From Alaska, John Statz sent me an urgent message last week: If we didn't talk by phone soon, we might not be able to for days.
He was leaving Anchorage for parts of the state where cell service was no sure thing.
It didn't surprise me to find the Madison folk-rock musician a few thousand miles away from home. Statz has built a reputation as one of Madison's most adventurous touring musicians. His blog is called There Is Nothing That the Road Won't Heal.
His new CD invokes the loneliness of forgotten outposts. It's titled Ghost Towns, and it's Statz's third album. The CD release show is Aug. 12 at the High Noon Saloon.
Statz will leave town again in early September, but not to start another tour. The 2002 Waunakee High School graduate says he's decided to move to Denver. "I just want to get to a bigger city for a while," he says. "I love Madison and will probably live here again."
Statz says he'll take a couple of months to get settled in Denver before touring again. Since last year, he's gotten more discriminating about where he plays live. "I would like to be a working musician, but it's tough for songwriters to find the right gigs," he says. On the day I interviewed Statz in 2009, he was preparing to play happy hour at a West Towne Mall restaurant. Then he was heading back downtown for a late gig at the Argus.
"Most of them are not beneficial to creating art," he says of his options. "You stand in a room and play for three hours in a space where nobody is listening."
Ghost Towns makes it clear that Statz takes his art seriously. The album is a collection of rootsy folk-rock that travels through places, time and emotions.
The guitar twang on "Wichita Waltz" is halting and subdued, like the despair of lost love the song expresses. It's Statz's favorite song from the album. "I cowrote it with Jeremiah Nelson," he says. "I haven't done a lot of collaborative songwriting before. I really like the verses Jeremiah came up with."
Landscapes color the song's lyrics: "It was cold in the spring; we lived under turpentine skies; the blue prairie skies kicked up the dust in our eyes."
The title track brandishes the electrified folk-rock sound Statz aimed for when he first set out to record Ghost Towns as a band album. "The effect of the band is that the songs I write are written less complete," says Statz. "I leave space for the other parts to fill in."
Statz says Ghost Towns was recorded over several months. "We recorded some of the CD in a farmhouse in the township of Dane where both my dad and I grew up," he explains. "Two of the songs were recorded in Hungary. I have a friend in Budapest, and I spent a month there in January doing sessions with him."
Statz expects wayfaring to maintain its sway over his music. "I'm probably most inspired to write songs when I'm traveling," he says. "I've written songs while riding a train."
He's already working on a new set of tunes for a future album. "The new songs I'm writing now for the next album are a bit poppier," he says. "They're the first songs I've written that you can dance to."
Which makes sense, because John Statz likes to move.