Tony Kamel never took formal music lessons growing up in Houston. “I got an electric guitar for my 13th birthday,” he shared with us on the sunny patio of Radio Coffee. “Before that, I was playing an old classical guitar that was my mom’s.” Tony’s first collaboration was playing with his cousin Milhko Bravo in high school. “He and I played together for years after that for fun really, but we also performed a few times.” Tony learned to play the mandolin from Wood & Wire’s current mandolin player, Billy Bright. “Guitars are tuned in fourths. Theoretically, they are laid out strangely. But mandolin and violin are laid out logically,” Tony shared.
His biggest influences, in general, weren’t bluegrass players at first. “I loved Frank Zappa and classic rock,” Tony said. “My mom got me listening to Ozzy Osborne and Led Zeppelin. Eventually, as I got into bluegrass, I loved Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson especially, and of course Bill Monroe.” Tony says one thing he loves about bluegrass is that you can take bluegrass instruments and express any interest.
Wood & Wire is his primary band that formed in October of 2011. The line up has changed over the years and currently includes Trevor Smith on banjo, Billy Bright on mandolin, Dom Fisher on bass, and Tony Kamel on guitar and sometimes banjo. Tony plays a Collings D1-A guitar and an Ome Banjo. The iconic microphone he uses is an Edwina model from Ear Trumpet Labs. He does most of the songwriting and sings lead vocals.
“Mexico” is one of their most popular songs. “I wrote it in 2010/2011,” Tony shares, “I really like to tell story-songs. It’s a prison break song about a guy who leaves prison and tries to make it to Mexico. What I like about the song is that it drives, it’s fun and when we play it, it just has this energy about it. Dom came up with the idea to do a call and response piece in the chorus and now it’s one of the most definitive things we do.
“This next record that Wood & Wire is working on has some cool songs on it. I dug in a little deeper on a personal level using some of my family experiences I had while growing up. There’s more collaboration than before and in my opinion, that makes it better than one person writing alone.”
In terms of his writing process, Tony says he almost always start with the melody. “I record it on my phone, sometimes in the middle of the night. I go into the bathroom so I don’t wake up my girlfriend,” he laughs. “Sometimes they (melodies) come to you in a dream. Most of my songs I write on my phone, sitting on my couch. Artistically I feel obligated to write them in a notebook as well. And I email the notes from my phone to myself so I don’t lose it. If you don’t document them then, you lose it like a fart in the wind.”
What is your favorite place to eat in Austin? Botticelli’s – get the “duck two ways.”
Tips for songwriters starting out: Don’t worry too much about quality at first. Just get used to the writing process. And also ‘rewriting’ is the thing that helps me the most. Write something, let it sit, and then go back and prove it line by line.
The primary difference between the songs Tony writes for Wood & Wire and those he will be playing at Side Project Sundays is a little looser feel. "Wood & Wire is in it for the long haul but musically, the only thing that's 100% certain to be around until the day I die is me performing by myself. That's a skill I want to hone in and develop long term."
Although Tony doesn’t have immediate plans to do a solo record, Wood & Wire is putting out another record next year through the Zone in Dripping Springs. “We have a stripped-down recording process, we basically record live,” said Tony as he packed up his banjo to head out for a SXSW gig.
Come hungry for kebabs to welcome Tony Kamel back to the SPS stage March 19th from 3p-5p at Kebabalicious’ storefront on the corner of east 7th and Navasota.