The Powell Brothers show how it’s done
360°Sound caught up with Taylor and Blake Powell of the Texas country trio The Powell Brothers. In pre-pandemic times, The Powell Brothers were playing an average of 160 shows a year across 25 states. Some of their notable gigs of the recent past include performances at a World Series game at Minute Maid Park in Houston, the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, and an NFL playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. The Powell Brothers, featuring Taylor on guitar and lead vocals, brother Blake on bass, guitar and vocals and drummer Mike Bishop, have released one full-length album, 2019’s Leave on the Light. They also have three EPs out, along with eight singles, including their latest, the rockin’ “How It’s Done.”
360°: Please start by telling our readers a little about The Powell Brothers.
Blake: Our dad played music in a church. We kind of picked up music so we could hang out with him a little more. Very quickly that turned into us going and playing for other bands and playing on records. We were kind of like backing-musician guys playing in-studio stuff.
Taylor: We were living in Austin. Blake was going to move to Nashville, and I was going to move to Houston. Before we went our separate ways, we decided to cut a record, just acoustic, to document our time of being in the same city and working together. When we finished the record and put it out, we were both just like, ‘This makes a whole lot of sense. It’s really good. Let’s give this a go.’ We ended up staying together and moved to Houston. That was in 2014, and we’ve been going full-time since.
The band was originally a four-piece and is now a power trio. What were the adjustments you had to make in your playing and arranging to maintain that big sound?
Blake: We still have the same amount of people but instead of having a fourth band member, we have a car mechanic with us full-time. As much as we travel, stuff is gonna happen to the car. Being able to make sure we always get to stuff became a huge priority.
Taylor: Reliability and consistency are two of the most important things to us.
Blake: Musically, being a trio gives you a ton of freedom. With there just being three of us, if one of us decides we want to do something in the moment, it’s not as big of a deal when it’s only the three of us have to pick up on this new cue. Anything that goes wrong you notice so you have to be really tight and be able to meet each other.
Taylor: There’s more room for personality. Our individual personalities come out. You’re not stepping on as many toes with a three-piece.
Blake: But the stakes are higher.
Taylor: Yep, if you mess up, there’s less to hide behind.
What is it that makes your music uniquely Texan?
Blake: I think it’s where we come from. We’re not reading about the characteristics that make this song a Texas country song, this is just what we came up in. We’re interested by so many different genres of music. What’s cool about the Texas country scene is that they’re really accepting of us wanting to bring in Ray Charles stuff, or really just any genre we want to pull from. There’s a way to make it work and be interesting and people enjoy it and relate to it.
You have a lot of rock in your music. Do you find that you’ve attracted some fans who don’t typically listen to country but are drawn to the rock sound?
Blake: We do definitely come across people who are like, ‘Country is not really my thing, but I enjoy what y’all do.’ I think one of the big things that’s important to us is that a lot of the Texas music scene, the guys who came before us were legit guys. They were who they were. Taylor and I both grew up working on a ranch, but it was summers. We didn’t do it full-time. We weren’t cowboys. The things that we sing about are the things that we come from and have experienced. Some of the things that we do are not gonna be super-twangy country stuff just because that’s not authentically us.
Living in Austin, I’ve noticed that many Texans specify that they don’t just like country, they like “Texas country.” Do you find that a lot of your fans are especially dedicated?
Taylor: I would say so. I would also say one of the great things about Texas country music is that people give artists a lot of bandwidth. There are so many different things you can do in this genre. They are very open to us taking it different places. That’s a very cool thing. It’s not a super narrow genre. The Texas country label is a very broad label. There’s a lot of room to be creative and different, and people are very supportive of that.
Will your new single “How It’s Done” be on an upcoming album?
Blake: Yeah, this is the first song that’s come out of our new studio. Two years ago, Hurricane Harvey wiped out our house [in Houston], which our studio was in at the time. This is the first project coming out from our new studio. We’ve been recording. We wanted to get stuff out sooner, and that’s part of the reason why we got that single out because we couldn’t wait to get music out.
“How It’s Done” was inspired by a drunk guy after a gig?
Taylor: Yeah, there was a fella, really sweet guy, who loved our set. Afterwards he pulled us to the side and was like, ‘Hey, you guys, you got it. You just gotta keep on workin’ hard and keep on diggin’ until your fingers are bleeding and you gotta keep on diggin’ more and more.’ He had had drinks, therefore he kind of looped that message for about 25 minutes and really dug it in. I’m glad we got to put that memory to song because it’s such a funny memory to us.
I read some years ago that country artists typically sell CDs at a considerably higher rate than other genres. What are your thoughts on physical releases?
Blake: I think people have success in releasing in all formats. Some things are more popular than others, but there’s no one right or wrong way as long as you’re releasing music and you’re getting it to the people who want it.
Do you think CDs are still worthwhile?
Blake: Massively. Being able to hand something to somebody in person and say, ‘would you listen to this?’ That’s always going to be powerful. We still absolutely believe in CDs.
Taylor: We all love vinyl. But if you go to a concert and you buy vinyl you’re holding that thing the whole time [laughs]. If you buy a CD, you can put that in your back pocket and go about your life.
What is your songwriting process like? Is it collaborative?
Taylor: It’s a collaborative endeavor for sure. There’s no one way that it happens. We kind of take songs wherever we can get them, whether it’s something somebody did at a concert, something somebody said to us, or something that we’re feeling. We scrap for songs. We’re all fighting the same fight. I think it was Tom Petty who talked about that. It doesn’t matter how successful a writer you are, at the end of the day, we’re all trying to get that next song. If you’re writing authentically, it’s hard, it’s never easy. It’s putting in the time and chasing down that idea.
Anything you’d like to add for the fans?
Taylor: New music is coming. We are finishing up a new batch of songs, all from our studio. “How It’s Done” is the first of those songs. There is so much coming and so much we’re excited about.