Troubadours head up Turnpike to Boston
If you are a fan of Americana music and have yet to encounter the Turnpike Troubadours, get ready to hear a whole lot more about the quintet. The Oklahoma road warriors, who come to the Wilbur Theatre Tuesday, have been building a following since 2007, and their recently released, self-titled album is creating serious buzz.
The album, the third for the group — singer-songwriter guitarist Evan Felker, bassist R.C. Edwards, fiddler Kyle Nix, steel and electric guitarist Ryan Engleman, and drummer Gabe Pearson — was recorded at Prairie Sun Recording Studios in Cotati, Calif. (“Where Tom Waits recorded ‘Mule Variations,’” Felker proudly points out during a phone interview from an Atlanta tour stop.) The LP finds the Troubadours mining territory that should perk up the ears among fans of acts like the Drive-By Truckers, the Band, and the Old 97s, whose frontman, Rhett Miller, co-wrote one track. From “A Little Song,” a dusty gem that sounds like Paul Simon on the prairie, to “Down Here,” a Neil Young-style jam about the view from the gutter, the album brims with quality tunes.
We chatted with Felker, a former paper-mill worker, about the Troubadours’ journey thus far and the art of songwriting.
Q. There is a sense that this album is a breakthrough, in terms of exposure. Has it seemed that way to you?
A. It definitely has brought some new people on board. We’ve been messing around with this stuff for a long time, and it’s just incrementally moving forward all the time. There’s no magic button; it’s a lot of hard work and years put into it. I try to do slow, sustainable growth. It gets a little bit spooky when it all happens at once, and it kind of gets to feeling like it can all just go away, too. I guess it all still can, but it’s got a longer curve, I think.
Q. You recorded at a studio that was converted from an old chicken farm. Is it coincidental that the first song is called “The Bird Hunters”?
A. It had nothing to do with that. [Laughs] I grew up bird-hunting with my dad, and I just thought it would be an interesting setting for a story.
Q. The songs very much feel like stories with a lot of specific details and recurring characters. Did you do you do a lot of writing growing up?
A. Yeah. My uncle was in this rock ’n’ roll band in Tulsa and he wrote songs, and I thought that was really cool. I grew up around music, so I thought songwriting was cool, and I wrote poems and stuff, and I did some creative prose writing here and there. I never developed at it.
Q. Well, you did develop at it in the form that worked for you, which is songwriting.
A. Yeah. I was talking to Rhett Miller yesterday, and he’s a really great writer and one of my favorites. He asked if I’d considered writing fiction or a short story, but my thought process is, I don’t know why I would want to mess with that when I can put time into this.
Q. Some of the most striking lyrics on the album come on “Long Drive Home,” documenting a break-up and also trying to make it on the music scene, where at one point you sing, “They all want to be Hank Williams, they don’t want to have to die.”
A. I can’t even take credit for that. [Laughs] My pal said that once. I grew up down in southeast Oklahoma, and they go on these big trail rides and they inexplicably still have wagons, and it’s quite a job to get the mules hooked up to a wagon. And everybody’s gung-ho to go on the trip, but when it comes down to getting the work done —
Q. Are you often filing those things away for future use?
A. That’s my favorite way to do it, just writing a ton of lines so you have your artillery together when it comes down to writing time.
Q. While some of the songs feel more meticulously crafted, “A Little Song” sounds like it might have spilled out quickly.
A. Yeah, I just threw that one together. Rhett Miller and I co-wrote that song. We kept messing with it back and forth. It’s confident and hopeful instead of being a whiny narrator, which happens so often. And it’s not flattering. Your protagonist can be in a really bad bind and still not be whining. I don’t mind if he’s sad, or she’s sad, but I want them to be working through it. He’s a [expletive] but he’s trying, and he means well, and he’s still capable of learning — which is something I can relate with. [Laughs]
With the Black Lillies. At: Wilbur Theatre, Tuesday at 8 p.m. Tickets: $22.50. 800-745-3000. www.ticketmaster.com