Dave Insley grew up in Chapman, Kansas until the age of 12 when his family relocated to Arizona. There he spent most of his spare time playing guitar and writing songs as well as hiking and climbing. During his high school and college years he played in country and rock bands, and in 1983 his cowpunk group, Chaingang, debuted in Tempe. Chaingang played country music for punks. Insley’s next project was the Nitpickers, a Tempe-based bluegrass band. Another Insley group, Trophy Husbands, released two country records and, for a few years, toured nationally. In 2005 his solo debut, Call Me Lonesome was released. Relocating to Austin, Texas in 2006 he released Here With You Tonight. Then in 2008, Insley released his next album, West Texas Wine. Just The Way That I Am, his latest album showcases the most mature writing and nuanced performance to date. Dave Insley’s Careless Smokers. began a weekly residency at a new Austin club, the White Horse Saloon in 2013 and unless on tour, play to a packed house every Saturday.
You and your brother both released a series of country/roots albums individually. In that light was that music you grew up with at home or where did the inspiration come from?
Our parents were into country music and big band music, so Mark and I grew up with long players by Buck, Merle, George Jones, Johnny Cash on the turntable daily, along with stuff like Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Of course we learned about rock music (for us Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and Iron Butterfly) from our school chums, so those LPs made it into the pile too.
When did that inspiration turn into the motivation that made you want to write and sing and how did you go about doing that?
Our folks used to trot us out to sing for their friends when they were entertaining, and Mark and I both had some songs worked up for these occasions. I was 11 when I got my first guitar, but I'd been messing with Mark's before that. Ever since those days I've never felt anything else called to me in the way that music did. Simply put, I've always wanted to do this, it's been my dream for as long as I can remember. I had a lot to learn to become a writer, but it came fairly naturally and once I found my voice, and learned to trust my instincts, then I learned how to catch songs, when inspirations or ideas came knocking. Sometimes overhearing a snippet of a conversation or accidentally coining some minor phrase would be enough to get into the flow of songwriting.
How much was the Austin country scene an influence on the direction your music took?
It's an ongoing inspiration to live in a town where, not only can I see some of the greatest musicians in the world, but I can work with them, and be friends with them. When I was growing up in Arizona, and before I became a touring artist, Austin was always a fantasy to me. But now, it's come true!
Did you ever have the ambition to go to Nashville to see how that might help or hinder your career?
I have spent a fair amount of time in Nashville, been there for music conferences, and to perform numerous times. I like Nashville, as a place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there; Austin appeals to me more because the lifestyle, the liberal culture and the music scene all fit my style better.
At this point do you feel that you are largely making music for yourself and those people who have discovered your music rather that it being a good career move?
Ha, music is NEVER a good career move! haha. I've always made the music first for myself, and secondarily with an audience in mind (sometimes the audience a song is intended for is single person, sometimes the audience intended is more of a general audience). Ultimately, I don't feel like my work is complete if I don't perform the music for someone, nonetheless, I write for myself; the process is cathartic and therapeutic, lord knows what would have become of me without my music
How important, in terms of continuing your music, has been the opportunity to play at the White Horse on a regular basis?
It's the greatest gig I've ever had, frankly. We've been playing there every Saturday night for 3 years. We've built a great audience, the club loves us, and for me it is nice to have a reliable, hip place to play every week, without having to worry about booking, promoting, traveling, etc. My guys always have fun and the dance floor always stays full, the White Horse has been a godsend to me!
You have always created interesting visual packages, with Beth Middleworth, for your CD. Is the visual part of being an music artist an important factor for you?
I grew up in an era when artists put out albums, and everything about the album was significant: the sequence, the pacing (time between tracks), the packaging, all working together to create an effect. I have always felt that the visual aspect plays a role in how people hear the music, the packaging and music combine to create the overall effect. One of the greatest blessings in my life was finding Beth! She is a genius, and she gets me, and what I do. We've been friends now for nearly 15 years, and she is one of my very best friends indeed. Collaborating with her to create the packages is one of the funnest and most joyful parts of the production
How has the country music scene changed in Austin (and indeed throughout the industry) over the last decade and has that affected your own world view?
Well, for one thing, who was it that thought "bro country" was a good idea? Seriously! I've always been a traditionalist (even when I was young and playing in punk rock bands). Scenes come and go, and music always strays this way and that, but without fail it always returns to its traditional form eventually, and that's where I come in. In terms of my world view, hmm, I would say that it is particularly easy for a performing artist or a songwriter to become cynical, but that's a trap worth avoiding. I've met the kindest and sweetest people through my music, and my "world view" when I'm playing my gigs and meeting people is profound gratitude that people are listening and are interested in what I'm doing, and sheer joy at being in front of an audience.
Where do you think roots music in general is heading these days. There seems to be a lot of bands and artist on the fringes making traditionally styled music?
It's just careening down the road like always! In my view there have always been a lot of bands and artists on the fringe, making traditional music. But what we have a lot more of now is electronic media for getting the word out about these artists, that accounts for the seemingly endless supply bands, etc.
Does the care you put into your releases act as something of an antidote to the rather faceless option provided by the download?
The download has its place, and in fact is vitally important when you put out a record, however the physical copy is always going to be much more impressive. I've always liked being able to hold the music with my hand. Looking at the artwork the artist has chosen on a CD package, while listening to a new album is more visceral than holding a download card. Of course, holding a vinyl LP is the best of all!
Has the recording process been made easier now with technology. There seems to be a lot of small studios out there?
Oh yeah, there are tons of studios, and quality can be done more easily and less expensively than in the old days. Still, there are various points during the production when you have to pony up real money because the old fashioned way of doing something might sound better, but cost more money. There are a lot of little steps where a producer can drop the ball, but its not wise to try to skip some steps to save money.
You are a family man now, does that change the nature of the music you make or can you put yourself in to the role required to tell the story in song?
Well, I write more "family love" type songs now than I used to, but I try not to overdo that sort of thing when picking a setlist for a live show. I'm perfectly at ease taking whatever role I need to, in order for my story songs to make sense, and let's face it they are generally written from either my point of view, or at least a point of view that resonates with me.
Your band Careless Smokers has been with you for some time. Is it hard to keep committed, like-minded players onside or they as committed to the music as you?
My guys are great, great people, and we've all been together so long that we all love each other, and are "family." And they can really play, oh my! They're every bit as committed to what I'm doing, and to this style of music as I am. They work hard to always be available to do my records and shows, and I'm fortunate to have developed deep and lasting friendships with all of them.
What is the future likely to hold for you and what would you like the future to be in the best of possible worlds?
I don't sit around thinking up lofty goals for myself, I just hope to continue to get satisfaction from doing it, and satisfaction from bringing joy to my friends, family and fans with it. I know that I'm totally blessed to have the opportunities that come with making music, and I'm super grateful.