Singer-Songwriter Austin Meade doesn’t believe in doing anything half-cocked, even if it hurts.
On his new record, Black Sheep, and sixth release so far, he talks about how ‘comfort is a hard drug.’ It’s a lesson he learned through the dullness of life marked by irrelevant nine to fives, college and the revolving Sundays at church that actually spread out over the whole week. Comfort for Meade is redundant and has no place in his life and most importantly not in his songwriting, the one place he breaks the monotony.
“I just don’t believe in doing a anything half-assed,” Meade told American Songwriter. “My goal in songwriting is to break people’s hearts with the least amount of words possible. And that could be because they realize they’re so sad in their current situation or the opposite.”
“On this record and the title track I say ‘comfort is a hard drug.’ And I believe that. I’ve always wondered what comfort meant for people- like a house and a family, money or TV, a relationship, a vehicle. Is it religion? You can think about all those different things just from this one line.”
Meade can’t remember a time when he wasn’t looking to out-do comfort. It was definitely permeated as a young pastor’s kid, bored and stifled at Church where he would spend all of his Sundays and usually most of his after-school time. That ‘comfort’ was the catalyst for him to learn music, which started by him banging on the drums in his church worship room—loudly and angrily as the custodian gawked concernedly.
Meade followed the traditional path of comfort and security that his family encouraged him to and went to Texas A&M to study business as an adult. But he kept music with him. His business degree was mostly useless, but it did further his innate nature to strive and progress, which has became the most important component of his songwriting process as a rock singer-songwriter trying to break beyond his native red-dirt scene.
“I’ve just always been competitive,” he said. “I did the band thing and then played all kinds of sports, getting into golf, which is very self-competitive.” A quality that carried over into his songwriting, Meade is still figuring out if it is a positive one or not.
“The only person that can make you better is yourself and there’s nobody else to get mad at other than you,” he adds. So I feel similar in songwriting. If the song isn’t good enough and it didn’t reach enough people, it’s my fault, like I didn’t do my job of making it a good enough song.”
With bitter-sweet tracks like the self-explanatory “Happier Alone, Black Sheep reflects on the dichotomy of comfort and rebelling that is consistent across the album, while the single “Déjà vu” expands on a kind of ground-hog day phase of life that people all meet at some point, especially in quarantine. The video for “Déjà vu” reflects Meade’s own recent groundhog day phase, which he spent most of on a lake on his boat, drinking, playing music, day after day, with the occasional 12-hour Netflix binge thrown in.
“I got a little boat and I was out there like almost every single day from March, until August,” Meade remembered. “You think it’s been a week and then it’s two weeks and all sudden it’s like three months. And I start think ‘what have I done to better myself in my career?’ I mean I love to just sit and binge watch Netflix but then I feel like a sack of shit after—I just wasted 12 hours of my life.”
Though the video for “Déjà vu” paralleled Meade’s redundant quarantine adventures, the song was written while his band were still on tour exploring the U.S. Interstate system for months at a time in a tiny van, propelled by sweat, rock, and roll, intermittent naps and overnight-reflective drives.
“Most of the record and ‘Déjà vu’ specifically were written in the van while we were driving,” Meade said. “And I would get stressed out a lot, especially when I’d doze off in the backseat and wake up all the sudden because somebody is screaming or something. There’s like this couple horror film seconds of anxiety. And a lot of those moments kind of buildup, and I just end up writing or getting ideas from that. Overnight drives I’d get some deep dark idea that I might not have thought of on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, while the sun was out.”
“It really forces you to think about stuff,” Meade adds. “Whether it’s the worst possible things that are about to happen or in a state of trying to be thankful about this and that. But I guess the songs are kind of me trying to not go crazy and putting it all down on paper to feel like more of a normal human being.”
To match Meade’s introspective mentality that many of the songs were written with, he used more atmospheric sounds with trippy guitar tones, lots of pedals ad strong dynamic tension between each verse, chorus and bridge.
“I wanted there to be like this like spacey atmosphere behind a lot of the songs to almost make you feel like you’re in a room with your thoughts, like you’re kind of floating within it,” he said. “Just fucking weird noises with guitars. We were using so many different crazy things in the studio kind of like Muse did on ‘Supermassive Black Holes’. They had this like D-pad that you could hold onto and play a note on a guitar with a little touchscreen. And it’d send the pitch and tone through an almost synthesizer kind of thing.”
Meade’s desire to experiment, rebel and be someone in his music is actually a kind of comical oxymoron, because he has found his ‘comfort’ in songwriting. But his comfort is not everyone’s. He finds solace in feeling every emotion, a changing environment and being a kind of work horse in his own way, which ultimately landed him support to continue doing so as a recent Snakefarm Records signee.
“I don’t want to work for somebody else’s dream,” Meade said. “It might be selfish but if I’m going to wake up every day and have to do work in some form or fashion, I don’t believe in working towards somebody else’s dream. If you want to do something, do it. You have to stop making excuses for not doing it like binge watching TV or spending an entire four months hanging out on the lake. Sometimes those things are healthy and good but like I try to remind myself if I just do something for my career every day, I’m setting myself up a little bit better for tomorrow.”
Black Sheep is out on Snakefarm records March 19. Get a copy here and check out the video for “Deja Vu” below.