A little bit country

Casey Prestwood on where he's going and where he's been

Credit: Kaley Fluke

The song “Balladeer,” from Colorado country staple Casey Prestwood’s gleaming 2013 album Honky Tonk Bastard World, details the life he led until recently.

“All my friends are on the radio / I’m stuck working 9 to 5,” Prestwood, an Ameripolitan Award nominee, sings. “Got me a big show next weekend / turns out that I’m working that night.”

Prestwood — who lives in Denver with his wife, kids and enough reptiles to fill a small zoo — is known around the Mile High City, as well as in Nashville and beyond, as a ripping pedal-steel player and talented, sweet-voiced and sometimes hilarious country singer-songwriter. However, he pushed through a double life of full-time Whole Foods employee and moonlighting musician until recently.

“There was a point of, like, do I want to be a grocery-store guy for another 15 years?” Prestwood says. “I started playing in bars when I was 14 and did that from 14 to 27, so I’m just kind of dipping back into that.”

Prestwood — also known for playing in now-defunct Colorado favorite Drag the River and Southeastern-emo band Hot Rod Circuit — is doing much more than playing in bars, though. Since quitting Whole Foods last year, he’s been flying around the country to perform as both a frontman and coveted sideman for big-name artists like Jelly Roll, and working on his down-home new album Where I’m Going is Where I’ve Always Been, released June 17.

Along with the Denver area, Nashville knows Prestwood well, and the Music City has been an education for him.

“Playing on Broadway, you certainly get paid but it’s like you’re testing the limits of your knowledge of honky-tonk music, country music, and how long you can hold a beer in,” he says. “Some of those places you’re not getting like, you know, a pee break unless you can find someone to cover for you, which in some cases you’re playing in front of people, great – ‘There’s my buddy; he can get up to sing one.’ For the most part, it’s four hours of music. It’s serious. It’s buckle-down: ‘Let’s do this.’ It’s great experience for me, going to go do old-time honky tonk, western swing music. Whether I get to do any of my originals or not, it’s just like an awesome open door for me to go play traditional country music.”

In the more rocking bands Casey played in before going solo, there would often be a point in the night during longer shows when the group would take a break of sorts and let Prestwood indulge in his country obsession. It wasn’t a phase.

“Some of my friends were like, ‘When’s he ever going to get out of this country thing?’” Prestwood says.

At one point Prestwood essentially left rock ‘n’ roll behind, along with the boiler suits he wore in Hot Rod Circuit to avoid wearing out the knees of his pants over and over “from jumping around and acting like a jackass on stage,” to fully embrace his love of not only country music but on-stage country fashion.

“Around the time I put out The Hurtin’ Kind [2007], I’d already been collecting like original Nudie suits and Nudie pieces,” he says. “They’re really hard to find now. I don’t want to say that they weren’t expensive and the early ’00s or anything like that, but there were still deals to be had. Manuel [Cuevas], I hung out with him probably like six months ago and it was fantastic. He is still making them. He’s pushing 90, if he’s not 90. He’s a great young man.”

Prestwood pretty much looks like a member of Weezer circa 1996 when he’s not performing, but on stage — especially with his Burning Angels backing band — he sometimes transforms Superman-style into a country dynamo, as evidenced on the cover of Honky Tonk Bastard World.

“It just kind of ties in with what I was trying to do with the style of music we play,” he says. “That’s how they dressed. People recently have been, like, ‘How come you don’t dress up anymore?’ Well, I still wear boots, hat and shirt-and-tie a lot of times. So in my world, that still is dressing up. But honestly, I do like it. For certain shows, we still just go, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna bust out all the rhinestones to where you can barely even walk.’”

Country sensation Sierra Ferrell sings on Prestwood’s new album, which is as honky-tonkin’ as anything he’s released but also has a tongue-in-cheek, indie dive-bar accessibility. There is a balance with Prestwood’s music, as was born in Virginia and raised in Georgia and Alabama (“where there was a lot of outdoors to be had — by some definitions in the country, the sticks, if you will”) but remembers seeing Nirvana as a teenager, leading to a fascination with alternative rock.

“I guess the way I started playing music was, I was so into Nirvana,” he says. “The [high school] band teacher, I think his actual words were, ‘There’s a reason that that music stays in the garage.’”

A succession of “interestingly bad bands” eventually led to recording and touring with the energetic Hot Rod Circuit, which still has a cult following today and intermittently reunites. Eventually, however, Prestwood’s love of country music boiled over and that’s still his main focus.

“Hot Rod, we broke up in 2007. I was starting to play a lot with Drag the River where I was playing steel guitar mostly and a little bit of Telecaster — you know, country guitar,” he says. “I think that was the next push that made me go, ‘Man, I’m going to do country.'”

ON THE BILL: Dusty Boots music festival feat. Colter Wall, Margo Price, Casey Prestwood and more. 1:30 p.m. Saturday, July 1, Civic Center Park 101 West 14th Ave., Denver. Tickets here.