Grady Spencer & the Work are about to play the Saxon Pub for the fourth time in less than a year. For an Austin band, that’s pretty routine. But for a Fort Worth band, it’s pretty unusual. And for this four-piece from Cowtown, that first gig at Saxon almost didn’t happen.
“I think one of the bands had a cancellation for the show that we did, and we got like a week’s notice to come down and play,” Spencer said. “But Saxon is such a legendary place that we had to jump out at it.”
That first show was almost empty, despite some family and friends in the audience. But by this February, through word of mouth and some great Spotify streaming numbers, the bar was packed when the group came back to town. Tonight, they’ll play again at Saxon at 10:30.
The group, comprised of lead singer and guitarist Spencer, bassist Johnny Hatcher, guitarist Trevor Powell and drummer Blake Sager, specializes in a Texas sound that’s rooted in Americana, blues and dirty roots rock. Texicana, if you will.* Their name comes from their own blue collar backgrounds; Spencer works as an HVAC construction worker for TDIndustries in Fort Worth, Hatcher repairs espresso machines and Powell works at a logistics company.
“The music we make has a kind of rough, dirty, gritty vibe, which fits,” Spencer said.
“As a kid, I wanted to be a rock star, but now as an adult, I’m like, ‘Yeah, just being able to pay my bills would be nice,'” Hatcher said. “People expect us to be like, rock stars, and we tell them we still have day jobs and they’re like,’Whaaat?!'”
In their home city, they’re pretty close to becoming rock stars. A re-cut version of “Things To Do,” a song off of their 2013 album “Sleep,” was recently commissioned by Visit Fort Worth to be the soundtrack to a tourist video for the city. Spencer says the song, which features the line “Bless my soul and take me back to Fort Worth” in the chorus, was never meant to be a single.
“I always tell people I thought that song was going to be a filler, like I was just trying to get the album count to double digits, and I guess we just really underestimated how stoked people get to hear their city in a song,” Spencer said.
As of this writing, the song has been streamed on Spotify more than 800,000 times.
The group got started when Spencer moved to Fort Worth about 6 years ago and quickly met Sager and Powell through the at Paradox Church in downtown Fort Worth. He had started doing some solo work here and some open mic stuff there, but was looking for a band.
“So I played with those guys at church a few times, called em up, and then it just grew from there. Johnny was a friend who we met through another band, and he just kind of jumped in and fit right in.”
Since then, the band has released two albums, “Sleep” and 2016’s “The Line Between.” The Work’s songwriting deals with the illusion of fame and money (“Things to Do”) the importance of prioritizing the right relationships in life (“Winning Wrong”) and even a fable about bringing a knife to a gunfight (“Guns and Knives”). There’s also an undercurrent of the group’s shared church background that’s right under the surface in songs like “Anatomy of a Sinner” and in the album title “The Line Between.”
“My inspiration for songwriting is my life, my relationship with my wife, things like that. But [“The Line Between”]’s album title is kind of a reference to Jesus, but I wanted to do it where it was just right under the surface to where you don’t have to dig that deep to see that theme, but it’s not so in your face that we couldn’t play it to a room full of drunk people,” Spencer said. “So hopefully the lyrics will resonate with people on a different level.”
Powell adds that their routine of playing in a church Sunday after playing in places like Saxon on a Saturday leads to some fun interactions.
“What’s cool is you tell them that you have to be at church the next morning after playing Saturday night, and that opens up some conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.”
The group is putting together a third album, which Spencer said he is “maybe halfway done with” writing. But for now, they’re busy touring all over Texas putting on a great live show.
“The underlying goal for all of us is to do music for a living, whether that’s touring or recording or something like that, where we’re not going on construction sites or fiddling with Starbucks machines every day,” Spencer said.
No matter what happens, you can count on this band to put in the work, on and off stage.
Grady Spencer & the Work take the stage at the Saxon Pub tonight at 10:30. Show is 21 and over and tickets for $10 can be bought online or at the door.
*This term was originally coined by my buddy Drew Curd, who first introduced me to Grady Spencer & the Work’s music.
Gone Country aims to thoughtfully explore the country music genre and where it’s headed, with a focus on national trends and buzzworthy news of the week.
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