How would you classify your music?
Although The New Texas String Band is first and always a bluegrass band, like the bluegrass genre itself we like to mix influences, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always bluegrass plus.
Who are some of your top 5 musical influences?
More so than certain individuals, we’ve been influenced by the wide variety of styles that we’ve been exposed to growing up and working as musicians in North Texas. Texas has a long and deep legacy of different cultural influences, and nowhere is this more evident than in Texas music, which includes influences ranging from mariachi, to polka, to blues, to country, to western swing, to gospel, and on and on. Texas has produced more Grammy winners than any other state, and this is not only a reflection of the size of the state but more importantly of the diverse people, culture, and art that one finds in Texas. This has influenced both the way we write songs and the way we perform the songs we have written, in which one can hear musical and lyrical influences from several genres.
What do you want fans to take away from your music?
A very important principle to us is that we believe in employing the songwriting techniques common to all legacy music of any genre—melodic, lyrical, and instrumental hooks, recognizable song structures, and meaningful and relatable themes. These have been central to American popular music of all genres from early minstrel shows, tin pan alley, ragtime, broadway, jazz, country, and rock-n-roll, and we believe that they have a place in bluegrass music as well.
How is the music scene in your locale?
Texas and more specifically North Texas is a great place to be a musician or a listener, or both. There is not a lot of bluegrass, in fact there are no strictly bluegrass venues, but there are many good venues for performing and listening to music in general. The musicians and audiences in North Texas are very open-minded so whether the music falls in a genre that they are used to listening to or not, most people are open and appreciate good song-writing and good performance regardless of what category the music falls into.
What is the best concert you have been to?
When I was a young child my parents took me to a bluegrass festival and one of the acts was a group of local bluegrass players, none of whom were particularly well-known, but who were incredible songwriters with incredible proficiency on their instruments. That combination of masterful songwriting conveyed through masterful performance was inspiring to me at the time and I’ve never forgotten the synergy that comes when these two elements are combined.
What do you like most about playing live?
Every so often in a live performance there’s a magical moment when we are able to interact with the audience in an unexpected but special way, whether it’s a call and response, the audience singing along in the chorus, a reprise, an ovation, or simply a dynamic build prompted by the energy in the room. The recording studio can have its magic moments too, but magic moments just go to a higher level when they are mutual with the people on the other side of the stage.
Is there a song on your latest CD release here that stands out as your personal favorite, and why?
“Sweet Molly” is a good example of the influence that genres other than bluegrass have on our music. “Sweet Molly” is bluegrass music written and recorded by a bluegrass band, but it could fit equally well in the western swing category, and for that reason is one or favorite songs on the album. Another reason we decided to release “Sweet Molly” at this time instead of the other songs on the EP is that it is very reminiscent of the songwriting and stripped-down acoustic performance of early 20th Century American musicians like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, who were recently celebrated in the Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music. Country Music was a masterpiece, and it brought to the public’s attention the roots and stems of what’s on radios and playlists today, and it taught us that there are many long lines of musical heritage that have weaved and intersected to result in a rich fabric of musical choice, which we can all now “re-live” through the accessibility of today’s music technology.
How have you evolved as an artist over the last year?
I would say that the biggest difference between us today and a year ago is that we’ve allowed our songwriting and our performance to each take their own path. For example while we value musicianship and technical ability, as we mature we’re realizing that our best songwriting does not necessarily happen when we write in order to showcase technical ability.
If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, have a drink with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?
If we could play a gig, write a song, or have dinner with any musical artist it could not be one of the bluegrass legends that gave traditional bluegrass its enduring legacy, our first choice would be the “King of Western Swing” Bob Wills. Although his legacy is deeply immersed in western swing, he also championed general musical principles that we find important, such as finding the synergy in diverse influences, and the co-equal importance of the instrument and the musicians to the vocalist and the lyrics.
What’s next for you?
We have other original songs that we feel strongly in and that we believe embody these principles and it was a tough choice deciding what to include on the first EP and what to leave out. The upside is that we can and already have started working on our next album. Recording is easier today than ever before, but it’s still a process, and it still takes time, so we like to keep the pipeline moving—and we’re already at work doing just that. Stay tuned!
End of Interview