Jon Wolfe is a country singer through and through. He grew up on 90s country singers like George Strait and Garth Brooks and started his career in the honky-tonks of Texas and Oklahoma. But Wolfe say his new material — starting with his brand new single “Some Ol’ Bar in the 90s” that’s out now — is the most country thing he’s recorded in awhile.
I got the chance to talk to Jon about how he started pursuing a career in music, how he acquired his new single “Some Ol’ Bar in the 90s”, his new tequila brand Juan Lobo Tequila, and so much more! Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making music and performing.
I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. My sister was, and is, a great singer and my stepdad played in the church band, so I grew up around it. [I] fell in love with George Strait [and] Garth Brooks stuff. When I was a kid, 90s country was a big deal. So I really spent a good amount of time just playing and singing for my buddies in the living room and at college. When I got out of school — I went to Colorado State University in Fort Collins — I ended up in Houston, Texas a few years later and started playing open mic nights; just literally showing up with my guitar, trying to write songs that somebody cares about and played open mic nights. Pretty quickly, I met George Strait’s nephew, Trace Strait. He and I started working together and took our first trip to Nashville in 2006, a long time ago.
So then what made you realize that music is what you wanted to actually like pursue professionally? Did you study it in college or was it just kind of like you said, you started going to open mic nights and then from there you met people and then you were like, “Oh, this is what I want to do”? How did that all happen?
No, I think, to be honest with you… I mean I fell in love with music really early [on]. And to be honest with you, the thing that kicked it into high gear was when I was a teenager, I went and saw Garth Brooks at Drillers Stadium in Tulsa. When I saw Garth Brooks, I was like, “Dude, this is what I want to do.” So it was always there, but growing up in Oklahoma in a small town, it’s not like you grew up in Nashville. I had no idea how to do it. So it was more just an inner-passion that I really didn’t talk much about; it’s just something I loved.
I ended up going to school to get a finance degree because I felt partly like that was what I was supposed to do. But of course, we’re drinking beer out on the weekends and my buddies and I are sitting around and they’re like, “Man, you’re pretty good, Jon. Maybe you should do this someday” [laughs]. I’m like, “Yeah, I wish I could be a country singer too. This is what I’m doing.” So it was always an internal passion of mine, but I just didn’t know how to pursue it.
Something I’m always curious about is what artists want to convey to listeners with their music. Your sound would generally be classified as country, but if you had to describe it without using genre names, how would you describe it?
Well, without using a genre name, I would say I have a lot of uptempo stuff and I have slow stuff. I would say it’s definitely like the core emotions of life. My music’s going to deal with falling in love. I have a song off one of my first records called “Play Me Something That I Can Drink To”, which that guy’s down and out man. So heartbreak, falling in love, drinking.
I [also] think it definitely goes a little deeper. I’ve got a couple of songs [where] the guy in the song is really feeling anxious, that true, honest feeling of when you go on a first date, and you’re like, “Oh man, I’m nervous about this. I’m not totally confident.” I think maybe the word would be vulnerable. So yeah, I’d say my music deals with the core emotions and it’s vulnerable.
So, kind of going off for that, you mentioned George Strait and Garth Brooks, but who are some of your musical influences, whether it be just purely for the music or for the songwriting?
Man. You know, I think it’s bands and acts that really hang it out there. I feel like I gravitate towards that. I mean, walking around in my place here in Austin, I might have Coldplay on. I love a lot of Coldplay stuff just cause their hearts rip wide open. You can see exactly what they’re going through and what you’re talking about.
One of the reasons I got attracted to George Strait is I’m also really drawn to great crooners, guys that vocally their voice tells you something. George Strait, Frank Sinatra. So all in all, I’m always attracted to music[ians] that really got their heart on their sleeve, kind of putting it out there for everybody, [and] not caring what people think.
So let’s talk a little bit about your new single, “Some Ol’ Bar in the 90s”, which was written by Ben Hayslip, Jessi Alexander and Brett Tyler. What about the song, when you first heard it, did you love?
I’m cutting more outside material now than I used to. Number one, as you get busier and touring, and especially in Texas, we don’t have the access to write with a lot of the guys in Nashville. I mean I do when I can, and I’ve got some great relationships there. But I fall in love with songs, [and] whether I wrote the song or whether somebody else wrote it, there’s gotta be something that clicked with me that says, “Man, this is a song for you.” And I can usually notice it pretty quick cause I end up latching onto it; I sing it like 35,000 times over the course of the next few days and I’m like, “Okay, this is something I’m digging.”
So “Some Ol’ Bar in the 90s”, when I heard that, I immediately latched onto it for the melodic aspect of it and then also the storyline is important to me. I felt like “Some Ol’ Bar in the 90s” was unique in a way that the decade of the 90s, it’s kind of crazy how we’re kind of getting to a point where it’s becoming nostalgic already. So this just spoke to me on the nostalgia level, the melody level and the storyline was unique and something I could dig my teeth.
Gotcha. So like you said, you’re starting to use more outside songs and with this song specifically, since you didn’t write it, what was the process of acquiring it? Did someone send it to you with you in mind or did you just happen to hear it one day and immediately go, “I want that song”?
Well, we have great relationships with publishers in Nashville. I’ve spent a lot of time in and out of Nashville over the years. I’ve had a few different record deals and so we developed a lot of relationships there. The core of the Nashville sound is really built on songwriters and I think that that’s really important. My manager is [also] really great at finding songs and helping me dig around. So it’s definitely kind of a little bit of a treasure hunt [laughs]. You’re digging around and you never know what you’re going to hear because if they play “Some Ol’ Bar in the 90s” for another artist in Nashville, they may not have heard it like I did. So it’s definitely a timing thing, but just great relationships… Rusty Gaston at THIS Music has really been good to me over the years. I’ve cut a lot of his publishing company’s songs and he’s just a great dude, believes in me, and fortunately, he also had this song.
That’s awesome. Were there any major changes made to “Some Ol’ Bar in the 90s” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be something in the lyrics or something sonically?
Well, I would say not any major changes. I think that’s the sign of a good song is that it’s pretty much there. I worked with Dave Brainard on this record and we can talk more about that production aspect, but Dave’s an amazing producer. There are definitely some things that Dave heard that I maybe I didn’t necessarily hear in how the production ended up. There was a very small lyric changed in one spot, but I won’t even tell anybody where that is [laughs]. So nothing major. It was ready to go.
Gotcha. So you mentioned this new record, and your new EP is coming out next month. I’m curious: what can fans expect from it when it comes out?
Well, this will be my fourth studio project. I’ve had three full length records, I’ve had a Live From Floore’s Country Store album and now this is my fourth studio project. What I wanted to do with this record was, you know, we’re very proud of our fan base and what we’ve built and developed. And I love all my songs, but I felt like it was definitely time to just put a new coat of paint on the car, I guess you could say. I wanted to just do something a little different, freshen it up, challenge myself a little bit and do that for not only me and my team, but my fans too, so they know that I’m giving it my best every time and I think we did that with this record. I think they’re going to notice a few production things that’s going to get a feel a little different, a little freshened up. I’m country already, but I feel like this is the most country thing I’ve recorded in awhile.
Yeah. So there’s a few new instrumentation things on this record, like the harmonica — I’ve never done that before. So a few things like that I really think [are] going to feel organic and fresh but still Jon Wolfe.
So also this summer, you’ve got a couple exciting things happening. You’ve got your second annual Juan Lobo Tequila Fest happening, which is going to feature the grand reveal of this tequila brand. What made you want to start this festival and then what also made you want to start your own tequila brand?
I’ve been around a while and I’ve pretty much been touring, for the most part, full time since 2011. I’ve been on the road touring for eight or nine years now and the name Juan Lobo came from my fan base in south Texas. We have a great Hispanic fan base down there and it was just an affectionate nickname. It’s my name in Spanish, like, “Hey, we’re gonna go see Juan Lobo tonight.” So that was a fun thing for us and my manager and I, we wondered what Juan Lobo was for four or five years; “hey, it could be a cool brand, what is it?”
So we’ve always wanted to do something with it. I spend most of my Januarys in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and of course you drink a lot of tequila when you’re down there. And I started learning about great tequilas. You can sip tequila; most of what people know about tequila is that they close their eyes and hope they make it through it when they drink it. But there’s a lot of other tequilas. So learning about great tequilas, and then finding a place for that Juan Lobo moniker kind of led me to want to start a tequila brand. It’s been a two year adventure. It’s been a lot of work. It’s definitely been more work than I ever imagined.
The Juan Lobo Fest, I started that last year in anticipation for the brand. I wanted to just kind of build the name in the market. So now we just converted [it] to reveal the tequila and this year’s Juan Lobo Fest will be a cross-cultural event, so I’m bringing a really well known Tejano band called Siggno along with me, Los Texmaniacs with Flaco Jimenez – they’re more of a tex-mex style band, and then a really great young traditional country singer, Jake Worthington. So it’s going to bring these different crowds together. We’re going to have a great time and then everybody gets to try out Juan Lobo Tequila and we’re hoping for a big success.
That’s awesome. And you mentioned that you spent a good part of the last eight or nine years out on the road. What’s your favorite part about spending so much time on the road and then what’s your least favorite part about spending so much time on the road?
Well, the hardest part about spending so much time on the road is being away from your friends and family. I’m getting married later this year.
Oh cool. Congratulations.
Thank you. So most of my dating relationship with my fiancée Amber has been me being on the road. I miss a lot of weekends. I miss a lot of things that are important. My mom lives here too so I don’t get to spend as much time with her.
But at the same time, I’d say the great thing about being on the road again is meeting fans, meeting people; show[ing] up to a place you never played before and you’ve got people singing your songs, that’s a pretty cool feeling and that means a lot to us. We’ve also gotten to play a lot of just legendary and historic venues over the years. I mean everything from Cains Ballroom in Tulsa to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. We’ve been really lucky to tour with a lot of my buddies like Cody Johnson and Aaron Watson. It’s always fun being out with them. So there’s always that really great part of it. You just miss out on a lot of things back home too.
Yeah. So last question — our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd. What is something you are currently nerding out about?
I’m a major binge-worthy TV show nerd, so of course I fully nerded out on Game of Thrones. I nerded out on Breaking Bad, Dexter. I would say that’s my guilty nerd pleasure.
Amber and I are [also] interior design nerd geeks. We nerd out on antiques and furniture and decorative items. Don’t hold that against me [laughs].