Choctaw Wildfire
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Choctaw Wildfire

Austin, Texas, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2011 | INDIE

Austin, Texas, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2011
Band Americana Roots

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"Charlie Pierce Burns it Down"

Five years ago, piano man Charlie Pierce taught elementary education in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a poverty-stricken cluster of abandoned buildings with a crime rate that makes Detroit look like Mayberry. Mathematics was his specialty, but humanity often became the lesson plan.
"I had to teach them it wasn't all right to punch their classmates in the back of the head or stand up on their desk and yell during class," laments Pierce.
Around the same time lunch bells ring inside schools, he ambles into Cisco's carrying a bottle of hot sauce that bears the name of his local band: Choctaw Wildfire. With long, dark hair that signals his Native American heritage, he looks like the Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes with better dental coverage. In 2012, Pierce relocated his family to Austin and has since transitioned from being an educator to a full-time musician, tickling keys in barrooms and honky-tonks nightly.
"When I was getting into teaching, I told my professors I wanted to do something to make the world a better place," he explains over coffee and tacos. "That naive thing. I'd read Howard Zinn's The People's History of the United States to my fifth graders so they'd understand the reality of America. With teaching, you're able to get some points across, but with music I'm given an even bigger platform where I can express my absolute distaste for the corporate ownership of America or my support for Bernie Sanders.
"It's all to make people think, both through the songs and conversations."
Choctaw Wildfire's second album Nowhere isn't a podium-pounding political affair, but rather an emotive introspection on death, isolation, and freedom.
"It's extremely dark," admits Pierce, who alternates between gutter piano poet and country troubadour on Nowhere, effectively splitting the difference between Tom Waits' Closing Time and Neil Young's Harvest. Be it a product of mathematics or mentors – he took lessons from Chicago boogie-woogie innovator Erwin Helfer and now soaks wisdom from local Johnny Cash key man Earl Poole Ball – Pierce's playing results in a tonal intensity that underpins authentic emotion in his deep, peaceful pipes.
Pierce's penchant for dirges shines on "Save His Soul at Last" and "The Hole I Dug for You," but it was a literal funeral song that spurred the new LP. One morning while on tour, he received a call from a woman telling him that the band's upcoming show at Angel's Icehouse in Spicewood was a memorial for her mother, a Choctaw Indian named Ruby. Pierce probed for details and composed a Willie Nelson-worthy ode called "Ruby," which he performed for the family at the wake. Impressed, the daughter commissioned a session at Arlyn Studios, where the band cut the song and nine others that make up Nowhere.
"I feel like the angels got my back," says Pierce of the serendipitous circumstances surrounding the album. "Like everything was connected by the universe. That's the way we play too. We don't rehearse, we just close our eyes and let it come out."
Choctaw Wildfire, featuring drummer Leland Potter, bass and tuba player Will Landin, and multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Barnes, celebrate Nowhere's release with a performance at Eastside lounge Stay Gold on Saturday night. - Austin Chronicle


"Choctaw Wildfire Comes Out of "Nowhere""

Not everyone has noticed, but Texas sure does seem to produce a lot of great Americana these days. While we have some great bands coming out of Houston, tonight one of Austin's best will play at the Continental Club to celebrate the release of their new sophomore record, Nowhere.
Choctaw Wildfire is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Charlie Pierce. After playing music for many years with many different musicians, he finally said to hell with it and put together his own band. With William Landin playing tuba, Leland Potter on drums, and Janie Cowan on upright bass, Pierce is finally seeing his musical aspirations come to fruition.
But the story behind Nowhere is almost as interesting as the music contained within. With one record under their belts, and many lineup changes with the exception of Pierce himself, Choctaw Wildfire ended up in New Orleans. Having a conversation with a woman there, Pierce found out that her mother, Ruby, a Choctaw Native American woman herself, had passed away recently.
Pierce decided to write a song for the woman's mother, which became album track “For Ruby.” The family was so moved, they funded the recording of the entire record.
Choctaw Wildfire made a name for themselves this year in Austin during the annual South by Southwest festival, but really laid their roots in a bar there called The Buzz Mill, where they hold a residency every Monday night. Having watched them evolve with each and every performance, and heard the music take shape, I found myself growing more and more impressed with them. Nowhere is a step up in their songwriting and their instrumental performance in every way. The bluesy swagger they play with is something akin to Leonard Cohen's “Dance Me to the End of Love” or Tom Waits' The Heart of Saturday Night, with a little of that old-time Texas flare that makes our Americana scene great.
Having seen the band perform a number of times, I have no doubt they'll bring that fire to the Continental Club tonight. Though their recordings are no doubt energetic, only their live performances can convey the manic power of their actual playing. Pierce and his band pour their soul into every show, which makes them a sight to behold.
According to Pierce, Nowhere is based on life's simple truths, the ones that may be uncomfortable but makes us feel something. There's no better way to sum up their music and their live experience: it makes you feel something.
Choctaw Wildfire performs 10 p.m. tonight at the Continental Club, 3700 Main. - Houston Press


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