It took William Clark Green a while to find what he is good at. School? No. Sports? No.
Green didn't figure out that he was meant to be a songwriter until his freshman year at Texas Tech, when he played one of his compositions for his best friend's father, who'd known him for years.
"I played a song for him and he said 'I'll be damned, you're finally good at something,'" Green says. "Songwriting for me is the only thing I've ever done in my life that I've been complimented on," Green says. "I was a C student. I was always the worst player on the best team. Songwriting's the only thing I've done that I've been good at."
Well, maybe not the only thing. But Green's made some very good records, including last year's Ringling Road, which was his first album to reach the Top 20 on Billboard's Country and Indie charts. He and his band are among the top young Texas outfits, having developed a strong following in the Lone Star State and now branching out across the country.
On tour, Green and company deliver on sharply written songs like "Next Big Thing," the realistic look at a hardscrabble musician's life that opens Ringling Road. His fourth album, it contains some of his best compositions, including the small town tale of "Sticks and Stones," the drug-drenched circus tour of characters of the title cut, and the gently swinging love song "Fool Me Once."
Those literate songs, personal and observational, tell stories in a mix that's part folk, part country and part rock 'n' roll — putting him in the Texas songwriting tradition of Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle and Green's hero, Willis Alan Ramsey.
Unlike some writers, particularly those who pen songs for others in Nashville, Green doesn't hole up in a room and write on a schedule.
"Do I write every day? No," he says. "Do I write every week? No. You can't force them. The worst songs I've written are the ones I've forced. You just kind of wait for something in your life to fuck up and write it down. It's pretty simple, honestly."
Green grew up in Flint, Texas, and began writing songs at the age of 13. He recorded his first album, 2008's Dangerous Man, around the same time he graduated from Texas Tech.
"The record was an experiment," he says. "I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn't touring. I did have a full band and we'd done some shows. But it was mostly for me. That was the proof to myself I could compete. I wasn't great, but I knew it was going enough to pursue."
In 2012, Green's third album, Rose Queen, proved to be his breakthrough. But it wasn't until Ringling Road that he truly hit his stride.
"On this last album, we found our sound, we figured out what we were doing," Green says. "We had a lot of confidence going into the studio, we knew what we were going to do, we came in and got to work. With Rose Queen, we had no idea what we were doing."
Today, Green and his band play as many as 130 shows a year, mostly on the Red Dirt country circuit in Texas and Oklahoma.
"We don't tour as hard and long as some do," Green says. "We try to pick smart plays, you know. We like to play popular nights of the week, whatever that is. Instead of driving all the way to LA on a Tuesday and have two people show up, we'd rather do it on a Friday... We are getting all over now — East Coast, West Coast, up through the center of the country. Texas, well, that's where we make our money."
The shows, Green says, can be great fun, and finding a packed house in Chicago was thrilling. Making records is also fulfilling in a different way, he says. But, at his heart, there's one thing that matters most.
"I hope I'm considered a good songwriter," he says. "I don't know if I'll ever be a great one. But I'll always be one."