Outlaw country was born from a musical exodus that happened in American country music during the ‘70s and ‘80s, when country musicians — disillusioned or outright rejected by the meat-grinding money factory that Nashville's Music Row area had become — moved away from the city, for the most part, into Texas.
This rejection of the "Nashville sound" gave rise to such musical luminaries as Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Forty years later, local musician Kirk Holloway details his own exodus in record form with the release of his first EP, Lonesome in the Lone Star State.
Plano native Holloway has always loved Texas country music. Growing up he felt that Haggard was “just what songs sound like,” and Merle, Willie and Waylon were constant companions in his youth. Holloway began working on his music at age 15 and eventually recorded a demo for a country music producer in Nashville. His dreams were smacked out of him, however, when the producer responded to Holloway in a phone call: “You can’t sing. You can’t play. You can’t write.”
But, as such is life, we're sometimes presented with the opportunity to carry through or else be crushed by such reviews. Holloway, in true Texas spirit, chose the former.
“There’s nothing more metal than outlaw country,” he says. “It relates to me just because I love that honesty. Those dudes were doing what they wanted to and nobody was going to tell them otherwise ... They lived a certain way and that rawness translated to their music. I don't think it’s something you can fake."
Holloway pressed forward in his musical career, carrying honesty as his banner and Dallas as his home. Through pure kismet, he ran into musician Ryan Michael of The Roomsounds, and after “months of pestering,” Holloway convinced the seasoned Dallas musician to record him in his home studio.
The pair started meeting up once a week in what could be considered the antithesis of the polished musical machine that rejected Holloway — a converted garage. They recorded while keeping a muddier pace, what some have referred to as "Texas time," and using Michael’s band as session musicians.
"Initially I was blown away by the songwriting ability of a 21-year-old," Michael says of Holloway. "But what I came to enjoy most was hanging out after each session and talking music. He’d put on Buck Owens then I’d put on the Kinks and we’d settle on John Prine and say, 'Fuckkkk, we’ll never be this good.' I’m a huge fan of Kirk’s. I think he’s gonna break big in the next few years, whether the Americana fad fades or not. He’s a real-deal songwriter and insanely prolific."
In the EP's title track, Holloway laments that though he’s encountering misery and pain in life, Texas stands as a palliative, with a sentiment that recalls Davy Crockett’s famed quote upon losing his bid for Congress in Tennessee: “You may all go to hell; I will go to Texas.”
Holloway's ills might not be cured by Texas but, as he sees it, they will be made better by the fact that he’s in it, as one verse goes: “Off in the distance Dallas is shining bright / Drawing my broken soul towards the city lights / Lord I’m down in Texas so I guess I should feel alright / but I’m lonesome in the Lone Star State tonight.”
Holloway sees country music as the state’s blood, coursing throughout almost unnoticed but keeping its distinct outlaw spirit alive.
"You don’t have to have the best voice. You don’t have to be the best guitar player. You just have to tell the truth,” Holloway says of his style.
In his song “Hummingbird” (co-written with another rising country artist, Jackson Harper), Holloway writes of saving his grandfather’s antique Gibson hummingbird guitar from a bad New Mexico home, and bringing it home. For Holloway, even a guitar will have its best life in the Lone Star State. He isn’t solidly against these places outside of Texas — or unTexas, if we may — but his life solidly rests here.
“Just for the record, I’m sure there’s a lot of great people in Music Row just doing their jobs, and there’s nothing wrong with that," Holloway says. "I mean even that guy I talked to on the phone, he didn’t need to take the time out of his day to call me, but he did … Even if he did shoot me down … I don’t hate Nashville, I just like Texas a whole lot more.”
Listen to Lonesome in the Lone Star State and others below: