Coupling a wide variety of influences, sounds and styles out of his musical roundhouse, Wayne “The Train” Hancock has barreled across stages for nearly 20 years now.
With songs that include elements of country, blues, rockabilly and more from the early days of American music, Hancock’s newest album, Ride (Bloodshot Records), was released this past February and shows him revealing a more personal side to his songwriting, something that was naturally born out of what had happened to him over the past few years.
“Me and my wife got separated at the time; we’re kind of on the mend right now, but we’ve been separated for about two and a half years,” says Hancock. “A lot of the inspiration for the songs came from what I was going through, and on Ride, well, when you’re on a Harley and you’re going that fast, it clears your mind out.”
Though songs like “Best To Be Alone”—with lyrics such as “I swear to the moon and the stars above/It’s best to be alone than to be in love,” and its potent steel guitar accompaniment—might give somewhat of a dour impression of his current outlook, Hancock says that isn’t necessarily the case.
“There aren’t really any sad songs—I guess it just depends on the listener’s interpretation,” says Hancock. “Some people might hear them and think they’re sad songs, while others might listen and think it’s a healing song.”
The singer and guitarist started penning tunes at an early age and played honky tonks and juke joints in his native Texas. After a stint in the military took him away for several years, he returned home and began playing wherever he could, building the framework that has led to eight albums, countless shows and a devoted fan base around the world.
Rightfully earning the reputation for being one of the hardest working and constantly touring musicians on the road today, Hancock makes the most of his time, including taking some time to do an interview over the phone while driving through Illinois last month. He even had to pause for a moment while going through a toll gate.
“Oh, today’s drive is only like 220 miles, that’s like a walk in the park, I could do that with my eyes closed—but I don’t want to cause any major wrecks,” Hancock says with a laugh.
When it comes time to record an album, Hancock doesn’t like to waste time either—in fact, Ride was recorded in just a day and a half with his longtime producer Lloyd Maines and a handful of friends.
“When we record, everybody’s in the studio at the same time; these days with the computer software they have, a lot of guys will suggest, ‘Oh, why don’t you go ahead and mail this over to me and I’ll play on it,’ and I’m just not into that,” Hancock says. “If you can’t be in the same room with me, then you ain’t savvy enough to be on my recording.
“We’ll do three or four takes of the same song, and every take is different,” he continues. Then we’ll just pick the best one, and that’s what we use.”
One aspect to Hancock’s music that often sets him apart from other like-minded artists is the fact that he chooses to not use drums most of the time.
“In general I don’t use drums,” he says. “The rhythm is already there, it works for me; if you’ve got a solid upright bass, and you’ve got a good band, you’ve got rhythm. I think adding drums would just make me sound like everybody else. I’m a big fan of drums, just not on what I do—it doesn’t give this kind of music room to breathe.”
That independent spirit and attitude has informed both his writing and his outlook on playing music as a career, something he sees himself doing for a long time to come.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life—it’s a decent living—maybe I could have made a lot more money if I wanted to, but to me it was more important to have integrity in what I was playing. I didn’t want to be one of those guys that goes back and listens to my records and cringes every time they hear one.”
Wayne “The Train” Hancock
Sep 6, 8pm, $12-$15
The Blank Club, San Jose