Ask Joshua Fleming how a hearty critical buzz has affected the onstage reception to his ragged cowpunk romps with Vandoliers and he seems genuinely nonplussed.
“Well, it’s been a big change for us,” he said. “We’re actually playing in front of people now.”
A feverishly raucous contributor to an active Dallas/Fort Worth music scene, Fleming penned some 40 songs for ‘Forever,’ Vandoliers’ third album and its first for the heralded Chicago indie label Bloodshot. They range from scorched country waltzes to giddy honky tonk yarns to intoxicated country dervishes full of coarse electric immediacy. In a review of the band’s March show at Austin’s South by Southwest festival, Rolling Stone claimed “Few performers at SXSW were as transfixing as Joshua Fleming, who spits out lyrics with all the swagger of man backed up by a vicious gang. And, really, he was. The Vandoliers are deadly onstage.”
In conversation, Fleming doesn’t exactly mirror such a threat. He is reserved, polite, candid and altogether cheery. While he acknowledges what positive national press can do for an indie band, he is far more beholden to the inspirations that helped fortify an artistic identity that was initially gun-shy of its roots.
“One of the biggest mistakes I ever made musically was trying to sound like I came from somewhere else. I remember a record I made for a punk band I was in where I was trying to sound like I was from New York. Later on, I began diving into my roots, diving into my region and becoming part of the musical community here in Texas. I started honoring all these different types of music derived from this region. That helped us develop a sound that was uniquely us. So we’re proud of where we’re from.
“When we made ‘Forever,’ I fell in love with Texas music in general, whether it be Western swing, Tejano or alt-country. Luckily, my songwriting style fit right into all of it. The music I made before seemed like I was either trying to catch up or I was doing something that wasn’t completely honest. I think when I let go of all those things, that was when the real songs started coming out. That was a big part of how we became the Vandoliers.”
At the heart of ‘Forever’ sits a riotous tune called ‘Fallen Again,’ a song that sounds celebratory on the surface with head-on guitars, a punkish waltz rhythm and a touch of Mariachi-style horns. But underneath this bordertown earthquake is a story of very personal vulnerability.
“I have trouble with anxiety and my wife has trouble with depression,” Fleming said. “So those became big things that I wanted to tackle with a song. I feel that’s really important, especially right now. There is so much pressure outside of everyday life, especially from social media. A lot of people don’t talk about troubles in their day to day lives. Music is one of the things that can help. Luckily, I had some help from Rhett Miller. He helped me with the last verse of that song. I was grateful to have his seal of approval as a writer.”
Rhett Miller, as the alt-country turned indie pop faithful will tell you, is the frontman of Old 97s, a heralded Dallas band a generation removed from Vandoliers that also worked its way up through the indie ranks, got its national break via albums for the Bloodshot label and today exists as one of the elder voices of an ongoing alt-country movement. Vandoliers remains such as disciple of the band that the cover art for “Forever” is actually an inverted view of railroad fading into the distance that’s strongly akin to the photo gracing the cover of Old 97s’ 2016 album “Graveyard Whistling.”
“Rhett is just one of those dudes who took the time out of his busy schedule to give me a real tutorial on songwriting,” Fleming said. “It was great to have that kind of faith come out of people you really look up to. There are all kinds of Old 97s things that are all over our records. They are 100% our favorite band.”
“That matters to me because, I mean, I’m a writer. That’s kind of how I get through my day. That’s how I deal with life in general. I’m constantly writing. And as long as people still want to listen to my music, I’ll be sharing what I write.”
When: 10 p.m. July 16
Where: The Green Lantern, 497 W. Third
Admission: $10 in advance, $12 day of show