Thrift Store Cowboys Bring West Texas To Dayton
By Kyle Melton
For most artists, locale typically serves as an endless source of inspiration for their work. Whether this backdrop is natural or manmade, the landscape is an inescapable force on art. Drawing on the vast spaces and rich musical traditions of their homeland, Lubbock, Texas outfit Thrift Store Cowboys will visit Dayton in support of their newest album, Light Fighter.
Although well off the radar for much of the music industry, the Texas town of Lubbock proved to be fertile soil for the Thrift Store Cowboys. Guitarist/vocalist Daniel Fluitt and multi-instrumentalist Colt Miller began kicking around in cover bands in their teens, ultimately deciding to forge ahead writing their own material.
“It first fell into alt-country, it’s the way it all came out,” explained Fluitt. “We hadn’t heard of bands like Whiskeytown yet. When the whole band formed at South Plains College, we started calling ourselves Thrift Store Cowboys. (Drummer) Kris (Killingsworth) went to jazz school for a while, so his roots were in jazz. Amanda Shires (fiddle/vocals) played with the Texas Playboys, so she brought a western swing influence and some classical training, since she played in the youth symphony orchestra. Colt and I were playing rock at the time, so we blended it
Upon joining forces in 2000 as Thrift Store Cowboys, in 2001 the sextet issued their debut album, Nowhere With You, that revealed their adventurous alt-country sensibilities. Their sophomore album, The Great American Desert (2003), continued the band’s momentum on record as they continued to tour feverishly throughout the country, maintaining a DIY approach to every element of their operation. In 2006, however, the band enlisted the talents of notable producer Craig Schumacher (Neko Case, Iron & Wine, Calexico) to produce their next album, Lay Low While Crawling or Creeping. Although the band’s profile on the national scene continued to rise following that album’s release, tragedy struck in 2009 as the band’s home/rehearsal space/studio fell victim to arson.
“The fire was set by unknowns, possibly trying to find gear in the trailer in the middle of the night,” Fluitt recalled. “My bedroom was beside the carport where it started and we lost all of our merch, including cases of our last album. Overall, 2009 was a horrible year for me, but it helped me figure out a bunch of stuff in my life and brought about inspiration for songwriting.”
Turning tragedy into triumph, Fluitt channeled the experience of the house fire into work on the band’s newest album, Light Fighter. Again with Schumacher at the helm, the band traveled to Tucson to set to work at Wave Lab Studios. The resulting disc is filled with gritty tales of loss and hope, driven by the sound of a well-aged band in full command of its prowess.
“For this album, we tried to get the best representation of our live show,” he said. “We tried to capture the spirit of the energy and honesty that we bring to the stage.”
Although TSC prefers to handle all duties themselves – ranging from recording to booking to promotions – in working with Schumacher, they’ve enabled themselves to reach a much wider audience while retaining their inherent persona.
“He doesn’t try to change the band’s essence or goals,” Fluitt says of working with Schumacher. “Recording only took 10 days out at Wave Lab in March, plus more overdubs. Craig did bring his own style to the process, in that we did all the tracking on analog. He had some creative ideas as well: the sound you hear behind “Scary Weeks” is Craig spinning a broom around on the floor.”
With Light Fighter having just been released in early October of this year, the Thrift Store Cowboys have hit the road hard in support of the new disc. They believe that having Lubbock as a home base serves them well, both in terms of inspiration and as a starting point as they travel out across the country.
“Lubbock’s flatness and openness really seeps into our music,” Fluitt admitted. “It influences our music to be sparse like the west Texas atmosphere. It definitely fits the land. Lubbock is in the center of the country, so it’s easier to have that base to tour from. There is actually a really good music scene in Lubbock which is pretty nurturing.”
While Thrift Store Cowboys straddle the line between Texas’s country and indie heritages, their dedication and uncompromising attitude certainly belies their background. Although the band sought some outside assistance for promotions on Light Fighter, the band knows that the best way to go is still to just get in the van and win over one convert at a time.
“We’ve been doing this for almost 11 years now, all completely funded and run on our own,” Fluitt concluded. “This is the first album we’ve hired a few people to help us, but it’s still 100 percent up to us to make it work. We’ve toured all over the country in a van for this long. That’s how dedicated we are to the band.”
Thrift Store Cowboys will perform Thursday, November 4 at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Ave. Also on the bill are Floods and The Footmen. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $5 for all ages. For more information, visit ThriftStoreCowboys.info.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kyle Melton at firstname.lastname@example.org