Hot Club of Cowtown’s 10-year gap between albums of new material is as surprising to the rootsy Austin, Texas-based trio as it is to fans. The wait ends Sept. 27 with Wild Kingdom, whose peppy “Tall Tall Ship” is premiering exclusively with Billboard below.
“It just kind of happened,” fiddler/singer Elana James tells Billboard. She and bandmates Whit Smith and Jake Erwin have not been idle, with a combination of outside projects and thematic releases dedicated to a variety of their musical influences along with this year’s Crossing the Great Divide EP celebrating the music of The Band.
“There’re so many things we like to play that we just knocked out those various projects,” James explains. “This band didn’t start because we were songwriters, it started because we were and are instrumentalists who just love to play, so we didn’t feel anything was missing by doing a bunch of Hot Club of France tunes or old Western stuff. Over time we did start to write more of our own stuff, and now, once again, it’s become time to do our own songs this time.”
Part of the impetus, she adds, came from Hot Club’s booking agent in England, where the trio will be touring during November. “He said, ‘If you don’t have a new record out by the time you come back here, I’m not going to book you anymore.’ And we were like, ‘Ok, fine…’,” James says with a laugh.
The 14 tracks on Wild Kingdom including 11 originals, some of which have been around for a while, and three traditional songs. “Tall Tall Ship,” meanwhile, came out of James’ desire to write a happy song.
“Most of my relationship songs have been about longing, heartbreak, screwed-up things, and on this one I wanted to write a song that’s a reflection of pure joy and optimism…and hopefully let the factual reality come as a follow-up,” she says.
James adds that she was also thinking about creating something for Hot Club’s live show with “Tall Tall Ship.” “It’s nice to have something ‘up’ like that,” she says. “I thought there would be a place for a song with three-part vocals and a happy chorus and sentiment.”
Hot Club will certainly have plenty of opportunities to play “Tall Tall Ship” and more of Wild Kingdom thanks to “massive tons of shows” lined up for the coming year, starting Aug. 31 in Charlestown, R.I. and stretching well into 2020, including a run with Davina & the Vagabonds.
“I think the stakes are much higher for everybody with [an album] like this,” says James, who served a mule packing internship in Montana earlier this year. “It truly is your little baby and you really want it to be as wonderful as you can, especially when they’re your songs and you have something you really want to say. We’ve been doing this for so long that it’s not for commercial recognition — that ship sailed a long time ago. It’s the pure pleasure mining what you have inside you and then playing it for people and hoping they like it.”
Hear “Tall Tall Ship” below.