Jonathan Tyler sits in the cool darkness of the Basement Bar in the Fort Worth Stockyards. A half-dozen longnecks litter the table as we sit amongst friends discussing his career and his new album, Holy Smokes. “You get what you pay for. How many times have you eaten a Big Mac? Every time the quality is the same. It may fill you up, but it’s not necessarily giving you the nutrients you need. I’m a purist at this point. All I want to do is make good quality art.” Quality it is. Tyler has conscripted the help of many North Texas artists to craft Holy Smokes, but it’s been a long journey.
“I began playing around Dallas in Deep Ellum at 16. Eventually, I went to college but wasn’t feeling it and dropped out to play full time. That’s the beginning of the Northern Lights era. We made a record and distributed it independently (Hot Trottin’). Within a year, we had major label interest from Atlantic, which we signed to. Toured with Black Crowes, ZZ Top & Kid Rock. Played all over. Put out a record called Pardon Me that went to modern rock radio. We went to make our second record with Atlantic and ran into trouble. They weren’t feeling the vision that we were going for. We went through contract negotiations with lawyers and got out of that deal. Stalled us for three years, but we kept pushing forward. After we got out of this deal, we made Holy Smokes independently in Denton and began shopping it out. We’re distributing it through Thirty Tigers, the same guys distributing Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Lucinda Williams among others.”
“When I started out, I just knew I wanted to play music. I wasn’t thinking about making money or a living, just making music and expressing myself through it. I love Townes Van Zandt. He never got really famous, but he kept making really great records and writing really good songs. I’m back to that. I just want to make really good music and put out records as long as I can. Not getting caught up in the record business game like I was. I started my own record label, Timeless Echo, and took back the control creatively. We’re finding other like-minded people out there who want to support organic, real, authentic music that’s not put together in a laboratory by ten songwriters, two producers and a label boss telling the band what to do. We got to write songs we wanted to write. Get the musicians we wanted on the record. Record it the way we wanted it recorded. We’re able to do it all ourselves. There are so many people across this country, and the world, that can tell the difference between the commercial sell-out bands just pandering and the bands and artists who are making the music for the sake of the song.”
“At the end of the day I know it is entertainment for people, but I want to make it the best entertainment there is. I want people to know when they support what I’m doing, it doesn’t go to a suit in New York or LA. Its real artists putting their entire lives into what we’re doing. That’s what we are. Same as when people go to Whole Foods or the Local Brewery. You want to support the local brewery over the huge corporate brewery that doesn’t need the money. They put their heart into what they’re doing and it’s organic. That’s what matters. Its helping the people who need the help. At the same time, we’re not short-changing the listener.”
Holy Smokes was recorded at Echo Lab in Denton, TX with various North Texas artists. It includes a cowrite with Ray Wylie Hubbard, a Nicki Lane duet, and some fascinating roots rock You can grab it on iTunes or Amazon Music, Spotify, or grab a physical copy at the local record shop like Chief Records! Jonathan Tyler is on tour right now promoting the release of his album including Americana Fest in Nashville. DD