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Saving Country Music

Country Music Deathstar takes you on a journey. Little audio vignettes help bind the songs together, while the stories of love, loss, struggle, and restoration flow one into another, and tell a bigger tale. At times the stories necessitate slimmed-down traditional country interpretations, with fiddle and steel guitar painting the picture. Other times the guitars come at you loud and heavy, with the bark and dissonance needed to find the appropriate mood for the moment. Still other times the music is a mix of both country and rock, but with neither impinging on the other. It’s a wide sound coming from Comanche Moon, stoking the imagination.

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Wide Open Country

The upper Panhandle of Texas can be desolate and rough terrain. In some respects, it’s a forgotten side of Texas. Much of that can be contributed to its’ sprawling ranches, an off and on oilfield boom and being cut off from many of the states’ larger metroplexes. And that’s exactly where Comanche Moon’s Mark Erickson and Chandler Sidwell were raised.

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Country Fancast

Comanche Moon is Mark Erikson and Chandler Sidwell from Amarillo, Texas and they are super excited about their upcoming release Country Music Deathstar. We caught up with them to talk about the album and all the other things happening in their world!


***Please do not share without permission from Comanche Moon or Blue Lark Entertainment.





Rooted in tradition but driven to push the limits, folk-rock and Americana band Comanche Moon brings “a forward-thinking approach to country rock.” Their music lays out an expansive soundscapes that convey the desolation and toughness of the band's native Texas Panhandle and often slip effortlessly into upbeat rock and roll. “It’s a wide sound coming from Comanche Moon, stoking the imagination.” (Saving Country Music, Nov. 2018).

Born into Texas cattle ranching families, the band's core members, Mark Erickson and Chandler Sidwell, grew up steeped traditions of cowboy folk music and storytelling. Even so, “it’s not as though [this folk-based approach] hinders Comanche Moon’s spacious sound.” (Wide Open Country, Aug. 2018). In their teenage years, Erickson & Sidwell discovered rock and roll and consumed the music of 60s and 70s British and American rock bands that were taking traditional American blues and country and driving them through guitar amps at high volume. These influences are reflected in the band's sound. The music is "a mix of both country and rock, but with neither impinging on the other." (Saving Country Music). 

In August 2018, Comanche Moon released Country Music Deathstar, "an expansive concept album that captures the windswept plains and prairies" of the Texas Panhandle. Recorded at yellow DOG studios in Wimberley, TX, Deathstar was engineered by Dave Percefull (Hard Times Are Relative) & Adam Odor (Steak Night at the Prairie Rose) and produced by Tim Allen (Shane Smith & the Saints, Zach Nytomt). The album pushes the Texas country music sound in a neo-classic rock direction. Comanche Moon has found itself at home in the modern Texas music scene among artists that range from traditional country and red dirt to gritty folk rock bands. 

Featured artists on Deathstar include Dave Percefull (Saints Analogue, Yellow Dog Studios), Charles Cruz (Emily Bell, The Black Analog, The Victory March), Cody Angel (Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Kyle Park, Josh Ward), Nick Jay (Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights, Century Recordings), Bennett Brown (Shane Smith & The Saints), Dr. Shane Pitsch, Pat Lyons (Cody Jinks, Colter Wall), Adam Odor (Saints Analogue, Mike And The Moonpies). The first single off the album, “The One That You Love”, climbed to #46 on CDX and to #54 on TRRR. The second single off the album, “Oilfield Blues”, is out now and climbing in the Texas Top 100. The band will be touring in support of the new album through 2018 and early 2019.

Interview Questions

What’s the story behind the album title?

Mark Erikson (MHE): We get asked a lot, “what kind of music do y’all play?” It’s always been kind of a tough question for us because it really has more to do with what we were listening to growing up than it does with current genre categories. In the sense that our sound is country, it’s because we grew up in the country listening to a lot of 90s country like George Strait, Chris LeDoux and Garth Brooks, as well as traditional forms like bluegrass and old cowboy fiddle tunes. But we also listened to a lot of bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Allman Brothers Band, and that kind of music had a huge influence on our sound. So when people ask about our sound, you can spend a paragraph saying that, or you can just call it “Country Music Deathstar.”

Chandler Sidwell (CRS): When Comanche Moon first started playing music we naturally assumed we were playing “Texas Country” and billed ourselves as such. We believe our music and sound share a direct correlation with the landscape we grew up in, and that in itself means we’re a “Texas Country” band…Fairly quickly and to our surprise we kept getting met with the same two responses, “You guys are too rock n’ roll to be Texas Country,” and “You guys are too country to be rock n’ roll.” Being as stubborn as we are, we certainly weren’t going to bend one way or the other so we could fit nicely somewhere. Instead, we decided we’d record an album that expressed our interpretation of Texas music, hopefully proving that there is much more to the musical landscape of Texas than just your everyday, run of the mill country music. The title Country Music Deathstar, is a statement on challenging the pre-conceived notions of what “Texas Country” actually is while showcasing the genre-crossing musical influences of the Texas panhandle.

How is this album different than past projects?

CRS: Our self-titled EP we was a pretty straight forward project that we recorded in Amarillo. It was a collection of songs that Mark had written before the formation of Comanche Moon along with a couple others written in the infant stages of the band. The EP showcased our different influences on a more track by track basis which led to a lot of questions about what type or genre of music we played, with the new album we set out to create a more cohesive and complete musical theme throughout the entire track list. The theme that the Deathstar has arrived to re-define what we all know about Texas music. This was accomplished by traditional instrumentation being utilized in unconventional ways, sampling historic audio from the Library of Congress, and by interweaving the bands personal hardships into the mythology of the album.

MHE: We recorded the EP at a time when we were playing as a three-piece with Chandler on drums, Carlos on bass and me on guitar. We were playing a lot more straight up rock and roll at that time. We didn’t have much of a plan or much of a budget, so we just went into a recording studio in Amarillo and recorded five of the songs that we had. What we came out with was three rock songs and two country/folk songs without a lot of blending. One of the main differences is that we put a lot of thought into putting out an album as an album—one cohesive work rather than just a bunch of songs. We spent a lot of time talking about instrumentation, feel, flow, what we wanted to say musically with the record. As cliché as it is to say this, we wanted it to be a journey.

How do you think you’ve grown as artists since the last studio release?

MHE: Good Lord, I hope so! Yes. We spent a lot of time since the last release thinking about who we were as a band, what our sound is and where we wanted to place ourselves within the modern music landscape. Individually, we’ve grown as musicians—if you play for two and a half years and you’re the same musician you were two and a half years ago, then what are you doing? Personally, as a songwriter, I’ve gotten more comfortable writing songs that I didn’t used to be comfortable with; more personal songs. I’m a pretty private person and I grew up in a culture that didn’t believe in talking about feelings. I think that was an impediment to me as a songwriter and it took some time to get past that.

CRS: Well, we like to describe the process of recording our first full length album as, “trial by fire.” We had scheduled multiple start dates for the recording process at Yellow DOG studios but were continuously delayed by outside life events (family tragedy, destructive wild fires). It was the third re-scheduled date that actually stuck and by that point we felt like we’d been drug through the dirt and weren’t in the most conducive mindset to record an album, but once the process began it was clear it was as much cathartic as it was creative. After going through so much and still getting the album done the “trial by fire” mentality became more of a mantra that we’ve carried into every gig. No matter the circumstances we know we can still it done, whatever “it” may be.

Is there one inspiration, theme or feeling that permeates this new album?

CRS: Change. We set out to change what people perceived as Texas Country music, but by the end of it the theme had more to do with us and our lives than with the music. The theme presents itself in “Restoration” a track about Mark’s experience losing his childhood home and ranch to wildfires. It’s again present in “Going to the Country”, a song about burning out at a desk job and yearning for the healing properties of the great outdoors. I think we initially were so focused on the music during the recording process that we failed to appreciate how much we were all changing and growing individually. We’re an independent act recording our so to say we we’re naïve about all that goes into making an album is an understatement, but by the end we had our album and we were a better band by the end of it because of all the challenges.

MHE: Yeah, I think Chandler hit it on the head. Change, dislocation, dissatisfaction, restlessness. I think we were focusing so much on weaving the musical tapestry that we never realized that there was actually this strong lyrical theme that ran through the whole album. I think we were actually in the studio and Tim, our producer, pointed that out. I didn’t set out to write songs like that, I guess that’s just what bubbled up. Even the one that I didn’t write, Colorado Bound (written by my friend, Dustin Brown), is on-theme. It sort of got me thinking about what was happening in my life over the period of time that I was writing songs for this album.

Any particular musical influences for this new album?

CRS: I think our individual musical influences, on a broad scale, show themselves throughout the album but as far as focusing on a specific sound or style, no. We’re just two regular guys from the panhandle trying to make good music and sometimes I worry if we look in the mirror too long, asking too many questions about what we’re trying to achieve, we might just start recording what we think people want to hear.

MHE: Yeah, I like that last point. I don’t think it’s healthy to dwell too much on self-image or genre identity. It’s our job to find something that’s true and deliver that as well as we can. That said, sure, you can hear influences in the music. It’s kind of funny to hear what influences other people hear in the music. Honestly, it’s a lot more gratifying to hear someone say that they hear Cat Stephens or something like that that I never would have thought of. I think that means that they listened to Cat Stephens and the music is connecting with something inside of them, something in their past. Ultimately, I think that’s the biggest marker of success, when you can make your music come alive in someone else.

We did want to pay homage to history though, and that’s where the John Lomax recordings come in. The album starts out with this old fiddle player named Jess Morris rambling on about his life and about playing fiddle in the Texas Panhandle. Jess was a famous-if-you-can-call-it-that fiddle player in the Panhandle in the first half of the twentieth century. I knew his nephew, Rooster Morris, a prominent fiddle player in his own right, when I was a teenager. Rooster used to come help us work cattle and when I got interested in guitar, he taught me a lot of music. The other John Lomax tracks are of people I don’t have a personal connection with, but whose music connected to me when I was going through the Lomax archives.

Can you talk about your writing process?

MHE: It happens in a variety of ways. The most common process is for me to sit down with a guitar and just start playing whatever comes to mind. If you can get some good, uninterrupted time to just jam, sometimes to can eventually get inside what you’re playing and eventually start to put some words and some structure to it. Sometimes that happens pretty quick, sometimes it happens over a long period of time, and more often than not, it falls apart at some point. The good ones stick with me when I’m driving, walking, working, exercising, little phrases get stuck in my head and eventually become words. It’s pretty chaotic. I wish I had a better answer.

CRS: Well, Mark is inarguably the song-writer of the bunch. I can remember after one of our first “jam” sessions I couldn’t get a couple of his early originals out of my head and that was the first time that had happened to me after playing with someone new so I knew he had something special going on. The cool thing about our writing process is that we have different tastes when it comes to music so he’ll hear one thing and I’ll hear something completely different, and somehow we’ll find an avenue for those two visions to meet. It’s hard to explain but it’s pretty apparent on “Going To The Country”, the drum beat is about as far as you can get from what Mark originally had in mind but now we can’t imagine it without that “hobo march”, crazy person in the woods vibe.

Stylistically, how would YOU describe your music?

CRS: Progressive Americana, or if you’re into the whole brevity thing, “Texicana”.

MHE: At this stage, on this record, it’s like country music deathstar. Next record? We’ll see.

Song Synopsis

Country Music Deathstar – This is an intro track featuring an audio recording of Jess Morris, who was a prominent fiddle player in the Texas Panhandle in the first half of the twentieth century. It was recorded by John A. Lomax and is a part of the American Folklife Center collection. The Jess Morris recording represents the tradition of the Texas Panhandle cowboy music that we grew up with and its appearance on the record is an homage to the that tradition. But when the beat kicks in, it jolts the song into the present day and into our own approach to music. We're students of tradition, but not slaves to it. We'll never forget our roots and the traditions that set us on the path of musical discovery, but we're not purists about it. This track seemed like the best way to say that. 

Outa This Town – This is song is about taking control of your life and being intentional about how you spend your time. In the song, the is expressed through the character in the song urging his lover to just drop whatever else is going on and take a spontaneous road trip together. The driving sentiment is that it's easy to get caught up in a routine, in a job, in creature comforts, and life just sort of passes beneath you "like that yellow stripes that pass underneath the car." It's a call to be intentional about time and relationships.  

The One That You Love – This song is about finally finding love after a lot of miscues. Most people who have been in the dating game have probably had some relationships--or less-than relationships--in which there's an imbalance of attraction. One person is a lot more into it than the other. Those are sadly common and are usually pretty disappointing for both people. But when you find someone that you're crazy about, and that person is just as crazy about you, that's the good stuff. And as rare as that is, you only have to find it once. This song is a celebration good love. 

Cut Me Loose – The thematic opposite of “The One That You Love,” this song is a snapshot of the moment in time when you realize that your lover has fallen out of love with you and is starting to detach. Anybody who has been in that place knows that it really sucks. The song is sung from the point of view of someone who can see that his lover has made up her mind to break up with him but is procrastinating. Letting things fizzle for a while and watching it fall apart in slow motion isn't going to make the inevitable breakup any easier and he calls on her to just get it over with and "cut me loose." 

The Storm – I wrote several songs for this album at the bunkhouse on my family's ranch in the Canadian River Valley, where I grew up. With this one, I was sitting out on the porch of the bunkhouse on a spring day watching some giant thunderheads roll in and playing guitar. It was at a time when I was thinking that I needed to make a few changes in my life and the thunderstorm seemed to be a metaphor for that. The song is told from the perspective of a young man who finds himself stuck in a rut without any direction and finding the strength to face up to his situation and put his life on a new track. 

Colorado Bound – Written by our friend Dustin Brown when he and I were both living in Lubbock, TX Colorado Bound has been a favorite of ours for a while. We've been playing it live for about two years and we wanted to put it on the record. We felt like we should record it just like Dustin and I used to play it back in Lubbock--on a back porch with some friends, acoustic instruments and some cold beers. Yellow DOG studio, where we recorded, has a great back patio with some nice pecans and cypress trees overlooking the Blanco River. We set up some condenser mics on the patio, waited for the crickets to start singing and cut the song live with the natural nighttime sounds on the recording. Bennett Brown, who played fiddle, came into the studio later and overdubbed his part, but everything else is live in a single take with no punches or overdubs. 

Oilfield Blues – This song isn't strictly autobiographical, but it's close. I wrote it about the simultaneous drought and oil boom that we had in the Panhandle a few years ago. I was raised on a cattle ranch and I remain active with my father in running cattle there. There's quite a bit of oil and gas production up there, but we don't own any of the mineral rights. The oil companies come in, drill a well, haul the oil away, and the royalty checks go off to a bunch of people I've never met. Between 2010 and 2014, there was a big oil boom. Oil was up above $100 per barrel and the companies were drilling wells on the ranch as fast as they could. The ranch was starting to look more like a industrial park than pasture land. At the same time, we were suffering through the worst drought since the '50s. The grass turned brown and disappeared, the land looked awful, we had to buy feed to supplement, and we ended up having to sell almost all of our cattle before it was over. I've got nothing against the oil industry and I know a lot of good people who work in it, but it was pretty hard to watch all of these other people getting rich off the land while we were suffering so badly. 

Solid Ground - Simply put, this song is about being torn between having a good thing at home and the need to chase your dreams wherever they may lead. It's something that I think a lot of people who have to travel for work, musicians in particular, struggle with. The road is tough on relationships and sometimes people have to choose between their dreams and their relationships. That's a tough choice. 

So it Goes - So it Goes is part of a broader mythology that we've been building for a future concept album called "Prairie Gothic." It contains the part of the story during which the main character makes his return to his homeland in the Texas Panhandle from a time of exile in the Yukon. In a sense, it doesn't belong on this album and we considered leaving it off. Ultimately, we decided to include it on this album, first, because you never know whether you'll have the opportunity to record that next album or not, second, because we just liked the song, and third, because it said something musically that we wanted to say. It's a different sound than the rest of the album, and we wanted to go ahead and convey from the beginning that that sound is a part of who we are and will be a part of where we take the music in the future. 

Goin' to the Country - A song for all the people who have big city desk jobs and fantasize about walking away from it all and becoming a mountain man--or mountain woman. I don't think people were made to spend their lives in offices, in traffic, in giant metropolises full of anonymous strangers. It does things to the human psychology. I've been there. I would sit at my desk and dream about disappearing into the mountains and never coming back. Goin' to the Country is about a sort of modern day Jeremiah Johnson who is frustrated with his high pressure job and the big city dating scene, so he walks away from it all to build a cabin in the mountains and settle down with a big-bodied mountain woman. 

Leaving Town - I wrote this song with Tim Allen, our producer, and my bandmate Chandler Sidwell. We had finished up recording at yellow DOG one night and I was cooking dinner for the crew. Tim sat down at the piano and started to play this somber, melancholy piano tune with Chandler helping him out on the high keys. Tim asked me to start putting some words to the tune. I kind of laughed it off at first because my typical writing process is by myself with plenty of time to work out lines and chew on the lyrics. But the piano part seemed to suggest a direction and words started to bubble up. The theme of change, of moving on from disappointment, which underlies many of the songs on the record, must have still been very present, because that's what came out. Once the song started to take on a direction, we stuck with it and didn't stop until we had more or less established the structure and gotten most of the lyrics. We continued to polish the lyrics the next day, and we cut the track that night. 

Restoration - The most personal song and the most autobiographical song on the record, Restoration is a song to my parents whose house burned down, along with most of the ranch, in one of the big wildfires that hit the Panhandle on March 6, 2017. The first half of the song is a visual play-by-play of my experience driving up to the ranch the night of the fire, arriving in the valley when the ranch was covered in wildfire, sleeping in my pickup and driving in the next morning to find the house burned down to ashes, and delivering the news to my parents who had evacuated to Perryton, TX. The second half of the song is a message directly to them to have courage, to accept help, to grieve but also to overcome, and ultimately, to rebuild. 

Written by Mark Erickson