Austin Collins - None of This Is About Music Anyway

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Austin Collins and I used to soundtrack drives around Southwest Colorado with Whiskeytown rarities, Weezer, Robert Earl Keen, and Uncle Tupelo. We were flat mates in Austin, TX during 9/11 (after working in the mountain-guiding world) and for all the fun we had in that house I got to see Collins step down the road that has now led to his third album. When I heard the initial tracks on Wrong Control, I was stunned by how different it sounds from his previous works and how.. mature it is both lyrically and musically. I played it through twice and then listened to it over and over throughout the following weeks. I still do.

I had the chance to interview Austin about the album and his work with the Rainbirds - drummer Craig Bagby and Guitarist Dylan McDougall. The three together have made pop and optimism cool again in Americana. Wrong Control has more edge, more rock, and more wisdom than Collins’ previous albums – Roses are Black (2008) & Something Better (2005). If you are in Austin for SXSW, he’s playing HERE.

You’ve taken what seems to be a distinct and intentional change of direction with Wrong Control- it’s in the sound, the writing, the depth and even the tightness of the band on each track. Speak to how and why? What changed for you?

Well, the tightness comes from all of us playing together for so long now. I say so long as if we’re the Eagles or something, but our three years together have really made a difference. As far as the writing goes, I can only speak for the ones I wrote, but I think in life you have different “eras” or periods, you know? I never want to lose the depth or the edge to the material, because I think that’s what gives art life. But it’s the first time in years I can look back and say I was feeling optimistic. The record has Hope where the first two not so much.

Wrong Control has you singing lead in nearly every song but the album is much more a collaboration with The Rainbirds than just “Austin Collins and his band.” What did you enjoy about this collaborative effort? How was it different from previous albums?

I enjoyed all parts of it. We’re light on drama but we do have some spirited discussions on how to approach songs and who gets to sleep in the coveted back seat of the suburban. We work really well as a unit. I think the major difference on this record is we had a more comfortable approach to recording. This is the same team as we had on Roses (Collin’s second album), so it sort of felt like a reunion – we just picked up where we had left off.

Did you have more mastery over this album as a whole than previous albums? How did this influence the creative process?

I certainly felt more at home. I knew better what to expect and definitely had a certain sound in mind as the goal. In a sense, yes, I had more mastery – the surprises don’t surprise you like they used to. I’m certainly not a veteran, but we were more familiar with how the process develops throughout your time.

You’ve performed solo and with a band – the Rainbirds being your most consistent – even before Something Better. In those various contexts, how have you seen your playing change?

As a solo artist I’ve learned to relax and be myself, you know – no more stage fright. I’ve grown more comfortable connecting with the audience over the years. The stage shouldn’t be a barrier. I’ve grown as a musician, as well, mostly from playing with the band. Dylan and Craig are both excellent musicians and my skills have improved just being around them.

You’ve changed how you use your voice on Wrong Control. There is less country, less twang, less Dylanesque and deeper tones/resonance, more Jay Farrar influence behind the sound. What brought the change? Was that more of Will Johnson’s production decisions or did you write the songs that way?

Most of the vocal change came from the change in melodies I was working with. I wrote the songs that way and I guess I learned how to use my voice in some different ways as well – baby steps. And of course, Will coached me on a lot of things, especially in dynamics, creating a mood with how you sing – even envisioning what the song looks like to sing for that particular feel.

With “Island,” you make an affront to John Donne’s notion that “No man is an Island,” - a verse often used to speak against individualism and independence. How did you come to write this song not just lyrically, but with such a distinct pop-rock sound?

The basic structure [of the album] was already going pop and this one was the perfect song for Will to get a hold of. It’s probably the song that reflects his touch the most. “Island” does address Donne’s statement about the need for community and actually I agree with him, but that doesn’t mean you can’t choose who you are in community with. That was the point I was trying to get across. Here is “Island:”

“Centerpiece” is distinctly different from the rest of the songs on Wrong Control and a slower, mellower end to an otherwise fast, harder over all album. Why did you decide to end the album on this note?

That song seems to allow you to relax a little bit after some somewhat aggressive listening. It’s a thinker - Seemed like the right way to wrap it up.

How are you approaching the marketing and promotion of this album differently than in the past? (Be it more direct connection to fans, or social media, videos, etc)

The use of social media is pretty much required these days for marketing anything. The good thing about social media is that everyone can go as far as they want to with it. I was pretty resistant to the Facebook thing at first, but I found it to be a very natural way to connect with fans and friends. I have regular email conversations with people all over the country that I’ve gotten to know through music and otherwise. Besides that we’re giving away a lot of music and trying to get people who dig it to tell their friends.

“Worn” has the marking of a man in love far past the honeymoon yet still hopeful. And though drummer Craig Bagby wrote it, you sing it as if it is your own. How has the married life shaped you and your writing? And to connect the two, how has your writing shaped you in your marriage?

”Worn” is a song that anybody who’s ever been in a relationship can relate to. Everybody gets that “I’m sick of all of it” moment. The cool thing is that Craig’s protagonist sticks it out. I wrote a lot about relationships in my previous work. I think I’ve taken all of that trash out now, though, for the most part. Marriage has taught me that life goes on, so I think my songs reflect that now too.

You’ve managed to stay relatively close to home – Houston, and nearly 14 years in Austin, TX. Why?

Austin’s the only city I could live in Texas, so I guess that’s the main factor. My family is in Houston so it’s a good compromise. And being here for so long now and made so many great friends I don’t see myself leaving any time soon.

What have you learned about your self in staying so close to home and family?

I’ve learned that it’s much better to have people who love and support you only two hours away. I’ve also learned that a two-hour drive can become a barrier and an excuse if you let it be.

When 9/11 happened you lost your job a few days after the event. This time seems to have been somewhat catalytic in you giving your self more to your songwriting, and thus your current music career. How do you look back at that time? Do you think you would be releasing your 3rd album if things had stayed the way they were on 9/10?

I look back at that time fondly and remember how much fun we all had living together. Most of us were young, dumb, and freshly unemployed. It was almost like a second round of college. That time was certainly a turning point. Losing my job after 9/11 set me on a path to meet up with the people who would guide me into music. Ultimately I can’t be sure of what might have been, but I wouldn’t change anything. None of this is really about music anyway.

To find out more about Austin Collins and to buy Wrong Control go to
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