by Matt Kersh
“Even though Gilliam and I have been good friends for a number of years now, I wanted to interview him for this column for some time, and am happy to share more about him here with you.”
Nearly a decade ago, when I moved back home to Texas, a primary goal of mine was to begin playing music full time. Being born and raised in the great Lone Star State, I was around live music all the time growing up. I played my first “out in the real world” gig 25 years ago at Scenic Loop Cafe, and immediately knew I had found a special home singing with my guitar on stage.
I began to write “non-Christian” songs around the time I was 16 or 17, but virtually all of my playing was for church. After graduating high school, I went to college out in Southern California, where I would remain for the better part of 12 years. Music for me continued to revolve around church life. However, I knew playing original songs of mine, along with other songs that meant something to me that I reworked into my own unique renditions was something that I really needed to do.
After getting back to the Hill Country 10 years ago, I hit the ground “running” with playing. The first couple of years were “blood, sweat, and tears” years of pounding the pavement and building relationships with area venues to get myself in the mix of the music scene. In 2015, I began building friendships with musicians around my age that had been getting established in the area for a handful of prior years.
One of the first people I met was our artist of the month. Also a great bear of a man, charismatic and authentic, Austin Gilliam and I connected right away. In life, there are folks we meet that are just a challenge not to like, and Gilliam is one of those people. Beyond being a hell of a great guy, he is one of the most talented musicians you will find.
As a performer and lifelong player of the guitar, I am always astounded by someone that sings and plays lead guitar while completely carrying the melody of the music alone with only a bassist and a drummer behind him. Austin is one of those artists that is adept at doing so. At his core, he is rock and roll. He can absolutely shred an electric guitar, has one of the more powerful voices around, and is a truly gifted penner of tunes.
“In life, there are folks we meet that are just a challenge not to like, and Gilliam is one of those people. Beyond being a hell of a great guy, there is one of the most talented musicians you will find. “
He went out of his way to make me feel welcome among the group of musicians and asked me within a couple weeks of our blooming friendship to open for his band at Billy’s Ice in New Braunfels. That meant more to me than he knew at the time, and helped open the door a little wider to me playing in the thriving music scene of the town of two rivers.
Even though Gilliam and I have been good friends for a number of years now, I wanted to interview him for this column for some time, and am happy to share more about him here with you.
“I grew up with my parents and my brother constantly playing different kinds of music around the house. My mom’s thing was mainly 80’s Rock and Pop. My dad listened mainly to Country, and my older brother was into grunge in the early days of the genre. I was getting a healthy dose of pretty much everything that shaped me musically.”
Even as a toddler, Gilliam’s mom told him that he would try to sing and dance all over the place when songs he liked came on. “One day, I was watching MTV and decided I wanted a guitar. Mom told me we had one in the house, and the journey began. I still have that guitar.”
Austin began honing his ear for understanding and picking up on songs from age 9, which is a true indication of talent to naturally begin studying music in a non-conventional method of learning by ear. “I started dabbling in guitar at 9 and taking all I could from music videos, listening and watching closely. When I was about 13, things really started to ‘click,’ and I was on my way. At 15, I joined my first band as the second guitarist.”
“After high school, I was pretty stagnant with music. I played in a Country/Blues band for a short period of time, but that was only for a few months. Bouncing around from job to job, I really didn’t play much at all in a live setting. In 2006, I joined the Scott Wiggins Band with the agreement that within 6 months we would move the band to New Braunfels, San Marcos, or Austin. New Braunfels won, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”
Gilliam credits Slash, Rod Stewart, and Jason Isbell as three of his main influences, which just further shows the influence of an array of genres which help make his music interesting and eclectic. Like most artists, there are periods where it is challenging to make ends meet due to a number of factors. Being that so much live music happens outdoors, the weather has a significant impact on our livelihood through the 3-5 “cold” months. Believe me, when it gets even into the low 50’s in temperature, playing the guitar kills your hands and your voice is quickly shot.
Not to mention COVID clearing our performance calendars for an entire year back in the 2020-2021 period, which left more of a halt of momentum in its wake than is easy to clearly quantify. Gilliam shares, “There is still a balance between holding down steady employment alongside music and still being able to play gigs regularly. Thankfully, the balance has begun to shift back to me being able to play music out more on a regular basis again.” The ears of music fans are grateful for this.
When needing to take time for himself away from the noise of daily life, Austin says, “I really enjoy playing chess online. Either that, or I really am down not doing anything at all in particular and just enjoying the quiet.”
Austin is a self-proclaimed foodie, and has even had a sandwich and wing sauce/rub combo named after him at a couple of New Braunfels eateries. “My Instagram is loaded with as many pictures of food as it is music.”
I’ll always be grateful to Gilliam for his willingness to help me get going with music when I came back to Texas, and for his ongoing friendship. He really is a special person, and I hope you’ll do yourself a favor and check his music out and do your best to get out and catch him sometime for a show. I promise it is a real treat.