The Circus Life of Michael Slattery

Shoulders frontman readies HAAM Day set and new LP

Michael Slattery fronting Shoulders
Michael Slattery fronting Shoulders (by Claudia Parker)

When I was 3, I’d get taken to Michael Slattery’s house to play with his daughter Emma. It wasn’t until a dozen years later on Margaret Moser’s Birthday Bash in May that I finally got to see his band Shoulders. And it’s Shoulders, not the Shoulders.

I asked Slattery how fatherhood influenced his music and he replied that a better question would be how music influenced fatherhood.

“There have been many instances of dereliction of duty,” he began. “I do long to be a good father, a good man, a good person. I hope to learn from my mistakes.”

Queried about where he grew up, the singer cracked that he hasn’t yet grown up. He does hail from New Orleans, however, and disowned Dallas before setting in Austin. His first break?

“Well, I’ve had several big breaks, but the original one was what the doctor called a boxer’s fracture of my right hand. I’ve had a series of big breaks – ribs, foot, ankle. My nose has been broken four times. It’s tough out there. Funny, I never have broken one of my shoulders.”

How’d he find his way to the stage to lead Austin’s Shoulders, long a local powerhouse combining Tom Waits and the Pogues?

“I was in the world of the carnival, life on the midway. [Shoulders guitarist] Todd Kassens and I were part of the freak show – he was the snake handler, don’t ask,” laughs Slattery. “I was the bearded lady, of course.

“My father was disgusted with my career choice and told me to get a real job. So I became a musician – and not a very good one, I might add. Todd decided to join me in music, though I think that secretly he really misses his albino python.”

Slattery’s thrill of the music remains simple:

“Leaving everything else behind the moment I get up there. That’s the biggest thrill. I feel it almost every time I walk onstage with my best friends. Kassen’s smile always thrills me too, incidentally.”

Personal heroes?

“People who have put up with me and my nonsense over the years,” he admits. “They’re my saints, and I hope they know who they are. I have a great deal of love and respect for those among us who have stumbled and who have been beaten down and who have gotten back up. The real-life Buster Keatons. The Charlie Chaplins in us all.”

Advice to young bands:

“Buy Shoulders’ [upcoming] record Another Round. Listen carefully to it, study it, absorb the musicianship. Reflect deeply on the song craft, and learn from what you hear on each of the songs. Then forget everything, and do exactly what you want.”

Slattery’s motto is a good lesson: “Smile. When in doubt or pain, smile.”

Shoulders plays the Proper Nang HAAM Day event at Maria’s Taco Xpress next Tuesday, Sept. 24. Schedule is as follows:

5:30Pm: Jitterbug Vipers
6: Skyline
6:15: Ariel Herrera
6:30: Shoulders
7: the Painted Redstarts
7:20: Grace London
7:40: Wild Seeds
8:10: American People
8:40 Johnny Goudie

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More Michael Slattery
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William Harries Graham, Jan. 28, 2014

More Shoulders
Another Round
Another Round
A poetic third act for carnival riot Shoulders

Margaret Moser, Oct. 18, 2013

Shoulders Record Review
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'Another Round' goes deep in the cups

Greg Beets, Oct. 18, 2013

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Michael Slattery, Shoulders, Todd Kassens, Tom Waits, Pogues, Proper Nag Night, Maria’s Taco Xpress, Jitterbug Vipers, Skyline, Ariel Herrera, Painted Redstarts, Grace London, Wild Seeds, American People, Johnny Goudie, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin

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