Ramsay Midwood Lights Up Austin’s Music Scene

Ramsay Midwood’s album Larry Buys a Lighter brims with swampy grease in “Loopers” and grooves with “Jonah.” The album’s sharp snapshots and subdued thunder directly summon the Austin resident’s key musical influence: J.J. Cale, the singer-songwriter behind Eric Clapton’s slow-burn classics “After Midnight” and “Cocaine.”

“Oh, yeah, J.J. Cale!” Midwood exclaims when charged with the comparison during an interview with CMT Edge. “Totally. Absolutely. I like J.J. Cale and Mississippi John Hurt and Jimmy Driftwood more than anybody.”

Nonlinear lyrics, from the skewed opener “Rotten Alabama” to the closing hymnal “Higher Ground,” further spotlight Midwood’s singularity among Lone Star state songwriters.

“Fifteen years ago, my face was fuller, and the new world order was just around the corner,” he sings on the former. “Now, she’s miles from here.”

Only truly brave listeners dare imagine what comes next.

CMT Edge: Please explain the album title, Larry Buys a Lighter.

Midwood: It was actually taken from a song that I ended up taking off the record. The song was called “Chickens on the Lamb.” It just didn’t seem to fit in the batch of songs, something that I’ll save for another record. We didn’t really get it right. We tried a couple of passes to record it, and we figured we’d try to use it at a later date and try another stab at it. But that was what I wanted to name the record from the beginning, and we just kept it.

So, who’s Larry, and why is he buying a lighter?

Well, I knew a guy named Larry Hosford, who was a singer-songwriter in the ’70s from Salinas [California]. One time, my friend Charlie and me went to pick him up in Salinas to make his record in the mid to late ’90s, and I ended up taking a picture of him buying a lighter at a gas station. His focus on the lighter as he was picking it up was a very intense gaze. I used to call the picture “Larry Buys a Lighter.”

Speaking of the ’70s, a nine-song album is a retro LP length.

Exactly.

You kept Larry Buys a Lighter short on purpose, then?

Yeah. You have four songs on one side and five on the other — or even four and four or four and three. That’s an album. I get so many records these days that people hand out that have 17 and 19 songs, and it’s just too much. You can’t really get through it all. It should be around the length of a sitcom. You can tell the story in half an hour. That seems to be right.

Tell the story behind writing the opening track, “Rotten Alabama.”

I think it started out as “Rockin’ Alabama” when I first wrote it. I had a friend who was in the band who’s from Alabama, and we used to joke around, and it became “Rotten Alabama.” I like that song. You know, I don’t really know what inspired that. You talk to people or see things out there, and all of a sudden they resonate, and then you put them together and marry the chord structure you’re working with, and then there seems to be some sort of internal logic to the song. I just don’t know how.

Does the album have a common lyrical theme?

In my songs, there’s not as much of a story involved. I guess there’s an implied story underneath. It’s not, “Fred went to the door and had a hard time” … that you repeat over and over again. You know what I mean? I try to keep it open to interpretation a little bit. I think the album flows nicely, the way the songs are stacked. I think you can sort of draw your own theme, but there seems to be an arc. There’s usually some character that starts in trouble and eventually worms his way out of the situation.

Talk about filming the “Loopers” video at the White Horse. That’s a popular Eastside club now, and it’s only been around about a year, right?

Yeah, maybe even less. No, probably just about a year now. We did that right when it was getting started, just before South by Southwest last year. The White Horse is great. It’s like the club that everyone’s been waiting for in Austin.

Plus, there are a lot of new guys doing great stuff. It’s a nice place for them to relax and have a nice dance crowd. It’s nice to play and have folks dancing. That’s what I’ve been looking for in Austin for the last couple years. Move that Hole in the Wall crowd over there, and it’s sort of perfect.

Who are some of the younger bands in town that you dig?

Oh, I like Mike & the Moonpies a lot. I’m always a big fan of Lil’ Cap’n Travis. I like the [John] Fullbright kid from up there in Oklahoma and the Carper Family.

Everybody around Austin’s talking about the Carpers.

Oh, man. Yeah, they’re great. I like Mike Stinson, too.

Do you think the local music scene in Austin is too saturated at this point?

I think it’s OK. There’s obviously a lot going on, and sometimes it feels like too much, but there’s a mixture of folks who resonate on the same frequency and bond together. Good things come out of that. I think the more, the merrier.

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