Texas rocker Jonathan Tyler on 'Holy Smokes,' independence and his gospel influences (AUDIO)
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
The first time I saw Jonathan Tyler was in 2011, and I'm still wide-eyed and blown away.
The Dallas-based rocker, who I interview in the audio clip above, has that effect on audiences everywhere, though.
Here's what NPR's Ann Powers had to say about a Tyler show she saw at South by Southwest:
Jonathan Tyler should be a name every rock and roll loyalist should have under her breath. Every Ryan Adams fan, everyone who's suddenly loving Anderson East this year, needs to hear his feisty, gospelized songs, delivered with just enough of a punk sneer to make it dirty. Around midnight at the Majestic, he was fighting noise bleed from the EDM party downstairs, but Tyler and his Stones-loving band still took the stage like they'd discovered a half-world between the Garden and the Ryman. "I'll give you my last dime if you say — that — you'll — be — miiine," Tyler intoned over a chicken-scratch riff, as if he were playing with the minds of the millions: just the way good old rock stars do. I hope this good young one gets a bigger spotlight soon.
Tyler had signed with Atlantic Records in 2010 and released Pardon Me, a rocking album that sounds like The Rolling Stones had stayed in "Honky Tonk Women" mode for years. The album scored him an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and song placements on Friday Night Lights and Boardwalk Empire. A dispute with the label put the brakes on his rising career, but he's back on the scene now as an in-demand independent artist.
Back in 2011, my friend Candace, with whom I have had many sordid adventures in concert-going, was in town from Fort Worth, so I suggested we meet at the Golden Light Cantina for Tyler's show. I think I'd interviewed him, though I can't find evidence of that online; maybe I just heard good things from a buddy at the venue or from Tyler's publicist. Anyway, our friend Grace beat us there and saved us seats at the closest table to the stage. I don't ordinarily like to sit that close, but boy, am I glad we did that night, for a myriad of reasons.
In my off-stage encounters with Tyler over the years — either on the phone or when chatting with him after a show or, as you can hear above, when I interview him in the FM90 studios — I've always found him to be a pretty quiet guy. He's nothing like that on stage when he's really feeling the show. He's a strutting, preening, devil-may-care rock star, and sitting just a foot or so away from him, we were all swept up in the kind of hysteria that swiftly converts you into being a lifetime fan.
And, indeed, I'd hazard to guess that I've only missed one or two of Tyler's shows in the subsequent five years, through his rougher years when he was locked into a recording contract that wasn't allowing him to release new music, through the departure of his old band, through some nights both rocking and rocky. He never fails to put on a terrific show, even when circumstances around him aren't the best.
Tyler came through town Monday for a radio promotional tour. I was already scheduled to do a phone interview with him that day to preview his 10 p.m. Saturday show at Hoot's Pub, 2424 S. Hobbs Ave., and when asked to fill in for Parker Robertson, the host of the station's Tex Tunes, I was happy to. (It'll air between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday on FM90.)
This time out, I got to meet Tyler's new dog, Cash, who attempted to chew up, in order, the mousetrap he found under a table, Tyler's shoelaces and Tyler's guitar. That's him you hear whining in a close approximation to harmony.
In the interview above, Tyler talks about his recent tour of Europe with girlfriend and fellow singer Nikki Lane (who duets with him on "To Love Is to Fly," my favorite track from his latest album, Holy Smokes). He also touches on his legal struggles with Atlantic Records and the enduring influence of gospel and his grandmother in his music. Plus, he performs "Disappear," which he wrote with Mike Daly, formerly of Whiskeytown.
Check him out for yourself at Hoot's on Saturday. Opening acts are Mark McKinney and Aaron Copeland. Cover charge is $12.