I meet a lot of singer-songwriters. I mean a lot. Sometimes I have to listen to them a few times before I truly “get” them…but with Terry Klein’s music, I was captivated after one song. Since discovering his songs, I’ve discovered that there are several nuggets on his two albums, Great Northern and his most recent one, Tex. Terry seems to have settled into the life of a Texas troubadour quite nicely. His music is heartfelt and real and his lyrics are poetry in action.
To learn more about Terry Klein, visit his website.
Here’s Terry singing “Sagamore Bridge.”\
And here’s an inspiring song about women like me whose homes are not exactly “immaculate.”
How important was music to you during your formative years? What drew you to it? Were you a guitar geek? Or were you a lyrics guy?
Music was a big part of growing up for me. My mom listened to a lot of soul and Motown. My dad listened to everything, but I do have a distinct memory of riding around the west with him and my brother on a road trip listening to lots of Waylon Jennings when I was six. I picked up the guitar when I was 14 and played a lot of hard rock. I didn’t start listening to lyrics until I was in my late 30s and I didn’t write a song until I was 40.
Tell us about your evolution from a career as a lawyer to a full-time singer-songwriter. Walk us through the steps that ultimately led to the decision to pursue music?
You know from the first song I wrote, I felt like this was the thing I was meant to do. And it was a bad song! But the practice of law really wasn’t for me and I knew that pretty early on in my legal career. I practiced for fifteen years and there’s still a law firm in Boston with my name on it. The whole time I was thinking “maybe I should do something else”. I wrote a horrible novel that I’ll never show to anyone. I thought about writing a screenplay. I thought about working at the CIA and even sent in an application. The whole time, there were always guitars around the house. It was a Hayes Carll song on WERS in 2011 that made me really start to dig into country music and listening to songwriting. That led me to Hank Williams. And that was all she wrote.
Your songs have been compared to James McMurtry among others. Have you had a chance to ever discuss the facts that both of your fathers are prolific published authors? Did you ever consider going into journalism, by the way?
I haven’t talked to James about that. Talking about dads is dangerous business. But I think having a writer for a dad has influenced the way that I write songs. When I walk into a room, I see the whole room, so to speak. That’s something that came from my dad. Listening with care to stuff people say, also, and filing away the interesting stuff. I never thought about going into journalism. My dad’s shadow was (and is) pretty long in that world and that scared me away, I think. [Editor’s note: Terry’s father is Joe Klein.]
Your writing style has also been compared to John Prine and Hank Williams. What do you take away from those comparisons?
Disbelief. I have a handful of songs I don’t hate. Those two are national treasures who could write about a section of the state licensing code for barbers and still spit out something relentlessly compelling.
Do you have any favorite Texas songwriters?
When I started getting into writing songs and looking up writers, it was incredible to me how many of them have Texas roots. There’s Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury. There’s Eric Taylor, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, Hayes Carll, Walt Wilkins. I think the best songwriter alive under fifty is Adam Carroll. And there’s Chuck Hawthorne & Libby Koch, who have both taught me a lot about how to write a good song and survive in this business in general. I’m forgetting about fifty other people, too.
What’s unique about the Texas music scene?
I mean look at that list in response to the previous question. I know it’s a big state with a lot of people, but the amount of iconic songwriting talent that’s come from here is just plain stupid. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m glad it did and I feel so fortunate to live here now.
Your latest album has some fascinating songs but the one that grabbed me most is “Sagamore Bridge.” Yes, I’m from Massachusetts although I live quite far away from the Sagamore Bridge but do tell us how that song came about.
The underbelly of these vacation paradises has always fascinated me and kind of scared me a little bit. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Cape. It always struck me as incongruous that the first thing you see driving onto the Cape over the Sagamore Bridge is that Samaritans sign telling people to call if they need help. Every piece of that song is pulled from something I saw in real life and it came a lot easier than a lot of other ones I’ve written. I was scared of what Cape folks would think of it, but they seem okay with it. Or at least that’s what they tell me.
I’d also love to know the genesis of your song “Daddy’s Store.” That’s another striking song from your album.
The most valuable professional experience I’ve ever had was attending Mary Gauthier’s songwriting workshop in Nashville in early 2016. Mary caps the number of attendees at twenty, so we spend a lot of time together and at moments it feels like group therapy. We talked a lot about parental expectations and how if we threw away successful careers and pursued songwriting, we were afraid we disappoint our parents. When I got home from the workshop, “Daddy’s Store” was the first song I finished. It took almost a month to write it and I didn’t play it for anyone until I played it for Mark Abrahams, a master songwriter here in Austin. He said, “why don’t you play that one?” I started doing it after that and it snuck onto the new record. I love how it came out.
What your hopes and dreams for the future of your music career?
I just want to be able to keep writing songs that mean something to me and share them with people. I don’t want to be famous and I don’t want it to make me rich, which is a good thing because neither of those things is going to happen — writing literary songs somewhere in the liminal zone between folk and country. As long as I can wake up and head out to my writing room, I’m all set.