Though they came together in the tiny Texas panhandle town of Wellington, the five members of Atteberry Station claim musical influences as vast as the west Texas vista — from Lubbock legends Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly to Bakersfield boy Merle Haggard and Florida-born Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd. Of course, Oklahoma’s proximity means Red Dirt-dusted artists such as Garth Brooks also left imprints, as did gospel and other sounds they heard growing up.
As the songs on the band’s new album, NIGHTS AT SPILLMAN RANCH, convey, geography also played a major role in their musical upbringing. Horizons that stretch to forever and inky night skies exposing faraway galaxies can make one feel universally connected — or quite finite and alone, especially within the confines of a small town.
“There was no one here for me to play with for years,” says bassist/pianist Dickie Johnson, whose great uncle performed with western swing pioneer Bob Wills. That changed when lead guitarist Ed Campbell moved back to the area about five years ago from South Carolina. Vocalist/rhythm guitarist Justin Mixon left for college, but returned after graduation. They found drummer Kyle McDonald about a year ago. By then, vocalist/lead guitarist Kyle Stegall and Mixon were already busy writing songs.
Which just goes to show, even in a small town, kindred spirits can find one another — but it’s hardly a sure thing.
NIGHTS AT SPILLMAN RANCH producer Cody Braun, of Reckless Kelly, sympathizes.
“I grew up in a small town, and I know firsthand how hard it is to find guys to play music with, let alone guys you enjoy who are into the same styles you are,” says Braun, who, luckily, has musical siblings. But Braun, who brought the band to Austin to record at Ray Benson’s Bismeaux Studios, loves the musical bond the guys in Atteberry Station have forged.
“When you put all their different musical backgrounds together, what results is a fusion of Red Dirt, Texas country and ‘70s and ‘80s rock — something that’s all their own. I was drawn to produce them because they didn’t sound like every other band on the scene.”
Though the group formed as a cover band, they didn’t stay that way for long. NIGHTS AT SPILLMAN RANCH brims with original songs co-written by Mixon and Stegall; it’s a robust collection of twangy rockers, intimate ballads, rolling road songs and high-energy numbers featuring close-knit harmonies. There’s an appealing stylistic tension between the life-is-easy groove of “Tannin’ In the Moonlight” and the don’t-give-up yearning of “Give In”; “Lonely Goes” and “Hangin’ On” evoke a cinematic, big-sky feel. It all reaches a climax with the uptempo, no-regrets tunes “The Shape I’m In” and “Fool’s Game.”
“Atteberry Station is a one-of-a-kind group,” says Campbell. “I can’t say that we truly fit with any style — except the one we’ve created ourselves.”