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Thirty Minutes With A Texas Troubadour - Brandon Rhyder

by Haley Forehand; photos by Todd Purifoy

Of all of the brains that I might get the opportunity to pick in this business, there are very few souls who I have found more intriguing than Brandon Rhyder. To say that he didn’t let me down in my preconceived ideas of the man before I has the great privilege of sitting across the table from him discussing why he loves this music, how he deals with fatherhood and the road, and what it is like to truly be a country boy at heart would be a gross understatement. And on a hot August evening over a couple of Bud Lights, and the sound of a pool table in the background, I listened as he talked about everything from his new infant daughter to the secrets of life on the road, and came away with an even greater appreciation for this man who makes some of the most soulful music in the business.

We’re here in lovely San Angelo, Texas tonight, it’s a hot evening in August at Blaine’s Pub, and I’m here talking with Brandon Rhyder. How are you feeling about being here tonight?

Brandon Rhyder by Todd PurifoyEvery time I come to Blaine’s, I’ve just gotta walk in and eat peanuts and drink beer right off the bat, you know?  I mean it’s that kind of place. This is a homey place, it feels like home when you walk in. So many great artists have played here over the years, and you can see all of their pictures on the walls, all of the neons [motioning to the walls]. It’s just a really, really cool place to be and to play, and you know if you sell it out you’re packing 250 people in here, it’s not like it’s a big place. But it’s a wonderful, fun place, and you know what, we love San Angelo and continue to build our audience out here. I think it’s cool to keep doing venues like this. To keep playing smaller venues at times, when you know you could play another venue that might be larger, but just to have that fan interaction, to have ‘em right up there so close to the stage.  And this stage is so small. We put a five piece band up here, and I’ve heard they’ve put as many as 7 or 8 pieces up there before, and man, that would be hard to imagine, without ‘em stacking on top of each other!

One of the coolest things about this bar is that when Blaine (Martin) sold out a couple of years back, the new management really tried to preserve that original atmosphere that he had created. The greats, both past and present are still hanging around on the walls, along with pictures of things which may or may not have happened here, but if you didn’t know that it changed ownership, you might never know it.

Oh, absolutely, I agree with that. Blaine was great, and great to us, and I think that this is one of the coolest places in Texas, no doubt.

I definitely sometimes prefer this crowd here of 200 to one of, say, 2000 because you do get that intimate fan/artist interaction and it works really well.

Yeah, it does work really well.

Well, on to some new and exciting things...You’ve got a lot to be excited about these days, but first and foremost, the most exciting, let’s talk about your new baby girl.

Absolutely, yes, Mahala Grace, she’s almost two months old now, and it’s just so hard to believe that she could almost be two months. It just goes so fast, and you know [you and I] just sitting here talking, before we started recording, Dusty came 2 ½ years ago, and it just doesn’t seem possible that he could be 2 ½ years old, but they grow up so fast, and I’m telling you, and people always told me, that when you have the second one, it’s just completely different! They just kind of fall in line, and it’s like “all right, we’ve got another mouth to feed, come on let’s go!”  And that’s exactly the truth. But she’s [Mahala] beautiful, and she’s healthy and she’s filling out right now. She’s really getting that beautiful baby look to her. It’s a lot of fun right now, Mama’s got her hands full, and thank goodness for great parents and in-laws to help us out when I’m gone so much. It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s my family. You know, we always said we were gonna have two, and I think both of us, after having our second child-and I don’t think, I know-we looked at each other the other night, and we were like “this is it, this is it, we’re done!  Two is enough for me, but they’re beautiful.

Awesome. Well, I know, having listened to you before Mahala came along, how evident it is that your family, and especially your son, Dusty, influence you in all you do and in your writing. I guess she’s putting her own little stamp on things.

Absolutely. We released “Pea Pie,” a song that I wrote in anticipation of her.  The day she was born, in June, we released that on MySpace.  I don’t know why we put hidden tracks on every record, but on our brand new record that comes out August 19th, called “Every Night” it’s the hidden track. You know, [pauses] records-I call ‘em records, and I call them that because it is a record of where you were at that time, especially artistry wise, if you’re a songwriter. I think, you know what?  It changes. Everything changes you know, it’s not all party all the time anymore. I gotta get home, and I gotta help Mama out, and help the kids, help take care of the kids and spend that time with them too, so obviously paying attention to that, it has affected my writing. And I think that’s been a positive thing-a really positive thing.

Absolutely.

You know what, being a father is one of the most glorious things that you could ever wish for as a male human being. To have my son and my daughter, it’s given me more purpose to survive, to succeed, to be driven. It’s given me a lot more purpose, and I think that’s because it’s unconditional love, and that’s something that we rarely ever get.

My husband and I have a long-running joke, that you know “this is a lot easier to forgive in a two year old than it is in a spouse!” 

And it’s a tricky part of the entire psyche, when it comes to figuring that out. When you have that first child and you look in their eyes, you feel that love. It’s a love that you’ve never felt before and that’s okay, you know?  It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your spouse [laughing] any more or any less, you know, it’s just a different kind of love.

Well, talking about that song [“Pea Pie”], it’s obviously inspired by your baby girl, but it’s more interesting than just that. It is written from the perspective of a man looking back on his daughter’s life, and at the things that she goes through becoming an adult. As a parent myself, I often find myself on that same line of thought, although those things obviously haven’t happened yet. Why did you chose this rout for writing this song?

Well, it was because of how quickly Dusty’s already growing, and that he was already almost 2 ½ when she was born, and I just looked back and thought, “man, we were bringing him home yesterday.”  And now with her coming, I know how busy you get, and I often have this conversation with people. You know I feel like the problem is, we get so busy, we get so busy with life that we don’t slow down, and we don’t sit on the front porch and enjoy each other’s company any more. We’ve always got this to do, or that to do, or X-box to play, or TV to watch, I mean there’s so many different things that can get in the way. And for me, you know, with the kids, I don’t want that to happen, but I see that happening. I know that she is going to, quicker than I want to ever, ever imagine, be dating, and then there’s gonna be a guy who by God better come ask if he can marry my daughter!  I see those things, and it’s no different that writing “Freeze Frame Time” for Dusty. It was just in anticipation, maybe looking a little bit further down the road than this point.                                                              

In talking about that song...earlier this past year we went to Steamboat. That was the first time I left my own son for more than a few days, and I’ve gotta say I had a really hard time with it. It got me thinking about all of you guys with families back home and how hard it must be to leave. Where does your inner strength for that come from?

Ummm. Well, leaving’s hard, there’s no doubt about it. I did it today, and it’s always tough. But, they come of age, and they understand that you have to do this, it’s not something that you just choose to leave and not be home for three or four days. But Dusty, you know, he has this thing, I say, “all right, Daddy has gotta leave tomorrow.”  We start talking about it three or four days in advance. I say, “Daddy has to go play guitar, and it’s gonna be four sleeps until I get back home.”  He’s like, “oh, Daddy’s gotta go play guitar, Daddy plays guitar loud!”  You know, he gets it, he understands it. Leaving is by far the hardest part, but coming home is grand. And that’s the thing, we go through stretches, especially with the new record coming out. We’re really in a tough spot here for the next month and a half, two months, promoting this record. Doing “in-stores,” doing radio-runs, playing gigs, all of those things that it is tough, but most of the time, I get to spend three or four days a week solid with them. I get to wake up with them, I get to eat breakfast with them, lunch with them, feed them dinner, make them dinner, put them to bed, bathe them, and then start all over the next day. Everybody’s got to have a job. I love what I do, and I get away with it. And I think it’s a blessing that I get to do what I get to do because it’s not a job to me. You know I’ve never one time during this entire experience said, “Man, I’ve got to go to work tomorrow, and I don’t want to do that. I’m lucky, I’m blessed. I’ve got a great family, a great group of supporters around us, we’re growing and I get to do what I get to do, which is my passion in life, so it’s a blessing. It really is.

My dad always told me that’s the secret of life. Getting to do what you want to do, and getting to do it for the rest of your life.

I was always told the same thing, but it was put as, if you can do it for free, okay?  Well, I have done this job for free. You know there was a large stretch of time, especially between 2001 and 2005 when we started out where, you know definitely, we’d come home at the end of the weekend, and that’s even when gas wasn’t sky high, like it is now by any stretch, but I would tell my wife, Kelly, “you know after the weekend, after everybody got paid, after you know all of the bills got paid, the hotel room”-we’d pile in four or five guys in one hotel room and sleep all over the place. “After gas, and after everything, I got forty bucks, baby.”  Or, “we’re in the hole.”  So, I think that’s part of it, a lot of people get into this business and want to think that, “hey man, we’re gonna be rock stars in a year or two if we get a record out.”  It takes a long time, longevity is the name of the game in this unless you get selected very early in age-which happens to very few people. You have to work for anything you get in life. It’s part of it.

You know, I find it interesting that so many people talk about you as an over night success, when clearly you have done more than your fair share of hard work in this business. It blows my mind.

We’ve put in our years, but it’s been a relatively short time. For a lot of people, they consider that, and they say that because they just met us. They just heard us within the last two or three years, and they’re like “we never knew about this guy” and so, “ he’s an over-night success.”  That’s fine. That’s fine by me, I have no qualms or problems about that. We have put in our time and I know that I have specifically woke up many a night, or many a mornin’ [laughs] wondering what the hell I was doing. I know that there have been family members who have spoken to me privately about it, wondering when I was gonna get out of this phase. But over the last three years, they’ve realized that it’s not a phase, that it’s something that I’m doing. And with my publishing deal in Nashville that I signed last year, and with all of the things, the way that they’re rolling, and our fan base increasing. And you know, music is at a different point right now. Music is at-this is a very strange moment in music, and I promise you, when you look back on this 30 years from now it’s gonna be a significant change in the business, this period of time. You know, basically at this point in time, we’re lucky enough to be the record label. And lucky enough to have tools, like the internet, which includes our websites, and MySpace and itunes and Our Tracks. And this. [Points to recorder.] Exactly what we’re doing right here. And so we’re able to go out there and build a fan base that is built through more of a grass roots effort, but it’s able to grow faster. And also because of radio, and print allowing us to do this. The Texas and the Red Dirt scene is completely different from anything else in the world. We [you and I] know that [motining back and forth.]  But we have an opportunity to do this, and so basically I started a new record label this year, called Reserve Records. My new record is on that, and we have distribution. We’re going to be in every store, nationwide. You can find us anywhere. You can find us on the internet. We’re branching out further and further, as far as out of state to play shows. And it really is the satisfaction of that, that we’re building from within. Now on the flip-side of that, if we found the right record deal, and the right players in the game that could promote us the way that we feel like we can be promoted, knowing that we would have to bend somewhat, and they to, we would be more than willing to do that.  And hopefully we’ll find that player in the game. But if not, [smiles] this isn’t such a bad life. It’s pretty good. It’s pretty good.
           
Well, let’s talk a little bit about that new record...you all shot the first video of the new single, “This Ain’t It” at Gilley’s a few days ago in Dallas. How’d it go?

Yes, Gilley’s Dallas. It was wonderful, and I can’t believe it’s almost already been a week ago, and it has. It was really cool, my first video experience. [takes a long pause] I’m not used to the makeup and all of that stuff!  We started at like 11:00 in the morning, so by the time the crowd got there - which they were absolutely phenomenal and made the night what it should have been- I was tired, I think everybody was tired. But it was wonderful. And, that was the live portion of this. Now next week, on Tuesday I go to Houston and we will start recording the performance side of it as far as the story line of it. And I get to act as myself, so hopefully that won’t be too much trouble. And I’ve got a beautiful counterpart, a friend of ours whose going to act with us on this, and do the story line. And this video, I’m telling ya’, it’s going to be top notch. We’re not gonna come in and try to throw out a video that’s not TV worthy. So we feel like we’ve got the commitment on that side of it as well. If we bring a product that’s worthy, I feel like we’ll get the major spin off of that.

That’s another aspect of it.

Exactly. Years ago you could have never dreamed about having those opportunities. And we’re doing this as independents. It’s a pretty cool life, it’s not bad. Now I’m not saying, ‘never, never,’ you know with a record label, but the further that I get into my career-I thought, and had hoped that maybe it would have happened two or three years ago. Maybe that with “Conviction,” you know, that someone would have seen what we were doing, and really said “All right, I can see this, it’s different, but it’s still mainstream enough that we can put it out there.”  And to this point it hasn’t happened yet, and so I’m getting more and more in the mind set that you know, if it doesn’t happen, I can work with that. And we can still have a hell of a career, and be really great at this, and still sell out a lot of venues.

Brandon Rhyder by Todd PurifoyAnd you are doing that.

We are doing that, but we still have a long way to grow. I’m that guy. My guys tell me that when I die, on my headstone it’s gonna say that I was just trying to get - just going to the next level. And that’s what we always work for, to try to get to the next level. I think this record is gonna help us get there, no doubt.           

Well, you worked with a pretty good country music man on this record.

Yeah, Radney Foster produced this record for us. When I met Radney, I met him through a mutual friend of ours, and it wasn’t Randy Rogers. Everybody thinks that it was, and Randy’s a great friend of mine, but you know he was so busy at that point, he couldn’t really help us out with that. But a mutual friend of Radney’s and mine got us together for dinner one night. When I gave him “Conviction” he told me that he had already seen the record. It had been given to him, but he had not listened to it. So through that I gave him another record and we started this process that has lasted the last  year and a half, two years, of starting to write together and record this record.

Talk about the recording process.

We recorded this record over three sessions, which started in February of 07. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that, where we recorded in three different spots. But I think in the end we made a better record because we did that. Although, there are songs that got bumped in the end, that don’t need to be left out...they don’t need to be forgotten. I’ve already talked to my guys about maybe doing an acoustic record within the next year, called “Songs that we Missed.”  I mean, we’ve got another record, or two worth of material.

Which is great, isn’t it?  Better to have too much material?

It is, and then there are songs that, and not because they are not good songs, but they get left out. And a lot of people think, “Well, that song didn’t make it because it wasn’t good enough.”  That’s not true. A lot of times you have to look at the flow of a record, and say, “well, I’ve already got this, that kind of mirrors that, and so we don’t need to put that there.”  And I look at, very much so, the flow of the record. And I’ve put together the list-one through twelve-I’ve done it on every record I’ve ever done, five now. And, you know what?  It’s very important for me for that record to flow in and out from one song to the next, and I’m pretty hard-headed when it comes to setting it up the way that I think it should be.

Do you bring that same kind of thought process when it comes to putting together your set list?

Well, unfortunately for my band, they never know!  Okay, we have like a generic set list that we go off of, I will move things around every night. As we’re on the bus, I will look at the set list and say “you know what, this felt better here last night, let’s do this.”  But then, you know, it’s always...

Just whatever comes next?

Yeah, I’ll turn around in the middle of a song and yell something at ‘em, they’ll be like “what!!”[I’ll say] “Next song, this!...” you know, but that’s the way it has to be because you’re working with an audience here. When you’re performing, if you feel them getting too far one way or the other, it’s nice to pull them back into the show. Because, they’re out having a good time too, they’re drinking most of the time, partying it up and having a blast and so, that’s one aspect of it. On the other side of it, I love to bring a show to an absolute eclipse, three or four times during a show, and then slam it right back down, and do a ballad.

It keeps everyone kind of focused.

Yeah, bring ‘em right back down, and say “all right, that was fun wasn’t it? Buy here we go, listen to this.”  And, it doesn’t always work, and the set list changes often.

Awesome. Well, I know that you have said before that you want people to believe you, believe what you are saying and singing about. And, you know, they absolutely do. To me it’s kind of like people from around here and people that know first hand what you’re talking about can say, “hey these songs are really lived in.”  But then other people, those who may have no idea what a “back road” even is still love that song [“Back Roads”], and are still drawn to that song because of your conviction singing it, and because of the way the lyrics are crafted and the song delivered. Where inside does that come from, is it truly your God-given talent?

Thank you. It is, and I’m thankful for it, but at the same time it is something that I think was instilled in me by my parents and my grandparents. And I think it’s something, you know...like when you’re born and raised a country boy, you get taught to work hard. You get taught that you get what you work for, and you’re taught that when you’re gonna do something, you do it right the first time. Don’t settle for anything else, and for me, getting on that stage, I can’t give any less than the maximum every night. And that hurts me sometimes too, because my voice will get tired by the end of the weekend or something, but I just don’t know how to do it any different. And that’s-I think-that’s because it’s from my heart and my soul. I was put on this planet to write and to play music.

It is easy to see. I love that kids who aren’t yet out of high school are just diggin’ your music, and it reaches up and out to people our parents’ ages, and even beyond that, and that is an amazing thing, to produce something that is that timeless, and without age limits, and to me that is why music exists. It reaches out to people from every angle and means something completely different to each of them.

If we continue to pay attention as fans of music, and I’m not talking about myself [as a musician.]  I’m talking as a fan-from a fan’s perspective, myself. If we continue to pay attention to music, and continue to listen, and understand what the words say, that’s the important thing. I feel like we live in such a “fast-food” time, right now, that it all has to be, sometimes for some people, excuse my french, but ‘titties and beer.’  And it’s just not that way all the time. I mean it’s fun to go out and have a good time, but man, listen to this [points to his band warming up] it’s just different. And we all go through different phases in our life, and we do have a great fan base that is young, that is that teen age, and we love them. But I also love the fact that, you know, someone can come to my show and say “hey, this is my dad, and I introduced him to your music.”  And if we can make music, as artists, that crosses those boundaries, but doesn’t take it too far maybe one way or another...for a parent to say “can a child listen to this?” or for a kid to say, “this is old fogey, I don’t like this!”  But, you know, kids think their parents are cool, for the most part.

Yeah, they do and then...

Then there’s that little short spot!  You know what, I have two now. And I just think we need to shoot ‘em straight, you know?  Tell ‘em the way it is. I don’t hold anything back, and that’s also gotten me in trouble before too. I believe in honesty, and that’s part of our music. Honesty, and the purity of it. Heart and soul.

How has the relationship with Harlan Howard been?  Successful?

Well, it’s a different aspect, a different game. I don’t have a big hit, yet. We’ve had a couple of holds. It’s been one of those things that-you know, it takes a while to get a song cut. People in Nashville, as much as we want to think in Texas, and in the record scene, that they know exactly what we’re doing-and care-they really don’t. They’re so engrossed in their game, and in the mainstream game. Once you get introduced into the fold, which, if you’ve ever been up and down music row, there is a million different publishing companies. Everybody’s got three or four, or fifteen or twenty or thirty. So, it’s one of those things, where it takes a while to get acclimated to it. It’s a completely different scene. I think it’s gonna be part of my future. I think it will always be. They picked me up for my second year option, so I think that’s a good sign. But at the same time, it’s different. I’ve co-written more than I ever have before, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing, because I’ve also learned from each co-writing experience. When you go in it’s like someone would phrase something different than I would have or they would play a different chordal progression than I would have. And that’s really cool, you know it’s awesome. So you know, to try to answer your question, I think I’m still getting my feet wet. I don’t know what the total answer is, I think that it could be a really cool thing. And a lot of times, you know, Harlan Howard, himself, from the time he wrote a song until the time it got cut could take an average of eight years. We’re talking about a man who had a number one hit in every decade since 1950. Nothing happens overnight, and we have to continue to work for it, and I continue to fly back and forth and do writing up there-and then writing also on the road, on the bus and at home and such. Would I ever move there?  I don’t know that. I love it here. Austin is my home. I don’t know that I would ever take my family out of our surroundings here with our family close. It’s definitely ‘where the store’s at’, as I call it. It’s the future. It’s the future for us.

It is definitely a ‘next step’ as you are always striving for.

Well, I mean, look at our friends, you know and that’s something that we’ve gotta talk about. A lot of people in this scene, when you get to that point where you do get to that next level-you know Pat Green, Jack Ingram, you know, Cross Canadian, Randy Rogers Band, Eli Young, now. All of those guys are friends of mine, and all of ‘em have fought tooth and nail for everything that they’ve gotten. I mean it just comes a point in time where it turns. You are trying to feed more than just your mouth. You’re trying to take care of more than just yourself, and you can never agree with every decision that everybody makes. They’re just trying to get to the next level. They’re just trying to do the next thing to help themselves out. I really hate it when I hear people rag on Pat, or Randy, you know any of the guys, Jack, you know. I mean those guys are great guys, and they’re not selling out to you. They’re trying to take your music that you love so much to the next level. I love it, man, I’m just so proud for Jack, recently, getting this award, he’s worked his butt off.

He has, and it’s a way to bring this kind of music, as you said, to an even bigger audience.  The rest of the world has no idea what is going on here in what we call the “Red Dirt,” “Red River,” “Texas Country,” “Alt Country,” whatever you want to call it, but it is a mystery to most of the rest of the world.

And they don’t give a shit, they don’t.

And, they don’t get it. They can listen to it, but they don’t get it, and that’s what these guys are doing. They are going out there and bringing this music, “our” music out to the rest of the listening audience, and they’re doing it well, and have been accepted for the most part.

Any time you want to say, “so and so sold out, or they’re not here”, or whatever, you know, Pat’s a great example man, he can pack a bunch of houses all over the entire country now. You know it’s part of it. It’s just the way it is. I’ve always loved this music, I’ve always been a fan, and will continue to be a fan. I don’t know if I say all of this because I foresee it in the future for myself. I hope to get that opportunity. And if we do, great. And if not, well, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing, working our butts off. [Smiles] I think we’ll get that chance, though.

I hope so. You have said that you were searching for your place, do you think that you’ve found it?

I do. I’m very comfortable in my own skin right now, and a lot of that has to do with my family, my wife and my two kids, and I feel like I have structure. I think any time when you’re in your twenties-now that I’m in my thirties-you know, you’re searching. Your trying to figure out, “what am I supposed to do?” and I think it’s really a shame that we try to-well, the twenties are a time to try to figure it out. It’s no different for me. I woke up and I was thirty, and I said, “all right, this is what you got, this is where you are, this is who you are. And so I am very comfortable. And I think that also started out in 2005 with Walt Wilkins telling me “Do what you do, man, you’re good at this. You’ve got good stuff, do what you do.”  And so it made me feel more at ease with myself, and funny thing is...2005, “Conviction” comes out, I have two records previously. Those records weren’t successful, because I was trying to fit into something that I didn’t fit into. And now, I’m happy, you know?  I’m who I am. I think that shows through in the writing, and I’m not a writer of just one genre of music. I think my stuff, and I’ve said this often, that it has country roots, but at the same time, I’m all over the musical board.

It smudges the borders quite a bit.

Well, that’s country. I mean I had this question yesterday, “what makes your music country?” Well, I have a steel in the band. You know, that makes me country [smiles]. I don’t know what it is, I think I have country roots. I’m a country boy, you know, I’m not an all-out cowboy, I salute those guys who do those things, but I am a country boy at heart.

You sound like you’ve got things pretty much figured out, you’re doing awesome, and have no where to go but up and for great things.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. New record out, August 19th, it’s called “Every Night.”  Thirteen tracks on this record, I’m so proud of this record from top to bottom, I mean to have a follow-up record to “Conviction,” which was the one that put us on the mark. With songs like “Freeze Frame Time,” and “Man of Conviction,” and “Let the Good Times Roll.”  There were so many songs on that record. We had four singles, but I think we could have had six or seven, but it just kind of ran its course, you know, in a couple of years. I knew this record had to be something that I could totally build with. It matters not about anybody approving of it, other than I had to listen to it. I’m my own harshest critic. As an artist I get scared about-we all get scared about these things. You know, how are we gonna do this record, is it gonna do okay, is it gonna get there, is this gonna help us get to another level. But every time I listen to it, I say, “this is what I meant to do.”  At the end of the day, that’s all that matters, and I can listen to this, and I hope that people accept it for the record that it is, but I have to say, “I meant to do this-this is what I was doing.” I’m excited for it. I love it.

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