Micky & the Motorcars, Wade Bowen
9081 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90069
This event is all ages
For fifteen years Reckless Kelly has been doing things their way, bucking the mainstream system and playing by their own rules, straddling the fence between country and rock as if they built it themselves. Throughout the years their old school approach to recording has always adhered to one main objective: make each record better than the last. Their latest effort, "Good Luck & True Love" is no exception to this rule.
Recorded in an old farmhouse-turned studio in Austin Texas, and released on the bands new independent label "No Big Deal Records," "Good Luck & True Love" is pure, driving, uncut Reckless Kelly. The songs are all written or co-written by front man Willy Braun and range in subject matter from road songs, ("Weatherbeaten Soul," "Hit The Ground Running") to songs about music, ("New Moon Over Nashville," "I Stayed Up All Night Again") and songs about good old-fashioned heartbreak ("Guarded Heart," "She Likes Money, He Likes Love," and "I Never Liked St. Valentine"). The album is the 9th in RK's ever-growing catalogue and is the 3rd they have produced by themselves.
The Reckless boys also made it a point to track almost all of it live. Just 5 guys sitting in a room playing music, with minimal overdubs and aside from a harmony vocal from Dani Flowers, the band plays each and every instrument and part. "We wanted to make a record that sounded like we sound live, without any extra parts thrown in. We wanted it to sound like a band," said fiddle/mandolin player Cody Braun. "Keeping it all in the same space and making sure it was an album rather than just a collection of songs was the main goal, and I think we came pretty close to what we set out to do...there's a lot of continuity within this project." The result is an album that encompasses the last 15 years of Reckless Kelly. Ten new songs that capture the essence of a road worn and battle scarred band of brothers that aren't afraid to take risks and tell it like it is. That's country rock. That’s old school. That's Reckless Kelly.
Micky & the Motorcars
Thirteen years can put a hell of a lot of wear and tear on even the hardiest of rock ’n’ roll bands. But don’t be fooled by all those hundreds of thousands of miles on Micky & the Motorcars’ odometer: pop the hood of Hearts From Above, the long-running Austin band’s seventh album, and you’ll find a brand-new engine, fine-tuned and good to run for at least as many more miles still ahead. And behind the wheel? Two brothers — Micky and Gary Braun — who by their own admission haven’t been this fired up about playing together since they first rode south from the Whitecloud Mountains of Idaho to stake their claim to the Texas and wider Americana music scenes.
Of course, that’s not to say that the years between then and now have been fallow for Micky & the Motorcars, who have spent the last decade and change establishing themselves as one of the exciting young roots-rock bands in the “Live Music Capital of the World” and growing their fanbase through constant touring and a fistful of increasingly confident releases. But Hearts From Above finds founding members Micky (lead vocals and guitar) and Gary (guitar, mandolin, harmonica, and vocals) invigorated and supercharged by a transfusion of new blood from fresh recruits Dustin Schaefer (lead guitar), Joe Fladger (bass), and Bobby Paugh (drums).
“I think that with the last record we were struggling a little bit just trying to keep the band afloat,” says Micky of 2011’s mature but rather ironically titled Raise My Glass, a compelling document of the band at its most ruminative and brooding. “We loved the songs and we loved that record, but everyone was in kind of a tough spot with the same-old/same-old, and I had just gone through a breakup, so it was definitely the harder, darker side of the Micky & the Motorcars. Hearts From Above is more about all of us being in a much better place now. Having the new guys with us now has just brought a lot higher energy level, both onstage and in the studio. It’s kind of like when we first got started 13 years ago. All of us are just having a blast.”
You can hear that born-again “blast” right from the start of Hearts From Above with the soaring title track, a song Micky started working on in the afterglow of a particularly inspiring show he caught by one of his biggest Austin heroes, Alejandro Escovedo. “Alejandro’s one of those guys who makes me want to be better,” Micky enthuses, “and all I wanted to do was go right home and write.”
He ended up co-writing “Hearts From Above” with Willy Braun, who, along with another older brother, Cody, actually moved to Austin a few years ahead of Micky and Gary with their own wildly popular Americana rock band, Reckless Kelly. But from the moment the Motorcars hit town and released their 2003 debut, Which Way From Here — followed by subsequent releases like 2004’s Ain’t In It For the Money,2007’s Careless, 2008’s Naïve, 2009’s Live at Billy Bob’s Texas, and Raise My Glass — Micky and Gary have proven time and again that while they may not have been the first band of Brauns to take Texas by storm, they can more than hold their own. They’ve made quite a name for themselves out on the road, too, touring on average 12 months out of the year across the United States and beyond. (Micky & the Motorcars have toured Europe three times and even recorded a live album over there, set for release when they return overseas early next year.)
Friendly competition aside, though, the four Braun brothers remain as supportive of each other today as they were as kids, when they all played together in their father Muzzie Braun’s country band throughout the Western United States and in front of millions of TV viewers on the Tonight Show (twice!) To wit: In addition to co-writing half of the songs on the album, Willy also produced Hearts From Above. And of course Cody (who’s produced Motorcars albums in the past) is a VIP guest on the record, too. As Gary proudly points out, all four Braun brothers can be heard singing on the song “Hearts From Above” — something that he says “hasn’t happened in the studio since we were teenagers.”
“Cody came into the studio when we were tracking and coached us pretty hard,” Gary continues. “He has a great ear for harmony and really helped us pick the right parts for the songs. And of course I have always liked working with Willy, and I don’t care if we are writing a song or building a doghouse. He’s a fun guy to be around, but he also knows when to be serious. He was really good at talking to the band getting the best takes we could.”
Recorded in early 2014 at Austin’s 12th Street Sound and funded by the Motorcars’ first-ever Kickstarter campaign, Hearts From Above is packed with assertive songs destined to become crowd favorites; indeed, some of the songs already are road-tested keepers — most notably the epic album closer, “Tonight We Ride,” which Micky describes as an “anthem for soldiers and cowboys and cowgirls and bikers — really, anybody that sticks together as a team.”
“We’ve been doing that song live for probably almost a year now, and it’s starting to get to the point where the crowd is shouting out for it,” says Micky, who co-wrote the tune with Willy and Brian Keane. “That’s a really great sign when you haven’t even recorded a song yet and people are already requesting it!”
One of Micky’s other personal favorites on Hearts From Above is the swaggering “Hurt Again,” which he co-wrote with Jason Eady. “That one’s the wild card,” he says with a laugh, “because Jason is best known for his country stuff, but that’s probably the most rocking song on the whole record. I really love the opening line, ‘The taxi’s running waiting right outside/There’s a look of shame girl that you can’t hide,’ because I feel like it just reaches out and grabs people right out of the gate, and then it’s just rock ’n’ roll from then on out and it never lets up.
“We actually started out a lot more country,” he continues. “Before the Motorcars, I came straight out of a country band and then playing in a bluegrass band after that for a couple of summers on and off. But as we all got older, we started playing more and more rock ’n’ roll, and for me, ‘Hurt Again’ really expresses our ability to do that.“
Although Micky fronts the band, Gary’s brotherly harmonies and back-up vocals (not to mention his myriad instrumental chops) have been a key element of the Motorcars’ sound from day one. He also steps forward to sing a song or two of his own on every album, and his two tracks on Hearts From Above are among the album’s highlights: the hooky, up-tempo “Led Me the Wrong Way” and the haunting “Sun Now Stands,” a powerful account of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians of the Pacific Northwest.
“I had the idea to write about the Nez Perce and how they were kicked off their land and instead of staying on the reservation that the government had put them on, they decided to make a break for it and try to escape to Canada,” says Gary. “After awhile I realized it was going to be pretty hard to cram that whole story into a four-minute song, so that’s when I called Willy and as luck would have it, he had just finished a book on the topic and was also planning on writing a song about it. We got together the next day and got to work, and I think it took us about four hours to write the whole thing from start to finish.”
The poignancy of “Sun Now Stands” is matched elsewhere on Hearts From Above by the album’s one cover, “Sister Lost Soul” — a song that the aforementioned Alejandro Escovedo wrote for his acclaimed 2008 album Real Animal as a tribute to fallen brothers in musical arms.
“That song is very sentimental to me, and the whole band, really,” Micky explains. “We kind of do that one as a tribute to our good friend Mark McCoy, who was with us forever. We lost him last year in a boating accident.” McCoy, the Motorcars’ original bassist, died a year after leaving the band to move back home to Idaho. Micky also sings “Sister Lost Soul” in memory of another late friend who helped teach him guitar and introduced him to the music of Van Morrison and a lot of other great songwriters and rock acts.
“As we get older, we all start to lose friends, and whether they’re really close friends or even acquaintances you just kind of knew, it’s always a sad thing to see people have to go through things like that,” Micky explains. “And that song is just kind of a tip of the hat to all those guys. It’s an anthem for them and for the people that miss them.”
Bittersweet though it may be, the song fits Hearts From Above‘s spirit like a glove. For Micky and Gary Braun, who’ve driven the Motorcars together now for more than a dozen years, as well as for the newer members helping them steer the band further on down the highway, it’s a celebration of where they’ve been, where they’re headed, and most of all, where they are right now.
“Apart from how we’re all much happier now in regards to our relationships and personal lives, I think I was really able to just write about how grateful we are to get to do what we do,” says Micky. “I think all of us in general are in a pretty good spot right now. We’re happy to be on the road and to be putting out music, and we’re grateful to our fans for helping out on the Kickstarter project and for showing up at shows. We just seem to be in a very positive place, and I feel like this record really represents that.”
As Wade Bowen looks ahead to the full-length release of his major-label debut and his emerging transition from regional success to national prominence, there was one vital dynamic affecting the timing: his fans. Across five independent albums and a decade-plus of touring, Bowen not only amassed a string of regional hits and awards, but also the kind of fan base whose passionate anticipation motivated the timing behind the May 2012 release of The Given, a 10-song collection and his first new music since 2008’s If We Ever Make It Home.
Indeed, in the fourteen years since Bowen launched his career at Stubb’s Barbecue in Lubbock, Texas, he’s risen from collegiate greenhorn to the top of the Texas music and Red Dirt circuit. His colleagues and friends Pat Green, Jack Ingram, Eli Young Band and others had made the major-label leap, helping to take a vibrant regional sound to the rest of America. Now Bowen is poised to bring that Red Dirt and independent spirit to country music at large.
Make no mistake, this collection is a document of artistic evolution. Longtime fans (and there are quite a few of them) will hear the Bowen they’ve known and the next steps on his journey. They’ll get better acquainted with the ballad singer who doesn’t often get a chance to show that side of himself in honky tonks. Newcomers will hear a head-turning country artist with range, road-tested hits and one of the best male voices in the business.
That voice truly jumps out of these tracks. Wade’s baritone is dense and concentrated, with traces of whisky and smoke and an autumnal warmth. Bowen takes command of his songs, cutting over the top of producer Justin Niebank’s sculpted guitar-scapes. The sound is one hundred percent country, rife with pedal steel and vivid emotion, but it’s also music that could easily find a home with fans of Bowen’s rock idols – folks like Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne. Take a few passes through this project and you’ll hearing a singer’s singer and a focused songwriter who’s adding layers to his music all the time.
“All this work and the care we’ve taken with this album just fall in the category of trying to get better,” says Bowen. “When it comes to my intent as a musician, I’ve not changed anything since day one. I’ve only tried to mature and tried to get better, and I think this record is representative of that.” On a live circuit where the overwhelming mandate is to stir up a party, Bowen has aimed to leave folks with a memory. As a writer, even one from a state with some tall literary traditions, he’s not trying to earn a PhD in poetry; he’s trying to communicate. “My style,” he says, “is more to try to evoke an emotion. I’m more about trying to leave a mark on people.”
Growing up in Waco, Bowen’s exposure to the music of Texas was limited to whatever made it on FM country radio. George Strait was king. Guy Clark was a name he’d not have recognized before getting to college. But at school, in Lubbock, he discovered the full spectrum of Texas artistry, starting with Robert Earl Keen. “He was a big changing point in my life,” says Wade. “I realized by listening to him that there was way more out there than I ever knew. So I started getting into Guy Clark and other great Texas music. But I was obsessed with Robert Earl. When we started the band we were sort of a Robert Earl cover band.”
That band was called West 84, and they found that with their large posse of friends who’d always show up for a good time, it was easy to land gigs. Bowen meanwhile began to channel a lifelong love of writing into songs, and when college ended he made two major decisions. He took on the role of solo artist, and he moved to Austin. By then, about 2001, fellow Waco native Pat Green had busted out to national prominence and the Texas music phenomenon was the buzz of Nashville. It was part of Wade Bowen’s inspiration to charge ahead.
Try Not To Listen is the album Wade regards as his true debut, the project that kicked off a life and living made of 200-plus nights a year on the road and patient grassroots fan development. Then with Lost Hotel in 2006, things really began to click. The opening track “God Bless This Town” reached No. 1 on the bellwether Texas Music Chart, and over the next six years, he released six more chart-toppers and three additional top fives. He achieved another landmark when he was invited to add his name to the roster of great artists who’ve made a Live At Billy Bob’s CD/DVD combo at the iconic club in Fort Worth. With a decade that good, it was inevitable that Music Row would become interested.
The origins of Bowen’s Nashville record deal can be traced to his music publisher, Sea Gayle Music. It’s where Brad Paisley, Radney Foster, Jerrod Niemann and others do their songwriting, and in 2010, it was the first indie company to be named ASCAP Country Publisher of the Year since 1982. Sea Gayle has a track record of investing in artists and helping them reach their potential, and that’s how they’ve worked with Bowen, ultimately backing this album and introducing its independently made sound to Sony Music Nashville. Step one in that process was to find a producer who could preserve Wade’s vision yet find the sweet spot that would help his music have its best chance at country radio. “Of all the producers we talked to, Justin Niebank was the only one who said, ‘I need to come down and see you live,’” says Bowen. “Well, after 13 years of doing this I’d hope someone would want to see what we do, why we have fans. He totally got it and based the whole sound of this record around that.”
That live immediacy certainly throbs on disc-opener “Saturday Night,” which tracks the internal monologue of a lonesome hombre sitting on his stool, nursing his drink and thinking about “that sad goodbye.” Its chiming descending guitar riff will be the first thing many audiences hear from Wade, his calling card. Also likely to grab listeners early is “Patch Of Bad Weather,” a brisk, rocking take-down of a treacherous lover. It paints dramatic pictures of a stormy Texas landscape and it kicks like a gun. A further highlight is a cover of Guy Clark’s “To Live Is To Fly,” in a duet with the man himself.
Bowen has also taken advantage of his recent songwriting sessions and the comfortable studio environment fostered by Niebank to develop his love of ballad singing and the emotional side of country music. “All That’s Left” brings strings into the mix, and it works. Bowen sounds at home. In “Say Anything,” a guy can’t think of a thing to say to a girl he’s just met except gush on about the one he let get away, so he shuts up and listens. Its chorus will surely make some leading male country singers wish they’d been given a shot at the song. “I love those songs like that. Sad ballads,” says Bowen with an apologetic shrug. “That’s where my passion is. ‘Say Anything’ is one of my favorite tracks on the record.”
So think of The Given as a gift to the fans and a teaser for even better things to come. Wade knows full well how much his fans have given him over the years, and he’s more than happy to plan a long career ahead giving everything he can back.
“This record, like everything in my life, is not necessarily what I planned or even asked for,” says Wade. “But this is, thankfully, what has been given to me. I’m a very lucky and blessed man. And I have The Given to thank for that.”
Adv tix $20.00 / Day of Show $25.00
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Thu, March 19
Reckless Kelly with Micky & the Motorcars, Wade Bowen
Saturday, August 17 · 8:00 PM at Troubadour