Q&A: Meet Austin Basham, Former Engineering Major Turned Folk Artist

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Austin, Texas native, Austin Basham is as honest as the instruments he uses in his work. A singer-songwriter with folk leanings, his acoustic guitar is his greatest weapon. He typically performs alone, wielding his voice and guitar as the only tools he brings on stage. Sans accompaniment by a larger band, Basham’s quiet love songs and deep, clear voice almost miraculously tame any crowd in front of him.

His performance at LA’s legendary Hotel Café on Tuesday, April 3 was no exception. Opening for the duo, The Hollow Coves, Basham asserted himself to a nearly entranced audience. With quick, witty banter situated between thoughtful works like his new song, “New House,” Basham seemed to own the venue, despite merely being the opener.

Known for recording his music all over the world, including Norway, England, Canada, and the US, this folk artist brings a renewed, global perspective to an age-old genre, rooted in the traditions of the American south. His performance was the portrait of an artist finally hitting his stride after years of resolve. Ones to Watch had the privilege to catch up with the rising folk artist after his show, asking him about his past, his hit song “All Is Well,” his songwriting style, and more.

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OTW: Can you tell me a little about your background in music and when you became serious about pursuing it as a career?

AB: My dad was a singer/songwriter back in the day so I grew up hearing his music. It was always around the house. But my first entry to music was in middle school when I played the trumpet. Eventually, I started a punk band because, you know, as a kid I thought guitar is way cooler. After a series of bands in high school, I started to become more serious in college. During my freshman year, I discovered this artist, Johnny Flynn. He was a British folk. He used all the instruments I enjoyed: trumpet, brass, strings, acoustic guitar. It was the first time I heard acoustic folk that had any edge to it. So, I started recording some music during college, as an outlet, to keep my sanity (I was doing engineering).

OTW: That’s quite a time-consuming degree…

AB: Exactly. So, I’d be recording late at night, banging skateboards on my walls, trying to find interesting sounds during that time. After five years, I had finished my degree and had recorded a little album. I wrote and produced it myself, and I had a buddy master it. It’s since been taken down… It was a good starting point for me. After that I almost immediately moved to Cambridge and lived with a bunch of musicians and photographers. Meanwhile I was working the whole time. Up until the release of “All is Well” and that whole EP I was working.

OTW: “All is Well” has obviously been a major hit for you with 40 million listens and counting. How did that breakthrough change your career as an artist?

AB: When we first released it, we actually put it on SoundCloud. Spotify hadn’t fully taken off yet. Soon after, Spotify became the thing. I love Spotify. There’s such good artist discovery features on there. I had friends not even looking for my music and finding it through something like “Discover Weekly.” That was a huge help for me obviously. But this was all taking place while I was still independent and still working. It was pretty crazy when “All is Well” broke, but it took a little while.

OTW: So, it wasn’t quite an overnight success?

AB: No, it wasn’t overnight at all, but it was still crazy. I can remember when my manager told me that he thought we would hit a million [plays] with this song. When I had originally released it [on SoundCloud] I got a couple hundred views, so I thought it was a little excessive. But we did hit the million. It was crazy. Then my manager said he thought [it] was going to hit 10 [million], and we did that too. I thought it would probably die off. I don’t know what it is that made it so popular. Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was a combination of things. I’m just grateful it happened.

OTW: I know that you recently released a single called “New House.” Can we expect more new music from you in 2018? What’s next for you?

AB: I just finished mastering a whole album. It’s crazy having it all condensed into one album now. It was just a bunch of loose files for so long. So I expect to have a new single in about a month. Then maybe one more [single] and an album in the fall. Some of these songs have been in the works for a while now.

OTW: Have you gotten to write much on this tour?

AB: I haven’t gotten to write much on this tour. It’s been very go, go, go. We worked on some videos instead. I just shot an acoustic video in the Redwoods in Northern California and a video in San Francisco. So not very much time to write during this tour, but I did just get this new gadget that I love. It’s called the OP1. It’s great for songwriting. For me it’s been worth every penny, and it makes songwriting so fun.

OTW: Do you usually write alone or are there some partners you typically like to work with?

AB: As of now I just work alone, but the producer I work with is great. I can bounce some ideas off him and he will sort them out. We’ve been working together for about five years now. We did the album and the EP “Linton/Oslo” together. Apart from that, I write alone.

OTW: What has been some of your biggest challenges since you became a full-time musician?

AB: It’s a bizarre profession, but in the best way. It’s amazing that I get to hang out and make music all day. It’s every musician’s dream. One of the most challenging parts is contrast between songwriting and touring. When you’re doing a lot of songwriting, you spend so much time alone. Just a lot of solitude. It can be isolating, but then on the flip side, when you’re touring, you have to socialize and be with people all the time. It’s hard to switch it on and off. Ultimately, I wouldn’t have it any other way though.

OTW: How was it playing at the Hotel Café tonight? It is a pretty legendary venue.

AB: Oh, I was nervous all day. Hotel Café is such a cool place. I get nervous before every show really, but it’s so rewarding when you’re done. I’ve had a great night.

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