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It’s a sunny October afternoon deep in the heart of Texas, and Matthew McConaughey is in good spirits. “I got to watch my team finish a game, and they actually won,” the Austin FC soccer club co-owner says over Zoom. Now, the Oscar winner‘s ready to sit down and talk about a place that he’s spent a lot of time visiting: the Hill Country.
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“The rivers, the streams, the springs, it’s just a healthy, dynamic way of life that I’ve always loved there,” McConaughey says. So it’s no wonder the Lone Star State native and creative director of Longbranch, the bourbon he created with Wild Turkey master distiller Eddie Russell in 2018, decided to team up with Walden Retreats to launch a luxury glamping experience here.
Known as the Longbranch Ranch at Walden Retreats, guests can now reserve their stay for as early as spring of 2023, with nightly rates starting at $425. For each booked getaway, Longbranch says it will donate the same amount to local nonprofit Trail Conservancy, which helps support and protect the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail.
“The bourbon’s very much a sort of metaphor for the experience hopefully you’re having out there,” McConaughey says of the getaway, located an hour outside Austin. That includes everything from guided fly-fishing at night on the bank of the Pedernales River down the hill from your private tent, to cocktail classes or a private performance from a string quartet playing rock hits by a campfire.
“It’s a luxury drink. It’s a luxury place. It’s got all the comfort, but yet look out over your shoulder,” he tells me. “You want a little outdoors’ natural bite? It’s right over your shoulder,” later adding that “not all five-star experiences need to be the Ritz.”
For McConaughey, he says he prefers places with a “bite of some elements outside the door, where nature is part of the backyard. Where you’re not insulated from nature.”
Rolling Stone caught up with McConaughey over a video call from Longbranch Ranch to talk more about what guests can expect from the new retreat, the albums he keeps going back to, and his favorite memories filming Dazed and Confused nearby nearly three decades ago.
People have been drinking Longbranch whiskey for a while now, but this kind of experience takes it to the next level. What do you hope that visitors who come here to Longbranch Ranch take away from it?
Look, man, it’s hard to find quiet time for ourselves in the world today. It’s hard to unplug, it’s hard to check out to so-called check in. That’s what hopefully this experience is. … Hopefully people just come out of there a little more recharged. When I I sip, starting around sundown when I’m sipping Longbranch, it relaxes me.
When I get relaxed, my mind gets on more of a Saturday night frequency and that’s where my creative ideas come from. Or maybe it’s just sipping it, being quiet, not talking to anybody. It’s a social drink but it’s also something that I enjoy having on my own and just trying to enjoy my own company.
And out there in nature, we put things in there intentionally, like Greenlights, the book, the journal — people need more time to sit there and go, “Well how are you doin’?” And you’re talking to yourself. [Laughs] You know what I mean? Or not to think of anything. Like I said, to check out to check in. And out there, with a sip of that, I think it’s a damn good combination of being able to do that.
You describe your book Greenlights as sort of an album, or a record, the story of your life. Music-wise, what are the albums that you keep going back to — that are the albums of your life?
You know what, I’ve been getting back into the guy who sort of wrote the lyrics that formed my version of patriotism, John Mellencamp. But I’ve been listening to some of his stuff before he was Mellencamp, back when he was John Cougar. That Uh-huh! album, I think it was 1981 or ’82, what a great album. Kenny Aronoff on drums. … That’s a rockin’, rockin’ album that I’ve been reintroducing myself to.
Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, I cannot get tired of it. I love it. He reminds me, every time I hear it, he’s the original rapper, and he’s just slinging it on that album. AC/DC’s Highway to Hell is still one of my favorite elbow-grease rock albums. Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music: mic drop.
That’s some that I go back to that are always there that any time they’re on, wherever, A-side, B-side, any song, let it play.
2023’s about to be a big year for you with the opening of the Longbranch Ranch, and a lot of big anniversaries. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, 20 years, Dallas Buyers Club, 10 years. And then 30 years with Dazed and Confused.
I didn’t know this math!
I know, we’re doing some math here. But Dazed was filmed not too far from here. What are some of your best memories from filming that?
So I’m in school one of those summers, where I made sure I could take three hours of classes so I could stay in Austin. Go to the right bar, right time, meet the right guy, get cast in that movie. I was supposed to work — I had three lines written in that script. I was supposed to come in and work one, two days.
And the director, Richard Linklater, who still lives in the Hill Country, kept inviting me back to set. Next thing you know, I’m working every day for three weeks, and I have a main character in that movie. First words ever out of my mouth on film 30 years ago was “All right, all right, all right.” Very first scene in the very first film I was ever an actor. And here it still introduces me and has become part of a fun vernacular out there in the world. It’s where I learned the collaboration of making a good film.
I went into that film, I was in film school, I thought that making a film, and being a director, you had to be a dictator. I was wrong. If it was a dictatorship, it wouldn’t have allowed any of my improvisations, riffs, and the whole other cast wouldn’t have invited me into scenes like they did. I saw Richard Linklater take ideas, a good idea from a production assistant in passing at lunch. You don’t see that all the time. Even these days, when I go to work, you don’t see that in a lot of films.
That collaboration and that open creative spirit was what I remember about that. And the fact that all that cast, who were all most of ‘em were already actors, opening their arms and ideas to a newcomer, me, a local kid, who they didn’t have to do that for me. They could’ve been much more selfish and said, “We’re not giving this guy more screen time.”
They invited me into scenes. They would lob me lines in the middle of scenes that weren’t even scripted, and all of a sudden they wrote me in. That generosity, that’s where I learned and I still try to remember that going forward when I make films and any kind of creative process, that kind of generosity is where I learned it right there. That’s Richard Linkater, and that’s that entire cast of Dazed.
And the nights! The days and the nights … remember this was a summer in Austin, and I was already having a great summer and everyone was having a great summer. Everyone was in a great mood. Behind the camera, all of our mood would just sort of segue into what we do in front of the camera. I wasn’t like, “OK, we’re all having a great time, now let’s get serious when we’re in front of the camera.” No, we’re having a great time, just keep having a great time and move right over in front of the camera because we’re recording. And I … showed a lot of people [from] New York and L.A. what a great Saturday afternoon was floatin’ down the Pedernales or New Braunfels river. They thought they were in Mars.
You mentioned Linklater’s nearby in Texas Hill Country. What’s your favorite memory hanging out with him?
Best memory with him is it was a conversation with him, right after my father passed away. My father passed away five days into shooting Dazed and Confused, and I got back and he and I were taking a walk around the set then in Hill Country. And he and I were talking about my dad movin’ on, and that’s when “Just keep livin’” came out of my mouth about keeping my dad’s spirit alive even though he was physically gone.
And I don’t know if that had come out of my mouth or would’ve become sort of a compass for me to approach life unless I would’ve been taking that walk and Richard Linklater would’ve been the new buddy of mine that would’ve been asking me questions about a very tough time in my life.
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