Adopted the moniker “Mongol” out of a high school obsession with the intercontinental car rally, the Mongol Rally, a 10,000-mile adventure that starts in Europe and ends in Ulan-Ude, Russia. If you were to race, which car would you choose and why?
Wonderful question. This remains a dream of mine. So, my first car was a Mini Cooper, and I absolutely loved it. It was the perfect size to zip around through traffic, and carried a surprising amount of gear, too. It was the best car — right up until it met the rear end of a semi truck and crumpled like paper. The semi truck was fine, don’t worry. But to drive some beat up old Mini across the Eurasian continent would be a dream. It’d have to be a manual transmission, though.
Lived on the outskirts of Deep Ellum, Dallas, TX, a historically eclectic musical neighborhood. What makes Deep Ellum such a special place?
Dallas is huge, something that I think Dallasites inherently accept. There are only a handful of other places in the US where you experience this kind of massive sprawl. It also has a grand tradition of bulldozing anything remotely “old” as soon as it possibly can. In contrast, Deep Ellum is a real, historical, self-contained neighborhood that’s actually walkable. It’s got such a rich history, particularly in music, and the through-line of its origins can still be felt today. It offers a cohesive sense of place that is unique in Dallas. And, it offers opportunities at understanding Dallas’ (and by extension America’s) difficult and complex past.
Ottoman Turks. Front man. Songwriter. Unique studio albums. 12-years-worth of live performances. “Performing is still the greatest thing in the world.” Style influenced by Roger Miller, The Strokes, Tom Waits, Hayes Carll. How has your style evolved over the years?
This turned out to be a tougher question to answer than I thought! I think I’ve always been chasing after things — techniques and styles and sounds — that are out of my reach, which forces me to learn and grow and evolve somewhat out of necessity. I also enjoy quite a bit of different types of music, and following those new sounds has definitely influenced what I’m playing from moment to moment over time. Starting with Spanish classical guitar lessons in 5th grade, through exploring all my favorite bands growing up and really just the same today. If anything has changed, today I feel more adept at creating something more complex, based more wholly on everything I’ve absorbed over the years and less on traditional frames and structures. But… at my core I’m still the same punk rock kid I wanted to be in high school.
Debut solo album, From A Dark Corner. More autobiographical than previous work, “This is more traditional, more honest. I think of it as me when I’m singing.” What inspired you to create a solo album?
As Ottoman Turks developed its sound and identity more, it became clear that Josh, Billy and I were writing songs that fit outside that (admittedly very broad) mold. Songs that were more personal, softer, or of a different genre. So all the while that Turks was writing and growing, our solo projects were, as well. Josh put his first solo project out in 2018, Turks’ first album came out in 2019, Billy’s and Turks’ second in 2021. Turks had been my baby for so long, it was my main focus, so after the second record came out, I felt like that was the opportunity to finally go in and lay down some of the songs I’d been playing and adding to all along. It was time!
“Beulah Land,” “Rather than about a romantic relationship, it’s about a friendship falling apart, which I think in many ways is more devastating.” Music can strengthen personal relationships. Here you write about the breakdown of one … what message do you hope fans take away from the lyrics?
It’s a very dark, angry song, but with the reference to Beulah Land (which in old gospel songs represents paradise or heaven), it’s hinting at — or hoping for — some kind of reconciliation. As much as it is about being wronged and holding on to these ill feelings, it’s about letting go and hoping to find a way past the past, so to speak. Overall I think I’m an optimistic person, always looking for silver linings, so even when my songs get dark, there’s probably some hope there, which I generally believe applies to life as well.
“In Years,” written when you stayed at your mom’s house after moving back to Dallas after working construction post-college. “… I wanted to take you through 13 of the little items that made it onto the “In Years” single art and also the insert of the record. It’s a little ‘I Spy’ of my life that Alyssa Cates helped capture that represents aspects of me and aspects of what I put into my songs and the songs on this record.” The song was written from a feeling of uncertainty at a time when you decided to intentionally pursue music, leaving behind a much different path you’d been on. What convinced you that music was the right path for you?
It was a slow process, and definitely one fraught with self-doubt and discouragement (to this day), but over time it dawned on me that this thing I did as a hobby with my buddies after school and on holidays was becoming something I never stop thinking about and truly love to my core. If I didn’t allow myself to pursue it to the fullest extent possible, at least for a little while, I would never be able to forgive myself. No guarantee of success, or even any strong indication of what that is, exactly, but it is definitely a calling of some sort — which, reading that sentence proves it to some degree. What else would you pursue with such abandon with no promised return other than something you truly love?
Sharing the stage with a hometown hero, Rhett Miller. Which other hometown artists have influenced your music?
There’s a small but extremely talented list of musicians that came out of Dallas that I consider influential, although they came to me at different times throughout my life. Beginning with the Deep Ellum OG’s, the old-school, and getting more modern: Robert Johnson, Lead Belly, Ray Price, The Toadies, Old 97s, and then contemporary acts I came up around: The Beaten Sea, John Pedigo, John Dufilho, The 40 Acre Mule. I also feel like Erykah Badu and maybe Edie Brickell have a sort of hold on this town to where you feel their presence even if you don’t listen to them all the time. Ray Wylie Hubbard counts, right?
“Mother Blues” takes place on Greenville Avenue!
“Bet y’all didn’t expect more of me sitting in a bathtub talking about stuff, did you??” #TubTalks. How have fans inspired you as an artist?
It still baffles me to even think I have fans. But there have been so many supportive people over the years, and I meet new ones all the time. There are some incredibly kind, sweet, caring people out there who give so much to me despite the fact that what I give them is mostly just music. It’s incredibly inspiring, and encouraging, and has a profound influence on how I want to pursue music and navigate the industry. My mom and grandma and family in general remain perhaps my biggest fans, and I could never fully repay them for their support.
“Willie Nelson has penned plenty of memorable and true statements, but I think the one he got most right is ‘the life I love is making music with my friends.’” If you could put together a tour with friends, which venues would you choose?
ALL OF THEM. In all seriousness, there’s a lot of really great venues out there, from the tiny to the titanic. There’s a number of renowned places I’ve always wanted to play but haven’t yet — Pappy & Harriet’s, White Water Tavern, 9:30 Club… if all goes well, I’ll play ’em all. Dive bars in particular hold a special place in the hearts of my friends and I, so if it’s a good dive bar I know we’d have a good time.
Emmy. Where are some of your favorite spots to explore in your free time with your dog?
That’s a fairly easy question, because she loves to do pretty much anything out of the house, haha. There’s a trail outside Moab, Utah, that we’ve taken her to where I think she’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her — running as fast as she can back and forth through this shallow creek bed and jumping on and off the low cliffs. She loves water in general, but is also game for a walk around the neighborhood or a backyard frisbee toss, and treats each with the same excitement. So I guess wherever she’s having fun, I’m having fun.