In terms of what is classified as country music, the definition seems to be expanding at a faster rate than ever. Southern rock, folk, and even hip hop have all recently cemented with Nashville artists that have historically been resistant to a whole lot of change. Fortunately, scenes cropped up across the country to provide a space for artists who just didn't quite fit the mold that Nashville had created for them.
In Texas, that scene really flourished. The local popularity of red dirt country has meant that artists have been innovating and creating their own style of country music in this state for decades. Texas country has now been around long enough to have their own legends, some of whom have finally started to see mainstream success. There are some artists, though, who have been changing the genre in the background but are only just finally starting to get their due at home and nationally. William Clark Green, a songwriter from a small town outside of Tyler, Texas, has been performing across the state for years now, and critics and fans in Texas and across the country are starting to take notice.
While the rest of country music let "bro-country" dominate the sound, William Clark Green was building his chops in Lubbock, Texas. Josh Abbott, another Texas country artist that has seen broader mainstream success, helped build a voice that Green had known was inside of him since he was 14 years old. Most people don't think of Lubbock as a really formative place for country artists, and Green kind of hopes that it stays that way.
"Lubbock hasn't been exploited," he says with a laugh. "Say what you want about Austin, but it's the music capitol of the country. Everybody goes there." Even though Austin may get much of the credit for Texas' vibrant and diverse music scenes, places like Lubbock allow artists to play for enthusiastic crowds without having to worry too much about artistic competition. As Green says, though, artists have to get out of this largely isolated West Texas town in order to get any attention, yet the musical history there is great. Beyond the legacy of Buddy Holly, the likes of Pat Green, Cory Morrow and Josh Abbott have all made their own unique marks on country after honing their craft in Lubbock.
Green's hard work is finally starting to pay off. Rose Queen, Green's latest album which somehow manages to be commercially appealing without sacrificing an ounce of musical quality, was only recently dethroned from the No. 1 spot on the Texas music charts, where "Hanging Out" stayed for over 17 weeks. This, of course, is something that Green wouldn't have dreamed of.
"You never expect it to happen," he says. "The whole point of radio is to get your song out there to as many people as possible. The difference between number one and number five really isn't that many spins. That number one is just a bonus."
But when you listen to Green's clearly folk-influenced tunes, you won't hear much of what Nashville is putting out today, which probably has something to do with his continued "hidden gem" status. In fact, Green says that his music really isn't even country when you listen closely. Sure, there's rock influence and plenty of folksy grooves, but the storytelling is all country. "To say that we sound like George Strait or [Texas artist] Cody Johnson just isn't true," Green explains. "That, to me, is what country music is. We're doing something that's more songwriter driven, and saying things that people aren't saying in music."
For Green, that means telling truths that are harsh and uncomfortable to confront, even if they aren't necessarily controversial or groundbreaking. These are the kinds of songs that you listen to when a relationship has gone wrong or when you're discontented with life in general. On "It's Not Fine," Green talks about jealousy and a "selfish feeling of personal desire" that he feels many artists aren't willing to confront, likely because "it just sounds like a bunch of whining."
Even if you think that Green's honest-to-a-fault warbling is whining, there's no disputing the fact that he's doing something much different than what you're hearing on mainstream country radio. Still, you won't hear him complaining about where the genre has gone wrong. For him, there are two distinct trains of thought: On the one hand, he knows how difficult it is for anyone, much less an artist that's focused on making good music, to make it in his business. On the other hand, he's also a fan that thinks the critics may have been taking things far too seriously.
"It's not our national anthem. I don't understand why people are so angry about it," he says. "If they want to rap on country music, that's fine. There are people who don't want to listen to that, and people who do. We'll take those who don't with open arms." Still, if you're hanging out with Green and some "trash" comes on the radio, you should probably expect for him to change the station.
And if you do find yourself feeling disaffected and lamenting the ascent of bro-country, no matter which knob on the radio you choose, Green is salve for the country fan's soul.