It’s a gray and drizzly afternoon outside Rocking Horse Studios where, in between the modest farms and grassy pastures of Pittsfield, N.H., Tristan Omand and Producer Brian Coombes are meticulously reviewing and mixing one of Omand’s newest songs.The melodic and sparse acoustic number, called “Welcome to Lonely Lanes,” sounds like a charming hearthside love song but is really about bowling. In fact, if penned some 20 years earlier it could have been a perfect fit for The Big Lebowski soundtrack.
Omand’s crisp strumming bounces off the wood-paneled walls and his unmistakable drawl, courtesy of years listening to Hank Williams, fills the room with warmth and a low rumble like the calm before a storm.
“When it sounds like someone’s playing in the next room, that’s what I like,” Omand says, smiling. His 2014 release Eleven Dark Horses was aching and amiable, showcasing Omand’s knack for lyrical details in a collection of songs about wanderlust and the people and places that colored his travels.
His upcoming fifth album, scheduled for release this fall, aims to be Omand’s most stripped-down work to date, stirring up sounds that echo a black and white memory of Johnny Cash circa Sun Studios.
The vocals have a “haunting, shimmering, slightly metallic presence,” Coombes says of the tune’s throwback-style reverb. More than half of the new album’s nine tracks stem from a gold mine writing session, where Omand penned five songs — five album-quality songs, that is — in one day.
“The fact that he’s writing five songs in one day — that’s nuts,” says an awe-struck Coombes.
“I’ve never had a day like that before,” Omand confesses. “Five keepers!”
At this stage in the game, Omand knows his recipe for a successful day of writing. Yellow legal pads, blue pens, and a tuned-up guitar are all he needs to fade into a state of song- writing oblivion.
“I keep changing the track listing over and over,” Omand says, pulling a pocket notebook from his jeans. Its pages are etched with his signature blue ink.
“I fill up about two of these a year,” he says, gesturing to older, more worn notebooks stuffed inside his messenger bag, which also exhales gas logs and maps from several solo tours.
He looks the part of a wandering poet, clad in a distressed trucker hat and two-week-old facial scruff. His gray Ramones T-shirt hints to his musical roots.
“When I was 10 or 11, I heard the Ramones for the first time,” he says. “My first introduction to music on a local level was punk rock.”
Omand once romped around Boston as a member of punk bands The Asthmatics and The Stompin’ Charlies. But when The Asthmatics split up around 2009, Omand turned to his yellow legal pads and began writing and recording his own songs. With his ears tuned to some legendary loners of outlaw country, he found new inspiration in Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.
“They were punk rock before punk rock was a thing,” Omand says.
From behind the wheel of a 2001 Ford Ranger, equipped with his beat up Yamaha six string and a copy of Travels With Charley, Omand has wandered all over the country. He’s played art galleries, dives, and just about any joint where there’s a stage for a lone-wolf balladeer.
“Everywhere I go, I’m a stranger,” he says.
On “Hotel Sheets,” a slow waltz from Eleven Dark Horses, Omand sings of rolling out his sleeping bag in cheap, unwelcoming hotel rooms and staring at the ceiling. But playing the role of an on-the-run desperado was something he had always daydreamed about.
“I can remember being in high school, plotting out all these tours I wanted to do,” he says, spreading out a map of the United States he pulls from his trusty messenger bag.
If Omand’s next album weaves more winning simplicity with lights-on-the-highway reflections from the road, the future for this dark horse out of Manchester, N.H. looks bright.
“Singing and playing guitar like I do now is what I’ve worked for my whole life,” he says. “I’m on to something good.”
You can see Tristan perform live Sept. 17 at the Common Man Restaurant, 88 Range Road, Windaham, N.H., and Oct. 10 at the Common Café and Tavern, 2 Quincy Road, Rumney, N.H. Listen and learn more at tristanomand.com