When you first set eyes on Austin Meade, you can’t help but feel like you’re in a time warp. While inked forearms, steel-gray eyes and half-buttoned shirts are all timeless pieces to the rock ‘n’ roll arsenal, it’s Meade’s '70s porn star mustache and long, dirty-blond hair that loudly scream "retro." Save the skinny jeans that give away his age, the millennial rocker could easily have supplanted Russell Hammond as the lead man of Stillwater, the fictitious '70s rock band from the film, Almost Famous.
Meade’s music also has an ample dose of retro. His rich guitar-driven melodies and tone call back to times when Tom Petty and Jimmy Page ruled the stage. But the buzz surrounding Meade’s brand of rock ‘n’ roll has just as much to do with the songwriting potential he’s exhibited over the course of his young career. His songwriting prowess is beyond his 26 years, with lyrics and characters acting as conduits into the mind of a young man trying to sort out his feelings as the state of the world smacks him in the face.
His fourth release, Waves, debuted this spring and has been doing well both in Texas and on regional Americana radio. Like many artists, Meade’s lyrics are largely autobiographical. The title track outlines the entire record’s impetus, a string of unfortunate events — a love lost, turnover within the band and a robbery. Meade looks at it all through a surfer’s eyes, riding the crests while enduring the troughs. He says, “Whatever part of life you are in, it’s all waves. You have to sit there and take a few bad waves until you find the right one. The bad ones are inevitable … so, you just have to ride that shit out.”
Tracks such as “7 Letters” and “Pay Phone” put Meade’s rock tendencies on full display, while songs “Growing Pains” and “Mountain Past” give a poetic glimpse of passing thoughts while churning down the road.
So what caused a kid like Meade, growing up in a world where Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, and Beyoncé were the center of the universe, to turn his head to '70’s and '80s rock?
“I see a lot of guys release something and then expect to sell out thousand-seat venues within a year. ...They love themselves or maybe their grandma told them their stuff is great." — Austin Meade
His Baptist preacher father, of course.
As a kid, Meade’s father would take him to see classic rock juggernauts like AC/DC and Journey, gravitating him toward his dad’s CD collection of guitar-heavy rock ‘n’ roll.
In high school, Meade played drums and guitar in the church band before heading off to Texas A&M to study agricultural business. After graduating in 2015, he moved to Austin to pursue music full time. In the slow, upward battle to establish himself and make a living, Meade learned to grind quickly. His generation calls this “adulting.” Everyone else just calls it “life.” Whatever you call it, Austin Meade is doing it right.
Meade offers his thoughts on the peers among his age group, millennials, and the stereotype that they're entitled recipients of participation trophies.
“I see a lot of guys release something and then expect to sell out thousand-seat venues within a year," he says. "They love themselves or maybe their grandma told them their stuff is great. (The market) has just become so oversaturated that there is a lot of shit, and sometimes it’s hard to sift through it to find the good stuff.”
So what keeps Meade grounded? Having a mentor like Texas red dirt legend Cody Canada (formerly of Cross Canadian Ragweed) is a good start. Canada took Meade under his wing after Austin handed him a demo tape at a gig in Port Aransas. Since then, Meade’s band has opened for Cody Canada and The Departed on many occasions, and just over a year ago, he took a job teaching music at Canada’s School of Rock franchise in New Braunfels.
It also helps that Meade listens to his own inner voice, no matter how morbid.
“I have this weird fascination or fear of death," he says. "I’m not sure what to call it, but I fear dying too soon before I can accomplish what I want. Most guys my age still think they are invincible, but when you think about stuff like that, you lend yourself to think like an old man.”
What doesn't get old is Meade’s onstage presence, where his youthful exuberance for rock shines. He and his band will be performing at The Blue Light in Deep Ellum this Friday. Ducking and darting across the stage, hair slinging and head banging are all part of Meade’s repertoire, and many times, his fans reciprocate with some head banging of their own.
Watch Meade's video, "Waves," below: