From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Turnpike Troubadours say ‘Goodbye Normal Street’
The Oklahoma red dirt band, once based in Tahlequah and now headquartered in Okemah, is hitting the road in support of its third album.
With their third album, the Turnpike Troubadours are bidding “Goodbye Normal Street,” and it’s more than just a catchy title.
It’s the literal and figurative state of the Oklahoma red dirt band, which recently got a new home base in Okemah but has members spread out to the Tahlequah, Oklahoma City and Stillwater areas.
“We lived on Normal Street when a lot of these songs were written in Tahlequah — or I was crashing on RC’s couch there part of the time. Part of the time I paid rent, so I was actually a resident,” said singer/songwriter/guitarist Evan Felker, laughing as he referred to bunking with the band’s other songwriter and bassist RC Edwards.“But it could be applied to the state of mind that we’re in right now with just how crazy things have gotten,” he added. “It seemed fitting that it was an actual street and now we’re fixing to get on a tour bus and do more gigs than we’ve ever thought about doing and life is pretty much uprooted. … Any normalcy that we had is pretty much over with.”
The band will officially debut its third full-length album Tuesday, but the Troubadours already have a busy slate of CD release shows lined up, including Saturday at the Wormy Dog Saloon in Bricktown and Monday at the Mercury Lounge in Tulsa. The quintet — fiddler Kyle Nix, lead guitarist Ryan Engleman, drummer Gabriel Pearson, Edwards and Felker — expect to easily play 200 or more dates this year.
“It’s what we chose but it’s a pretty wild style of living,” Felker, 28, said. “But we love it. I love playing music. You know, all of us have devoted a great deal of our lives and our time to do it … and being able to enjoy what you do and make a living off it is one of the coolest things anybody can do in the world. I mean, it’s the American dream, right?”
The Troubadours have been living the dream since forming in 2007 in Stillwater, the birthplace of red dirt music. They took their name from the Indian Nation Turnpike, made their debut album, “Bossier City,” on a shoestring and hit the road. They partnered with well-known musician/producer Mike McClure and released their sophomore album “Diamonds and Gasoline” in 2009.
“He’s got a really cool style of production, he does his thing really well, and it works very well. And the last record was really, really great for us … and it was definitely the right move to make at that point of time. I can’t be happier with what that little record did,” said Felker, who gave up his job as an electrician in 2009 to focus on the band.
“We were saving up the money for ‘Diamonds and Gasoline’ doing one or two shows a week and then I’d do acoustic shows, and we were all playing only in Oklahoma then. And after we got that record out, we were playing more like four shows a week and going all over Texas and the Midwest, just significantly more shows and more traveling and more new audiences.”
The Troubadours took a different approach to “Goodbye Normal Street,” which they made with producer/engineer Wes Sharon at 115 Recording in Norman.
“We actually produced the thing ourselves, which is pretty nice when you’ve got an idea of what you want things to sound like already when the song’s written,” Felker said.
Like the album’s title, many of the songs are biographical or autobiographical. Edwards, who quit his day job as a pharmacist last year to concentrate on the band, penned “Morgan Street” about the short-lived Tahlequah bar where the group once played regular gigs. And the bittersweet military anthems “Blue Star” and “Southeastern Son” are less political statements than people stories to Felker.
“I wrote both of those songs about people that I know. They’re just character pieces for me,” he said. “The one (‘Blue Star’) is about my uncle … he was a gunnery sergeant — he just retired — in the Marines, and the other one is about some of my cousins — it’s not completely autobiographical, but it’s based on them — who joined the (National) Guard to make some extra money and wound up getting deployed. It’s not easy living in small-town Oklahoma trying to make a living if you want to stay there. You know, some places there’s not much industry, and you have to do everything you possibly can do to get by. And part of the time that maybe joining the Guard.”
With “Goodbye Norman Street,” he and his cohorts focused on capturing a “real band-playing kind of feel rather than a sort of perfect to-the-metronome kind of record.”
“The things that you hear on the radio, especially country radio, a lot of time are just really Auto-tuned and lined up perfect and it lacks any kind of a soul to it. It doesn’t really sound like real people are playing it to me. And we just wanted to give a really good representation of what we are and what we can do as a band,” he said.
“We wanted to sound like ourselves playing, and sometimes that’s easier said than done … especially in the studio because the studio’s a pretty unnatural place to be trying to get an energetic take or really get into it. You’re just in kind of a sterile room by yourself and it’s quiet … it’s not like playing a live show.”
Turnpike Troubadours CD release shows
When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Where: Wormy Dog Saloon, 311 E Sheridan.
When: 7 p.m. Monday.
Where: Mercury Lounge, 1747 South Boston Ave., Tulsa.