Royal Street Inn
"I've been a drunk, a lover, occasional liar, sweetheart, asshole, unemployed troublemaker, raconteur, bon vivant, wannabe Teddy boy, wannabe Bob Dylan, and on occasion a pretty goddamned good boyfriend." That's Austin singer/songwriter Rex Moroux's capsule self-assessment, offered not as lyrics in a confessional tune - though the sentence does take on a sweet little rhythm - but in answer to a question regarding what jobs he held before embarking on his music career. And if the Lafayette, La., native couldn't express himself musically, he says, "I hope I would have access to morphine, Gertrude Stein's 'The Making of Americans' and air-conditioning, because that's about the only other three things I could see myself doing." Moroux doesn't mention that he's funny, self-deprecating and whip-smart - and actually, pretty honest - but those traits come through in his conversation and his music, a rootsy amalgam of influences as vast as the record collection amassed by his late father, who DJed in high school. Fortunately, Moroux, 28, has been able to devote himself to developing his art - and his second album, "Royal Street Inn," named for a New Orleans hostel, is filled with the winning results. Moroux started composing songs while living in Los Angeles, where he'd gone in 2000 to write for a playhouse after attending Loyola in New Orleans and the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. He'd already written a play and wound up doing some pieces for actors' workshops, but once he discovered songwriting, he says, "I knew that's what I really wanted to do. "It's such a beautiful, simple, and wonderfully enlightening form," Moroux explains. "I view songs as immortal; they are on the wind, they can't be burned or banned... I grew up in the heart of Cajun Louisiana, so it always seemed like music was in the air. It usually was, but even when it was silent, someone was crying. I think that's what it comes down to. People who write honest songs are criers. I don't like to cry, normally; I have to control it, then it's like an orgasm. That's why I do this." He began performing at coffeehouses in L.A., doing what he calls his "pseudopolitical, Marxism lite songs" ("I was a Dylanophile, like most people," is his explanation). He loved it, and was well received, but a family tragedy drew him back to Louisiana. His beloved first cousin, a football player for the University of Florida, died of heat stroke during a practice. When Moroux went home for the funeral, he couldn't face returning to L.A. He wound up forming a band, Rex Moroux & the Johns, and playing what he describes as "heavy alt-country, kind of honky-tonk, real Telecaster-heavy stuff." (Moroux, who didn't pick up a guitar until six years ago, plays only acoustic.) In 2002, he recorded an EP, "Peggy Sue is Punk Rock," and followed it up with an album titled, "105 and a Lullaby," that he describes as "very honky-tonky." But Moroux decided he wanted to try a different direction. He was spending a lot of time listening to Wilco and fellow Louisianian Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel), and they touched a nerve. He noticed his songs were getting more esoteric, and less band-friendly, so he went back to working solo. His songs can still be described as comfortably Americana, colored with pop-rock flourishes like the electric guitar and twinkly piano of "Extended Stay America," an upbeat tune Moroux refers to as "a neat little dream sequence through any big American city." "Cincinnati," a song inspired by a depressing visit to Memphis, layers strings around Moroux's plaintive vocals. "Blow Away" has a slightly countrified, rockabilly feel, and lyrics like, "It's a one-room circus/It's a song in black and white/It's a candle a bit too nervous/blow away, baby blow away." "I write the lyric with the melody; I don't like to do one or the other," says Moroux. "The most exciting thing about songwriting to me is that there is no process. Some I sit and work at, some come in five minutes." "I wrote 'Cincinnati' while my producer (Nashvillian Justin Tocket) was setting up the mikes in about three minutes. And I think it's far and away one of the best songs I've ever written. At the same time I've had songs that have taken a week to get just right. Sometimes I'll be thinking about some little saying or something and I'll build a song around it. Sometimes a melody will jump out of nowhere from an invisible Mexican radio station and I'll be afraid I ripped it off. Thankfully, usually I haven't." Tocket and Moroux met through Ross DuPre', Marc Broussard's road manager and now Moroux's manager as well. "We're definitely kindred spirits," says Moroux of his two-time producer, who also plays bass with Radney Foster. Certainly they share at least a few influences. Among the many Moroux claims are Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, Jeff Tweedy, the Stones, the Faces, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, "the phenomenally underrated Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy," the Band ("Levon Helm and Richard Manuel specifically; Robbie can go f*** himself"), the Clash, Randy Newman, Van Morrison, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Springsteen, Coltrane "and of course Shane MacGowan, who has at least 10 songs that make me cry." If a song can make you cry - or laugh - that's a measure of how it touches your soul. There's no question that Moroux's songs have the ability to do both. When you're from a place where the music is literally written on the wind, you can't help but let it blow through you - and for Rex Moroux, that beats out AC any day.