By Kim Grant
Native Virginian, longtime LA transplant and now residing in Houston Texas, Mike Stinson is back in Los Angeles, playing three shows over a long weekend at local main-stays Pappy and Harriett’s, Cinema Bar and the Agastock Benefit at The Echo. Described by Billboard Magazine as the “King of the neo-honky-tonkers,” Stinson and band can jump from playing honky tonk country to rock and roll without skipping a beat.
Stinson has four records under his belt, the latest being the critically acclaimed, Hell and Half of Georgia. Known as a honest and heartfelt lyricist with a knack for melodies, his songs have been released on albums by Dwight Yoakum, Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Gilkyson, Jesse Dayton, Brian Whelan and Folk Uke (featuring Willie Nelson) to name a few. Mike Stinson kindly took time for TJ West to answer a handful of questions in advance of his Los Angeles shows.
You went from the honky tonk sound of 2010’s The Jukebox in Your Heart to more of a rocking sound for 2013’s Hell and Half of Georgia. Where do you see your new material leading you for your next album?
My first three albums were attempts to make a classic country record that Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson would like. I’m not sure I succeeded but I got it out of my system. Now I go where the songs take me and try to flex other musical muscles. I doubt my next record will be a huge departure from my last. I’ve always got some singer/songwriter stuff cooking, I always like to play the boogie and I always include a couple ballads.
I See Hawks in LA front man, Rob Waller just released a solo album of covers and one of theses songs is “Counting My Lucky Stars.” How does it feel to be covered and how do you think he handled the song?
It’s always a great honor when a fellow traveler covers one of my songs. It means the song struck a nerve. I’ve been very fortunate to have so many artists whose talents I greatly admire record and perform my songs over the years and I am filled with gratitude each time. Rob Waller has an exceptionally strong voice and always a stalwart and heartfelt delivery. He gets right to the heart of the matter on this song and I’ll always treasure his version.
You were a drummer a long time before you stepped in front of the mic with a guitar. Recently, you’ve been backing Brian Whelan on drums. How does it feel to be behind a kit again?
Still got my chops! It feels great to be behind the drums when you believe in the singer and the songs. It’s makes me feel useful and so glad to be able to give back to someone who has been a tremendous help to me. Brian Whelan is the real McCoy. I miss the physical aspect of drumming, quite different than manipulating fussy guitar strings and vocal chords.
How is Houston treating you and what is one of your favorite things about the city?
Houston has been welcoming to me overall. My audience there is no larger than my LA audience but they took me in when I needed somewhere to go and have given me a lot of work. I’m very fond of it. It’s affordable for a large city, there isn’t such a premium on space and it’s not so damn difficult to find a parking place.
You’re known as a wonderful songwriter, but have said in past interviews that it’s a tough process for you. Do you seek out the inspiration or just wait for the inspiration to come to you?
I seek the inspiration most days but it’s a harsh mistress and often keeps me at arm’s length. It’s a source of much frustration but it’s magical when it shows up.
You’ve been working with guitar player Lance Smith, bassist Mark Riddell and drummer Mark Patterson for a while now. How did you find these guys and end up playing with them?
I find band members either through referrals or from seeing them play with other bands. I have decent instincts about who would be good at playing my music but keeping enough good players up to speed on the material and able to pull off my schedule of shows (162 last year) is a tough job that consumes a lot of my time. Lance Smith and Mark Riddell in particular have been to the ends of the earth with me and rearranged their lives many times over to do this job for which I will be eternally grateful. We are severely underpaid but we have a lot of fun. Honorable mentions go to Jon Hahn, Jesse Harris, Mark Patterson, Brian Whelan, Jesse Dayton, Winfield Cheek, Matt Johnson, Eric C. Hughes, Eddie Dale, Ben Thompson, James Wilhite, David Holt, Clint Short and Bobby Daniel, all of whom have helped cover my gigs within the last year alone. Go ahead and ponder the amount of phone calls, set lists, source material, and rehearsal involved, I dare you.
What’s up next for you and the band?
Next up for the band is a trip to California in a couple weeks and I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of dear friends out there. I’m also in the initial planning stages of getting a new record made, much work to be done. The beat goes on. Much love to all.
Los Angeles Dates:
Friday, 07/22/16 Pappy and Harriett’s Pioneertown Palace
7:30pm // No Cost 53688 Pioneertown Rd. Pioneertown, CA
Saturday, 07/23/16 The Cinema Bar 9:00 pm// No Cover-Tips Accepted
3967 N. Sepulveda Culver City, CA
Sunday, 07/24/16 Agastock Benefit for Southern California Counseling Center
At The Echo 1822 W Sunset Blvd. With: Ramsay Midwood, Tony Gilkyson, Greg Felden, The Neptunas $25 Donation for more information.