You’ll often hear that an artist of any stripe shouldn’t “quit their day job” if they turn in a lackluster product or performance. That isn’t the case with Cole Allen who is a self-described part-time musician and songwriter. By day the 35-year-old East Texas native is a father, husband, and civil engineer. It’s a job that he enjoys but admits that it’s not the most exciting line of work in the world. After hearing his most recent release, I think he could quit his day job. Give the album a spin and you’ll probably agree.
Cole Allen released his debut album Sabine River Blues in 2014. He followed that up with Regular Guy in 2017. This year, he released his third record Dry County Culture to little fanfare. Cole opted to skip paying for PR and just tossed the album out there to see what happened. Most who have heard it will agree that it’s a breath of fresh air. Cole brings the kind of authenticity, storytelling, and introspection that you don’t hear often in modern country music.
Shortly after Dry County Culture hit streaming services, Outsider sat down with Cole Allen to talk about the new album, riding bulls, writing songs, and more.
Rodeos and Road Gigs: It’s All About the Challenge
Cole Allen: Riding bulls was something I did during college and into the early part of my career. My wife told me “If we’re ever going to get married, you’re not going to be doing that.” So, when we got engaged, it was the end of that for me. It was a lot of fun, but I feel so far separated from it now.
I never really got into Western culture or whatever, it was just a lot of fun for me. It definitely helped to shape my performance style.
Playing live is one of those deals where you enjoy challenging yourself, being in front of people as a wallflower type. It’s not as fun as being on the back of a bull, but it’s still a challenge. It’s safer and the money’s more consistent and I still have something to look forward to.
Cole Allen Isn’t Looking to Get Rich
Cole Allen: I’m not trying to create music that sells millions of records. It’s more geared towards just a Sunday afternoon drive by yourself, I guess. I’m not going to pack out a bar on a Saturday night or anything like that.
I was just putting myself out there, hoping that I could help some folks who are going through similar stuff.
The Pandemic Gave Him a Much-Needed Break
Cole Allen: I know this is not the typical response, but I really enjoyed the shutdowns in 2020. My life is so busy. So, being forced to stay home with family and stuff was actually kind of nice, for a while. I was able to dedicate more time to writing and getting better at guitar and stuff like that. I just had more time to do the things that I like to do that don’t require being out in public.
A lot of this album had been written prior to the pandemic. But, there was definitely a handful of songs that I wrapped up during the shutdown. I used it as a chance to tie up some loose ends. It definitely played a part in helping me put this album together.
It was terrible for playing live and money, and stuff. But, here in East Texas, we were shut down for like a few months. I was playing gigs in May of 2020.
I feel like when we came back out of the shutdown, everybody was excited to be out and excited to hear live music. The shows were a ton of fun and people were tipping really well. The first few months after the shutdown, those were some really good gigs.
It made us cherish all the stuff we get to do.
“The Day That Grammar Died”
Cole Allen: That kind of started out as a joke. The guy I recorded with, Darrell Edwards, he had created this alter ego. He would write songs as this 80s country guy who was trying to be bro-country. It was like Wheeler Walker but less raunchy. I started to create my own alter ego. It was Sturgis Jeggings, the most intellectual outlaw that you’ve ever heard. I was going to write songs that were so smart that nobody could understand them. It was kind of like Dewey Cox in Walk Hard when he went through that Bob Dylan phase and it was all kind of nonsense. I was trying to brainstorm things that people don’t really understand and one of those was grammar.
Finally, I was like “This is stupid. What am I doing?” I canned the whole alter ego idea and kept the song.
“Old Oak Tree”
Cole Allen: That was one that I didn’t have to really write. It was one of those songs that kind of came out. During the pandemic, my dad and stepmom had a trip planned to Hawaii for like March of 2020. So, that definitely got canned. They were really disappointed. So, they ended up going to Florida when everything opened up in early July.
They were having a good time or whatever. There was a red flag warning and they went out like knee-deep. My stepmom got knocked down so she went back to the shore. All of the sudden, people started getting sucked into the surf. I think my dad was trying to help somebody and got sucked out himself. He ended up drowning in the ocean.
Over the next two or three weeks, planning the funeral and all of the other stuff, I didn’t have time to sit down or think or anything. Then, during the process of the funeral and everything all I could think about was all the times with my dad and my granddad going out to the woods and hunting. That was our bond. We had gone hunting once with my dad and my son once in early 2020. I was just thinking about all the times we wouldn’t get to have together with him and my son and stuff.
It wrote itself, really.
Cole Allen’s Advice to Anyone Wanting to Make Music
Cole Allen: Stop telling yourself you can’t and start doing it. I know that for a long time I didn’t really write music and stuff. I played music for a long time but didn’t start writing until I got older. If you want to create music, you can always find reasons why you can’t you just have to get out of your own way and start writing, start creating, and putting stuff out there. You can do stuff on a budget if you have to. I would say, just go for it.