By Michael Devers
Bleu Edmondson has always been something of an enigma in the Texas music scene, a fact that even he acknowledges with the very first line of a recent bio: “You really can’t tell what you just saw after seeing the Bleu Edmondson Band perform live.” Bleu burst onto the Texas music scene with his debut CD Southland in 2001 and very quickly recorded his second, The Band Plays On. The disc would hint at Bleu’s willingness to take chances with a title track that became a Texas radio staple despite clocking in at 6-plus minutes (daring), a lead track, “Southland,” that should have been the title track of his first record (confusing), and whereas most Texas artists will throw on a Guy Clark or Townes tune, Bleu chose to cover a Harry Connick Jr. song (unpredictable).
Despite the success of his first two albums and a tremendous live following it would be another four and a half years before Bleu would return to the studio to start work on his third collection of all new material. In between he released a live recording (One Voice) and did so in true Bleu style. The disc is raw and full of energy, with none of the overdubs or studio-sweetening of so many “live” recordings these days.
Bleu would take that “here I am for better or worse” spirit with him into the studio for Lost Boy, by far his most daring and introspective work to date and in this writer’s opinion the best work he’s done, period. Bleu took some time during a rare weekend off to speak with LoneStarMusic.com about Lost Boy and what the future may hold for him and the band.
Where does this weekend find the Bleu Edmondson Band?
The band has the weekend off. I did three acoustic shows and now I’m taking the weekend off and spending some time with my family.
Good time to take a break. I’m sure you’re about to get really busy again.
Yeah, it hasn’t really slowed down much and the next two or three weeks we’re going to be rehearsing a lot and then it really ramps up.
When Lost Boy comes out on Sept. 18, it will be one week short of five years since your last studio record. Were you working towards this record the entire time?
Ultimately, yeah probably. The last four and a half years it took me to get back into the studio, a lot has gone on in my life that did lead up to the songs that are on the record. The reason why it took so long, we were just going and going so hard, touring relentlessly trying to get people interested in what we do. And being on the road is something we love. It just kind of happened that way. I have a real problem forcing myself to write. Luckily, or unluckily depending on how you want to look at it, when I finally said, “Okay I need to write this record,” there’s a lot of stuff I had written down in all of these notebooks and it came out pretty easily.
You reveal a little more of yourself with each CD you put out and it seems that’s even more true with this one.
It’s a real personal record. There’s a lot of stuff that if you read between the lines, I’d be embarrassed to just sit down and talk about. I’m a real, real private guy. Not a whole lot of people know a lot of stuff about me and because of that sometimes things get made up or stories are told that are not true just for no other reason than a lack of information. So all I can do is be honest. I figure that our fans and any potential fans deserve nothing less.
This record seems to find you contemplating spirituality more than in the past. Is that a theme that underlies the record?
It turned out to be the case, yeah. It didn’t start out like that at all. I didn’t even notice it until the entire album was put together. The connection was never there until I looked at it as a whole picture. I don’t know that I’m necessarily contemplating spirituality, it’s just the last four years of ups and downs of life, you know just living day to day, found me, probably like everyone else out there, questioning some things. I got in my fair share of fights with who I call God, and I apologized my fair share of times for things I did. Because it is personal, this record, there really was no way to separate the two. But it wasn’t really a goal of mine when I was writing any of these songs.
It just happened naturally?
Pretty much so. I didn’t realize half this stuff I was writing would bring people to that conclusion. But a few close friends and family that have heard the whole thing have mentioned that too. I’ve listened to it and I can see that also. I don’t think it comes off as preachy at all. I don’t think any one song sounds like a validation of faith or a condemnation of spirituality in any way.
For a while now your live shows have been a little more rockin’ than your records. It seems with Lost Boy, the studio albums have finally caught up.
That was a major goal of this one. The last two studio albums that we did with Lloyd Maines — I loved them. The first one especially turned out exactly like I wanted. But I was also 21 when I wrote those songs and I was coming from an entirely different place. It was a Texas country record in the vein of all the things I’d been listening to at that point. The Band Plays On was supposed to be more of a rock record. In 2002 we started coming into more of our definition of what we thought we should be doing. And it just didn’t turn out that way. I think the record is good. I think some of the material on my part was rushed because the first record was selling so well and there were so many people coming to the shows and I thought that’s just what you did. I thought every year you come out with another record. I didn’t have a guide to any of it. So I think I rushed it. I think there’s definitely some really good stuff on there, but I also think there’s some incomplete stuff. Lloyd being Lloyd … he’s a country guy. I think that’s his strength and, lay most of the blame on me, that’s the way that record came out.
And with Lost Boy?
With Lost Boy we had Dwight Baker, who’s a rock drummer, produce it. He’s a great guy, an Austin cat, and he and I hit it off immediately. He knew exactly what I wanted to do. I think a lot of fans would go, “Man your live show is so different from your record,” and for the most part that was a positive statement, but I know that some people also felt misled in some way. I think with this record if you listen to it and like it and you come out to a live show I think you’re definitely going to know what you’re in for.
How did you and Dwight hook up?
Through my manager, Paul. He’s been an Austin musician for years and years. He and Dwight had worked on some projects together. His forte is songwriting for major acts and producing some of the smaller acts on major labels. Dwight is also the touring drummer for a lot of big acts and was back in Austin. We just sat down for dinner one night and we’re both huge Springsteen fans so we hit it off on that front. Our sense of humor is almost exactly alike and we just got along real well. After talking about goals and stuff and where we were coming from and after talking to a few other people, it just felt like the right fit and I couldn’t be happier.
How long did you guys spend working on the record?
I think the record was done around mid-March, but the mastering hadn’t been done until this week. Overall the tracking of the record was done in about six weeks.
In the past you’ve released all of your CDs yourself, but Lost Boy will be coming out on Smith Music. Are you looking forward to having a team of label folks working the record to radio, retail, and everywhere else?
It’s going to be an interesting ride. Everything we’ve done up to this point was very do-it-yourself and you hope the decision you’re making is a good one. Sometime it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This time it’s neat to have a team of people who’ve been doing this for a long time and know what they’re doing when it comes to records and pushing them. But at the same time, it’s a little over-whelming. In addition to the Smith stuff we’ve got other people working on this record in terms of pushing it to films, TV shows, and all this other stuff that goes along with releasing a CD. This is our biggest record to date and it’s long overdue and it’s the material I’m most proud of, period. It’s a big deal, you know. Having a team behind it and people who know what they’re doing, it’s gratifying. Very much so.
There are a couple of tracks on the new CD that fans of Texas music might already be familiar with — “Resurrection, which also appears on Wade Bowen’s Lost Hotel, and the Brandon Jenkins song, “Finger on the Trigger.” Are you doing more co-writing these days?
I never did much co-writing because I look at writing as such a personal thing. I think it’s kind of strange to just generically sit down and go, “Hey! Let’s have lunch. This is what I went through,” and the other guy says, “Yeah, me, too” and then it’s “Let’s write a song about it.” It just doesn’t jive with me. When it comes to “Resurrection,” we wrote that years ago. I had the idea for it and had a lot of it written and I asked Wade to come over and help me finish it up. He came over and we knocked it out and it turned out real well. Our version of it is quite a bit different from his. With Brandon Jenkins, that’s just a song we started doing live a couple of years ago and people really responded to it. It’s a great song. I know it’s a very personal song to Brandon and it’s a true song and it’s pretty desperate. I like it a lot. We put it on our live record and I just wanted to get into the studio with me and Dwight and the guys and see what we could do in the studio setting with it.
And on the other co-writes?
I don’t know exactly, but on this record there are maybe five co-writes and a lot of that was … I’d be working on a lyric and Dwight was a huge help. He’d help me out with a line here or there or he’d help me out with a melody. I’d bounce ideas off of him. Dwight co-writes a lot, but I’ve never been real comfortable with it so that was a good way for me to get into co-writing. It was fun and I’d do it again, especially with Dwight, but I don’t know if I could meet someone cold and the next day sit down and write with them. I know a lot of people do that in L.A., New York, and Nashville, and everywhere else for that matter, but I find it a little intrusive.
How was it teaming up with Ray Wylie for “Another Morning After (the Night Before)”?
It’s funny how that song turned out. Three years ago, me and Ray got together out at his place in Wimberley. I had this idea for this song and we wrote it in an afternoon and it was Ray, man, he’s a spiritual guru. He’s just a neat guy all the way around and a legend. For me to even be at his house was cool. It was great and he was nothing but gracious. We knocked it out and it was dramatically different, the way it was written before, music-wise. This is a great example of a song I went into Dwight with and I said, “I’m not really digging on the music. What do you think?” Dwight was very instrumental in getting the mood set for that song, which I think captures it. Really nails it. Writing with Ray Wylie is, once you get over the initial “Wow! I’m writing with Ray Wylie Hubbard,” is pretty cool. It’s pretty easy and real laid-back. And the way that song turned out I couldn’t ask for anything better.
You’ve had some great guitarists in your band in the past. Who’s playing for you these days?
We have Devon Lee playing lead guitar. He’s been with me about two years now. He’s a stud, man, he knows what he’s doing for sure. The thing I love about Devon is he plays a much different style of guitar depending on what the song calls for. And he did all of the lead guitar work on Lost Boy and really knocked it out of the park. He’s so diverse in what he listens to and he soaks it all up so if we need a real rockin’ ’80s vibe guitar at a show he’ll play that. If we need a real country pickin’ kind of thing, he’ll do that. And he plays a lot of slide and different kinds of guitars — sounds and tones — he’s very adaptable that way.
How influential is your immediate family on your music?
Subconsciously, very influential, but I don’t necessarily write about them or write about my interaction with them. I don’t know why that is. I’ve never really thought about it actually until you asked the question.
I know your mom is very engaged with your fan base.
She’s definitely a trooper. She loves every bit of it. She’s our biggest fan. A lot of people know her and she gets the word out there pretty good, I’ve got to say.
I hear you have some exciting things lined up for the near future. Want to give the LoneStarMusic audience a quick preview?
There’s definitely some stuff that could be coming down the pike. There’s some artists that I really like maybe cutting a few of my tracks. Even though I’m not really a fan of Top 40 country at all, there’s a couple of artists that are in that scene that I really enjoy and that I really believe when they sing. And we’re waiting for word on a few films and TV projects concerning songs from the new album. Then there’s all of the trips in the next year we’re going to be taking to promote Lost Boy. We’re going to make it out to California for the first time and Seattle for the first time. We’re going back to New York. We’ll hit Minnesota and Milwaukee for the first time. We’ll also be touring through the Southeast a little more regular than we have. To be totally honest the success of this record is what’s going to set the agenda.
What you mentioned before about other artists cutting your songs and film or TV placement, that really raises the profile and helps with everything.
Absolutely it does. And if radio gets a hold of it, who the hell knows. I think this record could go either way — it’s either going to tank or people are going to really like it. I don’t think it’s going to be a middle of the road record. I don’t know if I’d have it any other way. I don’t want people to be just kind of “bleh” about it. I want people to either really love it, or as you can tell by reading the reviews of almost every artist on LoneStarMusic.com, some people really hate it, too. I definitely get my fair share of trash talking and so does Ragweed and Pat, Cory and Randy and whoever else.
I try to tell any band that starts experiencing that for the first time, “Congratulations! You’ve made it to the next level.”
Exactly. When people give a damn enough to sit at their computer and trash you, I guess you’re getting through. But I look for this album to do something different. I think it sounds, not only sonically, but the things we used and the kind of songs we put down, different than anything that’s come out in this scene, ever. And because I think that way, people are going to go “Oh, this is shit” or they’re going to go, “Wow, this is interesting, it’s cool, I dig it, I can roll with it.” I don’t know, I’m anxious to find out. So September is a big month.
One last question for you: Are you tired of hearing “You’re my boy, Bleu!”?
[Laughs] Every single night I get that. But no, to answer your question. I just want people to have a good time and forget about life for the two or three hours that we’re together in some honky-tonk. If they get excited enough to scream something like that when they know, coming out of their mouths they know it’s probably been said 50,000 times, then fine by me. Bring it on.