Wood & Wire‘s The Coast delivers buoyant bluegrass that is in equal measures eclectic (“Galveston”) and energetic (“Anne Marie”). Singer-songwriter and guitarist Tony Kamel spoke with CMT Edge about his songwriting influences and formative years as well as the group’s new collection.
“I grew up in Houston but we had a home in Galveston and spent a lot of time there,” the current Austin resident says. “I don’t always sit down and write but I had a lot of ideas. I was feeling nostalgic for whatever reason, reminiscing on my upbringing and spending a lot of time at the beach.”
CMT Edge: Tell the story behind writing “Galveston.”
Kamel: I used to spend so much time there with my brother and sister and cousins and friends growing up. We’d just go hang out. That’s basically where I grew up in my teen years. We loved to party on the beach and go fishing late at night. You know, when you’re growing up a teenager in the summertime in Galveston, there are a lot of people who come just for the week or the weekend. We’d run around and pretend like we were hitting on girls.
So, you basically discovered girls in Galveston?
Yeah, it was during those years that you really get interested in women and partying and having a good time. That’s how that song came about. I was thinking about those times and how I don’t get to go as often as I used to and I don’t get to stay as long. I used to stay for months at a time but now I only get a weekend. It goes through a chronological theme with me thinking about it, missing it and then reminiscing on growing up there and pining for those times.
You’re credited as playing banjo on that song.
Yeah, I played banjo on that song. For me, it’s been around the last couple years. I play claw hammer-style banjo, which is much different than the style (the group’s banjoist) Trevor (Smith) plays, which is pick-finger style banjo. The claw hammer is more reminiscent of old-time music. That’s something we’re all real interested in and it just felt right on that song.
Did you write the song on the banjo or guitar?
I wrote it on the banjo. That little melody I wrote on the banjo and as we were practicing it as a band, it just seemed right for me to play it on that song. Trevor played mandolin on that track. He’s actually a hell of a mandolin player and it gave him a chance to switch things up, too, and have some fun.
Describe the band’s writing process.
Well, for this album especially, I was the main songwriter. I’ll write a song and to me it’s never complete until I take it to the guys and have them mess with it. Trevor and (bassist) Dom (Fisher) are really good at coming up with other good chord substitutions and twisting the melody a little bit and coming up with different ideas to add to the song. So, for this album, I’d write songs and take them to the band and then toward last January we went out to the family ranch in Llano, Texas, with the producer, Erick Jaskowiak.
That said, you went to Nashville to record this album.
We went to Nashville to record because we’re a bluegrass band. The bluegrass scene here is very small and if you want to do this on a national scale like we do, you have to be connected to the Nashville scene, which is fantastic. All of our heroes are in Nashville and many of our bluegrass musician friends, too. On top of that, Eric’s what drew us to Nashville. More than anything, though, once we got to know him, he just became like a band member. We went to his house, where he built the studio. It gave us a chance to get out of our bubble and work intently for two weeks.
Tell the story behind writing “Anne Marie.”
“Anne Marie” is about my mom’s parents. My grandmother was named Anne Marie and my grandfather was 10 years older than her and kind of a party animal — a really, really fun-loving guy. He had known her since she was pretty young and she was the opposite — very well-behaved and laid-back and pious, if you will. When he was 26 and she was 16, they started courting. They couldn’t have been more different but they stayed married through the end. I was real close to them and they died when I was in high school. I just thought it’d be cool to write a song about them.
Obviously, you take after your grandfather more than your grandmother.
Yeah. (laughs) I think out of my whole family, I’m most like my two grandfathers, and they were very different people, too. In a lot of ways, I’m like my mom’s dad, but he loved to dance and I can’t dance a lick. (laughs)
What songwriters are you drawing from right now?
As far as old-school songwriters, I listen to some really old bluegrass music. More than anything, I like to listen to people like Ralph Stanley and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe. Those guys are really my favorite songwriters of all time. They will forever inspire my songwriting even if it doesn’t sound like it. The low-down stuff they came up with really gets into me. Norman Blake‘s certainly up there. He’s incredible. Hell of a guitar player.
Any younger writers?
That’s a good question. There are a lot of really good songwriters here in town. Let’s see, I think that Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay are really good songwriters. The Carper Family write really good songs. Matt the Electrician is a really good songwriter. It’s endless here in Austin, really.
Explain how living in Austin generally shapes you as songwriters.
By most people’s standards these days, I’ve been here a long time, since ’02. I’ve seen it change a lot, but I’ve been on the music scene and meeting other musicians really just the last five or six years. There’s something about Central Texas that makes me happy. (laughs) I also get to leave a lot and every time I do, I realize that I live in this little bubble where there’s all this creativity going on. I think living here just makes me want to not take it for granted and to collaborate and jam with as many people as I can because they’re in my backyard.