Mark Insley – Maybe he’ll just go to Tucson
For several years singer-songwriter Mark Insley has been living in Ventura, California, and gigging around regional hot spots such as Bakersfield and Los Angeles’ now-defunct Palomino Club. Yet from the sound of the title track on his new album Tucson, he seems ready for a change of scenery.
In a voice that convincingly marries Steve Earle’s burnished drawl to Neil Young’s sweet, keening whine, Insley sings, “Maybe I’ll just go to Tucson/Albuquerque’s nice this time of year/Maybe I can even lose some/Of these blues inbetween somewhere.”
Reflecting upon the title, Insley says, “I’d always been ambivalent about titling a record after something like a town. It’s asking for something you maybe don’t want. But it does reflect my feelings of stuff I was going through at the time. My marriage had broken up here, so I’d been getting on my motorcycle and going over to Tucson a lot.”
Insley, 44, was born in Kansas and grew up listening to classic country music. He checked out the Stones, Tom Petty and Neil Young in high school, and took his first professional gig with a bluegrass band. His 1996 solo debut, Good Country Junk, received favorable reviews and comparisons to Buck Owens, Chris Gaffney and Dwight Yoakam (members of Yoakam’s band backed up Insley on the album).
Tucson, however, is an edgier affair, a study in disheveled wanderlust, from the Creedence-meets-Earle title cut and the downcast Buddy & Julie Miller-styled “Middle Of Nowhere” to the spooky desert-noir blues of “Guilty” and the hard twangabilly of “Bus To Bakersfield”. Insley cut demos in Tucson, then completed recording in Ventura with a revolving-door cast of guests including Dave Alvin, Albert Lee, Rick Shea, Tony Gilkyson, Taras Prodaniuk and Greg Leisz.
“It was way loose, and we just let [tracks] go in whatever direction based on who came over,” explains Insley. “For example, Albert Lee was going to Europe the next day, so we got him for a day. We knew we wanted Dave Alvin to play some high-strung guitar on the last song [“Can’t Get Over You”], but then we realized we had this perfect electric thing for him too on ‘Bus To Bakersfield’. That’s even got a solo that starts with Tony, goes to Albert, then ends with Dave — you could never get all these guys in a room together because of scheduling problems, so we got the tracks down, then spent most of the time editing and mixing. We created this ‘band’ that really doesn’t exist.”
For touring purposes, Insley’s lineup currently includes Shea on guitar, ex-Eels bassist Orest Balaban and longtime drummer David Raven. Some collaborative dates with Rosie Flores are also on the horizon. Meanwhile, what of Insley’s Tucson dreams? Turns out they’re not mere wish fulfillment: He’ll soon be a permanent resident of the Old Pueblo, where he met and married a local gal. (Insley’s label, Rustic Records, will also be just up the road from him, in Phoenix.)
“I did spend a good part of my youth in the Southwest, some in New Mexico and Arizona. And I loved the music that’s indigenous to the area,” he says. “My first album even had more of that feel because we had an accordion on it and that whole sound and feeling. Tucson’s a really artsy town and anything flies there. It’s an anything-goes kind of place, and I like to think the music’s like that, because music’s not about a particular style or particular thing, but what flows, you know?”