Five Minutes With Austin-Based Country Music Artist Mark Willenborg

by Leean Vargas on December 7, 2020 in Entertainment, Music, Living Texas,

If you like cold beer and country music, then you should give this album a listen! 

Mark Willenborg, a native Texan singer-songwriter, is stepping into the Austin music scene with the release of his debut album, “Cold Beer And Country Music.” The traditional country music album pays homage to greats and fellow Texans like Willie Nelson, George Strait and Waylon Jennings

Based in Austin, WIllenborg wrote all of the songs on the December 4 release. The album, recorded over the course of a year at FetSounds Recording Studios in Kyle, Texas, was finished in a 100-year-old church building in San Marcos, Texas. It was produced by Marty Muse, former steel guitarist for Robert Earl Keen

Willenborg’s songs speak about love, hope and vulnerability while at other times the songs echo classic country music themes and are “just a good old crying in your beer song,” he says. “Every honky-tonk record needs one of those.”

When he’s not recording music and playing gigs around San Marcos and Austin, Willenborg works at The Wittliff Collections on the campus of Texas State University. Through his work, he’s able to observe and admire large archives from legendary artists. It serves as a source of inspiration for Willenborg in his day to day life and through his music.

Mark Willenborg, a native Texan singer-songwriter, has released his new debut album, “Cold Beer And Country Music.” Photo Nicola Gell

We caught up with this talented country music artist to discuss “Cold Beer And Country Music.” 

What was it like for you growing up?

I grew up in Texas, so people like Ernest Tubb and Ray Price were always part of the musical landscape. My parents had a good collection of music, but a couple of records really stood out: Willie Nelson’s “Red Headed Stranger” and Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Viva Terlingua.” Those two records were a big part of the soundtrack of my youth.

What first got you into music?

I have loved music for as long as I remember. My mother tells the story of how, as a toddler, I used to stand on a little step stool and look down into the console stereo and dance to Johnny Cash’s  “Orange Blossom Special.” One of the first memories I have is of my grandparents taking me to see him in Waco and my uncle lifting me on his shoulders to see. There was always a love of music in my family, but none of my immediate family played an instrument. So it wasn’t until college that I started learning to play guitar from roommates in the dorm. And it wasn’t until much, much later that I even tried to write a song. Guess I was a late bloomer.

“Country music isn’t a dead language,” says Mark Willenborg. “I believe it’s alive and still one of the best ways to communicate the human experience.” Photo Nicola Gell

What can fans expect from this debut album, “Cold Beer and Country Music?”

The album is a throwback to the ‘70s and ‘80s traditional country sound that I grew up listening to. With the steel guitar out front. I wanted to use it as the lead instrument, not just texture. So I was thrilled when one of the best steel guitar players around, Marty Muse, offered to play and produce. Marty got some legendary players together to make it all come to life.

Tell us about how you came up with the title, “Cold Beer and Country Music.” 

I wanted the title to be as honest and straightforward as the music. If you like cold beer and country music, I think you will like this record.

When he’s not recording music and playing gigs around San Marcos and Austin, Mark Willenborg works at The Wittliff Collections on the campus of Texas State University. Photo Nicola Gell

As a singer-songwriter, what comes first, the music or the lyrics?

One of my favorite songwriters is Tom T. Hall. So I am usually a lyrics-first guy. But occasionally I will start with a melody or chord progression.

What do you enjoy most about being a musician?

I really love getting together and sharing music with other music-loving people. There is nothing that can influence my mindset as quickly or effectively as music.

What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Start young and don’t give up. The world needs your music.

Cover photo courtesy Nicola Gell

Leean Vargas is an Editorial Assistant at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and an honors graduate of Texas State University
with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations.