"Well, my shirt, it's got some holes, and my boots have half their sole, but I'm wearing them anyway … and I've never been any other way than I am today."
The words come with the voice of Will Banister, 23, and they're true for him. But his career as a country musician might not always be the way it is today.
Banister and the Mulberry Band are getting set to become international performers, with a Feb. 26 appearance in the Country Music Festival at Wembley Stadium in London. Other performers include Reba McIntyre, Ricky Skaggs and Lonestar.
He was invited as a result of a chance trip to Clovis by a country music fan, who was interested in his style — acoustic guitars with a deep, smooth voice and three-minute songs that leave the listener wanting to hear more.
A send-off party is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Norman and Vi Petty Rock 'n' Roll Museum. That's the same place where we caught Banister Friday afternoon for a few questions.
Q: What's your first memory of music?
A: Probably, you know, "Your Cheatin' Heart." My grandpa used to get me to sing that all the time. I was probably about 4.
Q: And your first time playing outside of family settings?
A: Probably when I was 11 at the Floyd Jamboree; that's when I started in front of a big crowd.
Q: What's that experience like as an 11-year-old? I don't want to overstate it; it's not unusual to see kids doing that, so it's not nearly as intimidating as other venues. But it's still a big experience for a kid, right?
A: Oh, I was nervous. I wanted to make it, and it probably would have hurt my feelings pretty bad if I didn't. Me and my brother Colt sang together that year — "Runaway," by Del Shannon.
Q: When did you decide, "This is how I'm going to make money," as opposed to just doing it for fun?
A: I guess I actually made the decision about a year ago. I always knew I wanted to do it, but I just started doing it.
I was working at a welding shop (in high school), and I continued to work there with Craig Hughes. I also worked at Norris Electric in Clovis, and then I went back to Craig Hughes.
Q: Did anything flip the switch, so to speak?
A: Not really. I always knew I wanted to. The music got so hectic (as a second job) that I decided it was time to pursue my musical career.
Q: Now that you're music first, what is an average day different for you now? For instance, what's a Wednesday like?
A: With this trip, we've been busy planning. I know I will say one thing: I've never weighed so much in my life. I'm kind of putting on the pounds. We do play at Kelley's every Wednesday.
I just focus on writing songs, and learning new songs for playing. There are other gigs too.
Q: How's the career as a musician comparable to other stuff you've done?
A: It's hectic, especially with this trip. People don't think about the expenses you're incurring. It's so much more expensive in London, and every day we're doing something. It seems like things keep adding on. Permits, passports, plane tickets, hotel rooms, song licensing, rehearsing. It's a job. It's harder than you would think. You don't just go sing; there's kind of a lot to it.
Q: What's it like the first time you hear your song on the radio?
A: That's pretty neat. It's a pretty good feeling, and it's kind of nerve-wracking. You hope people like it.
Q: How many tracks did you make for your first CD?
A: I had, probably, just 11 (the number of tracks on "Turned Her on to Country"). I did have some started and never finished them.
Q: Is there an overall theme to your songs? Do you focus on specific things in your life?
A: No, it's just traditional country.
Q: That begs the question, what does traditional country music mean to you? I think we all know the joke that a country record played backwards gives you your house, your wife and dog back. But when you say, "traditional country," what's your idea of tradition?
A: They have stories; they just seem real to me. I like the sad songs. I think country music is just what people feel.
Q: What's your favorite Will Banister song?
A: Probably, "I Hate Santa Fe." It's about my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. She went to Santa Fe; she grew up there and was visiting her family. I was talking to her on the phone, and she said she hated being away from me and I should write a song about it.
Q: So it's not Santa Fe that you hate; it could be Dubuque, Iowa, but the point is that you hate the thing that kept her away from you?
A: Right. It's just kind of a different take.
Q: What's a song that always gets you out of a bad mood?
A: Any Merle Haggard song; probably "It's All in the Movies." I guess that one would put me in a better mood; it's kind of a soothing song.
Q: I think you might have tipped me off to my next question, but I'll ask anyway. Let's say you're driving cross-country, and you can only play one CD the entire trip. What do you pick?
A: Probably Haggard. (Long pause) Maybe, I don't know, "Back to the Barrooms."
Q: Were you able to see Merle when he came here in 2005?
A: I did; I didn't get to talk to him. But I did get to talk to him in Carlsbad. He signed my guitar. It was just a quick thing.
Q: Does it motivate you as an artist to be around somebody like that?
A: It does. I respect him as a songwriter and a signer. It inspires me to write a good song like that.
Q: What is your favorite part of the craft? Is it creating the song, or the finished product?
A: The finished product. Performing it, and the reception, kind of gets you excited inside. It's a lot of fun.
Q: Let's go outside of the country genre for a minute. What music do you like?
A: I like The Eagles. I like Elvis. I like some Steve Miller, and Roy Orbison. Of course, Buddy Holly.
Q: How did this concert opportunity come to you?
Banister: There's a man named Tony Byworth. He's from London, and he was a former editor of Country Music People magazine (1977-83). He was also Garth Brooks' and George Strait's press agent.
He was just on a vacation. He came through the museum, and Liz Eisenbraun sent him to (booking agent Johnny Mulhair's studio. We talked for a little bit, gave him a CD. He took it back to Europe, and gave it to Duncan Warwick, the current editor of the magazine, and David Allen, a columnist.
Mervyn Conn, the concert promoter, he got wind of it somehow. He got in contact with us, and invited us out there.
Mulhair: Will's CD came out the same month as George Strait's. Will's was CD of the month, five stars (in Country Music People's review section). George Strait's was only three stars, so that tells you something.
Q: You'd probably still trade careers with George Strait, though?
A: Oh yeah.
Q: Is there an artist you'd like to have a similar career arc?
A: Yeah, George Strait. He's had 58 No. 1 hits. And I think he's stayed on the right path, too.
Q: Your path will have to be different. You're growing up in an era where there are all kinds of mediums for music. You can download anything off of iTunes or Amazon, or you can build a Spotify playlist. What's it like being a musician in this era, where you can't control the product nearly as much but you have so much outreach ability?
A: That's cool. A lot of the people in Europe, that's how they found out about it. Even before the magazine, there were people listening in Europe, Australia, Spain, Sweden … that's definitely helped, and it's been really neat.
Q: What are you looking forward to, other than playing?
A: We're going to do some sight-seeing. My dad's going with me; he wants to go see all the World War II stuff, and I want to see that too. Castles and all that, too.
Q: As a country artist, where do you see yourself in another 10 years?
A: Hopefully, making a little bit better living.
Q: Any other venue you'd like to play when it's all said and done?
A: I'd like to play Billy Bob's (in Fort Worth, Texas) or the Grand Ole Opry (in Nashville). I wouldn't mind playing at Cowboys Stadium. It wouldn't even be half full right now.
— Compiled by CNJ staff writer Kevin Wilson