Randy Houser is tired of chasing temporary trends. “I’m fed up with the bullshit,” he tells Chris Shiflett in this week’s episode of Walking the Floor, whose 52 minutes emphasize Houser’s move away from the poppy whims of the mainstream in favor of a unique, honest sound. “Win, lose or draw, I want to be happy creatively,” he adds. “That’s the most important thing to me.”
Recorded hours after Houser wrapped another weekend tour in support of this year’s Magnolia, the episode balances some of its frank (and often barbed) dialogue about Nashville’s country-pop machine with lighter fare, like Houser’s memory of the time he, Jamey Johnson, and Dallas Davidson wrote “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” after watching a group of women line dance at a Nashville bar. Houser’s insight into the industry — and his willingness to give what Shiflett describes as “a polite critique of the business side of mainstream Nashville country music” — is rare in Walking the Floor‘s history, and Houser’s status as a sort of reformed, recovering country-pop hitmaker makes this episode a unique, left-hand turn.
Read below for some episode highlights, and check out the full podcast after the jump.
Houser had a crisis of musical faith several years ago.
“I was doing these big tours [as] direct support for a lot of the big country guys, who are great friends of mine,” he says. “I got in this place where I felt like I was trying to keep up with them on the production side. [My band] had all the bells and whistles. We were running some tracks and all that shit. One day. . .I’ll never forget it. . .I was singing a song that I didn’t like — I didn’t give a shit about it — and I walked off the stage and I called my manager and said, ‘I hate this. This ain’t what I came here to do. Take all those lights and all that stuff and put it on the truck, and take that stuff and that truck back [home]. If we’re gonna make music, we’re gonna make music. It’s not gonna be this other crap.'” When it came time to record Magnolia, Houser took a similar approach, doing away with the slick production of modern-day mainstream hits and, instead, focusing on song craft. “It led to a lot of things creatively for me,” he says of that onstage realization. “In a way, modern radio country music went to a place that I couldn’t go. My soul wouldn’t let me.”
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Convinced that his refusal to chase after surefire hits would anger his label, Houser began recording Magnolia in private, while also footing the bill.
“I started recording and started paying for it myself, “he says, “because I was quite sure they were gonna drop me. I just hid the fact that I was recording for a while. And then finally, they caught wind that I was doing something and wanted to come over and listen.” Luckily, the execs liked what they heard. “They gave me my money back and said, ‘Keep going,'” Houser says. “It was a big sigh of relief.”
Houser is no stranger to the challenges of being an independent musician. Before moving to Nashville, he focused on playing shows in his native Mississippi, sleeping on his share of floors — and more — along the way.
“I used to have this gig at a place called the Shed House, and it was in Meridian,” he remembers. “I slept on the pool table there almost every Friday night. I called it my paper towel pillow and my pool table bed.”
Produced by Keith Gattis, Magnolia shines its light on more than Houser’s big-bodied voice. He plays guitar on the record, too, resulting in a sound that’s raw and compellingly imperfect.
“I played a lot of guitar on the Cadillac record, but during the two records after that, I don’t know if I played one or two songs on there,” he admits. “It was that Nashville [tradition of] ‘we’re gonna bring the band in.’ I was just like, ‘Ah. I fucking hate this.’ This album, I wanted to play my guitar and make the songs feel like I want them to feel.”
Jamey Johnson, Dallas Davidson and Randy Houser teamed up to write Trace Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” which became a crossover hit and effectively launched all three songwriters’ careers.
“That was our first cut we’d ever had, any of us,” Houser says. “I’ll never forget it. And the story of how I spent all that money — in a week — was pretty epic, too. We were crazy as hell. We thought we’d conquered the world, and in our little world, we had.”
The song was written after a trip to Nashville honky-tonk the Wild Horse, where a friend of Houser’s would pour free drinks for the penny-pinched songwriters.
“I think the LoCash Cowboys [now LoCash] were teaching line dancing down there at the time, and we were watching these girls dance,” Houser says. “There was this girl, and she just had a huge ass. I just leaned over the rail, and I looked down there, and somehow, that line popped in my head. I pulled Jamey over to the side and said, ‘Jamey, y’all are gonna hate me and love me for this, but that’s a honky tonk badonkadonk over there.’ We went and wrote it in about 30 minutes.”
The song was finalized during the demo session, with Houser providing the finishing touches and Johnson singing on the demo.
While attending the recording session of the song’s demo, Houser realized that “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” could use a bridge. He wrote one on the spot. “I took the chart and jotted down the changes for the bridge,” he remembers, “and said, ‘Just have the band play this.’ Then Dallas and I went out and laid on the hood of someone’s old Dodge Diplomat in that parking lot. It was a really pretty spring day, and we laid out there and wrote the bridge to it, and took it back to Jamey so he could sing the demo.”
He knows it’s a silly thing. But he also knew it would be a hit.
“It was so far left of everything, and just so fucking stupid that it was like, ‘They’re gonna love this,'” he says. “It was a really incredible experience for us.”