Interview: Alex Tempest talks Country Music in the UK
When you think of country music, it is probable that you do not think of the North East or even the UK as one of the main hubs of activity for it. Mostly seen as an American style of music, country has shown some growth outside of the US over time. One of the country artists in the North East is singer Alex Tempest, 30, who fronts the band Highway 68. In discussing what it was for him about country music, he said: “Country music is one of the greatest storytelling vehicles of music. As a son of a writer, and a would-be writer myself, I have always loved music with characters and the chance to tell their narrative.”
It is this idea of storytelling that does drive a lot of country music. Artists like Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan or Toby Keith all have a narrative driven style to their music. For Alex, it is also about shining a light on experience. He said: “I tell the stories and live the emotions of everything in my music, as for better or worse, it is all true. It is an old cliche, but country music is all about truth.”
It is this idea of truth and reality, coupled with his environment growing up that shaped his love of country music. When discussing how he started with country music, he said: “I grew up in a little pit village in the late 80s and early 90s, so it was always around to some extent. The likes of Garth Brooks and later Shania Twain were so huge and of course, Billy Ray Cyrus. My school even got into the Guinness Book of Records for line dancing to him en masse.
“In a big way though for me, it was as a teenager. I was heavily into southern rock and the rebel figures in country. I fancied myself as a bit of a bad boy and lived the life I would hear in songs by the likes of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and David Allan Coe.”
It is this rebellious side with a pinch of southern rock that has partially shaped some of the songs that Highway 68 have released so far, all of which can be found on their ReverbNation page. Songs such as No Hangovers have a very soulful style, but they also showcase their rock side on the track The Man That Time Forgot. These are just two of the styles on show in their music. They also have power ballads and songs you could drink a beer to in a typical honky tonk bar.
In talking about their music, Alex said: “For the first album, I have tried to reflect the variety of styles in country now so that we can appeal to that diverse fan base while still keeping a core of what I believe and who I am.
“If you listen to modern country stations now, you will hear infusions of pop, rock and hip hop that you would not traditionally expect. Do not expect to hear me rapping or anything like that, but some of the songs have a rock edge. Some are traditional country twang through and through, some are more mainstream but all of the songs have that working class country storytelling beneath them.”
Highway 68 have tried to remain more traditional in their music. As Alex said, there are more styles crossing over with country in modern music. For example, country duo Florida Georgia Line had a radio hit in the US with hip hop star Nelly, while Luke Bryan’s music tends to be on the more poppy side of the country scale. But, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It could be a gateway. With this in mind, Alex said: “Start with a modern sub genre of country that is not too far from what you already like. If you are into pop, try Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line or Carrie Underwood. If you are into rock, try something like Cadillac Three, Jason Aldean or Brothers Osbourne. If you want a darker and more soulful style, look into Chris Stapleton, Jamey Johnson or Cam. There is a wealth of possibilities.
“Abandon your pre-conceptions about what it might be and just listen to it for what it is. Connect with the songs, rather than just hearing them.” This is a fair point. Maybe country music just needs a fresh look from the mainstream. It is not just the “old fashioned rhinestone suits and line dancing or hokey old fancy dress clubs”, as Alex would say, but it has evolved. It has become a different style of music than what most may expect. It is not just the cliche of Achy Breaky Heart, but it is something more.
As said, you can discover Highway 68’s music at https://www.reverbnation.com/highway68.