Songwriter Dan Stuart, back from Mexico, embarks on a ‘tour of Austin’


Highlights

Singer-songwriter Dan Stuart, who has lived in Mexico since 2010, is playing a week of shows in Austin.

Stuart is celebrating the release of “The Unfortunate Demise of Marlowe Billings,” an album and book.

It’s the endless cycle of the musician’s lifestyle: Make a record in the studio, get it pressed up and released, then go on tour. That’s what Mexico City singer-songwriter Dan Stuart is doing over the next week, with one catch: He’s not touring the world. Or the country. He’s touring Austin.

From Friday to the following Thursday, Stuart will appear eight times across seven days here. He’ll join old friends at classic nightclubs, play (and read) at record stores, and drop in for gigs at a restaurant, a coffee shop and a hotel bar.

The occasion is “The Unfortunate Demise of Marlowe Billings,” an album and accompanying novel. The record completes a music trilogy that began with 2012’s “The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings” and continued with 2016’s “Marlowe’s Revenge.” The book follows 2014’s “The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings: A False Memoir,” which is more true to Stuart’s life story than its subtitle may suggest.

But why Austin for this “tour”? He prefaced the run with a couple of Houston events this week, but Stuart’s ties to our city run pretty deep. Green on Red, his 1980s Los Angeles rock band, played Austin often, and Stuart even lived here briefly on a couple of occasions back in those days.

The run of shows is partly a publicity stunt, partly an excuse to visit a place Stuart still appreciates. “I saw a cute phrase the other day: the outernet. So I’ll do this outernet thing, and then it goes on the internet, and then it looks like something actually happened,” Stuart explained with a laugh last week by phone from Tucson, Ariz., where he’s been visiting his parents this summer.

“It’s all just smoke and mirrors now anyway. But I couldn’t really think of a nicer, better place to do it than Austin.”

My last interview with Stuart was 28 summers ago, over breakfast at the late, great Las Manitas on Congress Avenue. He sees some things differently now. Back then, he loved the town but didn’t care for its “Live Music Capital” boosterism.

“There’s more going on here on a Monday night than any place in the world, or just as much,” he said back then. “So why talk about it? The aesthetic here is so cool; if that chamber-of-commerce element wasn’t here, it would be great.”

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Fast-forward about three decades and Stuart is singing a somewhat different tune. “You can talk about it in a negative way — and I guess I have, in the past, that maybe there’s a little bit too much civic pride. But really, there’s a lot to be proud about. All politics is local, and how many communities have that sort of thing?”

Stuart has seen his fair share of communities since he last holed up here on the edge of Tarrytown in 1990. A marriage to a Spanish woman took him to London and then Spain for a stretch; in the mid-’90s, they settled in Tucson, where Stuart grew up, and had a son before relocating to New York. His marriage fell apart there, and Stuart moved to Mexico — first Oaxaca, then Mexico City for the past three years.

The move to Mexico coincided with a creative renaissance. After Green on Red dissolved in the early ’90s, Stuart put out a solo album in 1995 but then withdrew from making records for more than a decade. When he started writing songs again, musical inspiration came from an unlikely source.

“What saved me really as a songwriter was Barry Gibb, and that song ‘To Love Somebody,’” says Stuart, explaining that videos of Gibb playing the Bee Gees classic on guitar turned him on to open tunings. “I looked at other shots of him whenever he was playing guitar, and he was always either in open D or open E. He was never in standard tuning.

“I’m looking at it and I’m saying, no wonder those voicings sound so beautiful. And no wonder he had a little different approach vocally, because he’s playing these chords different.”

Soon Stuart was writing songs in open tunings himself. Later, when he rearranged them to be played in standard tunings, he realized they were essentially simple three-chord songs. “What it did is it fooled me into falling in love with the 1-4-5 again — basically normal folk-pop-rock chord changes,” he says.

“Why I Ever Married You,” which appears on the new record, was the first song he wrote in open tuning. It’s a reflective number that dovetails with the memoir-styled explorations of his two books, and the album as a whole follows suit. The opening track is titled “March 5, 1961” — Stuart’s birthday — and it closes with “Upon a Father’s Death,” a spoken-word recollection of life memories with his dad.

His father is still alive as “The Unfortunate Demise of Marlowe Billings” is released, though the end is likely near. His father, a native of Australia who’s lived in Tucson for 50 years, has multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that affects the immune system, and he’s discontinued chemotherapy treatments.

Multiple myeloma is uncommon — chances of having it in a lifetime are less than 1 percent — but it’s touched two people close to Stuart. Fellow musician Danny Amis, who produced Stuart’s new album, was diagnosed with it in 2010. Amis, co-founder of Nashville instrumental-rock band Los Straitjackets, moved to Mexico City a few years ago and soon bonded with Stuart there.

“The thing that really linked us together is we both got into music through punk rock,” Stuart says.

Amis, he says, helped give the record a distinct feel. “There’s a sonic thing, a consistency to it all, and that’s very much him,” says Stuart, who acknowledged Amis’ contributions to the music by crediting him as co-writer on many of the album’s songs.

“The Unfortunate Demise of Marlowe Billings” also features contributions from several musicians who have helped shape Stuart’s music over the years, including Italian guitarist/composer Don Antonio Gramentieri, San Francisco’s Tom Heyman on pedal steel and New York multi-instrumentalist J.D. Foster, a former Austinite.

Foster was a latter-day touring member of Green on Red and previously played in the True Believers, whose guitarist Jon Dee Graham remains one of Stuart’s key connections to Austin. Graham had a song called “Dan Stuart’s Blues” on a recent EP, perhaps payback for Stuart name-checking the True Believers in Green on Red’s mid-’80s anthem “Keep on Movin’.”

No surprise, then, that some of Stuart’s Austin tour shows will involve Graham. They’ll team up at the Continental Club on Wednesday and upstairs at the Continental Gallery on July 26. Stuart also will sit in with Graham’s LoJinx Supper Club at El Mercado Backstage on Sunday.

Other tour stops include newer friends. Much of the itinerary was arranged by Stuart fans Mike Fickel and Angie Hisaw; shows on Saturday at Opal Divine’s Austin Grill, Monday at Kick Butt Coffee and Tuesday at Carousel Lounge also will feature Hisaw’s husband, longtime local roots-rocker Eric Hisaw.

After his current Stateside stay and a subsequent European tour, Stuart expects to return to Mexico, though perhaps not to its capital city.

“The great thing about Mexico is that I don’t really have to have a plan. And in fact to have a plan is a mistake,” he says. “It’s just this idea that life happens and it unfolds in a sort of beautiful way: If you just be there for it, it’ll be there for you, and things will happen in their own time and fashion. I’ve learned those lessons.

“The other day (in Tucson), I was sitting outside on the patio, and a hummingbird came to the mesquite tree. It was right after a rain, and I’ve never seen this: The hummingbird just sat on a branch for like two minutes. It didn’t do anything; it wasn’t flying.

“Hummingbirds are very auspicious in Mexico, and they’re very good luck. The Aztecs said they were fallen warriors searching for the sun. And an event like that, for me today, just has a lot more meaning than it used to.”

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