Over the past few years, The Bigsbys--Alex Smith (vocals&guitar), Russell McClendon (bass), Brad Hobson (guitar) and Nick Odom (drums)--have been building a reputation for soulful performances, tight sets and a unique sound. Their second album Good Will Suitcase was released in April of 2014 and their single "Keep You Waiting" is currently on the Texas charts. Alex Smith graciously took the time to talk about the record, touring, camaraderie and more.
How did The Bigsbys come together as a band?
Brad, Russell, who is also my brother in law, and I are all from Palestine, an itty bitty town in East Texas. The three of us started out in a band called Alex Smith and Two Car Garage. We did that for a year, then replaced our previous drummer with Nick and changed the name to The Bigsbys.
Three of you held jobs outside of the industry. When did you decide to make music the primary focus?
That happened when we began playing three shows a week as the Bigsbys. Prior to that, I had a career working at Anheuser-Busch, which I did for over six years. I reached a turning point where I realized that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t give music a real try. If you don’t pursue your talent and passion, it’s a wasted life, you know. We all still work part time, and luckily my current job is very flexible. I like to work and keep busy, keep moving. It’s the way I’ve always been.
The Bigsbys’ sound incorporates many styles, making for something really unique and diverse. Do all of you bring different influences to the table?
Yeah, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t like that at all. Individually, we enjoy different kinds of music, then there are the bands that we all agree on. Personally, I really enjoy folksy singer- songwriter types, like Jason Isbell, Neil Young and George Harrison’s solo stuff. Any guy that can pick up a guitar and write pretty words, I’m down.
We don’t try to make our tunes fall into any specific category. We are able to do a pretty wide variety of styles and cover anything we want to, from country to Elton John, which we do in our live show.
Your second album, Good Will Suitcase, was released in April of 2014 and really showcases that unique sound combining Roots Rock, Americana, Country, Soul and more. Do all of you take part in crafting the songs?
It’s a cooperative process. I will work out tunes at my house and Brad will work out tunes at his, then we’ll bring them to the group, and from there we build the songs. When we write, everyone jumps into it, which winds up being a cool mash up of styles. Normally, we’ll make a really bad recording of the songs (laughing), and then we’ll change pretty much all of it. With True Story [their first record], I wrote a lot of those tunes years before we made the record. With Good Will Suitcase, we had a really narrow window for recording. We got some money to go into the studio, and with it, the date to go in, and make the record. We had some songs written, but maybe five to seven songs on Good Will Suitcase we wrote in a month and a half. We were really adamant that the songs on the record would be as fresh as possible and when we got into a groove, everything stated clicking. Jonathon Tyler produced the record for us, and man, I was over the moon when he agreed. He’s such a rocker. He loves the Rolling Stones, so it was really cool to get in the studio with him and blend styles. We found a lot of compromises that made everyone happy. It was just a lot of fun.
Being that you wrote the songs in a short period of time, is there one in particular that you are most fond of?
Yeah, “Train City Blues.” I like that one because it’s about where we come from. People might not think there is much to that song, it’s real low production, there’s not a whole lot of guitar on there, but I love that tune and enjoy playing it live. It’s one of the songs from the heart, you know.
Is there a backstory for choosing Good Will Suitcase as the title of the album?
We were on a twenty-one day run, nineteen shows in twenty-one days; it was rough out there. A couple days in and, man, we were broke already. We only had enough money for like, bread and lunch meat. My pedal board case ripped, so I had to get something to put them in. We stopped in a Goodwill in Louisiana, and I bought a vintage suitcase for $3. Turns out, behind the tag inside the suitcase were two $5 bills, so I made, like, $7 at the Goodwill. I think we spent that money on cigarettes (laughing), but it was like a beacon in the dark. So the album title is a play on words.
The album was on many a “best of” list at the end of 2014.
I’m very proud we were mentioned on those lists. For a small release made in ten days by some guys who don’t really have any money, it was pretty cool to see our name ahead of the bands that spend a year and thousands of dollars in the studio, if you know what I mean. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Heck, if I had money I would love to be able to do that, but we’re just guys that are out here, and for us, every dollar on every weekend counts.
We’re from a small town in East Texas so it’s sometimes hard, because of our geographical location, to network and form relationships. It’s not like there are forty other musicians to go to the local watering hole and jam with. Whiskey Myers is from here also, and they have become good friends with us and help us out a lot. It’s a harder road for us sometimes; not in general, but in that aspect, I firmly believe it is.
It really seems that many of the Texas artists have a true camaraderie with one another?
It really is a brotherhood. Two bands we run with are Folk Family Revival and The New Offenders. We are always helping each other out the best we can. We will spread the word about one another by putting one another on a bill, and encouraging our fans to go and catch a show. It’s a professional courtesy, but we are also in the same place and understand the woes that the business has. It’s nice to not feel like you’re out there alone.
Sure there is competition, it’s the nature of the beast, but at the end of the day you can still be friends in competition. We want to sell tickets and draw people in, but if our friends in another band play for a huge crowd, I am going to be happy for them, not jealous. It’s cool to have that camaraderie in competition.
The majority of your touring has been in Texas. Do you have any plans to tour more out of state?
I love Texas, it’s one of my favorite places in the whole world. We cut our teeth in the East Texas honky tonks. We played the four hour marathon shows where we ran our own sound and didn’t get paid a lot, but we had a lot of fun with people who we didn’t think would dig our style of music.
Now, we mostly play in Texas, although we have had several dates outside of the state. There are a lot of venues here just in Dallas, Houston, and Austin alone. We play about 150 shows a year, about 2-3 shows a week, which works out pretty good for us.
Texans have been very supportive of us, but sometimes there seems to be a specific audience here, and I think that it would be cool to play our tunes in front of different people. We aspire to branch out more, as our music really isn’t Texas specific. We can fit in there, yet also do our own thing at the same time, which is pretty cool.
I read that you try to make every show different and put something unique on the stage. How do you do that live?
We will go into our jam shack and practice our tunes, but we’re really interested in playing something totally different live than what you hear on the record. I hate when guys get up there on stage and play 3:31 of the song they recorded. It’s fine for some people, but it bothers me. So when we play live we will blend songs into one another, have a musical interlude or just do something to try and keep it fresh.
What are your plans for 2015?
Hopefully, we will get to release another single from Good Will Suitcase. We’re also really excited because we started writing for a new album already. We don’t have a concrete title or theme yet; we’re just filing the songs.
Finally, I always like to know, is there one recent album that you just cannot stop listening to?
Let’s see, Tom Petty’s new record is badass, but Wildflowers is my favorite, so I have been busting back into that one as well as Fleetwood Mac. Recently though, I couldn’t tell ya. I’m a fan of the oldies. It’s weird because so much good music was made before I was born; I’m trying to catch up all of it! Maybe twenty years from now I’ll be able to tell you what was awesome in 2015! (laughing)
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