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Band: “Live at Five” featuring The Red Clay Strays Album Release Party
Date: Saturday, May 7, at 5 p.m.
Venue: Halstead Amphitheater at Coastal Alabama Community College, 108 S. School St. (Fairhope), liveatfivefairhope.com
Tickets: $5-$15, available through Eventbrite
The Red Clay Strays could not have picked a better title for the band’s debut full-length album — “Moment of Truth.” Since the band’s inception, this Azalea City country outfit has been adding to an energetic and dedicated following that spans across the nation. Each of these fans has been waiting patiently to experience a full studio experience from the Strays. The 12 tracks on this album will not leave them disappointed.
From production to songwriting, “Moment of Truth” solidifies a sound that will do nothing but grow more powerful with future endeavors. Laced with a haunting, dreamlike poignancy, this collection of classically inspired indie country anthems is strengthened by the Strays’ impressive collaborative songwriting and zealous mission to stay out of the mainstream. Ultimately, “Moment of Truth” reveals a bright future for The Red Clay Strays filled with raw, honest country songs that reflect Mobile’s expanding music scene. Fresh from his honeymoon with songwriter Laurie Anne Armour, Drew Nix and Lagniappe’s Steve Centanni discussed the Strays’ “Moment of Truth” before the band’s “Live at Five” release party.
Steve Centanni: You’ve finally got the album. You guys have been through all kinds of things. From dealing with the COVID lockdown to just trying to find a way to get this music out, what is it about The Red Clay Strays that has kept the band together and moving forward?
Drew Nix: We’re pretty tenacious, you know. We don’t really try to force anything. We just love playing music and making music so much that it’s a part of who we are. So, all the things that need to happen to make things happen, we just take on one goal at a time, whether it’s big or small, and get to the next one.
We’re tenacious in the fact that if we know what needs to be done to make a dream come true, then we’re gonna make it happen and what we need to do. We’ve leaned completely on our fanbase, which blew our freakin’ minds. After the fundraiser ended, I thought that $20,000 would be great, but it was $50,000 the first week. It blew our minds. We’re in it to win it but not in a competitive way. We’re in this to take it as far as we can.
Centanni: You mentioned your fan base. Your following extends way beyond Mobile. The Strays don’t seem to make just local fans. You have made some pretty dedicated fans on a level that I haven’t seen in Mobile. How does it feel to see such excitement for this new album beyond the city limits?
Nix: It’s pretty trippy. I don’t know, man. Me and Brandon [Coleman, Strays’ lead singer] were doing duos all last month because I was getting ready for the wedding and was trying to make ends meet. Somebody drove four hours to come see us play a duo. It’s the little stuff that makes me realize that we’re onto something. Then again, we think we suck, but other people are consistently coming to us and making us feel like we’re saying something that’s worth being said. Knowing people beyond Mobile love us is just crazy.
Centanni: All of you are pretty active songwriters. When it comes to the 12 songs on there, did you write for the album or pull from a pool of songs?
Nix: We just kinda pulled together what we like playing the most and whatever we’ve been playing out heavily over the years and stuff that we thought were up to our standard. We’ve written a lot of songs and gotten rid of a lot of songs. We’re actually looking back now at what we’ve had before and reworking them for future stuff.
None of what we had going into this album was supposed to be conceptual at all. We just realized that now is the time for us to put music out. If we wanted to take the next step in our career, we couldn’t wait any longer. COVID really opened our eyes. We’re all grown up now. We can’t just be diddling around here waiting for some opportunity. We really needed to make this happen on our own.
Centanni: I was reading where y’all feel that each song was written with a purpose. Why do you think it’s important for a song to have a purpose-driven message?
Nix: I don’t know what happened with radio, but nobody has anything to say anymore. One of the people who I picked up on when I was searching for myself and learning to write songs was Jason Isbell. Every song of his has multiple layers of stories and meanings. That put me down the rabbit hole with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and John Prine. When I hear a song by somebody else that means something to me and I can feel it in my heart, that makes that song timeless for me.
We want to make timeless music, not something that’s going to blow up on country or pop radio and be there for a couple of weeks. I was talking to this guy named Jason Eady when he played The Peoples Room [of Mobile] a few weeks ago. We were hanging out at Veet’s afterwards, and he made the point that he wanted to make a slow burn. I thought that was really cool.
People like Robert Earl Keen are out there. He can retire now, but he never got mega-famous. He’s just an incredible songwriter. For us, we’re not chasing any kind of blow-up on TikTok glory. We’re looking for songs that mean something to someone out there like “Heavy Heart.” When Matthew [Coleman] wrote that one, you know that dude was in a really bad place when he wrote it. We’ve all been there, and it’s good to know there’s somebody you can relate to. You know that you’re not alone. If songs are coming from your soul, the reality is that someone out there has gone through it too.
Centanni: Let’s talk about a couple of co-writes on the album that involve you. You wrote the opener, “Stone’s Throw,” with Eric Erdman. How did Eric get involved with this album?
Nix: Me and Eric have done a few co-writes and have come up with some good ones. I was listening to a lot of Ray Cobb and a lot of [Lynyrd] Skynyrd and a lot of Southern rock stuff at the time. I think that we were trying to finish up another song and started from scratch. We tried to come up with some kind of idea of what it was like coming after being on the road for so long and finally seeing the Dolly Parton Bridge and thinking, “Thank God! We’re home!” after driving 20 hours straight or something stupid like we do, because Andy [Bishop] is a crackhead and needs to drive consistently.
Me and Eric will sit together all day, once we get into a co-write. We might sit for eight hours until we come up with something. I don’t remember that one taking too long. We can both relate coming down I-65 after a long haul and finally seeing the bridge and knowing that you’re damn near home. I really like writing with Eric so much, because he’s taught me more than anybody. I listen to songwriters from afar. I’ll listen to them on streaming services to understand how to be a better songwriter.
When I sit down with Eric, he’s teaching me to write a better song. He’s such a student of songwriting. He can break down songs from Radney Foster and Willie Nelson and why certain things work in certain songs and how certain chords can come together to create certain moods. I don’t know anyone who’s any more of a professional who gets it.
Centanni: Another co-write that you did, which I was happy to see, was with John W. Hall. A lot of people don’t realize that he goes beyond drums.
Nix: I had actually written that song myself. I had brought it to the table, and we went over the lyrics. John being John said, “Nah, that’s stupid. Here, let’s try something else.” I think he changed a couple of lines in that song to make it flow better. He’s a lyricist, anyway. He’s writing a lot more these days than he ever has, and he’s coming up with some incredible stuff. That was more us giving John the credit he deserves for coming up with those lines in that song. That song wouldn’t be what it is now without that.
Centanni: If there’s one thing that you want The Red Clay Strays to take away from this album, then what would it be?
Nix: I want to give the people what they deserve. My God, they’ve been waiting around for five years for a full-length album. We wanted to put it out for them and show them what we have. I want to get to know us better, and I think that they can get to know us better through these songs, as far as who we are as people and what our values are, and you can get with it or don’t. You can like the music or not like the music. We had to put this out mainly because it keeps us sane and keeps us going. It’s a part of who we are, and I’m happy to be putting it out. I’m also happy that people are liking it.
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