William Clark Green on His Upcoming Live Record, Honest Songwriting, and That Quittin’ Feeling

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With one of the best Texas country releases this year, William Clark Green is finally landing on important radars. He was one of Rolling Stone Country‘s “30 Best Country Albums of 2015 You Probably Didn’t Hear.” He’s one of our 10 Rising Texas Country Artists You Need To Know. And he’s a genuinely good guy.

Green also just announced plans to record the band’s first live album at historic Gruene Hall at the end of January. Spoiler alert: it’s going to be incredible. He took some time to chat with Wide Open Country about the live record, songwriting and the long road to success.

WOC: You just announced plans to record a live album at Gruene Hall at the end of January. That must be an amazing feeling.

WCG: Talk about a dream come true. There are so many places we want to do a live record, places that have been a home to us like the Blue Light in Lubbock or Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth. But for this first live record, “William Clark Green Live at Gruene” just sounds so pretty. It’s like it was meant to be! It’s been so hard to not talk about; it’s been a year of planning and very tight-lipped. We’re going to play a little bit from everything but a lot of Ringling Road and Rose Queen. It’s going to be two nights and we’ll pick the best performances.

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WOC: Have you wanted to do a live record for a while?

WCG: Honestly we’ve wanted to do one for years, but we never felt like we had the songs or were good enough as a band. But we feel like now the pieces have really come together. We brought in the same guy who mixed Ringling Road to mix the live album, and we really want it to be a real live record and not have to touch it too much afterwards. We’d like to do a new one every two or three years with new material so it doesn’t feel like the same live record every time.

WOC: What is it about Lubbock, Texas that leads so many great songwriters to come out of there?

WCG: Man, I didn’t know anything about Lubbock before I went to Texas Tech. My dad is a huge Buddy Holly fan and I didn’t even know he was from there, or Waylon Jennings. And then you think about Pat Green, Mac Davis, Joe Ely and Lloyd Maines. Delbert McClinton is from there, too, and I think he said it best when he was asked why so many songwriters come from Lubbock. He said, “I think it’s the DDT.”

That’s hilarious! It’s probably true, too. It makes us all crazy as hell. But the beautiful thing about the Lubbock music scene is that it isn’t exploited. There’s great support for the songwriters too. It’s probably one of the best places for young songwriters to hone their craft. It was a very last-minute, very weird decision for me to move there and my life would be so different if I hadn’t. I miss it a lot.

WOC: Especially nowadays, it seems like artists are trying to get as successful as possible as fast as they can. For you, it’s been a steady rise over the past eight years. Has it felt like eight years?

WCG: You forgot “slow” in front of steady (laughs). It’s felt like eight years for sure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re appreciative and thankful for what we’ve been blessed with, but — and this can be taken out of context so many ways — we feel like we deserve it. We’ve worked hard. And there are bands out there who have worked harder and achieved less, 100 percent, but we’ve gone all-in on this thing more than once and we think we deserve it. It’s part of the reason we treat our fan base with such respect and take it seriously. Touring has been our livelihood for all eight of those years.

WOC: Have there been moments along the way that you felt were really big steps forward for the band?

WCG: Yeah, as soon as we started working with Rachel Loy, our producer on Rose Queen and Ringling Road. We were a little cocky before her. We self-produced our record before that and we though we knew what we were doing. But she kicked our asses, and we needed it. Rose Queen is where we found our sound and Ringling Road is where we honed it in. It was great two because after Rose Queen, we went out on the road for almost two years and we were playing shows with her mentality in mind. So when we came in to do Ringling, we went in there and knocked it out.

She gave us a lot more free range and it was cool to see us earn her trust. But before Rose Queen we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. And she knew that and saw it and was awesome about it. She opened our eyes on things that are hard to explain, like the way I sing: we worked day and night on my vocals and teaching me how to sing and how to find my sweet spot was a huge part of it. I was under the impression that the harder I sang, the better it sounded, but she roped that in and helped me find my sweet spot. Everybody in the band has their attachments to her. Cameron learned so much on bass cause she’s a badass bass player. [Former drummer] Jay learned a lot on drums cause she’s a badass bass player (laughs). We’d love to work with her again.

WOC: Are there times you wanted to pack it in?

WCG: Yeah, like freaking yesterday! (laughs). All the time, still to this day. I think it comes down to the unknown. This business has nothing to do with what you’ve done. It’s what you haven’t done. That’s where the suffering comes from. We’re all addicts, and we’re all idiots. We’re all ADD, and the best place for us is on the road. I don’t want to call anybody out, but if there’s somebody who says they haven’t had any doubts, they’ve had it too easy. And validation is key.

I know guys, myself included, who write a song that they think is awesome and then get feedback from people who say, “Yeah, it’s not that great,” even if you think it’s great. It doesn’t matter what you think though. The whole thing will twist your mind up. It’s extreme confidence and extreme insecurities. It’s tough, but it’s worth every penny we’ve never made.

WOC: Is songwriting easier for you when it comes from a personal place?

WCG: Oh yeah, absolutely. When there’s no emotion, songwriting is hard. But when the emotion is there it’s so much easier for me. Don’t get me wrong, touring is fun, but songwriting is my passion. That’s where the love lies for the whole thing, and touring is a tool to get people to hear your music. I do not consider myself a good musician or a good singer, but I’m a songwriter. That’s what I am, and that’s all I care to be, honestly.

WOC: The first song on the record is the tongue-in-cheek “Next Big Thing”. I think a lot of young artists can relate to that one.

WCG: That song was written out of complete sarcasm. I wrote it with Ryan Beaver and Benjy Davis and we all just got it. It’s inspired by those times you’re playing in some tiny bar and a drunk guy comes up to you and says, “Hey man you’re the next big thing.” It’s like, “Dude I played for 15 people and you and your sister are the only ones who cared, shut up” (laughs). They say it takes 10 years, so basically you dedicate all of your 20s to getting somewhere. Or think of it this way: I hope I live to 70, I probably won’t, but that’s like 1/7 of your life dedicated just to getting traction. A lot of ups and downs and twists and turns. It’s a damn rollercoaster.

WOC: One of my favorites from Ringling Road has to be your duet with Dani Flowers, “Final This Time”. When I first heard you were doing a duet with her, I didn’t expect it to hit me like a ton of bricks.

WCG: Man, I just really wanted to write a knock-down, drag-out breakup song. Something that wasn’t cheesy but realistic. Breakups can be just cruel, especially the bad ones. Most the time it’s not one person feeling bad for themselves and another saying it’s going to be okay. It’s, “Screw you,” and, “She was a bitch anyways.” Normally both sides are horrible people for a little while, and then they grow from it. When I started writing with Dani, I was just like, “Pretend we dated and I slept with your best friend and you did the same to me.” It was almost a line-for-line write. There’s no chorus, no bridges, just three verses and it’s about as honest a song as you can get.

WOC: You also had a song you co-wrote with Josh Abbott make his new record Front Row Seat, but it was written quite a while ago.

WCG: (Laughs) Yeah, like six freaking years! We wrote that song “Autumn”, and Josh kept bugging me about putting it on my record. Finally he put it on his and it’s just so perfect for him. That’s a Josh Abbott song. We were talking about it, and at the time when we wrote it, it wasn’t about any girl in particular. But it really came full circle for him and means a lot to him now. And that was our only successful co-write! Every other time we get together to write we just end up cussing at each other cause we’re both so damn stubborn.

WOC: He had a lot to do with your cool video for “Ringling Road”, too. When I heard that was happening I thought, “Man this will either be really cool or really lame.”

WCG: Exactly, and that’s why we chose to spend so much money on it. We were either going to spend $25,000 and kill it, or just waste $5,000 and never show it. It was all Josh though; that was the easiest thing I’ve done. I wish I could take credit for the vision but I just wrote the song! We just couldn’t get a damn elephant. We searched high and low but couldn’t get one.

WOC: So are you always writing, and does that mean your sights are on the next record?

WCG: You’d be surprised — I love songwriting but I hate trying to write when I don’t have anything to write about. Typically my records are about a town in Texas, but I got nothing. There is a part of me that would like to branch out but nothing has really inspired me yet. But we’ve got a lot of time and I’m really calm about it. I just try to make every record my best one yet, and that’s not going to be easy to do because it took a lot of growth to make Ringling Road.

I’m not trying to sound cocky or anything, but I believe that’s the best record I’ve ever put out and I plan on having that feeling again with the next one. But I guess something is going to have to dramatically change for it to be a good record (laughs). It’s not going to be good unless something seriously messes up or goes extremely well!

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