Feature: Austin Music + Film
In a city overflowing with talent, these six Austin musicians command our attention
by Anne Bruno
Photographs by Andrew Bennett
Like the Colorado River that starts just south of Lubbock and travels through the Hill Country, music has long flowed through Texas. In the river’s case, it took a dam to hold some of the waters here in Austin; with the music, it’s a different story. Musical talent pooled here naturally, the result of a community always thirsty for more and the cultivation of a free spirit that encourages artists to do what artists do best: express themselves. While these six Austin musicians represent different styles, they all offer a genuine and personal perspective delivered in a way that warrants your attention.
“I’m all about the saltiness,” Emily Gimble says, laughing. By that she means that she’s about what’s real, unfussy, accessible, and absolutely unpretentious. With an easy smile and the quiet confidence of someone who knows how to get things done, Gimble has made a name for herself as a talented vocalist and keyboard and fiddle player who can’t be boxed into one specific genre. She likes that just fine.
Gimble, a native of Crawford who also spent a lot of time in Waco, plays and sings with an open heart, which is one reason she quickly connects with an audience, no matter the style of music she’s making at any given time. Gimble has opened for Hayes Carll, among others, and when not touring can frequently be found performing at The Continental Club’s Gallery and C-Boy’s Heart & Soul or hanging out at The ABGB, enjoying Warren Hood.
Growing up playing and singing alongside her legendary grandfather, fiddler Johnny Gimble, and her father, Dick Gimble, a music professor, Emily saw music as a path worth pursuing. Her two-year stint with Asleep at the Wheel only honed her Texas Swing skills but by no means defines her musical curiosity or expertise, as proven in her soulful EP released last year, “Certain Kinda.” The Greyhounds’ Andrew Trube collaborated and pushed her “in a really good way.” A lover of jazz, Emily describes listening to Thelonious Monk as being “like hearing a bell that can completely clear my mind. If I could ever express myself like he does …,” she says, smiling. As her voice trails off, it leads somewhere that definitely makes you want to follow.
The true definition of a one-man band, Mobley has an affinity for visual storytelling, as well as songwriting, producing, and performing. He’s composed scores for film and television projects, and a conversation with the introspective artist is peppered with visual images. Which isn’t a surprise, given that he studied both film and linguistics on an academic scholarship to The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
The cover art he created for his upcoming 10-track release, “Fresh Lies Vol. 1,” projects the ambiance of a sophisticated set design, and videos for “Solo” and “Tell Me” are beautiful stand-alone short films. “As much as possible, I like to do everything myself, because it lets me share my total vision for something,” he says.
The music Mobley makes is melodic, high-energy, and addictive, but there’s a lot more going on than a casual listen might reveal. Using what he calls a “thematic and conceptual approach,” he likes to explore big ideas, things like nationhood, identity, and what it means to be a black man in America. “A lot of people hear with their eyes,” he says, referencing an instance when he was mistakenly referred to in the media as a rapper, when rap is something Mobley has never done.
He acknowledges the topics he pursues in the guise of love songs are worthy of a lifetime of exploration, and it seems part of Mobley’s DNA to constantly absorb ideas, then put them out into the world again, expanded through fresh eyes. Lest you think he leans heavier on concept than on execution, talk to anyone who has experienced one of his live shows. Mobley’s music moves the body and soul, not just the mind.
With a vibe often described as “vintage” and a voice that harkens back to female vocalists of incredible range (think Patsy Cline), one could be forgiven for thinking Molly Burch has been making her music forever. Spend a little time talking with her, though, and you’ll discover that what Burch makes sound effortless is actually the product of some serious boundary-pushing and risk-taking on the part of the introverted Los Angeles native.
“I always knew I liked to sing, but the idea of doing it in front of anyone terrified me,” she says. “Even so, I grew up in a family where everyone’s creative, so it seemed natural to try and figure out what I was good at and then go do it.” A circuitous route led Burch to study jazz vocals in North Carolina and ultimately land in Austin in 2013. Make that Lockhart, as of last summer. For a big-city girl who knew exactly one person when she moved to Texas, taking risks seems to be paying off. Her highly regarded debut album, “Please Be Mine,” was released last year, and she’s working on her second album now. Burch’s feelings about songwriting, like singing, have changed over time; she says she’s gone from being nervous about showing her songs to even her backing musicians to walking in and saying, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do next.”
As for her most recent risk — moving from Austin to a small town — Burch says, “At the very beginning, it felt strange, but I’ve come to find the physical space around me very calming. I love the space and the time I now feel like I have to write.”
The word “authentic” seems to be the buzzword of the decade, but no one told Paul Cauthen that when he was busy growing up in Tyler, trying to figure out how to be the best version of himself. Through his music, he seems to have hit the mark, coming by his authenticity in the most natural way possible.
Cauthen’s old-soul voice is certainly loud (something he learned in Church of Christ choirs), but it’s his urgent honesty, not the volume, that grabs your attention. His grandfather, who taught Cauthen to play the guitar, was his greatest mentor, and after he passed away, when Cauthen was only 10, Cauthen started to write. “I guess that’s when I had something I really needed to say,” he explains. “There was a lot going on inside that I had to get out. Songwriting’s still cheaper than therapy.” His “My Gospel” LP, released in 2016, bears witness to one of Cauthen’s central beliefs: Life is short.
While Cauthen clearly enjoys going his own way, collaborating with like-minded musicians and engineers is a big part of his creative process. He recently finished a tour opening for Margo Price and is excited about what he calls the “Loretta-and-Conway-style” duets they’ve been working on. He calls Austin’s Arlyn Studios his home base but has worked in Nashville and recorded in Dallas, Denton, and Muscle Shoals. His EP “Have Mercy” is due out in May.
Equal parts heart and hustle, Cauthen says that what he’s doing is a lot of fun but hard work too. “It’s about how much do you want it and what are you willing to do.”
If, as many of us happily believe, music can make dreams come true, Glenn Peterson Jr. and his younger brother, Alex, are on both the giving and receiving end of the deal. The Peterson Brothers describe their music as a modern blend of blues, soul, and funk, but that doesn’t begin to capture the magic of the 21- and 18-year-old brothers from Bastrop. To see them live is to know freedom and joy, the kind, for the performer as well as the audience, that comes from not knowing exactly what’s going to happen next but understanding that, whatever it is, you’ll want to do it again.
While they’ve toured with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and played shows like the Chicago Blues Festival, the Petersons have maintained a regular gig at The Continental Club for the past five years with Glenn on guitar and Alex playing bass and occasionally violin, his first instrument. “It’s great because we get to try out new things and do what we feel works at that moment,” explains Glenn. “We love improvising. It’s what keeps us learning all the time, which is important.” Shared mannerisms and knockout smiles make it obvious they’re siblings, but the musical mind-melding onstage is more than basic brotherhood.
About their recent dream-come-true opening for Robert Randolph & the Family Band’s Grammy-nomination party in New York, Alex says, “The whole thing was unbelievable for us. The best part is, we didn’t have to try and explain what it was like to our parents, because they travel with us. They do everything to support our music, and it was even better that we were all there together.”
Read more from the Music + Film Issue | March 2018