SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Listening to Curtis McMurtry's new album can make you feel like you're overhearing an intimate conversation that maybe you shouldn't.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WRONG INFLECTION")
CURTIS MCMURTRY: (Singing) Stop insisting that I take things too hard. You know I bruise just like a peach.
DIANA BURGESS: (Singing) Love, this won't do. Don't pretend to know the pain I've been through, when everything you have was handed to you. You never even had to reach.
SIMON: His new album is called "The Hornet's Nest." And Curtis McMurtry joins us from member station KUT in Austin. Thanks so much for being with us.
MCMURTRY: Thanks so much for having me.
SIMON: People will know from the name, you're descended from a tribe of storytellers. So are these stories or incidents from your own life?
MCMURTRY: I would say they're mostly fiction. Sometimes it's exaggerated stories from my own life, certainly never happened just like the song.
SIMON: Yeah. How do you conjure up a character for a song?
MCMURTRY: I find that if there's ever 10 seconds where I'm feeling very sinister, I can bottle those emotions very easily, much more easily than I can bottle happiness.
SIMON: Is there a song you can direct us to on this album that's a good example of that?
MCMURTRY: I think the song "Tracker" was especially sinister.
(SOUNDBITE OF CURTIS MCMURTRY SONG, "TRACKER")
MCMURTRY: I think the narrator is quite threatening, actually. And I don't feel that way most of the time. But I can - if I get a flash of it, that character's there. I can see it perfectly.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRACKER")
MCMURTRY: (Singing) I follow in your footsteps a thousand miles behind. I've been chasing you for so long. I can't remember why.
SIMON: Your grandfather, we'll note for those who are curious, of course, is Larry McMurtry - "Lonesome Dove," "Terms Of Endearment," and so much more. Your father, James McMurtry, also a songwriter who's was released a dozen albums of his own. Not quite like being a Kennedy or Bush, but does your last name put expectations on you?
MCMURTRY: I find anytime there's a review of any of my music, it's naturally going to be compared to their work. But it certainly opens as many doors as it closes. So it's hard to complain.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, let's listen to more of your music. This one is "Foxhole." It's from your previous album "Respectable Enemy." Let's hear a little of that if we can.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOXHOLE")
MCMURTRY: (Singing) One day I was called to serve my country. And I went because I'd never been away. And I returned home with a bandage on my forehead and a memory that gets weaker every day. And now you never touch me like you used to. And my injuries don't even start to heal. And I was sure right then and there that I would lose you. Oh, how wretched your beauty makes me feel.
SIMON: Oh, my. This is a - this is an emotionally convoluted song.
MCMURTRY: Yeah, it's back and forth.
SIMON: And it's not based on anything that's happened to you?
SIMON: Do people ask you if you were a veteran or assume you were a veteran?
MCMURTRY: Yeah, all the time after my shows. I get a lot of people coming up not just assuming that I've served, but asking me where. And that certainly can be a difficult situation when I tell them I have not served, that that song is not drawn from my life experience.
SIMON: Are they disappointed sometimes?
MCMURTRY: Sometimes, yeah, absolutely. And then I also get occasional fanmail from the families of veterans that are really floored by that song and are really happy about it. So for myself, I feel divided about it because sometimes singing it does feel like a lie. But I have to remind myself that a lot of my favorite songs aren't drawn from the artist's personal experience. And the story is still important.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOXHOLE")
MCMURTRY: (Singing) And by the time you read this letter, I'll be gone, dear. You know I love you, but this is for the best. You know I love you, but this is for the best.
SIMON: How did you write a song like that?
MCMURTRY: Well, my songwriting is kind of a distillery process where I write a bunch of lines every day and accept that most of them will be terrible. And then I sort through them and find the ones that are less cringe-inducing. And then from there, I try and find the same character talking. So it gets filtered down. That's how any of my characters come out is the shaving away of the material I think is mediocre.
SIMON: You sort of poured the lyrics through the limestone rocks. And then you have the distillate that comes out at the end.
MCMURTRY: Yeah, exactly.
SIMON: I like the lines we hear. I can't believe a lot are cringe-inducing.
MCMURTRY: Oh, so many, actually. I've learned to be very particular. And I think that's served me well.
(SOUNDBITE OF CURTIS MCMURTRY SONG, "SHOT AT THE TITLE")
SIMON: Curtis McMurtry, his new album "The Hornet's Nest." Thank you so much for being with us.
MCMURTRY: Thank you so much for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOT AT THE TITLE")
MCMURTRY: (Singing) Come on and see if you think you can be a contender. Better give us your best because we won't accept a surrender. If you're convinced, put up your fists. Don't be idle.
SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.