There's a funny thing that seems to happen with musicians on a local level—they start to take themselves really seriously. Like, painfully so. If people aren't paying the right kind of attention, if venues aren't paying out the right kind of money, if music writers aren't in the right kind of awe, they don't seem to like it. And that's fine, I guess—but for a dude like me, musician Troy Browne is a breath of fresh air, even if mentioning that is bound to come with Facebook posts about how I suck.
But, I digress.
I like Browne. He's very no-nonsense and has an interesting take on what he's doing live, and though recordings exist, cutting an album doesn't seem to matter. Generally speaking, Browne performs covers, though they usually come from acts that people either forgot long ago or never knew in the first place, and he tweaks them into his own style. It would be fair to call his stuff Americana (he even tells me that he "rolled up a lot of American styles"), but there are any number of elements from classic country and blues to rock and pop.
Browne came up in a relatively musical house in Orange County, California, though his mother and stepfather were hippies; "and I mean literally," Browne says. He spent time playing in the school band and dabbling with instruments like the trumpet and the drums. "And then somewhere within the dysfunction of my family," he explains, "I found the guitar, and I never put it down."
He was around 13, and says it might have had something to do with stories about his "real" father, apparently a folk singer, and that in his own way he was trying to grow closer to the man. They're in touch now, Browne tells me, though it's hardly a perfect relationship.
As for the guitar, Browne took basic lessons but is primarily self-taught. We agree that something about the bad habits inherent in teaching oneself an instrument can make for an interesting player and, really, talent is ultimately relative.
Browne married and moved to Venice Beach in the early '90s, but following the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, he and his wife moved to Albuquerque. She waited tables and completed a degree in fine art photography at the University of New Mexico; he got into construction and electrician work. "But I did an inventory and took stock and realized there was no amount of money that would make up for how I wasn't happy doing it," Browne says. "And so we moved to Santa Fe."
During this time, he got his general contractor license and his wife worked in the arts; life was ultimately good but, he says, he was struggling with alcoholism. Sure, his guitars came with him, and he'd pick them up now and then, but it wasn't until his daughter was nearing 2 years old that he finally decided to get sober. Cut to two or three years later and Browne, still sober, realized that if he was going to get back into music, this was the time.
"This is when Case Tanner came into the picture," Browne recalls. "This was back when he was doing the open mic at Second Street Brewery in the Railyard, and after a few times showing up, he asked if the open mic was all I was going to do; I said yeah, and he said, 'That's not good enough.'"
By his next open mic slot, Tanner informed Browne that he was booked at the Cowgirl. "He just said, 'It's three months out, don't let me down,'" Browne explains. "And I thought, 'Yeah, that's some good motivation.'"
Since then, he's become a mainstay at venues like the Cowgirl and Totemoff's, but those early shows were far from perfect and Browne can admit that. "It doesn't matter how good you are or how good you think you are, you've still gotta get in front of people in a real, honest way," he says. "There were a lot of moments where I couldn't believe I was even trying to do it; I have to think it took a lot of guts and patience for Case to allow me to find my way back to music."
"It's not all talk—he plays the material with sincerity and conviction," Tanner tells SFR. "It's never, 'Let me tell you how great I am.' It's more, 'This is what I do and it's well-executed.'"
Find out for yourself on Wednesday at the good ol' Cowgirl. Says Browne, "At the end of the day, am I entertaining? Are people enjoying what I'm putting out there? I'm hopeful, and I seem to get a pretty good response."
Troy Browne Duo
8 pm Wednesday Jan. 24. Free.
319 S Guadalupe St.,