One of the standouts in 2011 so far has been Bloomington, Indiana-based singer/songwriter Austin Lucas, and his album A New Home in the Old World. And apparently this isn’t just my opinion, as Austin was able to land on this summer’s Country Throwdown tour’s exclusive lineup.
On July 4th, the Country Throwdown and Willie Nelson’s long-running 4th of July Picnic’s collided in Ft. Worth, TX’s historic stockyards at Billy Bob’s Texas. Of all the amazing talent amassed on that historic day, at the top of my list for folks to interview was Austin. He was kind enough to sit down with me for about a hour to discuss his experience on the Country Throwdown and touring with Willie Nelson, how he got into country music after starting in the punk/metal scene, the business of songwriting, and how his goals are measured and focused on the art of songwriting first, above his own popularity.
Find the full audio of out interview below, and the big points of the interview are transcribed below as well. Austin will also be on tour later this summer and into fall, including some dates with Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, so check at the very bottom for those dates.
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Triggerman: How’s the Country Throwdown tour been, and how did you get on it?
Austin Lucas: It wasn’t a shock to me to be on the Country Throwdown because my booking agent had said it was very probable to be on the tour. The shock for me was because last year the headliner was Montgomery Gentry, and this year Willie Nelson was the headliner. I mean how many opportunities does a person like me, especially from a totally far off distance scene but of course has been a Willie Nelson fan his entire life, get the opportunity to tour with Willie Nelson, an American Icon? I’ve told people that I peaked on this tour. I don’t know that I’ll ever do something as great as standing on stage with Willie Nelson. I’ve sang with him many times on this tour. At the end of the show we all get up on stage and do gospel. I’ve done it exactly six times, not that I’m counting (laughing).
Triggerman: You’re not out here with a band. What they’re doing to showcase the up-and-comers is these Nashville Rounds where you’re with other songwriters. How’s that been as an experience, not just as a songwriter, but as a performer?
Austin Lucas: Most of the people on this tour are not performers, they’re Nashville writers. Of course some of them are artists, but the focus of their career thus far has been to write hits for people. And I’m the only one that doesn’t live in Nashville. So what’s cool about this tour is people are like, “Oh, so you live in Nashville?” and I’m like “No, I’m from the Midwest”. I’m from southern Indiana and honestly the common people there believe themselves to be from the South. But geographically speaking, I’m definitely an outsider.
Triggerman: When it comes to the underground country scene, it seems like there’s a lot of bands coming from the Midwest and Upper Midwest, and I’ve always wondered why that is. There is a lot of great Southern bands as well. Some people think I have a conspiracy against Southern bands because I’m always covering people from Indiana, or Michigan, or Minnesota.
Austin Lucas: The potential reasoning for that could be, and it’s really unfortunate, but Southern culture has been so substantially mined for stereotypes, and exploited. Everybody expects certain things from Southern bands. Obviously not all Southern bands provide that thing that they’re looking for. A lot of the markets there are looking for a certain thing.There’s still a lot of radio hanging around, so there’s a lot of effort to produce hits. Like whereas when you’re coming from Indiana, you’re not trying to produce hits, you’re just trying to make a record and write songs. There’s no hope for us to have hits, so we write the songs that we want, and play music for us.
Triggerman: You said before that you’ve been touring for 15 years, and you’ve been working for 5 years on this project specifically. Where did you come from? Explain in brief your music career, where you first picked up a guitar, and are now sharing a stage with Willie Nelson.
Austin Lucas: I started with my dad as a very small child, making music with him. I didn’t get serious about it until I was 12 or 13 years old, and that was playing in punk bands. I ruined my voice singing in punk bands and then later metal bands. I was in that scene very deeply, I still am actually and I still do tours, like my band Guided Cradle, were on hiatus right now technically. The guitar player also plays in a band called Hellshock which is a very famous band in our scene. We’re just waiting to get the steam to do something else. But basically in 2000 I was singing in a band called Rune, which is a grindcore band that was on Relapse Records, and I just kind of stopped doing it and stated playing acoustic music. So I’ve actually been at this project for 11 years, but it took me 5 years before I got my voice back.
Triggerman: What was the inspiration for going to acoustic music?
Austin Lucas: For me, it was really hinged on the fact that I was really tired of only hearing that type of music, the metal and punk and stuff. I lived in a house with the other guys from Rune, and literally all they played was Morbid Angel and all these really heavy bands. I just woke up one day and was like “I’m over it.” I didn’t want to hear it anymore, and so I stopped wanting to play it as much. I still do play it and I love playing it, it is a part of myself that’s very intrinsic for my soul. But I didn’t want to focus on it anymore. I wanted melody and songwriting. So all the country and bluegrass that I’d been hearing for my whole life basically, I just started trying to write like that. And honestly, Bloomington, Indiana is a big indie rock town, and there was a songwriter Jason Molina of the Magnolia Electric Company, and some of his records were the biggest influence on me. I saw him play for the first time in 2001, and it literally changed my world. He was so dark and evil, but at the same time so beautiful, and that is what I wanted. My last record had two guys from Magnolia Electric Company on it.
Triggerman: You’re in the beginning tier of the Country Throwdown tour in these Nashville rounds. You’ve told me you like to set the bar low and that you might have hit your peak. Could you see yourself in the Lee Brice or Jamey Johnson role on this tour in the future? Or do you even desire that?
Austin Lucas: That’s actually a difficult question to answer. My booking agent came to one of the shows and said we should look into getting you out with these guys and I told him, “Don’t get me wrong, I love these guys, but I don’t think I want this.” I would love to go on tour again with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, but I just don’t want to ever be in a position where a record label is telling me what to do. And honestly, I don’t want to ever walk into a mall and have anyone freak out. Let’s put it like this: If I could put myself in the place in my career where I could put out my Red Headed Stranger, and have it be the amount of success that it was, and get the attention and garner the type of following Willie was able to garner, which was a very open-minded segment of country music, then I would be interested in it. (But) I don’t know that I want to be as famous as Willie Nelson ever was.
Triggerman: When you first started describing your music to me, you mentioned Americana. Do you feel like that’s your niche or where you feel more comfortable?
Austin Lucas: I feel more kinship with Americana artists, or what people call “Americana” artists. If I could pick one singer/songwriter I’d like to go on tour with, I would say Gillian Welch. I feel a little bit more in touch with that kind of scene that really cares about songs.
Triggerman: Anything else you want to add?
Austin Lucas: I’m going to be going on tour soon, and I hope people add me on Facebook, ReverbNation, MySpace and Twitter. If you add me, then you’ll know what I do. And I need you to know what I do because I need you to come and see me play. Because honestly, if you don’t come out and see me play, then I can’t keep coming out and doing it.
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August 20, Columbus, OH @ Rumba cafe
August 21, Groten, NY TBA
August 22, Boston, MA @ Great Scott
August 23, Brooklyn, NY @ Union Hall
August 24, Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes
August 25, Washington DC @ the Black Cat (backstage)
August 26, Shepardstown, WV @ Blue Moon Cafe
August 27, Durham, NC @ Motorco Music Hall
August 28, Charleston, SC @ the Tin Roof
August 29, Charlotte, NC @ the Milestone Club
August 30, Atlanta, GA @ 529 Club
August 31, Opelika, AL @ Eighth and Rail
September 2, Oxford, MS @ Blind Pig
September 3, Little Rock, AK @ the White Water Tavern TWO COW GARAGE 10th anniversary party!!!
w/ Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Sun/Sep-11 Colorado Springs, CO @ Black Sheep
Wed/Sep-14 Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theatre
*Fri/Sep-16 Missoula, MT @ The Badlander (AL&tBP Headline show)
Sat/Sep-17 Salt Lake City, UT @ The State Room
Mon/Sep-19 Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
Tue/Sep-20 Portland, OR @ Dantes
Thu/Sep-22 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
Fri/Sep-23 Hermosa Beach, CA @ Saint Rocke
Sat/Sep-24 Los Angeles, CA @ The Mint
Mon/Sep-26 San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
Tue/Sep-27 Tempe, AZ @ The Sail Inn
Wed/Sep-28 Albuquerque, NM @ Low Spirits
Fri/Sep-30 Austin, TX @ Emos
Sun/Oct-02 Dallas, TX @ House of Blues – Cambridge Room
Tue/Oct-04 St. Louis, MO @ Cicero’s
Wed/Oct-05 Carbondale, IL @ The Hangar
*/Oct-06 Normal, IL @ Firehouse Pizza & Pub (AL&tBP Headline show)
Fri/Oct-07 Springfield, IL @ Marly’s
Tue/Oct-11 Nashville, TN @ Exit/In