Wayne "The Train" Hancock is a traditionalist juke-joint honky-tonker who incorporates rockabilly, western swing, blues, and old-time appeal into each song he writes and every live performance he gives. His influences are rooted in the classics, and the names "Hank Williams" and Jimmie Rodgers" often get dropped by his closest admirers. When I saw Wayne perform back in the early 2000's for the first time, I was in awe. I've been following his work ever since.
Wayne began writing songs at 12, and by the time he was 18 he won a prestigious talent competition, The Wrangler Country Showdown". After spending six years in the Marines, Wayne returned to Texas, working odd jobs and performing whenever he could. He headed to West Dallas, then onto Austin where he settled and began playing with the likes of Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Robert Earl Keen, and Terry Allen. He released his first solo album Thunderstorms and Neon Signs in 1995 via the small Texas-indie, Deja. Based on the critical attention and wildly impassioned fanfare Wayne was receiving, he was picked up by Ark 21 label and released That's What Daddy Wants and Wild, Free & Reckless.
In 2001, Hancock joined the ever-expanding Bloodshot roster, where he released two recordings: the full-length A-Town Blues and the South Austin Sessions EP. Since then, Wayne's output for Bloodshot has grown to include Swing Time (2003), Tulsa (2006), and Viper of Melody (2009). Last year, Bloodshot issued a Best of collection of Wayne's work (which I highly recommend to newcomers as a great starting point to this prolific artist's lengthy discography).
As a fan of Wayne's work over the years, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ask him about the making of his new record for the Bloodshot label, called Ride.
Wayne Hancock: I tried to stay busy touring, keeping my guys working and doing what I've been doing for twenty years. Playing music. I really got into riding my Harley over the last few years and have found good friends through riding. It's been great.
At the same time, my marriage was headed in the opposite direction and I've been going through that whole process. So I have had a big shift in my life over the last few years and I've been dealing with that, just like anyone else would. But music has been a constant. I love doing what I am doing.
You recently quit drinking. Can you discuss your decision to give it up, the process of cleaning up, and how you're feeling now (personally, as well as musically)?
Wayne: I gave up drinking but you can still catch me outside lighting up. I'm not sure if it was something I planned on, but it seemed that the time was right. It was a new year, I had a new record coming out, a lot of my personal life began to settle, and I had just moved to Denton, Texas.
I have a lot friends in the area and can busy without getting into trouble. I feel great. I love the new record and think it is a real barn burner. We recorded it in just a couple of days with Lloyd and came out with something pretty special. I feel really good about this year professionally. And I have a lot of friends who support my decision.
How and when did you begin writing material for a new album?
Wayne: I did not make any conscious effort to write the new record in any particular manner. I did not think of a "theme" for the record. I wasn't trying to make a statement or write happy songs, or sad songs. I felt it was time to write and the songs came to me. Some of these songs are older.
"Cappuccino Boogie" has been sitting around for a while. But I am sure that being in my forties, going through issues in my personal life, and riding a lot influenced this record. The songs aren't separated from me. They age with me and come from my perspective as a man in my 40s. The songs evolve with me.
Riding clears my head. I focus on the ride so much when I am on the bike. That really helps. And some of these songs or ideas came to me when I was driving around, on the highway. They come when they come. Nothing was forced. The songs came from the heart and I wrote them when I was in the mood for the song. It was just very natural.
Was there a tune(s) that set the course for the new record?
Wayne: Probably "Ride".
What were you listening to (as well as other sources of non-musical inspiration/ influence) that influenced your writing, performing, and recording of this album?
Wayne: I love big band, jazz, Swing music. Bob Wills or Hank Sr. have been favorites of mine.
Can you discuss the recording of the new album?
Wayne: I worked with some old friends on this one. Lloyd Maines is great to work with and he knows what type of sound to get from me. Bob Stafford did a great job on guitar and Trombone. Eddie Rivers on pedal Steel. Zack Sapunor did a great job on the bass. Eddie Beibel and Tjarko Jeen did an amazing job on guitar. Eddie cam all the way from Wisconsin to Texas just to play on the record.
It was a lot of fun and easy to record. Like friends getting together. They are all such great players. They really contributed to the sound of this record.
How about the band? Can you give us a run through of your current lineup?
Wayne: I tour as a 3 piece most of the time. Zach Sweeney on guitar and Zach Sapunor on upright players. They do a real nice job with the songs. Great players. It works great because they can take a little direction from me and really put their own stamp on their part, or solo.
It seems like the press announcement for the new record came out of nowhere last month.
Wayne: We've been working on the record for a while that it does not feel like it was under wraps. If anything it was just waiting for the new year, after the holidays, to announce it.
You recently released a Best of collection leading up to Ride. Can you talk about working with Bloodshot and how that collection came together?
Wayne: I've been working with Bloodshot for a while. Just like making this record and using Lloyd and all the players, it seemed natural to work with Bloodshot. They are good people, they work hard, and they do a great job. The Best of was their idea and it seemed like a good time to reflect on some the past work.
What drew you to the label and what does it mean to you to be on their roster?
Wayne: I've worked with Nan and Rob for years so we have developed a friendship and a good working relationship. I like they way they work with their artists and how they present them. It is not easy to run a label these days and they have proven to be in it for the long haul and at at the same time always looking out for their artists.
Now that the record is finished, how would you say it connects most to your previous work?
Wayne: It's an extension. The music comes from the heart and has evolved with me.
What would you say sets it most apart?
Wayne: I am writing from a different perspective, and with new experiences that have shaped me.
Can you talk about your touring plans and what's next for you this year?
Wayne: We have plans to stay on the road for the whole year. We'll be touring well into the fall. That is what we do and have been doing for 20 years. Hopefully we'll introduce the music to some new folks and pick up some of the people who may have forgotten about us.
What do you enjoy most about touring?
Wayne: I'm so used to it all. It's just my way of life. I love it. I like seeing the fans and friends and the shows. When they show up and are hopping I just want to play all night.
What have you been listening to lately?
Wayne: Only the classics. Lot of big band, Texas Swing, and jazz.
Chris Mateer is a freelance music writer living in Portland, OR. He is the founder and writer of the Uprooted Music Revue and has been contributing regularly to No Depression. In addition to music writing, Chris teaches visual art and plays the mandolin, banjo, and drums.
As a player and music writer, Chris is always excited to share and learn more. He believes a community thrives on participation and enthusiasm, and he's thrilled to contribute.
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