For someone who more or less picked Houston at random when he was looking to get out of L.A. two years ago, honky-tonk singer-songwriter Mike Stinson gets the Bayou City's appeal. It's right there on "Died and Gone to Houston," one of 11 new songs he just finished recording in Austin with acclaimed Nashville producer R.S. Field (Billy Joe Shaver, Hayes Carll, Justin Townes Earle): "Heaven is a beer joint and a South Texas song."
Stinson, who opens for the Gourds' CD release shindig at Dan Electro's Friday, won Best Song at last year's Houston Press Music Awards for "No One to Drink With" from his last album, 2009's The Jukebox In Your Heart. He reckons this new, as yet untitled album may be ready for release by January. Maybe.
"The problem I've had with discussing my records too much – and I've seen so many people do this in Hollywood – is they spend two years telling you about the record they're making, and then by the time the fuckin' thing comes out, you're sick of hearing about it," he says. "I'm trying to avoid that."
Chatter: How many songs have you written since you moved to Houston?
Mike Stinson: Aw jeez. Almost that whole album's worth, and a handful of others. I don't know. I'm always writing something, they're just not always good. I couldn't really put a number on it. Maybe I've written 25 songs or something, and probably 10 of them were worth a shit.
C: Any favorites?
MS: Oh man, that's another tough call. I love the way "Died and Gone to Houston" came out on this album. "Late for My Funeral" was the first song I wrote when I got to town, and I have a song called "This Year" that I wrote on New Year's Day that really came out good on this record.
C: Is Houston an easy town to get work done in?
MS: Yeah. It has been for me. I've had a lot more privacy and alone time since I've been there. L.A., after being somewhere for 18 years and living in band houses and roommates and stuff, there's just a whole lot of distractions. Houston has been good for me to just kind of get away from that. There's still plenty of distractions, but I've been able to get work done there.
C: What kind of producer's advice did R.S. Field give you and the band while you were making this record?
MS: Whenever we needed a good idea, he had one. He did everything that you would want a producer to do, but it was real graceful and he never strong-armed anybody. He sort of let things develop. We were surrounded by great players with great ideas, but when we needed someone to lead us, he stepped in and did.
C: Did you mean to go in a more rock and roll direction with these new songs, or did it just kind of work out that way?
MS: No. I don't edit myself. If I stopped every song that I was in the middle of writing that wasn't country enough, I'd never get another song written. I can't do that. I've got to take what I can get. Songs are just – they don't come easy. I've had to kick and scratch and bite and bleed for every line of a song I get.
C: Wednesday I heard a lot of Doug Sahm in your songs, that California-meets-Texas country rock and roll. Have you been listening?
MS: I have, yeah. I've been a Doug Sahm fan for a long, long time. I don't know that I actually get that flavor in any of my songs, but he's huge. Living in Texas, you feel his influence more than when you're living in California.
Ray Wylie Hubbard is another one. I've seen him maybe five times since I've been in Texas. I'd seen him in California before, and I always thought he was quirky and cool, but he didn't really get under my skin, I didn't really get him all the way and have him blow my mind, until I saw him play in his element with his guys. He's a genius.
C: I thought that "I've Got a Thing for You" song was pretty primal.
MS: Yeah, I wrote that about a bartender that works at the Volcano. She's so fuckin' hot. I was thinking about her, but as soon as it started to develop, I was trying to write a song for [actor/singer] Michael Des Barres. He sings like Rod Stewart, and he's got an amazing rock and roll voice. He was getting songs together for a new album – he loved the album I made with Jesse Dayton, and as soon as he heard it he called me up and asked me all about what it was like to work with Jesse Dayton. He did, and they did make an album.
Anyway, he was looking for songs. He said, "Man, I'm getting all my best songs together – if you've got any sexy rock and roll songs for me, please send 'em over." I couldn't really match anything that I had to Michael's vibe, and when I started writing "Got a Thing for You" I thought, "oh, this might work for Michael." So I tailored the rest of the song to try to get somewhere into his world.
C: Did you?
MS: Oh yeah, I sent it to him, and he didn't use it (laughs). I can't wait to send him this, because it sounds so fuckin' good. He can stick it straight up his ass. We're good friends.
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