C&I talks with bandleader Alex Dormont about the Hot Texas Swing Band’s latest album, Off the Beaten Trail.
Put on your best dancing boots — the Hot Texas Swing Band is out with new music. Having made a name for themselves as one of the best swing groups around Texas, the ensemble has been taking its boot-scootin’ spirit to a wider and wider audience.
Their musical style — self-described as “one boot in cowboy music and the other in swing … push[ing] the genre forward with rockabilly, Latin beats, and original material” — powers high-energy live shows. And the chemistry comes through on their recordings, too, with an array of jazz instruments and classic country string pickings that evoke Bob Wills and Asleep at the Wheel with a twist of ’40s jazz.
Highlights from their latest album, Off the Beaten Trail, include a Western take on the classic “Cow Cow Boogie,” the bluesy “Cry Me a River,” and the dance-hall-friendly “Headed Back Home.” Whatever song, you’re just one step away from a two-step.
Recently, C&I talked with Hot Texas Swing Band’s Alex Dormont about the new record, the band’s favorite Texas hot spots, and the secrets behind their sound.
Cowboys & Indians: What do you hope your fans will get from your new album?
Alex Dormont: Our fans will be excited to have the band’s new material and old favorites down on a record so they can enjoy the 13 tunes on Off the Beaten Trail anytime they want.
C&I: Where did you gain inspiration for this album and how do you think it stands out from your other three albums, Ain’t Dead Yet, Hot Texas Swing Band, and ‘Bout Time?
Dormont: I gain inspiration from our band members, which include two world-class female vocalists, Liz Morphis and Selena Rosanbalm, and from the energy and improvisational skill of our incredible instrumentalists, especially Cat Clemons on guitar. Each album has reflected and features the evolution of the band’s creative work and of course my development as a songwriter. I feel this album captures our best work to date.
C&I: How do you go about songwriting? Do you start with the melody or the lyrics first?
Dormont: My songwriting starts with a lyric, a phrase that captures the essence of a strong emotion that I’ve felt in the past. The muse usually visits me at night in a dream or in the morning when I’m on the edge of waking and my unconscious mind can function unimpeded. Once I have a good hook, I flesh it out with more lyrics and then fit the melody and chords to accentuate the emotion in the words. Two exceptions were “Off the Beaten Trail” and “Headed Back to the Barn,” which were inspired by my experience on a couple of beautiful trail rides.
C&I: What was your overall vision for Off the Beaten Trail and, with such a wide set of genres and many different styles of music spread among the band members, how did you develop your distinct sound?
Dormont: The vision for the new CD was to present the material that gets a great response and resonates with the dancers and listeners at our live shows. We’re a Western swing band from Texas and have influences from every direction: cowboy music from the West and jazz, blues, rockabilly, and Latin music from across the country. Our distinct sound comes from the horn-section arrangements; combining fiddle, sax, and trumpet; and also our emphasis on dynamic high-energy improvisation.
C&I: Is there a song on Off the Beaten Trail that you are most proud of?
Dormont: Picking a favorite song is like picking a favorite child, but I am particularly pleased with the way a few of my originals turned out, “Headed Back to the Barn,” “How Do I Not,” and “This Time” And I’m left breathless every time I listen to Selena sing “Cry Me a River.”
C&I: Are there any songs that didn’t make the album that we can expect sometime in the near future?
Dormont: I have a couple originals that didn’t make the cut and need reworking, but it will probably be a couple years before we have enough new material to go back to the studio. We could make a new album of great covers next week, but I’m committed to creating new music that moves the ball forward.
C&I: What can we expect in terms of touring? Any places you’re particularly excited to play?
Dormont: We love to tour in the West — New Mexico and Colorado especially — and we go there a couple times a year. It’s great to be up in the mountains in the summer and get some relief from the Texas heat. We’d love to perform in the future at more cowboy gatherings and festivals around the world to bring our music to new eyes and ears.
C&I: As a band based in the Lone Star State, what are some of your favorite Texas hot spots?
Dormont: Our favorite spots in Texas are the historic dance halls in the Texas Hill Country like Gruene Hall, Luckenbach, and Twin Sisters Dance Hall [in Blanco], and, of course, the many places in our hometown of Austin where dancers pack the floor.