Certain artists know who they are and what their music represents, and they have the strength of character not to waver from that truth.
Darren Kozelsky is that caliber of artist.
A Texas native, who first carved a successful career on the competitive Lone Star music circuit, Kozelsky is a "what you see is what you get" kind of guy. He hasn't adopted a radio-friendly stage name. He makes the kind of country music he grew up listening to with his dad in the family's auto shop. He's that new breed of artist that takes the best of country's traditions and infuses them with the perspective of a modern day husband, father and troubadour.
Kozelsky's current album titled, "Arrivals & Departures," is a definite pleaser to the country music ear. Darren has played venues from Dallas, Texas to Crappone, France and all points in between. The album's first single, the hardcore country anthem "Seven Vern Gosdins Ago," debuted at No. 10 on the European chart in addition to the strong buzz it's been generating stateside.
"Seven Vern Gosdins Ago" is just one of the gems on "Arrivals & Departures," a finely crafted collection that deftly showcases Kozelsky's warm, engaging voice and excellent song sense. "The whole record is kind of a little story," Kozelsky says. "I didn't plan for it to be that way, but each song just flows to the next. I hope that it's a little book of songs that everybody can pick up and get some satisfaction out of, make them feel better or brighten their day."
A native of San Angelo, Texas, Kozelsky grew up in nearby Ballinger. His older brother was a star athlete and he admits to trying to follow in his footsteps initially. "I tried Little League one year and got hit in the head by the fastest pitcher in the league," he recalls. "I had a helmet on. I put the bat down and said 'Man, forget this!'"
Instead, he spent more time helping his father at his shop, where country music mingled with the clanking of tools. "I can remember my dad listening to Willie and Merle and all those guys," says Kozelsky, also citing George Strait as a major influence who came along later. "Dad loved George Jones too and Vern Gosdin was always one of the voices I heard on the radio. Every time I hear those voices, it always takes me back to those days."
When his Aunt Deanna gave the young artist her guitar, he soon knew what he wanted to do. "I could sit down with my voice, have a guitar in my hand and play a song and turn somebody's head. I could see that they enjoyed it," says Kozelsky. "I was hooked."
As his regional popularity grew, people began suggesting he change his name. For a brief spell, he used his first and middle names, performing as Darren Andrew, but it didn't feel right. "I've been called Darren Kozelsky since kindergarten when I couldn't write my name," he says with a self-effacing smile. "I don't know what's more real than my name. If I can't be who I am, then I don't feel fair trying to sell myself to people because it's not real what they are getting."
Armed with his own unique moniker, a killer stage show and an arsenal of songs, Kozelsky decided to step up his game. He's already recorded one critically acclaimed indie CD, but was looking to take his music to the masses. In doing so he enlisted noted producers J.R. Rodriguez and Phil O'Donnell (known for his work with Craig Morgan and Justin McBride, among others). A gifted songwriter in his own right, Kozelsky penned the title tune, but also turned to top writers such as Casey Beathard, Tom Shapiro, Kevin Welch, Liz Hengber and Jason Sellers for the tunes that populate his new project.
"I'm not going to put a song on the record simply because I wrote it," he says. "I'm not going to force something. I just wanted to have a great record. If it's something that I relate to then I'm totally comfortable cutting it, putting it on a record and delivering it to people."
Even the songs Kozelsky didn't write seem as though they were ripped from his journal, most notably the sultry ode to a satisfying relationship "Loving You Loving Me," the breezy road trip anthem "Good Day to Get Gone" and "She Got Me There," a celebration of the transforming power of love. "Somebody Find Me A Preacher" is a portrait of a man who knows he's found the love of his life and can't wait to tie the knot.
"Old Has Been," written by Beathard, O'Donnell and Kendell Marvin, is a song about pursuing your dreams without regret. "Go big or go home. Don't be afraid of failure," Kozelsky says and it's obvious the lyric echoes his philosophy on life and career. "Folks may make fun of you, call you names or whatever, but I just say 'hey let them set on the bench while you at least give it your best shot.' I'd rather be an old has been than a never was."
Kozelsky says "Seven Vern Gosdin Ago" holds special significance for him. "It put the country stamp on this album for me and I think it totally made the album come full circle," he says. "Plus it references three of my favorite artists-- Vern Gosdin, George Jones and Doug Stone. There wasn't a day growing up that I didn't listen to songs like this. I could easily say that this is my favorite one on the record."
Kozelsky penned the title track with Seth Borsellino and Chris Claridy. "I chose to put that very last and it kind of wrapped up the whole album for me," says Kozelsky. "We're here one day and gone the next. Have fun. Enjoy it. Don't be afraid of failure. Don't be afraid to stick your neck out there and say 'Hey, I might get a bruise on my cheek, but I'll heal.' It's always easier said than done, but enjoy it."
It's that passion for living and Kozelsky's appreciation for both life's triumphs and challenges that percolate throughout "Arrivals & Departures." Like his heroes Gosdin, Jones, and Strait, Darren Kozelsky takes life experiences everyone can relate to and weaves them into a rich musical tapestry. "There's no way I could not do this," Kozelsky says of making music. "It is the thing that I do best and I don't know of anything else that my heart would be in as it is in music."