“Life is a spark that starts with good conversations,” goes the line from the title track to Patrick Squier’s approaching album. The Houston guitarist and songwriter has begun releasing singles from the record and playing shows like this Friday’s Backyard Bash at Continental Club’s Pachinko Hut to support the LP, which is slated for release this summer.
It’s a great line and sums up our hour-long interview with the artist who blends blues, rock and psychedelia into an intoxicating mix. Our good conversation explored Squier’s long love of music and the influences which informed his sound, which can turn from ‘60s psych rock to ‘90s grunge without missing a beat.
Squier, 33, said he grew up in Houston and it wasn’t long before music found him and he found his way to the guitar.
“Music made me feel things that I couldn’t explain. It made me feel a certain way that was, you know, magical and I think that enchanted me from a very early age. Started playing piano when I was three,” he said, mostly at the behest of his parents, “but I was all about it. It just didn’t come as naturally to me as guitar. Fifth or sixth grade I started getting into all sorts of music.”
“I think I heard Nevermind when I was in sixth grade and that pretty much blew my world open,” he said of Nirvana’s breakthrough LP. “I heard Nevermind and I heard ‘Purple Haze.’ I heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and I heard ‘Purple Haze’ and those two songs – I was just like, ‘Alright, I want to learn how to do that.’”
That’s what Squier did, starting with a classical, nylon-string guitar his dad – also a musician – kept in the attic.
“He’d pull it out in his private time in the attic and I’d hear him singing and playing up there. He left it up there, I knew it was up there, so I just went up there and I pulled it out, dusted it off and took it down to my room. I think it took him a few months before he realized it was gone,” he laughed. “He came down and asked me about it. ‘Oh, you mean this?’ So yeah, sixth grade was kind of the year of the guitar for me, where it just kind of blew up my whole world and I didn’t want to do anything else but play and listen to music. I became a really bad piano student that year.”
He became a student of music, though, leaning into divergent artists like Frank Zappa and Townes Van Zandt, Bowie and Houston hard rockers Josefus. He found new music by listening to The Buzz and followed the origins of that music back to rock’s golden decades.
“I just liked a lot of that uplifting nature of the music from the ‘60s and the early ‘70s,” he said. “To me it just has this positivity to it, it has this hope to it that I found contagious.”
They were some of the ingredients to Squier’s recipe, but he said a local songwriter was the chef who taught him to create his own musical stew.
“I met a teacher in high school who was a local singer-songwriter and his name was Bill Cade. He played at Anderson Fair and all the places around town. I got to play sideman with him for a little bit, but you know I was 15 and he was 65. But he was first my guitar teacher.
“There was a point in my guitar playing where I hit this plateau when I was 15. You know, I felt like I knew it all, like 15 year-olds do, and I walked into this place called Writers in the Round in West U, the door was open and he was the only guy in there. He sat me down and said, ‘What can you show me?’ and we played for a bit and he was like, ‘Okay, I can teach you some things.’
“I basically struck up a relationship with this guy in that he became more than a teacher, he became a friend, a mentor, he took me around on his own little circuit playing around La Grange and all these little holes in the walls. He introduced me to Wrecks Bell down at the Old Quarter, so he knew them, I played with him at the Old Quarter and at Anderson Fair, too.
“He was kind of like my first professional working relationship where I was a sideman and he taught me so much about songwriting,” he said, and noted that Cade, who he said passed away a few years ago, had more of a Texas singer-songwriter style than he. But, he considers Cade’s songs “like a gumbo” enhanced by many different ingredients and that’s a connector to his own songwriting.
We discuss songwriting and Squier’s very measured approach to art. Many of the songs on his approaching debut LP have been in his repertoire for some time. Most are featured on a live recording from West Alabama Ice House in 2022. The first proper release from the album, “Stairways,” is at least a decade old.
“It took me quite a lot of years of composing and playing with a lot of bands and just being a sideman to kind of figure out — not find my voice, I think I had that – but to have the technical ability to do so in a way that felt authentic. That’s where I feel like I’ve been for the past four to five years,” he said.
That’s meant the songs have been tooled and re-tooled to their final mixes. It took three years to pull the album together, he said, finding the right bandmates and revisiting arrangements again and again.
“It’s the first time that I’ve had absolute creative control in the studio. I feel like I went to college again. I learned how to do everything the way that I wanted to and I also learned what not to do.”
He learned he didn’t have to rush his art into the world, for example.
“Do you want to make a splash before all of your things are in a row? Personally, I felt like I’d rather stay under the radar and hone my songs and really develop my band so that when we are ready to contact people and go full circle we actually have a product that I could believe we could go far with.”
Squier’s approach has given him and his band – Matthew Hartman (drums), Matt Garcia (bass) and keyboardist Alexander Squier, Patrick’s older brother and longtime collaborator - freedom to create something memorable. It was born on the family piano, pulled down from the attic, shaped alongside Bill Cade and imagined while playing high school sets at Super Happy Fun Land and “at Helio’s, as it was called back in the day. They’d let us play on Tuesdays or Thursday nights there before the bar opened at 6 or 7 o’clock,” Squier said, and noted he was grateful for those early opportunities.
Now, it’s ready for a broader audience. He’s playing more shows and doing more promotional work. He’s been a featured act recently on the Houston music channel Long River Sessions and has a June 11 date at Last Concert Café.
“I kind of just believed for years if I just played really good gigs that a lot people would come and people would tell my story and people would care, and that sounds really cynical to say that they don’t care, but you know I’ve reached that age where I’ve learned you have to ask. You can’t be proud about it, you can’t be alone on your mountain and expect the world to come to you.”
Our hour is nearly up when we ask about the title track. Unlike lots of the songs listeners will hear on the album, Squier said “Good Conversations” formed pretty quickly.
“It’s just one of those songs that came like a lightning bolt. Like if you pick up your guitar and you just spit out the words and you’re like ‘Wow, I’ve got to write that down really quick.’ The line had a lot of meaning to me,” he said and tried to prose quote the lyrics, stumbled a bit and asked if he could just sing the line, which is always welcomed as far as this listener is concerned. He took a deep breath and sang.
“I had forgotten all that they taught me but found out that love is much more than just a sound whispered in the dark. Life is a spark that starts with good conversations.”
Patrick Squier Band will perform songs from Good Conversations Friday, May 12 at Pachinko Hut, 3700 Main, (behind the Continental Club) where doors open at 6 p.m. show at 7 p.m. $10.
And Sunday, June 11 at Last Concert Café, 1403 Nance, where doors open at 6 p.m., show at 7 p.m. 18+, $12-$15.