William Clark Green emerged as a rising Texas country performer with his 2012 album Rose Queen and its breakout song She Likes The Beatles. Now back with the follow-up Ringling Road, Green sounds confident in his artistic progress, and pleased with the album's results.
"The biggest difference between this album and the last album is we kind of knew what we were doing going into this record," he says. "We knew what we wanted to sound like, and knew how to accomplish it. We knew what songs we wanted for the record. It was kind of us honing our skills on this album, more so than on Rose Queen, and just refining and fine-tuning it."
The Flint native performs tonight at Hurricane Harry's for a "dead-day party" before finals begin for Texas A&M students. He called College Station home for a time growing up, graduating from A&M Consolidated High School in 2004.
Green's current home in Eastland, between Fort Worth and Abilene, helped inspire the new album's title track. He wrote the song with fellow artist Ross Cooper and an ex-circus "roustabout" named Randall Clay, he says. That connected to an old Eastland tale, that Ringling Bros. owned property there and planned to open an amusement park in the early 1900s, Green says. The local legend is that the circus train would stop at the lake, named Ringling Lake, so that the elephants could drink from it.
The track, which Green calls "probably the most creative song I've ever done," blends whimsy and creepiness, painting a murky picture of hard partying and general eeriness among the "freak show" performers. The theatrics end in a wild primal chant, led by the album's producer, Nashville musician Rachel Loy.
"She has this great voice that is sort of childlike, and in the song it's kind of creepy, which is what we were going for," Green says. "We went out and bought a bottle of whiskey, invited all our friends in the studio and just started drinking and clinking glasses together. We wanted it to be a kind of campfire-drunk vibe in the studio, and re-creating that was her vision. It was cool."
The song influenced the striking CD cover and booklet, with detailed, old-timey illustrations of circus animals, trapeze performers and a sinister-looking clown. ("I'm not scared of clowns, like some people," Green says.) The visuals came from Grammy-winning designers Sarah and Shauna Dodds, who also appear as the Siamese twins on the cover. The disc itself is an illustration of a fearful Green hooked to a red-and-white knife-toss wheel.
"We worked with them on Rose Queen, and then on Ringling Road, and they're the best," Green says of the Dodds sisters. "They're the absolute best. Their ability to take my vision and enhance the hell out of it -- which is kind of what Rachel does too -- is awesome. I'm surrounded by very talented women."
Green has an unorthodox description when asked about the album's first single, Sympathy. It's an especially unsympathetic take toward an ex-girlfriend that has experienced subsequent heartbreak. He likens his songwriting to "a middle finger."
"The way I write, it's kind of like the things that no one really talks about in songs, but everyone thinks," he says. "That moment of anger or selfishness. The feelings that people get that they're not necessarily proud of, but they actually feel and think. ... A song has to have some kind of conviction, some kind of passion, whether it's right or wrong. That's what I thrive off of."
Green's lyrics led to a comical barroom debate while touring with Austin band Reckless Kelly. The topic was She Likes The Beatles (and its follow-up line "... and I like the Stones"). Reckless Kelly's Willy Braun took up for the Beatles, and Green's bass player, Cameron Moreland, argued for the Rolling Stones.
"Willy Braun told Cameron, 'If you can name me five Rolling Stones songs right now, you win the argument,'" Green recalls. "And Cameron was so drunk he couldn't do it. We all were like, 'He's gonna win this argument because he listens to the Stones constantly.' But he was so put on the spot and so nervous -- talking to Willy Braun is kind of intimidating because we're such big fans -- he just froze up. Willy Braun was like, 'That's what I thought. Beatles win.'"