“This album took a big toll on me” — Texas Is The Reason’s Garrett Klahn opens up about his solo debut

Garrett Klahn
photo: Federico Álvarez

Garrett Klahn has played in close to a half-dozen bands, including his first and most beloved, the mid-’90s post-hardcore band Texas Is The Reason, who was famously on the verge of a major label deal before imploding. After a second round of reunion shows in 2012 and 2013 for a cult following they’ve maintained since their breakup, Klahn laid the band to rest for good and focused his efforts on crafting his first-ever solo album, a rousing, singer/songwriter-oriented roots-rock record in the vein of Ryan Adams and the Wallflowers’ lower-key moments. It’s a long time coming for a musician who has largely not slowed down at all for two decades and counting. But it wasn’t without its missteps and exploration either, as Klahn tells Substream from the comfort of an Amtrak train he’s on traveling to Buffalo, New York, from New York City in late December to spend the holidays with his family. “It’s not bad,” he says of the eight-hour train ride. “If you plan it right—make a lunch, take a Valium and a beer—it’s not bad.”

You mentioned this could be your only solo record. You don’t see another in you?
GARRETT KLAHN: [Laughs.] I don’t know, maybe I’m just being dramatic. It took about two years from start to finish to make it, and [it] emotionally drained me and financially ruined me. I’d love to be able to make another one at some point, but I can’t really think that far ahead right now.

Two years ago—was that initial writing or recording?
Maybe three or four of the songs I’ve had floating around for a long time, like over 10 years. Some in various different incarnations and forms. But the idea for the record really flowered about three years ago, and I started it with a completely different group of people, different band, producer, studio… I started it up in Sleepy Hollow, New York, in a friend’s basement studio, got about halfway through and just decided that it wasn’t going the way that I wanted it to. So I scrapped the whole thing and pretty much started over, so that added another year.

How did it ruin you financially?
The combination of studio time, plane tickets… When I decided to scrap that first version of it, I booked a 40-day tour across Europe with the band to—I don’t know, I think I wanted to re-imagine the songs, have a chance to play them every night for a month before I went back into another studio to try it all over again. But as you can imagine, five round-trip plane tickets, European toll prices… It took a big toll across the board: financially, emotionally, physically… But I really don’t know anything else. It’s just kind of how it goes for me. [Laughs.]

What musical inspirations are there on this album?
Soul music. Lots and lots of soul music. Maybe people are expecting this to be some sort of bedroom acoustic record—there are elements of that, but it’s a fuckin’ driving record. There’s drums and guitars and background singers—Hammond organ, piano, percussion. It moves. It doesn’t just meander about. I love old soul music, that kind of driving force. That backbeat. Another record that was being played a lot while we were making this was [George Harrison’s] All Things Must Pass. I’ve loved that record since I was a teenager, but I definitely used it as inspiration. I wanted to get as many of my like-minded, talented, gypsy brothers and sisters on this record as I could. It was a real dream to have some of my closest friends in the world play on this record and help these songs become realized.

What about your personal life? Has anything happened to you over that timespan you write about on this album?
Well, yeah. A lot. I left New York [City] after about 20 years. I moved back up to the Buffalo area to be close to my family for a little while. That was a big change. [Also], I guess I had been to my friend’s studio a couple times when he opened it, but I never put the pieces together. But once I realized that I was basically standing in the same building as the venue where I saw Soulside and Verbal Assault and Fugazi—all the bands that I grew up worshiping—it just so happens that I’m recording my first solo record in the same building. And of course, there’s a woman involved. There’s always a fucking woman involved.

But outside of moving back home and getting duped by a wizard-like woman, I’ve spent a lot of time on the road the past couple of years, so being able to connect with people overseas and around the country and getting different viewpoints about things, that definitely played a major role. The main theme of the record is movement. I really haven’t stopped moving since I got into this little bubble that we all exist in, this music bubble. That’s really what I was trying to convey with this record, was [that] it’s okay to keep moving. S

A version of this story was originally published in Substream #50.