Tuesday, September 25, 2012

INTERVIEW: Sheer Khan and the Space Case

Putting the Fun Back into Austin's Funk
Sheer Khan and the Space Case

By Sean Claes
With a name like Sheer Khan and the Space Case, I knew I was in for something different when I got the CD in the mail. Add the fact that their CD was entitled Tropical Space Funk and the CD looked like it was on an acid trip (all the pretty colors) and I was certain it was either going to be really good or extemely bad.

This is a fantastically fun jam band that has funk and reggae influences to their sound. What set it off for me was the fact that is just sounded like they were having a great time. The band was formed in 2008 when Kasey Jaime (Bass/Vocals) and Brice Bowden (Vocals/Guitar) met as coworkers at Freebirds World Burrito. As of press-time David McKnight (Saxophone/keys - formerly of Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears) and Travis Rea (drums) round out the band.

I had a chance to talk with Kasey Jaime recently about the band, some of the music, and the future of the funk.

Sean Claes: What’s in a name… Why choose Sheer Khan (assuming the reference to Shere Khan from The Jungle Book)
Kasey Jaime: Funny question actually, We all grew up in the era with the Disney movie so it makes it easy to associate the name with that reference. I read the book as well growing up and liked him ever since. But because of the movie, its in our heads.

Brice (Bowden) actually had a friend back in his hometown with a gigantic “peace pipe” that always was on the hunt for little kids running through the forest, so they named it Sheer Khan. Brice then vowed that he would call his band the same and it started there.

Claes: Sheer Khan and the Space Case has been around for about four years. How do you feel you’ve progressed musically?
Jaime: Man. Honestly, we have had so many line up changes since then. Bringing in new people allows you to jam with others and new ideas. It’s the grooving with new ideas that causes us to grow musically and makes our songs get better too.

It has caused me to seek out new musicians to jam with because everyone can teach you something. Good or bad, a new sound will cause you to think differently.

Claes: How’d you form?
Jaime: Brice and I (Kasey) met while working at Freebirds back in 2008 and we started jamming in his apartment. We originally had another drummer and another guitar player jump on board and we started to create a sound that we have been working on since.

When those two dropped out, we found Aadrian (Pedroza) on Craigslist and found (David) McKnight through a mutual friend of Brice’s at ACC. The four of us put in tons of work together and created our album, Tropical Space Funk.

Unfortunately, after our cd release, Aadrian dropped out for his own personal reasons. We found Travis Rea through mutual drinking buddies and have been getting him up to speed ever since. He is a fast learner and brings a new style into our sound. He also plays in Strange Gun.

Claes: In August you performed “Loony Bus” for a Balcony TV shoot (posted above).
Jaime: That was a fun afternoon. Balcony TV is pretty cool. They had us meet at Joe’s Crab Shack and we set our stuff up in a tiny corner on the patio. As you can tell from the video, there were six of us so space was limited.

We were told we had 30 minutes to run through the song making sure it was perfect. As the first take ended, the video man told us, “Alright, that was great, Thanks Guys” Of course we messed up a bit because of no warm ups, but since it was such a long song, they let us do only one take!

Claes: What’s the song about?
Jaime: We came up with that song by jamming in our garage. We put all the pieces together and needed a name. It reflected our mix of styles so we called it “The Looney Bus.” We call our van The Looney Bus and it stuck ever since!

Claes: On to the music. You’ve got that feel-good funk/reggae feel and you’ve captured your sound well in your debut CD – Tropical Space Funk. Tell me about how you chose the 15 tracks to include.
Jaime: For the last 4 years, we have been developing our sound, writing new songs and putting words to some of them. As we were preparing for the recording process, the thought of capturing the listener and getting them glued to the cd were important. The order was a headache to put together, but once we figured it out, it was ready!

Do you have a favorite track on the album?
Jaime: “Drunk on the Funk” is a favorite. I also really enjoy “Hot Buttered Buns!” I got to play an old school Mini Moog which sounded sick!

Claes: If I had to pick a favorite party track from your album, I’d probably pick “Drunk on the Funk.” How’d that track come to life?
Jaime: We played the 512 Brewery’s launch party for a beer last Octoberish and as we were waiting for the first band to show up it happened. Four overall clad hippies got out of their hatchback with tons of Christian hippie stickers on the back door. You could tell they were different and far out.

A girl started carrying a stand up bass to the music area so I asked what kind of music they played. What she said next was the perfect start to a day of drinking and funk! “We play gospel music. We are hoping to put a little bit of Jesus into everyone today.”

I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or not. McKnight then started singing Jesus gave me the funk. A few months later, we had the perfect shell for that chorus and the song was born!

Claes: Is there a crowd favorite when you play live?
Jaime: “Buccaneer’s Howl.” People are drinking at shows and who doesn’t love pirates??

Claes: Speaking of…September 16 was “International Talk Like A Pirate Day.” Did you have occasion to play “Buccaneer’s Howl?”
Jaime: Of course, we made sure during practice we busted that one out. Instead of beers, we had rum!

Claes: Reggae/Funk music lost a great venue when Ruta Maya closed last month. Along with Flamingo Cantina, Ruta Maya seemed to be base-camp for supporters of this style of music. Have we seen another club step-up?
Jaime: Man, we are still looking out for that one. We have been playing a lot at The Music Ranch, it’s a mutual love from us and the staff out there! In fact, we just played the Alloveus Festival put on by our friends at The Music Ranch. Still trying to find a perfect place to release our tropical space funk at!

Claes: Where are some of your favorite places to play?
Jaime: Of course The Music Ranch. We really miss Ruta Maya. Flamingo is a fun place to be especially for the reggae side of all of us! We got to play the Continental Club and Stubbs last year, great stages. Still looking to get into The Mohawk, so if any of yall out there wanna hook us up, funk yeah!

Claes: What are your thoughts about the Austin music scene.
Jaime: It’s a loving community. At least for us, most of the bands we have met over the years have helped develop into great friendships and prosperous shows! Its great to go out any night and find some music playing and hopefully that doesn’t stop!

Claes: Who are some Austin bands we should be listening to?
Jaime: We really love Henry + The Invisibles. That guy can entertain and he seems to like us! Some more of our friends in the Jam-Funk scence like FunkOTron, Holding Space, Loose Leaf, Dimitri’s Ascent.

Also some of our favorite Reggae Bands like Ashes of Babylon and Audic Empire. Also, if you ever see a gig with Brice and The Blind Mice, stop in and say hello to us!

Claes: Looks like you’ve got a gig coming up on Sunday 9/30 at Austin’s Pecan Street Festival at 4p on the Trinity Stage. What can we expect from a mid-day show?
Jaime: You will get tons of energy from us! You will also have a chance to hear us with the Hometown Horns, the guys that recorded the extra horn parts on our album, Eduardo Ramirez and Marc Oran. Expect something different playing in the streets!

What else is coming up for Sheer Khan and the Space Case?
Jaime: More music, more fun. We are constantly writing new songs and since releasing the album, we already have about 3 new songs put together.

Constantly putting together shows and meeting with new bands.

October 5th we play Maggie Mae’s.
October 13th We play Frank.
October 19th 512 Bar.
October 27th at Frontier Bar for our Halloween show!

We are also looking to set up a tour but still figuring out to where. We have a lot of friends all over the place so picking our destination is difficult sometimes.

Claes: Anything to add?
Jaime: Try adding 46819273+9854671 and tell me what you get!

You can find our album all over the internet such as Itunes and Spotify and Amazon! Help us out. We have T-shirts and stickers and lighters too!

Long Live The Funk!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Frontier Bar - 8/17/12

INstant Hindsite
Sabbath Crow, Hyde Park Showdown, Adrian and the Sickness & Scorpio Rising
8/17/12 @ The Frontier Bar in Austin, Texas
Photos by Sean Claes & Photos by Maurice (watermarked)

Sabbath Crow

Hyde Park Showdown

Adrian & The Sickness

Scorpio Rising

Friday, August 17, 2012

Spotlight Show - Adrian & The Sickness 8/17/12

Adrian and the Sickness CD-Re-Release Party,
w/Hyde Park Showdown, Sabbath Crow, and Scorpio Rising

Poster from

Friday, August 17, 2012
9:00PM - 2:00AM

10PM - Sabbath Crow
11PM - Hyde Park Showdown
12AM - Adrian and the Sickness
1AM - Scorpio Rising

Frontier Bar
2421 Webberville Rd.
Austin, TX

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Moonlight Social Interview

Heading Down The Right Path
Moonlight Social

By Sean Claes
A few months ago Moonlight Social's debut CD, Heading South, arrived in the mailbox at INsite. Having never heard of them, I went ahead and popped the disc into the CD player. What I found was a VERY solid album both musically and lyrically.

At the core of Moonlight Social is co-lead vocalists and songwriters Jennica Scott and Jeremy Burchard. Scott is a little bit country and Burchard is a little bit rock and roll.... but this album is no Donny and Marie singalong. The tracks are about heartache and moving on, the trade-off of the vocals is enchanting and the wordplay is fantastic.

“Then what was that?”
She asks in the corner of some darkened room
Mulling to the tempo of a classic waltz
Where pretty people choose to digest petty thoughts
and talk about the weather.” 
– Well, That Was A Mistake

I'm not the only one who's discovered them. In a very short period they have garnered the attention of some folks in pretty high places. So, I decided to take a chance to ask them a few questions in advance of their August 10 show opening for Alpha Rev at Threadgill's World Headquarters (301 W Riverside Dr).

Sean Claes: You guys first played togethert in February 2012, when you did a YouTube cover of Reckless Kelley’s “Wicked, Twisted Road.” How did you end up collaborating?
Jeremy Burchard: Well, we were both in Longhorn Band (the UT marching band). I played tenors on the drumline and she plays trumpet. I think Jennica had heard some of the solo music I was putting up online, and so we started talking about it. Once I saw a video of her singing karaoke, I knew I had to get her in front of a microphone.

We didn’t really know what we were going to do, and she told me about the song – so I looked it up really quickly and learned it. After recording that, we recorded a cover of Hotel California.

After that I went away for a few months, and when I came back, I asked her if she would be interested in singing with me for one show. We practiced some tunes and worked everything up, and though we kind of intended for it just to be a fun little side performance, something clicked. People started asking us what our “band” was called. It’s been our dream for so long to play music. We kind of looked at each other and were like – “wanna go for it?” And the band was born!

Claes: Jennica, you have that wonderfully powerful country-twanged vocal style. Tell me a little about your musical background.
Jennica Scott: I grew up in a very musically inclined family. Everyone can sing and most of us can play some sort of instrument. We all listen to a lot of different kinds of music, but more often than not, it’s country. I listen to all kinds of country, from the older stuff to the mainstream Nashville stuff to the more rough around the edges Texas country music.

I’ve always had a country twang in my voice… I don’t know where it came from, but I’m not complaining about it. I’ve definitely been inspired by big female voices like Martina McBride and Jennifer Nettles. I also love the fact that, in country music, females don’t have to have ridiculously high ranges to seem impressive. Singing country music, female vocalists get to explore the low range. I love that stuff.

Claes: Jeremy, your voice is that low-and- straight up rock akin to Staind/Bush/Seether. Plus you play several instruments on the album. Let’s hear about your musical background.
Burchard: I always had a sense of inherent curiosity about music. Ever since I was young I wanted to play anything I could get my hands on. And my mom loved me enough to let me give all the instruments a try. I actually started on viola, before moving to trumpet.

Once I went into high school, I really wanted to give drums a try, although all the band directors didn’t want me to. I started out in the pit in band and stayed after trying to learn as much as I could about drums. I eventually made the drumline, and eventually became a section leader. All the while I was trying to learn other instruments.

When I first got a guitar (which I got from a pawn shop, and am pretty sure was stolen), I got frustrated and put it down. I only took a few lessons, which I now regret. After it sat in the closet for a while, I picked it up one day and decided I’d try to learn my own way. Ever since then I’ve had this “I can do it” attitude about new instruments. It’s bubbled over into mandolin, banjo…even a little fiddle, etc.

I really only started singing because, when I started writing more serious songs, I was too embarrassed to have anybody else sing them. Ever since meeting Jennica I’ve been working more and more to really be a strong and aware singer…and just sing how I sing. Jennica is 90% of the reason I started paying close attention to harmonies. Now I love trying to figure it out.

Claes: What’s in a name? Why Moonlight Social?
Burchard: We’ve always wanted to convey a sense of honesty in our music. A “moonlight social” is what we came up with to describe the most honest moments in your life. Those times when you’re not held back by anything.

To me, they tend to happen at night. Maybe you’re laying down on the floor in a totally dark room, nothing but a little moonlight coming in through the windows. You’re there with a group of friends, or maybe just your closest friend, or hell maybe you’re just there with your dog. But you feel safe and open to talk about anything that comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be happy things, or dreams, or sad things, or anything specific. It’s just a moment when you’re “safe” to let it all hang out.

Claes: As a young band, you’ve quickly gained some pretty amazing support including getting tapped by Ray Benson to play a SXSW gig, winning a GRAMMY U Competition, and winning the 2011 Austin Chronicle Sound Wars. How did it feel?
Burchard: It felt great. Honestly it hadn’t really sunk in how quickly things took off. At the time of the SXSW thing, we had just barely decided on the name. We were still figuring out our “sound” and all sorts of things. Our EP wouldn’t be released until 2.5 months later. But when you receive validation like that at such an early stage in the game, it makes you want to push yourself harder.

I honestly don’t think we’ve “entered” any sort of competition or contest thinking “oh yeah, we’re winning this.” That’s especially true with the Sound Wars. It blew my mind.

None of these awards and competitions were an “end goal” for us, but at the same time, we knew it never hurt to enter them and have “industry people” hear the tunes. In the end, we just make music we like. It’s incredibly humbling to receive this support and know others like it as well.

So, we started the year figuring out the name, and ended the year having raised more than $16,000 to enter the studio with this awesome producer/musician Matt Noveskey. We’d done more in one year than some bands I know did in four. I can only hope that trend continues.

Claes: When you play live, do you have a full band or is it a duo?
Burchard: We have a 5-piece band for live shows. And I know we’d both love to add to that when the time comes. But we also never want to forget that it’s all about stripping it down to the basics – one guitar and two vocals. We want to always be able to play a show like that at any given time, because in the end it is about the dynamic between us as a duo and being true to the song – not letting the meaning get lost in all the excess.

Claes: When I received the CD the thing that struck me was the strong lyrical content. Do you collaborate on the writing?
Burchard: For this record, we’ve pretty much written songs every way imaginable. I write a lot, then we tweak it, she writes a lot, then we tweak it, I’ll start, she’ll finish, she’ll start, I’ll finish, email back and forth, talk about it in person, put bits and pieces together – “The Better Part” was written with us side-by-side for the vast majority of the song.

Claes: The title track starts the album off with a great country-edge.
Burchard: “Heading South” may be the best one-track answer to “what is your sound?” if there is a one-track answer. It’s got a little bit of everything, and a LOT of energy. Jennica rocks this tune. I love the folk instruments (fiddle/banjo etc.), but I especially love them laid over an edgier groove.

This song wasn’t originally going to be the first single – “Neither Are You” was (since we’d received so much recognition with that track). But the way the whole thing kicks off with this stadium rock-like drum groove and the huge downbeats and the interplay between the vocals and everything…by the end of mixing, it just seemed like the obvious choice.

Claes: One of my favorite tracks on the album is “The Finer Things In Life.” Tell me a little about that track.
Scott: This song is definitely a blast to do live, as well. There’s so much energy to it. I think you can tell how much Jeremy and I enjoy playing it live, too. We just kinda let loose and have a blast rocking the heck out of that song.

Burchard: That’s a fun track. That one, along with “So Long (San Antonio)” are becoming live-crowd favorites. I think lyrically that track may be the best example of our sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek nod to “romance,” which a lot of songwriters tend to treat with reverence. And this is a very irreverent song.

It’s also a good example of our “song structure be damned!” attitude when it comes to certain tracks. I kind of see the whole song as a big ol’ wink to our listeners to let them know that we’re very much here to break the rules, while still keeping it true to what Jennica and I do. Just when you think you have us pinned down…

Claes: Tell me the story behind “Well That Was A Mistake” (a pull-quote from the song is at the top of the story).
Burchard: This is kind of an oddball track on the record. It’s definitely a testament to us not trying to squeeze ourselves into any one thing, but instead just playing music we enjoy. We both enjoy a lot of different type of music. Without delving too much into the specifics of the song, I can say that the “darkened room” scene is not fictionalized…but I wanted to write it out more as letting the description of the scene describe the attitude of the “people” involved in the song, as opposed to what they say.

The very first part is written as an internal/external struggle about saying something you’re not sure you should, but you do all the while acknowledging you probably shouldn’t. The next part is what happens when you have that conversation…and the mid section is kind of that internal/external reaction. The whole thing is very train-of-thought oriented, a writing style that I hope works for this particular tune. I hope people find their own meaning in it and apply it to their own scenarios.

Scott: The first time I heard this song it immediately reminded me of a Panic At The Disco song. It’s long and has a lot of words and crazy structures. I was confused at first… but after we learned it and started practicing it, it sorta grew on me.

It’s another one of those songs that’s an absolutely blast to play live. You can never really get bored during the song either because it keeps changing on you! We like to keep people entertained with our music.

Claes: Much of this album seems to be lamenting the end of a long relationship. Was this album and exercise in therapy through music?
Bruchard: Music is always an exercise in therapy to me. But actually this whole album is about many different relationships, including relationships between your current and former self and struggles you have internally. So they’re not specifically romantic.

The first two tracks have nothing to do with romantic love. But if you see them that way, they totally should. I don’t ever want my particularly meaning in a song to trump anybody else’s. I think the listener needs to let it take on a life of its own to them. That’s what makes music so special, personal, and therapeutic in the first place.

Claes: How did you connect with Matt Noveskey (Blue October) who both played on and co-produced Heading South?
Burchard: Our lawyer introduced our music to him after we won the Sound Wars. Our first “meeting” was actually over the phone while he was on tour with Blue October. We had about 4 other producers we were considering at the time, but when we met with Matt, it was an obvious choice. Our personalities and philosophies went very well together.

Claes: Leading up to the July 21 release of Heading South you did Track-By-Track album preview YouTube post a week previewing the CD. Where did you get the idea of doing that?
Burchard: I was just trying to think of ways to build awareness, because we never wanted to release anything into “obscurity.” So I thought to myself, “what would I be interested in?” 

And when we did a Kickstarter video to promote our campaign a few months earlier, people were really drawn to it. I’ve always been really interested in some of the behind-the-scenes stuff from bands. I think that it’s a delicate balance between not revealing too much and letting fans know that we’re human and want to connect with them. One of the most common things people say to me after a show is how much they like watching Jennica and I interact. I think they’re a little crazy, but whatever! Put us in front of a camera and who knows what will come out.

Claes: You’ve got a gig on Friday August 10 at Threadgill’s World Headquarters opening for Alpha Rev. What can folks expect?
Burchard: Bedazzled doves, I’m told. But seriously, we love playing live. Love it. We put our hearts out there every time. So you can expect us to give it our all.

Claes: What is next for Moonlight Social?
Burchard: So many things! We’ll keep working to create awareness for the album. We’re going to hit the road again in 2013. I know Jennica and I both want to really start writing more stuff too, though by-and-large a lot of people will really just be catching wind of us in the coming months/next year.

Claes: Anything to add?
Burchard: I’m glad you dig our stuff! It really is encouraging, especially for such a young band. And not just that, young people in general. It’s always nice to know we’re on a good path. It’s not always easy to be 22 years old and tell people you want to be a professional musician. A lot of eyes roll. But we believe in ourselves, and it’s awesome to know others do too.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Interview: Mark Allan Atwood

At The Crossroads with
Mark Allan Atwood

Mark Allan Atwood

By Sean Claes
Mark Allan Atwood is a guy I met a few years ago when I booked a festival in my hometown of Kyle, Texas. He came out to support one of the bands, and ended up sitting in for a few songs. I kept in contact with him over the years, had a few intelligent back-and-forth conversations via Facebook, but I didn't really look him up. 

Had I done my homework when I met him, I'd have found out that he was lead vocalist of a metal band by the name of Wasteland in the 1980s and 1990s that opened for the likes of Dokken, Slaughter and Tesla. I'd have found out that he took a hiatus from performing for almost a decade only to make his return as a country singer, back to his roots before the metal world.

I feel like I came late to the party on Mark Allan Atwood, but eventually I got here. 

When he released Mark Allan Atwood & Brimstone's 2012 album Burned At The Crossroads, I found myself incredibly impressed with it lyrically and musically, so when I found out he was playing in the area three times in the next couple weeks (Wimberley, New Braunfels, and Pflugerville), I knew it was time to get to know him a little better.

Sean Claes: You used to be a rock star in the 80s and 90s… fronting the Dallas-based Wild Child and Wasteland. How’d you end up in that scene?
Mark Allan Atwood: “Star” might be a stretch, but yes, those two bands were full of talent, amazing talent, and we did pretty well. I blame it all on my brother Jason Atwood. He had a chance to be one of the best drummers you ever heard, though he took another direction in life years ago, well before Wild Child ever got popular. He was playing with these kids that like him, were all about 5-7 years younger than me. 

I was bored with the country and classic rock bands I was working with at the time and looking to do something more fun. It was also a chance for me to stretch my songwriting chops a bit. I had been writing and performing my originals for many years already at that time, which were all along the southern rock and acoustic folk vein, with a little bit of country sensibility thrown in. 

It was an AMAZING scene and a time in my life I’ll never forget or regret. Oh, one of those “kids” was Brad Dunn, of Brad Dunn and Ellis Co. who had some Texas Music Chart success this year with “That Song About Beer.”

Claes: With Wasteland, you opened for acts like Slaughter, Tesla, Zakk Wylde, and Great White in their prime. What was that like?
Atwood: Let’s not forget Vince Neil of Motley Crue, the full original lineup of Dokken and King’s X on their amazing Dogman Tour! Sorry, had to throw those in. 

What was it like? One word - Surreal. If you didn’t experience that time and that scene of melodic metal (I guess you could call it hair metal, but it was about the damn music, and included singers who could actually sing, not bark), then it’s hard to accurately relate it. I hung out with and played with and partied with (a wonder I’m alive, really) bona fide rock stars. They were gods, and we were all treated like something special. 

One of these days I’m gonna write a book, but I respect your space limitations enough not to do it here.

Claes: How’d the turn onto the dirt road of Outlaw Country happen?
Atwood: It was less of a turn and more of a slight bend in the road that was comfortable and familiar. The very first album I ever bought with my own money was Willie’s Red Headed Stranger, when I was 12. I was listening to B.W. Stevenson’s first record for RCA even before that. I can sing every song on both and play most of them, when pressed to. 

My early album collection, pre-Wild Child included, besides the Zepplin, Who, Beatles, Janis, Jimi, etc., a bunch of the Flying Burrito Bros., Manassas, The Band, Poco, and all the usual suspects from the CA and TX country rock/alternative country scene. 

I came up as a live performer under folks like Robert Ackerman (still touring the states and Europe) on Lower Greenville Ave. in Dallas at places like The Saloon and the Winedale Tavern. I’m full of mixed up influences, but this direction is more what I started with and always wanted to do. It was the metal years, glorious though they were, that were the hard turn onto a different road.

Claes: Your debut album, How Country was your first full-length, recorded and released after an 8 year hiatus from performing live. Why the break?
Atwood: I had a baby daughter and a marriage that was crumbling, rock music was changing drastically and I had absolutely no interest in where it was going. Plus, and this was a major factor, I was 100% burned out. Totally. All four of us were. Wasteland was just this unbelievable group of four guys who really ate, slept, breathed and lived their craft 24/7, every day for five years. We put everything we had, heart and soul, into that band. I have the rejection letters from every major label to prove it! We were there, I mean right there, but our timing sucked. Had we hit our stride and sounded like we did a few years earlier, this interview would be radically different. 

When we knew it was over, we all just turned our backs on music and tried to make new lives for ourselves. My efforts to do so, just didn’t stick. Our drummer Chris Bradley is playing again after a few years of a break, and our guitarist Dan McCarthy is the owner of Dallas Guitar Repair, though he no longer performs. His client list is a legitimate all-star roster! Our bassist Greg Wofford has resisted the pull to this day and is a happy working man with a wonderful life. I still talk to all of them. A Wasteland reunion almost happened this year in Dallas and probably will for one show only (Basement Reunion) next year.

I came back to performing in two different projects with my dear friends Johnny Kelsey (a true brother I’d played music with since I was a teen) and Dennis Phillips, in 2005. I began writing the songs for How Country (Johnny played drums on the whole album and Dennis produced it) in 2007 and finished it with the help of one of my oldest friends Jennifer York backing it, in 2009. I won the Texas Music Awards Rising Star Award in 2010, on the strength of that album. Rising Star, a mere 30 years after I started. Not too shabby I guess. After HC’s release, I’ve released two more albums over the next 27 months.

Claes: Mark Allan Atwood & Brimstone recently released a really good album in Burned At The Crossroads, it’s everything a country fan could want, well-crafted songs, a few about loving, a few about leaving, a shot of religion and politics, and a dedication to your dog. How’d you go about choosing the songs to include? 
Atwood: I’m so glad you like it, Sean. Everyone involved with it is proud of it. I will say this, we did it right. Got the right producer, Adam Odor (who most people know and if they don’t, they should) and the right studio, Yellow Dog Studios in Austin. Adam was given free reign on the song choices, to answer your question. I disagreed with a couple of the tunes that got left off and I tease him about it, because he’s gonna have to include them on the next one any damn way! We started out with about 20 and Adam narrowed it down to the 12 you hear on the record. They don’t just hand Grammy’s out to anyone, so I wasn’t gonna argue with a guy who has five of them. Overall, I can say I’m damned proud that each of those songs got recorded and truly happy with Adam’s treatment of them.

Claes: Who are the current members of Brimstone?
Atwood:  I have a killer band and I’m grateful every day that they believe in my work strongly enough to be committed to it as a career. Just to be clear, this isn’t Mark Allan Atwood and whoever’s available. This is a band. I just get to be the lead songwriter and singer. 

Rich “Professor” Tulp on drums, is the backbone of one of the finest rhythm sections going today.  Matt “Matt Daddy” Nunn is a bassist of such a high caliber that other bassists come to our shows just to watch what he does. Seriously, he’s that good. Those two guys are the absolute foundation of Brimstone and I couldn’t do what I do without them. They were recently dubbed by a Dallas music writer as the “Devil’s Deuce” and compared to Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton (they even have their own Devil‘s Deuce merchandise). I never again wanna be in a band they don’t play in. Period. 

Uncle Mitch Connell (also the executive producer of ’Burned’) is our keys player.
His work on the album is one of my favorite things about the record. My gifted
friend Emmett Roch plays pedal steel, dobro and mandolin. Mitch and Emmett are not
full time, but they play with us when they can. 

We’re still searching for that full time “family member” on lead guitar. Our long time lead player Wayne O’Neill (formerly with Brandon Rhyder and Ryan Bingham), who played on the album, suffered the kind of burnout I referenced above and no longer plays. If you know someone that wants to get in on something really special, send ‘em my way.

Claes: Why did you choose to name the album Burned At The Crossroads?
Atwood:  That’s a great question and I’m not sure I wanna answer it. Let’s just say that Robert Johnson and I have more in common than a love of the blues. And I feel like I’ve been burned by the arrangement.

Claes: The album kicks off with a fun jam called “Good Old Days” that, when you get down to lyrics, is a pretty serious fist shake at today’s society and politics. Is that a “Here’s Mark Allan Atwood in 3:50. If you can take it, you may proceed” track?
Atwood: Glad you got it. And yes. Listening to that song as a fun jam is fine and I hope people crank it up and roll down their windows and jam the hell out of it. It’s our first single, after all. But yes, there’s a lot more to it than the cool baritone guitar signature lick, my harp solo and the fun as hell harmonies. In fact, that first verse is a very interesting and completely true story.

Claes: Is the fantastically tragic lost love track “Dead Man” autobiographical?
Atwood: Yes, but not autobiographical about me. That song and Anyone Listening, were co-writes with my Atwood-Childs duet partner, Heath Childs. In the case of Dead Man, he came to me with most of the song and the concept. I got to help finish and attach my name to what I think is one of the best painful lost love songs I’ve ever heard. He’s brilliant. Our Atwood-Childs Trading Pains album (my second album, released after How Country) is something I’ll be proud of doing the rest of my life.

Claes: You write a fantastic tribute song to Townes Van Zandt in “Ghost.” What inspired that?
Atwood: Actually, that’s more of a tribute to my brothers and sisters out here doing this singer/songwriter thing for a living, than it is Townes. I’m a fan of Townes’ work, but that really isn’t what the song is about. It’s about his presence always hovering over everything that we do, especially in the Texas Songwriter arena. 

Everywhere you go, there’s people who knew Townes, who play his songs, who revere his work (and some who revere his ability to drink) and it’s overwhelming at times. He really is a Ghost, haunting those of us on this scene trying to do our own thing. I don’t mean that as mean spirited (pun intended) as it sounds, but them’s the facts.

Claes: Tell me about the storytelling album closer, “California.”
Atwood: My friend Emmett, whom I mentioned, has always told me that there are songs floating around out there that need to be written and they just land on whoever is open to them and ready to write them. I have no idea where California came from. Not to be all dorky, but it kinda was an out of body writer experience for me. I am proud to have been the vessel for that story and I hope like hell I did it justice in the telling. Although the main character and the fact that it’s a third person narrative doesn’t reveal itself until the very end, I knew when I started writing it where it was going. 

In fact, I had about 12 verses that told a much more full story about the characters. I know who John Able was, who his wife and son were, all about Mr. Bodie and all about the great-great grandson. Maybe it’ll be a good movie script someday. I edited it down to be able to include it on the album and to let the listeners define how the story talked to them. It’s a one of a kind in my catalog. Thanks for asking about it. As the last track, it’s been largely ignored..

Claes: Lloyd Maines, one of my personal favorite area musicians, performed on
“Ghost” as well as “And Whiskey.” How did that come about?
Atwood: Okay, here’s the deal. It’s real simple. I knew what I wanted instrumentation wise on those songs (although Lloyd playing mandolin on Ghost, in addition to dobro, was Adam’s stroke of genius). It was between asking Kim Deschamps or Lloyd. Kim is a virtuoso and a great guy. On any given day, you could probably flip a coin and pick who was “better” by someone’s definition. I wanted Lloyd ultimately because of the projects he plays on and his passion for those tunes. I’m amazed by what Kim can do. He’s brilliant. I’m a “fan” of Lloyd’s work. How cool is it that someone I’m a fan of played on my album? His work on Ghost gives me chill bumps and his playful pedal steel on And Whiskey plays off the piano and the fun vibe of the song, as my teenage daughter would say, like a boss!

Claes: You penned, or co-wrote, all 12 tracks on the album. Where does your inspiration come from?
Atwood: I’ve been on this planet for half a century. During that time I’ve had more experiences than many people have in a lifetime, or two. I’ve been many different people, worn a handful of different hats, seen and done things that you only read about or see in movies and had a thread of the music business running through that entire time. If that’s not enough to draw inspiration from, then I should quit.


Claes: You seem to play a lot around the outskirts of Austin (Wimberley, New Braunfels, and Pflugerville) but not much inside the city limits. Is that by design?
Atwood: Sadly, yes, it is by design. I have no other income aside from playing music. Since I’ve been mostly under the radar (except for a small core of wonderful fans) for many years, with no radio hits or big names recording my work, I have to scrap and fight for every performance dollar I make to keep the lights on and keep gas in what has proven to be a handful of crappy vehicles. I have the same phone, utility, internet, veterinarian, car maintenance, school supply, property tax, mortgage, maintenance bills that everyone else has. Not to mention the upkeep on the tools of my trade. 

With a million bands in Austin, all willing to play for pizza slices and draft beer, unless they are a known name and can command a set price, I’m actually forced to play more in west Texas, Dallas, Houston, south Texas, Oklahoma and as you mention, the outskirts in the hill country, than I do right where I live. It sucks. 

I think that’s all I’m gonna say about that, aside from the fact that I love the markets where we play and continue to have a strong and growing fan base of people who support us and dig the work. I don’t “need” Austin, but I look forward to the day when I can work closer to home now and then. I love being on the road and traveling to all the places we go. If you traveled with Rich and Matt, you’d love it too.

Claes: Comparing the 80s-90s experience in music and today, what has changed? Is it for the better or worse?
Atwood: Yes. Haha. It’s both. There’s a couple schools of thought on that. Here’s mine. American Idol, The Voice and the like, and karaoke, have made everyone who’s got a little vocal talent think they can be a star. 

The fact that the scene is currently being populated more every day by people who haven’t paid due one and have no idea the work and commitment it takes to do what we do on this level, coupled with the fact that with the right connections and for the right price you can pay your way on to the radio scene in Texas Music have made it difficult for those of us who don’t have those advantages, regardless of our talent. That’s not really different than it’s always been, but it’s more localized now rather than just being that way on a national level. 

On the flipside, there are so many legitimately good artists out there now, more than ever (especially on the female side) that there’s no room for bullshit. 

Be good or be overlooked. Hone your craft or be ignored until you get it to that level. With everyone thinking they can do this, there’s a higher number than ever that actually can and are very good. So yes, it’s both better and worse. 

I have no idea if that makes any sense. But you asked. As for me, I’ll just keep doing what I do for the people who dig it, like I’ve always done, and hope someday I can pay my light bill on time.

Claes: Nice. Where are some of the places you like to play in the area?
Atwood:  I had the good fortune of hosting one of the longest running open mics in Texas for a couple of years at Poodie’s Hilltop southwest of Austin and I love that place like a personal second home. Truly, it’s home. 

I like playing the Saxon Pub, here in Austin, and hope to keep that on the schedule a couple times a year. 

Cypress Creek Café in Wimberley, where I do an off the charts cool showcase on the first Thursday each month with very special guests, is a special place for me and for music period. 

Giddy Ups at the end of Manchaca in deepest South Austin is one of Texas’ last true cool roadhouse, live music beer bars. They care about music and their patrons are awesome. I’m there every first Monday of the month. 

Honestly, I have a ton more, like Rolling Thunder Bar in Snyder, TX, out west, and all over the state, where we do really well and have a great time, a long way from home.

Claes: Who are some of the bands/musicians in the Austin area people should be sure to check out?
Atwood: Great question, but tough to narrow down to this space. I have so many talented
friends and acquaintances that any attempt to list a few would inevitably make me
feel bad. 

But screw it, I’ll try. Mike Ethan Messick, Austin Mayse, Fond Kiser, Javi Garcia, Joel Melton, Heath Childs, Carrie Ann Buchanan, Forest Wayne Allen, Joshua Dodds (pretty responsible for the switch that flipped to write Ghost), Mark Sebby, Michael Wren, Bob Cheevers, Andrea Marie Campise, Pake Rossi, and a ton more. 

Some not listed here are on the “duh…” list and some are merely victims of it’s late and I’m tired and I missed them in the rapid fire, pre-night night list. Of the ones listed, each are not as well known as they should be, with the total package, brilliant writers, great singers, engaging performers.

Claes: You’ve got three gigs coming up in the next few weeks. Each seems to be a different vibe. Maybe a little about each:
Thursday August 2 - Cypress Creek Café (Wimberley TX) - The night I look forward to each month more than any is First Thursdays at CCC. This month our guest is award winning songwriter from Houston, Ken Gaines. Our list of past and future performers is one that would make a venue in Austin-proper, envious.

Thursday, August 9 – Billy’s Ice House (New Braunfels, TX) - If you don’t like hanging out and/or performing at Billy’s Ice in New Braunfels, I think you’re missing the point entirely of why we do what we do. ‘Nuff said. 

Friday, August 10 - Edge of Town Saloon (Pflugerville, TX) - Cool, old school smoky dive bar in Pflugerville where I do some cool duet shows with my friend and excellent songstress, Victoria Pennock. Always look forward to these.

Claes: Would you like to add anything else?
Atwood: Yes. Ken Zoric has recently purchased my entire catalog and stands behind me in everything I do. He served as executive producer on Trading Pains and helps me get our singles out there to radio, increase our brand visibility and supports my work as a friend and fan. Without Ken, and people like him, who support what I do, you would never have asked me for an interview because you wouldn’t have any reason to know who I was. So thanks to Ken Zoric, Jennifer York, Mitch Connell and Pat Brown for allowing me to pursue the only thing I’ve ever been worth a crap at, and believing those efforts were worth their support.

For more information on Mark Allan Atwood, visit his Website at

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Interview: Emily Wolfe

Taking Direction from Austin Singer-Songwriter
Emily Wolfe

By Sean Claes
Photos Courtesy

In a very short time, Austin singer-songwriter Emily Wolfe has netted herself some pretty high-profile gigs. She was a novice at playing live when she released her Directors Notes in February. In under a year she’s played The Mohawk opening for Sucré, with Wild Child at Stubbs, The Parish with Les Rav, and Saturday, July 21 she plays Flipnotics with Erin Ivey.

Wolfe has the kind of voice that creeps up on you and It’s been said that her voice sounds like Colbie Caillat and Sarah Bareilles. I think her brand of acoustic-driven indie folk-rock songs remind me of a Lisa Loeb or Kris Delmhorst as she’s got that understated, almost whisper-like, innocence to her voice.

I had a chance to ask her a few questions about her musical past, Directors Notes, and live shows.

Sean Claes: How long have you been playing in and around Austin?
Emily Wolfe: I started playing freshmen year in college while I was in a band – I played guitar and sang back-up vocals. We only played a few shows though. I didn't start playing by myself until about a week before I released Director's Notes.

Claes: Tell me about that first time you stepped on stage at a club/bar. Where was it, and how did it go?
Wolfe: The first time I played a show was really when I figured out that music is what I want to do. I was more nervous off stage than on. I feel like most people think, "O.K. now that I'm off stage I can breathe again." but for me it’s pretty much the opposite.

Claes: You’re a self-taught musician. What instruments do you play and how did you come about choosing to learn them?
Wolfe: I play guitar, drums, bass, banjo, mandolin, and piano. I took a few guitar lessons when I was younger, but since I wasn't the best at reading sheet music, my teacher got a little frustrated with me and asked if I just wanted to learn drums instead. I asked him for a couple of piano lessons too just for fun. He taught me the basics of the drums....the other instruments I kind of picked up at music stores.

I've always been drawn to instruments of all kinds.... It’s amazing to me that something as complex looking as a guitar can make such a beautiful noise. And how different the same instrument can sound depending on who's playing it.

Claes: I imagine a live show from you is like being invited into your living room to hear you play. What is the feeling you try to bring to the room when you play?
Wolfe: I want people to feel very comfortable during my sets. I like telling jokes and interacting with the audience in between songs - it just seems like more of a shared experience that way. Something people will remember...each individual crowd is different so I want each show to be different.

I want to put on great shows for people so they walk away feeling something...a big reason why I love playing live is because it allows me to connect with people - there is an energy cycle that happens at shows where the audience gives you as much energy as your giving them. It's a really amazing experience that rarely happens anywhere else.

Claes: Do you ever pull out cover songs? If so, which ones?
Wolfe: I have covered the Bee Gees "To Love Somebody", a couple Amy Milan songs, and the Black Keys with the full band.

Claes: Where are your favorite places to play live?
Wolfe: So far I've really enjoyed playing at the parish, the Mohawk, and Stubb's.

Claes: Directors Notes, released in February, is your debut record. Where did you record and with whom?
Wolfe: With my audio engineering professor, Tim Dittmar. He's an analog engineer so we recorded to tape. His studio is in Georgetown

Do you have a favorite cut on the album? Why?
Wolfe: My favorite track is “Lion Heart” because its the most fun to play live

Claes: I heard you went through the end of a relationship while writing this record. Tell me about the haunting and beautiful track “Oh Hey Love.”
Wolfe: “Oh Hey Love” was written right after the actual breakup, which ended with both of us driving away in separate directions. I knew things would work out eventually, and they have, so that song is very special to me.

Claes: “Dance on the Record Grooves” is the first cut off the album. Tell me about it.
Wolfe: I wrote “Dance on the Record Grooves” about feeling content in love but also being surprised that I met the person I'd been looking for. A song that explains how unexpectedly easy real love is. It takes some people a lifetime to find their person, so I feel incredibly lucky to have found mine at such a young age.

Claes: Tell me a little about “Metal Roses”
Wolfe: “Metal Roses” is a song about my family. The first verse is about my dad and how I feel so much like him sometimes. The second verse is about my sister and a marriage engagement that fell through. The third verse references a dream I had about my grandfather. By the end, each verse ties in to the fact that we've all taken risks, ones which we've been afraid of taking at one point or another. But most of the time the risks you're afraid to take are the ones you need to take the most.

You’ve got a show this Saturday at Flipnotics with Erin Ivey. What can you tell me about this show?
Wolfe: I'm planning on playing an acoustic set, so it will be very stripped down. I'm a big fan of Erin's stuff too so I'm excited for her set. It's very exciting to be opening for her.

Find out more about Emily Wolfe at She plays Flipnotics (1601 Barton Springs, ATX)) on July 21, then The Parish on August 31 opening for David Ramirez.