Carson McHone has a sound that has been shaped not only by the city of Austin, but by the musical traditions of the entire Lone Star State.
“I've been writing since I can remember,” she said in a phone interview. “(My writing) is influenced by the music that I grew up with, and the acts that I got to see here in Austin.”
A natural singer/songwriter, McHone's first EP was more introspective, dealing with what she called “darker” issues. For the past two years, however, she has found herself moving in a different direction.
“When I started playing shows out by myself, I started putting together a band, just so I could play bigger venues,” she explained. “So for the past two years, I've been cutting my teeth doing that. That's my honky tonk crew. Those songs were really honed on stage.”
It is that amalgam of a traditional, honky tonk stage show mixed with her own caliginous underpinnings that formed the basis of her first full-length album, “Good Luck Man.”
“I'm so glad that this record happened when it did,” she said. “Texas is my home town. Not to say that I haven't been all over the world, but Good Luck Man encompasses a hometown, Austin-roots scene, which is really cool. It's kind of split between this super honky tonk, traditional country stuff, and some darker kind of singer/songwriter stuff.”
The album happened quickly, recorded live at her sound engineer's house in a couple of sessions. That alacrity helped further crystallize the moment-in-time feel that that resonates throughout the album. But while McHone remains pleased with the results of the sessions, and has grown to love the live aspects of honky tonk music, she is quick to admit that the traditional country sound is something she has grown into, rather than coming naturally from.
“I have a lot of fun getting rowdy and doing the honky tonk thing,” she concurred. “I really love great, traditional music. I think that honest delivery is something that has been lost in modern music. So that traditional stuff is what inspires me. But definitely, my musical style is going to be ever changing, and really at the core of it is the songwriting. The lyrical content. I grew up playing music, but it the lyrics are why I started to perform. I love to do the full band. The darker stuff is more what I HAVE to do. It's inside me.”
The “darker stuff” forms the basis upon which everything else she creates exists. Just as some musicians will profess to be hook driven, or some will always start with a riff or a chord progression, McHone always begins with the words. She is, at her core, a poet with a band, rather than a musician with a pen.
“At the core of everything, there's this skeleton of the song,” she explained. “That has to be great, for me to be satisfied. But the more I learn about the recording process and the instruments I'm working with, the more I understand what I'm doing, musically. Having these things you want to say and not knowing how to perform them is so frustrating. So I'm still a student. I'm learning all the time. I'm always trying to find out 'how am I going to get this out into the world? How am I going to get this point across to people?' Well, the more I'm playing, the more I'm learning.”
Originally appeared in Cityview February 4, 2016