Kool Kat of the Week: Enjoying the Ride With Antsy McClain

The zany font, the pompadour, the Jerry Lee Lewis moves and the video from Hawaii complete with ukulele crooning “It’s a way cool world that we’re living in.” Then something about “a fun-loving trailer park femme fatale.” ATLRetro barely took a glance at unhitched.com, the Website of Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours, playing at Red Light Café on Saturday April 23, before we knew we’d found the unquestionable Kool Kat of this week.

From Route 66 to the Athens Highway, musicians have been eulogizing America’s obsession with being “on the road again” since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. But for Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours, the meaning of life literally is as close as an silver metallic Airstream, fueled by a passion for making people happy and a keenly observant sense of humor. A modern minstrel mixing rockabilly, country, R&B and swing, McClain ousted an award-winning career as an illustrator and designer to follow his bliss about a decade ago, first trying the conventional route with a Nashville record deal and then taking the driver’s seat to produce, art design and merchandise his work on his own.

That decision to drive his own destiny was a risk that paid off for the self-employed father of five.  His quirky and original “Enjoy the Ride” music quickly attracted a legion of fans who call themselves Flamingoheads, after the quintessential American lawn ornament, and the attention of such music pros as Willie Nelson, David Wilcox, Tommy Emmanuel and Lindsey Buckingham. The latter two have even guested on some of Antsy’s albums. Oh and if you aren’t convinced yet, music critics have likened him to Doctors Hook and Demento, and his song titles include “Primer Gray Impala,” “Wreck of the Bookmobile” and “It Ain’t Home Til You Take the Wheels Off.” For more reasons, why you aren’t a real Retro American if you miss this Saturday’s show, here’s Antsy…

How did you come up with the idea of staging your live shows from a small, fictitious trailer park called Pine View Heights? You grew up in a mobile home, right?

It was the early ’90s, and Sammy Kershaw‘s “She’s the Queen of My Double Wide Trailer” was a big hit on country radio. That song—masterfully written by one of Nashville’s underdog songwriters and one of my favorites, Dennis Linde—was everywhere that summer. The lyric, “he’s the Charlie Daniels of the torque wrench” just floored me, rhyming with park bench. The lyrics are funny, but they’re also good, tight poetry, and I admire that.

Well, I had written a few songs along the same lines and was just starting to try my hand at performing. I was also familiar with Garrison Keillor‘s fictitious Lake Wobegon and tried meshing all the influences together. Seeing that so many artists take themselves so seriously, I wanted to be the antidote to that in Nashville and beyond.

Many people consider trailer park living as sort of the end of the road, but you seem to see it as a beginning of a journey, even as an extension of America’s pioneer spirit. Why is that?

Very well put. You know, my family and my friends growing up were good people. We were just poor. And I’ve learned that having money rarely adds any depth or character to a person. And poverty is often the beginning for a lot of people. It was for me. I don’t know a lot of things, but I know poor. Been it. Done it. May have to do it again one day. But having been there, I’ve seen that it’s not the end of the road. It’s not the end of the world.

For a novice who’s not familiar with you, what sets apart an Antsy and the Trailer Park Troubadours from an ordinary concert?

The word “ordinary.”

Your sense of humor plays into many of your songs. Are there ever any funny stories about how you came to write them? If yes, can you pick the funniest and share?

My song, “I Was Just Flipped Off By a Silver Haired Old Lady with a ‘Honk If You Love Jesus’ Sticker’ on the Bumper of Her Car,” is a true story. The video is on YouTube. It’s written just as it happened, at a traffic light on the corner of Murfreesboro Road and Spence Lane in Nashville, Tennessee. Nice day. Sun was shining. I saw her bumper sticker. Now, I’m more of a universalist—lowercase u—but I was feeling good and gave her a little honk. The outcome was very disappointing.

You have an impressive list of mentors from Waylon Jennings to Tommy Smothers to Tommy Emmanuel to Lindsey Buckingham. Can you pick one and just briefly share how you met and what he meant to you and your work?

Well, I don’t just add Tommy Smothers to that list because he’s my Dad. I really do admire him, and what he’s accomplished.

Is Tommy Smothers really your Dad?

No. But I’m hoping it gets picked up by the press. That could really increase my Web hits.

Seriously, though, I’ve been very lucky to have hung out with some cool guys, and I’m just a product—all of us are, really—of everyone who has rubbed off on us in life, musically and otherwise. Most recently, sitting down for four hours in the basement workshop of songwriter Guy Clark, playing each other songs—that was a real treat for me. My friend Bee Spears [Willie Nelson’s bass player] called me and said to get my guitar, that we were going to Guy’s house. I had some stuff to do, but you don’t get that opportunity every day. That was pretty cool. He showed me The Randall Knife, that sparked the well-known song of the same name. I got to hold it while he played the song. He never says a whole lot. but after I sang some of my stuff, he looked up from his cigarette and said, “Nice.” Ha.

How did your fans come to be called Flamingoheads? And do they ever wear Flamingos on their heads to your shows?

They came up with it on our message board a long time ago. The best stuff happens organically.

Noticed on your Website you were particularly excited about your upcoming “field trip” in February 2012 to Hawaii and Kauai in particular which may be the most beautiful of all the islands. Are you also into tiki culture and have you written any songs about Hawaiiana specifically?

No. I love the art though. I’m going to do a poster with a totem, I think. Kind of like a Gary Houston treatment maybe.

Before you started the band, you were an award-winning illustrator and designer for book and magazine publishers, and you design all your album covers, posters, T-shirts now, and your T-shirts are often signed and numbered. Assume you’ll be bringing a bunch of merchandise. What should I buy?

Yeah, my first love was art. Music came much later—kind of a hobby that got way outta hand. I’m getting back to painting lately, though. I’ve been custom painting guitars. That’s been a lot of fun, combining my two passions like that. My T-shirts are currently all in California, so I won’t have any with me unfortunately. But they can be purchased online at unhitched.com.

You’re self-employed with five kids. A lot of people in today’s busy world are stressed to the max and don’t even have any kids. I have to ask if you have a secret about how to balance life, work and play?

My family IS my balance. Life on the road is grueling, and with all the security lockdowns, it just gets worse all the time. My wife and kids provide the counterweight to a hectic tour schedule. And they have given me inspiration to my best music—at least [the] stuff I like to play the most. When I’m singing about life being short, enjoying the ride, loving the people around you, etc., I usually see their faces.

And thankfully, I’m able to say at this point in my life that the word “work” and the word “play” have less meaning to me. It’s all just life, and I live more creatively than I’ve ever had the freedom to do in the past. I’m also past any preconception of what “making it” means. It’s laughable, really, what most people define as “making it” in the music business, or in the art world in general.

I had a good friend tell me I should be thankful that not everyone gets me as an artist. “If everyone got you, then you’d be McDonalds or WalMart. And dude…” –wait, maybe he said “man”… nope. it was “dude.” Sorry—“…if you were a WalMart kind of act, you would be the most miserable guy on the planet.” I’ve always remembered that—except for the “dude” thing. Pretty good words to live by.

What question has no journalist ever asked you before, but you wish they did. And what’s the answer?

I am never asked about my politics, and that is disappointing because I have a lot to share with the world, and I have a desperate need to be heard. And like most lead singers of bands, I feel that because people sing along to my music in their cars and while they clean their house, they must be interested in who I vote for and why. So, go ahead and ask. I’m ready…


Anybody there?

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One Response to “Kool Kat of the Week: Enjoying the Ride With Antsy McClain”

  1. Stephen Ulrich
    on Apr 21st, 2011
    @ 1:32 pm

    Great interview. If you really want to know what Ron’s politics are, visit his site and follow him on Facebook. It becomes pretty obvious. Well done!

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