Prior to March of this year, it had been a while since we had heard new music from William Beckmann. Save for one single, “Someday,” released last August, Beckmann hadn’t offered new music since his debut EP, Outskirts of Town, released in late 2018.
As 2021 began, so did Beckmann’s plan to make his return, which he did in the form of “Bourbon Whiskey,” a country-as-hell tune that put Beckmann back on the map in a big way; quickly becoming his top-streamed single on Spotify as it continues to be a crowd-favorite wherever he performs, also serving as the introduction to what he calls a “new chapter” of his music.
The second installment of Beckmann’s new chapter, “In the Dark,” was released in mid-August, and believe it or not, the song, which currently sits on Spotify’s “Fresh Finds: Country” playlist, was almost entirely ad-libbed by the Del Rio, Texas native in a writing session, with very few changes made when the time came to record the song.
As he prepares more new music, we chatted with Beckmann about his musical roots, receiving mentorship from Radney Foster, establishing himself in the Texas music scene, all about “Bourbon Whiskey” and “In the Dark,” what listeners can expect from his forthcoming releases and more!
Pro Country: Your bio mentions that you grew up surrounded by mariachi and norteño music. How and where did you discover country music and what was it about the genre that struck you?
William Beckmann: I grew up in Del Rio, Texas, which is a small border town. Being in Texas and also being on the border, a lot of the music you hear on the radio is either country music or Latin music. It was really just being raised in the town that I was raised in that turned me on to that kind of music. It was almost inevitable.
PC: Your bio also mentions that while you didn’t come from a musical family, you knew pretty early on that you knew you wanted to be a musician. What sparked the interest within you about being a musician in those years?
WB: My parents never played, and my siblings never really played either, so it was really something that came out of nowhere. It was something that I wanted to do early on, and my first memories of playing music were taking piano lessons when I was about 10 or 11 years old. I did that for a couple of years before I eventually quit. I didn’t like reading music, but now that I’m older, I wish I would have stuck with it because I realize now how important it is to be able to read. I learned how to play guitar a couple years after that, and it really took off from there. When I was first learning to play music, I would watch videos on YouTube to figure out different chords or how to play the songs that I wanted to learn. I really taught myself how to play guitar and how to sing and kept at it.
PC: You met Radney Foster in high school, and you’ve said that he was a mentor to you in your formative years as a writer and artist. How was Radney able to help you and what were you able to take away from his mentorship?
WB: It was extremely important. At the time that I met Radney, I really wasn’t writing music. It never really dawned on me. Back then, I was more interested in learning songs online and figuring out how to play songs that people knew. When I met Radney, I was a sophomore in high school and he basically asked me what I wanted to do with my career. I told him I wanted to do what he did, which I thought was playing concerts and playing shows for people, and he told me if I didn’t have any songs, I needed to get to work, because that’s what it takes to go out and sing songs for people that they can’t hear anywhere else. That’s when I started to write, and it took about a year to a year-and-a-half of writing really bad songs before I felt like I was writing anything that was any good [laughs]. Radney was and still is a big mentor to me. We talk every couple of weeks, but it was really nice to have such an amazing songwriter take me under his wing at such an early age. I was basically just following Radney’s instructions. He would tell me to read more and to listen to certain songwriters like Neil Young and John Prine. He would just constantly give me great advice like that.
PC: You released your debut album, Outskirts of Town, in 2018, which earned you a performance at the Texas Regional Radio Report Music Awards and got you in front of the eyes of some of the biggest artists in the Texas scene. How encouraging was the response to Outskirts of Town and the places it was able to take you, considering it was the first time you were releasing music into the world?
WB: Looking back on it, Outskirts of Town was really a guinea pig of a record. I had a bunch of different styles of songs that I had written. I sometimes think of myself as a chameleon; I’ll go through these phases where I listen to a certain genre of music and almost try to emulate that. I had never really been in a studio before, and I was trying to figure out what sounded best. There’s a song on there called “Please Dear,” which falls more into a folky, singer-songwriter, Jim Croce and James Taylor kind of sound. The single off of the album was called “I Wanna See You Tonight,” which was more of a 90s country song that had a lot of Radney’s guitar influence in it. It was really me just trying to experiment and find out where I wanted to go.
When I did that performance at the awards show, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen were there, and they quickly put two and two together that Radney had been working with me, and a couple days after that performance, Radney called me and said he didn’t know what I did, but Wade and Randy were calling him about me. Rodney gave Randy my phone number, and he called me after that. He had a management company at the time, and I signed on with them. He managed me for about a year-and-a-half and got me some great opportunities opening up for him and a bunch of other people in the Texas Music Scene, which was great because although I was born in Texas, I’d never really been a part of the Texas Music Scene; it kind of seemed like I came out of nowhere because nobody really knew who I was because I was going to school in Nashville.
PC: Given that Outskirts of Town was more or less a “guinea pig” of an album, what did it mean to you to get that stamp of approval from people like Randy and Wade and to have talented artists like them and Radney in your corner?
WB: It was great. At the time, I really didn’t know what I was doing. When Outskirts of Town came out, I was having a hard time figuring out how I was going to make a career doing this. I had a couple of weird jobs, and I was kind of depressed. Nashville has a way of beating you down, and that’s how it’s always been. Everybody moves here to chase some kind of dream, and it’s tough. It was nice having Randy and Wade and some other guys say that they liked my voice and that they liked my songs and lend a helping hand, because I felt like I couldn’t catch a break there for a minute.
PC: You released your folk-tinged single, “Someday,” in August of last year, which was an incredibly relevant song given the global circumstances at the time. How important was that song to you and how encouraging was the response being your first release to follow Outskirts of Town?
WB: It was great. I was actually scheduled to record a different group of songs right before the pandemic, so when that got put on hold, I tried to write as much as I could. I tell this story when I play that song live, but there’s this place in Nashville called Arnold’s Country Kitchen, and John Prine would always be there when I was there. Everybody was usually cool and never bothered him, but I must have seen him about 20 different times. Since nobody bothered him, I never did either, but I felt like I kind of knew him because he was always there, and it just became a casual thing, like, “Oh, there’s John Prine.” Now that he’s gone, I wish I would have just once had the courage to go up to him and say hello. It was right after he passed that I took it upon myself to write “Someday,” and that’s where that folky opening guitar riff came from. I was trying to emulate the John Prine finger-picking that he was known for. I wanted to write a song that was positive given the circumstances of the world, and I wanted to write it so simple that a kid could understand what I was saying. A lot of John Prine’s lyrics were really straightforward and kind of quirky, but it was something that everybody could follow along with. I remember thinking about John Prine when I wrote the song, and just wanting to put something positive out there. They played it a bunch on the radio in Texas, which was awesome. I’m glad I put it out when I did, because I’ve had a lot of people reach out and tell me that it helped them get through a difficult time.
PC: Your bio mentions that you are entering a “new chapter” with a series of singles. Can you explain why you feel this is a new chapter for you and the release strategy of releasing the tracks individually?
WB: A lot of the songs are songs that I’ve had for a while. The first one we released was a traditional country song called “Bourbon Whiskey” that I’ve had for a few years now. The song itself is maybe five or six years old. It remains one of my favorite songs to play, and it’s my go-to song when somebody wants to hear something. I was supposed to record it a long time ago, but we never got around to cutting it and putting it out. My friends always loved hearing me play that song. The second single was called “In the Dark,” which is a newer song. That song is really special because I think it’s one of my better songs lyrically, and I also love the guitar part. A lot of it is really just catching up with what I was planning on doing about a year-and-a-half ago. There’s also some new songs that I’ve recently written as well. It’s kind of just a collection of what I consider my best songs to be right now, and I’m glad that they’re finally coming out, because it’s kind of long overdue at this point [laughs].
The idea of releasing them as individual singles kind of just came from seeing that a lot of people are doing it that way these days. It’s almost like less is more these days. It’s no secret that people tend to have a short attention span these days. To me, it was an easy way to keep people engaged. We’re going to steadily release singles so people feel like they’re getting to experience something new consistently, as opposed to just putting a bunch of songs on an album and saying, “Just have at it and listen to these for two years before I release another album.” I think it’s been such a long time since I’ve released any music that this seems to be a good strategy. I’ve kind of become that way as well as I listen to music, even if it’s a new George Strait album, it’s hard to sit down in one sitting and listen to 12 songs straight through. I think it’s a little bit too much to ask for somebody, so having a steady release of singles seems to just be a little bit easier for the consumer.
PC: “Bourbon Whiskey” was the introduction of that “new chapter.” Why did you feel that that was the right one to come out of the gate with?
WB: There were two reasons for that. I have an awesome radio promoter who deals in the Texas market. That was one of the songs I sang at the performance that we were talking about earlier that Randy and Wade were at. There are also a lot of radio programmers in the audience. A lot of people seemed to like that song, and it seemed like a strong song to come in with, especially since so many people in Texas radio had already heard me do it live. The second reason was that I had played the song so many times at my shows and it was never released. Literally every concert I would play, I would get messages on Instagram from people asking why they couldn’t find “that Whiskey song” anywhere [laughs]. It was long overdue and everyone was asking for it, so I felt the need to put it out first.
PC: “Bourbon Whiskey” has quickly become your most-streamed single on Spotify. What do those results tell you about the musical direction you’ve taken and what did it mean for you to tangibly see that success with the song as you kick off that “new chapter”?
WB: It’s been great. I never really knew what to expect, and I still don’t. When we put it out, I didn’t know if anybody would listen to it or if anybody would care. Especially coming out of Covid when we weren’t really playing live. It’s been a pleasant surprise playing in cities where I don’t really have too many friends and a couple hundred people show up and sing that song. It’s really a dream come true. I really hope I can keep doing it and keep growing, because it’s all I’ve really wanted to do.
PC: You released your newest single, “In the Dark,” a few weeks ago, which is a song that delves into questions about a lost love. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song?
WB: The song itself, if I recall correctly, came from the guitar part. There’s an interesting, intricate acoustic guitar part in it. The song itself isn’t really about a specific person. I can think of a couple people that I remember thinking about as I was writing it, but it was one of those songs that just kind of fell out. Sometimes I have a tendency of just mumbling random words to figure out what direction I’m going to take something lyrically, and I recorded a demo of it on my phone, which was a lot of improv and everything that came to my mind. I let it sit for a couple days, and when I went back and listened to it, a lot of what I was singing was good. I don’t think I changed too much. I went back and edited a couple things here and there, but it was one of those songs that I didn’t really think too hard about, it was really more of a feeling than anything. I loved it when I wrote it, but I didn’t really think it was special until I played it at a songwriters’ retreat near Austin, Texas with a whole bunch of people from Warner Chappell. Randy Rogers was there, Parker McCollum was there, Jack Ingram and John Randall were there as well, and on the third night, they had this little concert and everybody got up and played a couple different songs. That was one of the songs that I played, and when I got off stage, everybody seemed to be floored. Jack Ingram made me play it like four times that night [laughs]. Every time I see Jack, that’s the first song he asks for, and Parker’s the same way. It wasn’t until I had a lot of my songwriter friends tell me how much they liked that song that I realized it had to be special. That’s the reason we went with that song next, because a lot of my songwriter buddies were dying for it.
PC: The music video for “In the Dark” was featured on CMT and was shot on location in Del Rio. Can you talk about the concept of shooting the video in the Brinkley Mansion and how shooting there brought the story to life?
WB: The Brinkley Mansion is an old house in Del Rio, and it’s got a lot of cool, weird history tied to it. The people that live there now are close family friends of ours. I’ve always loved the house itself and the antique furniture. A lot of the stuff is original and it’s over 100 years old. In the modern world, it’s hard to find antique furniture like that. Out here in Tennessee, you see a lot of that stuff; old houses with old doorknobs, but that aesthetic is something you don’t see too often. Every time I see a house like that, I can’t help but wonder about the stories the walls would tell if they could talk. I had this vision of this really sad and lonely guy walking around the Mansion by himself while he’s singing the song, so I reached out to our family friends asking if they would let us shoot the video in their house, and they were excited about it, and we filmed it in a day. I wanted to start off where I looked really nice and looked put together, and as it goes on, I look more and more disheveled and messed up.
PC: Your bio mentions additional singles, “30 Miles” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” What information can you give about those releases? What can listeners expect to hear?
WB: “I’m On Fire” has always been one of my favorite songs. If you listen to the original track, it’s actually a really short song. I always wanted that song to be longer, so I went in the studio and started messing around with it. It was just me and my producer, Oran Thornton. We recorded “30 Miles” in that same session as well. We recorded them in Springfield, Missouri. We were in the thick of the pandemic, so we couldn’t really bring a band out there or record with a bunch of people, so him and I just went into the studio by ourselves and layered a bunch of stuff. I played piano, bass and guitar, and he played the drums, and we just really stacked everything up. We just had a lot of fun in the studio, and I’m really excited for these songs to come out!
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for the rest of 2021?
WB: The idea is to keep playing concerts; hopefully we can continue to do that safely. There’s a lot of shows in Texas coming up that I’m really excited about. I’ve been spending more time in Nashville as well. I live part-time in Nashville and part time in Texas, and I’m really trying to get back into writing. It’s hard for me to write on the road when I’m touring heavily, so it’s nice to come back here, take some time off and write songs with people up here. I’m just trying to grow the fan base and play for as many people as I can and just keep the ball rolling.
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
WB: We’re releasing this new music, and I hope people follow me on Instagram and on Spotify so they can look out for it all. It’s something I’m really proud of and I can’t wait for it to be out there for everybody!
*Feature image by Andrew Thorpe*
**William’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!**