Posted On 14 May 2015
In March, the Nashville-via-West Texas songwriter Ryan Culwell released his first album in more than 8 years via Lightning Rod Records. When asked to describe the album, Culwell says, “listening to my music is like watching No Country For Old Men…all the emptiness and violence will either scare you away or you’ll find yourself alone at 3am with it on repeat.”
Learn more about Culwell and his album, “Flatlands” in the following interview:
Looking back, can you remember the moment that you decided to be musician? Was your family always supportive of this dream?
I think I was probably born a writer, it just took awhile to realize that it could be a viable profession. I come from a very blue collar rural area so people treat the arts like a hobby. When I was 12 I was copying poems onto my bedroom with a Sharpie. There were always at least 10 guitars in my parents house so music was a natural progression for my writing. My family knew I was a writer long before I did, but they’d support me whether I was building houses, songs or stock portfolios.
Has being from West Texas influenced the sound of your music?
Lots of space. The Texas Panhandle has a lot of musical heritage, but I was even removed from most of that due to location. I grew up two hours north of Amarillo in a small town. When you live in such a remote area, you don’t really have any context for what is going on regionally. I just developed my sound the way I saw fit, more influenced by windstorms than anything else. Turns out it fits with other Texas songwriters pretty well.
How would you describe your music to new listeners? Can you elaborate on this quote you said, “listening to my music is like watching ‘No Country For Old Men’“?
It’ll make you feel like you are in another world and it’ll make you see something desolate in a romantic way. In the movie, you feel like maybe you should move to West Texas even though it’s got a serial killer running loose. Maybe that’s what I mean. There is a serial killer running lose through these songs, but damn ain’t it pretty?
This past March, you released your first album in 8 years. What does that feel like and why did it take so long to put “Flatlands” out? Ultimately, why did you quit music and then return to it?
I never really turned my back on music. I’ve been writing songs consistently for a decade, but I did walk away from the idea of making money from music. I figured I would rather have a family and make good music for them than sell a bunch of mediocre songs and return home to an empty house. I think good music can come from pain and emptiness, but I write more durable songs from having a full life to draw from.
What was the inspiration for the songs on the album, “Never Gonna Cry” for example? Can you describe your songwriting process? What things inspire you? Are those things consistently changing?
I don’t ever aim at writing out of a particular inspiration. I just open my mouth and make sounds. Eventually those unintelligible sounds become words and I feel like I’m discovering the song more than writing it. I can say that I come from a hardworking stock of men. My dad ran the water side of the world’s largest dry land frac job at 28 years old. That’s a lot of pressure, pun intended, but we pride ourselves as the kind of people who you can depend on. “Never Gonna Cry” is just a deeper look into how much weight you can put into your own vision of yourself.
Thus far, what’s a favorite memory or something crazy that’s taken place with you (in-studio, onstage, or elsewhere)?
I’ve seen a few guys knocked out by bouncers and seen a lot of girls pass out on dance floors. Occasionally you’ll get to have a magical moment where everyone will join into the chorus of an old hymn and that just can’t be beat.
Just that I mean every word, mostly.
Where can fans catch you live next?
We are working on tour dates all the time. We should be posting some at www.ryanculwell.com soon.