Exclusive Interview with Stephen David Austin
Why country music ?
~ I’m a lyrics guy, and country music provides the perfect canvas for me to tell stories. The bite of a Telecaster, the cry of a steel guitar, the overall instrumentation and format of country music make a great foundation to build a song on.
If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which two people should sing the ultimate country duet?
~ I think Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris came as close as anyone to the perfect country duet several times, notably on “That’s All It Took”. Johnny Cash and June Carter’s “Jackson” also comes to mind immediately. And anything by George and Tammy would certainly be on the list.
What song you ever recorded means the most to you and why?
~ “The Fat Kid”. As a spokesman and role model for young Americans everywhere – well, me and Justin Bieber-- I feel that it’s important to bring attention to the potential emotional and physical damage that can be brought about by bullying. Adolescents worry so much about “fitting in”, and are quick to ostracize anyone they perceive as being different. Later in life, it’s usually the weirdos and misfits who go on to make a difference in the world…for better or worse.
Who would you like to write a song for you?
~ Given the opportunity to wake the dead, I’d probably go with Harlan Howard. “Three chords and the truth”… that pretty much says it all. There are so many great songwriters out there, it’s really hard to choose. Among the living, I’d be hard-pressed to choose between Tom T. Hall, Tom Russell, Dave Alvin, or Merle Haggard. Having a song written for me by any of them would make me proud.
Whisky wine beer or water?
~ I don’t know of any bars where it’s still served, but laudanum seems like a nice relaxing cocktail. Jagermeister’s been a staple for the past couple of bands I’ve been in, but there’s too much sugar in it for me to drink all the time. I like good Scotch every now and then. To tell the truth, I don’t drink an awful lot these days. At my age, hangovers hurt too much and I don’t enjoy being around drunks as much as I used to. Drunks probably feel the same way about me.
If you could turn back time to make only one change, what would you change?
~ Knowing what I know now, I’d have wasted less time worrying about what other people think. I wish I’d been better about setting specific goals and maintaining the focus to achieve them. Every day brings an opportunity to change the future, but we still waste too much time wishing we could change the past. Time goes by way too fast, and we don’t miss it until it’s gone.
What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and...you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ For some reason, one question I’m never asked is, “How have you managed to retain your youthful good looks and trim physique?” My answer...”Aw shucks, thanks for noticing. I guess I owe it to clean living and good genes.” Then again, I might answer, “What’s that supposed to mean, a**hole?” (I sure hope your readers “get” irony!)
Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ First and foremost, it’s nice to have an engineer who knows how to use the equipment without the smug, condescending attitude that frequently accompanies technical expertise. Likewise, if you’re working with a producer, the producer should be aware of the artists’ strengths and weaknesses and pull the best performance possible out of the artist by accentuating the positive. The studio should be large enough to get good isolation for the drums and vocals, with the right microphones for drums, vocals, acoustic, and electric instruments. The studio should be in a location with a decent variety of restaurants nearby, in a neighborhood where you can go outside and walk around when you need to take a break. The control room should have plenty of comfortable seating for hanging out and mixing. It’s nice when the studio has a wide variety of instruments available for spur-of-the-moment tracks, and extra strings, picks, etc. to avoid lost time from inconveniences like string breaks. It’s also good to have drinks and snacks on hand. To me, the most important thing is a relaxed environment that’s conducive to creativity, where everyone’s comfortable throwing ideas around. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Johnny or June ?
~ It’s tough to pick one or the other, since the sum was greater than the two individual parts. Musically, I’m inclined to go with Johnny. June seems like she’d have been easier to live with. Both families came with bonus members, particularly Mother Maybelle and Roseanne.
What are your top favorite 3 country songs of all time?
~ It’s impossible to limit it to 3, but the first 3 that immediately come to mind are “Return of the Grievous Angel” by Gram Parsons, “El Paso” by Marty Robbins, and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones (written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman).
What was the most memorable day in your musical career and tell us why.
~ I’ve had several, but two are tied for first place…
One was the day I received a letter from Tom T. Hall saying he liked my music and hoped I could make a living at it. When it arrived, I just stared at the envelope with his return address for about five minutes before opening it. This is the guy who wrote “The Year Clayton Delaney Died”, and so many other great songs, taking the time to personally respond to a no-name like me after I sent him a CD. I wonder if he realizes how much that meant to me. That letter is framed on my wall, alongside a banjo head signed by Earl Scruggs, Doug Dillard, John McEuen, and Cia Cherryholmes.
The other happened about 25 years ago. I was playing with a band in a little dive bar in Los Angeles. One night, an older man and woman came in and took a table by the stage. They were having a good time and seemed to be enjoying the band. The man came up and asked if the lady could come up and sing a song or two with the band. More often than not, letting someone from the audience come up and sing can have disastrous results, so I was a little apprehensive. Then the guy asked me, “Have you ever heard of the Maddox Brothers and Rose?” and I said, “Sure, I grew up on Bakersfield music.” Then he said, “Well, that’s Rose Maddox.” She got up and sang a few songs with us, and she was great! So I can say I’ve backed Rose Maddox.
Photographs by: Gregory D. Cook
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Answers given on March 19, 2012