5 Minutes in Texas With Wade Bowen

New Rolling Stone Country interview series spotlights Lone Star country artists with Texas-sized appeal

Wade Bowen performs
Rick Diamond/Getty Images For Texas Thunder
Wade Bowen performs in Gardendale, Texas.
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Wade Bowen has been a staple of the Texas country circuit for more than a decade and in recent years has made a name for himself on the national scene, as well. His 2012 album, The Given, peaked at Number Nine on the country charts, with his hit single "Saturday Night" leading the way. His 2013 hit, "Songs About Trucks," certainly made its way to Music Row water cooler conversations with its clever message about country radio playing too many songs about Eldorados, Silverados, dirt roads… and getting drunk in pastures. And in 2014, in between touring 200 nights a year and recording a live album with Randy Rogers, Bowen is also gearing up for his seventh studio album.

In this first of a new Rolling Stone Country series of interviews with Texas artists, we spend five minutes getting to know Wade Bowen.

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You have a songwriting session with Randy Rogers today. What are you two working on?
Randy and I are buddies, and we're right in the middle of an acoustic tour. We're recording a live album that will be released early next year. Along with that, we are going to do some studio tracks together with our bands, and this is a little different because we are going to sit down and write a song together that we both can sing. It's always different when you're attempting to write a song for two guys, versus just sitting down and writing a good song. It's a challenge, but it's a challenge we've brought on ourselves and we're excited.

What the hardest part about writing a song?
The hook. Once you get the hook, everything seems to fall into place. Melodies have always been my strength; it's just trying to nail down a killer hook that solidifies the song.

How's your new studio album coming along?
I'm going to be finishing it up in the next few weeks. We’re looking at October for the release date.

How is it different from your previous albums?
I took a different approach. All the records I've done in the past have been very lyrically driven. I took more of a raw approach for this one. It's an album I can take to my live shows and really enhance it and have fun with it. This record has more energy in it than anything I've ever done, and that's just from me trying to get in the studio and do something very different.

You once described your first band, West 84, as a "Robert Earl Keen cover band." What does Keen mean to you as a Texas singer-songwriter?
Everything. I grew up a huge country music fan, but I really didn't know a lot about the singer-songwriter side of country music. When I discovered Robert Earl and started listening to his records, I was about 16 years old, and that’s a really pivotal moment in your life as an artist. Then I got to go see him in concert my freshman year in college, and it changed my life forever. Not only did I love his music, love his energy, love his band, love his show, but I also saw a guy who was not necessarily a mainstream act that you hear on the radio all the time, and he was absolutely killing it. It gave me the courage to go out and start a band and realize I didn't have to move to Nashville. I could play music, have fun, and live my dream.

Is it safe to say that "Songs About Trucks" took a dig at pop country?
Yeah. A little bit.

How did that song come about?
I became friends with Brandy Clark over the last few years, and she wrote that (with Shane McAnally). I thought it was perfect for what I do and for our scene. It was just funny that as I released that song, guys like Zac Brown and Alan Jackson stirred a little controversy about what was country and what wasn't. I'm not a protest guy. I'm not a shit talker. But I felt the song was a powerful enough statement about the country music scene without being an asshole about it. The song is kind of funny and quirky. It's a heartbreak song from a different perspective.

Can you be accepted into mainstream country and still be true to your Texas country roots?
Without question. I just don't think I've been given the right opportunity to do that. When I was with Sony, it was just bad timing for everybody involved. It didn't work out. But I think without a doubt in my mind that my music is universal and can reach out to all kinds of people around the country, not just on the regional scene. I've always tried really hard to make sure my music is not just a regional thing.

Who's an up-and-coming artist that many people may not know about who impresses you?
Cody Johnson. He's a phenomenally talented kid. There's just something about him. He's like old-school country and Chris LeDoux mixed all together. He's got the energy, the drive, the voice. He's a true-blooded cowboy. I don't know if country music is ready for him on that level or not, but I feel like he can really make some noise. He's as talented as they come.

When you're not recording or touring, what do you like to do to relax?
I love to play golf. My dad played golf at Baylor University, so I've had a club in my hands since I was two years old. Golf is how I get away from it all.

What's your favorite course?
Pebble Beach is my favorite of all the ones I've played. It's a pretty spiritual feeling when you get to the sixteenth hole and look over the ocean.

Do you crack a beer on the golf course or are you a serious player?
Mostly a serious golfer, mainly because I like to drink a little later in the day.

What's your drink of choice?
Anything with vodka in it.

Who's got the best barbecue in Texas?
That's tough because everyone claims they do. That's the battle cry. I would have to say Cooper's BBQ, originally based out of Llano, Texas. It's outstanding. 

Are you a good cook?
I got the passion to cook from my mom, but I'm really not that great of a cook. I do some things very well, but there's nothing like going home and eating Mom's home cooking. My mom and her two brothers have been in the restaurant business their whole lives. My grandfather owned a meat market, so cooking and food have always been in our family.

What do you have planned for the 4th of July weekend?
I'm taking the weekend off and taking my family to Crockett, Texas, so I can play in a golf tournament with my dad. He's played in it every year since 1972, but as a Fathers' Day present to him, I'm taking the weekend off and going to have a good time in east Texas with the family.

What's on your schedule for the rest of the year?
We're doing a big West Coast tour in August, taking our buddy Sean McConnell out with us — and if you haven't heard of Sean McConnell, he's absolutely phenomenal on every level. It almost makes me mad he's so good. That West Coast tour is going to be really fun. We've been working that area pretty hard over the last couple of years. In between finishing my record and recording the live album with Randy Rogers, it's going to be a crazy last half of the year, but I'm very excited about it.