Pat Green: Growing Up and Having Fun
By j.poet

Pat Green is sitting in his tour bus with his band, ready to drive to the next gig on his never ending tour, and while he still plays good-time music for his fans, he's also looking for ways to deepen his music and his songwriting.

"I think songwriters keep going back to places they're comfortable with and don't typically push the envelope," Green said. "If the backing musicians are creative they can work through that. A good musician is a bit of a magician, there's a lot of slight of hand and distraction you can use so the listener doesn't notice [that you're repeating yourself]. But there are other places you can go that aren't so obvious. The trick is to come up with a strong melody and say something meaningful to pe ople without preaching. The art is finding the right combination of rhythm and melody and lyric, finding that odd word that doesn't quite rhyme, but still fits, the word that pushes the wagon to the edge of the cliff without tipping it over."

Green's current tour partner, Kenny Chesney, is a big fan of Green's songwriting skills. "Pat is a people's writer," Chesney said. "He's a man who puts lives and loves and hurts and laughs to music. He knows how to grapple with the truth and have fun doing it."

The tunes on Green's latest Republic/Universal Records album, Lucky Ones, illustrate this approach to "serious fun." The lighthearted rockers are still there, but they're balanced by songs including "My Little Heaven," a melancholy love song that sounds like Green is channeling Jackson Browne, co-written with pop craftsman Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, and "Sweet Revenge," probably the darkest tune Green's ever cut, is an acoustic Country blues tune that simmers with acidic humor.

"That was my attempt at writing an old-fashioned cowboy song," Green explained. "The good guy kills the bad guy, with a casual 'la de da - you're dead' feel. You watch the old movies with the six guns blazing and you don't realize that what's happening is murder. Someone's dead, but in the movies they don't deal with the real feelings; that's where the humor of the song comes from."

Don Gehman (John Mellencamp, Tracy Chapman) who produced Green's 2003 Gold album, Wave on Wave, featuring the Top 5 title track, worked closely with Green on Lucky Ones and praised his studio skills.

"Pat has an amazing ability to include people in the process," Gehman said. "His heart is as big as any room he walks into; which makes him a special writer, entertainer and human being. It's a joy being part of his process."

Gehman brought a more pronounced pop and R&B feel to the album, a slight shift for Green. "The [pop and R&B stuff] is there all right," Green said, "but not by conscious design. Don's a master arranger and knows how to pull a song together and push it in the right direction. I like going into the studio without a song completely finished; when you're working with the band, and the song, and the studio you'll have these really cool spontaneous moments when the song writes itself. You don't fight a song; however it comes out is how it comes out. I can't see The Beatles or The [Rolling] Stones sitting down and saying, 'we need a pop hit or an R&B song this time.' If a song works, it works. If it doesn't, go write another one."

Green followed that last bit of advice - if it doesn't work, do something else - for his entire career. Writing songs; playing gigs; cutting Live at Billy Bob's Texas for the fledgling Smith Music Group in 1999 (the label's second best seller with only Merle Haggard selling more); starting his own label, Greenhorse Records, on almost no money; building up a buzz playing one nighters all across Texas; getting his big break when Willie Nelson asked him to play at his Fourth of July Picnic in 1997; and signing with a major New York based non-Country label that released Three Days in 2001.

Unlike many future stars, Green doesn't claim to have a "rock star moment" when he knew he was destined for fame, but music did take hold of him at an early age.

"When I was a kid I had a chameleon-like voice. I thought I could sing like anyone and hit any note I wanted to hit, although years of cigarettes and booze have limited that. I loved watching my dad perform; he did musicals in regional theater. Having fun singing myself was the one-two punch. I didn't pick up the guitar till I was 18, but when I started playing guitar and singing along, that sealed the deal."

Green's a self-taught guitarist, "but my band will tell you there's no benefit to that," he deadpanned. He started playing gigs in college at Texas Tech in Lu bbock, where he also met his wife Kori, years recalled fondly in the song "College," a duet with Brad Paisley, ("I had so much fun in those four years, that I stretched it into six.") featured on Lucky Ones. He put together a band, dropped out of school and set to conquer Texas. "The point was for us to do we wanted to do. Texas is the size of France and has 18 million people and if everyone in Texas buys your records, you can have a career bigger than most."

After locking down Texas and starting his own record label - his four indie releases are now distributed by Universal Music Group (George's Bar; Dancehall Dreamer; Here We Go Live and Carry On) - Green set his sights on the national stage, a goal Nelson's Picnic helped him achieve. "[The Picnic] was the first thing to get us on the national map. We played about five in the afternoon, and it was raining and I went splish splashing around the stage like an idiot, but it seemed t o work."

Green is taking his success with the same down to earth attitude that has won him his legion of loyal fans. "I wanted to see if this band could make a mark, and while I don't want to change the world, I do want to take it as far as I can take it. Some bands like the smaller venues and the captive audiences, but I want to spread out and see what I can see."

And one last thing about Pat Green-he doesn't wear a cowboy hat. "I didn't set out to wear, or not wear, anything. Sometimes I do wear a cowboy hat, but I don't know that I have a pattern with my headwear. I use to go barefoot all the time, but now I wear shoes, after stepping on chords and cables on stage. I'm very non-committal. Nothing I see in the future is locked down in stone. I'm only 30 so there's still lots of time for me to make plenty of mistakes." There was a pause before Green finished up. "I say I'm 30 to keep my sanity, but I'm actually 32, so I guess I'm a liar too, and I've got plenty of time to tell more of them, too."

© 2005 CMA Close Up News Service

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February 22, 2005
© Jimmy Bruch