Austin folk-rocker James McMurtry turned 46 this spring. He's been making records since John Mellencamp produced his first album in 1989. McMurtry's career got a second wind in 2005, thanks to politics. His song "We Can't Make It Here" became a post-NAFTA rust-belt anthem.
Two weeks ago, McMurtry released Just Us Kids. The CD includes his most pointed social commentaries to date. The album debuted at #136 on the Billboard 200.
I spoke with McMurtry by telephone last weekend.
The small number of political songs you write get a lot of attention. Does that surprise you?
I was surprised at first. When we posted "We Can't Make It Here" to the Internet a few years ago, it got a strong response. That experience introduced me to the power of the Internet. When the song first got played on an Austin radio station, I got some pretty mean emails right away. There are still a lot of people that defend Bush because their identity is wrapped up in it.
Wisconsin's own Pat MacDonald (Timbuk 3) plays on some of the new tracks. How do you know Pat?
He opened some shows for us in Chicago a few years back. I got to know him that way and always really liked his music. Pat was based out of Austin back in the '80s, and he came here last year to clear out stuff he's kept in storage. We got him to play harmonica on some of the tracks for Just Us Kids.
Do you have to tour more now that CDs don't sell like they used to?
Mine are selling pretty well. The music industry has crumbled all around us, so relatively speaking, we're doing better. Just Us Kids sold 5,200 units in the first week, and that's enough to get on the Billboard chart these days.
Just Us Kids makes some strong anti-Bush statements. During one song, you refer to the president as "Cheney's Toy."
That's right. A lot of people have been misinterpreting that song, including a lot of journalists. They've been writing that "Cheney's Toy" is a soldier. That's not correct. Bush is Cheney's toy. I thought it was obvious. I have a line in the song where Cheney tells Bush, "You're the man." That's supposedly what Cheney really does to keep Bush's ego pumped up.