You know Kyle Nix as the fiddle player from the Turnpike Troubadours, but the entire country music world is about to know him as singer/songwriter Kyle Nix as he is set to release his debut solo project Lightning on the Mountain and Other Short Stories on June 26. In this edition of 20 Questions, Kyle details the moment he felt like Turnpike had made it, explains what happened in that famous Rich O’ Toole incident and gives some the complete breakdown of writing and recording his new album. Nix will also soon be a guest on our Galleywinter The Co-Write podcast to go even further in depth about all this.
1. What have you been up to since the band went on hiatus? How are you filling your time?
Writing, chasing opossums off the porch, staining the new porch swing, acquiring a barn cat…writing.
2. Related to that, you are about to release your first solo album. Tell us about it. When did you start working on it? Where did you record it? Who played on it? Producer?
My boys played on it…Gabe Pearson, Ryan Engleman, Hank Early, RC Edwards.
I also had some other people drop in to the studio and contribute, Ian Moore, Haystack Foster (Jason Eady, Sunny Sweeney), Dan Walker (Ann Wilson, Heart, John Fullbright) Grant Tracy (Jason Boland & the Stragglers), Kullen Fox (Charley Crockett), Chris Jones and Issac Stalling (of Chris Jones & the Flycatchers), Chanda Graham and Myra Beasley who are just out of this world as singers…Ken Pomeroy, who is an up-and-comer out of Norman…and my friend, the Byron Berline…just look at the guy’s Wikipedia (laughs) played on the album. All-stars, every last one. Some folks are blessed and I count myself as one of them.
We recorded it all in Norman at 115 Recording with Wes Sharon producing. He’s been nominated for Grammys and has worked with a ton of people including John Fullbright, Parker Millsap, and some of our Turnpike Troubadours stuff.
The album is a collection of story songs tied together with a spaghetti western theme, channelling Ennio Morricone. I wanted the record to have the feel of a short stories collection, hence the name, Lightning on the Mountain & other Short Stories.
3. Name association:
–Cody Canada: Giant influence, giant heart
-Stoney LaRue: Feels the music
–Jason Boland: Knowledge.
–Mike McClure: “The Comeback King”
–BJ Barham: Hard worker
–John Fullbright: Arsenal of talent
–Kevin Russell (Shinyribs): Makes the world a better place
–John Moreland: Oklahoma original
–Shane Smith: Determination
4. The rise y’all went through with Turnpike is almost unprecedented. What was the moment where you realized y’all had “made it”?
I think we all have our own definition of success so I suppose I personally had a few instances where I felt that we had “arrived” or however you want to say it. One of the first times I had the thought was when we played the big room at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa… it was the first time, and folks were singing along to our songs.
One of the last times I had the feeling was when we performed to a sold out crowd at Red Rocks. The crowd was on our side and we were full of piss and vinegar. It’s a good memory to hold onto.
5. Are you planning to take this solo project on the road when that is a viable, safe option? And if so, would it be solo acoustic shows or with a band?
That was initially the plan, to take the exotic zoo on the road, a little this, a little that, but we’ll see what happens. We’ll take inventory when we get there.
6. As you look back on the last 12 years, is there a certain gig, festival, tour or moment that stands out among all the rest?
There’s a bunch, you know? I mentioned Red Rocks and Cain’s… but there was a show in Stillwater early on that sticks out. We were playing the side room on the big concrete stage at Tumbleweed. We had just walked off stage from playing the best show of our lives up to that moment. There was this real sense of, “we can do this for a living.” It was tangible now, not just a hope. A lot of things changed after that night.
7. Favorite touring memory of the following towns:
–Memphis: Minglewood Hall in Memphis was our tour manager Aaron Lain‘s first show with the band. That was a good day.
Also, a bad memory of Memphis was when our stage manager Zach Morris was punched by a meth head…for no reason apparent. Meth head was arrested shortly after, so there’s that. Gotta watch out in Memphis! (laughs)
-Little Rock: After a show at the Rev Room we slipped across the street to a piano bar. John Fullbright and his girlfriend at the time were with us. At the back of the room there were two grand pianos on each side of a platform stage with two nicely dressed fellows manning the keys. One stepped down to go to the bar for a drink and Fullbright climbed up behind his piano. Johnny was hammering away and really wowing everyone. When the guy stepped back onto the stage to kick Johnny off the keys, he froze and you could tell the guy was listening now… 30 seconds later the fellow was sitting in the crowd with his mixed drink, listening to John like everyone else. A girl from the crowd jumped onto the stage and kissed Johnny on the check while he was playing then hopped right back down. At the time, John’s girlfriend was sitting beside me. When she saw this unfold she shot to her feet and straight over to the table where the kissing girl was. She leaned over and whispered something in the girl’s ear and walked right back to our table and sat down. When I asked her what she said to the girl, she replied, “I said, ‘Bet ya don’t do that again.’
-Denver: The one and only time the Troubadours played the Hank Jr. song “OD’d in Denver” was at the Grizzly Rose there in Denver. The crowd didn’t seem to notice the simple irony of the whole thing but we were really satisfied with ourselves. (laughs)
–New Braunfels: Back in the day when we were just starting to hit the road hard, the band would listen to the Old 97’s in the van all the time. They’ve got to be right at the top of the list for us. Fast forward to the summer of 2015. We were about to play our first show with the Old 97’s at Whitewater Amphitheater and The Texas Music Scene folks wanted to shoot some footage of us playing a few songs for their TV show. So, during soundcheck, we ran through a couple. One of the songs was the Old 97’s tune “Doreen” which we had just recorded for our record The Turnpike Troubadours. Lo and behold, about one verse into the song, the guys from the 97’s show up side-stage to check out the kids making noise… at which point we completely fall apart! Mistake after mistake… a real train wreck. It was like we had thrown ourselves into second gear after being in fifth. I guess that can happen when you meet your heroes! They were so gracious about it all and continue to be to this day. What a great group of guys!
–Tulsa: So many to name from Tulsa… here’s a memorable one: I ended up with a broken hand while dressed as Kenny Rogers one night after playing a show at Mercury Lounge. True story. Got the pictures to prove it.
–Houston: We were playing “If You’re Going To Play in Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)” at the House of Blues. From out of nowhere, Rich O’Toole, who’d been previously persona non grata, steps up to the mic and starts singing the song with us. It caught Evan off guard and gave us all a good laugh because he just showed up like a ghost and we really didn’t know him that well. Rich is such a funny guy and we had a lot of fun with that one! Just one of those moments.
–Fort Worth: Matt Carpenter from the St. Louis Cardinals (and TCU Horned Frog alum) got up on stage with us one night at Billy Bob’s and sang “Long Hot Summer Day”. I think it’s one of his walk up songs to this day. That was special.
-Lubbock: I remember a special show we played at the Blue Light, opening for Clint Osmus & The Bushmills, a band out of Stillwater. At the time, Clint was rooming with Evan and I at a house in Stillwater… so it was a big family affair. It got a little wild. Tended to always get that way in Lubbock. Especially at the Blue Light.
–Kansas City: Played a show with the Old 97’s and Jason Isbell at Crossroads in Kansas City. I remember the atmosphere was great that night and I tried to take it all in. You never know when you won’t be able to anymore.
–New Orleans: After a show at the original House of Blues in New Orleans, I began writing a song I penned about my Dad and Grandad called “Manifesto”. I had seen that a big time ball player had just received a huge contract extension and thought that folks like my father were deserving of paydays that big too, so I wrote a diddy about it all in a round-about way. 8. Without divulging anything too personal or with legal ramifications, what would you like fans to know about the last couple years?
I would just like to say, that you have all got us through a lot! And, quite simply…thank you!
9. Who is someone you would like to collaborate with that you haven’t gotten the opportunity to do so with yet?
Would love to write a song with Adam Carroll. Hell of a picture painter.
10. Of all the other fiddlers in the Texas/Red Dirt scene and nationwide, who are the guys that you look to or admire as the best?
Byron Berline is my hero. He’ll always be numero uno. Michael Cleveland is unworldly, Stuart Duncan knows exactly what to play… Bennett Brown from the Saints is a bad man! And of course Brady Black from Randy Rogers Band holds the standard in Texas music…so many great ones!
11. Let’s talk gear. How many fiddles do you own? Which one do you normally use on the road/stage? How many instruments do you play?
I used to own around 20 fiddles but 5 of my good ones burned up in a fire at Byron Berline’s Double Stop Fiddle Shop last February, so now I’m around 15. Lost one in the fire made by Thomas Edison’s assistant. That was a pretty awful day. I have a couple of fiddles I alternate between on the road and for playing, but I mainly play a German Stradivarius copy made in 1901 and a baroque French fiddle with a carved head on the top of it. That one was made in the mid 1800’s by a fellow named Honroe Derazey and it’s my favorite.
I play guitar, a little dobro, lap steel and of course I fiddle around a little.
12. It is well documented that RC and Evan wrote most of the songs in the band, so going into this solo project, were you sitting on songs you wrote that you pitched but weren’t the right fit for a Turnpike album? Or were all of these songs new? Who did you write with?
Well, I had songs piling up and the Troubadours were between records… and I didn’t think most of them would fit with what we did anyhow. So, I figured I could and should probably make use of them. Some of the melodies came from old songs of mine, but I didn’t like the words so I rewrote them. Most of the songs only go back a couple of years though. I’ve done a lot of writing these past two years. 15 of the tracks I penned myself, 1 is a traditional fiddle tune and another I composed with the help of Gabe Pearson, percussion extraordinaire. Gabe has the musical mojo, man. Some folks just got it and he got it.
13. Who is a band, artist or songwriter that you love that you feel should get more burn and be more well known?
That’s easy, John Fullbright should be a household name.
14. You’re handed the aux cord or connected to the bluetooth for a room full of people, what album or artist are you putting on first?
ICP. Just to screw with you. (laughs)
Then probably Dylan…then Gram Parsons.
15. What is your guilty pleasure listening song, band or artist?
Early 2000’s pop. Fastball, Sugar Ray…that kind of stuff. The melodies were always super catchy.
16. What is your favorite hobby and how did you get into it?
Two: writing and violin collecting. Those are pretty much self-explanatory. (laughs)
17. Assuming time travel was possible, where would you go, what would you do and why?
First, I would go back to 1955 and make sure Biff didn’t get his hands on Gray’s Sports Almanac…(laughs)…and then I would probably head back to 1950 and catch a Hank Williams show.
18. Rapid fire: –Salsa or quac? quac –Favorite vacation spot? Florence, Italy. Michelangelo, Leonardo…all the ninja turtles. –Album you’ve listened to the most all-time? Red Headed Stranger –Go-to truck stop snack? beef jerky -Last TV show you binged? Better Call Saul 19. Favorite George Strait song and why?
“Fool Hearted Memory” because it’s about as perfect a country song as you’ll ever hear.
20. What do you feel makes your music unique?
A person interprets music the way they hear it, bends it to fit their mind, so my music is just a product of my history, surroundings, etc… so it’s unique in that way. I think music is some sort of cosmic language laced with a bunch of magic that we don’t even understand yet.
It’s fun trying to though, isn’t it?