Brian Pounds‘ Strikes and Gutters braces breezy melodies (“Hold My Head High”) with vibrant vignettes (“Sunday Dress”). Peak points showcase the Austin resident’s focused lyrics and thoughtful song craft (“Somewhere, Maybe Carolina”).
The Voice enthusiasts might recall Pounds’ buoyant cover of “Wagon Wheel,” which got the attention of the judges Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green in 2013. Strikes and Gutters follows his bare-bones album Live at the Cactus Café from earlier this year.
CMT Edge: Explain the album title Strikes and Gutters.
Pounds: It’s a quote from The Big Lebowski. They ask [Jeff Bridges’ character] the Dude how he’s doing and he goes, “Eh, strikes and gutters.” It’s something that I adopted into my vocabulary a lot. That’s been my experience with the music industry anyway. It’s big highs and low lows. That describes my experience playing, so I thought it was an appropriate title.
Does “strikes and gutters” also apply to the record’s lyrical theme?
I would say that the record’s really a commentary on my experience in the music business. Almost everything really has to do with being on the road. The record is happy at points and sad at points, so I would say the title has to do with the lyrical content as well. A lot of those songs were written in hotel rooms. Some were great and some were really bad.
Tell the story behind writing “Somewhere, Maybe Carolina.”
We were in L.A. for The Voice. They take you on various trips and you’re gone for about a month at a time, and you’re not allowed to leave the hotel because they’re afraid you’re gonna spill company secrets. So, there’s not much you can do and there weren’t very many people who were songwriters in the group. I met [fellow contestant] Austin Jenckes at the pool with someone else and they were swapping songs and we became friends real quickly.
We listened to each other’s songs and we tossed around the idea of writing a song. He said, “Well, I have this thing I really like.” It was that line, “somewhere, maybe Carolina” and that opening song riff. We literally wrote it in 30 minutes or an hour. I’ve always said that good songs take two weeks to write and great songs take about 10 minutes. It just sputtered out and clicked.
Was your experience on The Voice positive overall?
I met some great people who became friends and it did open a few doors. Looking back, though, I’m not sure if it was the best career move for me, just because The Voice wants big, powerhouse voices and that’s not my forte. I do it once or twice during a set but I like to be more lyrical and storytelling. There wasn’t much focus on songwriting or intimate moments. It was about a big, belting thing.
It is called The Voice.
Yeah, so there are people who know me from the show and they’re positive that I sing Nashville country like Darius Rucker or Jason Aldean. I do listen to Darius a little, but from his Hootie and the Blowfish days. Anyway, overall, it was really positive. You’ll never feel cooler than flying back and forth to L.A. for months at a time and everybody was great, but in the end I want to be more of a songwriter than a pseudo karaoke star.
Have you caught much flak for being on the show?
It’s hard to tell. People are generally pretty nice. Nobody’s a dick to your face. I would say the downside’s mostly in booking. My hour and a-half live show really works best in listening rooms like Strange Brew [in Austin] or the Blue Door in Oklahoma City.
At some of the places I’ll email to set up a show, they’ll see The Voice thing and say, “You know, man, that’s not really what we do here.” A lot of times, I’ll have to say something three or four times before they get that I’m more of a singer-songwriter than a country star.
Why did you pick the Cactus Café for your live record released earlier this year?
It was an off-the-cuff thing. The Cactus is hard to get into, but I have a friend named Shane Bartell who wrote “Sunday Dress” and he’s good friends with the guy who booked it. I wanted the name Live at the Cactus Café for the record. It was the night of the show and I brought him a flash drive and said, “Can you record this?” He said, “Sure.” We did and it sounded incredible to my ears. It came out really well.
Why include that cover of “Sunday Dress” on both discs?
It’s a long story, but here’s the short version. I moved to Austin in 2008 and was asking a friend, “Who do you listen to? Who does it for you?” He said, “Well, I have this song that I’m doing some cello parts for and it’s not released, and nobody’s supposed to know that I have it, but I’ll let you listen if you don’t tell anybody.”
We listened and it was awesome, but Shane wasn’t playing shows at the time and he hadn’t released a record and wasn’t going to, so I just heard it that once. I wasn’t able to hear it for two and a-half or three years, but it always stuck with me. It was very haunting the way the lyrics work with each other. I later found which bar Shane worked at and contemplated going in a few times and finally went in and introduced myself and we became friends.
We were looking for the right track to put on the new CD. I don’t know that the producer, Brian Douglas Phillips, was really stoked about the song, but I was. I had learned how to play it in a few different settings and guitar structures. I just felt really passionate about the song. It was the only thing I insisted would be on the record because I’m in love with the song and I thought it fit in nicely as a ballad.