Austin, TX singer-songwriter delivers a highly-anticipated third album with his LP release, Westward. Born in a single-wide trailer deep in the East Texas pines to a family of ex-religious cult musicians, Terrell has been engulfed in a life of music since birth. After migrating to Austin in 2006, he anchored himself firmly in the city’s infamous music scene as a beloved country and folk songwriter.
He shared his debut full-length record, Trials & Stimulations in 2008. Shortly after, he began recording his second, Past the Lights of Town. Before he could release the collection, he shelved it, putting his solo career on hold for seven years and headed full-time into his previous rock n’ roll side project, Not In The Face. The group gained momentum with radio singles, eventually landing a recorded deal with Electric Factory Records in 2008. The band’s first record, Bikini, landed that year, produced by Jason Richard.
In 2010 they recorded Brass Tacks, a successful EP with legendary producers Bob Ezrin and Garth Richardson (Pink Floyd, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kiss, Nine Inch Nails). Their second LP, Phase, was produced by Austin’s Frenchie Smith (Jet, … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead) at the Bubble studios and was released on the band’s label in October 2019.
Between these years, that second full-length was leaked and later released on French psych label Wild Valley Records in 2015. It led to several sold-out solo tours in France and the UK. On the European continent Terrell’s LP, released today, took form.
On night outside of a show in Angers, France, the artist remembers speaking with a fan in the alley. Through a thick, eloquent accent, he said, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying, but the vibe is cool’. The Frenchman continued, explaining that even with thousands of years of art and culture, the one thing European culture can’t replicate is the idea of the American West.
“It’s so foreign for them,” says Terrell. “It’s such an individual power. It’s like it’s just this raw, desolate perseverance. If you take over a country, there are dark sides for sure. But that kind of lives in there too.”
Terrell got to work, encapsulating the untamed spirit of his home corner of the country. His imagination ran wild as he pulled personal themes and vintage soundscapes into a classic, collective tale of love, loss, and redemption in a modern world. With the help of producer Stuart Sikes (Loretta Lynn, White Stripes, Modest Mouse), Terrell managed to dwindle his original 26-song set into ten solid tracks that bring his story to life.
“I wanted a hot ten-track record that was just like a windows down, I’m getting the hell out of town tonight, and this is gonna play me into the sunset,” says the artist.
Just weeks before he was scheduled to record in the studio, his brother, Emmanuel, took his own life. He was a father, a Marine vet, a police officer, and according to the artist, he was his brother’s biggest fan.
“PTSD is a real thing, and it can cripple a mind if not treated properly,” he says. He thought getting into the studio would help the healing, but he found little clarity in that headspace. He described the two weeks in-studio as “raw and rough.”
“When I went home and listened to them, I was just like, ‘Man, this just isn’t gonna cut it.’ If I were to give the album to my brother as it was there, he would have been like no way. They weren’t talking the way I knew they needed to, so the band and I hit the road for six months to go out and fine-tune the songs that would make up Westward. I ended up scrapping about half the album and re-recording it in between breaks on the road.”
Westward is almost three years in the making. The band on the album is a culmination of his incredible road band and several notable players who lent a hand. These include Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey), Shakey Graves, Band of Heathens, Black Pumas, and songwriter David Ramirez.
Produced and engineered by Stuart Sikes at Big Orange and Arlyn Studios, mixed by Jacob Sciba (Arlyn Studios) and mastered by Erik Wofford at Cacophony Recorders, this album is the work of a community of friends, musicians, artists, movers, and shakers all pulling together to breathe life into a collection that they all believe could be a true American classic.
In addition to wrapping his head and heart around his brother’s passing, Terrell was on the closing end of an almost decade-long relationship. Glances of these losses float throughout the album, weaving in and out of Texas dance hall waltzes and cosmic cowboy country.
Midland’s Mark Wystrach joins Terrell in the harmonies on “Cowboy Band,” written in the wake of his heartbreak, something the two initially bonded over. They became friends one night at Justine’s Brasserie in Austin when Terrell talked him out of a bar fight. The song opens in a blues-drenched Texas twang. Wystrach’s harmonies carry a heightened poignancy with familiarity.
“Never Makes A Sound” opens the album with a punch, serving as a breakthrough song for the artist. “I’ve written plenty of sad songs but knew that if I wanted to build this thing, I would have to burn something down. This song turned around for me,” he says. “The lyrical content of it felt like West Texas, going to see the Marfa Lights. To drive out there into the abyss and wonder what else is out there and how we get there. It’s understanding the journey that people took from Plymouth Rock that made it to the California coast.”
In the same fashion, “These Days” goes along with the album opener as a theoretical pulling himself up by the bootstraps. “These two songs are like, ‘Alright, man, you can’t live like this. You’ve got to get out there and hustle and find yourself again,’” he says. “So it’s like a re-birth for me, it’s a powerful thing.”
Once the album was recorded, Terrell brought the collection to his friend Ali Rose-Garcia and Chris Boosadha from Shakey Graves. They worked through suggested edits with them at Hello Gorgeous studio. “I was like, ‘Man, hey, look, I trust both your ears. I want you to listen through the album with me a couple of times and ping me when something doesn’t feel right and let’s see if we can fix it.’”
After pausing his heavy touring schedule due to COVID, he feels positioned well to share these songs at a moment when our country needs it the most. “This Western culture is so much more than what it looks like at face value. And I think the album encapsulates a lot of it. There are shreds of hope throughout, which has always been a fundamental American value” he says. “These songs are the stories of all of us. I’m just the vessel. It’s bigger than me”.
Listen to Westward from Jonathan Terrell here.