In 2008, singer-songwriter Todd Deatherage moved to Austin looking to form a band that played his favorite traditional country songs. Todd collaborated with his co-worker at the Allegro School of Music, Derek Tarnow and together they performed at local venues, eventually adding Matt Winegardner on drums, Derek’s wife Loren on backing vocals, and Phil Spencer on upright bass. The Merles quickly garnered a local following and are now preparing to release their debut album Hate To Say Goodbye on February 10th. In advance of the release front man Deatherage kindly took some time to talk about the band’s roots, the album, and more.
Even though the band may be new to many, The Merles have been together for quite a few years now.
The Merles began in 2005, so it’s been a long journey. The idea for the band actually originated when I was a singer-songwriter living in Brooklyn performing more in an Americana/Rock/Pop style. In addition to performing my solo music, I formed The Merles with friends as a side project where we busked at Prospect Park and Grand Army Plaza. Eventually, I moved to Austin and put a band together using the same name and now, we’ve grown and evolved to the place we’re at - preparing to release our debut album.
As the band evolved, did your sound as well or did that remain constant from Brooklyn to Austin?
I grew up in Dallas and country was always there but I didn’t really like it. I had a friend in high school who went on to be in a band called 1100 Springs and he introduced me to the rockabilly country stuff and I really fell in love with it. As for The Merles, we always had that same traditional sound with mainly a brush on the snare and upright bass. And although we started out as more of a cover band, we now have original songs, which has been a fun progression.
With five of you in the band, how do you approach songwriting?
I’m the main songwriter of The Merles, but my bandmates contribute too and definitely have an influence over their parts and the overall song as well. I bring the songs, and as we work through them in practice and at gigs, they evolve.
Some of songs on the album I wrote recently and some I wrote when I was doing the singer-songwriter thing, but those songs, like “My Payback” and “If Walls Could Talk," worked well with a band so we put them on the record,
Where do you draw from when you’re writing?
The album is different from my solo records because then, I would pull from aspects of my life, but for this record, I kind of have this character running through all of the songs. This character is someone who does horrible things to the point where, for better or worse, maybe he can’t stop doing these terrible things - I kind of tried to take it to the next level of pathetic loser.
One of those songs which demonstrate that is your current single, “Room 242.” Is there a story behind that one?
It’s a more imaginative than autobiographical story about a guy at a hotel lobby drinking by himself. He drinks, thinking he has all these friends, when really, he’s alone. Eventually, he ends up talking about this hotel room where he had this fling with this woman and turns out now, he’s living in that room.
Another song on the record, “Hate To Say Goodbye” is the one you chose as the title.
I thought the songs on the record went with a whole heartbroken theme. “Hate To Say Goodbye” is an autobiographical song about being a musician and leaving my wife and daughter behind every time I go on the road. It’s a hard thing to do to leave and tour - and maybe you’re crazy for doing it - but you feel that drive, all the while knowing and hoping it’s not a bad decision. So, as the title, it sums up a lot of songs where what’s going on might not always the best thing, but one still keeps doing it.
The album concludes with the up-tempo tune, “She’s Leaving Me.” Why did you choose to end with it?
That kind of goes to our live shows. As a singer/songwriter I always ended my shows with this song, and The Merles carried on this tradition. And in fact, the first track on the record is usually how we begin our shows, so we tried to anchor the record like our live show experience.
What are your plans for the next few months, where will you be playing out to support the record?
We play around Texas, basically doing shows close to home in places like Austin, Fredericksburg, San Antonio, Houston, and Luckenbach. When I was a singer-songwriter, I toured all over the country, but I think The Merles need to focus on areas in Texas before we go out and exhaust ourselves. I feel too many artists go out and play all these places that we never return to – and that’s a wasted resource right there. Being in Texas, we can stay and play the venues here and really grow.
Is there one thing you would like The Merles to accomplish this year?
There are so many things how can I get it down to one? It’s weird because although The Merles have been around for a while, we’re also a young band in some ways. So our whole point with this record is to get our name out there and have people get to know our songs - then we’ll slowly build on that. We know we’re not all of a sudden going to be a smash hit - I see The Merles are the turtle who goes slowly and builds steam. We’re going to get out there, hopefully have some radio play, and have people get to know us.
We’re really proud of the work we’ve done, where we’re at, and the fact that we were able to make the record and pay for the record ourselves. For me, I worked as a singer-songwriter for twelve years slugging it out and I never made any money, ever, and the fact that we’ve been able to go out and do this ourselves, which is kind of the Texas way, has been really cool thing. Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s also a lot of fun getting out there and playing for people. Really, we’re in a good spot.
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