Vandoliers’ Vocalist Josh Fleming Talks Opening for Turnpike Troubadours, Texas Music, and More

by Blake Ells
(Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Vandoliers is a Dallas, Texas-based band that found a way to combine country music and punk rock. Somehow, that still finds itself under the umbrella of “Americana.” But wherever it falls, it sounds like Texas. The band burst onto the scene with their debut Ameri-Kinda in 2016, and their hard-touring work ethic has earned them spots in front of massive audiences. Just this year, they opened for both Flogging Molly and Turnpike Troubadours. That intersection is exactly where their sound fits. The band even commemorated their time with the latter by inventing a drink called “The Turnpike.”

They released an eponymous record in August on their own label. They’re on the road with Mike & the Moonpies and that tour will intersect with American Aquarium in Waverly, Ala. at the Standard Deluxe on October 15. Lead singer Josh Fleming talked about their big year, Texas music, and self-releasing an album.

How did you land on the line where country and punk meet?

I turned 27. On the other side of 25, my punk band broke up. I’m from Texas. You start thinking about what other music you like and what you want to play. I wrote a bunch of country songs to flirt with my future wife.

It worked!

It worked! I started woodshedding the songs and asking my friends to come over to a little home studio. We created a sound, and we all liked it. We thought the songs sounded cool, so we decided to play a show and people showed up. People showed up and they liked it. So we said, “[expletive] it. Let’s do another one.” And here I am ten years later outside the Pabst Blue Ribbon castle in Milwaukee talking to you; about to play with American Aquarium.

Vandoliers Open Turnpike Troubadours Reunion Shows

What was the experience like with Turnpike? How did you find out you were on such a massive bill?

For Cain’s we were just finishing up the Flogging Molly tour and we had just flown to Miami to get on the Salty Dog Cruise. And right before we were getting on the ship, we got a call from our manager. He’s all, “Are you sitting down? You’re playing Cain’s, both nights, for Turnpike’s first shows.”

So those were our first and second Turnpike shows ever. We’ve been friends with Kyle and R.C. and Hank and all those dudes this whole time. Because we all hang out in Tulsa. But we’d never played together. I’m just so happy that they had us in mind for that. Then, we got the Ryman. It was nuts. I think I was at home when I got the call about the Ryman.

Obviously, Vandoliers had a ton of success with Flogging Molly, Lucero, and so on. Was that the biggest moment yet?

Yeah. It’s up there. It’s like your children, Blake. You get all these opportunities. And they’ve all been crazy. Every single one. You’re talking to a band that only headlined their tours last year. We didn’t get to open for anybody last year. I don’t think we even played festivals last year. It’s been really, really great to out and play with bands you love. We love Old 97s. We love Flogging Molly; we love Turnpike. It’s been great.

But Ryman was the first time I felt like my parents were proud of me being a musician. [laughs] It probably wasn’t the first time. But that’s when that little insecurity left. It was like, “I don’t have to deal with that anymore.”

It’s when they stopped asking what your day job was, right?

Kinda. [laughs] The band has been around. We’ve been doing our own thing. But this year was the first year when a lot of those pieces fell into place.

The “DFW Sound”

Is there something that distinguishes the Dallas-Fort Worth sound from the rest of Texas?

Yeah. Between the years 2008-2013, there was a really great rock and punk scene. There was a great music scene in Dallas. There still is, but the guard we’re from–everybody was a mutated version of everything around them. Garage rock and punk rock and metal kind of all blended together. There was a folk scene and jazz and punk and ragtime. Fort Worth is all country music. Dallas is heavy metal and punk. And then Denton is like folk and jazz.

If you’re playing around there, you’re playing all three towns. There were bands like The Toadies. Old 97s were kind of the kings of that Deep Ellum golden era. Every genre was turned to 11 and a little faster. Cody Jinks kind of came from that scene. It’s louder. It may not be [expletive] faster, but it’s definitely louder. That’s that Dallas sound.

That sound is in the foundation of everybody. Charley Crockett was in Dallas when we started. Paul Cauthen. Texas Gentlemen. We were all starting around 2015.