Interview: Monte Warden ~

by Jim Catalano

March, 1994

Monte Warden writes songs that capture the exuberance and innocence of early rock & roll without coming off as a mere revivalist. Warden's most obvious influence is Buddy Holly, but traces of Bobby Fuller, Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers also echo throughout his music. Although he's just 27, Warden has been a pillar of the Austin music scene since 1983, first with the rockabilly- inspired Whoa, Trigger!, and later with the Wagoneers, who recorded two neo-country albums for A&M in the late 1980s. After a four-year hiatus from recording, Warden last year released his self-titled solo debut on Watermelon Records, which garnered him two Austin Music Awards for Best Male Vocalist and Song of the Year (for "Just To Hear Your Voice") at this year's South By Southwest Conference, held in March. "I'm real proud of this record we put out last year. I feel I finally made something that rocks and rolls," says Warden in a phone interview from his Austin home in late March. "The Wagoneers' records were quite a bit more country than what we did live and I was glad to finally do something that better demonstrates what we do onstage." For much of this year, Warden has been criss-crossing the country with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, attempting to reach all of the lower 48 states. When we talked, the self-described "record freak" was excited about his album's release in vinyl format in Scandinavia. "I think that's how it was intended to be heard, with all the cracks and pops," he says.

CATALANO: I've been playing your CD constantly since I got it last fall. While it's obvious that there's a Buddy Holly influence on your sound, you can also hear a lot of Bobby Fuller.

WARDEN: It's funny that you would that. Everybody picks up on the Buddy Holly, but not very many pick up on Bobby Fuller and he's been a huge influence on me. He incorporated that surf thing in Texas rock and roll. It was straight-ahead American pop music. I think he was ahead of his time. It's a shame I think Bobby Fuller would have really been something major if he hadn't gotten killed, or died, or whatever happened to him.

CATALANO: You're being marketed to country outlets, but this isn't really a country record.

WARDEN: I would have to say that this record isn't country at all this is a rock and roll or pop record but because of my past with the Wagoneers people just assumed this was gonna be a country record. There are obviously country elements to it, because I'm from Texas and that's just the way I sing. In the true sense of the word in the way the word was originally intended this is a rock and roll record.

CATALANO: What kind of airplay have you been getting?

WARDEN: we've gotten quite a bit of airplay, and the thing I didn't anticipate is that it's been almost exclusively on the A3 stations. People that didn't know me from the Wagoneers or didn't know me from a hole in the ground just listened to my record and realized it was a little rock and roll record and started playing it. Some country stations played "Give My Heart A Break" because of the video, and "The Only One" because of the duet with Kelly Willis.

CATALANO: How did you come to co-write with Kostas?

WARDEN: He came down to Austin for a week. We hooked up and took to one another he's a big Everly Brothers fan and Buddy Holly and of course I am too we just started talking and the next thing we knew we had written a couple of songs. I think "It's Amazing" is one of funnest songs on the record.

CATALANO: I really liked Brent Wilson's guitar solo on that song.

WARDEN: Brent did a real good job on that. He incorporated a Beatles thing and then there's a "Love is Strange" thing going on. It's a really wonderful solo.

CATALANO: I also like your Big Bopper-inspired "Well!" in the middle of "Car Seat."

WARDEN: You are the first person to say that to me! Not even the guys in the band caught it! That's exactly what I was doing! I didn't know I was going to do it, it just happened. You can tell by the tape that's a one-take thing. Good for you!

CATALANO: When I reviewed your album, it reminded me a bit of Marshall Crenshaw.

WARDEN: I love Marshall's records his first two Warner Brother's albums (MARSHALL CRENSHAW and FIELD DAY) are just amazing records. But I think it's more that he and I have similar influences than anything else. I think his stuff may be a shade softer, a bit more Beatle-esque than mine. Where I think the Beatles influenced him, Springsteen influenced me.

CATALANO: You're a Springsteen fan?

WARDEN: Oh, man! I could have never written a song like "Feel Better" if it hadn't been for songs on DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN. I love Springsteen. What an amazing songwriter!

CATALANO: So how did you wind up on Watermelon Records?

WARDEN: They were only label out of all of the huge labels and small labels I spoke with that gave 100% total creative control. When I told (labels) that I wanted Dave McNair and Mas Palermo to produce the record, they said, "Well, what have these guys produced before?" And that's silly, that wasn't my point. I had worked closely with these guys, and had worked well with them, and I knew that they were the guys for the gig. It was imperative that the band play on the record. I was unproven that I could make a good record out on my own without a big name like Emory Gordy producing it, so nobody would give me the opportunity, and it wasn't worth it to me to make a record that I didn't have control over. So I went with Watermelon, and they gave me complete control and I couldn't be prouder of the result. If I ever get to make a record for a major label again, they'll see it's wise to leave me the hell alone.

CATALANO: I know you came on the Austin scene with Whoa, Trigger! back in the early 1980s. What did you guys sound like?

WARDEN: Not very good! We got together when I was 15. It was two guitars acoustic and electric lead and a standup bass. We did a lot of stone country, a little bluegrass, and a lot of rockabilly. We had the same [kind of] lineup as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two or Elvis, Scotty and Bill. You know, like the early Sun stuff.

CATALANO: When did the Wagoneers come along?

WARDEN: The Wagoneers got together when I was 19, and got signed shortly thereafter. STOUT AND HIGH came out when I was 21, and GOOD FORTUNE the next year.

CATALANO: Why do think the Wagoneers never caught on like you should have?

WARDEN: There were a lot of reasons why the Wags didn't happen on a bigger scale. Number one, we were on a pop label (A&M) that had never attempted to get in the country market before. Two, even though it was just four or five years ago, that was light years in regards to country's popularity and we were a different group, a bit unique at that time. That, and maybe country radio wasn't just ready for those songs. It doesn't matter what the success level was, for me; I was just pleased to get to make records.

CATALANO: I've noticed that you've been quoted on financial issues in Kevin Maney's USA TODAY column.

WARDEN: The pop critic at USA, David Zimmerman, gave my record a glowing review and one day this cat Kevin called me on the phone and said one day in the office that David Zimmerman was going on and on about this guy from Texas, so Kevin took the CD home and he dug it. He called me a couple of times for his column. One topic was health care, and the other Blockbuster merger. He picks left-of-center things that you think I would know very little about, and most of the time I know even less!

CATALANO: So what albums have you listening to lately?

WARDEN: I always listen to a lot of John Prine, and I love the new Crowded House record. Springsteen's NEBRASKA is never more than a few feet from me, and the Buddy Holly's 20 GOLDEN GREATS is always there. I just got the Sam Cooke's THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC. It's like 27 songs, and man, I had forgotten just how amazing Sam Cooke was. It's incredible, and the sound on it, especially "A Change Is Gonne Come," will give you chills. He's one of those dead guys of soul music that never got his due. I don't why, but people don't hold him up the way they do [others]. The way he died shouldn't have anything to do with it.

CATALANO: Have you made any plans for your next record yet?

WARDEN: Yes, we're going to do quite a few new songs on this tour. It's all written and ready to go. We probably won't be able to get back in the studio until August because we're booked until then.

CATALANO: Do the new songs sound similar to the first album?

WARDEN: Absolutely! I mean, these are just the kind of songs I write. I've noticed from the newer batch of songs it is even more pop sounding. You'll hear on this record, more Bobby Fuller and less Buddy Holly, more hard-driving guitars. A lot of it has to do with the fact I play a Rickerbacker guitar, but a lot of people have told me that it reminds them of early Tom Petty. Not me! (laughs) It doesn't remind me of that, but I think because it's very guitar-oriented type that has as much to do with the Bobby.

Copyright 1995 Jim Catalano

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