Adventurous country artists look to escape cookie cutter
Pavilion welcomes Owens, Whiskey Myers
In the wake of the bro country movement, which led to dozens of cookie-cutter hits that all sounded like they were written by the BroTron 3000, we are seeing a welcome resurgence of a more adventurous and less obsequious style of country.
One of the bands leading the way is Whiskey Myers, which will perform at Sweetwater Performance Pavilion on July 30.
Whiskey Myers of Palestine, Texas, has embraced a southern rock tradition that was once embodied by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“We’re just a bunch of good ol’ boys who like playing music, so we just go out there and do it,” Whiskey Myers frontman Cody Cannon told Riff Magazine. “You write about what you know, and what you’ve lived, and what you’ve seen. That’s probably why people connect with those songs — because they’re just real.
“You got to be able to believe a person when they’re singing about something, I think, to make a connection. We got some blue-collar music because that’s the kind of people we are and that’s where we came from.”
Opening for Whiskey Myers is another iconoclast: Bones Owens. Despite often being categorized as country, Owens said he doesn’t think of himself as a country artist.
“I grew up on country radio,” the Missouri-born musician told Whatzup in a phone interview. “So I do have a core of that stuff, it’s in my DNA. But I think what I do is more heavily beholden to a classic rock influence that I got into in my teenage years.”
Owens, whose real name is Caleb Owens, majored in creative writing at Central Missouri State University. His nickname was devised by a songwriter friend who tended to mash his first and last names together in a way that it sounded like he was saying “Bones.”
Owens was passionate about fiction and poetry, but he wondered what sort of living he would make after graduating, which is not to suggest music is the more practical choice of the two.
He was involved in several bands throughout college, and one of them got a development deal with EMI Publishing. So he made the difficult decision to withdraw from school and move to Nashville.
A development deal with a publishing house isn’t a fast pass to success, but it is a foot in the door. Moving to Nashville made him realize how much catching up he had to do. Owens had never lived in a place where everyone wanted the same thing that he wanted.
“Gosh, I am still blown away by a lot of the songwriters here,” Owens said.
For many years, Owens was a member of a band called The Becoming, and he worked as a session guitarist for Bon Jovi and Mikki Echo. He also cowrote many of the songs on Trial by Fire, an album from countrified rapper Yelawolf. And in 2014, he released his debut solo EP, Hurt No One.
After a decade of living in downtown Nashville, Owens decided that the city life wasn’t conducive to his creativity. So he bought a house in the country.
“I am not a youngster anymore,” he said. “I’ve got a family. It worked out perfectly. For me, creatively, I think it was important to get out of the city and come somewhere that looked a little bit more like how I grew up and try to reconnect a little bit to that.”
Owens said looking out of his window and seeing horses is one of the highlights.
“We don’t own horses, but the neighbors do,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to enjoy horses without having to feed them.”
To write a song, Owens said he needs to be inspired to write it. When a song comes on the radio, he can tell instantly if it is the result of inspiration or engineering.
“I can tell if they were kind of tinker-toyed together,” he said.
Even though the bro country movement is thought to be over, Owens said that country radio is still filled with songs that were based closely on other successful songs.
“It’s almost like there’s a checklist of words that will perk up the ears of any listener, regardless of context,” he said. “I can’t believe that people haven’t gotten tired of hearing the same thing. But I guess if it works, it works. For those people, anyway.”
That will never work for Owens.
The fact that he can sound like Neil Young in one song, Tom Petty on the next, Buddy Guy on the next, and Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander on the next means he will never fit anyone’s cookie-cutter mold.
Owens said he still has a way to go before he achieves success as he defines it.
“I do feel that, right now, because I am able to pay the bills, own a house, and take care of my adult responsibilities while not having to do anything but music, that’s a baseline level of success for me,” he said.