by: Thomas D. Mooney
After some four years without a release, singer-songwriter Kirby Brown is playing some catch up this year. Out of Exile–a trilogy of three-song EPs–finds the rootsy Brown exploring the human condition in the rawest of ways. As a writer, Brown’s voice has grown and matured. There’s a calm, ripened cadence as he dives into his storytelling.
Always a student of the greats, Brown and company–the ever soaring Texas Gentlemen–roam through the countryside of the American songbook with ease. Pedal steel, keys, and organ warm Brown’s lonesome ballads and intimate journal entries.
“These stories are not just mine, but really are just versions of what I think we all experience,” says Brown. “We all struggle after the same things, wrestle with the same questions.”
It may be a shared struggle, but the reason it bridges the gap is because of Brown’s genuine look inward. He’s honest with himself long before he’s honest with us.
With 1 released this past Fall, Out of Exile 2 finds its’ way out today–which you can purchase here–or get a preview of 2 below. In addition, we caught up with Brown earlier this week to talk about the Out of Exile trilogy, recording at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, and The Texas Gentlemen.
New Slang: You’re releasing this new collection of music in three song bursts. Out of Exile 1 came out in the fall. 2 is out now. Why’d you decide to break them up into EPs rather than a conventional full-length?
Kirby Brown: As an artist, I still believe in making albums–full statements, the flow of track to track, etc. On the other hand, I’ve been sensing a need to get innovative with release strategy in order to keep engaged with our hypothetical audience. Three 3-song EPs seemed like a good way to get a conversation started after not releasing anything for four years. When they’re all out, I’ll put those nine songs out, plus a few more in their original, intended form–as a body of narrative that belong together.
NS: 1 kicks off with a little more of a playful tone with “Joni” and “Little Red Hen,” which has a little bit of that “In Spite of Ourselves” John Prine vibe. This second bunch, they’re a more of an serious bunch. I’m guessing songs weren’t just thrown together in three song sets randomly.
KB: You are correct–and I appreciate your noticing that. To my first point, the purpose of the trilogy of EPs is to get a dialogue going. With any conversation, you start a little more light-hearted and move into your more “serious” subject matter as that evolves. If I’m succeeding as a writer, I’m finding a way to engage both of those sensibilities: the easily accessible and the fun as well as the more introspective and contemplative.
NS: “Paint Horse” feels like it’s very southwestern driven. There’s a Southern California country groove with that pedal steel just dancing on top. Was that originally what you were pushing for when you started writing it or did that feel come into it much later?
KB: “Paint Horse” was the first song we tracked when we started these recording sessions. I don’t know that we had any preconceived notions of what we were going for, except to follow the songs where they naturally led us. That said, the vibe of this track absolutely informed how we thought about the rest of the songs we recorded–especially the ballads. Given our environs there in Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River, we really wanted to chase that muddy, underwater feeling into the rest of what we did. I hope that comes across in the entire collection of songs.
NS: That regret and lonesomeness really carries into “Sweet Shame.” It’s almost like an exhale. You’re a lot more introspective and a bit pensive on the 2 closer.
KB: I am really proud of that song. I don’t know that I’ve ever done much better lyrically than that second verse:
You’re hanging me up just like a common thief.
If anything will lead you to Calvary,/
It’s the love you can give that no one will receive/
And Eternity is all you can hope for./
You’re holding my heart just like a cigarette;/
At the end of it , you’re dragging what’s left out.
I’m sorry I’m not quite immaculate,/
Or as delicate, as you think./
I wrote that at a time that I felt like I had been used and abused–or to use a familiar equine analogy: “rode hard and put away wet.” The way the recording came across–especially with those Gospel-inspired harmonies that Leon [Bridges] and Tyesha Chaunte did–really felt like letting go. Sometimes it hurts; sometimes you’re not good enough and neither are they. But that’s okay. At least you gave it a shot.
NS: You recorded these down in Muscle Shoals at FAME with Beau Bedford and The Texas Gentlemen backing you up. You’ve known these guys for a while now. How loose were the recording sessions? Did you already kind of have solid ideas for what you wanted or did y’all experiment and figure it out while down at FAME?
KB: The recording sessions were very loose. Lots of laughter, lots of whiskey. We were tracking everything almost completely live. Beau and I had rented a car and driven from NYC to Muscle Shoals while the rest of the guys had journeyed from Texas on their own. We hadn’t all been together in the room with these songs before we arrived in Muscle Shoals, so there was a sense of these songs being born in the moment. But, as you mentioned, having been making music and doing life with these guys for a very long time, it all came together very quickly and naturally.
NS: The whole Texas Gents crew and Bedford are starting to really get that recognition from others outside the DFW and Texas bubbles now. There’s a lot of folks associated, part-timers, songwriters, etc with the Texas Gentlemen now. Why do you think it’s now that the notoriety is coming and things are picking up steam?
KB: I don’t know exactly what it is or where it came from, but praise God for whatever is happening! Having been one of the first five or six guys in the Fraternal Order of Texas Gentlemen, I couldn’t be more grateful to see the success and growth there. We realized eight years ago that there was something special going on and we felt it deserved a little more credit than it got in those early years. I think that’s because our little family is the “real thing”–like living water for the musical soul. We call each other, we party together, we pray for each other, we practice together. And we have an expansive group text thread that is constantly buzzing with something good. I think the kind of authenticity the group espouses is something everyone is attracted to.
As with a tree, it may take some time to see the growth–but eventually you’ve got a monstrous, beautiful thing in your back yard. At that point, if you’re like me, you just try to enjoy lying in the shade.