Country Music People March 2019 - Page 20

”Songwriting has changed my life and who I am as a person for the better… in a way it has empowered me.” Steinle leans towards songs of a more ‘serious’ nature, even ‘dark’, and readily admits, “When I pick up the guitar… I have to choke down my demons or else I’ll start Travis picking minor chords and get super sad boy. It’s just where I go. As a person in day to day life I like to ignore and avoid problems as much as possible. But in songs, I like to face them head on and address them in a way that provokes thought. Songwriting has changed my life and who I am as a person for the better… in a way it has empowered me. So therefore I always approach it very seriously. But doesn’t mean I can’t up that tempo and write something light- hearted… as long as the writing doesn’t completely suck. Haha.” A crucial moment in setting Steinle on the road he now follows came when he won the 2017 Kerrville Folk Festival’s University Singer/Songwriter Contest. “I made the finals three different times while I was attending UT,” he recalls. “Didn’t make the cut the first two times… probably because my songs sucked… but the third time was my super-senior year and figured I’d give it one last hoo-rah… and third time was the charm. A few other finalists and I got to go out there a play a few of our songs on the Threadgill Stage at the Festival. For folks who don’t know the KFF… it’s a long-running folk festival out west of Austin near the town of Kerrville, Texas. A lot of the greats have played it over the years and it was a real honour and big moment for me to stand where some of my heroes had stood. “I had this coach in high school named Chris King who is a killer songwriter and now a good friend. He was coaching to pay the bills but he was an artist who turned me on to a lot of good music and was kind of my entry point into the Texas and Austin music scene. I sent him some songs to critique my senior year of high school when I first started writing. He told me ‘Write 100 more songs… throw them all away. Write 100 more… then maybe you’ll have a good one.” Might be a slight exaggeration on quantity… but I put my nose down and sharpened my edge over the next few years. When I got to Austin in 2011 I started hitting open mics. Then I started picking up weekly acoustic residencies at some bars around town and would just play to a few buddies and a room full of drunk fraternity/sorority folks typically. I did that for about 4 years just essentially working on my craft and drinking too much shitty whiskey. Somewhere in that span of time I met the dudes from the band Mayeux & Broussard as well as my good friend Carson McHone, who really kicked in some doors for me in the Austin scene and really helped accelerate my growth as a songwriter. At the same time I got in with this group of songwriters like Gabe Wootton, Shad Blair, and Mike Ethan 20 cmp - MARCH 2019 Messick and started swapping songs with them all over the place when and wherever we could get in. All these folks empowered me, influenced me, and inspired me to do my best to not make shitty music. It’s still a work in progress but I’m enjoying the journey and slowly but surely checking boxes on my bucket list.” Steinle’s recent album is a triumph. The Robert Earl Keen influence is evident from the get-go and the overall feel is uncompromisingly ‘Texas’ in its feel. Recorded in little more than two days by John Ross Silva who was mentored by Lloyd Maines, Steinle is delighted with the end result, “We went in there and cranked it out in basically two days...with the exception of some overdubs on the third day. John is a producer that is an artist and I wanted a producer I could view and treat that way. If I like the art they’ve previously helped create, I’m completely for letting them take the bones of my songs and bring them to life as they see fit.” Reflecting on the current scene in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World, Steinle says, “In certain pockets it’s doing great. In my line of music...there are some venues here in town that are really in their stride and the Honky Tonks are alive and well. But honestly as far as new, original music and writing...I think we are in somewhat of drought. Austin is currently fighting this growing commercial mindset that seeks to kind of create this musical playscape for tourism’s sake. And thus...it creates this domino effect within the scene that in turn creates these kind of cookie cutter venues that empower playing cover songs or songs that sound like cover songs. This then causes some of the real deal venues to struggle and lately even shut down completely. Don’t get me wrong... there are a handful of writers in this town that I think are endeavouring to change the status quo...but I will also say that in the Americana singer-songwriter vein of things...we seem to be more in a period of imitation rather than one of progression. Doesn’t mean that won’t change...but just kind of a finger on the pulse these days. “There are scenes all over this State...the Red Dirt scene... the Austin scene...the Fort Worth scene. The scene is like some big party (sometimes even a costume party haha) that everyone wants to go to and be seen at. I’ve always preferred to have a few buddies over to the house and drink a bottle of whiskey and raise hell. I think if you spend your effort trying to get invited to that party you just become another sheep in the herd eventually. Just do what’s right and what speaks to your soul and maybe one day it will work out. Even if it doesn’t...you’ll still have the songs.” James Steinle: South Texas Homecoming is available now. cmp