. At the turn of the decade, the three of you were a trio of Pied Pipers leading the charge of a new era in Texas Music. From singing memorable duets on Cory’s album (“Drink One More Round”) and your own album, General Store (a cover of “Jaded Lover”), to playing numerous shows with each other, to sharing Lloyd Maines as a produce, you guys pretty much laid the blueprint many guys would copy for the next several years. Could you describe that time of your life, all the craziness that was going on and all that good stuff. If you could, also please elaborate on what your relationship was like with those two guys back then, and what it is like now.
Some fun times for sure. I was still in college and playing music every weekend to pay my way through school during the old days, mid to late nineties would be the time you’re talking about. Pat and Cory were doing it full-time and inviting me along to open a show or swap songs with them.
Cory first introduced me to Lloyd Maines and told me to think about making a record, so I’m forever grateful to him for that. I’ll never forget opening for Cory down on Sixth Street during Outlaw Thursdays at the old Hang ‘Em High Saloon. My first time on a big stage, it was sometime in 1996. The place was packed. I also remember that he opened for Merle Haggard back in 1997 and we all thought that was the coolest thing we’d ever seen. I wanted to do something like that. A few years after that I opened for Waylon Jennings and if you had told me that I would do that then, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Pat was and is such a supportive and encouraging guy. He said he’d love to sing “Jaded Lover” on my record, and he drove down from Waco to do it. After that, Cory, Pat and myself got together and hung out whenever we were in the same town and didn’t have a gig, and after gigs we were all on. We usually didn’t have to be somewhere else the next day, and didn’t have anybody carrying our guitar or people relying on us and the music for their incomes. The schedules were not as hectic then.
We still get together whenever we can, but everybody’s traveling further, playing more shows per year than we believed was possible, and it takes more and more coordination and a bigger team of people to get it all done. That’s just part of the price of success…much less personal time. Whenever we are in the same town on the same night, we get on the phone and try to get together, even if it’s just for dinner before or after the shows.
I’ll never forget a show in 1997 at the old Cadillac Jack’s (now closed) in Waco, when I was booked in there and Pat stopped by, passing through to say hey. He asked to buy ten copies of General Store and I told him I’d give them to him, but he insisted, no, he wanted to buy them, and at full price. He is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet, and I’ll always remember that encouragement he gave that night when I was selling my first record.
5. Speaking of Lloyd Maines, you used him for your first two albums, went with Phil Madeira on your third record, and returned back to Lloyd for this latest effort. What made you want to work with him again? And, what is it like working with Lloyd in the studio?
Everything Lloyd works on sounds great, and he really cares about the projects, takes the recording project on as if it’s the only thing happening in the world for the days you’re working on it with him. He is a great musician and a great person.
I also knew from prior experience that he cares about meeting the budget on a record, and we knew what we wanted to spend on recording the new one. When the project was finished, he came in under budget. That’s unheard of in the music business, but that’s the kind of integrity he has.
6. What are the main differences in live music crowds you’ve encountered outside of Texas when compared to those in your home region?
In Texas, we have a culture of seeking out and supporting independent artists. That old Independence thing again… remember the Alamo? (laughs) Support of independent artists happens everywhere, but it seems to happen more passionately and by more people in Texas.
7. Favorite touring memory of the following towns and clubs:
-Dallas-Opening for the Jackopierce reunion show at Gypsy Tea room and those guys were some of the first Texas Music superstars and it was a good time kicking off their reunion show a few years ago
-Stephenville-Playing Valentine’s Day with Pat Green in 1999 at City Limits. That meant all of us, everybody in Pat’s band and my band, brought our girlfriends and we all had a good time hanging out. It was strange going out with a lot of friends on Valentine’s Day, but that’s what it was like…and it was very cool.
-Lubbock-Playing Stubb’s Barbecue in Lubbock the last night that business was open. Though it was sad, it was special because of all the great music that happened in that club over the years. Joe Ely, one of my heroes, got started there.
-Ft. Worth-Playing the Aardvark in Ft Worth with Cory Morrow and seeing a poster on the front door that said. “Tonight: Opening for Cory Morrow is Otis Triple”
-Gruene Hall-Just a few nights ago on a songswap I did there with Adam Carroll. Great songs and a great place to play them. They had the woodstove going and we did it up in the front room of the bar on a chilly night in the middle of the week. It just feels right playing acoustic music in an old dancehall.
-Executive Surf Club-The night I wrote “Red Wine and Tequila” after drinking too much of both after a show there.
-Blanco’s-The dancefloor jammed, people partying while a tropical depression raged outsid…it was only a mild hurricane not a big one in Houston they’re used to it!
8. You’ve had quite the unique approach with the release of your latest album, Two Thousand Miles. The release itself has been a multi-faceted event that has included new, digital media strategies, as well, as employing more traditional approaches. Who gets credit for the idea? Has it lived up to your expectations?
Gino Genaro, my longtime manager, came up with the staggered, multi-layered release idea on this project. The success has far exceeded our expectations and it has been unbelievable. Hats off to Gino and to LoneStarMusic, our partner on the digital and online release, for all their work and creativity around this new record release.
9. Your songwriting has always been more poetic and intellectual than many of your contemporaries. To what do you attribute this? And, what influences do you feel cause this?
I suppose I focus on the lyrics first and foremost. The words have to be right before I move on to the rest of the arrangement or music of a song, so maybe that has something to do with it. Some people come up with melodies first, but I have done it that way only rarely. So maybe it comes from songwriting being a lyric-driven process for me. I would also say that the more lyrical writers are my favorites, guys like Bob Dylan, John Prine, Guy Clark.
10. You’ve been in the music business for over a decade, what is the best thing about the business? And, what is the worst thing about the business?
Best thing….getting up in the morning and doing what I love most for a living.
Worst thing…being away from home and family for long stretches of time.
11. Another notable thing about your early career was that you were a significant man on campus at the University of Texas-Austin. How did the support and influence of the university shape your life and career?
Being in Austin was critical to my development as a songwriter. I could go hear these songwriters and artists who were playing five minutes from my place.
Also, playing music at parties and bars while I was in college meant I knew a lot of people in a lot of different organizations. So when I was elected student body vice president, I just helped the people in the different organizations get connected with each other to solve the problems they were working on. Made a lot of good friends through music and organizations on campus.
12. Stories behind the following songs:
-You Want To Wear That Ring-A friend who was engaged to be married Randy Rogers, asked me, “Shoot me straight – really – how is it being married?” A complicated question, so Wade Bowen (the co-writer of this song) and I gave him a complicated but realistic answer. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s hard. A song about the hard work in a relationship that concludes that it’s usually worth it.
-Dry Creek-I wrote this song after the first time I visited the Austin bar down Mount Bonnell Road on a beautiful gorgeous spring afternoon. Loved how cranky Sara was contrasted with how much people loved her place.
-Can’t Drink Enough to Sing-A songwriter friend of mine who was living in Chicago, Jay Altizer, drove up night to visit me in Madison, and we walked down the block to a little club. Turns out there was an open mic going on there at the club that night. We only came for a few drinks, but the guy sitting at a table next to us had come to perform in the open mic. I could tell because he had a lyric sheet in front of him, about four scotch and sodas lined up within arm’s reach, and his wife was rubbing his neck and trying to keep him loose for his performance. When she saw that, despite her efforts, he was getting anxious, she’d run up to the bar and get him another drink. We got to the club about 9pm and left at about midnight, and he still hadn’t got up to play a song but he had got drunk. We don’t know what happened later that night but the third verse of this song is our best guess.
-Swear It Off Again-A song that goes out to anybody that has tried to quit something unsuccessfully, anybody who finds themselves swearing something off again and again. But somehow, they find themselves back in the rodeo. Wrote this after talking to manager Gino Genaro who was putting together a show for the Pro Bull Riding Association (PBRA).
-Downtown-A song about these small towns all over the US that used to be the center of it all before the Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town became gathering place. I wrote this thinking about Texas towns like Sabinal, Uvalde, and Ranger.
-Tennessee Highway-Len Lewis, a high school buddy of mine, and I went up to Nashville on a road trip because we were big fans of Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, Hank Williams, and when we went to a few songwriter’s showcases, all we heard were lame cheesy songs from people who wanted to be stars. So we cut short our stay in Nashville and headed back to Texas, via New Orleans. Before we left Tennessee we wrote this song in a motel room.
-Like We Still Care-Pretending to care, when you don’t, can be miserable. Sometimes all you can do is try to smile, make a little awkward conversation, and then get away as fast as you can.
-Listening to the AM-Truck drivers and singer-songwriters work late hours, sometimes all through the night, and both involve a lot of driving. I’ve seen a lot of all-night truckstops myself. So it wasn’t hard to imagine having to work the crazy hours truck drivers work.
-This Ain’t Las Vegas-Wrote it after a trip to Las Vegas. My wife and I couldn’t win a hand. We couldn’t even bear losing long enough to wait for the free drinks to come around. Our vacation turned out to be a miserable couple of days. We were stressed out and didn’t feel like gambling, and getting on the plane to come home we felt like we didn’t have much to be happy about. I wrote this to cheer us up, because, I hope, real life ain’t Las Vegas. If you bet on love and try to enjoy life in the present, right here and now, you really can’t lose, or I’d like to believe you can’t. I think that idea is the common thread between the album’s songs, the theme of that Right Here and Now record.
-No Daring Is Fatal-A song of hope in the face of uncertainty. I was considering the decision whether to move on to write songs full time. I read something by the novelist Henry Miller where he cited a phrase that he kept in mind when deciding to pursue his own writing, that no daring is fatal. Miller went on, saying something like, progress in life comes not through adaptation but through daring, through obeying the blind urge.
-The Wanna Wanna Bar-True story about a local guy I met named Gary at the The Wanna Wanna Bar one Sunday night. After the bar closed we walked across the street to his place, drank rum and coke, and he told me about his ex-wives. The bar name, Wanna Wanna, just stuck in my mind and I told the story he told me but I made it rhyme (laughs).
13. You’ve co-written with a number of folks…in your opinion what makes a good co-write?
Time to kill and a couple of good unfinished ideas or lyric fragments. It also helps if you like the same kind of music or at least admire a few of the same artists. That way what you come with will be agreeable to you both.
14. How bad is the Mexican food in Wisconsin?
Taco Bell was the best Mexican food I had in Wisconsin if that tells you anything! That makes me very sad to say. I am hoping that there actually is some good Mexican food there and that I just didn’t find it.
15. Many of the singer/songwriters who came in the wake of your first couple albums hail you as an influence. Who or what is your favorite of the current crop of bands and artists playing the Texas circuit?
I’m a fan of too many bands and artists to list, but a fairly new band that I’m a big fan of is The Band of Heathens. My buddy Gordy Quist is one of the songwriters in that group. He also has a great new solo record out called Here Comes the Flood, that I highly recommend!
16. What are you favorite things to do in your downtime?
Hang out with the family, read…lately I’ve been reading a lot of music autobiographies. Levon Helm of The Band, Chuck Berry, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard…and biographies Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, The Rolling Stones… I’m reading Johnny Bush’s autobiography right now…drink coffee, learn new songs.
17. You covered Hank Williams “Long Gone Daddy” on your Passing Through album. What made you pick that tune to cover? Are there any other songs you’d like to cover on an album? What are your favorite covers to play live?
Hank Williams is a major hero of mine. He could express so much sadness, attitude, and joy with his lyrics.
I like the attitude and the swagger of “Long Gone Daddy”. He’s hauling ass and he doesn’t need her anyhow. That’s a very rock n’ roll attitude from the ultimate country singer/songwriter – he was the first country music rebel. There would be no Steve Earle without Hank Williams.
That said, I’d like to cover Steve Earle in my show too. We occasionally do “Guitar Town” a song that opened up my eyes and ears to a whole new kind of country music when I first heard it. I cover songs by Guy Clark, Townes, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Merle Haggard, and Buddy Miller.
18. Rapid fire:
-Who’s it more fun to beat: Aggies or Sooners? Sooners
-Favorite restaurant? Judging by how often I’m eating there, Taco Cabana…open late, everywhere and delicious. Aw Shucks in Dallas is a favorite too, whenever I’m up there, especially when crawfish are in season!
-Favorite town you’ve lived in? Austin
19. Everyone gets this question as a barometer of their musical tastes and styleâ€¦favorite George Strait song.
“Amarillo By Morning”…I like a good rodeo song.
20. What do you see as the main differences in the music made by independent artists such as yourself and the music made by mainstream outlets such as major label acts from Nashville?
Independent artists have to please themselves and a few, like-minded and trusted others with their recordings. Sometimes that means the recording is quirky, daring, and fresh. Sometimes that means it’s amateurish and just bad.
Major label artists have to please much larger committees of label staff, publicists, promoters, etc. Because the stakes are higher and the dollars lost or won is greater, the majority rules and the recordings generally shy away from the risky or unconventional, so the results are sometimes bland, predictable, and less interesting. But every now and then, occasionally (and less and less every year it seems), the process works and something cool, edgy, and unexpected makes it through that gauntlet.
Different personalities seek out different kinds of music, and as long as people are different, there will be markets for both independent and mainstream music. My own personality directs me toward more independent, challenging, and less predictable music.