Walt Wilkins left Nashville for Austin, Texas, about eight years ago, and he hasn’t looked back.
The Texas-born singer-songwriter spent a decade in the country music mecca of Nashville, often referred to as Music City, writing songs for two publishing companies and meeting and writing with many of his musical heroes. His compositions have ended up on albums by such artists as Eric Church, Ricky Skaggs, Pat Green and Kenny Rogers, although he never had a radio hit.
“I dove in completely doing that, and I enjoyed some of it, abhorred some of it and survived some of it,” Wilkins said recently from Austin. “I sure met some great friends, and a couple of my favorite co-writers that I still write with.”
While his Nashville experience was mostly positive, Wilkins found himself missing home. “I came home because I was homesick all the time, and I had a two-year-old boy that I wanted to raise in Texas,” he said.
Walt Wilkins and Tina Mitchell Wilkins
WHEN: 8 tonight
WHERE: The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, 339 Central Ave., Albany
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 465-5233 ext. 4, www.wamcarts.org
The move ended up being a good one professionally as well as personally. Wilkins now juggles his time among his country-rock collective The Mystiqueros, his duo project with his wife, Tina Mitchell Wilkins, and his own solo work, as well as producing albums by artists such as Brandon Rhyder and Jason Eady. Last year, Wilkins released his eighth solo album, “Plenty,” which reflects his happiness at being back home in Texas.
“As I got settled into Texas and my family got settled back here, the songs — I noticed a theme of happiness,” he said. “Not satisfaction — I’m always trying to write better and sing better. But it was just kind of — I noticed a theme of gratefulness in a lot of the songs. I’m so grateful to be home in Texas, and so grateful for the work I get to do. A lot of the songs started to hang together with that theme, of being happy with a simpler life here, just playing.”
Last week Wilkins embarked on a short tour of the Northeast, which lands at The Linda tonight. Wilkins has toured this area of the country with The Mystiqueros in the past — last year the band played at The Linda as well — but this is the first time he’s bringing his intimate solo show to the area. For half of the tour, Tina Wilkins will also perform with him — she’ll be at The Linda as well.
“The solo show tends to be more — there’s a bigger group of songs that I draw from to play, and it goes back all the way to when I first started writing songs,” Wilkins said. “Generally you get to tell stories about the songs and stories about traveling. It’s a more personal kind of thing.”
This personal nature is reflected in the songs he performs solo as well.
The Mystiqueros, a rag-tag Texas supergroup featuring Wilkins, drummer Ray Rodriguez, bassist Bill Small, lead guitarist Marcus Eldridge, singer/guitarist Jimmy Davis and a rotating cast of other musicians, started out performing mostly Wilkins’ songs with 2007’s “Diamonds in the Sun,” but has since evolved into a more collaborative project. The band has since released two more albums, including this year’s “Wildcatpie & The Great Walapateya.”
“The band is sometimes a little bit less personal material, whereas the solo stuff, that’s where — it’s just more personal in nature,” Wilkins said. “The band is more fun and a more wide-open kind of presentation, so the material tends to reflect that.”
For five years now, the Mystiqueros have had a weekly residency Wednesday nights at the Saxon Pub in Austin, which has evolved into another showcase for the band’s freewheeling nature. The spontaneous nature of these shows allows room for covers and jam sessions, which in turn often influence later performances and writing sessions.
“We have a regular crowd there, and then we have a tourist crowd, people who are in town who may have seen us out on the road — ‘Hey, let’s go see The Mystiqueros,’ ” Wilkins said.
“They’re very spontaneous shows. Actually, we’ve played ‘Rocky Top’; we’ve played ‘Margaritaville.’ I was the only guy in the band who never had to do that before — it was a dare, so we played ‘Margaritaville.’ It’s a loose show — it’s like our home club; [it feels] like when you visit with your family at the dining room table.”
In some ways, The Mystiqueros are a reflection of the music scene in Austin that Wilkins has had to navigate. In Nashville, his focus was strictly songwriting; in Austin, he’s had to beef up his live performances.
“Nashville has a real economy — there’s lots of money there, lots of major publishing companies, and so things have to make money. You’ve got to write songs to get cut, you’ve got to have artists that sell a lot of records to make the machine keep moving,” Wilkins said.
Live music hub
“In Austin, there’s not much of a major publishing company presence, so everything’s built on live performance — you’ve got to have a band, and you’ve got to be good at getting out and playing. That’s why there are so many clubs here — on any given night, there’s more live music going on in Austin than in L.A. or New York City every night of the year, and I believe that.”
While Wilkins’ solo albums and his work with The Mystiqueros are distinct, oftentimes the personnel isn’t. For “Plenty,” Wilkins recorded with friends, including members of The Mystiqueros.
“It’s kind of a very homey record, a very family oriented kind of record,” he said. “It still feels like a new record to me; it’s had a neat life.”