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Photo by Mike Brooks

This past spring, Vandoliers rolled a seven at the proverbial South-by-Southwest crapshoot, winning a record deal with Chicago’s most venerable and storied Americana label, Bloodshot Records, home to greats like Ryan Adams, Alejandro Escovedo, the Old 97s, Ben Kweller, and Robbie Folks. This bit of fortune is but the latest in the band’s run of good turns. If you adhere to the idea that you make your own luck, Vandoliers’ work ethic and drive to get in the van and tour as often as possible has finally hit pay dirt.

Vandoliers frontman Josh Fleming says that the road to their record deal began with a couple of lengthy out-of-town runs in 2017. “We went on tour with the Old 97s last year, about 14 shows between two different tours.”

Old 97s’ guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Philip Peeples sent emails to Bloodshot on the Vandoliers’ behalf. The band’s trumpeter, Corey Graves, had sent the label some music a few years ago, before they released their debut album, Amerikinda.

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“We didn’t hear from them at all, until, like, the end of November,” Fleming said, “when we got a message from their publicist that was basically, ‘Hey, we’ve been playing your record a lot, and then I went through some emails, it seems that we had some contact with your trumpet player about publicity in Dallas, and we wanted to see what you guys are doing and how everything’s going.’ ” 

One message led to another, and before long, Bloodshot invited the band to play its showcase at SXSW.

“There were, like, 500 people there, and they went ape-shit,” Fleming said.

After the show, he received a dinner invitation from the label’s owner and one of its cofounders, Nan Warshaw. 

The answer was “of course,” and in short order, Bloodshot and Vandoliers shook hands on a deal. And it was good timing, too. In addition to Amerikinda, their second album, 2017’s The Native, had come out on Dallas-based indie label State Fair Records. Their contract was up and hadn’t been renewed. 

“I love what State Fair did for us,” Fleming said. “But what Old 97s did to introduce our music to the Bloodshot crew and them listening to it and liking it, it’s an honor. Bloodshot’s distribution is worldwide. Next year, we’ll be in Europe.”

Even though his band’s new label is a big-time international presence, Fleming said he will continue to participate in local music as much as he can. Currently, he is hosting a songwriter’s workshop every Monday night at downtown’s Fort Worth Live, where he invites local songwriters actively seeking input on and direction for their music to play a few songs and discuss how they can make them really shine. Besides his critiques and advice on composing and performing, he happily shares his experiences on the business end of making music with anyone looking to parlay their at-home or in-town act into actual careers.

Fleming’s songwriter workshop might sound a little overbearing, especially since he stresses that it’s more focused on the craft of making music than your run-of-the-mill open-mic. The difference is similar to the one between a creative writing group at a college and a poetry night at a coffee shop, but it’s reflective of the time and experience he’s gained in nearly two decades of trying to make a living playing songs. He’s never given up, and, increasingly, that sweat equity is finally paying off. 

“This is my 17th year of playing music,” he said. “It just takes that long. I’ve been very diligent on getting us out there and touring. And, also, our fans are fucking rad. They like punk music and country music, and that’s the void we were trying to fill.”

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