Amy LaVere and Will Sexton
WSG THE GOOD COMPANIONS
April 7 – 8pm – Bar None, Springfield
A burgeoning star, Amy LaVere is becoming renowned worldwide for her songwriting, bass playing, and vocals. She sings with a sweet, haunting voice that can turn on a dime from innocent to lusty (“Norah Jones with an added Cyndi Lauper element” — Mojo Magazine; “Spookiness suits her” — New York Times). Whether playing as a duo with her husband Will Sexton or with retro-country sensation Motel Mirrors, she’s an inventive, thoughtful singer-songwriter who has crowds throughout the US and Europe smitten.
Over the last few months, astute Memphis music fans will have noticed a certain towering Texan in their midst: Will Sexton. Like his older brother Charlie Sexton — a solo star and Bob Dylan sideman — Sexton was a child guitar phenom who flourished in Austin’s hothouse musical environment, playing with iconic Lone Star figures such as Doug Sahm, Roky Erickson and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and scoring a major label deal while still in his teens. Over the past 25 years, Sexton has grown into a respected writer, producer and artist with a string of lauded solo albums to his credit.
Though the 44 year-old Sexton still keeps a house and band in Texas, more recently he’s also become a denizen of Memphis. His move to the Bluff City was prompted by love: he met, courted and finally married Memphis singer-songwriter Amy LaVere last December. These days, Sexton is a regular presence on stages across town. He and LaVere are currently doing a weekly residency at Bar DKDC; he’s also joined LaVere’s band with guitarist/singer John Paul Keith, the Motel Mirrors. And Sexton has started doing his own solo gigs, showcasing an encyclopedic knowledge of American roots music, a supple singing voice and his cliché free guitar mastery.
Though he wasn’t a total stranger to Memphis — Sexton was a fixture at the annual Folk Alliance conferences in the past decade — his recent immersion in the Midtown scene has been a new development. “For the most part I was playing Downtown, so I never really saw Memphis, you know?” he says. “The Midtown thing has been new and amazing for me.
“Through Amy I met certain like-minded people, like John Paul and Jack [Oblivian] and Dave Cousar, who I just really loved as artists and people. It seemed like they could be friends and contemporaries of mine from back in Austin,” says Sexton. “It was nice to actually have those kinds of characters. They’re great artists, but they’re also true characters. And I grew up with a lot of real characters in Austin.”
For Sexton, the move to Memphis represents a kind of personal and professional rebirth. That was partly spawned by a stroke he suffered in 2009, which robbed him of much of his verbal and language abilities, and even forced him to rethink how he approached the guitar. Though he’s largely recovered, he notes that “writing songs is still a challenge; it takes a lot longer than it used to. But it’s also good, because it forces you to focus on what’s really important.”
After recovering, Sexton made a belated return to the road after years as a family man. “I have kids, and when they were younger I stayed home a lot. Mostly I just produced stuff and wrote songs, and played some short runs,” says Sexton. “But after getting sick, I wasn’t able to take care of myself, much less them. And after that they were basically grown up, so it seemed like a good time to get back on the road.”
Sexton and LaVere have spent much of the past couple of years touring and playing together, and the pair has extensive road plans for 2015 as well. They’ll start with a series of performances at the annual South by Southwest music conference in Austin in March. “We’re going to do South by Southwest with Luther Dickinson as well some shows with Motel Mirrors,” says Sexton. “We’re going to have a little Memphis road show in Austin. Then, in April, it starts to get crazy again: Amy and I tour through the Midwest, East Coast and then fly to Europe to play.”
In advance of the shows, the couple recently completed a new “unplugged” album at Midtown’s Music + Arts studio, which is slated for a late spring release. “Because we played so much last year as an acoustic duo, we wanted to have something for people that represented that side,” says Sexton. “We did a few covers, wrote a new song, and went back and touched on a lot of Amy’s older songs starting with her first record — revamped them with more harmonies and an acoustic approach.”
In the meantime, Sexton has also been chipping away at a solo record, cutting new tracks over the past couple months. His last effort, 2011’s Move the Balance, put a modern spin on roots and rock. But Sexton says he’s returning to a more formative sound on his next album: largely the blues, rockabilly and Mexican border influences of his youth. “A lot of the [solo] records I had been making, they weren’t really traditional records, I guess,” he says. “But when I got sick, it brought me back to loving the guitar again, and it made sense to dig into lot of the stuff that I cut my teeth on.”
Despite their extensive travels, Sexton seems to have found a sense of stability in town. “Sometimes when you tour so much you feel like a home is just a storage locker for your instruments,” he says with a chuckle. “But Amy and I have set up our married house. And I’m discovering the city; I’ve been finding a lot of great Mexican restaurants on Summer Avenue. It’s been fun playing with all these different people too. Being in Memphis has been very good for me.”