We have all felt the power of a song – the way a simple lyric can transport us to a very specific point in our lives and remind us exactly how we felt during that moment. Songwriters who can artistically take us on a journey have always resonated with Conroe native Tyler McCollum. Since he was a kid, he has been drawn to the art of storytelling and dedicated to honing his craft as a songwriter and musician. In his debut album Backbone, the 33-year-old singer/songwriter, who now resides in Austin, delivers honest recollections of the past and even takes us on a trip back in time to “some of the greatest days” of his life. Postcards Magazine had the privilege of visiting with McCollum before a recent show in Brenham. We talked about his life-long love for music and how the support of his entire family gave him the confidence to chase his dream.
When did you become interested in music and songwriting?
Nobody in my family played music, but everyone in my family loved music. My grandfather would get all the grandkids in the living room and put on music and pull the couch cushions out, and we would dance. He introduced me to Jimmy Reed and Jerry Reed when I was a kid, and that’s two different styles of music. The first was like a slow Blues shuffle – that was something I had never heard before. Then I heard Jerry Reed and I thought, “Man, I want to learn how to play guitar like that one day.” My mom bought me a guitar when I was around ten, and my cousin Austen and I started playing and trying to figure out how to write songs.
Who were some of your biggest influences growing up?
I would say songwriters out of Texas. It just blew us away how these storytellers replicated life in a song. Guys like Robert Earl Keen – those were the guys we worshipped. John Prine has to be one of the greatest songwriters that has ever lived. Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, and Hayes Carll, who’s from the Woodlands, all influenced me. I remember as a kid thinking, “How do these guys do this? How do they take all the things we look at every day and turn it into that?” I was just fascinated with it.
As an adult, you have always had a hand in music, but what made you decide to quit your day job and go in 100%?
Three years ago, I was at Steamboat Springs Music Fest in Colorado, but I wasn’t there to perform. I saw a friend whoasked me why I wasn’t out playing more. Others started asking, too. I decided that would be the last conversation like that. When I got home, I started putting the wheels into motion. I started playing open mics in front ofsmall crowds,just to shake the dust off. Then I had a plan. I quit my job in October of 2018, recorded the album in February, and put it out in June of this year.
Let’s talk about the songs. Tell us about the first single on the record, Time Machine.
Time Machine is about me, my brother (fellow singer Parker McCollum), and my cousin growing up, running around Texas, and working with my grandfather. I was 14 years old – no driver’s license – hauling a gooseneck trailer full of cattle. I had a conversation one day with someone and was asked, “Where would you go if you had a time machine?” People were talking about different points in history, and I was like, “I’d go back to those mornings with my grandfather because those were literally some of the greatest times of my life.” When I look back, I realize that’s the most at peace you can be, working with your grandfather as a 13 or 14-year old kid with all the hope in the world. The sun never really sets on you at that age.
The song Mary takes us back in time to the Wild West. Where did you get the idea for that song?
I have a leatherbound book of old western oil paintings, and one is of a cowboy falling out of a saloon, holding his chest with one hand and shooting a pistol in the air. There’s an Indian chief with a bow and arrow. It’s an old gunfight scene, but for some reason, how the artist painted the cowboy’s face caught my attention – I stared at it forever. It looked like he was fighting his way through the West to get somewhere, but his story wasn’t done yet. He was backed into a corner and the sun was setting, but he was fighting his way out. Money wasn’t worth it; his house wasn’t worth it; it had to be a woman. He was riding on hope and believing in himself…that’s what Mary is about.
We got to hear Time Machine and Mary, as well as other songs from Backbone when you had your CD Release Show at Dosey Doe in the Woodlands. What was that night like?
It was a special night. I haven’t lived in the area in a long time, but I grew up there. My whole family is from there. So, to get to go back home and have a room full of people was great. A lot of friends and family came out. It was one of those shows where I recognized every face in the crowd, and that was really cool. It was a full-circle kind of night, to go home and play for my family because they are the reason for where I am today. Plus, it’s such a wonderful venue – everything from the sound system to the staff, they are all amazing. I love playing there.
You have been playing across Texas. What reaction have you gotten?
Having our first record out, we are seeing people at shows who are hearing us for the first time. We are still in that growing phase, and it’s fun because we get to have good conversations after shows, and we are starting to see faces a second time. We go back to those towns, and it’s a special feeling to work hard and have people want to come back and bring their families with them.
As your musical career continues to develop, what ismost important to you?
I don’t care if I ever do anything in life but put out records and songs I am proud of and keep chasing the craft, trying to figure out how to connect with people through songwriting. And, I love that I have a brother I can play music with. We both feel so blessed that we knew we wanted to do this early on.
What’s the next chapter look like for you?
I’m in full writing mode right now, trying to write another record. I have pens and pads everywhere – my house, my truck; I’m always throwing a voice memo on my phone, so I don’t forget a lyric. I like to wake up and get the biggest cold brew Starbucks has and get a good book and read and write, read and write. Every songwriter has a method; this works for me. I’m looking forward to putting out more music in 2020.
Backbone is available on iTunes. Don’t miss your chance to hear Tyler McCollum live. Visit tylermccollum.com for a list of upcoming shows.