Tucson Confessions

Mark Insley does an emotional detox in the desert and creates an Americana gem

Insley admits to some initial ambivalence over the obvious Southwestern visual and cultural images that the word "Tucson" conjures. Yet the song itself is one of his most intensely personal tunes, a classic breakup number: "I remember once you told me/I was in your head like a drug/Said you had to go to detox/Just to try to escape my love/Maybe I'll just go to Tucson/Albuquerque's nice this time of year/Maybe I can even lose some/Of these blues in between somewhere."

Says Insley, "This woman I was involved with used that very term: 'We have to go through detox now.' We couldn't see each other anymore, so it was like detox going to Tucson and just trying to clear my mind, chilling out in the desert. Overall, though, I don't know that my music really reflects the area as much as it reflects my feelings of the stuff I was going through during a time that I was going back and forth a lot. My marriage out here had broken up and I'd started going over there and seeing a new girl. A lot of the songs were written before anything was real definite."

As things tend to work out, though, Insley wound up marrying that girl earlier this year; and a permanent relocation to Tucson is in the works.

Mark Insley: His latest release has reached number 35 on Album Network's Americana Roots chart.
Michael Wilson
Mark Insley: His latest release has reached number 35 on Album Network's Americana Roots chart.

"Tucson is great, man," he says. "They have some parties there, burning these pallets in the backyard and things. You do that in California and you'd get arrested! It's a really artsy town, and anything flies there. It's an anything-goes kind of place. And I like to think the music's like that, because music's not about a particular style or particular thing, but what flows, you know?"

At the moment, Insley is packing for the Old Pueblo while gearing up for a couple of Arizona dates with Rosie Flores. Meanwhile, his album, which debuted at number 98 on Album Network's Americana Roots chart, has bolted up to number 35 on that same chart. He also just got back from the Americana Music Association conference in Nashville, where he took plenty of notes.

"It was very cool, really helpful," observes Insley. "Everybody was laid back, checking their egos at the door. Not that there's a lot of them -- that shit doesn't fly for very long. Lucinda doesn't carry it around with her. Neither does Steve Earle. Everybody's pretty real in this music or they wouldn't be in it. We're certainly not in it to get rich. Of course, one of the big buzzes around the conference was that Ryan Adams was gonna be on Saturday Night Live that weekend. The record companies are hoping for exactly that sort of thing; they'll make a lot of money, the floodgates will be open, and then there'll be a million Ryan Adamses running around.

"But that's just the nature of the beast in big business when you have big conglomerates, alcohol companies like Seagram's, owning the labels. Everybody wants to make a living. Hell, I want my record company to make some money! Rounder has Alison Krauss, and she's the real deal, yet now they're doing what I call 'sending her to diva school,' not playing as much fiddle on TV, dressing her up nice and all that. That is gonna happen. But at least the musical integrity is still there.

"I watched the Country Music Awards this week, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? is winning awards, and suddenly there's T-Bone Burnett up on TV giving an acceptance speech. How cool is that? Country music is no longer safe. [Laughing.] And that's a really, really good thing."

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