A dizzying array of influences, from musical and literary to geographical to familial, can be heard zipping by on the carnival ride that is Dustin Welch's second album, “Tijuana Bible.”
“It's always a hard question for me talking about, like, the influences, how direct or overt that gets in the music, but I guess coming to Texas has definitely changed my sort of attitude about being able to perform. I'd never even thought about having a band of my own until I moved here, in fact. But it's not really a Texas country-sounding record, either,” Welch said in a recent interview from his adopted hometown of Buda, Texas, about 20 miles south of Austin.
Indeed, the follow-up to his 2009 debut “Whisky Priest” springs from country and punk to folk and blues like neon lights bouncing up and down a midway. The singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist named both albums after hand-drawn pornographic pamphlets that were passed around Depression-era work camps. While the tunes on “Tijuana Bible” reflect that period with their gritty, almost desperate vibe, story-songs such as “Party Girl,” “St. Lucy's Eyes” and “Sparrows” also have a timelessness about them.
“I've been saying it's a trilogy (in progress), basically just because there's a particular kind of sound, I guess, or a style that these records have. ... But I felt like this record was a nice companion piece,” said Welch, who released “Tijuana Bible” last month on his Super Rooster Records.
“I think in this record, there is a little more sophistication, at least in some of the arrangements. And I was exploring some other kind of writing styles a little bit more with this album.”
Welch, the son of Oklahoma-bred Americana singer-songwriter Kevin Welch, will play Friday at a venue that has been an important touchstone for his family: the Blue Door. His father performs at least once a year at the celebrated Oklahoma City listening room, and his sister, Savannah Welch, brought her band The Trishas to the Blue Door earlier this month before Austin's South by Southwest festival, where the three Welches played an increasingly rare family show.
“The Blue Door is one of my favorite rooms in the country. I think the first time I played there I was maybe 16. I'm 32 now,” Dustin Welch said.
Born in Nashville, Tenn., Welch grew up steeped in music. In high school, he and singer Cary Ann Hearst, now of acclaimed Americana duo Shovels and Rope, played in a hippie jam band called the Groundlings. In his 20s, Welch and fellow “Music Row brats” Justin Townes Earle, Travis Nicholson and Cory Younts (Old Crow Medicine Show, Jack White) went to school — metaphorically speaking — with their old-time country/blues outfit the Swindlers.
“We were all like real students,” he said. “We weren't ever actually in school, but we were always researching like old pre-World War II, Depression-era musicians and that kind of old folk/blues and even pre-bluegrass stuff and jug bands.”
He got another kind of education when he joined a West Coast Celtic punk band called the Scotch Greens.
“I really learned a lot, almost even more about performance working with those guys; they were really kind of opening me up to a whole other style and great new music that I'd never paid attention to growing up in Nashville,” he said.
Along with his musical influences, Welch said authors such as Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and Joseph Campbell have helped shape his songs.
“Growing in up in Nashville, there were so many really brilliant songwriters that I was exposed to, a lot of guys that were totally under the radar that weren't necessarily writing for top 40 country — Mark Germino or David Olney or Kieran Kane, those kind of guys. ... I think I was more influenced by writers like that and then like the stuff that I read. I try and take a lot of that kind of style and put it into song form, like short stories or novels or film even,” he said.
One aspect of the Nashville school of songsmithing Welch has embraced: working with co-writers, including rising Oklahoma star John Fullbright. They co-wrote “Gawd Above,” the opening track of Fullbright's 2012 Grammy-nominated debut “From the Ground Up.”
“I've been doing it in some of my sets, but I don't do it nearly the justice he does,” Welch said, noting that Fullbright rocked the house with the fiery anthem at the Grammys pre-televised ceremony in Los Angeles. “He's been one of my favorite co-writers and ... it's been really cool seeing his success.”