By Richard Skanse

Long before he built his House of Songs, launched an award-winning animation/film company, helped shepherd a Roky Erickson comeback, and dreamed up a globe-hopping television series starring Charlie Sexton, Troy Campbell was just an aimless punk kid in Ohio, waiting for a sense of purpose. He found it, prophetically, via a traveling band of rock ’n’ roll gypsies from Texas called the True Believers, and within a couple of years Campbell was leading his own roots-punk outfit, the Highwaymen, out of the Midwest and down to the promised land of Austin. After recruiting another young misfit named Jud Newcomb (aka “Scrappy”) and changing their name to Loose Diamonds, they would spend the better part of the ’90s recording a handful of albums, touring their collective asses off overseas and dancing just close enough to the edge of “making it” to burn their way into the hearts and minds of a small but passionate international fanbase — a fanbase which counted amongst its ranks one Bruce Springsteen.

Bright as they burned during that run, though, by decade’s end the Loose Diamonds were more less put on ice, with co-frontmen Campbell and Newcomb embarking on respective solo and acclaimed sideman careers and Troy’s bassist brother, Michael, starting a family and new career as a chef and restaurant manager. But although Troy’s solo career yielded three critically lauded solo albums, his real second act in the entertainment business has for the most part found him playing more of an offstage role as a sort of jack-of-all-trades Austin mover and shaker. With animator Dano Johnson, he co-founded Collection Agency Films, which has produced dozens of award-winning shorts, commercials, and music videos working with artists like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kinky Friedman, and Hayes Carll. In 2009, he founded The House of Songs, a cultural exchange program dedicated to bringing together Austin artists with talented songwriters from around the world for co-writing sessions and performance showcases both home and abroad. Most recently, he’s parlayed all of that experience into an original reality TV series, City of Songs, in which Austin guitarist/songwriter/producer Charlie Sexton is grabbed by a film crew during his rare breaks from active duty as Bob Dylan’s band leader and dropped into different cities all around the world to assimilate and collaborate with local musicians; the pilot episode, in which Sexton and friends in Lulea, Sweden, perform a concert playing ice instruments, has already netted the show some very big partners, with a distribution deal expected to be announced soon. Also expected soon: the May arrival of Campbell and his wife’s first child, a daughter. (“Old dad, new tricks,” quips Campbell, 51. “I hope babies don’t still make poop; in the old days they did, but maybe these modern babies don’t?”)

With all of the above on his plate, Campbell really hasn’t found much time for performing over the last few years, at least outside of House of Songs showcases and the odd song or two at Folk Alliance conferences. But when Lone Star Music began booking acts for our March 18 “Dillo Mixer” day party at Threadgill’s World Headquarters in Austin during SXSW week, on a lark we reached out to Campbell to see if he’d be up for playing. And seeing as how we’d already booked Javier Escovedo (of True Believers fame), we went one step further and floated the idea of a Loose Diamonds reunion. To our surprise and delight, after checking with his brother, Newcomb, and ringer Rick Richards on drums, Campbell said it was all a go. Unbeknownst to any of us at the time, the announcement of this rare reunion gig just happened to coincide with the unveiling of a years-in-the-making, full-length documentary on the band on YouTube; titled Diamonds in the Life, it’s a labor of love by longtime Loose Diamonds fan Shuichi Iwami of Hiroshima, Japan. All of this happy synchronicity may not necessarily herald a full-on second coming of Loose Diamonds destined to set the world on fire, but for fans of Austin music history and impassioned American roots rock, at the very least it’s cause for little celebration — and a fun excuse to sit down with Campbell for an hour to talk about the band’s salad days and enduring appeal two decades after the release of their last album together.

Shine on: Loose Diamonds, from left, are "Scrappy" Jud Newcomb, Troy Campbell, and Michael Campbell. (Photo by John Grubbs)

Shine on: Loose Diamonds, from left, are “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb, Troy Campbell, and Michael Campbell. (Photo by John Grubbs)

I want to start with the end, in a manner of speaking. I know you’ve played a few stray shows together over the years, but when did Loose Diamonds originally break up — or at least just sort of stop?

Well, we officially I think quit playing right around 2000, because by then Scrappy and me had both started doing things on our own. I was already doing my solo albums and was working overseas solo from like 2000 to 2005, like non-stop. And we just weren’t making any new records together; the last one was Fresco Fiasco (1997), and that one had done well so we toured a bunch on that. But we realized that we’d been together since technically ’86, when we were kids, and it was a good chance to take a little break and grow. Plus, Mike’s first baby was born, so it was a lot harder for him to go on the road. It just got to where we had to have a really, really good reason to go out and do more playing together as a band.

The band started in Ohio as the Highwaymen. What year did you move to Texas?

I’m going to say that was ’88, ’89 maybe?

How old were you?

Maybe 23, something like that. And it was a little while after that that I met Scrappy, at an open mic thing at Ruby’s BBQ. But the original Highwaymen from Ohio were me, my brother,  this guitarist who ended up going back to Ohio right after we go here, and our drummer, Mark Patterson. You know Mark, right? He went on to play with Robert Earl Keen for years and years and a lot of other cool bands, played on a lot of great records. But he came down with us from Dayton; he’s the one who originally got me and my brother to start the Highwaymen. My brother and I were still kids when we met him, but he was already a professional musician.

Didn’t the True Believers play a role in getting you to start a band, too — and eventually in talking you down to Austin?

Oh yeah. Well, I was a big music collector and fan, and punk — I got really into punk music right around the time I was 14; I lived in a little farm town and was obsessed with punk music. But I’d go see any band I could, because I just loved music in general. My sister was going to Columbia University, and she would send me records in the mail that she thought I would like, like the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen, and I just remember putting that music on and how it changed everything. And then my next door neighbor in that little farm town, his older brother was in a band called Toxic Reasons, which were quite a famous Midwest punk band, on par with like the Replacements or Stiff Little Fingers, and I remember him just yelling at people for listening to Bad Company and all these things that I thought were really cool! But he also told me all about this underground music scene that was going on in the Midwest, and so I just started collecting all the records I could get my hands on, including the Velvet Underground and anything related to the Clash. That’s how I got into Joe Ely. I saw a picture of Joe Ely and Jesse “Guitar” Taylor in Creem magazine with the Clash, arm in arm, dressed exactly the same, and I looked at that picture and I said, “Who the fuck is this Joe Ely guy? He must be the coolest guy in America!” So I went to the little record store and bought Down on the Drag and a couple of other things of his, and I put it on expecting it to be hardcore punk, and it wasn’t — it was more like the stuff I grew up with in Kentucky. But I loved it!

Troy and Mike Campbell: "Your brother and you are cool. Why don't you start a band?" (Photo courtesy Troy Campbell)

Troy and Mike Campbell: “You and your brother are cool. Why don’t you start a band?” (Photo courtesy Troy Campbell)

So after that, anything related to Texas, I decided to go see — including the True Believers. They had just formed and didn’t have an album yet, they were completely unknown. But the band that Alejandro Escovedo was in previously, Rank and File, had friends in Dayton, so they decided to try and do a test run out of Austin. It was him and Javier at the time, Jon Dee [Graham] wasn’t in the band yet. So one night I went to see them, and I was so excited because they were doing cool covers of the Velvet Underground and Dylan, and then their own songs, and they were two brothers! After the show, my brother and I went to a party thrown by a local DJ guy that the band was at, and I just started rambling at Alejandro, gushing about all the songs he played and the records I had, asking him questions about Joe Ely. The whole time my brother didn’t say a word, he was just hoping I’d shut up. But Al looked at us and said, “You and your brother are cool. Why don’t you start a band, and you can open for us the next time we come in?”

And that’s how I started. I just needed someone to give me the confidence. I didn’t know how to play, but I understood music. So I went and I got my brother to play bass, and I sat down and tried to figure out how to write songs. I worked in a restaurant at the time, and there were two guys there who played heavy metal, but one of the guys also liked Elvis Costello and U2 and R.E.M. as well, so I sort of glommed onto him. And this guy and his drummer friend agreed to play a gig with my brother and me if had a set where they could do whatever covers they wanted to do, and the other half was what I wanted to do, which was my own songs. So we played this show and Mark Patterson was there, along with all these other local punk rock guys that’d I’d go and see all the time. And afterwards Mark came over and told me, “You and your brother are pretty good, but those other guys are horrible. I’ll join your band if you fire them.” [Laughs] I was like, “That’s fine, they’re not really that into my thing, anyway.”

So we got together the next day, and eventually found a guitarist and got a little record and a single out. So by the time the True Believers came back to town and we opened for them, we had a little following of our own and drew a nice crowd. Alejandro saw that people really liked us, and he came up to me afterwards, gave me a hug, and said, “So, what are you now, the coolest guy in Dayton, Ohio?” He said it sarcastically, but I said, “No, but I have a girlfriend! This music thing works!” [Laughs] I was all excited, but he goes, “No no, what I mean is, you need to get out of here. You need to go somewhere where everybody is playing music and where you can learn. Why don’t you come down to Austin, and you can crash on my couch?” And so about a year later, we all did move down — Mark and my brother and our guitar player (Eric Buehlman), who we called “the Honky-Tonk Man.” But the guitarist decided to move back to Ohio pretty quick because I think Austin freaked him out.

Enter “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb.

Right. I remember all these musicians I’d met in Austin kept calling me and saying, “You’ve moved all the way down here, but you’re not playing out any — what’s the deal?” I was like, “I’m waiting to find a great guitar player!” And they said, “Your’e not going to find him in your house.” So this guy Scott Garber took me to Ruby’s BBQ, where Michael Hall was hosting a hootenanny with all these local songwriters, and they asked me to play. And the first guy playing was this kid who was probably 20 years old, 6 foot tall, and a mess, but he started singing Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan songs, and I almost wept, because I said, “He’s my age, and he knows these songs, too!” So I immediately walked up to him and said “Hey my name’s Troy. I’m going to play some songs, and if you like them, I’d like to talk to you, because I have this band and we’re looking for a guitar player.” And then I got up and played my ass off, but I looked around and didn’t see him and I got mad, because he was the only one I really wanted to play for. But what happened was, he got so excited that he ran into the restaurant area to get a pen to write down all his information for me. And I immediately called Mark and said, “I found a guitar player.” He said, “Who has he played with?” I went, “I don’t know, he’s just great!”

The truth was, Scrappy didn’t actually know how to play very well at all yet! He could play about a little better than me, just chords and some Chuck Berry. But I hired him regardless. Then we gave him the name “Scrappy” later, just because we thought it was a funny name. So that’s how we started. He joined when we were still the Highwaymen, and we did Live Texas Radio, the record we taped at KUT, under that name, but then once Scrappy started writing songs we decided, “We’re a different band, let’s start all over again.” Mark Patterson left after Live Texas Radio, too, so we were already playing with different drummers by the time we became Loose Diamonds. [Note: Live Texas Radio, a radio broadcast originally issued as a cassette in 1990, was reissued on CD in 2001 by Texas-based Third Coast Records; the Highwaymen’s self-titled debut EP from 1986 and a couple of other early recordings — including a blazing cover of Dylan’s “Highway 61” — were added as bonus tracks.]

Although he was the “new guy,” it didn’t take long for Scrappy to really make his mark on the band. In addition to playing lead guitar, he was essentially your co-frontman: his own voice and songs were pretty integral to all three of the albums you recorded together as Loose Diamonds (1993’s Burning Daylight, 1994’s New Location, and 1997’s Fresco Fiasco).

Oh yeah. And he actually had never been in a band when I met him. He maybe had played with friends, but he had never performed, so he, just like my brother and I, had to learn like even how a PA worked. We only knew things from television and from magazines — it wasn’t like there were tutors for this. And since none of us took music school, we were all playing at the edge of our ability.

Once you really got rolling, what kind of crowds were you drawing in Austin?

We did really well for a couple of years, meaning we would sell out places like the Continental Club and Hole in the Wall. But in the beginning there might be like 30 people, and they were all bartenders and waitresses and music people and writers. And I always thought, “How can we get regular fans?” And somebody said, “That’s the biggest compliment you can get in this town: People that are around music every night decide to go see you on their night off.” And so we realized that we had to play that good all the time, we had to be playing like it was our last show every time we played. And that’s what we got good at. We wanted to be like our heroes, like the Clash and Joe Ely — we wanted to get up and give people a show.

For folks who missed Loose Diamonds the first time around — including myself, since I went back and discovered those albums only after becoming acquainted with your solo work — can you describe in a little more detail just what those shows were like? Is it safe to assume you were a lot more sloppy, full-on rock ’n’ roll than folky Americana?

Yes. We were playing … it could turn into a mess. [Laughs] We could play three hours straight if we wanted to, because we had enough material. But we would go with the mood of the band, so we could come out and really really tear it up, and then suddenly go off on a weird tangent — like we might decide the Funky Meters were the best thing in the world, and then we would start poorly doing the Meters. Or we might break out into a dialog together and that might take a really long time of just a weird discussion onstage or jokes. So when you came to the show, you knew it was going to be high energy and you could dance, but you never knew what weird direction or what mood we might be in as a group. But we came to every show to win over everybody, and to have a cathartic experience for ourselves.

You ended up touring a lot, too, especially overseas. Didn’t you even open a few shows for Dylan over there?

Yeah. I’m gonna say that was ’96 or ’97; we did one big show with Bob and Joe Ely at the Pistoria Blues Festival in Italy, which was amazing. It was at like a castle and there were probably 20,000 people there. Those opportunities started around ’93, kind of after Springsteen “discovered us.” Alejandro would say a lot of nice things about us, too, and then Stephen Bruton took us under his wing and started producing our albums. We were touring all over the world at that point, and it got to where we were able to draw 500 to 600 people in Austin, but then we’d go to Europe and we could draw 1,000. So we started focusing more and more on Europe, and played non-stop; we played anywhere, anytime — like we’d play a show in the day and then a show at night, because that’s what we thought we had to do. And we were kids, and we were drinking a lot, and we just knew that at the very least, people were jealous of us, and that was enough to keep us going! [Laughs] People were like, “Loose Diamonds are doing really well in Europe!” The truth was, in some places we were starving and in other places we were stars. But it didn’t matter; it all went back to the original mission, which was play truthfully, and we’ll find the right people.

You told me this story in another interview years ago, but since you brought up Springsteen — can talk about how you landed on his radar?

Yeah. That was in the early ’90s. We were touring and playing at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. It was a Monday night and the show was being broadcast on this live show called The Tulane Toolbox. We were opening for this friend of ours, Bill Davis from the band Dash Rip Rock, who had this new project he was doing. Anyway, I had read in the paper that Springsteen was in town working on some Lucky Town videos and all kinds of stuff, and he had actually played with another band we were friends with, the Iguanas, the night before. And so while we were doing soundcheck, I proclaimed to the other guys, “He’s going to come tonight, because he’s still here, there’s nothing else to do on a Monday night and this is the coolest club in town.” And nobody believed me, but in my mind, strategically, I knew he’d be coming out again. So sure enough, we’re playing later, just pouring it on, there’s a big crowd, and we’re getting to the last song and somebody runs up to the stage and says, “The Boss is here!” And I thought they were kidding, so I said, “This one goes out to the Bossss,” like as a joke. But we’re doing this ballad called “Ruby,” and dancing right in front of us is Bruce with a hat on and his beautiful wife with her red hair, just twirling and smiling at us. Then, after we finished, a guy named Terry, who was his road manager, came up and said, “Bruce really liked you. Do you want to say hello?”

So he took Scrappy and I to this table in the back in the dark, and there was Bruce and his wife just holding each other in the darkness. And Bruce goes, “Ah, the band! We were driving by and heard you, and we decided to come in because I liked your voice — you’ve got that high lonesome sound I like.” I didn’t know what to say. All I could think of was all of the records that he got me to listen to, like Van Morrison and Roy Orbison, because he talked about both of them in a magazine article so of course I ran out and bought them. So I just went, “Man, I love Van Morrison!” And he goes, “Me too!” And I go, “I know!” Scrappy looked at me like, “Why the fuck did you say that?” But Bruce just looked at me and laughed, and goes, “What are you guys up to?” We told him we were going to go back to our little dressing room and drink or something, and I was like, “Why don’t you come back and join us?” And he goes, “Really? OK!”

So he walks with us through the crowd to get to backstage, and the other band has all this food and everything in their dressing room, but all we had was like, two six packs and a huge bottle of fruit-flavored Rol-Aids or Tums. [Laughs] So I offered him some of those, and he spent the next 30 or 40 minutes just talking to us. He showed us pictures of his kids, and said he and his wife were having a special date night and that they got to dance because of us. Then he asked what it was like touring in a little van. I told him it was shitty, but we had each other. When he was leaving, I said, “Man, I was about to give up on all this, but then you showed up at my show!” He goes, “You guys cannot give up. You’re my new favorite band!” And then he signed my guitar with “rock and rave on,” a Buddy Holly reference, which was awesome, and said, “I’ve got my eye on you.” And someone got a picture of all of us, and the next day it was in every newspaper, saying we were the buzz band for Bruce. That really helped give us some momentum with some of the small labels were interested in.

That night when Loose Diamonds met The Boss down in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy Troy Campbell)

That night when Loose Diamonds met The Boss down in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy Troy Campbell)

Bruce saying “I’ve got my eye on you” could have just been a polite thing to say at the time, but he really did end up keeping tabs on you, didn’t he? 

Yeah. Years later I was in New York with my girlfriend at the time, Patty Griffin, because she was doing the Letterman show. And my writer friend Dave Marsh, whose wife Barbara Carr was one of Springsteen’s managers, told me, “You know Bruce is playing, and if you don’t see him, he’ll be really disappointed.” So he set us up and we went to Bruce’s soundcheck right after Letterman, and I’m sitting there with 12 people in a stadium watching him do “Darkness on the Edge of Town” with the E-Street Band, and I’m crying thinking this is the best day of my life. Dave says, “After the soundcheck, we need to go say hi.” I didn’t think he’d remember me, but thought maybe he’d want to meet Patty. So we’re walking down one of those big walkways they have in stadiums, and there’s Bruce about 50 feet away from us, and Dave calls him and he turns around and says, “You’re that guy!” I go, “I met you a long time ago, you probably don’t …” He goes, “No, you’re that guy! My wife’s going to be so excited to see you!” Then he looks at Patty and goes, “Are you Patty Griffin?” And she about fainted because she was such a big fan. But Bruce just says, “Oh my God!” and takes us back to meet his wife, and goes, “Honey, it’s the guy!” And she says, “It is the guy!” And I go, “What is going on?” [Laughs]

Then they apologized and said, “That was the night we renewed our vows, so we remember everything about it: the dinner, your band, everything. So like it or not, we have all of your records.” And then his wife goes, “Is that Patty Griffin?” But Patty still won’t talk, because she’s completely freaked out. But Bruce talked to us some more after the show, and I told him how he’d renewed my faith, again. And then he said some of the most important words that I’d ever heard: “Troy, all those years that I was riding around in that station wagon, I had no idea what was going to happen to me. All I knew was that I needed to sing. And you’ve got to sing, you’ve got a rare voice. So I’ve got my eye on you. I told you that.” And to this day, that’s always kind of kept me going.

It’s been 10 years now since your last solo album, Long in the Sun, and almost twice that long since the last Loose Diamonds record. Don’t you ever feel like, “Shit, the Boss is watching, I better get something new out there?”

I kinda do, yeah. And I actually have written enough songs for a record. But I also spent those last 10 years making films and animation and then building the House of Songs, developing this whole other thing that had to do with all these wonderful relationships that I’d formed. And I started feeling that that was really the end game when it came down to music; it was the relationship that you develop between music and yourself and with the world. So there was a period where I felt like there was a lot going on, and I was pretty content. But that said, I’m sitting on a whole record now that I need to record — I have a lot of demos, so I do think I’m going to do that. But I’m thinking I’ll invite the Loose Diamonds in, to see what Scrappy’s got, and maybe do it as a band thing, because I’d be inspired to be with those guys again.

This show you’re doing for our Lone Star Music party actually isn’t the first time you’ve gotten back together recently, is it? Didn’t you just do something in Houston?

That was last year. It was this guy’s 50th birthday, and his two favorite bands were us and Dash Rip Rock. And he called and said, “I’ve done really well, I’d love to pay you to come do this. Do you guys talk?” I go, “Yeah, of course we do; we just don’t have anything new to talk abut, but we’re like brothers.” And he said, “Well is there any reason you couldn’t?” And I said, “No, let me call them up and see …” And then somebody else offered us another gig the night before it. So we rehearsed and it sounded pretty good, and we went and did those two shows. And we realized, we haven’t done one in Austin, so when the right one comes up, we’ll do it. Usually anytime we’ve gotten back together in the last 15 years or so, it was for a charity or a benefit or something like that. But we like Lone Star, the people at Threadgills are all great, and Javier is playing right after us with our friend Cornbread on bass — I’m actually working with Cornbread at the House of Songs right now — so we were all like, shit, can’t miss that!

I’ve known Javier since I was 15 or 17. I get to run into Alejando more these days, but Javier was always like, the coolest guy in that band [True Believers]. And his first band, the Zeros, were awesome. It was Javier who really got me into Johnny Thunders and the New York Dolls. I was like, “I don’t like KISS, I don’t like bands that dress up …” And he goes, “No, it’s nothing like that man, it’s just really cool.” And years later, like eight or nine years ago, I actually ended up directing a video for the New York Dolls’ comeback single, “Dance Like a Monkey.”

I assume the set list for this reunion gig will draw mostly from those three Loose Diamonds records. All these years later, how well do you remember those albums? 

Pretty well. Even though the first one I did when I was out of my mind, and the second one I got sober two weeks before we started it. That was New Location. That was a really hard one; Scrappy ended up writing half the album, because I was just learning how to live.

When did you get sober?

June 11, 1994 — OJ Simpson Day! It was the week OJ Simpson … he took it too far, and I stopped just short of that. [Laughs] I seriously honestly believe that to be true. I was kind of living in Arlyn Studio for a couple of days, because Stephen Bruton had locked me in there to help me get sober, and I was watching OJ drive his truck on their TV, and screaming at the top of my lungs, “He killed his wife! He fucked up! I didn’t kill my wife!” Lisa Fletcher and Stephen Bruton came in and went, “What’s going on? What’s the problem?” And I said, “Look at this guy, he’s out of his mind — he’s on drugs, he fucked up … I didn’t fuck up that bad!” And they said, “You’re not supposed to kill anybody, Troy. What do you want, a reward? Turn the TV off and go back to work.” And I did. But I just remember that was my epiphany, and I’ll never forget my sobriety day because of OJ Simpson. Because somehow in my sick mind, I was like, “I’m slightly better than him!” [Laughs]

We had already booked you guys for this show when all of a sudden, I got a Facebook message from this guy in Japan announcing the completion of his Loose Diamonds documentary, Diamonds in the Life. I had no idea that was even in the works. What can you tell us about it?

That’s wild, right? Shuichi Iwami was a huge fan of the band who first came to interview me years ago. Apparently there was this group of people that he worked with in Japan who collected records, and one day a guy brought in Lucinda Williams and Loose Diamonds. And he was telling me about how he liked these records so much, they created this club. And he got to the point where he got so into Americana music that he came to America to interview us and a couple of other bands. This was in the late ’90s and he had already written me several times. He was still trying to get his English together, but I just remember that he was so into it that I didn’t want to let him down. I remembered how when I first met Alejandro, I had so much enthusiasm about music that I had trouble even articulating it, and here Shuichi was trying to articulate that same enthusiasm to me in a language that wasn’t even his own.

Do you know how long he worked on this documentary?

I think he’s worked on it for several years. He’s been asking for bits and pieces all along, but I didn’t even know he was doing it. He taught himself about film and editing so he could do it; he studied at night after work on how to edit and do things. So far I’ve only seen rough cuts of it, but as you watch it, you realize that he’s really into the arc of our story and what we do and what we came from, and he found all of that extremely relatable somehow. He did a lot of interviews, and we’ve all been trying to help him with it. In fact I actually just found a whole treasure trove of footage from when we were playing in Europe that he didn’t have before that I really need to get to him.

Basically, he just wanted to do this I guess because he loved the band and thought that our story should be told. He told me once that Burning Daylight was … Well, this is the funny part. I used to get all these fan letters from Japan, and I remember going to Stephen Bruton and saying, “Stephen, I’ve gotten like a dozen letters from different people in Japan … I’m huge over there. Isn’t that exciting?” But Stephen, just like Ray Wylie, always knew how to take my ego and put in its right place. He goes, “You know, to be honest with you, Troy, in Japan, if you’re a transvestite who plays Bridge and listens to Loose Diamonds records, there’s probably a club for you. There’s probably like five people in the room, and they’re all talking about you, but there’s most likely a club for everybody in Japan.” And I was like, “Well, thanks a lot.” [Laughs] But when I went to Japan to tour later, I went to that actual club he was talking about! It wasn’t transvestites — he was just being funny about that — but I played at this bar that was like the tiniest bar you can imagine, and there was maybe a dozen guys there who were all really super stoked. They had three shrines there: one to Lucinda Williams, one to Townes Van Zandt, and one to Loose Diamonds, and we each got the same amount of room on a different wall. These guys were all record collectors and fans, and they would read every liner note and every lyric and discuss it at night and drink — just like I did and you probably did, when we were first getting into music.

And what’s really crazy is, I’ve actually been in other countries where it’s been the same deal! Little bars where there might be a shrine to Lou Ann Barton, and right next to it one to Loose Diamonds. And I’d feel like, what an honor. And it reminded me again of how powerful music is, and how it saved my own life – how it helped me escape depression and other things, at least temporarily. Even before I started playing it. I mean, I’m just a record nerd, you know? The reason I moved here to Austin was either to be a rock star, or the biggest fan in the world. Either way, I would have been set. And I met it somewhere in the tiny middle, where I got to play and see my dreams, and now I get to work with all the artists in the world that I find refreshing.

On that note, because you do have so many other ways to explore your love of music these days, especially with House of Songs and now the City of Songs TV series — what is it that you still get out of playing onstage with Loose Diamonds? Is it hard at all to get back into that zone, or does it all come right back to you?

It’s plugging into something that I can’t … I’ll put this way: I’ve made a lot of cartoons that are really funny, for Gary Floater and Ray Wylie and Willie Nelson, things like that — but no amount of fart jokes will add up to a sad song. [Laughs] I can get up and sing a song that was the first articulation of how angry or how in pain I was at the time that I wrote it, and I can go right back to that moment; it’s like a laser beam. And at the end of it I feel like that’s what I was trying to do. Some people set fire to dumpsters; I sing the shit out of songs, and it feels just about as crazy and as violent but also as cathartic. And with Loose Diamonds — being up there with my brothers, knowing that I have a job to do and I’m one of four, not one, is really exciting for me, because I excel when I’m with a group. Solo I did pretty good, but as a member of a group, I feel really powerful, because I want it to go really well for everybody.

I remember there was a spell a few years after your last solo record where you stopped singing for a while due to a vocal chord issue. You seem to have recovered from that, but how’s your voice treating you these days?

It’s rough, but when I’m in the zone, it’s just like it was 10 years ago. And that’s all I gotta do, is just visualize it: think about my heroes, and then I just go to it. And we’ve been rehearsing and we’re all really excited about this, knowing we’ve got 30 minutes to destroy the area. [Laughs] So, I’ll be in the zone.

Loose Diamonds perform at Lone Star Music & KOKE-FM’s “Dillo Mixer” at Threadgill’s World Headquarters in Austin on March 18. Stage time: 4:20 p.m. Click here for more details and the full schedule.