Interview by Paul Salfen
Paul talks to C M Talkington about his latest work, an LP entitled Texas Radio, due March 17, 2023 via Birs Recordings. To kick off the record cycle, he has shared the record’s first single, “Two Steps,” produced by The Butthole Surfer’s Paul Leary and featuring vocals from Renée Zellweger. CM and Renee Zellweger go way back, he wrote and directed Love and a .45, Zellweger’s first starring role in in a feature film circa 1994.
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Speaking on the holistic upcoming record, Renée wrote:
“I love this record. From the milestones that led to this moment on the triumphant side of healing.. the songs are an authentic and raw celebration of life and hope made in the great Austin tradition of gathering with friends to make music for the joy of it, and it feels like home.
Texas Radio – Bio:
“This record made me a dragonfly,” C M Talkington conveyed with gripping sincerity. He and his mother used to joke about how they were both dragonflies because they are the insects that take the longest to metamorphose, the greatest stretch of time to come into who they are meant to be. Texas Radio is a sacred part of that journey for Talkington, a spiritual art manifesto that acts as a point of arrival and departure. His life for the past three decades has led him to this album release through a series of events, encounters, and mystical synchronicities, but it is also just the beginning, as the album’s final track, “Let It Begin” suggests.
The story of Texas Radio goes back as far as the 1930s, when outlaw radio stations broadcasted revolutionary messages that transcended the border of Texas and Mexico. Groundbreaking music sizzled and sparked from the tops of those radio towers too, the bedrock genres of country, Tejano, soul, rock ’n’ roll, blues, gospel, and rockabilly. Those transmissions made their path through the ether to Jim Morrison, whose Doors song “The WASP (Texas Radio & The Big Beat)” took inspiration from those stations, and that song found its way to the ears of Scott Matthews, former Butthole Surfers drummer and Talkington’s best friend in 1987. With a wild look in his eye, Matthews declared that their band would be named Texas Radio.
However, Talkington moved to Los Angeles in the nineties while Matthews remained on the East Coast, and Texas Radio settled into dormancy. Talkington started another band, The Furies, and eventually dove into filmmaking for about ten years. During this period, he wrote and directed the 1994 cult film, Love and a .45 starring Gil Bellows, Renée Zellweger, and Rory Cochrane. Another thread was woven into the tale of Texas Radio, although that wouldn’t be apparent until years later.
In the early 2010s, Talkington began to rise out of his personal desert, getting sober and writing songs on his black electric-acoustic Yamaha named Texcalibur. But a journey is never a straight line, rather a series of paths we don’t expect to take. In 2019, while Talkington was working on his debut album, Not Exactly Nashville, he was afflicted with pain that only continued to worsen. After discovering he was extremely anemic right before the recording sessions, Talkington fought through the pain and fatigue to record, only to be met on the other side with the diagnosis: stage 3 colon cancer.
In the wake of this discovery, threads from earlier in Talkington’s life began resurrecting while he stared death in the face. The night of his diagnosis, he was scheduled to reconnect with Zellweger over dinner. He didn’t discuss the diagnosis. As chemotherapy coursed through his veins, Talkington pursued Paul Leary, who he knew he was destined to collaborate with, connected by a shared drummer in Scott Matthews and a shared ex-girlfriend. And the morning after a major surgery left a cross-shaped scar across Talkington’s entire torso, Not Exactly Nashville was released to a world shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, the record jettisoned into the void. Each second of Talkington’s cancer treatment was intertwined with his music, his history, and the people brought into his life every step of the way.
Through these threads, the Texas Radio band as it exists today was reborn, with Douglas Forrest, David Mabry, Kobie Baus, and Talkington convening at Wire Recording in Austin, Texas to record with Paul Leary as producer.
Talkington said of his band, “Making this record was like coming home for me. I’m so blessed to be with these angels. Texas Radio wouldn’t exist if Douglas wasn’t my next door neighbor in Echo Park. And because of this proximity, we’ve been playing together for over a decade. During that time, we’ve formed a really deep bond that manifests in our music. I adore playing and singing with Douglas. I completely lose myself. He’s such an amazing and essential artist. He weaves a unique cinematic aural texture into the songs, that transports them to a new dimension. Working with Douglas has taught me so much. I’ve known David Mabry since 1984, when I met him at Theater Gallery in Deep Ellum. He played in this really cool band called THE END. I thought he was a rock star then and I still do now. Dave’s one of my best friends. He also happens to be one of the most innovative, amazing, and creative artists I’ve known. He can play everything, just like Douglas. He’s pure magic on the drums, ‘spirit harp,’ cardboard box, and everything else too. Kobie’s the latest addition on bass. He’s a stellar young artist with amazing songs of his own. I’m thrilled that he was living in Austin and able to come make magic with us. Texas Radio is more than a band. We’re a family. We’re all on a mission to improve the garden. I feel so blessed to finally make a record with these guys. It really was like coming home. Coming home to Texas. Coming home to Texas Radio. Coming home to my band of soul brothers.”
Each session was blessed by old friends, the first by Philip Whiteman JR, Northern Cheyenne Traditional Chief, and the second by Shane Orthmann, a Galdraman Noadi (Icelandic sacred singer playing the Sami drum), bringing everyone onto the same wavelength so the experience of human magic could be summoned in that space. Zellweger joined the crew for vocals on “Two Steps,” a track described by Talkington as a “love song to my angel.” In these sessions, mostly captured live, Texas Radio’s swirling blend of western psychedelic soul emerged, which manifests as the fiery, electrified, and reverberating opener “Feed Your Soul” and the Love and a .45 inspired “Greenlight,” to the lilting campfire song “Milk Of Kindness” and the honky-tonk ghost waltz “Two Steps.”
“It’s like driving through Texas and moving your way across the AM dial,” Talkington says of the Texas Radio sound. Everything that made the original outlaw stations powerful is embedded into the fabric of their music. As the Texas Radio recording sessions wrapped up, Leary said to Talkington, “Carty, you’ve done your state proud, and it doesn’t sound like either coast.” Texas Radio sounds like the state itself, and everything it stands for: finding allies in all places, igniting sparks of human magic, and broadcasting that magic as far as it can go. All that is left is for you to receive the transmission.