Somewhere west of Cosmic American music and south of the steer skull buckle on the asteroid belt (it’s there), you’ll find the space country of Garrett T. Capps. His new album, I Love San Antone, extols the virtues of his hometown while also strategically littering the sonic terrain with comet dust and moon rock from the Lone Star state’s psychedelic honky tonk heritage. It’s a fun, danceable ode to the Alamo City that feels like stars, tacos, and 100 proof liquor. With his club The Lonesome Rose and as a member of the Trouble Country collective, Capps is an ardent champion of independent art and in our conversation, Garrett T. talks about his plans to release a new album from Texas legend Santiago Jimenez Jr. (who also appears on I Love San Antone), performing & operating a venue during a pandemic, and what he has on launch for his particular class of country music.
AI- You are originally from San Antonio– born and raised, right? Did you grow up in a musical family? Did your parents play music?
My mom plays piano. My dad likes music.
What kind of music did they play around the house?
My dad’s record collection was definitely heavy on the ’70s popular rock records of the time, ’60s too. Rolling Stones, Beatles, Zeppelin, some of the more outlaw stuff in there as well, especially the Texas stuff like Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson. I listened to a lot of mainstream radio as well when I was younger. I’m about to be 34, so a lot of ’90s radio.
When you started playing music, you started as a drummer?
Yeah! I am a drummer. I still consider myself a drummer. It’s my first instrument.
It’s very topical for the moment, but you also play in a Stones tribute band, right? You step into the role of Charlie Watts!
Yeah! It’s been a little bit since we’ve done that, but I love playing Rolling Stone songs!
Tell me how you got from that into what you’re doing now– the space country, the NASA Country?
Well, about 10 years ago, I was starting to aggressively try and write songs like my heroes, which still are my heroes. At the time, I was heavily influenced by Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider, Drive-By Truckers, a lot of the Texas folk guys, and then some John Prine, Gillian Welch… I can go on and on! I love that music, and I wanted to play music like that. Melody and rhythm come really easy to me, but lyrics have never been my forte. I hadn’t even really tried writing lyrics for most of my life. So I started trying to write songs and playing open mics. I was living in Austin for a minute. I had a friend up there and we would trade songs and go play open mics and try to go to concerts for our heroes like James McMurtry and some of the cats that live in Austin. I just really resonated with the hill country sound. The culture down here for a lot of those acts that I mentioned was always really festive– and I kinda grew up around it in some ways. At some point, it just clicked!
That brings us into your new album, I Love San Antone, which holds a lot of those sounds that you just talked about, but then it branches into that almost psychedelic Texas sound of Sir Douglas Quintet and that sort of royal irreverence of Kinky Friedman.
(Laughs) I listen to all kinds of music, of course! I always fall back on some of the stuff I mentioned, but San Antonio’s arts community is pretty tight-knit to this day. It’s growing rapidly. Just from doing what I had started doing down here, which was playing roots rock n’ roll, I also started getting into more experimental rock, like some of the krautrock stuff like Can or Kraftwork or NEU! five or six years ago. I befriended some musicians that like that kind of music as well and artists, and we started collaborating just ’cause we were friends. That’s how NASA Country came to be. So I’m kind of all over the place! But the NASA Country project is my primary hometown band and we’re always writing or recording– and it gets pretty far out! I also have no issues with waving the San Antonio flag and telling people that I am from here, whether it’s in person or in song or in between songs. At some point, I definitely realized there was a strong connection to some of the stuff Doug Sahm has done, and I don’t have a problem with that either. I think this new album is all about that!
When did the Lonesome Rose come into play? When did you decide to open up your own club? And what is it that you focus on there?
As I was saying, the arts community in San Antonio is pretty tight-knit, but everything is COMBINED. The music scene’s combined with the food scene and the art scene. It’s just got a small town vibe in the greater downtown area of San Antonio. Even though we’re a big city, it’s kind of like a small town surrounding downtown where most of the creative events happen. I’ve always been passionate about throwing events and concerts and making connections and helping friends get shows down here, and when I started playing out of town more in the indie, alt-country circuit, or whatever you wanna call it, people would always be asking, my peers would wanna come down here and play San Antonio. I would always have to throw something together at a random venue or bar just to host them! Early 2018, some friends of mine that opened dive bars in town told me they were gonna open a honky tonk. I was actively booking bands down here, pretty frequently, and I said, “Hey, let me be a part of it. But I want ownership so I can make it my home venue for myself and my friends. I’ll take care of the booking and stuff.” So that’s what happened! The Lonesome Rose opened in the fall of 2018. It’s almost been three years!
When you put together, I Love San Antone, I know that there was a great deal of rehearsal going on at the Lonesome Rose while things were closed because of COVID. Did you actually record the record there?
This album wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have a shitload of downtime last year. I did a lot of home recording at the Lonesome Rose ’cause at the time, I lived in a duplex and I couldn’t make loud shit happen! The band I put together is all rockabilly veterans that tour a lot, but they weren’t touring a lot at the time. We rehearsed at the Lonesome Rose and then we cut all the core tracks live in a studio up the road. But I did a whole bunch of recording for this album at the Rose. A lot of the guests that are on the album, background vocals and stuff like that, we met and recorded there.
Let’s talk about some of those guests. I’ll bring up Santiago Jimenez Jr. of the legendary Jimenez family. Tell me about that relationship and having him on the album.
Man, I have become very good friends with Santiago over the years. We live about a mile away from each other these days. He is a hilarious and very talented puro San Antone guy! He is music embodied! Of course, he’s Flaco’s younger brother, but Santiago, his claim to fame or what he does is he always stuck to the tradition that he learned from his father. He’s so funny! And he’s in really good shape! He’s , but he’s got chops! His chops are real good still, and he loves to play shows. I always have him at the Lonesome Rose. I go hang out with him at his house sometimes and we drink Miller Lite. Basically, I asked him if he could be on [“Margarita, Margarita”]. It’s one of his father’s songs that Little Joe made popular, and we just duet on it. We did the bilingual version since I don’t know Spanish! Another thing I did last year during the pandemic was produce a record for him, which I think we’re gonna release early next year.
Tell me about that project!
I told him I wanted to make a record for him and it’s called Still Kicking. I hired the band– Max Baca and Noel [Hernandez] from [Los] Texmaniacs on bajo and upright– and Santiago chose a bunch of pretty obscure songs from his father and his back catalog. They recorded 10 songs live in about three hours! The performances on the album are amazing! Those guys are the best, the Texmaniacs, and it’s really a solid record. And the album cover is really awesome!
I love the track “Neon Love Waltz” with Kathryn Legendre. This is my introduction to her as well. The power of the duet and in that style is just fantastic.
Thanks, man! I love duets! I have a bunch of duets on released albums and a bunch of duets on unreleased albums! Kathryn’s a very old and good friend of mine. She lives in Buda these days but is pretty active in the Austin honky tonk circuit. We have her down here all the time. I wrote that song in a key that is really difficult for me to sing and for her to sing, so it has this really raw authenticity to it. I don’t have Gram Parsons’ voice, but I can try!
Well, Gram Parsons didn’t have Gram Parsons’ voice, but he had Emmylou (laughs)!
The album at times really comes off not only as a love letter to San Antonio but a history lesson as well. You’ve got the title track where you lay out your love of the city and then “The Highway 16 Shuffle”, which is just a great song and a nod to country music in general. I particularly enjoy how you reference the infamous Sex Pistols tour of 1978 that rolled through Randy’s Rodeo. I’ve only ever met one person that saw the Sex Pistols in America in ’78. And it was the drummer for the Marshall Tucker Band!
Where was that?
He saw ’em in Atlanta. Barry Borden, who was a BB Queen for Mother’s Finest. And he actually happens to be a huge punk music fan. He’s with Marshall Tucker now, but he and his brother went and saw the Sex Pistols in Atlanta when they came through on that particular tour.
Yeah, a lot of people around here say they were at that show– and some of ’em were but…
Oh, it’s like Woodstock! I ain’t never met somebody that’s been to Woodstock (laughs)!
What’s interesting about that Randy’s Rodeo show is that I’ve seen a bunch of photos of the stage and the band and recordings and stuff, but I don’t remember seeing a photo from the band’s perspective up until recently. I was really kind of surprised by like how empty the room looked! I always imagined it packed wall to wall! I always thought there was gonna be more people in my mind. I don’t think it was sold out!
You’ve said that you wrote this album with the idea of being able to play to a packed house at the Lonesome Rose. You had to cancel that particular show for the release because of COVID. As someone involved with running a venue and being an artist, you get to see the pandemic from both extreme views. I know in Texas, it’s particularly hard. I actually just spoke to James McMurtry last week, and he told me the governor was basically threatening liquor licenses for clubs and bars if they tried to implement any kind of proof of vaccine or any sort of measures that would protect people. When you deal in live music and you play music for a living that has to be a scary prospect of, “How am I going to continue to keep my club doors open and perform to make a living?”
The team that runs my bar is really strong. I don’t know how to run a bar– but the people that run the bar know how to run a bar enough to make us pretty successful. And I know how to run a venue enough to make us pretty successful. So we stayed afloat, and we were able to get some relief funds last year. We have a big backyard for a dive bar, so we were able to pivot in that direction, but we were closed most of the year. Ever since we’ve been booking bands inside again, everyone’s kind of on their own. If a band wants to cancel, we let ’em cancel. And then whoever comes out to the bar, we tell ’em to wear a mask if they want, but it’s hard to enforce when people are drinking and eating and talking.
I canceled my show in particular because… We never really get super packed for like a normal Friday or Saturday, like to the point where you can’t really move a lot. We’re like 150, 200 cap and when there’s that many people in there, it’s like a sea of people. Most of the time, if it’s just a regular dance band playing, it isn’t that crowded. But I was starting to get the feeling that what I wanted for my show, which was a sea of people in the building, was going to happen. And it was very bad timing for that! That doesn’t really feel celebratory to me the way I want it to. So that’s why I canceled. We’re still lettin’ bands play. It doesn’t really get that crowded normally.
You have an interesting cover choice on the new album, and I think it goes back to the very beginning of our conversation and your dad’s record collection. You cover Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath”. If you’da told me without hearing it, that somebody was doing that in a honky tonk style, I probably would’ve turned my nose up at it! But having heard it, I just think it’s brilliant!
Thanks, man! I don’t spend that much time learning other people’s songs or playing covers, but I do have a giant list that is always growing of songs I would like to cover. I’ve only played a few covers in my career as a solo musician with a band. Some of ’em are obvious– stuff like Doug Sahm or Texas Tornadoes– but I played a Devo song in the past. I like to do obscure covers, but the band that I chose for the record, they’re rockabilly guys from this band Two Tons of Steel. The bass player plays with Dale Watson and Jesse Dayton– so they got chops! I came across “Locomotive Breath” in my list of cover songs as I was making the tracklist for this record, and the way I heard it in my head, I’m like, “It’s a train song. It’s a hilarious idea.” I always loved that song. It’s got a good musical drive to it, and it has a great flute solo, actually. I absolutely love the flute solo in “Locomotive Breath”, and I knew that the guitarist that I was working with, Brian Duarte, I knew that he could do something worthy of replacing the flute solo that I love. And he did! His solo on the song is one of my favorite guitar solos I’ve ever recorded!
So what’s next? You’re workin’ on a big festival for the Lonesome Rose comin’ up in October, I saw. But what about you? What are your plans comin’ up?
I just did three shows with Marty Stuart, two shows in Dallas, and one in Houston. That’s funny you brought up Kinky Friedman! Kinky Friedman’s one of my personal heroes. I’ve played shows with him and met him a few times, but Marty Stuart told me that I reminded him of Kinky Friedman, which I did not take as an insult! But I could have! I got some tours booked. I have a bunch of random stuff this month, and then I have a short tour with Sarah Shook and The Disarmers that’s on the calendar, a one-off in Groningen, Netherlands on November 6th that I’m hoping still happens… As soon as it looked like shows were gonna come back and happen again, I started puttin’ calls out to people that I knew that own venues and booking agents about support tours and stuff, and I made some stuff happen this fall. l hope the momentum can keep going, but everyone’s got a sour taste in their mouth and it’s not very unordinary for people to cancel a tour or a show. So it’s another weird time.
I was just thinking how around May or June, I started really trying to book up my September, October, November timeframe, and I did, but things are consistently weird. So I don’t really know what’s happening after this November. I’m sure I’ll drum up some crazy shit! I have a European tour scheduled for next summer– that’s been postponed twice– through Spain and the Netherlands and Germany and Scandinavia. I’m just trying to keep momentum going. I’m a completely independent artist. I have a bunch of recordings under my belt from the last year and a half, and I’m going to release a record called People Are Beautiful with my band NASA Country sometime next year. It’s a super psychedelic space country record that I’m really proud of!