Darrin Kobetich and his guitars have been through a lot together over the last 33 years. When he was a howling force in thrash metal bands, commercial success seemed a distinct possibility. Neither Hammer Witch nor the next project, Amillion Pounds, panned out in terms of big record deals, but perhaps things worked out for the best. For the past nine years, Kobetich has focused on what he calls “ambient Delta raga thrash grass” on acoustic guitar. “It’s eclectic,” he said of his instrumental compositions. This year, with the release of Songs for a Muse Meant and a host of other projects, has been his most productive to date. “I’ve never been so content,” he said.
In life, what seems like a setback often turns into a blessing, and Kobetich feels that way about being laid off after 24 years as a graphic designer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I was sitting around waiting for my number to come up,” he said. Getting let go “was a relief.”
Along with being an artist and a father, Kobetich has practiced his way into legitimate status as a guitar master, and his newfound free time provides a perfect opportunity to launch himself into a full-time career as a troubadour and freelance musician.
When it comes to capitalizing on his talent, Kobetich is opening as many doors as he can find. Last summer, he composed and performed music for Hip Pocket Theatre’s production of Wild and Iron Sky, a play about radical environmentalist Edward Abbey. Kobetich and electronic music guru Darryl Wood (Confusatron) started a creative electric experiment called Panic Basket, and Kobetich also plays in Strung, Drawn, and Quartered, an acoustic group that does covers of obscure songs. He contributed guitar parts to new albums by both Clint Niosi and Keegan McInroe and started the Blackland River Devils with guitarist Mark Deffenbach –– The Devils are on a performance hiatus but are continuing to develop music.
Kobetich even went so far as to cancel his cable subscription because he had discovered better ways to spend his time while unemployed. In February, he took part in the RPM Challenge, an international call for songwriters to come up with and record an album’s worth of material in the span of one month. He recorded the fruits of his four weeks of creativity at home using Cubase software, and local musician Evan Jones mastered the forthcoming CD, entitled The Longest Winter.
Like the rest of his solo work, the new CD will be a collection of intensely emotional, aggressive acoustic guitar compositions. Players like Kobetich can make a few strings attached to a hollow wooden body sound like an orchestra. Songs don’t always need words to convey what they mean. Best illustration: Kobetich wrote Songs for a Muse Meant as a way to propose to his girlfriend (she accepted).
Kobetich claims he just isn’t any good with words, so music is a “much-needed outlet” for him. He carries a guitar and a pocket recorder with him everywhere he goes, and his collection of “hundreds” of songs is composed of bits and pieces of inspiration strung together.
Kobetich’s songwriting style is intentionally organic, and he lets the who, where, what, and how much influence the way his fingers glide over strings. “It’s based on mood and place,” he said. “When you set out to write a certain kind of thing, it seems kind of forced. … I let it happen and don’t worry about it too much.”
He’s also taking the laissez-faire approach to booking his solo shows. Kobetich used to have a weekly happy hour gig at the erstwhile Wreck Room, but these days he prefers outdoor stages, farmers’ markets, and coffee shops. Quieter, more sober places make better homes for an acoustic guitar –– he prefers to play unplugged if at all possible.
Kobetich picks up gigs where he finds them. Self-promotion is something he’s working on. He’s making connections during monthly visits to Austin, and he’s expanded to audiences around the West on a few recent road trips. On his honeymoon, which was a tour of several national parks, he fit in a gig in Utah and a lot of songwriting. In an ideal world, a Darrin Kobetich show would take place in a painted desert under a full moon. His music is that earthy.
Kobetich will keep returning to Fort Worth, however, because “it’s nice to come home,” he said. Ideally, he would spend his summers camping, exploring the country, and playing music for all sorts of people and spend the remainder of the year at home working on projects. In the near future, he will be gigging at Fred’s, playing a show with the Hentai Improvising Orchestra, releasing The Longest Winter, and performing in and contributing to Hip Pocket’s current production, On the Origins of the Specifics. Not bad for a guy without a formal job.