Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts

Feb 11, 2022

Nothin’ Worth Believin’ Past the Cleveland County Line: A Conversation with Jason Scott


By Kevin Broughton
 

Caught halfway between amplified Americana and heartland roots-rock, Jason Scott & the High Heat create a sweeping, dynamic sound that reaches far beyond the traditions of their Oklahoma City home. Too loud for folk music and too textured for Red Dirt, this is the sound of a genuine band rooted in groove, grit, and its own singular spirit, led by a songwriter whose unique past — a Pentecostal upbringing and years logged as a preacher-in-training — has instilled both a storyteller's delivery and a unique perspective about life, love, and listlessness in the modern world. 

 

While his bandmates — Gabriel Mor (guitar), Taylor Johnson (guitar, keys), Alberto Roubert (drums), and Ryan Magnani (bass) — grew up listening to popular music, Jason's childhood was shaped by the sounds of Sunday morning church service. He sang in the choir and eventually learned to lead his own congregations, often turning to music to get his messages across. 

 

A multi-instrumentalist, producer, engineer, and session musician, Scott launched his solo career with 2017's Living Rooms. The 5-song debut EP introduced him as a folksinger with a knack for "fun little earworms" (NPR), and he spent the following year balancing his time between the road and the studio, where he produced albums for Americana artists like Carter Sampson, Ken Pomeroy, and Nellie Clay. Things began to expand as he assembled the High Heat, a band of multi-faceted musicians and roots-rock Renaissance men who, like their frontman, juggled multiple artistic pursuits. Together, Jason Scott & the High Heat have since become a self-contained creative collective whose talents include songwriting, music production, photography, video direction, and more. 


Castle Rock marks Jason Scott & the High Heat's full-length debut. "Quittin’ Time" makes room for a dual-guitar attack, a barroom piano solo, and a storyline about a hardworking man's fruitless attempts to escape his limited horizons, while "Cleveland County Line" flips the script, delivering a narrative about a prodigal son bound for home after a dark spiral of Kerouac-worthy travels. Lead single "Suffering Eyes" — with its twinkling keyboards, chugging power chords, and cascading guitar arpeggios — is heartland rock at its modern-day peak, as panoramic as the Oklahoma plains themselves. 


This album will remind you of a lot of your favorite artists, yet every song is original. Jason Scott may be a man of few words, but his music has a lot to say.

 

You hail from Oklahoma City, but this isn’t a red-dirt record; I hear more Tom Petty & John Prine than Ragweed or Turnpike, for instance. Can you share who some of your eclectic range of influences are?

 

Sure, yeah. Well, those two for sure, Tom Petty and John Prine. I like James Taylor a lot. I like songwriters: Guy Clark, Townes, stuff like that. And just about everything in between, really. Hip-hop…Kendrick Lamar. I’ve got a bunch of old Dean Martin Christmas records, too, so I like a little bit of everything. 

 

You’ve been producing records for a while. How did that help with the efficiency of the recording process, and implementing your vision for this album?

 

I actually went to school for some “studio stuff” at ACM here in Oklahoma City. I’ve just been in and out of studios for the last 15 or so years of my life, and several of the guys in my band are in that environment, too. Taylor Johnson, who plays guitar for us, is an incredible engineer and producer. So yeah, having a team around you like that certainly helps in the start you get from start to finish, that’s for sure. 

 

An interesting nugget from your bio: You grew up in a Pentecostal household and were actually training to be a pastor before dealing with – and I’m quoting here – “a crisis of faith.” Expound on that a little; how has it affected your writing, and familial relationships, for that matter? 

 

I definitely had an “I’m Leaving” moment, and that put some distances in some friendships and relationships for sure. Most of the ones who count are still people in my life. But going back to songwriting, you know, the Bible is full of good stories, so being a Pentecostal certainly influenced me in my writing. 

 

When I heard the tag line, “Ain’t nobody gonna roll the stone away” in “The Stone,” it initially conjured images of the first Easter. But that’s a song about a veteran and his wife coping with PTSD. Tell us how that song came about.

 

For a while, I’ve been startled with the amount of suicides in the veterans’ community. It’s not a song about a specific couple, but it’s something a lot of households have dealt with the last couple decades. And to be honest, those numbers haven’t improved that much. And I think I just wanted to say something about it; I mean the song doesn’t really offer any solutions, just more of an “it is what it is” situation. I have some friends and family who are veterans, too, so that influenced the song or at least wanting to make the song. 

 

I’m a sucker for pretty harmony. Who’s the lady with the voice?

 

I have a couple of girl friends on the record. Abbey Philbrick has a band here in Oklahoma City – and they’re just amazing. And then Carter Sampson is a long-time buddy – I actually helped produce some of her records, way back – and she’s on “Castle Rock” and “A Little Good Music.” There are a lot of great girl artists here in Oklahoma City. 

 

You just led me right into my next questions. “A Little Good Music,” may be my favorite cut. It’s full of good advice; what was its inspiration?

 

Uhhhh…my wife. (Chuckles) We have two kids, and sometimes life…well, it’s easy to get stressed out. I don’t know if there was a specific moment that inspired it, just the last nine years generally. 


 

Tell me about the preacher raining down fire at the beginning of “Sleepin’ Easy,” and how they’re tied together. And I’m wondering if this is the first time Ambien has gotten a shout-out in a country song?

 

Hmmm. I don’t know. There’s probably something out there about it. But “Sleepin’ Easy,” too, incorporates being a parent and stressing out. Being a parent in today’s climate – politically, economically, all of that – is part of the stress in that song: Just trying to keep your head above water, and everybody seeming to need something from you. And [including the pastor at the beginning] wasn’t meant to be a slight, more an acknowledgment that if you go to church, you have to pay to attend, in most places. 

 

That final cut on the album is where we hear the phrase “Castle Rock,” which I understand is somewhere you lived upon taking your leave of the church. Care to explain? 

 

Yeah. My mom & dad split up when I was about 12, and I went to live with my mom in Castle Rock. And without going into too much detail, it was a crazy time in life for me and my two younger sisters. And I basically got to do whatever I wanted; there was definitely less focus and attention on the kids. For the first time in my life, I was doing stuff outside of a church building. Castle Rock was a time of change of me, so it was important to include some of those experiences in this group of songs. 

 

With as crazy as the past couple years have been, have y’all had a chance to road-test any of these songs, and are there plans for a tour after the release?

 

Yeah, we’re in discussions with a pretty well-known booking agency right now, and we’ve got shows starting in February. And we’ve absolutely played these songs live and gotten miles out of them in many different places. But hopefully we’ll be able to add a bunch more dates really soon, and I’m definitely excited for that. 

 ---

 Castle Rock is out today!

 

Jan 28, 2022

And Exchange it Some Day for a Crown: A Conversation with Brent Cobb


By Kevin Broughton 

One of my favorite political/theological commentators recently joked that modern Evangelical services consist of “a Coldplay concert and a Ted talk.” As the sage Homer Simpson once observed of every good joke, “It’s funny because it’s true.” Put another way, as a former pastor of mine once said, “Music in most Baptist churches now follow the ‘747’ model: Seven verses, sung 47 times each.” 

 

I’ve got a million of ‘em, folks.

 

I’m a “get off my lawn” Southern Baptist, and defiantly proud of it. And that’s why I love Brent Cobb’s And Now, Let’s Turn To Page…, his love letter to his, my and your youth, provided like him and me, you knew what it meant to be in church twice on Sundays plus Wednesday nights. 

 

Esoteric? Sure. This may not be your thing, if you’re not from the Deep South. But for authentic country music fans of a certain bent – and Cobb gets his “country” honest – this album will move you viscerally. It’s been a good while since I could “have church” just by listening to a record, but Cobb has made a joyful noise in such an authentic way. It’s time to spread the good news. 

 

In late November, we caught up with our fellow Georgian to talk faith, hymns, coincidences (spoiler: they don’t exist,) and meeting destiny at a clogging great aunt’s funeral. 

 

-------

 

Hey, Kevin. It’s been a while, man.

 

About four years, best I can tell.

 

Yeah. Let’s do this!

 

This is the first “new” album I’ve listened to where I knew 90 percent of the lyrics ahead of time and found myself singing along involuntarily. A gospel record was on your checklist for a while, but something happened to move it up on the schedule. How about you let folks in on that?

 

Aight. Well, first of all, we’ve gotta make sure that it’s known as a Southern gospel album. (Laughs) I grew up with Southern gospel, and I grew up in Antioch Baptist Church, where we sang all of those songs. Of course back then it was just with piano and congregation. But I always had it in the back of my mind that that I would do a gospel record, because all my heroes did it: Johnny Cash, Elvis…Willie Nelson still closes out his shows with gospel songs.

 

But then last year, my son and I got T-boned at this little intersection, a four-way stop I’ve been going through my whole life – on the way to my grandparents’ house. And it’s really rural, a lot of Chinaberry trees, plus it’s in July so everything’s in bloom. And I did my best to look, but it was timed so this guy in a little Honda Civic was in my blind spot. He’s not from the area and didn’t see the stop sign, so he hit me full-on. 

 

My son was right behind me, and we got hit on the driver’s side of the truck. He was okay; I broke my collarbone. So that accident really hurried the making of a Southern gospel album along. 

 

And here’s what crazy about that story, too, that sort of relates: The first thing that I found when I was cleaning out my truck after the wreck was a Rosary that a priest had given me years ago on a Jamey Johnson tour. The necklace was slung way up on the other corner of the dashboard, and I found the cross between my seat and my son’s. But that whole situation’s what made me go ahead and record this album. 

 

By my Baptist count, there’s just one “invitation hymn” on the record, “Softly and Tenderly.” I imagine we’ve both sat (stood, more accurately) through altar calls set to this hymn – and others – that cycled through all the verses multiple times….

 

“…if anybody’s feelin’ it in their heart today, come on down.”

 

…exactly! That said, now seems a good time to ask about when you “walked the aisle.”

 

I was young when I walked the aisle. I was ten years old when I got baptized. It’s funny you ask about that. We played a show down here Saturday, and one of the guys I got baptized with, his daughter was at the show and we talked about that. 

 

When you’re young, you don’t really know about the world, but I just thought Jesus was really cool. The kids I grew up with, we went to Royal Ambassadors and all the different activities. In fact, when I was little – before I started sinning when I was about 16 or 17  – I thought I might want to be a preacher. Obviously, I didn’t go down that path. But yeah, I got saved and walked the aisle when I was ten.

 

Is this album more spiritual than nostalgic to you? The other way around, or a bit of both? 

 

It’s definitely both. It’s what I grew up with, as I was saying. But I sing these songs…I think I sing them better than I sing my own songs. I think it makes you sing different. My grandaddy, he led the singing at our church, but he wasn’t really a singer. But when he got up there to lead the songs, he could sing. I guess it was because he was singing those songs. And it’s the same way for me. I don’t try to push my beliefs on anybody, but it’s definitely spiritual on a personal level. But also nostalgic.

 

As we were setting up this interview, I mentioned that when my grandaddy died in 2000, my cousin and I sang “The Old Rugged Cross” at his funeral, and that it was fifteen years or so before I heard that hymn sung in a church house. You said that you’d had a similar experience that we could talk about. Now’s the time.

 

I actually have two stories about that. 

 

My grandaddy’s mother died when he was in his teens. Or he might have been in his twenties. Regardless, after the night she died, he and all his siblings woke up singing “The Old Rugged Cross.” The next day when they found out about their mom, they got to talking and every one of them said they woke up singing that song. “That was always her favorite hymn,” one said, and then each of them said the same thing. So, that song has always had a real personal connection to our family.

 

So, when my grandaddy passed away, April 4, 2012, me and my cousin were sitting on the front pew. And the piano was right there, and we had a guest singer who was gonna come in and sing that hymn because it was his favorite, too. The hymnal was already open, and every so often the breeze from the fan would turn a page. And when the singer sat down at the piano, it was opened to “The Old Rugged Cross.” He didn’t have to flip a page. 

 

Wow…

 

Isn’t that somethin’?


 

And Now, Let’s Turn to Page…


 That’s right!

 

Let’s talk about some of the arrangements. The bulk of these hymns are traditional and acoustic, but a couple have distinct interpretations. “Are You Washed in the Blood,” with its thumping bass line strikes me as a Southern white boy’s funk-infused reimagining of some the great black gospel tracks.  On “When It’s My Time,” the band also lets it fly. Even “Softly and Tenderly” ends with a sweet guitar solo.  How did you and Dave decide when and where to step the sound up?

 

Well, here’s the deal. I call it a “Southern gospel” album because of the gospel, one, but also for Southern rock. All the music I grew up with was born of Southern gospel. Lynyrd Skynyrd – a huge influence of mine, you know? All the soul music – Otis Redding and all those greats – Southern gospel is all it is. So, for it to be a true Southern gospel album, I wanted to infuse all the sounds of the South that make the South so great. And Dave also does, you know? 

 

So, when we first went in, I wanted to make a Jerry Lee Lewis-type country album, but with gospel songs. But when we got to playin’, the first song where we really found the sound – and it wasn’t really intentional – was “Just A Closer Walk With Thee.” We hit that groove there – kinda laid-back, kinda Southern and funky – and we realized this album wasn’t gonna take the Jerry Lee Lewis approach. (Laughs) And we just kept findin’ stuff like that. 

 

Like on “We Shall Rise,” that was the last song we recorded. My great aunt Christine, she was Pentecostal. That was Dave’s grandmother, and she would come every so often and guest sing at our church. And since she was Pentecostal, she didn’t believe in instruments, so she’d come in with her clogs…

 

(Giggling)

 

…Man, I know. But she’d have her hymnal while she was clogging, singing “We Shall Rise” in a good a Capella, and she would sing it at the top of her lungs. What’s also a coincidence – I don’t know if I believe in coincidences – is that it was the first single of the album, with no influence by me; that was my radio team. And her funeral is where I met Dave for the first time. I was a pallbearer at her funeral.

 

Wow.

 

Pretty wild, huh?

 

Does Cousin have a Grammy winner in the “Gospel” category yet? Asking for a friend.

 

Dude, he’s got about every other one, doesn’t he? (Laughs) I don’t know, man. Here’s hoping. Who knows? 

 

You’re about to head out to the United Kingdom for a tour. Two-part question: (1) Is there one cut from this record you might consider springing on a British audience; and, (2) What’s the first thing you look forward to on your return?

 

Well, I’m sure I’ll play “When It’s My Time” when I’m over there. It’s not purely a gospel song, but I think a lot of people can relate to it. When I get back, I’m looking forward to flying straight to Texas and joining Robert Earl Keen on the “Merry Christmas From The Family” tour. That’s just a dream tour for me and I can’t believe I’m on it; he’s been a major influence of mine since I was a teenager. 

 

And I haven’t had a whole lot of time off. I just got off the road with Nikki Lane and Adam Hood, so I am looking forward to being at home for just a little stretch, anyway. 

 

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Ye who are weary, come home: And Now We Turn To Page… is out today wherever you purchase fine music. 

Oct 1, 2021

Jeremy Pinnell: The Farce the Music Interview


By Kevin Broughton

 

When Jeremy Pinnell released OH/KY in the summer of 2015 to stunned acclaim, it felt like an entire career compressed into one knockout album. Hailed as a “Mind-blowingly good” (GregVandy/KEXP) and a ”tutorial on classic country music” (Popmatters), Pinnell’s debut immediately differentiated as authentic and unflinching. 

 

Dogged touring through Europe and the States and celebrated radio sessions followed, cementing Pinnell’s position as a no-fuss master of his craft. His 2017 album, Ties of Blood and Affection, presented a canny lateral move. Instead of doubling down on the stark themes and values of his debut, the sophomore album saw Pinnell finding comfort in his own skin, achieving the redemption only hinted at in his previous batch of haunting songs. 

 

If the third time’s a charm, Pinnell is all shine and sparkle on the Goodbye L.A. Produced by noted QAnon adherent and Texan Jonathan Tyler, the tunes buff the wax and polish the chrome on country music’s deeper roots. Rooted in his steady acoustic guitar, Pinnell’s songs are shot through with honest and classic elements. The rhythm section, all snap and shuffle, finds purpose in well-worn paths. The pedal steel and Telecaster stingers arrive perfectly on cue, winking at JP’s world-wise couplets. Here slippery organ insinuates gospel into the conversation. You can feel the room breathe and get a sense of these musicians eyeballing each other as their performances are committed to tape. And through it all comes this oaken identity, the centerpiece of his work. Honest and careworn, Jeremy’s voice can touch on wry, jubilant, and debauched -- all in a single line. At his best,  Pinnell chronicles the joy and sorrow of being human, which is the best that anyone could do. Goodbye L.A., nearly two years in the making, is a triumph. 

 

It was a pleasure to visit with Pinnell to talk songwriting, touring, sobriety and…mixed martial arts. 

 

This album has been in the can a while. Y’all recorded in February 2020, played a few gigs, and then the bottom fell out. What was the long layoff like, and did you use some of that time to tweak the mix or anything like that? 

Yeah, we recorded it and got it done just under the wire. This is probably a made-up story, but this is the way I remember it, anyway. We recorded the record and came home, and a week later I flew down to see Jonathan again and we recorded the vocals. I came back that Saturday, and I think the next Monday they started telling people to stay home.  But as terrible as this thing’s been for the last – almost two years now – we did have a little free time to do everything right, you know? 

 

Your producer said of you, before going into the studio, “He’s just out there grinding, playing three or four shows a week, driving from town to town. Jeremy’s really putting in the hard work, and his band has gotten so tight.” How long have you and this version of your band been together?

 

We’ve been going at it about two and a half, almost three years with this group of guys. Junior Tutwiler is on guitar and Charles Alley is on drums. And we switch out a bass player…kind of like the drummer for…

 

Spinal Tap?

 

…(Laughs) Yeah, Spinal Tap! Except in our case it’s the bass player, so you never know who you’ll end up with. But yeah, Junior – obviously, Kevin, if you’ve heard the record – you can hear how talented he is. And Charles on drums, he’s so good and has a real knack for just finding the pocket, you know? 

 

This is such a country album to me, and I guess that’s a tautology. But it reminds me of some of the “neo-traditionalists” of the mid 1980s like Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakum and Lyle Lovett, just in its authenticity. Who are some of the artists who’ve impacted you the most? 

 

For this record, I found myself listening to a lot of ZZ Top, like that “Legs” stuff…and there’s a Waylon record, Never Could Toe the Mark with that song “The Entertainer,” from the mid 1980s. There are lots of great songs on there like “Sparkling Brown Eyes,” and I just wanted a feel-good record. So many of those 80s albums were just fun records; people just wanted to have fun. And I wanted to try to bring that back. 

 

Normally I wouldn’t broach this, but the first sentence of the liner notes reads, “Jeremy Pinnell tried dying once.” Your past struggles with addiction are also mentioned. So, would you mind fleshing that out a little? How has your journey to sobriety affected your craft? 

 

Yeah, so…I didn’t play music for a couple of years. There was a time when I…Kevin, I normally don’t talk about it much, but I don’t mind talking about it a little bit. Yeah, there was a time when I was broke and homeless, really with nowhere to go, just going from detox to detox, to homeless shelter. It’s funny, while we were recording with Jonathan, he mentioned being on Jimmy Kimmell’s show in 2010, and I laughed and said, “I was in a homeless shelter in 2010!” 

 

But for a guy like me, sobriety has been really good; a lot better than I’ve been to sobriety. It’s been a positive thing. 

 

Tell me about the guy in “Never Thought of No One.” Is he taking the first look in the mirror for a long time?

 

The way I wrote that song, I just imagined this character – I had the chorus and a piece of the verse – but I tried to picture a character who just couldn’t turn the corner. Because we’ve all been there, and felt like we can’t find our part for a given situation. Or we’ve known someone like that, who could turn the corner if they could just see their own part. It’s about being in denial without knowing you’re in it. Maybe I’m getting too far off track; but it’s about not being able to see your own faults. Somebody with just a blind spot, really. 

 

In the title cut, there’s an ear-catching line – “Hello L.A., you got some pretty ladies, but they don’t want babies and I do” – that makes me wonder if you ever spent time in Southern California. 

 

(Laughs) Yeah, so we were in L.A. and had just played a concert and were loading in the van. Just me and my buddies hanging out, and there are beautiful women everywhere. And I made the remark – or our drummer made the remark – that, “yeah, but they don’t want to have babies.” Sort of the most ridiculous thing, right? But I thought, “Maybe the girls back in Kentucky will want to have babies.” And I thought about it and, yeah, I’m gonna use that, because it just struck me as hilarious. And it’s kinda cool, so that’s how I came up with it. 

 

Tell me about recording under the conspiratorial eye of Jonathan Tyler….

 

(Laughs) I love it!

 

 …I’ll grudgingly acknowledge that he seems to have done some good work here. 

 

Yeah, working with Jon is such a positive, just being able to take his direction. And he has such an eye – or ear, I guess – for music, you know? It was really nice to be in the studio…you know, we came in with the songs, and he would listen and say, “Why don’t we try it this way?” It was just a positive atmosphere. If you know Jon, you know you’re gonna have fun. 

 

I’ve interviewed one artist who’s a Thai boxer, but I’m pretty sure you’re the first jiu-jitsu practitioner. How long has that been a thing for you?

 

It started at the beginning of the pandemic. I didn’t have anything to do, and the government was giving me money, and I always wanted to know how to fight. You know, you grow up getting beaten up, or maybe get in the random bar fight here or there, but that’s different than understanding your own body and how to interact with another human being. 


 

But yeah, I started at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s been about a year and a half. And I wish I had started at a younger age; I had no idea of the power of martial arts. It’s been amazing. I wish I could do it all the time, but I’ve got a six-year-old. You can kinda get carried away with it. There are a lot of times where I’d rather be in the gym training than playing music. 

 

Do you follow the UFC? Care to give a pick for Volkonovski-Ortega this weekend?

 

I am a big fan, and I like Ortega a lot just because of his jiu-jitsu.* I’m really excited about the Nick Diaz fight.

 

Yeah, that one ought to be good. It’s been such a long layoff for him.

 

Two hundred and nine months or something like that. 

 

Looks like you’ll be touring pretty solid for the next couple months. Will you be back out on the road in 2022?

 

Yeah, man. I was doing nothing but playing music up until the pandemic, and then went home. My wife and I have bills to pay, so I’m really looking forward to getting back out on the road as soon as we can. 

 

What else would you like the folks to know about Goodbye L.A.?

 

Yeah, we’re just really excited about it. We spent about a year writing and then rehearsing these songs at sound check. Then we recorded a few demos for Jonathan, and finally we got into the studio and made the record. And Sofa Burn records offered to put it out, and there was no one knocking on the door during the pandemic, know what I mean? So I was really grateful for their generosity in helping us get this record out. 

 

So, we’re really excited for people to hear it. It’s the culmination of a lot of long nights away from home, making hardly any money. Yeah. It’s time. 

 

__________


Goodbye LA is available today everywhere you stream and purchase music. 

 

 

*While Mr. Pinnell has made one of the best country albums of the year, this doesn’t necessarily carry over to UFC predictions. 

 

Jul 30, 2021

Jesse Daniel: The Farce the Music Interview



By Kevin Broughton



If tomorrow brings me pain and strife,

At least I’ll always have those little simple things in life.


-- Jesse Daniel, “Simple Things”



Nearly eight months into what still feels for some reason like a new year, the pandemic  looms. In a good way, though. Have you noticed how many quality movies (no, not the comic book shit) have stacked up – even to stream? It’s almost like nothing got produced in 2020 or something. 


Happily, musical artists have stormed back, recording with purpose and vigor what was only written during the Lost Year, and re-emerging on the road with something to prove. Jesse Daniel’s Rollin’ On was critically hailed as one of country’s greatest albums in the early days of Year Covid. Cheated of a year’s worth of touring, Daniel rolled up his sleeves, though in a different way than he once did. Aided by partner/manager/harmony singer Jodi Lyford, he doubled down on the good habits that got him where he was.


And reunited with Grammy-nominated producer (and pedal steel ubermensch) Tommy Detamore, Daniel upped the ante with Beyond These Walls, a brilliant follow-up that shows there’s more than Bakersfield to this square-jawed caballero. Flexing the songwriting muscles he’d had a year to work in earnest, it’s fair to say Daniel has his feet firmly planted in the upper echelons of country music. 


Each one of these dozen songs is a sample of not just what country should be, but the best of what it is right now: Simple, joyful, sometimes sad, but almost always content. And most of all, real. 


If this guy’s not on Austin City Limits inside 12 months, something’s wrong. Let’s get to it. 



We last crossed paths in February of 2020… in “The Before Time.” You’ve been far from idle since then, though. Let folks in on what you’ve been up to besides losing your razor, brushing up on your Spanish, and hanging out with Raul Malo.


Ha ha. You know, I was just thinking yesterday about the last time we talked, and yeah, it was right before everything went down. Since then, yep, those things are all true. Got myself some facial hair, and I’ve done some stuff with Raul, but mainly I just spent the last year focused on turning inward. Jodi and I both decided to use that time as fruitfully as possible and line things up for the next year. We didn’t know how long it was gonna last, or when things would get back to normal; only that eventually it would. 


I’m glad we did that, because things seem like they’re getting back to normal. Other than that, just some outdoor stuff. A lot of fishing. 


Rollin’ On was a heavy dose of the Bakersfield Sound. Beyond These Walls strikes me as more of a Valentine to all of country music. Sonically, the dobro and mandolin – to say nothing of the accordion -- stand out in spots, for example. How determined were you to make a markedly different record this time?

I’d say pretty determined. I feel like people have come to know me – a California guy originally – as trying to carry the torch for Bakersfield; it’s what people have come to expect. I didn’t want to make something completely unrecognizable, but at the same time I didn’t want to make the same record twice. I love the Bakersfield sound, and all the other types of music that borrow from it. 


And I wanted to make a record – well, like you said, a Valentine – that captured more. There are so many great things about country music, with all the sub-genres and artists that I truly love. And I wanted Beyond These Walls to reflect that this time around. 


Your songwriting seems to have matured – and I want to get into specifics in a minute. But can you point to particular vision or sensibility that guided your approach to writing this time around? 


I appreciate that, man. I think one thing was definitely having that year-long gap allowed for more introspection, to really focus on the writing. A lot of polishing songs. That was a silver lining to this past year: really having the time to devote to each song. 


Another benefit of this last year to me -- as a music fan -- was being able to really listen to a lot of stuff. I’ve always been really into folk music, and now having lived in Texas for a couple years, you know, I’m nearby all these great Texas songwriters and the traditions that surround them. Listening to all that made me want to hone my own craft and really get better at it. 


So many of these songs are celebrations of the simple joys in life. They’re beautifully and efficiently done, but the glass-half-empty guy in me compels me to ask about a couple others first. Your overcoming a heroin addiction isn’t a secret, but it’s a subject you avoided on the last record. This time you lay it all out there with “Gray,” and I guess the first part of this rambling question is about the narrator’s point of view. Were these some of the words that a friend said to you, or more of a third-person perspective?

Definitely both. When I was writing it, I kinda went back and forth. Those were all things that family members and friends had told me. I had one particular friend who passed away and I went to his funeral last year…and there are just so many people who I grew up with…[pauses.] I don’t know if it’s something about that place in particular or if it’s everywhere, but the epidemic of drugs has just permeated into the culture there. I was thinking about that person when I was writing it, wishing I’d said some of those things to him like others had said to me before. 


I wanted to write a song about how serious addiction is, because a lot of people glamorize that stuff. And I can’t help but cringe when I hear it, as somebody who’s been there. I’ve been a drug addict, literally living on the street. I was a person who a lot of people who come to my shows would have looked down on back then: “Look at this disgusting drug addict,” you know? That was my story; I was that guy. So, I wanted to write a no-frills song that got it all out there. 


The darkness really gets emphasized with that final, loud minor chord. Were you putting a period on discussing this in song for the future?


Well, it definitely put a period on that song, right? That minor chord drives it all home.


It took me a couple listens to figure out that “I’ll Be Back Around” is from the point of view of a prisoner.  And, for that matter, that the title for the album is taken the chorus. But damn, dude, it’s a happy song! Has there ever been an uplifting prison ballad in the history of country music? How do you do this?


Ha! Something else I did during the gap was re-read Merle Haggard’s autobiography. And among the things he talked about was his time in prison, and I’ve sort of identified with Merle over that: Always being in trouble and being attracted to that sort of lifestyle. But then, he found his way out of that. I’ve spent time in jail and other institutions, and I have friends of mine doing time in legitimate prison, some who’ve been locked up since they were 18. So, I’ve always wanted to write a song that highlighted some of those things. And…I dunno, that bluegrass run just kind of came to me, and I’ve always wanted to do a bluegrass song, too. 



“Living in the Great Divide” is the only topical – or temporal – song I can pick out from the last two records. 2020 was certainly a tough year on everybody, and one that highlighted our great divides. Halfway through 2021, are you any more hopeful? 

I am in a way, yeah. It’s been nice to see the world coming back a little bit. There was a layer of despair…and just fear that everybody had that contributed to it. People were in fear of losing their livelihoods, their lives, their family members. Nobody knew which way was up, and I think that mass-hysteria type of thing took its toll on people and relationships. That’s where I was at when I wrote that song. 


You know, people getting their news from Instagram or Facebook or word of mouth…and for lack of a better term it’s just a shit storm, you know? I’ve lived a lot of different lives, and I have many friends with all kinds of points of view. And I’ve always been able to have discussions and come away – if not agreeing – certainly understanding the reasons why they have those opinions. That’s what I was trying to express in that song: We should try to understand each other better. If we’d use basic humanity a little more, we’d be a lot farther along. 


As a frustrated addict of bass-fishing, I have to ask if “Drop A Line” comes from a deep and personal place within you. It certainly seems a tad autobiographical. 

Oh, yeah, that one’s definitely personal. I spent a lot of time fishing this past year after not having done much of it in quite a long time, and basically fell back in love with it. The funny thing about that song is that I woke up one morning and the chorus was just in my head. It was kind of like a nursery rhyme…


Yeah!


…so I grabbed my guitar and started singing it, and Jodi said, “Write that down!” But for sure, I’ve spent a lot of time on the water when I should’ve been doing something else. 


How much Spanish did you take in high school, and what’s your connection to the Mavericks’ front man? 


I took a couple years of Spanish in high school, but for whatever reason, I was never really good at school. But my stepdad – he was married to my mom, and he’s the father of my youngest brother – was from Mexico. He spoke English but with a heavy accent. And we worked the flea markets; that’s what my mom and Luis did, making and selling metal art. So, we helped them. And the majority of the vendors and people at these things were Spanish-speaking, so we heard a lot of Mexican music – those great polkas. These guys would come out with perfectly starched Wranglers and tall hats. I just thought those Mexican cowboys were so cool when I was growing up. 


So yeah, it was my stepdad who really got me into that stuff. I’d attribute what little bit of Spanish I know to that. 


And Raul Malo?


Yeah, Michael Guerra who played on this album, too, was part of that group  [producer] Tommy Detamore put together for Rollin’ On…he plays for the Mavericks.


We ended up becoming friends after that. And I think Michael sent a copy of Rollin’ On to Raul, saying, “I played on this kid’s record.” Raul ended up liking it. We got in touch with him, and ended up doing a couple shows with him here in Texas. So, it was all on a real “friend” basis. So that song, “El trajabador,” which means “the worker…”


Yeah, I know a few Spanish words myself. More than Peggy Hill…


…Ha! Yeah, so I wanted to send it to him and see if he’d be interested in singing on it. In my mind, I heard him singing on it, and singing harmonies. Long story short, he said he’d like to do it. He recorded his part at his home studio.


2020 has been called “The Great Pause,” at least by a couple artists I’ve interviewed recently.  Assuming we don’t have another one of these for a while, what’s next for Jesse Daniel, best-case scenario? 


Best-case scenario, our plan is to put out this album on July 30, and just tour the hell out of it like we’re making up for lost time. And we’re gonna be on the road the rest of this year and most of next: West coast, Midwest…and the goal by late 2022 is to hit Europe.


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One selfishly hopes that Brother Daniel can squeeze in the American South between the Midwest and Europe.


Buy Beyond These Walls today, wherever you purchase fine music. 


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