Texans have suffered a tragic loss in the past 30 years. They’ve had to watch their treasured country music hijacked by the likes of Toby Keith and (God forbid) Kid Rock, who have made a living off exchanging nuance and tact for volume and opinion.
Trapped under that glossy garbage is a rich American legacy of cowboy blues, as much a shared authentic experience as it is a genre. Enter true Texas transplant Wesley Hartley and his honorable quest to revitalize a lost art. Together with The Traveling Trees (Leslie Deane, Derek Reynolds and Jonathan Donnell), Hartley has been sharing the best vintage country he can muster with an eager Portland audience.
GO wanted to sit down with the band before it two-steps down to the Lone Star State for a March tour. The group plays locally at Venue on Friday.
Check out the band’s blog at: wesleyhartleyandthetravelingtrees.wordpress.com
How would you describe your sound to the uninitiated?
Hartley: Quarter horse shoe-gaze.
Deane: I like to describe it as modern-vintage country. Hopefully, the words modern and vintage can make sense together.
Reynolds: It sounds like where country would be today if the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s had not taken country music down the rabbit hole it continues to spiral down.
From Maine, but Texas on the brain. What’s the Pine Tree/Lone Star connection?
Hartley: I’m from Splendora, Texas.
Deane: Mostly about Wesley being a Texas native and then transplanting to Maine. Half of my family’s roots are from Texas, and Derek knows a lot about the music from that area. Jon does, too.
How did The Traveling Trees meet Wesley Hartley?
Hartley: Through the glory of faded music.
Donnell: I met Wes and Leslie through being a fan of their previous band, Dead End Armory. I didn’t know Derek before he joined the Trees.
Deane: I played bass and sang backups in Dead End Armory for the first two years of its four-year run. Later on, Wes and I got together as a duo to play some of the songs he had written. Jon joined us on drums, Derek on bass and guitar, and down the road, Gregg Hoover added lap steel guitar.
Reynolds: By way of similar musical tastes and ambitions.
Fascinating that your March tour of Texas will be self-funded. How does the fundraising platform Kickstarter help young bands?
Hartley: Eeewwwee — thanks for the “young” part! Feeling old … and rushed these days. Feel free to talk about how young I look in this piece.
Donnell: It legitimizes and focuses fundraising efforts. Where previously there was the method of scraping together money from playing shows and selling merch at the venue, people are now able to donate money through a secure website and track the progress of projects which they’ve deemed important enough to contribute to.
Deane: We are so appreciative of the help we’ve received through Kickstarter donations, show attendance and merchandise sales. We wouldn’t have been able to go on this tour if that support didn’t exist.
How are the new songs coming along? What can we expect from the next record?
Hartley: Hmmm … thinking four-track. Piano.
Donnell: We’ve been rehearsing a handful of them. Not to speak for Wes, but I think they’re written from a different mind than the last two albums. The mood is brighter overall.
Deane: More amazing songs. Wes is a songwriting machine.
Who is the best two-stepper in the band? Is it close?
Reynolds: Maybe we will find out somewhere between Denton and Houston.
Hartley: Two-step, fox trot, fandango …
What are you most excited for at SXSW?
Hartley: I can’t wait to see my friends and family. The 35 Conferette in Denton will be the highlight show for sure, but every time I show favoritism, I think of all the other gigs (with) the same giddy anticipation, so I don’t know. Old friends, new friends, fresh air, shorts, SPF, OMGs, “good to see you,” “you look great,” “you haven’t changed a bit” and “let’s eat!”
Donnell: I’m actually more excited about 35 Conferette, which is a festival we’re playing at in Denton. That and just being out on the road in general. Especially going where the weather is a bit warmer. I’m excited for single layers.
Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland and Boston.