Honkytonk Special Prove Real Country Music is Alive and Well on Debut EP “To Die For”

Honky tonk music is alive and well, and Honkytonk Special is proving that an act can still have great success by making that sound their specialty.

The five-man band hailing from Southeast Texas saw their debut single chart at number 61 on the Texas charts, and are hoping to continue their momentum with their second single, “If I Don’t Say Goodbye.”

Here is your chance to hear from all five members of Honkytonk Special about their collective influences, the success of their debut single “Just Go Crazy With My Heart,” the big name writers on their upcoming full-length album, and more!


Pro Country: Can you talk about the formation of Honkytonk Special?

Keith: Well, Kenny and I sat down and decided to put together something that really focused on the Honkytonk, dancing music around 4 years ago. We hand-picked the original members of the group, and over the years, we had to make several personnel changes to support the growing band, and wider markets. Tracy Addison joined the group around 2 years ago.

Tracy: Yeah, things slowed down enough for me to finally commit to a group, and the guys were looking for someone to take over bass duties.

Keith:  The timing was just perfect for everyone. We also just added the 2 newest members: Jake Smith and Mike “Web” Sparks. Jake was introduced to us by a very close friend of the band, and he rounded out our group nicely on drums.

Jake: I was currently touring with another band that just wasn’t the right fit, and was needing a change of scenery.

Keith: And we were waiting with open arms of course! [laughs]. Jake also plays guitar and sings as well, so he and I swap roles in the band sometimes. “Web” and Kenny had previously played together in past bands, and had been longtime friends, so when we decided to bring on a full-time 5th piece, it only made sense to call “Web.”

Web: Kenny and I had always enjoyed playing together in the past, so I was happy to receive the opportunity to once again play with my good friend.

Tracy: We knew that he would give us a HUGE advantage with his versatility, as he plays a ton of instruments.

Keith: Yeah, “Web” mainly plays fiddle, pedal steel, and sax in the band, but he also plays banjo and mandolin as well. We really feel this current lineup has filled out our sound really well, and has given us the tools to be successful in our market.

 

PC: Who are some of the influences you draw on collectively that you draw on collectively as a band?

Keith: We mainly, as a whole, draw on the more traditional guys, and we feel that the 90’s Neo-Traditional sounds really fit and describe us. My biggest influences personally are probably Keith Whitley and George Strait.

Jake: I would have to say Keith Whitley is my biggest as well.

Tracy: I really grew up on and drew from guys like Conway.

Web: My influences starting out weren’t strictly country, I also really dug into bands like the Grateful Dead [laughs].

Kenny: I’d have to say my first and foremost influence was my father! He started it off for me. Then I was also really big on Roy Nichols, who was Merle Haggards guitarist.

Keith: Yeah, I think we all would have to say family influenced us; we’re all mainly 2nd and 3rd generation musicians, some of us even more than 3rd generation.

 

PC: Many artists say that the order of the tracks on their EPs/albums is very important. Why did you decide to lead the To Die For EP off with “Alcoholic”?

Keith We decided to go with “Alcoholic” because we really felt that it grabbed the listener’s attention best, and shows that we like to have fun with it.

Kenny: That’s what this whole crazy ride is about after all [laughs].

Tracy: It being a really catchy tune as well doesn’t hurt!

Jake: Yeah, when we play it live, there’s usually a few people singing along in the crowd, while dancing.

PC: What went into the decision to release “Just Go Crazy With My Heart” as the lead single from To Die For? Did the chart success you found with that song provide any sense of validation as a group?

Keith: We mainly just talked to our fan base and asked what they thought. We leaned on the people who had supported us from the start. The consensus was that song was the biggest fan favorite, and a song you couldn’t just sit still during. You had to move to the beat, dance, or something.

Kenny: Yeah, we definitely got a sense of validation from the song’s time on the radio charts and what it helped us accomplish. There were several times where we thought “Okay, it’s ran its course. It’s time to pick the next single,” only to have it jump up the charts again the next week.

Tracy: You might say that it kind of see-sawed on us a bit before reaching #61.

Keith: The results were honestly more than we had ever expected.

PC: “To Die For” is one of the standout tracks on the EP, and honors those who sacrifice everything for their country. The song hits close to home as well, as four members of Honkytonk Special have served. Was the personal nature of that song a big reason why you wanted to make it the title track of the EP?

Keith: “To Die For” is a really special song to us, as I’m sure you can imagine! Tracy was Air Force, Kenny did time in the Navy, while “Web” was with the Coast Guard and I served in the Army. After spending some time deployed overseas, I naturally developed some aftereffects of war, specifically PTSD. This is something that words can’t even describe for me, only someone suffering from it can understand. Our buddy Mike McQueery sent us some songs to listen to for our next record, because we had already filled all the spots for the EP. Well, I happened to stumble across “To Die For” and boy did it have an impact on me! This song found its way to me when I needed it most. While listening to the song for the first time, halfway through it, I completely lost it; I mean I was sobbing uncontrollably. The song just summed up so many things that I was struggling with, feeling, and even that I was thankful for, and I knew I had to get it out there for my “brothers in arms” to hear. I sent the song to the guys in the band, and a few of my closest friends from the military, and everyone agreed we needed to cut the song. I emailed Mike very shortly and explained what the song meant to us, and that I wanted to bump another song off the EP, and name “To Die For’ the title track. Thankfully he arranged everything to make it happen for us.

PC: Why did you decide to release “If I Don’t Say Goodbye” as the second single from To Die For? Did the success of “Just Go Crazy With My Heart” make choosing the next single a little more difficult?

Kenny: Once again, we went back to our fans for this decision. This song seemed to be everyone’s choice.

Keith: Which I was totally okay with, as this song is my favorite off of the EP [laughs].

Jake: It’s just a good, medium tempo, heartbreak song. Also a really good dancing tune.

PC: “That’s Where Leavin’ You Got Me” is one of my favorite tracks on the EP. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration behind that song?

Keith: This song really reminded me of the emotional songs that guys like Keith Whitley and Daryle Singletary were known for.

Kenny: It’s a song that I’m sure everyone can identify with at one point in their lives or another.

Keith: I really draw from these old songs that hit you in the “feels.” We have a couple songs on the new record we’re working on that are of the same vein.

PC: As a whole, what do you hope listeners take away from the To Die For EP after listening all the way through?

Tracy: We mainly hope that they’ll realize that REAL country music is alive and well! If you look in the right places, you can still find songs of substance and that actually have a story to tell. You know, the songs that related to everyday life.

 

PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2019 and beyond?

Keith: Well, we plan on to keep touring a bit and get back into the studio eventually to work on our first full-length record. We’ve worked with some of the best songwriters out there to gather- or write- what we felt was the best material out there. Some of the crowds at our live shows have already connected with some of the new songs. We’ve got some slow, gut-wrenching songs like “That’s Gotta Hurt,” which was co-written by country music great, David Lee Murphy. Plus, another one called “A Memory Like Yours,” written by Steve Maynard, who I think is the most underrated vocalist in the business! One of my favorite new songs we just added, was actually written by Jake’s dad, Keith Smith, who is also an amazing vocalist. That song is about self-reflecting on where your life has been. We’ve also got the up-tempo stuff, like our self-proclaimed theme song “Honkytonk Special,” which I wrote with Mike McQueery. We also just added a song that was co-written by the King of Country Music’s son, Bubba Strait. It’s a in-your-face, honkytonker called “What Honkytonks Are For.” We are hoping to have the new record completed and out early next year sometime. You can definitely say we’re excited about what the future holds for us!

 

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