SANTA FE, N.M. — When he’s not on the road, musician Thom Chacon has a very different line of work.
During the summer months, he makes part of his living as a fly fishing guide, leading trips through rivers in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
It’s an activity he picked up after relocating from Los Angeles to Durango, Colorado, more than a decade ago.
“It’s kind of whenever the work comes up, it’s something I can do from Durango, and not have to leave my wife and (three-year-old) child,” he said. “And I love being outside, so it’s a great bit for me.”
His move to the small mountain town was something the 45-year-old California native hoped would inspire him musically. Feeling his career had become stymied in L.A., the Americana singer-songwriter wanted to “shake the very foundation” of his work.
“I thought if I move to the mountains, and get away from the influences of the big city and the music industry, maybe I’ll have a clear enough head to write a good song, and an honest song, and a song that isn’t influenced by trying to actually sell songs,” he explained.
“When I got to Durango, that’s exactly what I felt happened. I’m now just writing from my heart and my soul, and not from a ‘can I sell this song?’ perspective.”
Today, Chacon performs his acoustic, old-school tunes throughout the Southwest and abroad. Last year, Italian music magazine Buscadero named him its Best New Artist of that year.
He will visit Santa Fe on Friday for a show at the Kitchen Sink Recording Studio, where he will mostly play songs from his recently released third studio album, “Blood in the U.S.A.”
Chacon also has family ties to the Land of Enchantment. His paternal grandfather, who was a deputy in Silver City in the late 1800s, was said to be part of a group that tried to round up Billy the Kid.
“Apparently, Billy the Kid’s mom lived in the area, in the Silver City area, so he would duck in and out of the territory,” Chacon said. “But, yeah, that’s the rumor, that granddad was part of a posse that went after Billy the Kid.”
The new album, which was released at the end of March, follows his 2013 self-titled album and 2010’s “Featherweight Fighter.” On “Blood In the U.S.A.,” accompaniment came from bass player Tony Garnier, widely known for playing backup for Bob Dylan, and Tommy Mandel on the organ. Mandel previously played keyboards for singer Bryan Adams.
“I think, simply put, (folk singer) Guy Clark used to say that when you get 10 good songs together, then you go make an album no matter what … . I think that probably mostly what this album was, I thought I had 10 strong songs that told stories that were important to me,” Chacon said.
With these songs, and in most of his work, Chacon writes about the things going on in the world that keep him up at night – “the things that gnaw at me constantly,” he explained.
Many of the stories he tells, and the ones he says are more interesting to him, are separate from own life experiences. The first track, “I Am An Immigrant,” tells the story of a Mexican immigrant working in the fields of northern California. “Union Town” was inspired by the collapse of the coal mining industry of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, where his mother grew up.
His bonus track and single from the album, “Troubled Soul,” goes back to a gig he had 15 years ago at Folsom State Prison. The facility was the namesake for Johnny Cash’s classic hit “Folsom Prison Blues.”
“That look of survival in the eyes of the inmates,” Chacon recalled from his time at Folsom. After the show, he spent part of the afternoon speaking with several of them. The song, he explained, was written from the perspective of the prisoners.
“I sort of walked away from that experience and said, ‘wow, if you can’t get a song out of that, forget it, you might as well quit writing,’ ” said Chacon.
But about half of the new album’s songs, he said, are inspired by his own life experience. “Big as the Moon,” Chacon explained, was a song about asking his wife for forgiveness after the night of a “tequila meltdown,” something “that also kept me up at night,” he said.
The album’s namesake song was written in late 2015, though Chacon said it could have been written yesterday because of how its themes have remained relevant. The song was inspired by Chacon picking up the newspaper and writing about the first few headlines he saw on the front page. The first couple of verses have references to people of color being shot by police, as well as ongoing war in the Middle East.
“I wanted it to, when you hear it, to be as if you’re reading the front page of the paper without too much influence of, ‘Hey, this songwriter feels this way, or he leans way left or he leans way right.’ ”
But with the last verse, Chacon said, he wanted to end on a hopeful note. It goes:
“Need some kind of sign, and some kind of truth
We need more love and some kind of proof
One thing remains true
Something we all know
You can’t kill the heart, or the American soul”
Chacon said listeners of his music might react with, ‘Wow, my God, hide the razor blades, jeez.” But he said he also wants to show his hopeful side.
“Something that isn’t completely, ‘Oh my God, we’re all going to hell in a handbasket.’ I believe in the country, and that we can turn things around and get better and be better – at the risk of sounding too corny.”