Watch Renée Zellweger Sing and Play Guitar with CM Talkington at the Paste Party in Austin Presented by Ilegal Mezcal

Music Features Texas Radio
Watch Renée Zellweger Sing and Play Guitar with CM Talkington at the Paste Party in Austin Presented by Ilegal Mezcal

In 1994, a young inexperienced filmmaker from Dallas, Texas, named C.M. (Carty) Talkington convinced a studio to let him direct a movie he’d written, called Love and a .45. Then he convinced that same studio that a young inexperienced actress, from nearby Austin, needed to star in it. Her name was Renée Zellweger.

Zellweger went on to an illustrious career that includes Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Talkington, on the other hand, never made another film. But after getting sober more than a decade ago, he turned his attention back to his first love—music—and realized that what he had made was a lot of good friends.

Talkington’s new album, Texas Radio, enlists the help of several of them, including singer/guitarist Renée Zellweger and Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary, who produced the new LP. Both Zellweger and Leary joined Talkington on stage at the Paste Party in Austin, High Noon at High Noon, presented by Ilegal Mezcal. It was just the second time they’ve performed together live—Zellweger had made her debut in a live rock ’n’ roll band just days before.

“I always loved playing with my friends back in the ’90s, living here,” Zellweger tells me inside High Noon right after the outdoor performance. “And then it expanded out from there with all our friends. I’ve always loved it and I’ve always been around it. There’s always been amps in the living room and guitars everywhere. It’s always been a part of my life, I’ve just never stepped out of the living room.”

She joined Talkington and his band—also called Texas Radio—for two songs during the set, a swinging country tune called “Two Steps” and a barnburner called “Money, Sex and Anger.”

“She needs to do a record,” Talkington says. “She writes amazing songs. I’ve heard them, and they’re extraordinary. She needs to do that. This is a real musical artist that the world needs to hear. And I know what I’m talking about. I was right the first time!”

Much of the record stems from Talkington’s battle with cancer the last several years. His surgery scar graces the back cover and he still had his chemo pump in his body when they recorded the first songs for the album.

“The whole thing is kind of like a This Is Your Life thing for me today,” he says. “Basically the band, Renée, of course, Paul Leary in his own way, everyone I’ve known my whole life. And basically in a 30-year cycle. So it’s literally like coming back around, but in a better way. The band, they’re like family to me. I asked Renée to do this—I was so glad when you said yes—because I knew how good of a singer she was. And I just took a shot. And I didn’t know if she’d do it or not, but I knew it’d be really special. So I sought out Paul Leary, the best guy in the world. I was not going to have anybody but the best watch out for her and watch out for us. And she agreed to do it. And it was so cool.”

“Anybody who knows Carty will say the same thing,” Zellweger responds. “It’s the same answer: ‘Anything for Carty.’ And it’s because he would do anything for the people he loves. That’s just how it goes. That, and I have so much faith in him as an artist. He’s an original, and there’s not anybody like Carty Talkington. Not before and never will be.”

Zellweger had been acting in student films and other small projects when she sent an audition tape in for Love and a .45.

“It felt like destiny—weirdly,” she recalls. “At that time, you see the same people over and over again. You’re standing on one set, and everybody’s reading the script for the next thing. [Matthew] McConaughey had it, and I read it. And I had a feeling. I’d gone to Dallas, and the audition got canceled on the way up. There were no cellphones to tell you not to come. So I went by my agent, and I saw the script on her desk. Read it in the living room. And I put [my tape] on Continental Airlines to Los Angeles.”

“When I saw her,” Talkington says, “that was it. I had to threaten to walk off the movie to cast her. Like me and the producer literally had a talk. ‘We’re not going to make this movie if you don’t cast her.’ And they relented. And now they take all the credit for it. I did nothing but observe the obvious. We went to Austin with no lead actress. And I kept saying, ‘I know we’ll find the right person in Austin, it’s got to be in Texas.’ And she made it happen too. She found the script and sent us a tape. She’s a go-getter and I am too. Maybe that’s why we get along.”

Talkington had never even made a short film when he found himself in charge of a feature. “I did a lot of lying,” he remembers with a laugh. “I told them I knew what I was doing. I told them I’d made a film before. I told them I’d made a lot of films. I told them they all burned up in a dorm-room fire in college. They believed me. When I stepped on the set of that film, I had never been on a film set before, not even a student film set. But honestly, I knew what I wanted to do. It took me about two days to get the basics.”

The two lost touch for years before reconnected. It happened to be the day that Talkington found out he had stage three or four colon cancer, and they had planned dinner for that night. He decided not to tell her about his diagnosis. “I didn’t tell her because I know how she is, and I didn’t want to burden her with that, and because I love her so much, and I know how she is” he says before turning to Zellweger. “But do you understand how intense that is? Because I was scared. And I was with you. And it felt so comfortable.”

“I mean, who does that?” she says. “He’s sitting there and he’s thinking about me at that dinner. When he just got that phone call. And he didn’t know where the road was going to lead.”

The road to recovery was long and it made Talkington take stock of his life. The back of the record is a close-up of the scar from the surgery. “It’s a hard-earned scar,” he says. “Some of the songs I wrote during, some I wrote before. I still had my chemo pump on me when I recorded the first songs on this record.”

“Seriously, there’s something that’s been going on with my life and everyone around me,” he continues. “I think it’s going on everywhere. Magic, spirits, I call it ‘the river.’ This record’s about that too. I’ve been seeking it and dancing with it and giving myself to it for years now, for a decade, in a serious weirdo kind of way. It leads me always to the right place. And even that day I was with Renée, I didn’t have to say anything, because just being with you made me feel less afraid.”

“And frankly, you’re making other people less afraid,” Zellweger adds.

Watch the full set from CM Talkington, Renée Zellweger and the rest of Texas Radio at the Paste Party in Austin presented by Ilegal Mezcal below.

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