This article originally appeared in the Victoria Advocate as a blog on September 1, 2015.
John Hicks might not be well-known to some in the Crossroads, but hopefully that will change after the release of his debut album, “Five After Four.”
Hicks, a Vanderbilt native and Industrial High School graduate, has been writing songs ever since he taught himself to play the guitar after a car accident at 19.
“I shattered my ankle and didn’t have anything else to do, so I got a chord chart from Wal-Mart, put it up on the wall and started playing,” Hicks told me in the Advocate recording studio last week. “The songwriting was always there, but once I had the melodies, the songs just kept coming.”
He wrote all 11 songs on “Five After Four,” produced by Arms Strength Records. And he said he already has enough songs for a second record.
The songs on “Five After Four” aren’t groundbreaking in terms of sound, but the lyrics have a way of drawing you in and making you listen. Sung in a deep, gravelly voice that sounds like Dairus Rucker by way of Dave Matthews, Hicks makes you feel the pain that is present on many of these songs.
“I write from personal experience,” Hicks said. “There’s a lot of love lost and lessons learned on there. I really believe you have to live through something to be able to write about it. Hard times will get you there.”
He’s certainly see his share of hard times. Hicks’ father killed himself when he was younger, and Hicks currently divides his time between working, playing shows and taking care of his sick mother. But he’s not complaining; he said he feels blessed. He’s quick with a smile or a joke, and serious about making quality country music.
“I feel like the talent’s always been there, I’ve just never had the platform to do this,” Hicks said.
The Industrial High grad said his hometown influenced his writing a lot. This is most evident on the aptly titled “Vanderbilt.”
Written when he was 25, lyrics like “It’s where dreams come to die and where heartache loves to live/You can sit and watch the world fly by, it just hurts to know that you’re standing still/In Vanderbilt” and “But it’s not living to me/It’s more like a prison term/Twenty-five to life with no parole” paint a picture of a man trying to stretch his boundaries but continually feeling stifled by his environment.
That song wasn’t taken too well by some people, Hicks said.
“There were a lot of people that were pissed off about that song when they first heard it, thought I was angry at the place that raised me or whatever,” Hicks said. “But to me, it’s not an angry song at all. It’s about ambition, man. You have to have some ambition or you’re not going to get anywhere.”
His old friends from Vanderbilt are excited about him finally recording an album, though.
“They’ve been chomping at the bit as long as I have,” he said.
Elsewhere on “Five After Four,” heartache reigns— the title track (and first single) is a late-night drunk plea for affection, and “Behind the Velvet Rope” tackles the dark side of playing shows on the road. “Gift and a Curse” has Hicks examining whether or not his vice of pride is just another trait he inherited from his father or if it’s something he can overcome.
If there’s a downside to this album, it’s that the songs can get a little too sad at times with no happy ending in sight.
But that belies the quick smile and hearty laugh of an artist who seems completely happy with his career at the moment. The songs are sad, but John Hicks is happy as can be.
Hicks said he will be playing shows near the end of the year in Hill Country, with dates to be determined.