Sometimes you come across an artist that appears to be right on the cusp of something special. With a classy, honest and authentic new album, ‘Bender’, due for release on Friday (18th November) and not one, but two, songs picked to feature in the newest season of the hit TV show ‘Yellowstone’, Isaac Hoskins is that dude for me, right now.
After releasing a debut album, ‘Half Empty’ in 2009 it took till 2020 for Hoskins to follow that up with a sophomore recording. It then took the pandemic to really hammer home to him what a career in music meant. After three days alone in the desert, Hoskins came home and started over. Today, he is 12 months sober, 30 pounds lighter, and performing full-time after side-hustle stints as a bartender, construction worker, beer truck driver, and ranch hand had previously left him unfulfilled.
New album, ‘Bender’ is the culmination of that journey and is a raw, honest and gritty piece of work underpinned by a whole bunch of melody. It is one of 2022’s stand-out releases. Oh, and two of the songs on the album are going to feature on season five of ‘Yellowstone’ too. We were thrilled to talk to Isaac all about it.
Great to talk to you today, Isaac. Thanks for your time. ‘Bender’ is such a terrific album. It feels like an album that you have poured a lot of yourself into. What were your goals when you set out at the beginning of this project?
Thanks, man, glad you like it. You know what, I don’t know whether I had any specific goals or ambitions other than resolving to write the best songs that I could. I do feel like that’s what we got in the end as it’s a record that I’m very proud of.
The pandemic appeared to hit you hard financially and mentally. Was it a turning point in your journey to where you are today?
Oh yeah, 100%. I don’t think the things that happened to me were just exclusive to me, you know? Everyone had a hard time there for a year or two. But it was definitely a time during which I did a lot of reflection and had to decide whether I was going to be a victim or whether I was going to take charge of what was happening to me.
I took some steps to make changes in my own life and if I had to find a silver lining for what was happening during that period it would be those changes and the effect they’ve had on me.
Sobriety and weight loss came out of that period for you?
Correct. I didn’t want sobriety to define my character but I know that I had to re-asses my priorities. I was spending a lot more time nursing hangovers than I was writing songs, so that had to change. I took a year off and examined just how ingrained in my life alcohol had become. I’m more healthy now – I was on all kinds of blood pressure medication before, you know, all kinds of things. I was having anxiety attacks but I feel great now and I’m fit and healthy.
You released your debut album, ‘Half Empty’ in 2009 and then nothing else for 11 years. Is that another sign that you weren’t committed to music fully during that time?
Some of that is true, yes. I didn’t realise what it took in order to make music my life. A huge part of that was definitely the alcohol. I was getting paid to party, you know? I tended bar at a music venue so I did a whole lot of that.
I was also in a rock band for a while too. We were called ‘The Healers’ – that stuff is probably still on Spotify. We made a record called ‘The Devil on Your Shoulder’. Some of those songs I’m really still quite proud of and I may release a ‘Country’ version of them at some point, who knows? I did that for several years but then I decided to go back to doing what I knew best!
You’ve had a load of tough jobs – bar tending, construction, ranch hand. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had to do whilst supporting your music career?
(laughing) That’s hard to say. In college I used to work on a road crew in the summer time and that wasn’t the best, the smell of asphalt on a hot day, you know? (laughing) The highways were rough, man. I’ve always said that if there is a hell it would be August in Texas at a huge grocery store and being the guy that has to collect the trolleys from the parking lot! That’s a terrible job!
There’s a wonderful mix of heartland Americana and Texan Country in your music. Which musical artists were an inspiration to you growing up?
Oh man, there’s so many. Growing up I loved George Strait and Merle Haggard and all those guys. I was also way into Soul music and Rap too. I like to think I learned a little about writing from dudes like Notorious B.I.G. too.
I’ve stolen from a whole lot of people over the years, I suppose! (laughing) I like to keep things as eclectic as possible.
I can hear that. I can hear the influence of Garth Brooks, even, on a song like ‘H-Town Turnaround’, which has elements of his track, ‘Rodeo’ in it for me.
(laughing) I never thought of it like that. On that song, when we cut it I kept hearing a trucker version of Hank Williams JR, something like that. I like what we got out of that song as I had to fight my producer a little on it around the tempo of the song. I’m glad I listened to him when he was insistent that there needed to be a backbeat on it, he’s a smart guy.
I wasn’t sure exactly how to open the record but the intro to ‘H-Town Turnaround’ is kinda sparse and then the party kicks in and invites people to come along with me!
I’m a great believer in the correct sequencing of an album, there’s quite an art to it. You nailed it on ‘Bender’, from top to bottom.
Cool, I’m so glad to hear that. I’m a huge fan too but not many people are any more. I put a lot of thought into it so I’m glad it hit home with you.
One rule of sequencing is that your most commercial track has to be in there at track 2, but most often, track 3. That’s ‘Panhandle Wind’ on ‘Bender’, my favourite track on the album. It has cross State and cross genre appeal to me.
I am trying to get better at writing those kinds of songs. I hear that song as being kind of like a Radney Foster track, you know? I feel like he’s like a Country Tom Petty who can write a really great Pop song that can be considered Country or Rock too. I set out to do that with ‘Panhandle Wind’.
I come from what is essentially the ultra-narrative songwriting school of artists like Guy Clark or James McMurtry and I have to work real hard to write a song that people can just bob their head to whilst driving and yet connect to it at the same time so I’m glad that you love ‘Panhandle Wind’ because I was a little worried it was too area specific. Lots of people won’t know anything about the panhandle of Texas or Oklahoma, for that matter, it’s a special spot for me but to hear somebody in the UK say it’s their favourite song on the album really hits home for me, so thank you.
Well, a track like ‘Leon’s Blues’ couldn’t have gone anywhere else but as the final track could it?
Yeah, I didn’t think so either. A few friends of mine were, like, but you’re ending the album on such a sad note but I wanted people to think about that. We just had a great time together across the album but I want you to think about how we treat people, moving forward. I’d hate to think that a song like ‘Leon’s Blues’ would get buried or missed at the end of a record but at the same time we kept this to a tight ten songs so listeners should still be with me at that point!
Tell me about the story of ‘Leon’s Blues’.
There’s a cemetery in Dallas called the Laurel Land cemetery and some of my wife’s family is buried there. Stevie Ray Vaughn is buried there too and I wanted to see his grave as well as finding my wife’s family. The stones were quite hard to find and it was an emotional experience. Whilst we were searching I came across a laminated paper marker which had been there for five years. It was in the veterans section and it felt odd that it had been there for five years and there wasn’t even a proper stone there.
I started doing a bit of research and started cooking up a story in my head as to who the person was and what he had been through. The name ‘Leon’ came from a guy who worked on my grandfather’s ranch in north west Oklahoma. He would come and spend holidays with us because he had no family of his own. That’s where the character started for me and then I embellished and fleshed out his story in the song.
The other ‘story’ that fascinates me on ‘Bender’ is ‘The Pistol and the Prayer’.
To be honest with you, I had made an acquaintance with a Hollywood television show producer and I was dying to get a song on that show. (Taylor Sheridan – Yellowstone) I went into the writing process of that song with that in mind and a story that I thought was most likely to appeal to him. I decided to let it all hang out on that song and just be as raw as possible. I wrote the song, pitched it to them, they loved it and then didn’t use it! (laughing) It served a purpose in getting attention though and I now have two other songs on this coming season! (laughing)
Speaking of Yellowstone then, if they didn’t go with ‘The Pistol and the Prayer’, what did they go with?
‘H-Town Turnaround’ is going to be in an episode later in the season and ‘Off the Wagon’ is in there first.
You must be so excited about a) landing two songs on that show and b) the possibilities that could provide for your career going forward?
Yeah! It’s all very surreal. I never thought I’d be in a position like this. Depending on how people feel about these songs could or could not have a major effect on things for me. Who knows? (laughing) I want to be ready to reap whatever benefits that may come my way but I also don’t want to be complacent either, it’s not like I’m going to wake up and be Luke Combs, you know?
What it will do for me is give me the ability to keep my band on the road for a while yet, which is the best thing to come out of it for now, all things considered!
Lainey Wilson got a song or two in earlier seasons and now she’s acting in the show. Does that mean we can expect to see you in season 6? (laughing)
Lainey’s incredible. I got to meet her a couple of times and she is so very inspirational. She’s a do-er. She takes time to treat people like people and that doesn’t happen at her stage or status often. I’m flattered to just be associated with her. Fingers crossed for season 6, right? I’ll have to brush up on my equestrian skills first, though! (laughing)
Isaac Hoskins’ album ‘Bender’ is released on Friday 18th November and you can hear his songs in TV show ‘Yellowstone’ right now as season 5 started last Sunday (13th November)