By Maxim Mower
Colter Wall has always been somewhat of an enigma.
Whenever his praises are sung by his eclectic, wide-ranging fanbase - of which Post Malone is a passionate member - he's framed as a reclusive cowboy who is much more content spending time tending his ranch than he is embarking on a press tour.
This is the narrative spun about many a Nashville ‘hat-act’, in an attempt to add a little substance and reality to music written by a group of other lyricists. Authenticity is the currency of modern country, and listeners are getting more and more ruthless in their determination of what constitutes a ‘real’ cowboy, or even a ‘real’ country artist.
When it comes to Colter Wall, there is seemingly no fiction to sort from the fact. The Saskatchewan native would most likely describe himself primarily as a rancher, who happens to sing some country music - incredible country music, albeit - for fun.
Colter Wall’s music can be enjoyed by those who live on a farm and lead a similar lifestyle to him, but it also offers an escape for listeners that work a 9-to-5 office job in the middle of a city.
With the release of any project, we can often focus our spotlight too intensely on the creatives behind the record, rather than giving due attention to the body of work itself. However, with Colter Wall's new album, Little Songs, which was released on July 14 2023, the palette it has been crafted from feels inextricably bound to Colter's own identity.
On Little Songs, the art and the artist are locked in a perfectly choreographed two-step. There's a moment of realisation when the last note plays on ‘The Last Loving Words’, where it dawns on the listener that there was only ever one dancer all along.
In many ways, it's the same symbiosis of the fisherman and the sea or - more aptly - the cowboy and the land. Rather than seeing it as imposing oneself on or dominating the subject, there's a sense of harmony, whereby the land feels like an extension of the cowboy - just as the music of Little Songs comes across as an extension of Colter Wall.
Whether Colter is staring out into the majesty of a prairie sunset, or looking down into the devoted eyes of his love, the refreshingly rustic, grainy imagery that pervades Little Songs is undoubtedly the most visceral and evocative aspect of the project.
This is reflected in the carefully constructed sonic architecture of the album, which was built with the help of the assured ear of Colter Wall's co-producer, Patrick Lyons.
In order to delve deeper into the heart of the new album, Holler spoke to Patrick Lyons - who's also a member of Colter Wall's band, The Scary Prairie Boys - about the process behind Little Songs, his artistic relationship with Colter and the experience of putting together one of 2023's most fascinating projects.
Hey Patrick! How long did Little Songs take to create?
We went into the studio for about a week. We tracked all of our parts there, and then went home. The record was then mixed and mastered remotely and we listened and made notes for about another week or so.
Covers have a strong presence on the new album, with two highlights being Ian Tyson's ‘The Coyote & The Cowboy’ and Hoyt Axton's ‘Evangelina’. Was it a challenge for you and Colter to strike a balance between paying tribute to the originals and putting your own spin on them?
I wouldn’t say it was too difficult. Colter obviously has a distinct voice, so he’s not going to sound like Hoyt or Ian. We just kind of played and sang the way we do, and that’s how it naturally came out.
The sonic architecture of Little Songs plays a key part in painting this image of rural, Saskatchewan life that seems to run at its own tempo. Was creating this atmosphere an intentional part of the creative process behind the album?
I’d say it was something that just flowed naturally. The band was presented with the tunes, and we just contributed whatever inspired us. Most of it worked and if something felt unnatural or out of place, we’d cut it and try something different.
Colter Wall has one of the most distinctive voices in the genre, and it ensures his music always has an appealingly sepia-tinged, otherworldly feel. On Little Songs, the sparse instrumentation perfectly aligns with this Old West, traditional-leaning ambience. Was it easy to pinpoint this as the sound that should underpin Little Songs?
Thanks! I wouldn’t say it was easy, because we worked pretty hard on the album when we were there, but as far as coming up with parts, and considering instrumentation and so on...that was somewhat easy. The songs kind of tell you what to play, if you listen.
Colter Wall performed and teased a number of songs from Little Songs ahead of its release. For example, fans had already become familiar with the acoustic version of ‘Evangelina’ before Colter made it officially available. Did this add an extra sense of pressure on you both to create a studio version that aligned with the rendition fans had already fallen in love with?
I wouldn’t say it created any pressure. People can get pretty divisive and opinionated about music. A lot of times they like the version that they like and that’s it. I’m not trying to change people’s minds, but I never understood that. I love hearing different versions of tunes.
Did you and Colter record any songs that didn’t make the cut for Little Songs, and that could potentially be included on Colter Wall’s next project?
Nah, these were all the ones that we did when we were there. We did, however, do a couple of singles that we released last year - ‘Cypress Hills and the Big Country’ and ‘Let’s All Help the Cowboys Sing the Blues’.
Little Songs feels firmly rooted in Colter Wall’s classic territory, while at the same time you can sense a newfound impetus behind most of the songs on the project. When you started work on Little Songs, was there any discussion around how you both wanted the project to stand out from Colter's previous works?
We really didn’t discuss that. We had heard and played a few of the tunes prior to going into the studio, but the others were presented to us there. We had some half-baked ideas of some things that we wanted to do or try, but we just started working on them and they just evolved naturally.
Which other albums or artists did you draw inspiration from throughout the period you spent crafting Little Songs?
Ray Charles’ ‘Sings for America’ - and that’s it.
For more on Colter Wall, see below: