Last week Americana Highways stopped to talk with Texas singer-songwriter Red Shahan. Based in Fort Worth, Red recently made his major label debut on 7013 Records with Culberson County, which we reviewed here at AH (click these words in bold to read). We talked about family, Texas influences, and, of course, music.
I started by asking Red about the move to a major label. Although Red is “proud of how far we took Men and Coyotes [the independent label he previously released records on], seeing as it was pretty grassroots and everything, moving to the [major] label status was a very necessary step, and we definitely have seen the potential that’s come from it and everything that they’ve done for us.”
Were there any challenges in working at a new level? “The only challenge that presented itself,” Red told me, “was having to wait a year to release the album.” (laughs) Red went on to say, “But it was the right move to sit on it and wait until it was the right time for everybody to put their full focus on it, and it definitely shows. It was worth the wait.”
I asked Red about the Texas musicians that influenced him coming up. Immediately, he identified Waylon Jennings. Red was also eager to credit the current Texas music scene, naming Brandon Adams, Grady Spencer, and Charlie Shaster as some of his contemporary favorites.
Delving further into influences, I noted that Red’s mother, Kim Smith, sang on one of the songs on the album. We spoke about his mother, who raised him as a single parent. Kim, Red says, “wasn’t a professional musician by any means, but she sang at church.” When Red got around to picking up the instrument, his mom “taught me my first couple chords on the guitar.” And, of course, much of his early exposure to music came through his mother’s music. Interestingly, these records included the Indigo Girls, Patty Griffin, and Kathy Mattea.
Following up on Red’s comment about his mother singing in church, I asked how faith and church music affected his own music. Unlike many country artists, Red says, “We didn’t grow up immersed in the church. We sang in church but we never really had to go.” Red told me that he’s “not afraid to admit that we didn’t go to church much growing up.”
If you’ve heard Culberson County, and you should, you know that the vistas of Texas tell their own stories in Red Shahan’s music. I asked Red if there were particular experiences he’d had that helped him write the songs on the album, and he told me that a lot of the songs came out of small-town living in Bluff Dale, about an hour southwest of Fort Worth.
Given his travels all over the state, I asked Red about his favorite places, about places people might not know not about. He answered, “It’s not about the little towns, it’s not about the big towns, it’s about the places in between, and there are a lot of really cool people. If the people are welcoming and make you feel at home, that’s where the secrets and the haunts are in Texas. If you get off the beaten path or you need help; when you get miles down the road, that’s when you’re going to meet someone else with an interesting story. I think that goes for any state in the United States. It’s something you’ve got to look out for for yourself, you can’t find it in a travel guide and hit up SeaWorld San Antonio. You can’t just go with what is laid out for you. You’ve got to find your own path.”
Is being based out of Texas harder than being based out of Nashville? “Nah, everything is just a plane trip away. Most of our market is in Texas.”
Over the years, many musicians, most famously Willie Nelson, have left Nashville to return to Texas. Many of those artists have been defined by an attitude that “didn’t fit in” in Nashville. I asked Red if he saw a difference in attitudes between Nashville and Texas.
“Well,” Red told me, “ I think Texas people are really down to Earth, and I think Tennessee people are really down to Earth. It’s just a matter of what group of people you find yourself in. As far as attitude, I don’t think there’s any difference between Texas and Tennessee, I think it’s all a matter of the company you keep.”
Red and I talked about his music and his songwriting. I brought up his collaboration with Brent Cobb. Red described Brent as a “very like-minded person. He’s very down to earth. He’s somebody I would enjoy hanging out and drinking a beer with. That’s what it takes for me to sit and write with someone else. I’m not in it for any delusions of grandeur or anything like that or my gold ticket. I don’t have the “want-to” to write with just anybody. I really like to keep it on the standard of friendship.”
I asked Red what he wants to communicate with his songs going forward. Red told me that he wants to “just keep writing music that’s honest, stuff that we enjoy, and the music that we want to write and put out. I never cater to any certain kind of genre or market or sales pitch, or anything like that. We just want to keep doing what we do and we want to enjoy each other’s company.”
What are your goals in the next few years? “In five years, I would like for everybody in the band to have their houses paid off. I would like to be touring all over the world, and I would just like to be happy, whatever that might be.” We hope so too! For more about Red Shahan, and his latest release, check here. http://www.redshahan.com/