Interview: Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith’s most recent album, “Til The Wheels Fall Off,” is a brilliant. heartfelt and honest synthesis of Country Rock, Tex / Mex, and good old fashioned heartland rock and roll. You can read our review here.

Bruce Smith

You can purchase “Til The Wheels Fall Off” on Bruce’s Bandcamp page or stream the album on Spotify. You’ll also enjoy following Bruce on Twitter.

We asked Bruce about the album, Buddy Holly, the real mojo behind the “Austin Sound,” and his creative process:

1). Your song “59 Stratocaster” celebrates one of the most iconic guitars of all time, but it’s also an homage to Lubbock’s own Buddy Holly. You’ve been involved with Maria Elena Holly’s Buddy Holly Educational Foundation. Other than his being a native son, why do you feel that Buddy continues to have such an endearing presence with Texans?

Bruce: That’s a great question.  All states definitely have their favorite sons and daughters and certainly Texas is no exception.  I think having been so very young, only 22, and coming from a relatively small town in West Texas, creates a mythology all its own.  You compound those attributes with the amazing, timeless, pioneering, ground breaking body of work that he created in just a tragically short 500 day professional career and you have a bona fide folk hero for the ages.  It’s almost too painful to think what might have been.  But I really feel that his influence is infinite and his songs are some of the greatest songs that will ever be made.  He is forever a young man full of promise and hope and who will always rave and rock on and on. 

I can never over state what an honor and privilege it is to play ’59 Stratocaster (at any time) but especially for Lubbock and especially for Maria Elena Holly and Buddy’s brother, Larry and the members of their family.

2). “30 Days” opens the album and is one of the harder-rocking songs on “Til The Wheels Fall Off.” It has the pedal-to-the-floorboard feel of “Copperhead Road”-era Steve Earle, and is unlike any other track on the album. What can you tell me about the creative process behind the track?

Bruce: 30 Days is a way of dealing with the loss of one of my most dearest and closest friends, speaking of promise and what could have been.  He passed away way too young, with way too much living ahead of him.   It was a couple of days after we had a tremendous celebration of life for him and I just thought, he’s still gone…that led to the song 30 Days written in the context of a relationship…my friend, Lance, his favorite song was Cowboy Song by Thin Lizzy, so I tried to write it with a western motif…it kind of wrote itself in an hour or so and I played it that night…It’s a cathartic song for me in dealing with the impossible angst of losing someone so close to you…we wanted to give it some grit and growl…

3). Your band on the album…Bryan Austin, Randy Caballero, Matt Hubbard, Spencer Jarmon, Will Landon, Greg White, Shaniqua Williams & Danny Chaffin…fits the songs and your style like a glove. How long have you played together, and how did you come to assemble these players?

Bruce: Spencer, Randy (Grammy Award winner for producing Ruben Ramos) and I have been playing together for almost 16 years…they finish my musical sentences, a brotherhood forged in playing and traveling together lo, these many years…whatever I may write, they play what the song needs, it is magical to behold…Matt Hubbard has played with us off and on for that whole time and he is a musical genius, he played keyboards, trombone, harmonica, melodica and accordion on this record and just finished up touring with Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians…Bryan is a great local drummer who has played with the legendary David Grissom for many years…Will Landin is also an amazing musician who has played with us off and on for a long while…right now our bass player is Spencer’s son, Zeke Jarmon and our drummer is my nephew, Conner Church…it is a family affair, whoever may be in the band…all great musicians.

4). “Radio,” as we knew it a couple of decades ago, no longer exists as a propellant for artists wanting to have their music heard. Satellite stations like SIRIUSXM and Internet radio have become the new “above ground underground,” where Indie artists of all genres are heard, but these stations can individually be narrow in their focus. Your music has appeal to audiences who appreciate music that sounds nothing like yours…bands like The Flying Burrito Brothers remain heroes to Country and Hard Rock fans alike. How do you get your music heard outside of rigid “niche” markets and into a broader audience?

Bruce: That is a question I am always trying to answer…I don’t know!!  I know YouTube is the place where most people get their music so we are trying to be better about making videos…there are so many internet stations and whatnot, that I find myself floundering (flip, flop and fly!) trying to figure out what to do and in the process feeling like I’m spinning them wheels ’til they fall off!!

5). I read a review of “Til The Wheels Fall Off” in a Texas newspaper, which praised the overall effort but docked points for it not having a “cohesive” sound. I had the exact opposite reaction in my review on “There Once Was A Note,” applauding the diversity and scope of your influences. How do you feel about the notion of artists having an immediately “identifiable” sound?

Bruce: It’s something that one of my very best and dearest friends and drummer in my New York City band always felt I needed to do, but I just can’t pick a lane…I love all kinds of music…Al Green and Hank Williams are singing about the same things…songs come to me and I write them, whatever genre they may show up as…it’s just the way I write.

6). Austin is a major hub of musical innovation, equal to the coastal cities of New York and Los Angeles. Would you describe the Austin experience of more than an “attitude” than a “sound?” What does Austin represent to you?

Bruce: I like that attitude over sound notion…there’s a ton of great musicians doing very different things here…I think it may have started with Willie and Waylon being the renegade country stars and playing what they wanted…there is definitely a very cooperative spirit among musicians here in Austin…people genuinely want to help you out and steer you in the right direction…it’s really growing by leaps and bounds and people are concerned that we may lose that organic Austin vibe, Austinticity…there is a concerted effort to keep that flame burning from state and city government and musicians that I think is rare for most larger cities…music is a big part of Austin’s DNA and we’re doing our best to carry that torch through these changing times…Ian McLagan said that Austin was the best place for a broke musician…there’s not too much cold weather you have to contend with and going out to see live music is a major component of the city’s culture…