(Ellis, left – Wilson, right)
On Wednesday night, July 19, I had the amazing pleasure of conducting my first music interview with outlaw country musicians Kyle Wilson and Drew Ellis at Bezlo’s Cafe in the small town of Eclectic, Alabama where I am from. I was beyond impressed by these guys on how they work together on stage, despite not playing with one another very often.
They were very entertaining and fun to watch onstage as they carried on with the audience with banter and anecdotes that set the stage for each song that they played. What I liked most about the music was the rawness of each song. I could tell that each one from both Wilson and Ellis were written from the heart. Ellis wrote several songs about what it is like being a new dad and Wilson mentioned faith in Jesus Christ in a couple of his songs. Wilson has a rather large following, which was noted as some of his fans, as well as close friends and family members came out to support him Wednesday night for the performance.
After they finished their set, I waited patiently for them to give me just a little bit of their time to answer just ten easy questions. This is how the conversation went.
Q: What do you enjoy most/least about playing in small venues?
KW: “The first thing I like about playing small venues is the interaction with people. Most of the time when you play in a small room, it’s a lot of people you’re familiar with. Especially in small towns; you get your small-town crowd, your friends, your family out, and it’s always really cool. Playing big venues with people you don’t know sometimes gets a little weird, you get really nervous and anxious to get your music out to people, but you just have to realize that, y’know, you are who you are and you gotta be who you are as an artist. Play what you do, do what you do, what you write and what you sound like. So that’s kinda where that goes.”
DE: “The best thing I like about playing in small venues is people appreciate it. Most of the people who come out are appreciative about the songs you write and the songs you sing, and they wanna hear more of it. The least thing I like about small venues is there’s less people. It’s different, but the people here are so much more appreciative as opposed to playing for so many more people. You get interaction and one on one time with people in a small venue. So that’s what I like about it.”
Q: Do you have any key inspirations or role models?
KW: “Uh, yeah! My grandparents. They had a gospel group called the Johnson Quartet, so me and my brother and my sister kinda come up in the music singing gospel and southern gospel quartet kinda style stuff. I have a lot of role models; Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, I mean.. My list goes on and on and on, and I take all those influences and I attempt to put them into what I do.”
DE: “I sure do. I’ve got a lot of those actually. My number one inspiration is probably Jamey Johnson. He’s one of my favorite songwriters and he’s one of my favorite country artists, his producing on his albums is great. Other than that, everybody loves George Strait, Alan Jackson, but Merle Haggard is one of my favorites too. I love Haggard. I love George Jones. You know they were both heartfelt songwriters and that’s kinda what I thrive off of.”
Q: In your opinion, what are the skills/personal attributes to success?
KW: “Well, everybody sees success in a different platform. Most people think in the music industry that you have to be on the radio, on the CMT Awards, ACM’s, all that to be successful, but you don’t. That’s for a limited category of people. That’s for thirty or forty artists. There’s hundreds of thousands of artists out there. It depends on how you weigh success. I weigh mine in little rooms like this. When I can get a hundred or two hundred people to come wherever I play and pay five, ten dollars to get in to hear the songs that I write, then that’s success. So everybody weighs it in a different way. Yeah, I mean mega stardom is radio, hits on the radio and selling out stadiums. But it’s only for a limited few of people. There’s a lot of us out there that live a great life and have a lot of success at it but you’ll never hear of it.”
DE: “That’s a tough one! To be successful… It’s not about being successful as much as it’s about being likeable. Success comes with being humble, being liked; it comes with so many different things like.. Say tonight, for instance, we played tonight – I don’t know many people here – but a lot of people here came up and said, ‘hey, I really like what you were doing.’ So you shake their hand and you say thank you, and you don’t go off the hinge and say ‘Yeah I know I’m good,’ whether you think you’re good or you’re not. You have to be personable, you have to be likeable, you have to be something that everybody else ain’t.”
Q: What songs would be included on the soundtrack of your life?
KW: “Ramblin’ Man – Waylon Jennings, and then Ramblin’ Man – Allman Brothers. Different songs, of course. Favorite Memory Of Mine – Merle Haggard, Give Me Back My Bullets – Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cocaine – J.J. Cale, Cold Shot – Stevie Ray Vaughan, Thrill Is Gone – B.B. King, Tonight I Climb The Wall – Alan Jackson, The River – Garth Brooks, Miami Miami – Keith Whitley. There’s so many, I mean that’s just right now. Tomorrow it would be a different story.”
DE: “I would say the number one song would be The Good Old Boys by Waylon Jennings. I mean I got a lot of friends and they’re just good old boys. We like to drink beer and we like to have a good time. In Color would be one of my top 5 favorite country songs of all time. I’m a veteran so I appreciate somebody who writes songs about veterans. Merle Haggard’s Momma Tried would be one of them because, lord knows, my mama had a hell of a time but she tried. She did a good job, my mom is great. I love my mom.”
Q: How do you get people to take you seriously as a musician?
KW: “Getting people to take you seriously as a musician is a really fine line because when you start out everybody wants instant success and instant gratitude. Any shitty ass band can go out there and play Sweet Home Alabama and everybody clap. But a guy who’s lived through a lot of shit and written a bunch of shit in his life can go out and play an original song and nobody take it. You gotta be willing to accept that as a songwriter and as an artist that nobody owes you a thing. Instant gratitude is awesome because any garage band can come out and sing Sweet Home Alabama or Free Bird, or whatever, and everybody in the bar will go crazy. Instant gratitude. It makes you feel great. But that’s not gonna make a career out of it for you. You gotta be willing to go through the grind of it where nobody claps, and nobody even looks up, and you’re like ‘Damn I just put my whole heart and soul into that song and nobody even gave a shit about it.’ But the next night could be a totally different story. See what I’m sayin’?”
DE: “People won’t ever take you seriously. They think that if you’re not George Strait then you’re just another guy playing a guitar. If anything, the unknown guys are more serious about music than the older guys are because we want to be taken seriously and we want to be known. Not to be famous but to be known for our music. So to be taken seriously, you have to be humble. Humble is 100% key to being taken seriously.”
Q: Do you think music is important in education?
KW: “Music is very important in education. I was a math major. I was great in high school, great in college at math, and it transposes into the music thing because music is based on numbers and based on feeling. A lot of people who hate math early age, like 5th, 6th, 7th grade, usually are gonna end up doing it later on somewhere in life. Even running a cash register somewhere like McDonald’s. It’s one of those things like they was good at it but they didn’t do nothing with it but they can still see it. Music is all numbers. It’s a feeling but it’s still based on a theory and how you get around the theory is based on the feeling that you play with. But yeah, education is huge in the music industry. You have to be able to count really fast, you have to be able to see patterns, accept the theory behind it, and apply it into a live setting. The live setting changes every night, every venue you play, every live crowd. You’re playing in Texas one night and New York City the next night and everybody takes that a different way. But the same theory applies to the songs you’re playing and how you approach the song and how you deliver the song in front of people.”
DE: “Absolutely. I read in an article somewhere that understanding music theory raises your IQ by 30%. So understanding scales and understanding what notes to play and how to play them is very valuable. In music there’s a numbers system. With that numbers system, you also have a progression that you have to follow or you have to pick up on what someone is doing and when. So it’s like a brain teaser. I think it is very valuable in education because it makes you use parts of your brain that you don’t normally use.”
Q: When do you remember music first having an impact on your life?
KW: “It started so early for me that I don’t even remember. I was so young. I grew up in it, my grandparents had a gospel group. And not so much successful as ‘money’ successful but they had a good following. They put out some records and it was a whole family based band. They did a lot of like southern Baptist revivals, a lot of local churches, regional churches, Sunday singings, stuff like that. Can’t really call it a fan base because they’re not really there for the music, they’re there to worship God. So it’s hard to weigh how successful somebody is back then, or even today,. The whole reason you go to a revival or a church singing is to worship God. You’re not going for the band. So it kinda sucks for gospel bands because everybody’s there to worship God!”
DE: “I can remember growing up, listening to Tracy Lawrence with my biological father and I always knew that I liked it, but I didn’t realize that I loved it so much that I was gonna play it someday. And then when I started playing it, I realized that it is something I’ve always wanted to do and I’m always gonna do. Whether I make it big or not, i’m always gonna play music. It’s never going to change. When you get that bone inside of you, you won’t get rid of it. So growing up, I remember listening to country music and just knowing that it’s cool, and I never really knew I liked it until I was old enough to play. When I realized that I could play that stuff, It meant that much more to me.”
Q: Do you still get nervous?
KW: “I get nervous. But I keep guys like Drew. We don’t ever play together. When I’m going to a new spot I’d rather take somebody with me that I can relate to to have a familiarity with somebody. I know what he comes from, I know what he stands for.. We don’t play a lot of shows together, but I talked to him yesterday and I was like, ‘Hey I’m playing over at this little place thirty minutes from my hometown, but it’s a new place.’ I was nervous, i mean, I want to come in and do a good job. Somebody is paying me a fee to come in and put on a show, and I told him, I was like, ‘Man, let’s do it together!’ I mean, if you don’t get nervous then you’re not feeling it, you don’t believe in it. It’s become a job. You look at somebody who has worked at Advanced Auto Parts. If they don’t get nervous going in, hoping someone is gonna come in and ask an off-the-wall question about a random car that nobody’s heard of in thirty years, or if you’re working at who knows what the business is, if you don’t get nervous doing your job hoping somebody’s gonna come in and call your bluff… I mean like, you studied twenty years to learn this shit, and then all of a sudden a guy comes in and blows your mind… That’s what you expect in places like this. I’m used to playing to a lot of people. Thousands of people. But I get nervous when I come into small groups because it’s a one on one interaction. People can holler out, hey play this, play that. When you’re playing in front of thirty thousand people, they don’t holler out what song they want to hear. It’s a set list, you play through your whole show. Shows like this, people you don’t even know are hollering out, hey play this song, or, I’ll give you twenty bucks if you play this. It’s awesome to play to a big crowd because you actually regenerate from all that time and work you put in, and when you walk out in front of all those people, the feeling is awesome. But it’s also awesome to play in a town you never play in, and thirty people show up, and they sing every word to every song you’ve written. So there’s perks to both.”
DE: “If you don’t get nervous, you need to quit. Getting nervous and being worried that you’re gonna do bad is kind of the adrenaline that you get being a musician. Does the nervousness go down? Yes. But it also goes back up at times. Tonight I wasn’t as nervous as I would have been playing in front of 5,000. But I was still nervous because I got somebody who owns this place watching me play. So yeah, absolutely, if you don’t get nervous you need to quit because you don’t love it.”
Q: What is the first song you learned to play
KW: “I don’t know. I don’t know. I learned a lot at one time. I think it was around like Wonderful Tonight – Eric Clapton, Purple Rain – Prince, Amazing Grace, The Old Rugged Cross… I learned a lot at one time because it was like an awakening for me. Once I figured out the theory behind music, I knew every song. It was basically just looking up the chart to it. After that I knew every song.”
DE: “Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
Q: What advice can you give to beginners starting out?
KW: “It depends on what you’re looking for. Success is not meant for everybody in the music industry. It goes back to a couple questions before. Everybody is not gonna be Luke Bryan or Kenny Chesney and you gotta accept that. But there’s a lot of artists out there who make a great living that nobody knows about. I mean, giving advice to people coming up, I mean, I’m not one to really give advice about that, because everyone weighs success differently. I would say, do what you love, do what you feel, play the music that you like, and eventually you’ll find people who share that same common ground. Find where you fit in, and find where people accept you. Find your sound, the sound that you feel comfortable with.”
DE: “Best advice that I think i could give somebody is for one, listen to people who are older than you and have been doing it a while. Listen to what they have to say. Don’t just blow them off. Shutting up has really gotten me far. At the same time, you don’t want to listen so much that you become someone’s puppet.”
(Kyle Wilson, Myself, and Drew Ellis)
And there you have it! My first music interview and I could not be happier with the responses from both artists.
Check them out on Facebook via the links below and leave me a comment letting me know what you think!
Peace, Love, and Rock and Roll, but in this case, Outlaw Country!
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