Kevin Fowler delivered a brand new album called How Country Are Ya earlier this month, a collection that has the singer coming full circle. On his own Kevin Fowler Records, the set was produced by Ken Tondre and recorded from his home in Austin, Texas. Boasting 15 all-original tracks, the album taps into a creative energy he simply wasn't able to uncover through his previous record deals. Free from the constraints of mainstream radio and corporate executives, Fowler delivers one of the year's finest sets.
The album's title track and lead single recently went No. 1 on the Texas music chart, his 11th song to do so. Following this achievement, NashvilleGab caught up with the singer-songwriter to chat about this new chapter in his life, what it means to be a Texan and what fans can find on the record.
How country are you?
I think I’m pretty damn country. [laughs] It depends on who you ask.
For the new record How Country Are Ya?, how did it all come full circle for you?
It’s about going back to making records the way I used to. The last two records have been on labels, and they were more worried about radio charts and everything. We were just worried about making a record for the fans. I did the whole thing in Austin with all my Texas buddies. My band played on it; I recorded it at home. I’m doing my own thing, the way I was in the early days. My most successful records have been the ones I put out on my own label. It’s just a fan-driven record. [I’m] not worried about what radio’s going to play or all that industry crap.
How does releasing an album on your own label free you up, creatively?
There’s nobody to answer to but the fans. Nobody’s pitching me songs to put on the record. The great thing about it is I can put out whatever I want, but you got to make sure you put out something [worthwhile]. If it sucks, the buck stops here. [laughs] You have to deliver if you step out on your own. You can’t blame it on a label or anybody else. It’s the right place for me to be. It seems to work.
You were previously signed to Lyric Street, is that right?
Yes. Then, we did a couple [records] on Equity, which was home to Clint Black and Little Big Town. This previous record was out on Average Joes.
What did you learn from those experiences?
I learned a lot from all my label deals. I tell everybody that there are two things I kill really well: record labels and Bud Light. [laughs] Every time I get a record label, they then go out of business. I just learned [with both] how records are made in Nashville. I got to work with some awesome big-name producers, from Blake Chancey to Billy Joe Walker and David Lee Murphy. I thought we made great records. I learned a lot from those guys, especially on the production end. The way records are made there is rush, rush, rush. What works about bringing it back here to Austin is we could really take our time and own it.
How long did you work on this record?
Between writing and recording, it probably took about a year.
How would you define the record in one word?
[Adding:] I like how this thing flows from start to finish. It’s not all singles and cuts just thrown together. I did a lot of stuff this time around that I wouldn’t have done in the past. I mean, I’ve got a Mariachi song on there called 'Borracho Grande.' I brought in Los Texas Maniacs; they won the Grammy last year for Best Tejano Album. They are just top notch. I also did a total acoustic song [on the record], which I had never done before. My buddy Davin James and I sat down with two guitars and just played the song. Nothing was off the table this time. Anything goes.
How did you piece everything together?
My drummer Ken Tondre produced the record. He does a lot of the textures. He really helped make it what it is.
How did you decide to include varied sounds on the record?
We just tried to pick the best 13 songs. A great song is a great song, whether you play it with an acoustic guitar or a steel guitar and fiddle. A great song will shine through. They say about production: ‘you can’t polish a turd.’ [laughs] A crappy song is a crappy song, too. A good song will always shine through [whatever] production you have. Make sure you have a great song; production is just icing on the cake.
In what ways are you inspired by Austin?
There were no outside influences. I wasn’t around any industry. It was just making a record here at home. There weren’t any distractions like when I make a record in Nashville. I’m not saying anything bad: I made some great records in Nashville. This one just felt good, not worrying about anything but the fans.
On the album’s “Intro,” Granger Smith makes an appearance.
Yes. He has an alter ego called Earl Dibbles, Jr. It’s his little redneck alter ego. We thought, when we finished the album, ‘hmm. We need an intro to kind of set this record up.’ He nailed it.
[Adding:] I always make my music fun. There’s enough people out there writing music to save the world. My music is just about having fun. It should be an escape from all the problems of the world. We want people to be able to come to our shows, drink beer, dance and forget about their worries.
You also have several other collaborations on the record, including with Amy Rankin. Did that come about specifically for this record?
David Lee Murphy and I wrote ‘Before Somebody Gets Hurt,’ which I ended up singing with Amy. We just wanted a female vocal there. She came in and absolutely nailed it. She really made the song; it really needed it. I think Kelly Clarkson and Jason Aldean could have a big hit with it.
Now, what's up with “Chicken Wings"?
[laughs] It’s a fun little song. I wrote most of this stuff down on my ranch. I invited all my friends, Pat Green and all those Texas guys. We just started writing songs. Davin and I had written that one on the ranch. We recorded us in the kitchen singing it. I liked it so much that it made sense for the two of us to cut it before he tried to replicate it in the studio. You can hear the crew laughing on it. It was really what I wanted to capture.
What is it about the Texas scene that makes it so special?
It revolves around one thing…and it isn’t radio. It’s the fans. The music scene is so supported by the general population. There’s no other place quite like it, except maybe in Canada. Texas is huge on supporting local talent. Some fans come to three or four shows a year. They’ll travel all over the state. The music runs the whole gamut here, too. There is no trendy sound or flavor of the month where everyone’s trying to do the same thing. Everything kind of lives together.
Who are some artists you would recommend to give a listen?
Cody Johnson’s coming on really strong, especially with the country kids. He’s killin’ it. I don’t think it’ll be long until he’s on a Nashville label. Josh Abbott is killin’ it, too. It’s just a different world down here. It’s like being the big fish in the little pond. [laughs]
You’re touring the rest of this year?
We’ll be on the road pretty much non-stop. We really started this tour in late 1999 and haven’t stopped. We play every weekend. We’re running behind, actually. We’ve only done 20 full-band shows this year, which is a slow one for us. A lot of these guys do 200 nights a year. We never stop. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a catch 22 as a business model. For Texas, it’s all about touring. You never stop playing.
How do you keep yourself motivated and passionate?
Man, I just love playing live. I love writing songs, making records and all that stuff, but that’s all just to get me onstage. On Sunday, I might be weary, but by Thursday, I’m ready to go again. I’m like the Energizer Bunny. [laughs] If you don’t enjoy touring, you probably won’t last very long in this industry.
How often do you change up your setlist?
We usually change it up every couple months. Like I said, some fans see us several times a year. They don’t want to see the same show every time. It’s always a challenge. You’ve got your core songs that your fan base loves. You’ve got to put all those, and somehow, you’ve got to change it up enough. Right now, we have 11 #1s on the Texas music charts, so we’ve got to play those 11. Well, there goes half your set right there. Then, play some of your other band favorites. Sometimes, I’ll work in some new material.
Don't forget to grab a copy of How Country Are Ya on iTunes now!
Photos courtesy of Kevin Fowler Records
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