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The One About a Barrel on Fire

What do oversized belt buckles, mountain daisies, and flaming barrels have in common? For Wyatt, they're all part of the same story.

What kind of bedtime stories did you hear as a kid? This one isn’t one of those. In this episode, Wyatt tells us how his grandmother could spin a tale of fire and death in a way that would keep any child up at night. And how he turns each of his stories into the happiest sad songs you’ll ever hear.

Connect with Wyatt Espalin here and click here to hear his music!

Want to hear more? Click here for more podcasts.

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Episode Transcript

TRENDHIM: Welcome to Trendhim’s Tell Your Story Podcast. Today, we're talking to Wyatt, songwriter, singer, and fiddler from the mountains of North Georgia, and hearing how honesty makes the best stories. So Wyatt, why does honesty make the best story.

WYATT: Well, I just believe that when you can pull from the truth, whether it's disguised in a way that only you know it's the truth, then it will be expressed as rich as it can possibly be. And I think once a story is as rich as it can be, then you just, the listener can't turn away. I just think that even the best ideas or metaphors or things that may have seen made up have come from that nugget of truth that's within the storyteller.

TRENDHIM: So how do you, how do you find inspiration for this honesty? Do you look back at things that have happened or do you look forward to things that you want to happen? And then how do you pull that honesty out of tragedy, happiness, sadness?

WYATT: Well, I mean, I definitely reach back. When I'm trying to come up with a song or trying to express an emotion in a song. I will try to reach back to a time where I may have felt that emotion. You know, one thing that I've tried to learn as a human being and getting older is to not let the same things destroy me again or hurt me again. Or even the same things elate me again. I have gone on to bigger, better things and let those things destroy me or let those things strengthen me. But I will go back to those times where, you know, where I'm learning about myself and trying to find my own truth. And that's where I pull most of my songs from.

TRENDHIM: How do you know when you've hit the nail on the head, what makes it worth telling? Is it just something that you do for you first and the audience...like you said, they respond to the honesty, or is there a slight bit of making it for them too?

WYATT: That's a, you actually answered the question of it's, it's for me like that's when I know I've hit it on the head is because if it speaks to me if it conveys something about myself that I need to learn or that I need to confirm, I mean, that's what I work all night long for. I'm trying to just, I'm trying to teach myself stuff about myself and I think that's the secret of life is when you can communicate that, Convey what you've learned. I don't write songs for other people at all, really. If people like them. Then it's a plus for sure.

TRENDHIM: I, I can imagine it must be a big plus in one way because if that is your truth and then someone listening to it, downloading it, clapping to it, dancing to it, it must be sort of a validation of something that you've literally spoken out loud.

WYATT: Yeah. I mean, it's really special when someone can relate to something that I've written. It's, I mean, I can't even, I've never experienced anything else like it in other things I've done in my life. I'm always around people. And I'm a people person and just to see a slight change or see how they may have been moved. I have one song where I just basically tried to convey this idea and instead of coming up with a crazy metaphor for it, I just went ahead and said it outright, which I don't do a lot, but the line of the song is, the song is called Daisy, and I'm speaking to this person named Daisy, supposedly in the song, but speaking to her basically as if she's a flower, the Daisy. But at the end, I changed the verse to talk about a real person and how I'm travelling to the mountains. I'm going to finish up this song that I'm writing about you and, but the line says, Daisy, it won't phase me if you never hear these words because I wrote them down for me. A way to measure up my own worth, basically is what I'm saying. So a song that I may write for someone else. Um, really it's, it's an idea of just projection. I'm projecting onto this other person, the emotions I really, truly feel about myself in a way to kind of come to terms with who I am. And that line has spoken to a lot of artist friends that I have, that it has helped them kind of realize why they do their own art and why they feel the need to just express it so earnestly.

You know, a lot of artists starve because they just feel so passionate. And then they get, you know, a lot of society will judge artists for maybe even being lazy, like get out and get a real job type mentality. And I kind of do both. I have a real job and I have, I'm an artist, so I try to do both so that I don't get judged.

TRENDHIM: So this is how you can express yourself. This is one of the ways that you can speak your truth, but what about the guys who don't have this ability? You have a natural ability to tell a story this way. You have the outlet and then you have the talent to sort of back it up. But what about, what about the guy who doesn't sing, or, or who doesn't have this performing talent, how can they sort of tell their story in a way that people would, what makes it important? What's the thing they should focus on?

WYATT: I honestly think that we all have a desire to be something or strive for something. I believe there's something within us that. You know, we grew, we grew up wanting to be something. And I think finding out within you what, why you wanted to do that. What was it? Whether it's a small dream or a big dream. Nine out of 10 folks will tell you that yeah. I really wish I could have done this with my life, or I regret that I didn't take this opportunity. I just think it's very important to go back to that initial inspiration and find out why it was lit inside of you and why only you? Why is that? Why is that different? What's different about that?

I think that's how people can live their story is to find out who they really are and not be afraid to explore that. It's very scary.

TRENDHIM: What was it for you? What was your, what was the first, the first time you decided to do this or the first time you realized this is the outlet that I want to share through?

WYATT: Well, I was raised by my grandparents and my grandfather and grandmother both were very eccentric people. My grandfather especially was very entertaining. He was hilarious. He had great stories to tell. He was a great singer. He loved music. He loved making audiences laugh. He would take me and my brother to this local spot on Saturday nights where they have a live audience and there was a little country band playing and he would just put us on stage.

I mean. We didn't know what we were going to do. We would sing the old Oak Ridge Boys song, Elvira on stage. Cause that's the only song we knew all the lyrics to, and the crowd would just eat it up. And I think he got so much joy out of watching that and trying to encourage us. I remember that would be the one thing he would talk about on the way home is, do you see how that crowd just went crazy over you guys?

And I always loved that. Always wanted to do that. I thought I would be doing it in a more glamorous style. When I was younger, I wanted the hair, the fancy belt buckles and the full band behind me.

But I love my grassroots. I've turned out like my grandfather, who I never thought I would end up like, you know, he was very grassroots and he built everything he had from the ground up. And that's what I've kind of done with my music. And I'm very proud of that. I'm very proud of my independent status, and it's even more inspiring than if I had like, my Cher costumes.

TRENDHIM: I can't imagine your music with a Cher costume.

WYATT: Well, I mean, uh, I'm just thinking of like out loud, what my backup dancers would look like, and they would probably look like Cher at the Oscars in 1988.

TRENDHIM: When you were a kid, did someone, is there one story or is there one moment that you remember that stands out as thinking, ah, that's a good story, or that's a good storyteller. Is there anyone that you emulated as a child or looked up to for their ability that you have now to tell these stories?

WYATT: You know, I think back on my grandmother who was very eccentric, like my grandfather, but in an opposite sort of way, my brother actually took after her more. And she is very reserved and so I remember just her always telling stories about just different family members in it seemed to always end in some tragedy. She would hang on to the tragic stories until them in ways like a soap opera like she used to love soap operas, just like most grandmothers in Georgia do. And she had her stories and I would say, tell me a story, and she wouldn't get out a book or anything. She would just refer to one of granddaddy's siblings or her siblings or nephews or nieces, and either one of them may have drowned in a river or one of may have been electrocuted or these terrible, tragic stories. But before she would tell you the ending of how they might have might've passed away, she just had this elaborate tale of something that they did and I just, that just held onto me.

And if you listen to my songs, if you really, really listen to the ending of all my songs, there is some kind of dark, tragic element to that. And I think that comes from my grandmother just always just telling me these crazy stories of how...

And I really want to tell you the worst one that I heard, but I don't know if it's, it's, I mean, it's a terrible story about, I still don't even understand how this person passed away, but it was a three-year-old child. It was a very, very young child. And the way that my grandmother told the story of, by the way, I need to add this. She would tell everything so matter of factly. So no emotion, no sadness, no over-dramatization, and I'm horrified by hearing this. And she wasn't very graphic either. It was just very matter if it was like watching an episode of General Hospital, you're just like.. oh wow. That was so terrible. But you went on and had your peanut butter jelly sandwich and you were fine. But she told me this one story about one of the children had died, and this is in the early fifties late forties and it just seemed like everybody died a lot then more tragically, and this poor kid had climbed in. I don't even remember what she called it, but it was this metal thing that they had out in the yard, and I guess they built a fire inside of it and would burn things. And somehow the three-year-old child, it was a nephew of one of my grandparents' children climbed in it. And so the kid went missing. Right. They never, they thought he had been kidnapped or had just wandered off and it was tragic and they, they never knew that he had burned in this thing until a week later when they went to clean it out. And isn’t that the most horrible thing to tell?

And my grandmother is telling me this story late one night after a little Debbie cake, right before I go to bed. And I'm probably eight years old and I just remember having nightmares about this, these terrible, tragic events. I don't know, that's just the kind of stories I grew up with is this Southern Gothic darkness.

And they all were true. Then I learned all these stories before I was 10 years old in great detail, as in very rich, like reading a Flannery O'Connor short story. That's how my grandmother would tell a story. I just loved it.

TRENDHIM: But that's something that I find interesting because you mentioned at the very beginning. That honesty makes the best stories. You know, like we'll stop on the side of the road to look at a traffic accident. We're sort of drawn to tragedy. And that's something that you grew up hearing. So it's interesting that out of that you pulled honesty.

WYATT: Yeah. I mean, I didn't confirm them, but I didn't think she would lie about her own nephews and nieces and I actually, I say I didn't confirm them. Later on, I would ask my mother or my aunts and uncles, I would say, Granny told me this story one time about so and so and how he drowned in Lake Lanier. And, it was two weeks after his brother had drowned in Lake Lanier. I said, is that really true? Two siblings died at the same place within two weeks of each other. Like he literally went out there swimming after his brother died two weeks later and they let him go. The parents let him go. And it was just a thing.

And they were like, yeah, and I just remember thinking, God, lady, these people are crazy. They're just, no wonder my grandparents kept me and my brother locked in the house until I was 18.

And I try to disguise the tragedy. I try to be deeper, I try to say something deeper than just, oh, this is a terrible thing that happened, and can you believe this happened? Or I'm reflecting on this because it's gory. You know? I don't do that. I kind of try to go to the heart of, why is this bothering me? What is this saying deeper about who I am and could this happen to me? Is my fear of tragedy really linked to something else? And you know, that's what I want my songs to say is, is I want it to speak to my own fears. And I think that's why we're interested in stories like that. That's why we read books about tragedies or everybody's obsessed with true crime podcasts. You know, they want to hear these, these stories. And I think it's because we're all afraid that something terrible may happen to us. It's when you can confront your fears about stuff like that. Like with the Coronavirus that we're, the pandemic that we're going through right now, you know, we're, there's people that are just paralyzed by fear and cannot leave the house, and then there are people that are choosing not to leave the house and then there are people that really aren't afraid of it at all. But I just think, confronting your fears about things and especially tragic events will allow you to find out deeper who you are and what your own real, true story is. And you might even find that you're not as afraid of it as you thought you were.

And it's a very scary thing to do, but as you are telling your own story and as you are going back and trying to put the pieces together of who you are, you know, confronting your fear is going to be at the top of the list and finding out what, what makes us tick. And a lot of things we do in our life are because of fear.

TRENDHIM: How many more albums do you think it will take before your process is finished? Before you've, before you've arrived, you're done?

WYATT: You know, I think I will be writing until the day that I die. I don't think I'll ever master finding out who I truly am. Maybe not even through art. Or my songwriting. But I definitely am still searching and I always feel like I will be, I mean, we're, I'm just such a complex human being. I'm trying to…

TRENDHIM: But, but isn't everybody, what you know today will be different than what you know in five years from now.

WYATT: You know, that's so true. And in the season that I'm in right now, I've come to terms with the fact that the past really doesn't even exist except in my own mind right now. I can't physically touch it ever again, and I can't relive it. And the future really does not exist except in my own mind right now. You know, I can only think about what will happen when I leave the house.

I don't know, just embrace what, embrace who I am and the truth of me right now, and that is making my songs so much better than they were 10 years ago, and I've got four songs, actually four songs that I have been working on the last two weeks. They all are very... What's the word? They're very promising. I'm just excited to be able to share these songs, probably because I'm excited about who I am right now and what I'm going to express about myself to myself through these songs.

TRENDHIM: Well. Speaking of excited – how's this for a segue? – we're excited to hear what comes next and to see where these four little babies, how they grow up and to see what else you have to project into them and then share with us.

WYATT: Well, thanks for having me. I had a blast. This is great, talking about myself

TRENDHIM: Well, we're happy to hear. We're happy to listen. And thank you for listening. Here at Trendhim, we believe every man has a story worth telling. What’s yours?

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