Showing posts with label Kevin Broughton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kevin Broughton. Show all posts

Sep 4, 2020

A Conversation with Tennessee Jet


From The Sound and The Fury to Faulkner and MacBeth: A Conversation with Tennessee Jet

By Kevin Broughton

Tennessee Jet is a lot of things. Starting with the name, he’s mysterious and enigmatic. Pressed on his given and surnames, he demurs. Like the people in his songs, he sees himself as something of a character; a vessel for storytelling. “Tennessee Jet,” he says, “is an idea. Something I want to get across. I want people to go into ‘Tennessee Jet’ blind – not knowing anything about the artist.”

He’s cerebral – citing first cinematic directors and literary giants as influences on his art before acknowledging more traditional, musical sources.

Athletic? Yeah, that too. The former pitcher and second baseman hit .300 in the lower tiers of collegiate baseball. “I loved that game a lot more than it loved me,” he says. Realizing life in the bigs wasn’t in the cards, he simply moved on to a career in music.

And if all this seems unlikely for someone who grew up literally on the road (not surprisingly, he sings of “going Kerouac”) this Okie son of a bronc-busting dad and a barrel-racing mom knits it all together in poetic fashion. He’s a legit Renaissance man.

Jet’s third album, The Country, debuts on Thirty Tigers today and marks the most collaborative project of Jet's career. A songwriter, front man, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, he took a do-it-yourself approach to his 2015 debut and 2017's Reata, both of which found Jet playing every instrument himself. The Country references those early years with songs like the autobiographical "Stray Dogs," whose lyrics find a young Jet speeding down the Indian Nation Turnpike, his future wife riding shotgun, both of them fueled by a combination of love, truck stop gasoline, and the need to make it to the next show on time. 

For an album that often pays homage to Jet's DIY past, though, The Country also finds him teaming up with Dwight Yoakam's touring band, whose members add Telecaster twang and Cali-country cool to Jet's raw, ragged edges. Paul Cauthen, Cody Jinks, and Elizabeth Cook all lend a hand, too. "I'm always looking to challenge the definition of what a specific genre is supposed to sound like," he says. "People are aching for truth in country music again, and that's what this record came to represent.”

There’s an ache and intensity to Jet’s reverence for country music as art, and the need for it to be preserved and nourished. Over the course of two in-depth conversations (several responses merited follow-ups) we discussed the state of modern country music, what makes a good cover version of a timeless song, the creepy death of a country legend, and much more.


Okay, ready to go?

Yeah, man. I’ve been looking forward to talking with you. I was telling my manager, “Let’s find people who want to talk about the music.” I’ve been doing interviews and it all just seems kind of general. Like What was the first instrument you played? Or Who are your influences/where you from/how old are you? So, I want to talk to people who want to talk about the record and the state of modern country music.

I’m your huckleberry.

You’re an Oklahoma native, but I don’t know that this album would fit squarely in the “Red Dirt” category. Can you discuss some of your musical influences, in light of your having “a head full of metal and a heart of country gold?”

Yeah! I tend to be more influenced by movie directors and literary figures. John Steinbeck is a huge influence. Stanley Kubrick, Sergio Leone…I’m really interested in their art and applying it to the music that I make. As far as Oklahoma influences, Steinbeck gives you that whole Oklahoma-to-California thing in Grapes of Wrath. Musically, it’s kind of all over the place, depending on what I’m listening to at the moment. Of course, traditional country was the first thing that I was exposed to by my parents.

And then, you tend to run far away from things that you were first into, then run away and back again. So I’ve got a pretty broad range of influences, everything from Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam to Nirvana and Bob Dylan. Just all over the place.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a recording artist cite cinematic and literary figures as their primary influences. Could we drill a little deeper on that?

Sure. I think people gravitate more toward what something represents, more than what the thing actually is. As an artist it’s your role to make it clear what you represent with something, whether it’s a song or an album cover. I think it’s the reason why some people identify with certain brands in a certain way: This represents a good time. Or This represents a refreshing beverage. Whatever it is.

And I’ve always felt that from an art standpoint, it’s good to be able to sit back and create characters. Because then, you can tell stories. And ultimately, the song is separate from the artist. The song is going to live on; the artist is just a vessel to tell a particular story. I look at producing songs as I think a director looks at movies. And sometimes with all the emphasis being placed on someone’s personal story, the songs aren’t heard in the way they’re supposed to be.

As an example, if someone’s a new artist and has lived on the streets – been homeless – for ten years, you’d listen to that song in a different way than if the person grew up wealthy. So I want the emphasis to be on the song first and the artist second. Shows like American Idol and The Voice have placed so much emphasis on a person’s story, it makes it hard to decipher what’s really great art, or whether you’re a fan of a person’s story. Does that make sense?

Yeah. A bunch.  


I was listening to “The Raven and The Dove,” and I texted my publisher and said, “Man, that sounds like a Cody Jinks song.” He said, “It is.” Makes sense. What’s your relationship with Cody like? Have y’all collaborated before this song?

We have, yeah. We’ve written a lot of songs together. The first time, we wrote a song called “Lifers,” the title cut of his album – I guess three records ago. We also wrote another song called “The Wanting,” another title track of his. I guess he’s recorded about seven songs that we’ve written together.

He’s just a great friend and co-writer. And honestly, co-writing is not something that I typically enjoy. But there are certain people I get together with and really enjoy the process. Putting two heads together on a song is sometimes beneficial.

There’s a line in the chorus where you speak of being “scuffed up by the devil but washed in the blood,” and having “been forgiven for all my sinnin’.” Cody – on the Lifers album in particular – makes frequent use of spiritual/faith themes. Is that something that resonates with you personally, and influences your writing?

It certainly does, yeah. I think that we’re here on this Earth to try to inspire positivity and love. So I think that spirituality is really where that starts.

Were you raised going to church?

Yes I was. In Oklahoma.

“Johnny” is a song that really stands out; it’s distinctive and grungy and punky. Is there a story behind the song? I’m also curious about the name “Delia.” Any significance to that?

There is. That song’s about Johnny Horton.

Oh, wow.

Yeah, it’s kinda interesting because musically, it’s the least country-sounding on the entire record – probably by a pretty good margin. From a lyrical standpoint, it’s a pretty basic biography of Johnny Horton, and some of the things about his death. He was very into, uh, mystical things. I’m searching for a word here and not finding it… “paranormal” would be the right word, I guess. And the song just sort of lays that out. It’s something good to dig into: the things he said about how he was going to die; and that he would contact (songwriter) Merle Kilgore after he passed on, to prove there was an afterlife. That’s where “the drummer was a rummer” part comes from.

Oh…

Yeah, that song is probably good for an hour-long conversation by itself. The “Johnny” at the funeral is Johnny Cash – who read the eulogy, so there’s two Johnnies. And Delia…they’re all there. It’s a bit of an Easter egg, that song, to dig into and just run the characters. A lot of people think the “Merle” in the song is Haggard, but it’s not; it’s Merle Kilgore. But yeah, I just wanted to write something that was musically different. It’s inspired by Nirvana, as you can tell. Lyrically, it’s very country. And Johnny Horton was a trailblazer of sorts.

You’ve sent me down a Johnny Horton rabbit hole, man.

Oh yeah? [Laughs]

I’ve read up on some of this stuff, and it’s crazy: Horton married Hank Williams’ widow, Billie Jean. Williams’ last gig was at the Skyline in Austin; Horton played there before being killed by a drunk driver. Did Horton really have a premonition that he’d be killed by a drunk? I mean, reading it gave me chill bumps. Surely some of this is folklore?

Yeah! It’s a movie, isn’t it? But by all accounts…I mean I’ve seen interviews with people like Merle Kilgore and there’s a lot of hard evidence for these things. The people who truly knew Johnny Horton knew that he was really into mysticism. And he had all these recurring premonitions. But you know how it goes; there will always be elements that make the story look better. And the characters in the song are there for you to bend in a way that makes the story better.

But whenever there’s a story like the Johnny Horton thing, there’s no real need to embellish anything; it’s all right there. It’s just a matter of writing it in a way that says “The drummer was a rummer and he can’t hold the beat,” and make it singable.


And what was it about that story that made you want to put it into a grunge format?

I felt that if it were written as if it were a 50s country song, it wouldn’t have an impact. To write it in a straight-up folk way would have been to obvious. In this case I just felt like – the story’s so wild – if you’re thinking about crashed cars and chaos, what type of music lends itself to that story? The music is supposed to feel like a car wreck.

Yeah!

It’s chaotic; it ebbs and flows, up and down. It’s like cinema. I wanted the song to feel like a mini-movie. Johnny Horton is fascinating and a big influence on me, but I think if I wrote a song about a 1950s honky-tonker that sounded like a 1950s honky-tonk, people wouldn’t gravitate to it. But if you give it that type of musical edge, it might draw people in, and they might go down the same rabbit hole you did.

I hear a hint of Steve Earle in your voice; do people ever tell you that, and is he an influence on your work?

He is. The record I Feel Alright is one of my all-time favorites…

…I’m going “Kanye” on you here and I’m gonna let you finish…

[Laughs]

…but my very next question was gonna be “The song ‘Hands On You’ sounds like it belongs on the I Feel Alright album.”

Ha! I would agree. That album had a distinct feel with the baritone guitar, the 12-string, the mandolin and multiple stringed instruments. This was one of the cuts on the album where I was trying to record the kind of country song that you just don’t hear anymore. I’ve found that if I turn on modern “country” radio today, I end up writing songs I wish were on the radio. So at times I try to write a Marty Stuart- or Dwight Yoakum- or Steve Earle-sounding song. Because unfortunately, you just can’t hear those on terrestrial radio these days.

We’ll get to that in some detail, I promise. But when I heard the opening riff of “Hands On You,” my very first thought was, I Feel Alright.

Well, I take that as a real compliment. And I probably wouldn’t have made that connection until you brought it up, but yeah. So thanks.

Not long ago I did a ranking of all his albums before he got all political, and I put I Feel Alright right up there with Copperhead Road as his best albums.

As an album, I Feel Alright is his best work for me. I love it. And there’s something about the way it was recorded, too; it’s got teeth to it. It’s the kind of album that if you put it on in the car, you find you’re driving faster and reaching to turn up the volume. It’s just such a great album.

Yeah, there’s not a bad cut on it.

Let’s talk about the two covers on the record. “She Talks to Angels” is an intriguing, blue-grassy take on the Black Crowes’ original. How did you conceptualize that arrangement, because you really put your own stamp on it?

Well, my approach to covers in general is that if you’re gonna do one, your version has to be so uniquely “you” and uniquely different, or else there’s no point in doing it. And that can be a disservice to the artist who did it originally. And so on “She Talks to Angels,” if you try to do it the way the Black Crowes did it, you’re not gonna get close. So if you’re gonna do that song, you better do something drastically different. And something I’ve learned about great songs: You can do them drastically differently, and they’ll still be great songs and still resonate. So that was the idea behind that cover.

Any belligerent feedback from the Robinson brothers?

Ha ha. I don’t think they’ve heard it yet. So, we’ll see.

They’re probably bored and a little ornery right now.

You know, different people perceive folks’ covering their songs differently. I read somewhere that Prince didn’t like people doing his songs, but there were a few he actually liked. For me, I love different versions of different songs, and I would love people to cover mine and do them however the hell they wanted.

So I don’t know, but like anything, I’d hope they dig it.

You put together a nice little ensemble for “Pancho and Lefty:” Elizabeth Cook, Cody Jinks, Paul Cauthen and yourself. And I love the Mexicali horn arrangement. So many people have covered it; what was your vision for making that song yours?

Well, you hit the nail on the head: So many people have covered it before. I was playing a show Cody and Paul and some other folks in Dallas around Christmas time. We wanted to do some songs we could all sing on, and “Pancho and Lefty” is such a standard. It’s a lot of people’s favorite song. So we did it during a set in Dallas, and there was such a great feeling in the room. And as I was finishing up the record and had pretty much all of the recordings and said, “You know what? We need to get in the studio and put that one down.”

But the challenge was, so many people have done the song. And I thought “If you’re gonna do it, you better adhere to your own rule and do something really different.” So for me the idea became, “What if every verse and every instrumental break became its own character?” Because Mickey Raphael [harp] has the first solo.

So I sing the first verse; Jinks does the second verse and a chorus; Mickey does a harmonica solo; Elizabeth does a verse and a chorus; Brian Newman – he’s Lady Gaga’s bandleader – he comes in and plays the horn part, which is maybe my favorite part of the whole record, honestly. Then Paul comes in and sings a verse, and I finish it up. So it’s all about really making it an ensemble thing, making it a little different. And of course, really leaning into the Southwestern aspect of the song.


You’re the fourth person I’ve interviewed in a year, incidentally, who’s made use of Ms. Cook’s talents. She seems to make everybody’s records better, huh?

She does. She makes everything that she sings on better. She ended up singing on three songs on the record, and she’s the only female singing harmony. She’s just so versatile; she’s extremely country but also has a real edge to her voice. Elizabeth has such a unique voice, and she’s such a pro in the studio.

If we did awards for lyrical couplets, I’d nominate this one from the album’s title track: “Yeah, I miss you like the country/Radio don’t play no more.” Such a self-evidently truthful statement. Do you see any reason for hope that Nashville might repent, or has that ship sailed?

Well, first of all thanks for saying that. Uh, I think a lot of people feel that way. The problem is that there’s such an entrenched system, and such a machine, that self-preservation is paramount for it. So I don’t think there’s any way for it to change from within. I think the only way to get this type of [independent] music heard is to create a completely different system and let the original one atrophy on its own.

I mean it’s got to be frustrating. Take the last two or three of Cody’s albums, for instance; they’re chock-full of songs that would be perfect for mainstream radio, if any of their executives actually had a soul.

Man, I think so. I know it gets into an area of subjectivity and opinion, but country music means something to me. It’s not just something that’s put on for background fodder. It’s an important art form that needs to be preserved; people need to be made aware of it who aren’t. Maybe there’s something in it that can mean something to them or help them through a tough time.

And right now what we’re getting isn’t that. And it’s unfortunate.

The folks who make quality, independent country music – who get no mainstream airplay – have to rely on touring and social media and word-of-mouth to get their material out there. With the pandemic, the “touring” element has gone away. How has it affected you, and do you see any reason for optimism going forward?

I always try to maintain an optimistic outlook. Whenever there are negative things going on you have to try to look for positives and opportunities. And it’s unfortunate that I’m putting a record out at a time when I can’t go out and tour behind it. But at the same time there are people who are hungry and have time to search out music online and find things. Hopefully there’s a little more opportunity to have songs get heard in an otherwise cluttered field.

In a weird way everything’s frozen. Life feels mundane right now for a lot of people. So I think now more than ever, people need art for an escape. And so hopefully, until we can get things more to a live, in-the-flesh setting, the online thing will thrive. That’s what I’m hoping.
-------
The Country is available today everywhere you buy or stream music.

Aug 27, 2020

Exclusive Song Premiere / Sam Morrow / "Money Ain't A Thing"

Photo by Christine Solomon

FTM Exclusive Song Premiere:
Sam Morrow’s “Money Ain’t A Thing”

Sam Morrow has invited favorable comparisons to Little Feat and Lynyrd Skynyrd – rightfully so and for the very best reasons. In “Money Ain’t A Thing,” (heard only here at FTM) he captures a ballsy everyman ethos that’s the mirror image of “Workin’ For MCA.”

"'Money' is a song that reminds me of what’s important through all the distractions or stresses we get fed on a daily basis,” Morrow says. “Whether it’s the expectation to look a certain way or something you need to buy, it’s important for me to constantly remind myself that I don’t need those things.”

His forthcoming album, Gettin’ By On Gettin’ Down, drops October 30. Keep it here for updates; it’s one of the best American rock, rhythm & blues records in a while. The dude jams.  “All I need’s my guitar and my sh*t-kickin’ band,” indeed.


n  Kevin Broughton



---------------------


---------------------

August 4, 2020 - Sam Morrow will release his new album Gettin' By on Gettin' Down October 30th via Forty Below Records. It’s a modern album that revisits — and reshapes — the primordial sounds of hip-shaking rock & roll. These nine songs are rooted in grease, grit, and groove, from the swampy soul of "Round 'N Round" to the funky syncopation of "Rosarita" to the hook-laden rock of "Money Ain't a Thing." There's hardly an acoustic guitar in sight; instead, amplifiers and guitar pedals rule the roost, with everything driven forward by percussive rhythms that owe as much to R&B as country music. Written and recorded in the wake of the tour for Morrow’s breakout record Concrete & Mud, Gettin' By on Gettin' Down doubles down on the electrified fire and fury of Morrow's live shows, with a road-ready band joining him on every song. 

"My favorite rock & roll is the stuff that has groove to it," says Morrow, a native Texan who kickstarted his music career after moving to Los Angeles, where he's since become one of the city's biggest roots-music exports. "I want to make music like that — funky, layered rock where it's not just the songwriting that's important, but the presentation, too."

To find the right presentation, Morrow turned to drummer Matt Tecu, whose versatility as a percussionist had landed him a spot in the documentary Echo in the Canyon, backing up West Coast icons like Jakob Dylan, Brian Wilson and Neil Young. The two had spent months on the road together, touring their way from coast to coast, steadily growing Morrow's sound into something that nodded to — but was no longer defined by — the country music he'd grown up with. Looking to funnel the spirit of those concerts into a studio recording, Morrow asked Tecu to send him a series of drum beats, which the frontman then turned into songs with help from co-producer Eric Corne. The grooves served as building blocks for the music that followed, anchoring Gettin' By on Gettin' Down in a rhythmic, full-bodied sound whose mix of country, rock, and funk influences nodded to Morrow's genre-bending heroes: Little Feat, Los Lobos, Queens of the Stone Age, and even David Bowie. 

While recording the album at an L.A.-area studio owned by The Doors' guitarist Robby Krieger, Morrow and Corne embraced their experimental side, focusing on layered arrangements that were as unique as the songs themselves. They added a T. Rex-worthy, fuzz-rock riff to the title track. They punctuated "Rosarita" with a slide guitar wrapped in wah-wah wooziness. They filled "Round 'N Round" with blue notes and swung swagger. Over six days, they pieced together the Gettin' By on Gettin' Down tracklist, with help from guest musicians like guitarist Doug Pettibone and bassist Taras Prodaniuk, both veterans of Lucinda Williams' band. The result is a record that builds a bridge between Morrow's command as a frontman and bandleader — a record, in other words, that pairs sharply-written insight from a songwriter at the top of his game with the raw, rocking slash-and-burn of a band stocked with roots-music heavyweights.

Morrow’s 2018 album Concrete & Mud was a true breakout, earning critical praise and radio success. Vice called Morrow “LA’s young prince of unabashed Country gold,” KCRW declared “Sam Morrow's third album cements his place as a member of LA’s Country elite,” and Rolling Stone said “Concrete And Mud’s vibe is less sunshine and palm trees and more in line with the hard surfaces and grit of it’s album title…Morrow pairs his brawny voice and tales of life at the margins with brittle funk grooves and greasy slide guitar licks." The album made it into the top 10 at Americana radio, album standout “Quick Fix” was featured on Showtime’s hit show Billions, and Morrow toured relentlessly in support of the record in both the U.S. and Europe. NPR Music said Morrow’s 2018 AmericanaFest set was one of the festivals “most anticipated,” going on to say “If you're a fan of Little Feat, Tony Joe White and classic Lynyrd Skynyrd, then Sam Morrow has it all for you: He's the essence of Americana, blending together diverse styles of roots music, and his showcase set at The Local more than delivered on the anticipation for it.”







Aug 10, 2020

A Conversation With Skylar Gregg

Photo by Alaina Broyles
By Kevin Broughton

Skylar Gregg engages in a gripping cocktail of hard work, humor, and self-discovery, expressing vivid lyrical imagery and raw grit that soaks into every note of her songwriting. Her third album, Roses, is the culmination of a decade of refinement and refocus wherein she realized “Complicated isn’t always better. Sometimes a simple message can really resonate.”

Blessed with a powerful, soulful voice and a musical pedigree – her folks moved to Nashville so dad could pursue songwriting while mom studied piano at Belmont University – Gregg turned toward a musical career of her own in midstream at Middle Tennessee State. “I changed my major from music education to songwriting in the while I was in college,” she says. “That was when I figured out what I wanted to do.”

The ten songs on Roses – one for each year of the process that got them to completion – tackle heady issues from mortality to addiction to abuse, yet with an undercurrent of contentment; the album closes with the self-evidently peaceful “Everything’s Gonna Be Fine.”

Gregg is thoughtful and sincere – often pondering questions with an emphatic Oh, Man! – and has an infectious laugh as intense as her booming, brassy vocals. In Roses, she establishes herself as a top-tier songwriter on an upward trajectory. We enjoyed chatting with her about the songwriting process, Landfills – literal and metaphorical – Man-splaining, and legalization of the Devil’s lettuce.

Roses is an album of ten songs you wrote over roughly a decade. During that time you put a couple of records out. Over the ten years of writing these, was there something in the back of your mind telling you to hold them back for a while? Were you putting them into a sort of “box” for later use?

Yeah, I think that was what kind of happened. A lot of them I finished later – I’d started them a long time ago. One of them I used to play with a different band, then brought it into my own catalog. So, yeah, I did hold back; I’d think, “Yeah, I’ll tighten this one up a little down the road, when I know what it’s about and know where to put it.”

I wouldn’t call this a purely country album, though there are some straight-up country tunes on it. The PR materials mention hints of the Muscle Shoals sound; I hear a decidedly Memphis vibe at various points. Was there a particular feel or sonic theme you were going for?

You know, originally I set out to make a country album. The producer I used, I think, felt a Muscle Shoals vibe in a lot of the songs and in my voice. And then my husband – who plays bass on the record – is from Memphis. [Laughs] So you hit the nail on the head there. That’s probably the combination that you’re hearing – the influences of those two guys. And I think that gave us some edge, some life, too. Made it a little bit different, you know?

There are times when your voice reminds me of Bonnie Bramblett of Delaney and Bonnie; that big, full, blue-eyed soul sound. Who are some of the female vocalists who’ve been influential to you?

A lot of the sixties and seventies country ladies, like Tanya Tucker and Dolly Parton. I listened to a lot of that with my dad growing up. Bobbie Gentry is somebody I really love, with her soulful, country voice. I was also really influenced by soul artists – I think we all were. Aretha Franklin and Etta James, ladies with those really big voices. And I think that’s the combination you end up with. Also a little bit of gospel; I grew up singing in church.

Something told me you weren’t a stranger to church choir.

Yeah, for sure.

Collecting songs over ten years for an album implies – to me, anyway – that re-working and editing are a big part of the way you write. Can you discuss the way you approach songwriting? For instance, do you set aside a regular block of time for writing, or just grab a pen when an idea or image or phrase strikes you?

I have a block of time every morning when I get up that I dedicate to writing. I try to spend at least a few minutes with my guitar, to try to put together a chorus, for example. I don’t want to force anything, but I try to at least work those muscles in my brain. And sometimes in those moments I’ll hit on something and write it down, and work on it the next day. And sometimes those songs will come out great. But honestly, it’s those times when I’m out in the world and am moved by something, or think something’s funny or interesting…when I get home at midnight or one in the morning and sit on the couch and write those songs? Those are the ones that always end up sticking around, for me. 

Let’s talk about a few specific songs on Roses. I have the advantage of your liner notes, so I’m cheating a little bit. “I Already Know…” Would you like to woman-splain that one? The floor is yours.

[Laughs] Yeah, sure. I was, I guess, just bitchin’ with some of my female musician friends about being man-splained to about cables and guitar stuff. This was at a co-write, and these are both very talented players; to hear them also be frustrated about it…they had learned to say in a nice way, “Save your breath, I already know.” They’ve toured all over the country and played hundreds and hundreds of gigs, but they still have sound men come up and say these things.

I’ve had those experiences as well, in co-writes. You get treated like, “You’re the singer. We’re gonna write this song for you and you can sing it in a minute.”

Ha!

I’d like to add that I get to work with a lot of men -- and have been raised by a lot of men – who have only empowered me and only been loving to me. The song is just talking about men who may sometimes have a moment of…proving themselves, I guess, in those situations.

“Now, where do I plug this cord in?”

[Laughs] Yeah! “Does the round shape go in the round hole?” [Laughs]

“Southern Strain” is about the stigma attached to Mary Jane in our native South. Was there anything in particular that inspired this, like maybe a string of shows in Colorado? And which Southern state do you think will be the first to legalize?

[Laughs] Man! I hope it’s Tennessee! You know, I guess I just I grew up thinking that it’s no worse than alcohol. Everything in moderation, right? I’m not saying do this all the time, but it is interesting how many people – later on in life – you find out don’t have as big a problem with that stuff as you thought they did. There’s such a stigma about it, especially when I was a little kid and thought it was the Devil’s lettuce. Later I realized it’s just not that big a deal, and if somebody want to have a joint after work, we shouldn’t worry about it. Especially these days; there’s way bigger stuff to worry about. [Laughs]

For sure.

“Landfill” is both metaphorical and autobiographical, it seems to me. (And what a sweet horn arrangement!) Did that song morph into something else during the writing process?

Totally. That one was really challenging to write. It’s my favorite song on the record. I love how it turned out; it’s so quirky and I love all the thoughts behind it.

I went to Middle Tennessee State University for college, and 231 is the road that goes from Murphreesboro to where my parents live in Lebanon, Tenn. And there’s this landfill on 231 that I used to drive by, and it was amazing to think about how much trash is in the ground there. It’s insane to me how we’ve figured out how to get rid of our garbage, and so much of it, you know? And I thought it would be a cool song to write, about the landfill and all those visualizations. So I pretty much wrote all the verses while I was in college, driving past it back and forth.

And then about two years ago I started going to therapy. (I don’t know if you’ve been to therapy, but I highly recommend it for everyone.) Anyway, before you go in, they vet you over the phone. And I was telling her, “There’s not really anything wrong with me. I don’t have any trauma; no big issues, I just kind of wanted to check up on my brain and make sure I’m doing okay.” And she was like, “Mm-hmm, okay.” And I got in there and there was a whole lot of stuff to dig up! And she said, “Yeah, everybody says that when I call them.” [Laughs] And through that experience I wrote the choruses, because man, what a metaphor that was for all the garbage in my own brain. And so seven or eight years later, that song got finished.


Go Blue Raiders, by the way. What did you study?

I studied songwriting.

Look at you, putting your degree to work!

Yeah! I really enjoyed my experience in the Recording Industry program there.

If you could change one thing about the music industry right now, what would it be?

Oh, man….

You could outlaw autotune…You could deport Florida-Georgia Line…

[Laughs] Yes, yes! There’s so many things. I’m really enjoying watching the music industry, which got turned on its head when streaming came into play, then it got turned on its head again with COVID-19. Not that I’m celebrating anyone’s gigs getting canceled, obviously. I do think it’s cool the way streaming services and Spotify have given indie artists a voice. And you can really build a small, blue-collar career almost by yourself. I didn’t experience the music industry pre-streaming, but I assume that wasn’t the case then. And being able to record stuff yourself or with a very small team is awesome.

As far as what I’d change now – and I think we’re doing a really good job of lifting this up – maybe just some more female representation? More female players maybe. And we’re seeing a real push for it, and I’m excited to see who else is gonna come up.

Now, you got a heads-up on this one: If you were told you could only listen to three albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Ah, man, this was really challenging. [Laughs] Of course there’s all those classics like Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon and Rumors that are so hard to get rid of. But for me, my first album was a John Denver record my dad got for me called Poems, Prayers & Promises which has “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on it. And because it was my first CD and first CD player, I just listened to it so many times. And I hadn’t even thought about it until you texted me that question, but you can probably hear it in my writing.

And the second one I came up with was Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billy Joe. And I didn’t really discover it until I right out of high school when I did this country music revue show called “Honkytonk Angels” at an arts center in Cannon County, Tenn. I got to sing songs like “Fancy” and “I Will Always Love You,” and I sang “Ode To Billy Joe,” and thought this song is so cool! So I listened to the whole album, and it’s got all this weird percussion on it. It’s just really cool.

And the third one and more recently, I’m a huge Sturgill Simpson fan. I had tickets to his last show and was super-bummed that I couldn’t go, even though I realize this is the time we’re living in. Meta Modern Sounds In Country Music is just so great. I listen to it all the time. That album is so fun and so great.

Photo by Zach Ward
Lots of artists’ album release dates have been pushed back – some indefinitely – by this dang virus. How has it affected you in particular? Also what’s your best-case, yet realistic, scenario for getting this record out and doing a tour?

I’ve really focused my attention on getting the record out first. And hopefully after that we can re-asses when touring will start. It’s just so hard to tell. It’s interesting, though, watching how COVID has affected a lot of the bigger players in the game, releasing music for indie artists has been it’s been kind of a great time because it’s made a space for me and a lot of my friends. Live streaming shows has been really cool.

We were fortunate enough to have the exclusive premiere of your video in July. I’ve been on some movie sets before, so I know a little bit about all the different takes that all the set-ups require. But I’m just curious…do you lip-sync everything?

I was actually singing, because they told me before, “It looks better if you actually sing it.” So yeah, I’m sure they were tired of hearing me sing that song by the end of the day. [Laughs] I sang it like 50 times.

Really?

Maybe not 50; it was at least 25 times though. [Laughs] They’re used to it though; they do music videos all the time.

Was that your first video?

I’ve actually done a few. We actually did this one around Halloween a few years ago. It was for this song I wrote that was about a black widow – a lady who kept killing all of her husbands.

Mmm-hmm?

…for different reasons. So we did this video. My cousin is a special-effects makeup artist, and she came to do all the makeup for it. And it got so out of control! It was so gory! Facebook wouldn’t even let us run an ad in it. [Laughs]

Well, I have to see this thing now.

I think it’s really fun. I love the Evil Dead-type of ridiculous horror. I think it’s a lot of fun, but a lot of people don’t share that opinion! [Laughs]

[NOTE: It’s right here, and it’s glorious.]  



Roses is available Friday everywhere.

Jul 30, 2020

Exclusive Video Premiere / Skylar Gregg / “Have You Ever Tried to Lose Your Mind”

Photo by Alaina Broyles

From her forthcoming album, Roses. Gregg, on the intensely personal nature of this poignant song:

All of my grandparents died of dementia and Alzheimer’s. I remember thinking when I was young it would be an easy way to go, to just slowly forget. After I met my husband, I realized that would not be the case. That it may be the hardest. Mando Saenz and I wrote "Have You Ever Tried to Lose Your Mind" about remembering to hang on to every moment as hard as you can because you may not get to keep all the memories. Corey Pitts really brought the song to life in this video. Even in a socially distanced environment and a one person cast with very little experience in front of the camera (me) he was able to dig into the meaning of this unusual love song and I think it turned out beautifully.

FTM readers get an exclusive look at the video today. Tomorrow, she’ll take over the “Women of Americana” Instagram account, which you can check out here. 

Roses will be released on Friday, August 14.  On Monday, August 10, we’ll post our in-depth interview with this talented singer-songwriter.

More information about Skylar below!


Skylar Gregg engages in a gripping cocktail of hard work, humor, and self-discovery, expressing vivid lyrical imagery and raw grit that soaks into every note of her songwriting. The Nashville native musician translates that into a mixed bag of retro southern music immersed in old soul, 60’s and 70’s country and blues. 
Gregg’s sound stems from being raised around musicians. Her family moved to Nashville to pursue music careers - her dad as a songwriter and her mom as a piano major at Belmont University. Their influence led to Gregg performing at the age of 6. During her early college years she joined her first real band. In 2013, she started pursuing her own path as a songwriter, which included the release of two records, Walkin’ in The Woods (2015) and Time Machine (2018). Both were self-produced and recorded with her husband, Taylor Lonardo, in their home studio. On her upcoming record, Roses, she elevates her homegrown roots by enlisting producer Jon Estes, whose contributions on stage and in the studio have included John Paul White, Steelism, Robyn Hitchcock, Langhorne Slim, and Andrew Leahey.
Exuding a Muscle Shoals meets Nashville vibe, the upcoming album compiles stories spanning Gregg’s life over the past decade. Gregg says, “I think I have spent the past ten years learning who I am. And by proxy who my artist is. And that discovery has been my biggest life lesson. This record is the realest I have ever been.” 
Some of the songs were written at the start of the ten-year journey and some were written in the studio as late as 2019. When songs take a multi-year journey, it’s inevitable that growth will follow: both in the songwriting and the subject matter itself.  The first single, “Long Way Back,” which is also the oldest on the record captures a snapshot in time - a plea from Gregg for her brother to find himself. 
And then there are songs like “Landfill” which almost grow with her. A song inspired by driving past a landfill, the song serves as a reminder to recycle, and about how much garbage we make as humans, both literally and metaphorically. Two years ago Gregg started therapy which led her to know what the song was really supposed to be about. She says, “As southern people, or maybe just people, in general, we tend to really pack our troubles down and keep marching on. I thought that was a sign of strength. But in reality, it was making me weak. I had become a giant pile of trash. I was indeed a Landfill.”
Songs written in the middle of this ten-year stretch revolve around themes of addiction, mortality, and abuse. A folkloric tale co-written by Alexis Thompson about “The Bell Witch” explores the story of a witch that lives in a cave in Adams, TN on a property that once belonged to John Adams. The story goes that Adams’ family would show up in town and have bruises and cuts all over them. And John would say “ We have a witch in our house!”. Thompson and Gregg revisited the story giving it a Jordan Peele type twist where John was actually the assaulter. 
 The final song in the chronology, “Everythings Gonna Be Fine” showcases Gregg’s more peaceful state of mind. A song she wrote in the studio, it’s a reminder to chill out and to not worry so much. 
Gregg’s evolution as a songwriter expresses itself in an interesting dichotomy. She says, “It is interesting looking at these songs compiled together in a timeline. My own writing seems to get increasingly more complicated and then simple again. Maybe that is something I have learned about music over the last decade. Complicated isn’t always better. Sometimes a simple message can really resonate.” 

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails