Charley Crockett had no idea what 2020 had in store when he released his latest album, Welcome to Hard Times. But as he finished up the record right as Texas began shutting down in March, his soul-infused melodies and aching lyrics took on new meaning to his loyal listeners. Welcome to hard times and feelin’ low. Do you like sinnin’? No? Well, you will before you go, he croons in the title track, which acts as a diving board for the rest of the album.
With Crockett’s fanbase growing daily, we feel lucky to have him headlining our next installment of Front Porch Sessions. On Thursday, Aug. 27, we’ll be live-streaming his entire performance at Still Austin Whiskey on our Facebook page or tune in on Austin Monthly‘s Facebook page, IGLive, and YouTube channel. Before he takes the stage, however, we wanted to chat with him beforehand to see what he’s been up to.
Some songs are written figuratively about “heart break.” But with your new album, that term takes on literal meaning. Can we get the backstory behind Welcome to Hard Times?
I wrote it in November of last year. I had been hiding out on farms in this rural area of the Pacific Northwest, and I was hanging out under a tree in a pasture when I just kind of worked the whole record out real quick, just like that. I was able to focus and write about my life as I saw it. This was after I had heart surgery at the beginning of the year. Valley, the previous record, I wrote a week before those surgeries. I was dying when I wrote that record, if I’m being honest. Then I was born again and wrote Welcome to Hard Times. They’re both about life and death and eternity.
But then 2020 hit. We buttoned up the record a day or two before South by Southwest canceled. I was in Cloudcroft, New Mexico when it happened. Something hit me in my chest, and I knew that everything was going to change. The easiest thing to do would have been to put the record on hold, but I’m just not patient like that. I just didn’t want to sit on it for a year and not be excited about it anymore, or get drowned out by these behemoth enterprises that were all holding out to next year. Anyway, it ended up being something that people just identified with.
What has 2020 looked like for you so far?
It’s looked like a lot of confusion. I’m so used to playing and, you know, doing that all the time, not having much time to think too much about what I’m doing. Now I’m thinking a lot. I don’t know, part of me wants to jump out there and play like it was. And another part of me wants to disappear into the mountains, not telling anybody when I’m coming back.
I was in New York a bunch of years ago and I signed this deal. These big New York people, they wanted me to go us to go one way and I didn’t want to go that way. I’m kind of unwilling to compromise, and so it all blew up. I walked out of this office and the woman that I was working with was screaming over a desk at me. She was just real disappointed. Said I was given this golden opportunity, which was an opportunity to get made, instead of making myself. I walked out of there and she knew it was done. She handed me a clipping of the New York Times. She was like, “You know, Charley, you know what your problem is? You just want to be Woody Guthrie.” She gave me the newspaper clipping and it was a New York Times piece commemorating what would have been his hundredth birthday or whatever. I was like, Shit, this is so fitting. That makes so much sense. So anyways, long answer, but Woodie Guthrie.
While you were born in San Benito and raised in Dallas, you’re now choosing to call Austin home. Why is that?
Well, one reason is I couldn’t sell tickets tickets in Dallas. I didn’t really have a place to live. You know, I was just playing real hard at bars and staying with folks. My mama lives there, but I’m too old to be there with her, you know? I’ve lived all over America, and so I figured I’d just move down to Austin. I don’t know what it was. I just slipped down into Austin, man. You can go listen to something really good any night of the week, and that’s something I realized I needed. And I appreciate getting to be a part of that—hanging out in the bars and listening to good blues music, going to songwriter gatherings, funky soul nights all over town. And if you want to get crazy and psychedelic, there’s a place for you, too. New Orleans in many, many ways is the birthplace of American music—but even New Orleans doesn’t have a lot of that.
Years from now, what will you want to be known for?
I want to be known for making good on what I’ve learned.