Easily one of the most talented songwriters of today, William Clark Green's third album, Rose Queen, cemented his place as a notable artist in the Texas music scene. Now Green is preparing to release his eagerly anticipated new record, Ringling Road, which has already seen its first single, "Sympathy," reach #1 on the Texas charts. Green took some time during his and his band's Northeast run to talk about Ringling Road--from polishing their sound to co-writing and much more.
Rose Queen was such a huge record for you. Awhile back you said that you were nervous to record a follow up because you weren’t sure you could top it. Going into Ringling Road, were you nervous or did you simply set out to make the best record you could?
The idea was to definitely make the best record we possibly could, but I was extremely nervous and not confident going into it. Rose Queen was a very good record for us. Thinking about it, it took twenty-five years to write Rose Queen while I only had one year to write Ringling Road [Green took a year off from writing after Rose Queen]. It was definitely a difficult task, but I learned a lot over the course of making Rose Queen, especially in the studio that, I applied to this record. I learned what I wanted in a record and I think that had a lot to do with how Ringling Road turned out.
We really began polishing our sound with Rose Queen and I feel like that continued with Ringling Road. We didn’t have a clue with what we were doing with Rose Queen, or what we wanted to sound like, which was why it was so great working with Rachel Loy. She really helped us find that. It was like “yeah, that’s who we are and what we wanna sound like.” It’s taken six years to figure it out, but now we’re confident on who we are as musicians. It’s been a great experience to realize where we were and see where we’ve come.
I feel like everything happened for a reason with this record and it turned out the way it was supposed to. We worked night and day, and in my opinion, we trumped Rose Queen, so we’ll see what everybody else thinks about it.
You worked once again with Rachel Loy, who also produced Rose Queen. Is there anything that you did differently with Ringling Road than with your previous records?
Oh yeah! Our guitar player Steve broke his arm a week before we went in to record, so that just threw a monkey wrench into everything. We really recorded the first five songs with only half a band: the drummer, the bass player and myself. It’s kind of long story but we got a guy, Josh Serrato, who was in a band that disbanded earlier that year, to fill in for Steve until he got better. He came on road with us too, but knew that whenever Steve got better, that was going to be it. Steve was getting better; he would come out and play half a show with all of us, but seeing the two of them play together was gold. Well, we ended up liking him so much that we offered him a job and so now we’ve got two guitar players and I’m poor again (laughing). But if I wouldn’t have done it, I would have regretted it.
So the second half of the record is not only the studio guy we kept around [Josh], but Steve as well. I think that when you listen to the record, you’ll notice that the second half is so much fuller sound-wise. There’s this huge wall of sound and it’s really because of them; they came in and destroyed it. It’s kind of unique how it happened….we tried to mess it up, but it worked out for us (laughing)!
How did you come to choose Ringling Road, which is also a track on the record, for the title of the album?
With each album that we have previously done there was a theme about a Texas town; Misunderstood about was Lubbock and Rose Queen was about Tyler. I knew I wanted this one to be about Eastland, but I didn't have anything to write about. The town had a lake called Ringling Lake and a road that went around it called Ringling Road. I was wondering why they were named that and came to find out that the Ringling Brothers would come through the town and stop to let the elephants drink from the lake.That story is really the theme of the song. Believe it or not, I initially wanted to call the record Water for Elephants, but turns out there’s a book of the same name. I was like “does everybody really know about that book?” and everyone looked at me like (laughing) “yeah they do, you can’t call it that.” So we called it Ringling Road.
Rose Queen was the first time that you co-wrote. Did you do more co-writing for this record?
I wasn’t totally comfortable with co-writing, but it was something that I was able to dip my feet into on Rose Queen. The writing process for Ringling Road was very interesting. There are three songs that I wrote by myself and all the others [eight] are with co-writers. I got lucky and met some people that were kind enough to put me in touch with writers who they thought I would fit well with and then things happened that were kind of bizarre. Like, I was talking to a buddy of mine, Ross Cooper, who I have been friends with for years, about the title track. He and Randy Rogers were the only two guys I knew that had previously written circus songs, so I told him the idea I had for the song and he goes “man you’ll never believe this, but last night I met this guy Randall Clay [a songwriter] who was a roustabout for ten years in the circus.” And I was like “no shit!” Ross asked him to write the song with us and he was totally cool and did it. That’s how that song was birthed, which to me was bigger than coincidence. I mean, the odds of that happening are just not there, you know.
Ringling Road, like many of your songs, tells a story that the listener can really "see." Is story telling something that’s important to you when writing?
Something someone told me a long time ago was that some of the greatest songs are the ones that you can listen to and feel like you are sitting in a chair watching what happens. Painting a picture is very important to me. Really though, I feel like my main deal with writing is I’m kind of an asshole (laughing). I actually feel like I’m a pretty nice guy and feel like it’s an escape to write what I wouldn’t normally say. I like writing the pretty heavy emotional stuff and the stuff that's definitely uncomfortable to talk about. Plus, I can write things that no one will ever catch onto which is pretty fun to do. For example, my tour manager and his girlfriend used to fight all the time. I wrote the song “Push and Shove” about them, but I never told them what it was about. One day we were at sound check and he was like “who wrote that song?” I told him I did and he said “man, that’s the best song that you ever wrote!” For me, that was awesome! (laughing) Years later, I told him and his girlfriend, who is now his wife, the story.
The last track on every album has always been your favorite. Being that you wrote “Still Think About You” with Kent Finlay it must hold even more significance to you.
It honestly wasn’t planned that way [to be last song] because we finished the record before he passed away. Kent was a dear friend who wrote “Hanging Around” with me. I pitched “Still Think About You” to Randy Rogers and Sean McConnell and they both said it wasn’t their thing, but when I brought it to Kent, he got a twinkle in his eye and said “I like that.” We wrote it in Steamboat in 2014 and if I had known it was the last song I was ever going to write with him, it would have been a longer co-write for sure. He was such a special person who influenced a lot of people’s lives; no one will ever be like him.
On a lighter note, the first single from the record, "Sympathy," already went #1 on the Texas charts. What are the plans for the next single?
We’re hoping to get four singles off of the record. The next single is “Sticks and Stones.” More than ever, it seems that so many people are talking shit about everything and everybody and I’m just sick of it. Facebook and social media just seem to be an outlet for people to be cowardly and talk poorly about people. So the song’s about leaving a town because you don’t wanna hear it anymore. The funny thing is it's kind of like a don't let it bug you song, but I wrote a song about it, so I guess it bugged me a little bit. I don’t know, I think most of my songs have a middle finger in there somewhere, a couple of ‘em anyways (laughing).
You are doing a short run in the Northeast this month. Do you have aspirations to take the music outside of Texas?
We're really excited to get out and play in the big cities, like New York and DC, it's always been a dream; but really we just want people to say we write good music, that’s all we care about. I feel like if you do that, all the other stuff will fall into place. I want people to listen to my songs and say “god damn he’s a good songwriter” or “man, that band is freaking amazing!” Our goal is to be the best of the best; the best band in world with the best songs in the world, but we get it. I mean, it’s probably not gonna happen, but it doesn’t mean you can’t try. We have so much fun doing what we do and want to keep making good music.
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