“Under The Radar” is a regular feature on the Texas Music Scene where our official blogger, singer/songwriter/journalist Mike Ethan Messick, shines the spotlight on a deserving but lesser-known artist. Some of these subjects are just getting started and might be tomorrow’s headliner (or Texas Music Scene star); some are music veterans who’ve earned admirers around the state and around the world while taking the road less traveled. All of them well worth a look & listen, enjoy.
On his hard-to-find (well, not if you have iTunes) but well-worth-it debut album, Chris Edwards sets the table for what will hopefully be a long career by introducing listeners to his grasp of lyrical detail, emotional intimacy, and regular-guy relatability. It’s an imaginative, poetic world that Edwards writes in but it’s brought nicely down to earth by his spare meloides and wry, raspy-but-full voice. Staking out musical ground somewhere in the neighborhood of Texas folk singers like Sam Baker and Slaid Cleaves, Edwards has all the goods to be a subtle standout once his music gets beyond the handful of friends and ground-floor fans who’ve already heard him. Here’s more on him from the guy himself.
In your own words, describe your sound.
I’m not sure how to put a good, user-friendly (i.e. marketable) genre tag on my sound, I guess the eclecticism combined with the twang and subject matter puts me squarely in the “Americana” and “Texas music/Texas country” camps in most folks’ eyes and ears, but I will say that it’s a fusion of old-timey and singer-songwriter-y influences and sound filtered through a stew that has chunks of blues, rock n’ roll and good ol’ country in it.
Where are you based out of?
Behind the Pine Curtain of Nacogdoches, land of virgin pines and tall women.
What are some of your favorite and/or most frequently played venues?
There’s so many that I love darkening the doors of, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll go with Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, The Pine Knot Music Co-Op and Banita Creek Hall in Nacogdoches, and Fitzwilly’s in College Station, all of which are great venues with great folks who work and hang out in them. I love all the history behind Cheatham Street and feel honored to walk in there even when I’m not playing there. The monthly Pine Knot show is one of the coolest things in Nacogdoches and John “Nacogdoches Red” Hazlewood does such a great job of fostering local talent and bringing in great people to play there. There’s such a nurturing atmosphere at Banita and Fitzwilly’s crowds are always fun.
Name a couple of career highlights, so far.
Seems like there’s been more missed opportunities than highlights, thus far, but hopefully that’ll change soon. Even though it sounds strange, I feel a little flattered at what transpired a year or so ago with one of my songs. Don’t know if you’d call it a “highlight,” but a commercial jingle writer stole my song “Flaxen Memories” for a camera commercial. It wasn’t a major, national ad campaign or anything, but through happenstance I caught it. Though I was plenty pissed and I nipped that monkey business in the bud, looking back I guess if I wrote a song someone wanted to rip-off, let alone found, it must be at least a decent tune.
Back to missed opportunities, I firmly believe that things fall into places for reasons and if one wants something bad enough, it will happen. There’s been some failed TV appearance and licensing-type stuff that probably wasn’t meant to be, and also a song that was supposed to be on an “up and coming” young singer’s album but due to record label politics fell through. The record flopped anyway, so maybe that tune was meant for bigger things (knocks on wood).
What music do you have out already, and what’s coming in the near future?
The new one, The Winter Garden, is out wherever digital music is sold, including the bad-arse Texas music retailer Ourtracks. Hopefully, soon, it’ll be out physically. I’ve also got the songs for the new album, The Drifter’s Prayer, ready to record, which hopefully will start this spring. There’s also the self-recorded, super lo-fi album Long Hard Ride, which hopefully I’ll re-record or clean up someday. I’ve still got a few copies of that left. I usually tell people at shows when I’ve got ‘em with me the price is negotiable: throw a bit of cash my way or a couple of cold beers, either/or. You can also buy the Midnight Town EP off me at a show, which features five songs off the full-length Winter Garden album.
If someone’s only gonna buy one song of yours … where to start?
I’m terrible at hyping up my own work, but recently I was hanging out with my former lead guitarist in Austin and he said that when he tries to turn folks on to my music, he generally points them to two songs, “Flaxen Memories” and “Bobby Driscoll’s Blues,” both of which are on my recent album The Winter Garden. The former is a very special song for me and I really don’t play it often. I wrote it about my grandmother the winter she passed on. It’s probably one of the best things, in my mind, that I’ve written, along with “Across Three Hills,” which hasn’t been recorded yet, but will be on the next one. So, yeah, I’d say “Flaxen Memories” is the place to start.
Name some of your main influences as a songwriter/musician.
There’s so many, it seems. I don’t listen to a whole lot of music, other than what my friends put out and bands I enjoy going to see, but artists like Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Johnny Cash, Doc Watson, the Carter Family and Mississippi John Hurt are artists who I dearly, dearly love. Outside of music, there are a few literary writers who’ve influenced the way I write, namely Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas and William Faulkner. I guess the more recent influences on my music are folks like Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams, Matt Harlan and Country Willie Edwards. There’s also lots of other artists I don’t give nearly enough credit to that have influenced me. I spent a lot of time, like any teenager in the early-to-mid 90s listening to a lot of punk rock and what we kiddos then called “grunge.” Lots of Alice in Chains, Black Flag, Toadies, Pixies, etc. Still listen to a lot of those bands. It took my first couple of years in college and a jazz addiction to head me back in the direction of country blues, then old-time music and then Texas country and later the folk music I grew up listening to.
Who have you played more song swaps or co-bill with that anyone else?
That’d probably be my old buddy Jeremy Reagan. I miss playing music with that guy. He’s living in Europe now. There’s several other folks that I love playing shows with, but don’t get to often enough. There’s lots of other folks I’ve shared stages with from time-to-time that I’d really love the chance to pick with again who I don’t even see often enough. Matt Harlan comes to mind, but also some folks I’ve met more recently like Josh Boyles, Austin Mayse and Mickey Souza, all of whom are amazingly talented musicians and songwriters that I can’t help but feel inspired every time I see/hear ‘em, let alone share a stage with ‘em.
If a fan’s buying you a drink … what’ll it be?
I’ve cut down on my drinking quite a bit the last few years, but I can always use something that’s cold and of the Shiner persuasion before, during or after a gig. I also like to have at least one shot of whiskey before I sing. I wouldn’t call my voice “smooth” by any means, but the whiskey smooths out at least some of those rough edges. Works every time!
Name a couple of people you’d like to publicly thank for helping you in your career.
There’s so many cool people who’ve helped me out in ways they probably don’t even realize. I’ve had the great privilege to play with a great many talented musicians, whether it be people who’ve backed me up or other singer/songwriters who took a gamble and wanted to share the stage with me. Props to all of ‘em, but also to all of the radio programmers who have taken a chance on my music, and all the ones who will (hopefully) also do so in the future, and all the bar, club, coffee shop, etc. owners and talent buyers who’ve had me grace their venues or events. A couple of folks I really want to name-drop here (though it seems like I’ve already done quite a bit of that) are Cara and Daniel Miller from Radio Free Texas, Jimmy Taylor who co-produced and engineered my record and was nothing but supportive and understanding to my music.
What’s one of the strangest gigs you’ve ever played?
I’ve played music for all sorts of audiences, from biker crowds to chin-stroking pseudo intellectuals to nursing home residents, none of whom have thrown bottles, rotten vegetables or whatever else toward me…yet; so I guess they’ve all dug something they heard, but I’d have to say that the strangest gig I’ve ever played was at a party for residents of a state school who were having a day out at the lake that was on the property. Most of the folks there were pretty into what I was playing, but one of them had an attraction, you might say, to my guitarist. She was getting very friendly with him, um, invading his “bubble,” I guess to put it in a genteel way, yet he didn’t miss a note. Another guy there kept howling in response to my harmonica solos. The faster I’d play, the louder he’d howl.
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