By Madisun K. Geis
At times self-deprecating and always authentic, John Baumann is a storyteller through and through. With the release of his second full-length album, Proving Grounds, last year, Baumann proved that his songwriting abilities are a force to be reckoned with. Highlights include “Old Stone Church,” a story about the loss of his father to cancer, “Here I Come,” a raw glimpse into Baumann’s disillusionment with life on the road complemented by an edge of won’t-back-down attitude. But like the best Texas troubadours, he knows how to balance his act with just the right amount of levity, too, as evidenced by his irresistible cover of Aaron Lee Tasjan’s snarky, light-hearted “The Trouble with Drinkin'” and the way his live shows can often leave an audience doubled over with laugther one moment and in complete reverent silence the next. Doubtless those qualities made quite an impression on renowned Texas songwriter Bruce Robison, who’s picked Baumann as his tour mate for the upcoming “Last Waltz Live,” a 10-date run kicking off March 22 at the Blue Door in Oklahoma City and set to visit such other choice spots as Denton’s Dan’s Silver Leaf, Austin’s Cactus Cafe, and San Antonio’s Sam’s Burger Joint before wrapping up at Bertram, Texas’ Globe Theatre on April 28.
We caught up with Baumann in San Marcos this past Saturday, right before he hit the stage at Cheatham Street Warehouse. By freewheeling design, it was more of a quick, impromptu grab-n-chat than a formal sit-down interview. But a few Rebecca Creeks in, and he dished about everything from his love for big fish to his favorite hangover meal.
What is something unrelated to your career that most people don’t know about you?
I love whales. Like, orca whales. I can draw an orca whale better than anybody in the state of Texas. I saw Free Willy when I was a kid and I was hooked. I just have a gift. I was blessed. I’m a really great whale artist.
If you could be any celebrity in the world right now, who would you be?
I’d probably be Matthew McConaughey. He seems to be a man of the people: you’ll see him at ACL, you’ll see him at UT football games on the sidelines. He’s got a great career, he’s got a great family, he’s still connected to Texas. Yeah, McConaughey.
What’s your favorite song on Proving Grounds?
“Pontiacs.” It’s nine minutes long. It’s my favorite.
How about your least favorite song to play live?
I sort of hate playing “Eagle Ford,” just ‘cause it’s two chords.
Which of the bands that you regularly play shows with have the best post-show hangs?
Well, we’re a nerdy band that likes to leave immediately afterwards, because we’re lame. We’re responsible, we’re married. But we always have a good time with William Clark Green and company. We really like hanging out with the Saints, too. Always a good time with the Saints.
You got to open for Willie Nelson not long ago. If you could open for anyone else, dead or alive, who would it be?
I’d go for the Wallflowers circa 1999.
What is something that you do that drives your wife nuts?
So many things! I’m an obsessive nail-biter. I drink all the wine in the house, all the time. I don’t close cabinets after I take shit out of them. And I sleep like a hurricane.
Do you have a go-to hangover meal?
Anything greasy with lots of carbs. I love to get chunky, fat, flour tortilla breakfast tacos with chips and queso.
Lastly … apart from your orca-drawing skills, what’s your favorite thing about yourself?
I’m good under pressure. There we go!