North Texas Daily

No flash, no frills, folk music

No flash, no frills, folk music

No flash, no frills, folk music
September 09
22:19 2013

Christina Ulsh / Senior Staff Writer

The sun is heading west in the sky. The ticking of a lawn sprinkler is the only sound in the calm neighborhood north of University Drive. Isaac Hoskins, 31, answers the door in a blue shirt that says, “Home” and orange, striped swim trunks.

This is his buddy’s place, but it seems like his own home. It is Sunday evening and they are watching football, eating barbecue and sitting poolside.

The burly, bearded singer-songwriter was born in Kansas but has spent the past 10 years injecting his narrative brand of folk music and bare-your-soul style of singing into the Denton music scene. Hoskins recently played a show at St. David’s in Denton and also performed at this year’s 35 Denton.

He has a tattoo on his forearm that reads, “Ad astra per aspera,” the state motto of Kansas.

“It means, ‘To the stars through difficulty,’” Hoskins said.

Not only does this represent his Kansas roots, but it also resonates with the singer-songwriter’s dreams of making a career in the uncertain and trying realm of music, he said.

“To really do it and to do it with justice, you have to be all in,” Hoskins said, twirling a napkin absent-mindedly. “Being all in is usually going to mean everything else is going to suffer. All your relationships, your wallet.”

Hoskins has no interest in feeling obligated to do his job, he said. While he wasn’t struggling in his college courses, he still quit school to pursue what he loves to do.

“I’d like to be able to make a living just playing music all the time. I think that goes for anyone and anything they like to do, whether it be painting or writing or mowing yards,” he said.

In his songs, the unhurried strums of his guitar fall to the background while his lyrics and voice come forward to tell melodic stories. The music hints at country influence but embraces a bluesy folk feel.

His word-centric music is not always conducive to beer sales, he said, which can make it more difficult to book shows at bars.

“It’s harder for the business to make money, so it’s harder for me to get an opportunity to play in those places,” he said.

Bars are the most common place for him to perform, even if he doesn’t play the kind of music he calls “party music.”

Proud of his lyrics, Hoskins said getting a room full of people listening to what he is saying is worth the difficulties of setting up gigs.

“For the most part, the only thing I really have to offer that’s going to be something creative, different and new is the lyrics that I write,” Hoskins said.

Until he is able to solely play music for a living, Hoskins manages and tends the bar at Dan’s Silverleaf, a music venue at 103 Industrial St. in Denton. He’s spent eight of his almost 10 years in Denton working at Dan’s.

“[Isaac] is grounded,” co-worker Daniel Vaughan said. “He has a realistic grasp on things.”

Every day, Hoskins dedicates at least two hours of his time to writing music. He said that there are few people who are so innately talented that they don’t have to work at it.

“Eight out of 10 times, it’s horrible,” he said.

Hoskins said he writes about everything. His focus used to be about sad situations such as breakups and death. Eventually, it started to feel insincere, as though he were trying to fit into a mold. Now he allows anything that is on his brain to guide his songwriting.

“I don’t think he’s stretching to do anything that’s not him,” said friend Hank Dickenson.

Hoskins likes to write narrative songs, fiction and nonfiction. He makes sure to leave a sense of ambiguity in his lyrical stories, Hoskins said.

“The listener can finish the story on his own. Just like any good book – if you tell them everything, it’s no fun,” Hoskins said.

Dickenson, who is also the deputy director of UNT athletics, goes to Dan’s Silverleaf, where he met Hoskins as a bartender, to listen to live music.

“I think we first connected because we were both big fans of a particular Neil Young album called Zuma,” Dickenson said. “That’s a pretty finite taste if you like Zuma.”

The bright blue-eyed singer credits his regional upbringing for influencing his southern sound.

“I was so beaten down with ‘Top 40’ country radio, that I could not wait to hear something different,” he said. “I was constantly finding old records and stuff that was not readily available to me.”

Dickenson said Hoskins, who he described as authentic and genuine, has a very Neil Young-esque sound as well as hearty and meaningful lyrics.

After growing up in Kansas — and spending a portion of his college career in Oklahoma — Hoskins came to Denton, where his cousin in Krum got him a job. Hoskins had intentions of saving up and moving to Austin.

“I fell in love with Denton and I just didn’t want to leave,” Hoskins said. “It was the right speed for me.”

Hoskins said while there is folk music in Denton, there is not much of a folk scene. He said that Denton goes deeper than the music and the style.

“Denton has a family of people who enjoy one another’s company and enjoy encouraging each other to make art regardless of what your style may be,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest reasons I wanted to stay.”

Feature photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

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