Ryan Turner On Hank Williams, Kenny Chesney and The Problem With Modern Country
Opinionated, but still down-to-earth, Austin's Ryan Turner is the epitome of an old-school country singer. He prefers Merle Haggard to Kenny Chesney any day, and believes most popular country singers have simply lost their way.
Turner has just released a new EP called Sweet Time, a five-song affair that showcases the guy's songwriting chops. On songs like the title track and "She's No Amy," Turner comes across like a cleaned-up, in-shape version of Steve Earle.
After a day spent auditioning band members and lining up a new management team, and in anticipation of his Thursday night performance at the House of Blues' Cambridge Room, Turner was eager to talk to DC9 about what it means to be a country musician in Texas these days.
Check out our interview with Turner in full after the jump.
Austin is a crowded and competitive music market, especially for a county singer. Do you worry about making a name for yourself?
The competition doesn't really matter. If you have a passion for anything -- whether that is car racing or fishing -- there's always going to be competition. It's a part of the job. Playing music is all I know.
You describe your music as Texas country. In your opinion, how does such differ with the more-prevalent Nashville-based country?
I wouldn't say it starts with the music, but with the fan base and the culture. The Texas music scene is very grassroots-oriented and authentic. I think it's similar to when bands like the Grateful Dead did their thing. It's one fan at a time, and it's very organic. It's bootleg recordings -- a practice that was encouraged. It's cool that it goes along with the way technology is going, where it's all Internet-based. You don't need the big time, corporate marketing machine like you used to. It's wide open now.
When you say authentic, do you mean something different from what's presented at, say, the Country Music Awards?
I get really tired of that kind of country music. The country music that I grew up on was stuff that really paid attention to songwriting. Now, I dug all the stuff from the '60s -- Merle Haggard and older stuff from Hank Williams Sr. But I grew up listening to Vince Gill and Steve Wariner. These guys are great musicians and great writers. They were singing songs for everybody. My problem with modern country is that so much of it is segregating. It's all this yelling about "I'm a redneck" and "I'm country" and "I'll kick your ass if you're not like me." That's not the tradition of country music. Hank Williams would be beside himself if he could hear country music the way it's done today. In the past, it didn't matter where you were from. These were songs that touched your heart.
Is it OK to just make a decent living as a country singer? Or do you have to be the next Travis Tritt or Kenny Chesney?
We have a beautiful thing here in Texas. The entire country scene has really grown to where you can make a great living. The geography of the state is so big, and there are so many venues to play. And I think the Texas sound is spreading. We can go into Oklahoma and even up to Chicago. I think people are tired of the stereotypical Nashville sound. They want something more authentic.
I noticed in the video for your song "Sweet Time" (posted above) that you are driving the car at the speed limit. Were you worried about breaking the law on camera?
No! It's just that the car was old! I don't know if it could go any faster!
"She's No Amy" is a lovely song about settling for someone other than the love of your life. Is that song just autobiographical enough to get you in trouble?
That song, more than any other song of mine, has struck a chord with so many people. I have people commenting on that a lot. It's almost uncomfortable. People tell me that they have lived that song, that they have settled for something or someone. Even though the emotions in the song may not be right, they are real. There seem to be many people who have lived in these same shoes.
In "Calling You Out," you sing "You only put Dylan on when you're feeling down." Is the song about depression?
I didn't write that song. One of my musical gurus wrote that. Keith Gaddis wrote that. He produced my EP. He used to play with Dwight Yoakam, and he is just this out-of-this-world talent. That song was supposed to be on his album that was to come out some years ago, but his record label got bought out and he was released. His record never came out, but when I heard that song, I knew that I had to record it. I figured I better do it before somebody else does. It's a very fun song to sing. We even do that song for sound check every night. It has a great vibe to it. To me, it could be a reference your girlfriend and just wanting her to get out of the house.
On this tour, you are playing some small-town venues. Do you have trouble bringing in fans in places like New Braunfels, Waxahachie and Abilene?
It's like I told you before: In Texas, people come out for live music in every nook and cranny in the state. We go all over and we are happy to do so.
Ryan Turner performs Thursday, August 4, at the House of Blues' Cambridge Room