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Today, we speak with the Texas singer-songwriter-bus-driver, Larry Hopper. I hope you enjoy. (Also, he's taking over Galleywinter's FB page Thursday.)
FTM: Hello, Hopper! It’s been a while since we last spoke. I’ve been meaning to ask you, are you related to Jim Hopper from Stranger Things?
Larry: I said no to this interview.
FTM: Your denial didn’t take. So what have you been doing in the 9 1/2 years since our last interview? Prison time?
Larry: I had some good toast about 4 years ago. I wanted to make sure and tell you about that toast. It wasn’t any special kind of bread, it was just the EXACT right amount of toasted. Not burnt, not under toasted. Can you imagine? It was so good!! I have some pictures of the toast if you need them.
FTM: I'm good. What are you doing to pass the time during quarantine, besides (insert tired beard grooming joke here)?
Larry: During what? No idea what you’re talking about.
FTM: These crazy times, buddy! Hey, when you and your wife are teaching your kids for in-home school, are you in charge of bad jokes and puns training, while she teaches all the other subjects?
Larry: My wife will be offended that you would think for ONE SECOND I would be the one who would teach puns. She has her doctorate in Punning.
FTM: Is it true you co-wrote a song for Cody Jinks?
FTM: Yeah right, Hopper; is it one that “accidentally got left off the album?”
Larry: It was the title cut of his 2019 release “After the Fire.” It was the number one country album for one whole week. Then he released another album the next week and kicked himself off the top spot.
FTM: Oh really? Does Cody owe you money or something?
Larry: I wish. I keep hoping someone will remember that they owe me money. Nobody does.
FTM: Most artists, and I use that term carefully, consume lots of art to keep their creativity flowing. What sort of books, movies, and music keep your muse alive? I’m assuming there will be a follow up question about coloring books, Tom Green films, and Hoobastank.
Larry: I only watch my extensive collection of Puppy Bowl recordings. I recently read a book about a little dog named Meli that went to the vet. It was quite the thrill ride. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but page 12 will surprise you!!! As for what I listen to, mostly my interior monologue of self doubt and fear and neurosis and anxiety and guilt . Also John Prine.
FTM: So I see you’ve been doing streaming concerts during the pandemic. What does that mean?
Larry: It just makes sense. Staying home is the best way for people to come see me.
FTM: No, I meant “pandemic,” I’ve always assumed that had something to do with pandas.
Larry: This is why I said no to the interview. Plus you barely even seemed interested in my really good toast story. The toast was excellent, the story was really good.
FTM: You live a wild life, Barry. I haven’t been stalking you, I promise, but I’ve noticed there are always a ton of kids in your social media photos. Are you starting a cult?
Larry: I hear there’s good money in it.
FTM: If your cult will have brisket and singalongs, I’m interested. Let’s talk about that later. Right now, I need to know what you think about how Red Dirt, independent country, and Americana music are kinda sorta mainstream these days. When we did that first interview, I’d have never dreamed that our buddy Drew Kennedy would be modestly more well known in 2020. It's wild.
Larry: I don’t know who that is, but the meshing of all the different musical subsets is bound to happen. It’s a cycle. Some kids get sick of mainstream music and there’s a movement of a new sound, it becomes popular and in that popularity gets watered down and pushed towards a more generic sound to appeal to more people. theres art and then there’s business and the 2 can only coexist in a small window before it becomes more business. That’s not to say anyone is wrong for that that’s just the nature of the beast. Radio stations have to sell ads to keep the lights on. They have the seemingly impossible task of staying true to their format but appealing to as many people as possible. People get mad at radio stations if they play a song that that person doesn’t think belongs. That’s bizarre to me. Just.. don’t listen to that song? I don’t like calling myself an artist but I’m sure not a business man. That’s why most people reading this think you’re interviewing the guy from the Lawrence Welk show, But there’s always good music to listen to. Mainstream or not. I’ll check out Drew Kennedy though.
FTM: Oh you know who he is; he asked me to tell you to stop texting him asking to open his shows all the time. It's getting awkward for everyone. Next question: Are you working on any new music?
Larry: I’m always writing. I have plenty of songs for a new album I just haven’t had time or money to record. And with the covidteen going on I have no idea what everything will look like when shows start up again.
FTM: You didn’t have to go on for so long. I don’t really care, it’s just something I have to ask since this is a music blog. But since we’re on the subject, will you be doing any boyfriend country songs?
Larry: I don’t know what that means.
FTM: Nobody does. Hey, it’s bizarre that I’ve “known” you online for over 15 years and I still don’t know your favorite N-Sync member. Care to elaborate?
Larry: Timberlake is the only one I can even name.
FTM: Who are some of your favorite songwriters these days?
Larry: Other than the standards, Lori Mckenna is just unspeakably good. I keep expecting to move on from my Isbell fanboyness but he’s just such a great writer. The writing BJ did on the new AA record is so good. Courtney Patton is better than most. So are Jacob Furr and Gabe Wootton. Mike Ethan Messick. Jackie Darlene for sure.
FTM: Again, don’t actually care. Did you watch Tiger King? That was some crazy sh*t.
Larry: I did. It was sad.
FTM: I see you’re still not going to come out and admit that you were the fake Cowboy Troy troll on that Americana message board we used to frequent. Why is that?
Larry: I think the record will show that the Cowboy Troy user had better spelling and grammar than me.
FTM: Okay, I think this has gone on for long enough. I’m as bored as you are, if not more. Let’s do the lightning round! Do you have a Larry Hopper face Covid mask on your merch site?
Larry: yes. It comes in the shape of a shirt and you have to DIY your mask.
FTM: That’s a missed opportunity. Alright, favorite flavor of Swisher Sweets?
Larry: I don’t use them because of poisons. I need to stay healthy so I can overeat for longer.
FTM: That’s a hoax. Tobacco is grown from the earth, so it’s healthy. Bigly. Do your research. Next question is multiple choice: Are these times A)uncertain B)crazy C)troubling 4)frowsty?
Larry: Can I put “exhausting” as a write in answer?
FTM: If Sam Hunt asked to cowrite a song with you, what color would the Land Rover you bought with the royalties be?
Larry: I don’t think you can buy a Land Rover with royalty money anymore. I might could get me an old Isuzu trooper.
FTM: Jay or Jeff?
FTM: No, I meant Jay Cutler or Jeff Garcia. Read the room.
Larry: Jeff Garcia from the Grateful Dead?
FTM: You don’t know soccer at all, Lawrence. Who is the coolest celebrity you’ve ever met?
Larry: Henry Winkler
FTM: Ayyyy! Favorite Juice WRLD song?
FTM: That is an acceptable answer. What’s the first restaurant you’re going to sit down and eat at when it’s finally safe again?
Larry: Somewhere with chips and salsa
FTM: You thought that was going to be a trick question, but these are very serious. What is the highest number of feral hogs that has ever run into your yard?
FTM: When you’re writing a song: lyrics or music first?
FTM: Another serious question! I’m getting good at this! Spell “Thibodaux.”
Larry: Thibodeaux. I learned that from an episode of King of the Hill.
FTM: I was talking about the city in Louisiana and with this being an email interview, I gave you the answer and you still missed it. Anyway.. if you were doing a big nationwide tour, what particular food or drink would be on your tour rider?
Larry: 4 fried chickens and a coke.
FTM: Alright, now it’s the requisite time in a Farce the Music interview when we give you the opportunity to speak poorly of mainstream country. If you don’t say something funny, pithy, or meaningful here, you may lose legions of fans. No pressure.
Larry: jokes on you, I don’t have legions of fans.
Mainstream Country is awful but so is a lot of other stuff. I just don’t listen. I don’t care what they’re doing. It’s not for me. I am not their target. Honestly the only reason I even know the names of most of them is because of Farce The Music, haha. And it’s just name recognition. If I’m in a store and mainstream country is playing it lets me know that I still am not interested, but that’s the extent of how much I think about it. I don’t like most Jazz music, so I just don’t listen to Jazz music.i don’t have to make shirts about how much I hate it. I used to get worked up about what they were calling country music but labels are for the masses and the record execs. Something I work hard on reminding myself, and I wish more people understood: you don’t have to have an opinion on everything. In the time of this constant barrage of new information or media or whatever, we feel like we have to know about it all and have an informed opinion on every single thing. Just pick a few. I just choose to not care, as you can fell by the massive paragraph I just wrote on the matter.
FTM: So much for “lightning.” What do you think the water from inside a waterbed would taste like?
Larry: Pall Mall cigarettes and bad decisions.
FTM: Possibly. It’s just something I’ve been wondering about. Okay, last question: Would you rather have a sack full of punch or a punch in the sack?
Larry: I really said I wasn’t going to do another one of these interviews.
Apr 28, 2020
Apr 22, 2020
Apr 16, 2020
Apr 9, 2020
Apr 8, 2020
Prine was among the best to ever put pen to paper in service of a song. He could find the humor in misery and grace in the worst of circumstances. He was as adept at poetic abstractions that made perfect sense the second time you heard them, as he was straight-forward prose that was always deeper than it seemed on first glance. We've lost a legend. Be thankful for the time we had with him and the music we'll always have. Rest easy, John.
When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin'
Just five miles away from wherever I am
When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin'
Just five miles away from wherever I am
Mar 30, 2020
Oct 18, 2019
By Kevin Broughton
Music, a sense of place, and family have been Kelsey Waldon’s passions as long as she can remember. She took piano lessons as a 10-year-old, then switched to guitar a couple of years later. Her mom soon bought her a 10-track recorder to encourage her creativity, and by 19 she’d moved from her Western Kentucky home to Nashville for the first time. She worked as a bartender while polishing her songwriting chops and taking what gigs she could find. A brief interregnum back home in Ballard County – and community college – followed, then it was back to Music City’s Belmont University for serious study and renewed focus on her craft.
She cultivated a loyal following through frequent touring across the U.S. and two critically acclaimed albums; the most recent of which made it onto NPR’s Fresh Air host Ken Tucker’s “Top10 Favorite Albums of 2016” while the album’s lead single, “All By Myself,” was featured on NPR’s list of “Top 100 Songs of 2016.”
On her new album, White Noise, White Lines, Waldon captures the rugged country sound of her touring band without sacrificing the intimacy of her songwriting. Because of that approach, the record feels immediate and intimate, somewhere between a concert and a conversation. Co-produced by Waldon and Dan Knobler, the collection opens with a confident anthem, “Anyhow,” which finds the artist forging ahead after some frustrating setbacks.
“The past three years since we put a record out, we’ve seen some of the biggest ups and downs, like exciting things happening, and not-so-exciting things happening. We kept going and it’s all about that process,” she says. “And the title alludes to things going on around us, in the world and in our environment. I do think there is a lot of white noise. That title describes where I am.”
The nine songs – and two perfectly placed interludes – on White Noise, White Lines are a distillation of the bluegrass-infused country emblematic of the region John Prine immortalized when he sang of the Green River and Mr. Peabody’s coal train. More on how that legend and Waldon – in Hollywood-script fashion – intersected in a moment.
“Run Away” is a traditional country weeper about falling for someone whose life is a wreck. Waldon wrote “Very Old Barton” about binge drinking alone, with the hopeful message of getting through the highs and lows of life. But the bold centerpiece of the album comes in a pair of songs. Waldon offers an impassioned protest song with “Lived and Let Go.” She explains, “A lot of times, I tend to write because I have to make senseof the world around me.” Its companion cut (mainly because they’re both either fast waltzes or in 6/8 time – the artist and I weren’t quite sure when chatting before the tape rolled on the interview), “Black Patch,” oozes authenticity.
White Noise, White Lines is one of the best country albums of the year, and Miss Waldon should be prepared to hear her name called when Americana award season rolls around.
We chatted briefly about Prine, Muhlenberg County, tobacco wars and seasickness.
You’re the first artist signed to Oh Boy Records in a long time. How is it you came to the attention of John Prine, and how would you describe your personal and artistic relationship?
Yeah, that’s right. I’m the first one signed in almost 15 years, and I think that shows how careful they’ve been; I don’t think they do anything unless they want to. And neither do I. But I actually didn’t meet John until last year. I would see him around town in Nashville a lot; I’d freak out when I’d see him at Melrose Billiards and some other places like Arnold’s Meat and Three.
When my last record came out in 2016, that’s when everybody at Oh Boy apparently took notice of me, and when John and his wife, Fiona, heard my music. Later, I performed at a John Prine Tribute show and met Fiona and she said, “John and I are big fans,” and I was just in disbelief.
Yeah! I was like, First off, you know who I am, and John Prine knows who I am! It was just so cool to meet her there. And she’s become a champion of mine, and a great friend. But 2018 – on the Cayamo Cruise – was the first time I met John, and I got to sing “Paradise” with him. Later in the year, when he and I played some shows together, that was when he was able to hear some of my original music. That was when we were really able to bond, and he started asking about my upcoming album.
I can’t imagine how cool it was to have him call you out on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry and announce you’d signed with the label.
Yeah. It’s funny, but a lot of people think that’s when it happened. They actually think that was the moment he decided! (Laughs)
Like it was a reality show or something.
I know! And I’ll tell you something else, and it’s probably TMI: The first time I sang with him on the cruise, I was so nervous. I had actually been throwing up! I’d gotten seasick and felt awful. And they called me and said, “Miss Waldon, John Prine would like you to sing ‘Paradise’ with him at his three o’clock show [in an hour], can you do that?” And I was so sick, but I said, “You bet I’ll be there!” So I rolled out of the bed and made it work.
You left Kentucky for Nashville at 19, came back home for a while & went to community college, then back to Nashville where you earned a diploma at Belmont University. What did you study?
I actually got a degree in songwriting, as strange as that sounds. I had never really planned on being that girl who applies for scholarships and things like that. It’s a pretty exclusive program. Berkley offers a similar program, and I read that Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch did that one. It’s a lot of music theory classes that you have to take. I took a “History of Country Music” class, which was really cool. But it taught me a lot about discipline; it was really cool, because I’d never had anyone push me out of my comfort zone before. It made me learn that there’s inspiration everywhere. And it was good to learn that at a young age, I guess.
You and Dan Knobler co-produced this album. Had you ever been on the other side of the glass before? What did you learn from the experience?
All the records I’ve done have been my vision, but all of the experiences are a little bit different. This time I used my live touring band. You know, we’d been out on the road touring pretty seriously for about three years before going into the studio. So we had practiced [these songs], and it just seemed completely natural. The thing was my vision, and Dan was the guiding light in helping me navigate through the process. I asked him if he was okay giving me a production credit and he agreed. I’ve always had a strong say in all my records, so it seemed the natural thing to do.
And the band, these are folks you’ve been touring and playing with for a while?
Yes! Brett Resnick, my steel player, he’s played on all three of my records.
Solid player, by the way.
He’s amazing, and one of my first friends when I moved to Nashville. But yeah, these are the guys who’ve been touring with me since 2016. And a couple of them, even a few years before that.
And the recording process: How much of it did y’all do live?
Pretty much all of it. We didn’t use any technology unless we had to. There were a few overdubs as far as layering some of the guitars, but the rhythm section – the “meat and taters” of it – was all done live right there. But if one or two of the vocals live with the band weren’t perfect, they were perfectly imperfect. I just wanted to keep the energy going. I didn’t do anything unless it felt right. None of us did.
I brought in the songs, and some of them we already had together and where we didn’t, we just played until we got there.
You come from a community called Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky. Looking at the map, it’s one of those spots in the middle of the country where I bet you could visit four or five other states on half a tank of gas. Would you say there’s a confluence of cultures in your part of the country?
Well, it’s a unique part of Kentucky, for sure. Growing up there in the river bottoms you see lots of different things and people. I had friends in Tennessee, because you’re right there on the state line, and you’re right across the river from Illinois. The Ohio River was in our back yard; I grew up in flood country. Backwater is part of life when you’re at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio.
But yeah, there’s a heavy blues influence, and obviously bluegrass was a big part of my life growing up. They say you’ve got bluegrass coming down the Ohio, and the blues coming up from Memphis and Mississippi. But there’s a feel, you know? There are cypress trees all around…I grew up in the sloughs, the Kentucky swamps. My dad owns a hunting lodge down there, and when he’s not farming the land, he floods it out for waterfowl hunting. I always tell anyone who hasn’t been there how unique and beautiful it is in its own right.
Speaking of your neck of the woods, there was a running, turn-of-the century shooting war over tobacco prices, and the Duke family’s monopoly, for about five years. I didn’t know about it until I heard your song “Black Patch,” so I had to look it up.
Oh, really? That’s great! Pretty crazy imagery, right?
It’s awesome! Did you grow up with stories passed down? The Hatfield/McCoy thing in Eastern Kentucky/ West Virginia gets all the press and romance, but this was some serious stuff.
Yeah, you know I think the region and Kentucky in general has so much history. And growing up, yes, I did hear the stories. My great-grandmother wrote so much stuff down, and kept everything. And my brother-in-law and little sister farm tobacco and dark-fire it. It’s a huge part of fall every year. That’s the tobacco used in snuff. But I actually learned about the Black Patch war from taking a History of Kentucky class in community college, and still have the textbook. But reading about it, I was like, “Holy sh*t!” The imagery was just so romantic, and I thought, “This sounds like a song.” Just the name “Black Patch” is so killer.
It’s also a way, I think, for me to just speak up for local farmers; people getting the thumb of the government pressed down on them. It was a way for me to share their story.
I want to piece together a timeline, because this just seems so – if not perfect – at least poetic. In the spring, Mr. Prine formally announced you were on the Oh Boy label. There’s an aptly-named “Interlude” on the record where you play a voice mail from your Dad where he says, “Hey, Babe. I’m down here in Muhlenberg County, looking for turkeys.” It’s freaking precious. Did you know there was a chance you’d be on John Prine’s label when you played that back for the first time?
No! Not at all!
(Laughs) I do promise! We tracked this record in late 2017; it took a while to get this one out. The whole year of 2018 I was trying to find the right home for it. I didn’t want to independently release something again, and knew it was time to do something else. I wanted to elevate things a little bit. And it’s hard, you know? It’s hard to find people who understand what you do.
That’s kind of going off on a tangent a little bit, but no. I save all my mom’s and dad’s voice mails. I just love them so much. My dad leaves the really colorful ones. And my granny does too. But I’d been wanting to do the “interlude” thing for a long time, and with this particular record I wanted it to feel very human and untainted. I also didn’t want to overdo the interludes, and that one had a perfect sentiment, I think. My dad and I had turkey hunted together in Muhlenberg County, and just had a perfect weekend.
But I swear, I had no idea. It just worked out that way.
Grab White Noise, White Lines (on Oh Boy Records) wherever you get your music. Oh, and she’s touring, too. Go see a show.