By Laurie Barker James
(LSM Jan/Feb 2011/vol. 4 – Issue 1)
It’s been three years, and maybe 100,000 miles, between Bleu Edmondson’s last studio release, Lost Boy, and his new album, The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be (released Oct. 26). During that time, Edmondson got a fancy new booking agency and embarked on tours of the upper Midwest and the Eastern seaboard — putting the Dallas native physically closer than he’s ever been to some of his New York/New Jersey singer-songwriter influences. Also during that three-year time span, Edmondson had to completely revamp his band. Some members, like guitarist Devin Leigh, left for solo opportunity, while others faded away.
One thing that’s stayed the same for Edmondson — well, in addition to the ever-present cap pulled down low over his eyes — is his fiercely intense shyness, which could easily be judged as aloofness, or worse, cause some to write him off as a pretentious asshole. He’s not. He’s generous to a fault with writers and fans, and will sit and talk for hours about things he is comfortable with. He is fairly single-mindedly focused on what he does, and has been ever since he approached producer Lloyd Maines about a decade ago with a two-song demo. The result — 2001’s Southland — yielded Edmondson’s first hit, “$50 and a Flask of Crown.” Cocky, with a catchy chorus, the song was the perfect vehicle for the then-21-year-old angry young man.
Now living in New Braunfels (at least some of the time), Edmondson orbits in the same circles of some of his peers, like Stoney Larue, Brandon Jenkins and Wade Bowen. But it’s more a matter of geography than music; his sound is very different from many of his Texas/Oklahoma pals, and worlds away from anything that’s likely to be played on Top 40-country radio. Collaborations aren’t unheard of, though. He co-wrote the song “Resurrection” with Bowen (the two have recorded almost polar opposite versions of the song, on Edmondson’s Live at Billy Bob’s and Bowen’s Lost Hotel). Edmondson also recorded a version of Jenkins’ descending-into-hell song “Finger on the Trigger.” Featured on Lost Boy, the song became Edmondson’s first non-concert music video.
Edmondson’s songwriting has always been introspective, and generally about the complexities of relationships, regret, love lost and how perhaps he (or his protagonist) could be a better man. He’s experienced some personal, maybe painful, growth, which is reflected in the lyrics of The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be. And he’s never sounded better — thanks in part to producer Dwight Baker, with whom Edmondson worked on Lost Boy.
I caught up with Edmondson in late October, just before his CD release. He’d just played a show at Fort Worth’s Spencer’s Corner — an acoustic song-swap with Brandon Jenkins, which was a chance for Edmondson to test out some of his new material. At a place like Spencer’s Corner, it’s kind of a given that the local guys (and a couple of gals) are gonna be generous with the shots of Crown and Jaeger bombs. But if Edmondson was feeling any pain, he wasn’t letting it show.
First things first. Once and for all, what’s with the hat?
It started out with me trying to hide. When I first started singing, I was kind of panic-stricken and it made it easier to deal with the stage light. It also helped me look at the audience without me looking them in the eye. But it’s not a security blanket any more, so I don’t know. I’m not bald, don’t have anything to cover up. I’m just “hat guy.”
And the new beard?
Brandon Jenkins, Stoney LaRue and I make a (concert) trip to Alaska every year. Jenkins has an impressive beard. I’ve never had a beard before, and this summer I just didn’t shave for five or six days … there it was. Now that it’s winter, maybe I’ll keep it.
You must be over the moon happy about how well the Rangers did this year.
I was born and raised a Rangers fan. I played baseball, football and basketball all through school, and I have memories of me as a kid, eating watermelon on a hot summer night, listening to the games. Rusty Greer (Texas Rangers, 1994-2002) used to come up to bat with my songs.
Speaking of fans, how do you feel about your mom blogging on Galleywinter and other sites?
I’m a very private guy but my mom’s been one of my biggest cheerleaders. Ultimately she’s trying to do right by me. Am I gonna get mad at her? As long as she doesn’t cross a line with any personal info, I love it.
You’re not exactly the life-of-the-party, swinging-from-the-chandelier type.
Generally I don’t care about pretension and bullshit and hanging out. I’m not a real social guy; I’m kind of a loner. Some people take that as me being aloof, but that’s just the way I am. Stoney is much more the center-of-attention guy, the one who charms everyone. I’m more socially awkward. I can get along with anyone, though, and can talk to you whether you’re a liberal from Manhattan or a farmer from Witchita, Kan.. I’m the watcher and observer. But I envy people like (Stoney) a little.
Talk about some of the people who started writing and singing the same time as you did. Is it really all a little friendship circle in New Braunfels?
It’s like high school, not literally but musically, with the guys I came up with. Wade, Jenkins … Stoney’s still one of my best friends. I don’t play the same kind of music as some of those guys, but we all kind of keep up with each other. Randy Rogers has separated himself success-wise over the last few years. In terms of my goals — I have more of a desire to sell out Madison Square Garden than open for George Strait. It’s the Springsteen, Tom Waits, East Coast-ish vibe I feel more in tune with.
Talk about your new CD, The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be. You worked with Dwight Baker, who also produced Lost Boy.
I had a fucking blast making Lost Boy. The guy’s amazing; it’s silly how talented he is. I’m extremely proud of The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be. Lost Boy was different; most of the songs were about the journeys the characters were taking, the search for what they lacked. On this record, all the songs are more snapshots, quick peeks into a living room curtain.
What’s your favorite song on the new album?
“Riot Night.” It’s a picture of a single night in Dallas on Lower Greenville (Avenue), maybe 1998.
What about it do you particularly like?
People don’t write enough about Dallas — especially people from Dallas. I’m proud of my hometown, with all its warts and flaws. I mean, I’m not rewriting history or redefining songwriting, but I like the vibe of the song. “Take your high heels off and climb on my back” — it’s the ultimate sign of chivalry. What’s true love, for the moment, other than that?
“Not Afraid to Be Alone” packs a full-on sax section, and sounds like you might have been listening to Sam Cooke and other early Motown and Stax guys.
[Laughs] That’s a song I had written for a while. It speaks to [producer Dwight] Baker’s genius that the song came out the way it did. It started out a slow, kinda serious song until it took on that early-to-mid-60s Motown vibe. And it’s pretty honest. A lot of guys feel that way. At least, I think they do.
“Black and White” is a pretty heavy song, subject wise. It really makes one reflect on how poor people end up fighting rich people’s wars.
I knew a couple of guys like that, who went into the Marines cause they weren’t going to find work, but it’s not about any one person. Plenty of people can relate to it: I can’t work here or go to school, but I’m guaranteed pay and job and benefits if I go fight. I wish I could have been a little more specific.
And that’s the song that went on the compilation CD, When They Come Back … We Give Back, which benefits the USO and the Lone Survivor Foundation, right?
[Nods] I stay in touch with a lot of military guys. There’s a line in the song — “Trust me mama, this ain’t no Vietnam” – it’s kind of a wink. We’ve been at war almost 10 years. The (soldiers’) depression and the mental stuff is kinda fucked up.
How do you think the album release parties went?
We played well. The crowds seem to like the new stuff. Generally we play about half the album, just give a little taste. There wasn’t anything really big, though; there were no naked chicks on horses. [Laughs]
Along with the new album to break in, you’ve got a new band out on the road with you, too.
You know, in this scene, it’s kind of incestuous. We’re all around each other so much, that it’s not so much about one guy moving up specifically, but moving sideways or down to make more money. Backroom deals go down … it’s kind of shitty, but I have no hard feelings about anyone who’s come or gone. From a frontman point of view, I cut the checks and pay the bills and run the business so I have to have the right guy for the job.
Can you talk about your decision to go with Creative Artists Association?
There wasn’t much of a decision! CAA is the biggest booking agency in the world, and about 18 months ago they came after us, which was weird. I didn’t know anyone on a national level really gave a shit about us. We were with Austin Universal Entertainment — they’re great guys and good at what they do. So we were already playing everywhere; we just wanted to grow it and make it bigger.
What do you think caught CAA’s interest?
We were playing the Mardi Gras [festival] show in Dallas in February. It was kind of a surreal scene with 20,000 people out and about, so we looked a lot cooler than we probably were. But the CAA booking roster … you look at that and go “Yes, please.” [CAA’s roster also includes Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood, and Loretta Lynn, among many others.]
Has there been any pushback from anybody in this scene about going with the Nashville guys?
No pushback; it’s on the booking side, and most fans don’t know or care how shows get booked. There’s not any hardcore country fan that’s said, “Bleu’s sold out,” ’cause I’ve never been that guy. I’ve always had my middle finger in the air in terms of how I’m going to sound and how I’m going to write.
Has there been any feedback about how your music has evolved over the years?
That I get a lot. “You’ve changed since your first record!” Well, yeah, I was 22. I’d never sang or written or played. I hope I’ve changed.
Does it get old playing “$50 and a Flask of Crown,” which you recorded when you were that young?
There’s not a night in the last nine years when we haven’t played it. People who come to shows don’t demand any particular song. The fact that there’s a song that anyone gives a shit about — hey, I’m way ahead of the curve. And I think that if (that song) brings ’em in, there will be another song that they’ll like from my catalog.
Last question: As a singer, what do you do to take care of your voice?
[Laughs] Not a damn thing.