On the Move with Mike Stinson: An Interview and Free Song Download
Anyone who’s ever hauled boxes of books and records up to a third-floor walkup knows that moving is hell. But for Mike Stinson, a move from Los Angeles—where he was well-known in the country/roots music scene–to Houston gave him the creative jolt he needed.
His previous releases were honky-tonk gems, but the singer-songwriter’s new record, Hell and Half of Georgia (produced by R.S. Field, who’s worked with Americana artists like Justin Townes Earle and Allison Moorer), features a new Texas roadhouse sound to match his new location. We caught up with Mike for a few minutes to chat about his move, the album, and what’s coming up next.
How has the move from California to Texas affected your musical career?
Life’s supposed to be an adventure, so I’m having one. I moved to Texas because it’s fun down here. Every time I came through Texas on tour, I had so much fun. I’d been in Los Angeles for 18 years and it seemed like it was time to do something different. So I rolled the dice and moved to Houston. It’s far exceeded my expectations. The city has embraced me and my music and it’s a great place to be based. It’s a central place to access the rest of the country, and Houston is just the change of scenery and chance of pace that I was looking for.
How do you write?
Songwriting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I don’t have a particular routine. It’s something you can’t question all that much. It comes when it comes and most of the time it doesn’t come. I’m so grateful that this stuff occasionally comes to me. You can’t fight it, you can’t question it, and it doesn’t come on demand. I just get lucky here and there. I wish it came more often, but I’ve learned to take it when it comes, and it usually comes at the most inconvenient time.
The words are the most important to me. If you don’t have a good lyric, then the whole exercise is pointless. I can jam on my guitar all day and come up with all kinds of cool music, but to try and fit words to that music is damn near impossible for me. If I’ve got some good words, I can always find good music for them, but not the other way around.
With this record, I had about half of the songs written when I was in Los Angeles and I wrote the other half when I got down here. We recorded this album almost two years ago. When I get 12 or 15 good songs done, I go make a record. It takes me a couple years to write that. This is my fourth record.
How’d you end up working with R.S. Field?
R.S. Field is a genius. I had the very good fortune of being put in touch with him through mutual friends. People were telling him, “You’ve got to meet this Mike Stinson guy; he’s right up your alley,” and people were telling me, “You’ve got to work with R.S. Fields; he’s your kind of guy.” So I drove to Nashville on a whim. I was flat broke playing some shows in California—I didn’t even know if I’d have the gas money to get back home to Houston–but I played a house concert and made $1500. So I said, “All right, I’m going to Nashville to talk to this dude.”
I drove from L.A. straight to Nashville, knocked on his front door and said, “Hey, I’ve got a killer batch of songs here and I need someone to produce me.” We hung out all day and went over a bunch of music. I had to gently twist his arm to get him to come to Texas because he’s used to working in Nashville and using his musicians and his studios.
He’s a brilliant producer. He stays out of it until we need some guidance; then he comes in and gives you the direction that you need. He inspires you to do good work.
And he’s cool with country singers randomly showing up at his house.
(laughs) It wasn’t entirely random. I had his phone number and called him to say that I might be coming to Nashville and wondered if he was available to talk. I didn’t tell him I was driving across the country just to meet him!
“Walking Home in the Rain” is one of my favorites on the record. What was the inspiration behind that song?
“Walking Home in the Rain” is a song I’ve had kicking around since before I made my first record in 1996. I was never happy with it, but kept tweaking the arrangement and it finally came together in time for this album.
I swear to you, I actually dreamed that entire song, which is something that’s never happened before or since. I woke out of a sound sleep and wrote the whole song down. I only ever changed two lines. It was just the craziest thing.
What’s next for you?
We’re going to do a West Coast tour around the last weekend in August, a Midwest run where we’ll play some Chicago dates with The Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra, and an East Coast run in late September or early October. Those days are slowly but surely coming in now. We’ll be keeping busy, that’s for sure.
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