A steady stream of people comes in and out of Avoca Coffee on West Magnolia Avenue. It’s a cool Saturday afternoon, though many of the Near Southside coffee shop’s customers arrive on bike. Sitting on a bench in the parking lot, singer-songwriter Andy Pickett soaks up the atmosphere –– fellow musicians and scenesters are passing by and just want to greet him. He shakes so many hands, you might think he was running for office.
The longhaired, full-bearded gentle giant was a Fairmount-area celebrity before he released his 2015 debut, It Happens Every Night, this past summer. As the doorman for the Chat Room Pub, Picket has been the gatekeeper for one of Magnolia’s skuzziest, hippest hangouts. His star rose after making the jump from neighborhood personality to another in an ever-growing line of accomplished 817 musicians. The 11 songs on his record are a showcase for his upbeat jazzy tunes and often-humorous lyrics about struggling through life and love.
For his next full-length album, he has already started laying down tracks in Austin with James Petralli, a guitarist in White Denim, a major label rock quartet based in Austin and Fort Worth.
But Pickett isn’t exactly basking in the glow of his fame. While reviewers have lauded the 39-year-old Arlington native’s record, he is still his own biggest critic.
“I still don’t believe in what I’m doing,” he said. “I really don’t.”
Pickett, who cites legendary singer-songwriter Nina Simone as his biggest influence, spent a lot of his 20s hanging out in the Mid-Cities with no real connection to a music scene until a friend told him about the Chat. Ben Morrow, who occasionally plays drums for Pickett, recommended the bar in the Fairmount neighborhood of the Near Southside as a place to come and hang.
“I just came out here because of kicks and fun times,” Pickett said. “There were crazy weirdos and artists. Chat was full of them. Then I found out how cheap the rent was at the time. I started living here. I haven’t left since. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
After becoming the doorman at the Chat, seeing bar regulars and stellar musicians like Leon Bridges, Kenny Uptain, Jake Paleschic, and Sam Anderson created a sense of camaraderie and belonging to the music scene. Being surrounded by so many talented musos inspired him to overcome his own insecurities about playing in front of people.
Pickett said that there was always a piano in his childhood home, but he took only a few months of lessons when he was 6 or 7 years old. It wasn’t until he went to military school when he was 13 years old that he started to teach himself the instrument and practice.
Today, despite having played dozens of live shows around the area, Pickett still feels uncomfortable performing. Whether it’s people talking and laughing or the clinking of glasses, he has a hard time concentrating.
“I’m not saying I deserve any special attention,” he said. “I just want to record and make albums. I never wanted to [perform]. I never thought I’d be doing this.”
As someone who has struggled with depression since he was very young, he has now found a certain degree of happiness in his life.
“I didn’t know how to be happy before I moved here,” he said.
Before making the Fort his home, he described himself as angry and violent.
“The things that made me happy were drugs, fighting, talking shit, [and] road raging … but people kept telling me, ‘You’re so talented and funny.’ I kept thinking there was something there.”
Though it may seem counterintuitive, Pickett said he doesn’t want to shake his insecurities.
“I don’t think the material would be the same,” he said. “You know how you’ll make a song and you hate it and your buddy is like, ‘That’s the best song you’ve ever done’? I think if I really liked my music it wouldn’t be any good.
“I don’t try to be this way,” he added.
Seeing the local breakout success of fellow Chat-rat Leon Bridges, who recorded with different members of White Denim, Pickett doesn’t feel pressure or competition.
“I’m so self-conscious of what I’m doing in the first place, to feel competitive would mean I would have some chance of being better than them,” he said. “I don’t feel that. Even if I did, what would be the point? They’re all really successful, handsome, good-looking, great musicians.”
Still, he wakes up next to a piano everyday in his apartment, living in a neighborhood that has helped tremendously.
“The Fairmount [area] saved my life,” he said. “Nobody’s just Eeyore all the time. Everybody’s walkin’, talkin’, riding bikes, making stuff, doing stuff, being active. It’s hard to be unhappy out here.”
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