Posted February 4, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Carrie Rodriguez: A Texas treasure

Carrie Rodriguez
Carrie Rodriguez

Austin-based singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez is a real treasure. Cherished by the Americana community, she originally studied classical music before she had an alt-country epiphany and started exploring her Texas roots. Recorded over two nights in Austin last summer, her new album, Live at the Cactus, veers from twangy folk tunes (“Lake Harriet”) to sneering ditties (“Devil in Mind”) that suggest a feistier side. She phoned in from a tour stop to talk about the current tour, which finds her playing as a duo with bandmate Luke Jacobs.

Last year at the time, Austin honored you by declaring Carrie Rodriguez Day. What was that experience like?
It was just really sweet. I went down to city hall and they gave me a certificate and I played some songs. The best part was that I went to my grandmother’s house and gave it to her and she was so proud. It’s great that Austin supports its musicians as well as it does. They really value their musicians. I’m not the only one to be blessed with a day. It speaks a lot to the city.

You started studying at Oberlin and then went to Berklee. Talk about what it was like to make that change?
I spent freshman year at Oberlin, which was quite a shock for this Texan. In fact, I remember this funny thing. I like high heel shoes and boots. I had my mother ship them up to Oberlin. They came and my roommate was like, “Oh Carrie, you have no idea what’s coming.” Then, the snow hit and I had to wear snow boots for four months. The weather was shocking. I went to study classical violin, which is what I was doing since I was 5. By the time I was freshman, I got really into country music.  I would play along to old Hank Williams and Willie Nelson albums. I realized when I left Texas how important Texas music was to me. I needed to leave to understand how much it meant to me. That first year, Lyle Lovett played in Cleveland, and he’s a friend of my dad’s. He invited me to the show, told me to bring my fiddle and let me sit in with his large band during soundcheck. I realized that it was what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be in a symphony orchestra. I wanted to be in a band where I could improvise and groove. It was that moment when I made that change in my head and started looking for schools that would be a good alternative to Oberlin. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t in his concert. I was not good. I sat in on some tune and just ate it. I was horrible. It was inspiring and I watched the show and was so mesmerized by his fiddle player and what she did.

Do you still play violin?
It’s all the same. I work some classical knowledge into my fiddle playing. I love to use everything I have and I enjoy stretching out and sometimes put in some classical flourishes or runs that will remind you of some classical piece.

The more tools you have, the more fun you can have with it.

Talk about performing as a duo with Luke Jacobs. What do you like about the format?
It’s my favorite format so far that I’ve done in all my years of touring. Because it’s just the two of us, we can do anything with dynamics that we want. We can bring a tune to a dead stop in the middle and pick it back up. Our communication skills have grown from all these gigs and years on the road. We can look at each other and know what we’re going to do. It’s fun to make music like that. Not having a larger band, there’s more pressure on me to be the main soloist, which has been really good for me. When it’s time to rock, it’s up to me. I like that. Now, Luke has been writing more and more. I’ve been enjoying learning from him. It’s adding more dimension. He comes from such a different place musically and personally. He has a conservative background and I come from hippie parents.

What made you want to do a live record?
Luke and I put 14,000 miles on a rental van in the U.S. touring. I don’t know how many shows we played. We went from coast to coast. Then, we went to Europe and did the same thing. It felt like a great time to document what we were doing. Ten years from now it’ll be great to have this document. Something about this duo is helping me connect to the audience more than any other group I’ve been a part of. I don’t know if it’s just the immediacy and the stories come through a little more clearly and the heart of the music goes directly to the people. It’s a give-and-take thing with the audience. It’s helping me connect to other people. I wanted to capture that. It’s raw. It’s just the two of us. There’s no fixes. This is what we do.

How’d you get the audience to stay so quiet?
They’re so amazing. They’re really good. The place we played on Saturday is called Artistsphere. It used to be an IMAX theater. It’s this dome-shaped and almost you’re like in a fishbowl. I’ve never been in such a quiet place. You can hear people breathing. There was some poor guy opening a bag of chips. It was rough. We could all hear him.

I love to create an environment where quiet is part of the show. We’re all in this movie waiting to see what’s going to happen next, me included.

Are all the songs original?
Not every one. There are a few from my first record that Chip Taylor helped me write. He helped me get started with the whole solo thing. He wrote some really great songs. “50s French Movie” and “Got Your Name on It.” The rest I wrote or co-wrote. The one in Spanish is an old mariachi tune that my great aunt recorded back in the ‘50s or ’60s.

Is “Devil in Mind” written about someone specific?
Not really. That’s just a made-up crazy night on the town. I took various past experiences and rolled them into one magical night with some elements of truth.

I like how the record veers from one mood to the next. Some songs are noisy and some are really quiet.
I’m pretty all over the place. I can’t help it. I love so many different types of music and sound. Sometimes, I worry that I’m too diverse, but whatever. That’s who I am. It’s fun to take a swing fiddle solo thing on one song and then rock out on the next and then play a ballad. Especially with a duo. It helps it not be too same-y. We’re always thinking of new ways to play songs and keep the show moving along and interesting to people.

You’ve been called the “hardest working woman in American roots music.” How do you feel about that?
Tired. I’m grateful for all the opportunities. I’m really happy on a stage playing music for people. Even though it’s a pain in the butt to get from point A to point B most of the time, when I’m on stage I’m so happy so it’s worth it. The hardworking part is all-good.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates 































Pittsburgh PA, Club Cafe

Ann Arbor MI, The Ark

Cleveland Heights OH, Nighttown

Columbus OH, Natalie’s

Columbus OH, Natalie’s

Cincinnati OH, The Monastery

Lexington KY, Natasha’s Bistro

Kansas City MO, Knuckleheads

Omaha NE, The Waiting Room

Des Moines IA, Flying Mango

Cedar Rapids IA, Legion Arts

Evanston IL, SPACE

Milwaukee WI, Shank Hall

Rockford IL, Severson Dells Nature Center

Minneapolis MN, Cedar Cultural Center

La Grange TX, The Bugle Boy

Conroe TX, Dosey Doe Music Cafe

Oklahoma City OK, The Blue Door

Denver CO, The Soiled Dove Underground

Jackson Hole WY, Center for the Arts, Center Theater

Salt Lake City UT, The State Room

Bellingham WA, The Green Frog

Seattle WA, The Triple Door

Portland OR, Mississippi Studios

Eugene OR, House Concert Series

Ashland OR, TBA

Berkeley CA, Freight & Salvage

Knoxville TN, Rhythm N’Blooms Festival

Austin TX, The Cactus Café

Lewisville TX, MCL Grand Theatre


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].