I recently had the pleasure of interviewing 29 year old Houston-born Country artist Rich O’Toole while he was on the road to his usual rehearsal spot in Austin. A regular Southern gentleman, he knows how to rock out and have fun, take care of the people around him, and play that old guitar. Check out his thoughts on Country music, lyrics, life, food and how he raised money for an old friend in need on iTunes.
Did being from Texas dictate you playing country or is there something about the genre that just comes naturally to you?
When I was growing up, my parents listened to a lot of Country music. I was bound to love it, going to George Strait concerts and stuff. I didn’t get into other types of music until later on down the road. Our roots are in Country — so, the foundation is Country music, but the melody and chord progressions and lyrics tend to be more Urban or Rock.
Favorite current artists?
I’m extremely into Bruce Springsteen. I always tell people we’re kind of like Bruce Springsteen meets Country music. I like all kinds of music though. I’m always into Wilco or Son Volt or Ryan Adams… And I’m a big fan of the Wallflowers.
What shapes your lyrics?
As I write music, life is what shapes everything. You really get into what happens in reality — breakups or love or misfortune, that stuff really pours out onto the canvas. It’s kind of how you turn that around. I’m not sitting down and writing songs to try to sell a product. There’s a couple songs off our new CD that are more mainstream country, but also a lot of songs that are really deep. It’s like going to a therapy session and getting it all out.
When and why did you start playing music?
I was always fascinated going to concerts in high school. I liked how shows were put on and the entertainers. I’ve always liked entertaining. I didn’t put it all together until I started writing music. I was about 16 when I started picking up the guitar and making up songs. We always brought a guitar on the high school baseball bus, and I’d sit back and think up songs about girls we knew, or guys we didn’t like and we’d make fun of them on guitar. Me and my buddy Frank took guitar lessons from a guy in Houston — the more technical stuff and why songs are written the way they are.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue this as a career?
I was at Texas A&M. I was doing all these open mic nights my freshman year, and trying to write songs. I had some written, but they weren’t really good. Towards the end of college, I didn’t want to go work for the man yet. And I just loved it. I wanted to put my mind to it. Everyone told me that it couldn’t be done. I was like, “alright, I can make this work. I can make money doing this.”
Any unforgettable tour memories?
We went out with Willie Nelson four years ago. That was really cool and top notch.
What is your favorite to see in the audience when you’re on stage? Least?
I love fan interaction. I’m always saying that I wish we could interact more. I think our generation is almost spoiled now — there’s so much live music. Back in the day, you only got to go to a couple concerts a year, and so you were really into it. Now people like accidentally go to shows. You’re going out and it’s like “oh, there’s a show, whatever.” Recently, there was a girl texting in the front row the whole show. So, I just got on the mic like “hey, why are you texting? Listen up. come on.” It’s just weird. You don’t want that.
But yeah, I crave interaction and engaging with the audience. Twitter is a great place for interaction with fans right now – we have a great fan base on there. I’m always posting crazy stuff, like food and drinks and music and all kinds of stuff. People are always asking questions, and I usually beam them back and answer the question. Twitter is extremely useful. Social networking is how people interact right now.
Recently what stands out are the big festivals. People know the words to all of our songs, and it’s like “Wow. there are two or three thousand people that know every word to every song.” That’s a great experience.
Do you have a preference on big or small venues?
Sometimes we’ll play at venues that only fit two or three-hundred people. And sometimes venues that hold two or three thousand people. It depends on what market we’re in. In West Texas right now, we’re doing extremely well.
Would you say your fan base is primarily in Texas right now?
Yeah, I would say 70% in Texas, 30% elsewhere.
Let’s talk about your song “Last Summer”. You used it to fund raise for your friend Allan Goodman and his fight against cancer. What gave you the idea?
The guy who wrote the song is the one who developed cancer. So it just came to me, like “this guy wrote the song. I recorded his song. He has cancer. He needs care he can’t afford. He doesn’t have health insurance. Let’s give the proceeds to him. It’s 71 cents to the dollar off iTunes, which is a good chunk of change, so let’s donate that to him.” It’s really cool to be able to do that with a song. And we’ll be performing it at upcoming shows. We’ve been going over the new set for the Fall tour in rehearsal.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you want to be?
I think I would be a chef. I love to cook. The greedy side of me would say a day trader to try to make some big bucks. But my love is food and cooking.
It’s grass roots. To keep putting out great music, putting together a catalogue, trying to gain a fan base and keep touring nationally, and to sell a couple thousand seats wherever we go. The new release was going to be an EP, but I’m going back to the studio this month and I’m going to try to record more songs and put out a full CD in late January.
You can check out Rich at one of his many upcoming tour dates:
09/22/2012 at 9:30 pm // Red’s Roadhouse, Kennedale, Texas
09/29/2012 at 8:00 pm // Save Second Base, Snyder, Texas
10/13/2012 at 9:30 pm // Firehouse Saloon, Houston, Texas
10/19/2012 at 9:30 pm // 1320 Bar, Tulsa, Oklahoma
10/20/2012 at 9:30 pm // Arbuckle Ballroom, Davis, Oklahoma – map
10/25/2012 at 9:30 pm // The Barn, Nacogdoches, Texas
10/27/2012 at 7:00 pm // JAB Fest at Nutty Brown Amphitheater, Austin, Texas
11/02/2012 at 9:30 pm // Wormy Dog Saloon, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
11/16/2012 at 9:30 pm // The Office, Lubbock, Texas
11/17/2012 at 9:30 pm // Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar, Denver, Colorado
11/23/2012 at 9:30 pm // Midnight Rodeo, Amarillo, Texas
11/24/2012 at 9:30 pm // The Mule Barn, Justin, Texas
11/27/2012 at 8:00 pm // Red Dirt Acoustic Pub Crawl- Part 2, Dublin, Ireland
11/28/2012 at 8:00 pm // Red Dirt Acoustic Pub Crawl- Part 2, Dublin, Ireland
11/29/2012 at 8:00 pm // Red Dirt Acoustic Pub Crawl- Part 2, Dublin, Ireland
11/30/2012 at 8:00 pm // Red Dirt Acoustic Pub Crawl- Part 2, Dublin, Ireland
12/01/2012 at 8:00 pm // Red Dirt Acoustic Pub Crawl- Part 2, Dublin, Ireland
12/02/2012 at 8:00 pm // Red Dirt Acoustic Pub Crawl- Part 2, Dublin, Ireland
12/22/2012 at 9:30 pm // Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar, Dallas, Texas
12/28/2012 at 9:30 pm // Midnight Rodeo, San Angelo, Texas
01/11/2013 at 9:30 pm // Midnight Rodeo (FREE SHOW), Austin, Texas