There’s something appropriately absurd about Jonathan Terrell being a New Artist of the Week two decades into his career. After all, this is an artist who has reinvented himself every time it seemed like anyone might have nearly started being able to pin him down.
Whipping up audiences at his live shows and escaping classification, Terrell has been one step ahead of us all since the mid-noughties. It’s no surprise the rest of the world is only just beginning to catch up.
“I've had a career doing this for a long time, but I’ve always been on an independent streak,” Terrell explains. “I’m ready for something new, and I think I have the material to take that next step.”
Whether he's the alt-country street corner troubadour of his early albums, the lounge-country crooner of Past The Lights Of Town or the torch-bearer of the Austin cosmic country scene, Terrell has never been afraid to confound the expectations we might have of him. His latest EP, A Couple 2, 3... is no exception.
Born and raised in a trailer hidden far in the Pine Curtain of East Texas to a family of ex-religious cult musicians, Terrell has taken the myths and lineage of his history and mixed them into a radically inventive career. But, in many ways, this new set of songs is his most straightforward yet.
Whether he’s channelling Springsteen and Mellencamp on the heartland rock-lite of ‘Paint By Lightning’, whipping the dance floor up into a frenzy on the new wave country funk of ‘Place Out Back’ or doing his best Willie Nelson in the late night barroom swing of ‘Texas’, it feels like Jonathan Terrell might have finally found a place he can comfortably call his own.
It’s a place full of honesty, heartbreak and knowing humour, still allowing just enough of that East Texas weirdness to creep in. Jonathan Terrell might throw a good party, but it always feels like he’s a wallflower at anybody else’s.
On the exquisite ‘Better For You’ he lets the simple, perfect poetry of lines like “I’m no storybook cowboy / A weary trail plowboy / Don’t know how to love a girl like you” tumble out of him over an understated country shuffle.
Despite his own touring schedule and his side gig travelling the world with Midland - not to mention being a photographer, director and part time Honky Tonk Disco DJ - Jonathan Terrell somehow found time to sit down and chat to us about the new EP and the strange places his career has taken him so far.
What did you grow up listening to?
It was honestly all over the place. My mom was really into folk music like Emmylou Harris, Dylan as well as vocal groups like the Supremes and the Mamas and the Papas while my dad was heavy into the Beatles, Creedence and basically all the members of the Traveling Wilburys separately and together. I found country music on my own while working for our neighbors ranch. The radio was always playing in the truck or in the barn. I worked there from 9 yrs old to 14.
What songs would you put on a mixtape if you wanted someone to really get to know you?
I'd probably try to impress em' with some 70's deep cuts from Dion 'Let's stick together' and 'Only You Know,' some honky tonk hits from Gary Stewart 'Drinkin' Thing' 'Cactus and a Rose.' Some Gene Clark 'No Other,' Sylvester 'I'm taking love into my own hands,' Lucinda Williams' 'Ventura,' and a little ZZ Top and Mike and the Moonpies.
How would you describe your sound?
Classic American music. Though, I've heard everything from "Country Beck" to "Springsteenian." I'm a diverse lil red onion with many magical layers. I pull from just about everything from a sunset in the high desert to romance books I'm reading in an airport. My sound is always changing and I try not to put out the same song twice.
Tell us a little bit about your new EP?
It's a hot 6 songs with a crack band that we cut up in Dallas with Producer Beau Bedford who also co-wrote one of my singles 'Better for You'. The songs are all so uniquely individual but somehow they communicate together. You'll find everything from cosmic folk, South Austin country grease to classic dancehall spinners. There's a lot of love and dedication put into this cluster of songs. I believe in my heart and soul, it will move ya!
Where’s the most unexpected place music has taken you?
A few months ago my buddy Jess Carson ( who co-wrote Texas and Samantha on the new EP) from the band Midland was having some issues with covid and had to take off from the band for almost six months. They asked me to join the band for a little while until he was 100%. We did 47 shows together as well as a European tour pulling double duty as the opener. I got the call for the gig while I was on my way to Dallas to record this EP. It was very unexpected but I learned a lot about how a band and show work on that level. It was an incredible opportunity and I really love their songs. I freakin' love those dudes.
What inspires you?
Clarity, honesty and recklessness. Some Cormac McCarthy books help too.
What’s your favourite song of yours?
Depends on which day it is. Today feels like a 'Samantha' day but yesterday was big 'Texas' vibes with the rain here in Lockhart. 'Never Makes a Sound' is great for the morning commute.
If you could time travel back to any time, when would you travel back to?
5 years ago so I could spend more time with my younger brother before he passed away.
Which person from history would you most like to meet?
I read Nelson Mandela's autobiography and it floored me. He went through a lifetime of hardships for his country and his people and came out as a beacon of hope and change. I would have loved to meet him.
What would be your Spice Girls style nickname?
100% Punkin Spice. I'm an October baby!!
What advice would you give to the younger you?
Take singing lessons ya bum!
A Couple 2, 3... is out now on Range Music