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Interview: The Texas Gentlemen’s Nik Lee on new album Floor It!!!, UK fans and songwriting

We caught up with the five-piece band’s co-frontman as they prepare to release their sophomore LP next month.

The Texas Gentlemen
Credit: Barbara FG

Since they assembled as a studio band over 10 years ago, The Texas Gentlemen have supported legendary artists including Leon Bridges, George Strait, Kris Kristofferson and Ray Wylie Hubbard.

In 2017, they moved from behind the scenes to being front and centre with the release of their debut album, TX Jelly. After spending the last couple of years on the road – including performing at AmericanaFest UK in 2018 – now they’re back with the follow-up, Floor It!!!, due for release on 17th July on New West Records.

Ahead of the album’s release I spoke to co-frontman Nik Lee about the new record, the band’s songwriting process, their impressions of UK fans – and why they decided to do a board game as a merchandise tie-in…

How would you describe your music?

I’d say it’s like eclectic American rock.

Your new album Floor It!!! is coming out next month. What can you tell us about it?

I guess it’s been almost three years since our last release. That could be incorrect for all I know but it seems like it’s been ages. We’ve been travelling and writing and having a blast, and realised it was about time to cut another album. We spent probably a year’s time trying out different studios and doing different approaches on certain songs, so any given song could have been recorded two or three different times in a different studio until we finally locked down the sonic quality that we wanted. And we ended up at EchoLab Studios in Argyle, Texas. I guess we spent probably the better part of two weeks doing the raw tracking with the live band and the strings and stuff. We’re happy about it. I know Dan [Creamer, the band’s co-frontman] and I are feeling like we’re putting out songwriting that’s of a little bit more succinct quality than the last record. We’re very pleased with it, and we’re wishing we could do a full release but because of COVID-19 we’re having to come up with more creative ideas to release stuff.

I wanted to ask about that as I know you’re doing a board game with this album – how did you come up with that?

Yeah! [laughs] Well you know, you spend a whole lot of time together, and we’re constantly mulling around different ideas, this or that – anything from merchandise to even what we’re gonna wear on stage. It used to be a thing but now not so much. But we’re trying to come up with an aesthetic purely from the beginning of any kind of thought. So if you have a great idea it’s gotta look cool, it’s gotta feel cool, it’s gotta have a kind of vibe to it.

So when we chatted about the board game it was kind of a spur of the moment, ‘well what if there was like a board game?’ And then it was ‘oh what if it the vinyl, the double LP opened up into a board game?’ And then it went to this whole chutes and ladders thing. And then within a couple of weeks after getting confirmation that the label was into it, we kind of started drafting things and got with our artist who does all our T shirt designs and stuff like that. He sat down with us and everyone got excited real quick [laughs]. They had a release recently supposedly, I didn’t know about this but they had a release with a similar kind of idea. But the whole board game thing came out of a very organic conversation. It’s not like someone just dreamed it up and then brought it to the band. We just were all chatting and it kind of snowballed.

One thing that struck me listening to the record was how eclectic it is – sometimes you’re even switching genres within the same song. Was that variety and element of surprise important to you when you were making this album?

We kind of go where the song leads. So there’s no strict barrier on structure or even really style. As long as it kind of jives with things that are in our listenable wheelhouse. We have very eclectic tastes, so we could be listening to Booker T and the MGs and then the next one we could be listening to Bob Dylan. That kind of thing, that’s kind of the general idea of our taste. It spans from funk to country to rock and roll to whatever. That’s just our tastes, right? There’s no knowing what the tune’s gonna be like. We do love music that has… we’re all pretty big fans of the Beatles and anything they did with their careers, we enjoy that. So namely like Paul McCartney’s stuff has hard left turns out of nowhere, right? So we’re kinda into that thematic type of approach. So there could be elements that take you on a journey and who knows where it’s gonna go. It’s kind of broad but you know what I’m saying [laughs].

Were there any songs on the album that were particularly easy or particularly difficult to write?

There’s a few moments where the chord progressions or something like that would get a little more involved. I wouldn’t say any of it was really easy. It was one of those things where… I mean put it this way, sometimes we’ll write a tune that has a more palpable chord progression but at the same time we want the complexity of maybe the lyric to stand out. Every tune has a different highlight. We’re not necessarily always highlighting electric guitar, we’re not necessarily always highlighting the organ or the piano or synthesiser. We like to switch the spotlight a little bit about the band.

You’ve mentioned it’s three years since the last record…

How long has it really been? I can’t remember [laughs]

[quickly checks] Yeah, almost three years – November 2017. Do you feel your approach to your writing and the process has changed over that time? Or has it always been fairly consistent?

No, I mean Daniel and I, really we started writing songs together five, six years ago. We used to live together – there was a bunch of us that used to live together in this kind of Brady Bunch-style home in South Dallas, a Mother Hubbard situation with five of us crammed into this little two-story home. Well it wasn’t really crammed, we all had a nice little space but it was constantly jamming, constantly learning songs. And for the first couple of years there I guess Daniel and I kind of realised that we were the yin to each other’s yang. There were moments where I would start an idea and he’d be ‘oh what if we did it like this?’ and vice versa, until you basically had a song. It was always kind of a passing thing sometimes. Like I’d walk in a room and he’d be working on something and I’d be like, ‘dude, what if it went this way?’.

And you get down a path for a while and that’s kind of like how we’d write. We would just culminate pieces of stuff and then we would go away, secluded and kind of do our own thing and bring it back to the other guy, ‘what do you think of this?’. That kind of s***. It was always piece by piece it would come together and sometimes he’d have a whole tune or I’d have a whole tune and we would bring that to the band. But typically, for a lot of the time I’d say Streetcar was the first tune he and I wrote together. And we wrote that together probably five years ago. And like I said earlier that’s a song we recorded four times before we were like, ‘this is how we wanna do it’.

I mean that’s kind of how it goes. You start to play it live and you have a new idea. Well now that has to be on the song, s*** [laughs]. So you record it again, you know?

You’ve been over to the UK a couple of times…

Yeah, we did some stuff with Yola Carter out there, when we were in London. It wasn’t Bush Hall, it was somewhere like that though. It was a lot of fun.

Was there anything that particularly surprised you about the audiences here?

Very warm, very friendly people. I’ve toured with other bands – I used to play with a guy called Israel Nash, and a girl out of Sweden called Ellen Sedberg. So I have had experience with the UK and Scandinavia and the Netherlands, and I’ve always enjoyed any kind of overseas touring just because there is a bit of a different response in many ways. But everyone shows up and has a couple beers and enjoys themselves, to the extent that they would. But I definitely loved it over there. Those three shows that we did down in London were just complete blasts.

I remember we got to go to the AmericanFest Awards ceremony and they had Robert Plant and his band playing. It was really great to get to see him. Patrick Stewart was a surprise guest speaker, like an MC. So he walks out and I remember thinking, ‘he’s so short!’ [laughs]. But it was a good time, we had a blast. We partied at many different spots – going back to somebody’s house afterwards. I love that kind of s***. It’s like making friends everywhere.

You’ve worked with a huge variety of artists over the years as a studio band. How has that influenced your work in Texas Gentlemen as a recording and performing unit?

I would say the more time we spent backing people up, it gives you a wider palate. It really does. It opens up your eyes from your current status as an individual, albeit as a writer, guitar player, drummer, whatever. I feel like everyone kind of applies themselves while watching this person who you admire perform. When we worked with Kris Kristofferson, I remember listening to all his catalogue and all of us just looking at each other going, ‘can you f***ing believe we’re about to do this?’ [laughs] Cause we just adored his albums for so long. I can remember being 13, 14 years old and hearing Jesus Was A Capricorn and thinking, ‘that’s such a cutting edge idea’ [laughs]. Even as a teenager, thinking. ‘this is really cool’. I would never have imagined… you can only guess what kind of impact that would have on an adult, realising that you’ve had that much appreciation for someone and getting to work alongside them.

It’s definitely an inspiring tool, to have that notch in your belt, to say you’ve been there to enjoy those things and you realise what a wonderful human they are and those kind of things. So that story spans I would say 90 per cent of the people that we’ve worked with. You can dig into multiple music and world views and all this kind of stuff. It was a gift for a while.

We’re realising now that ship has kind of sailed. We’re not so much interested in it. We had the whole Wrecking Crew thing thrust upon us – we never said that was what we wanted to do but that was just kind of how it went. We were always just in the studio, getting handed to these artists [laughs]. Then when the session’s done they’re like ‘well you’re my band now’. We’re like, ‘OK, I guess we’re your band’ and then you end up playing shows with them and s***. It’s always been interesting looking back and be like, ‘oh yeah, I played with them, I played with them. They were cool, they were a d***’ [laughs] But no, I have nothing but good things to say about it and I think the whole band feels the same way. It was a great time in life. But now we’re onto the next s***.

You’ve been playing together as a band for over 10 years now. What would you say the secret is to sticking with it this long?

Well you gotta know you would be pals whether you were playing music together or not. So I feel like there’s definitely a reflection of that. We’re all really close friends. it’s not just about the music. We care about each other, we care about each other’s lives and wellbeing, and that helps a lot. If you know someone well enough to know when to leave them alone [laughs[ or to not push someone, that goes a long way. You don’t have a selfish bone in your body when it comes to the five of you being in a room together. Everyone wants the same thing.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

[laughs] Oh, man! You should have told me that before you called me so I could think about it. I don’t want to say the wrong one. I guess I’ve always really dug… I think Ram On would probably be the tune. That one – it’s from Paul McCartney’s solo record called Ram On, or just Ram, I’m sorry. That’s a really cool one. Yeah, I’d have to say Ram On ’cause it’s got this lovely little very simple chord progression on the ukulele, and I believe that was the ukulele George Harrison gave to Paul when the band split up. I can’t remember what the story is exactly. But you can just feel it’s this like intimate vibe. It’s a very warm feeling. It’s a very short song, but a lot of ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ A song doesn’t have to be four minutes long, it’s just a beautiful tune. That’s my answer for now. Call me tomorrow!

How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?

Well, I’ve got a solo project, as does Daniel, and it’s just my songs. I have this thing called Skorpiko – it’s an Afrobeat inspired instrumental band, an 11 piece band with horns and everything. I really love doing that. That’s been something to keep me busy. I just moved – my girl and I just moved to another place, so that was an interesting thing to be doing during COVID [laughs] when you can’t hire movers. So we took our sweet time moving. But I’ve been working, writing. I have a studio here at my house, so that’s been nice not being able to get out and everything. It’s fortunate that I have the means to produce music while I’m at home.

When this is all over and we can travel again safely, do you have any plans as Texas Gentlemen to come back to the UK?

Oh absolutely. Yeah. No doubt. We would love to take it further – I think last time we just pretty much stayed in England, and we would love to do Germany. I have a big place in my heart for Sweden, I have a lot of friends there still so would love to get to back to Sweden. I loved the Netherlands, that was another great time. But yeah, Germany is somewhere I would probably like to go. I’ve never been to Japan – that s*** would be great. But yeah, UK would definitely be high on the list.

The Texas Gentlemen’s new album Floor It!!! is out on 17th July on New West Records.

 

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